My life has changed a lot in the last year. I got engaged to my boyfriend of ten years. I quit a job I honestly thought I’d never leave. I left the marketing industry and became a full-time baker. I got married. Six days after our wedding, my husband got hit by a transfer truck while biking to work. As I type this, there are still 18 boxes of wedding paraphernalia stacked in my dining room and he is still on crutches. But I haven’t even gotten to the good part yet.
Cut to March 30th and me staring at the second pregnancy test I’ve taken in as many days. Yesterday’s was negative. But today? The little plus sign appears before I even have time to snap the cap in place. I stare at it in utter disbelief. I’ve always known that I wanted to be a mother. And we had discussed trying in earnest later this year, after we returned from the honeymoon we were excitedly planning. We were going to go to Germany, Paris, and Belgium! I almost bought the tickets a few days before, but I had an odd feeling and something stopped me. Good thing I guess… they were non-refundable.
I wander out of the bathroom to find my husband playing a video game. “Um, I’m pregnant,” I stutter, and stand there staring at the back of his head. This moment was supposed to be all glowing excitement and happy tears, right? Well, mostly we stared at each other like someone had just dropped a load of dynamite in our living room. Then we went and got a cheeseburger, because what else were we gonna do?
The weeks that followed that fateful night have been, for lack of better words, totally insane, and in a way that no upheaval in my life has ever been before. This column will be about one woman’s experience of the freaky miracle of life and figuring out what it means to become a mother.
THE BIG “M”
Nobody tells you when you’re young how common miscarriage is. Nobody tells you that 20% of all pregnancies end this way. That’s a 1 in 5 chance. A miscarriage is technically defined as “the spontaneous loss of a fetus before the 20th week of pregnancy.” Mostly it’s still a mystery as to why it happens. Women often blame themselves, of course, but the reality is that the vast majority of miscarriages (90%) are the result of a chromosomal abnormality that was simply incompatible with life.
In the months before I became pregnant, two of my very dear friends suffered pregnancy loss. Both different experiences and different processes, but both equally heart wrenching. Watching people you love struggle with something like that and being totally helpless to quell their sorrow is a unique sort of hell.
My mother is a nurse. My mother-in- law is a nurse. My childhood best friend is a nurse. I come from “medical” people as it were. And yet, no amount of reassurance from anyone allayed my fears. I have spent at least a few moments each day, every day, for the last nine weeks, convinced that my baby was certainly dying (or already dead). I wish I had a rational explanation for this, but I don’t. I simply know that every day, I remind myself of the wise words of one of those sweet friends (who responded to my pregnancy, even in light of her loss, with such joy and love that it nearly broke my heart into a million pieces). She told me then—and continues to remind me regularly—that I have no control over this situation. If this pregnancy becomes unviable, I cannot stop my body from doing what it’s going to do. The thought is frankly paralyzing, but I’m doing my best to work through the fear.
At my first OB appointment (at 8 weeks), I was given an ultrasound and, for the first time, we saw our baby. We saw its little heart beating a whirring 171 BPM. The tech said “nice, strong heartbeat” and I literally tremored from suppressing the biblical-level weeping my body wanted to indulge in. I thought the ultrasound would kill the fear. And it did… for a few days. But then every day became just a long exercise in patience, waiting for the next appointment, the next confirmation that everything was still OK. I take it day-by-day, but it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, this “letting go.”
SYMPTOMS? WHAT SYMPTOMS?
I used to laugh at those stories of women who would go into the doctor and find out they were five months pregnant and somehow hadn’t noticed. How insane, right?! How could anyone not know they’re pregnant? Well, were it not for the fact that I am hypervigilant about my health and that my period has always come like clockwork, I probably wouldn’t know that I was pregnant either, as I’ve had virtually no symptoms throughout my first trimester.
I expected sweeping nausea and constant morning sickness. Tender breasts and food sensitivities and a superhuman sense of smell. You wanna know what I got? A few “bleh” mornings at work, a sharp increase in burping, and just being generally DTN (down to nap) whenever, wherever. I’ve read a million internet message boards (hazardous, I know) and it would seem that I’m not alone. Everyone says to be grateful, but of course the lack of symptoms just adds fuel to the “is there actually even a baby in there?!” fire that rages constantly in my brain.
I’ve pieced together that I may just be genetically lucky, as both my mother and grandmother report pretty uneventful pregnancies with few side effects or complications. My grandmother told us that she was fine except that, “Every day when I got home from work, I went straight to that couch and I wasn’t getting up! Your grandfather would just have to find his own dinner.” I thought my husband might choke on his drink when she said that, as it was just too real. Had my grandmother been creeping in our living room for the last two months?
I downloaded this app that pings you every day with details about how the baby is growing and what weird things your body is doing now. For some reason, each week it equates the baby with some type of food for a relative size comparison. When I found out I was pregnant, the baby was the size of a poppy seed. I went to work the next day and made loaves of orange-almond- poppy-seed bread, and as I poured heaping tablespoons of poppy seeds into the bowl, I stuck one to my finger and stared at it in wonderment, mind officially blown.
Since then, it’s been a sesame seed, a lentil, a blueberry, a kidney bean, a grape, a kumquat, a fig, a lime, and a peapod. It’s at lemon stage as this issue hits the stands. We don’t plan to find out the gender of the baby (we like surprises, I guess?) and we’re also going to come up with a few name options and choose one once we meet the munchkin, so we really have nothing to refer to the baby as. In lieu of this, we’ve taken to calling it whatever food it is being compared to that week. You know, “The blueberry is tired” or “The grape demands orange juice now.” This is all very adorable, until the week the app pops up and says “your baby is the size of a mini watermelon,” and I just weep in a corner somewhere.
THE LONELY ONE
I won’t lie. It was really tough not telling everyone what was going on from the moment we found out. We told our families of course, and a few close friends. I had to tell my workplace because, as a baker, I routinely lift heavy things and that’s sort of a big no-no for the preggos. But other than that, mum was the word. The realities of miscarriage being what they are, we didn’t want to shout it from the rooftops only to have to grieve so publically if something went wrong. But we didn’t want to go it totally alone either, so we shared with our inner circle. Everyone has been very excited and supportive. Here is a list of my favorite responses:
“ALREADY?!” (my dad, who sort of has a point since we conceived less than 30 days after our wedding.)
“You are some fertile, efficient bastards!” (a close friend, echoing my dad’s sentiments)
“You’re pulling my leg!” (my 90 year-old grandmother, while literally holding the sonogram image who would prank a nonagenarian like that?!)
*somewhat indecipherable squealing* (my sister-in-law, who literally just had a baby a few weeks ago and was pre-delivery when we gave her and my brother the news)
Even with all of this love and joy surrounding us and with my husband being pretty dang great about all the big changes this is going to bring to our lives, I have to say that this first trimester of pregnancy has been one of the loneliest times of my 33 years of life.
This column will be about one woman’s experience of the freaky miracle of life and figuring out what it means to become a mother.
WHAT COMES NEXT?
As this issue hits the stands, I am officially entering my second trimester. Everyone promises that this is the golden, glowing phase of pregnancy. That I will find renewed energy and I will get a cute little baby bump and everything will be peaches and cream. That remains to be seen, but check back next month to see how it’s going. By then, I expect that we will have made a decision about our birth plan (alternative birthing center/ midwives vs. a traditional hospital delivery) and will have heard our baby’s heartbeat for the first time. Other topics I plan to delve into over the coming months include:
1) How in God’s name are we going to fit a baby in this apartment with all this crap that we won’t get rid of?
2) Everything for babies is so expensive; let’s just build our own furniture.
3) It’s starting to get really hot and that doesn’t seem like a good thing for a hormonal pregnant lady.
4) Everyone wants to know the baby’s gender and my resolve to “be surprised” is cracking.
5) No matter what we choose, someone we love will hate this baby’s name.
6) Pregnancy does not look the same on plus size girls as it does on skinny girls.
7) Will this anxiety ever go away? Or is this just my life now?
8) How many books is too many books for a baby?
9) Is my old man dog going to pack his satchel and leave when we bring a human puppy into his house?
10) Am I actually going to pull off having this baby with no drugs?
P.S. I wanted to name this column “Gestation Station” and I got voted down. But I thought that up at 4 a.m. one night while getting up to pee for the 800th time and it felt like a real stroke of genius in that moment. I thought it deserved a mention.