When I met The Man four years ago, if you had told me that we would have a child in a handful of years, I would have shook my head and thought there is no way the two of us would be ready to raise a child.
The truth is, I’ve always viewed having a child as a huge endeavor, and though it really is, for someone with a history of anxiety it’s a keep-you-awake-at-night notion. From the moment you get pregnant, your every choice, mood, morsel of food, drop of a beverage, minute of sleep, and second of stress affects how you and your child will fare down the line.
Over the course of my 37-week pregnancy, I read more books, websites, and pamphlets than I had ever previously read on a single topic. By week 32, I really believed that I was set on how things were going to go.
Whenever you plan for the perfect pregnancy and labor, it doesn’t happen.
I wound up with cholestasis of pregnancy at around 36 and a half weeks. It was discovered just shy of my 37-week mark, and I had to be induced. This was the beginning of a wildly unplanned labor process.
Cholestasis is a liver disease that can be brought upon by a number of reasons, but for the most part it is due to the elevated hormones that happen during pregnancy. The liver cannot filter out bile from the mother’s bloodstream and it can go into the baby. This is a problem because of the salts in the bile, which can affect the baby, causing distress, preterm labor, or stillbirth.
And this is what it all taught me:
- I learned how to plan for all eventualities. The universe doesn’t care about your plans. It’s like Harry Potter said in the Deathly Hallows Part II: “when have any of our plans ever actually worked? We plan, we get there, all hell breaks loose.” I feel like 98% of mothers can say this. Learn what can happen in a labor room, and get an idea of what you are comfortable with and perhaps more importantly, the exact things with which you are not comfortable. When hell breaks loose and you have a child trying to making his grand debut, it’s easier to state exactly what you do or do not want, as opposed to exploring options at that point.I did not want an episiotomy, I did not want to have a c-section, I wanted as few medical interventions as possible. Well, I didn’t have the episiotomy or the c-section, but when you have to be induced to save your child’s life, there are a whole lot of medical interventions. Luckily, I had done enough research before getting to the hospital that I was able to definitively say that with which I was comfortable or uncomfortable.
- My body is an incredible entity, capable of incredible things. And I wish that more women thought this going into the delivery room, and told this to pregnant women. You just made a human being. Whether or not that human is perfect, he is yours, and he is amazing. You are amazing. This kind of thought can greatly affect your childbirth experience. I had read a book where each contraction was described as a power surge. At the time, I thought it was cheesy. In labor, those words really made me believe that I was an unparalleled source of energy and power, and each contraction was making me more so. I believe so firmly in this, I wrote an article on the Importance of Positive Birth Stories.In realizing and believing in the power of my own existence, I became a much stronger feminist. Women are incredible beings that cannot and should not be reduced to the aesthetically pleasing nature of their bodies, nor the socially accepted roles into which we should all be placed. And just because we become pregnant does not make us community property. My body is still off limits to wandering hands and judgmental statements about my weight gain.
- I discovered what matters to me. Because the universe doesn’t care about your plans and your body is an incredible, unique entity, be selective with the advice that will undoubtedly come your way. Some women give birth at home, other women feel they need a scheduled Cesarean. Some men don’t leave the delivering mother’s side during the labor, others only show up for the grand finale. Some families choose to vaccinate, some choose not to.No one can tell you their birth story, and then you expect yours to be the same. I believe in being open to the possibilities and advice, the regrets and the high points of pregnancy for other families, and mulling them over. I had heard what seems like hours of unsolicited advice for every aspect of pregnancy, childbirth, and child rearing. Ultimately, I had to decide what fit me, my body, my mind, and the values of my family best.
- Life is much more than money. Prior to having my baby, The Man and I had stressed so much over having enough money to support our growing family. While I had been told and knew on a deep level that so many people had done great things for their family with less than we had at the time, it was still so stressful to think that I might not be able to give my baby the kind of life that I had known as a child.The truth is that things do ultimately work out in the end. We crunched numbers and realized we were in much more of a comfortable position than we had originally thought. With that, our priorities became less on the financial and superficial, and more focused on giving our child the loving upbringing that cannot be bought.
- All of the things that used to bring about crippling anxiety before is now painfully small. Since the moment I found out that I was pregnant, I stopped being so damn anxious. As previously discussed, I would lie awake at night worrying and overthinking everything that has happened and could potentially happen down the line. I had done this for years. But when my baby made his presence known, I stopped worrying so much about what people saw when they looked at me. Going out and doing the smallest things became just that, small things.Six months after giving birth, I do still feel like my child was the best anti-anxiety medication I could have ever experienced.
- My desire to learn to effectively and lovingly communicate with my baby is altering how I communicate with adults. There is so much that we take for granted in our conversations with other adults on a daily basis. We have these go-to phrases and concise responses that lack depth and the tools to create bonds and bridges between individuals. We think that because we spend time with an individual that we have a bond, perhaps a permanent one that cannot be broken down by simply saying “thanks” or “good job.”But the truth is, these are small words and phrases that often do not communicate the gratitude and pride that we feel toward another person. In learning how to communicate with my baby (who is now six-months-old) so that he feels loved, supported, and like his mother really wants to foster a bond with him, I have learned new ways to interact with his father, my family, my in-laws, and other adults in my life. It’s unbelievable.
Everyone says that childbirth changes you, but I could not have imagined that I would be such a better person as a result. I envisioned myself a sleep-deprived, chubby, slower, but a loving mother. While I am sleep-deprived, I am infinitely happier, able to communicate more clearly, love more deeply, interact more compassionately, protect more fiercely, and plan more effectively.
The experience of pregnancy and childbirth, along with interacting with the single most beautiful child I have ever seen has made me a much better person than I was before.