This is the second of a series of posts on pregnancy, labor, birth, and being a new parent. See intro and full list.
I realized that my last post was a bit clinical, talking mostly about symptoms and physical changes, but not disclosing much about the emotional landscape of pregnancy. So here’s a “part two,” if you will.
First of all, Steve and I were “mostly trying” to have a baby, so it wasn’t a complete surprise when I got pregnant. In the previous year, I’d gotten the chicken pox vaccination (never got it as a child), Steve swore off hot tubs, I read Before Your Pregnancy by Amy Ogle, and we stopped using birth control. But I didn’t try to calculate ovulation dates, basal body temperatures, or anything like that. We just let nature take its course, and it happened to work out for us.
On Monday, August 6, I mentioned to Steve that I’d missed my period. He surprised me that evening with a pregnancy test that he’d surreptitiously purchased. It was positive! We talked briefly about keeping it a ‘secret’ for a few months or telling people. Neither of us are good at keeping secrets, and we figured that if something wrong (i.e. miscarriage) happened, we’d share it with close family and friends anyway, so we called family up the next two days and sent emails to our good friends. There was a definite air of excitement for the next several weeks, up to and including our first ultrasound, although I had a moment of anxiety when the doctor was fiddling with knobs and dials with a puzzled frown on her forehead. Was she going to tell us that we were mistaken, that there was no baby there? I was secretly relieved when the doctor showed us the small blinking blip on the black-and-white screen and said, “There’s the baby’s heartbeat.” We were both awed to be able to catch a glimpse of the new life that was growing inside of my belly. Another similarly significant experience was the first time that we heard the baby’s heartbeat through the doppler wand thingy or whatever it’s called. The staticy and surprisingly fast whoosh whoosh whoosh brought big smiles to our faces. Again, we were relieved that the baby had a strong, healthy heartbeat, and that (despite physical evidence to the contrary) we weren’t making things up in our heads.
Pretty soon after making the pregnancy public knowledge, I started having angsty thoughts about being pregnant. I definitely wanted the baby, but I was already feeling like I was losing part of myself, losing my personality, my individuality. I had a hard moment at a family party when it seemed that all that mattered was the pregnancy – that’s all people talked to me about. No one seemed to care anymore about getting to know me – I’d just been boxed in, labeled, and shelved as “pregnant girl.” It no longer mattered that I had a career, had written a book, enjoyed reading, or had thoughts and opinions on other things besides morning sickness and birth plans. A venting-sort of post in my personal blog read: “I don’t know if this is pride or self-centeredness on my part, being unwilling to sacrifice myself and subordinate myself to the needs and reality of having a child, or if it’s a healthy rebellion against being defined and valued only as a ‘mother’ and nothing else. Maybe both?” In retrospect, a big part of my angst stemmed from my general dislike of small-talk. I’m not a very good “chatter,” preferring one-on-one authentic conversations to polite pleasantries. But when you’re pregnant, most people – including strangers – small-talk with you about the coming baby, and there’s not much you can do about it!
I think it took a while for the reality to settle in. I can remember the first time I really felt “excited” about the baby, instead of just “pleased.” One of the exercises in Body, Soul, and Baby is a visualization exercise where you imagine your reproductive system talking to you. After getting past a weird mental image of a computer animated uterus mouthing words to me, I imagined my reproductive system telling me that it was excited to be able to do what it was designed to do. I felt my emotions settle down and click into place: a deep acceptance for this life change, a growing excitement for my body to do what it was built to do, and a loving anxiousness to be able to meet this new person that was going to be the result.
There were definitely times when I felt, though, like I was on a roller coaster and couldn’t get off. My body gained weight, stretched, and morphed. In a culture where dieting, exercise, and self-will are the keys to controlling the shape of your body, it was surreal to be in a situation where, for once, there was nothing I could do – and in fact, that it was good to have a growing belly!
Our 23-week ultrasound, the time when you can see the baby best and gender can be discerned if desired, was pretty cool. Steve and I were surprised to see the baby actively moving around. We realized that our mental image of a baby in utero had been influenced by still photos and ultrasounds. In our heads, we just imagined the baby floating in the uterus, frozen at a perfect fetal position. We laughed at ourselves, particularly as we started to be able to feel the baby – me from inside, Steve from outside – and my belly started doing random jiggle dances at inappropriate occasions.
Later in my pregnancy, I had a harder time as I got less and less sleep. Between getting up to pee every few hours and finding it uncomfortable to sleep on my sides, then waking up at 2 or 3 in the morning and tossing and turning until I gave up and got up, I would feel frustrated with the unproductivity of my days (from being sleepy).
In general, though, I don’t remember any emotions that threw our lives into upheaval. On a day-to-day basis, things were pretty normal.
Any other moms want to share their experiences with pregnancy and emotions?