When I was little, maybe 4 or 5, my family and I were at the beach, York Beach Maine, a place we went to every summer. I was in the ocean with my father and older sister, we loved to dive into waves and see how far they would push us. All of a sudden I remember my Dad shouting and he was trying to grab both of us by the arm. And then I was hit by a brick wall and dragged over a bed of nails. My arm was yanked out of my father’s grasp. And then the sound of rushing water was all I could hear, it was a peaceful sound that I was used to hearing. It was like the sensation every time we would dive into waves, but I knew this time something had gone terribly wrong.
For one, I didn’t see any wave, nor did I dive in it. Two, I was pretty sure, even at my young age, brick walls were not a common oceanic feature and I was sure that I had just been slammed by one. And three, my father, one of the most mild-spoken people you will ever meet, had started shouting. And then as I was underneath the water being pushed around by the stong current. A hand reached down and hauled me up. I wasn’t actually afraid until after my Dad had pulled me up.
Something akin to a Tidal wave had hit us and dragged us over a bed of submerged rocks. Don’t be all ‘there are no tidal waves in Maine!‘ Because dudes I am telling you a GIANT ASS wave hit us, “tidal” or not, people on the beach saw it and were equally freaking out. All three of us were cut all over and bleeding. My sister required stitches. I was hysterically crying.
I still love the ocean, I wish I could live on a beach for the rest of my life. But the ocean that day was a really scary place. And it’s as close as I can come to relating what it has been like being pregnant.
I LOVE being pregnant. I love the fact that we were given very little chance of ever getting pregnant on our own and we were SO surprised when I got pregnant naturally after 3 years of tests, surgeries, IVF and miscarriage.
But pregnancy has also been at times a really scary thing for me. When we first saw the result of our home pregnancy test my first feeling was exhilaration. But then I quickly talked myself down. “Don’t get too excited, the last pregnancy ended in miscarriage” I told myself. And I immediately went into panic/management mode. I called my doctor and said I needed a pregnancy blood test with an estrogen and progesterone level test (after our IVF resulted in a positive result my blood levels were checked and my estrogen was way low, something that may have contributed to the miscarriage). My doctor essentially told me to calm down and that they would only do a pregnancy test. So I called our fertility clinic and they agreed to see me and do all sorts of blood level tests.
All those tests came back good, we were really pregnant. Great, awesome, but…we could still miscarry, we knew that 12weeks was the magic number by which most miscarriages occur. So we held our breath, figuratively, as little waves of worry would hit. A twinge in my body, a pain, a food I would eat and then worry if it was safe to eat during pregnancy.
And then a bigger wave, our first ultrasound and getting the call that we needed to come back in as they felt the heartbeat was too low, which I wrote about here. We decided to tell everyone we were pregnant at Christmas when I would be about 13 weeks. But the week before Christmas I panicked, what if we told everyone and then I miscarried? What if I had to tell everyone we lost the baby and to see those faces reflecting back the utter sorrow that I was myself feeling? And so I called Jacob from work and said I was freaking out and could I please rent a fetal doppler so we could hear the heart beat again before we told everyone? And, being the best husband ever and also nervous himself, he agreed. And we heard the heartbeat again the night before we told his family.
We entered the second trimester and things were still going well. The baby started moving and it was such a relief to feel that and know that there was a little life in there growing. But I still was cautious. I wouldn’t let myself say “when the baby comes” but instead would say “when/if the baby comes”. Because I couldn’t set myself up for that pain, I couldn’t just assume I was going to get a live healthy baby out of this. I had to be on guard for a tidal wave.
And perhaps part of this fear was due to our history of parenting. We had been foster parents and we knew going into foster parenting that we would most likely not keep any of the kids we took in, as the goal is reconciliation with the bio-family. However our first long-term case was a unique situation in which everyone thought and believed that we were going to adopt this one. We got called to take a foster baby, a brand new 5 day old preemie. We got to be in the hospital with her. We got to take her home, give her her first bath, worry at every sound she made, hold her as she snuggled on our chests and slept. We were her parents. She knew no one but us as her parents for the first 3 months. And then around 6 months we started to be told that they were going to pursue reconciliation. It was a long shot we were told, but they were going to pursue it. And then exactly one year to the day of when we took her home, we handed her back. Someone came to our house and took, what for both of us felt like, our child from us. And we had to let them.
Every parenting or pregnancy experience we have had has ended in loss. Has ended in a tidal wave of pain and inexplicable grief.
I am now fully in my third trimester, 35 weeks pregnant as of the writing of this post. The baby is big enough now that we can make out limbs and body parts when he/she moves. I talk to Spike, my nickname for the baby, sing songs, tell him/her about how much we have been waiting for this to happen. I’ve had beautiful baby showers, one with family and one with church family. I’ve washed and folded newborn clothes and knitted two hats, one for a boy and one for a girl.
And yet my anxiety has not gone away. Everyone has heard of stories of seemingly healthy pregnancies that go full term and yet the baby is stillborn, or in the last weeks of pregnancy the baby just dies in utero. Or something goes wrong in the delivery and the baby doesn’t make it. Tidal waves. Unlikely to happen, but the chances of a Tidal-like wave on the shores of a beach in Maine are equally unlikely.
And so I love being pregnant, I love watching my abdomen grow and move with the life that is in there. But part of me can’t help but ‘brace’, just in case. And yes, I do know, bracing for a tidal wave is about as effective as a waterproof teabag, (think about it, you’ll get it), but you still have to do it. You still have to try to protect your psyche should it be hit by a tidal wave.
I worry too about after the baby is here. I have talked with a few women now who have suffered infertility and or loss and gone on to give birth or adopt about the transition, or lack of, that takes place. The focus has been for years to get to one thing: healthy, live, baby. That is all you can think about, just get to that point and then you can breathe, then you can let it go, then you can just be a parent. But with the women I’ve talked with, this isn’t the case. It doesn’t just all magically go away. And your brain, so focused, for so long, on just getting to the ‘baby’ part of it, doesn’t know what to do now that baby is here. And it’s overwhelming, and emotional, and you feel like you are afloat on a sea, your anchor, your reality, is gone.
Because for so long your anchor, your reality, was infertility, it became part of your identity, and now that identity is gone or at least drastically changed, which you are thankful for, but that doesn’t mean that it’s suddenly ‘all-better’. You could still be cut, bruised, scarred.
There is correlation between infertility issues and higher rates of Postpartum depression. A quick internet search and I found several articles talking about it. Two excerpts from one article struck me as especially insightful:
“bearing a child after infertility brings with it a lot of pressure for the woman to never complain about the stress of new motherhood. After all, shouldn’t she just be grateful she finally has a baby? Doesn’t the stress of new parenthood pale in comparison to the stress and angst of infertility? This puts the woman at greater risk for not letting others know of her struggles, depression symptoms, etc.”
“Often, there is a lot of pent up emotion that needs expression. Many women become overly protective of their babies, overly vigilant about their babies’ health and add more stress to themselves.”
And this is why I write about this topic. To acknowledge to myself that what I am feeling is normal, it’s ok, even though it may make people uncomfortable with me, I don’t care. This is my reality and is the reality for a lot of women, yet the infertile who does finally get pregnant or adopt is just supposed to shut-up, not complain, and be magically all-better? I think not.
I would love to live on a beach for the rest of my life. I would spend as much time as possible in the ocean. But that doesn’t mean I would ever forget the experience of being hit by a tidal wave. And I refuse to let myself give into society’s expectation that once this baby comes I will forget and no longer care about the difficult path it took us to get here. I refuse to slight myself, my husband, or my child in that way. How we got here is part of our story, I will not shut it into some back closet of my brain and ignore it. I will tell Spike, and any future children we have, just how much we wanted them, how we wanted them so much that we would have walked to the ends of the earth to solve our fertility problems.
And I will accept this anxiety that I have now for what it is, a natural response after a long struggle. And that is ok. If the ocean stopped making waves it would lose part of its essence of what makes it an ocean. And if my being pregnant means I’m also going to be more on edge and more worried, so be it. Because that then is part of me being pregnant, and that is so worth it.