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Guest Posts, Pregnancy, Relationships

Someday, Baby

September 26, 2018
fire

By Alayna Becker

It’s wildfire season in Spokane, so I’m stuck inside Crosswalk, the teen homeless shelter where I work. I’m the summer employment specialist, hired to help the homeless kids in my group learn to get a job and hopefully keep it. 12 kids are supposed to show up, but only two, Jessica and Reya are here and a third, Makayla is on her way.  Usually we go outside to do the job the city gave us a grant to do – measure the slopes and accessibility of streets all over the downtown area, but today the whole city is obscured by the haze from fires on the edge of town. Walking feels like wading through a swamp.

My title, employment specialist seems ironic because for the past couple of years I’ve been pretty much unemployed. Mainly I participated in medical studies while co-conspirator roommate sold her plasma. I had a job working for a place that did digital investigations on people that were accused of looking at child porn, but when I accidentally saw a picture of a little girl in her pink underwear over the shoulder of one of the other employees, I left and never went back. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, Pregnancy

Hole

September 17, 2018
hole

By Rhea Wolf

Forgotten already. Absorbed in the mystery.
Into the egg, I come. A mother,
Another one for the
turning, another one for the
wheel, under the ground,
burning waiting resurrecting
falling, singing the long high note and
descending Oh Phoenix oh fire walkers
now I am red and hot inside with
a fractured other,
many wishes,

and a fantastic losing mind.
Thinking those men
think it means enlightenment
but they are still free.
Making big scribbles and smoking sacred cigarettes
losing their minds to art and science,
while they are still free.
And my petals don’t fold out anymore. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, Pregnancy

My Pregnancy Journey: A Leap of Faith

April 11, 2018
fertility

By Dana Mich

I glanced down at the two pink lines gazing up at me from their glossy plastic eyelets. I set the First Response test on my bathroom sink and bit my lip as I ran the tap. It felt too good to be true.

It was the day of my thirtieth birthday, and Mother’s Day. May fourteenth, twenty-seventeen. The previous evening’s cake and candles, and that morning’s sunlit family brunch—gilded with yogurt parfaits and a medley of quiches—hovered in my peripheral view. If anything, those two little tick-marks should have been the cherry on top of an already serendipitous twenty-four hours in my life. But this was my third positive test in nine months with no baby or expectant bump to show for it. Instead of rejoicing on that first day of the decade I’d slated to be my parenting years, I pleaded to the universe: “Please just let me have this baby. I swear, I’ll be so careful.” Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Miscarriage, Pregnancy

The Day Before You Will Be Born

January 29, 2018
pregnancy

CW: This essay discusses miscarriage.

By Anna Burgess Yang

Dear Baby,

This is it. The day before you will be born.

I sometimes feel guilty for my feelings toward you over the past nine months.  Detachment, fear, anxiety… that these will hurt you in some unforeseen way in the future.

How could I avoid these feelings?  When we lost your sister, Nelle, at 21 weeks of pregnancy, I thought that I would split open with grief.  We had no answers as to what happened – why I inexplicably lost a baby after two previous uneventful pregnancies with your older brothers.  Without any reason, we were told that we could try again right away.  Then we lost your sister, Iris, not even six months later.  Going through labor and delivery, twice, to give birth to your sisters when they had already left the world were the worst experiences of my life.  It traumatized me.  Continue Reading…

Child Birth, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, Pregnancy

Delivery

July 9, 2017
delivery

By Amanda Parrish Morgan

I discovered babycenter.com shortly after I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. Babycenter consists of watered-down medical advice, product-placement-heavy blog posts, weekly produce-comparison updates about the size of a growing fetus (“your baby is the size of a butternut squash!”), and message boards. These message boards are like the comments section of a clickbait article: full of deliberately provocative personal attacks, unsolicited advice, and rampant misuse of your and you’re. Also like the comments section, engaging with the message board posters had the effect of making me feel like I’d been part of something unhealthy and malicious.

I noticed that the vast majority of Babycenter posts appear between midnight and dawn. The anonymity of the message boards invites confessional postings: women admit pornography addictions, cigarettes they’ve sneaked despite being aware of the well-documented dangers of smoking during pregnancy, suspicions of spousal infidelity, spending binges using a borrowed credit card. None of these particular transgressions speak to my own strain of pregnancy guilt and fear, but guilt and fear themselves were the defining emotions of my pregnancy. Perhaps this is what makes this collection of strangers, awake and typing away online across the country, so appealing.

***

At the beginning of my third trimester, I somewhat grudgingly, but dutifully, reported for my glucose screening test. I chose a midwife group for my obstetric care, and was surprised when, just as she’d finished complimenting my un-swollen ankles, continued running routine, and fundal height, my midwife presented the screening as routine and mandatory. I knew the screening resulted in a lot of false positives. I’d read that even for legitimate positives, the treatment was exercise and a balanced diet, which I felt proud–desperately so–that I’d maintained throughout my pregnancy. On one website, I found a list of criteria that might exempt a woman from the screening. The only one of these I did not meet was being younger than 25. I felt skeptical, annoyed, haughty. Though, ultimately, it was my intense desire to be a good patient (how much had I internally gloated after being told my belly was perfect?) that kept me from asking about the procedure to waive the screening.

She said nothing.

“What are the alternatives?”

That night, although it was already late by the time I got home from the meet, my husband Nick and I went out to dinner so he could eat a normal meal and I could order something with no carbs. But, not until after I squeezed in a short run around our neighborhood. I was tired, and had thought I might skip running any more than what I already had on the course during the meet, but in my Gestational Diabetes-googling mania, I’d read that exercise helps metabolise glucose. I was worried if I didn’t run more, I would fail the three hour test in the morning. That I was more concerned about passing the test than actually seeing results representative of my typical diet and lifestyle didn’t then strike me as irresponsible or self-centered. I didn’t exactly logically feel that I’d done something wrong in failing the screening, but I certainly didn’t feel I’d earned the right to start exercising less.

I couldn’t sleep that night, and the next morning I was waiting at Quest Diagnostics when they opened at six, already hungry.

This is when I made my first Birth Club post: sitting at Quest Diagnostics five minutes into my three-hour glucose screening test, defensive, worried (but unwilling to admit that I was worried), surrounded by pharmaceutical pamphlets.

Several people responded with tales of twelve pound babies spending weeks in the NICU due to undiagnosed GD, others responded with anecdotes of vegan yogis with GD. One woman accused me of fat-shaming. In the second before I got control of my consciousness, I thought, “yes, of course.” I’d like to think that the only person I felt deserved shame was myself, but I’m afraid that’s giving myself too much credit.

I’d brought a book to read during the test, but after I had the drink, this one twice as sweet as the one from the one-hour screening test, I couldn’t focus. My heart was racing and my mouth was dry. Were these signs I was going to fail the test? Between blood draws, as I grew increasingly exhausted, I obsessively googled. Who gets gestational diabetes? Gestational diabetes causes. Gestational diabetes treatment. Gestational diabetes outlook. Gestational diabetes complications.

Later, with the security of having passed the second test, I’d been able to admit to myself that there might be some relationship between my feelings about the gestational diabetes screening and years of insecurity about the intersection of weight, self control, and worth. I explained to Nick that when I’d gotten pregnant, for the first time I could remember, I hadn’t dreaded going to the doctor, getting on the scale, or getting my blood pressure taken. I liked the drive to the office, giving me distance from teaching and grading and coaching to enter into the mental space of expectant motherhood. I liked the appointments themselves, meeting all the midwives, hearing the baby’s heartbeat, and then leaving buoyed by reassurance from the checkup. I was sad, I said, that this once-positive medical experience had begun to feel like every visit to my pediatrician, every team weigh-in at in college, every look (real or imagined) from skinnier girls on the starting line of races.

The closer my due date drew, the more I read. I was–for fear of going to the hospital with a pile of ninth grade essays–totally caught up on grading, the days were short and cold. The mobile hung over the crib, clothes washed, sorted, and stored. I couldn’t think of anything to do but wait. For the most part, I was too anxious and distracted to read or write much. The notable exception were labor stories. I read blog posts detailing the labor experiences of professional runners. I read Labor Days, an essay collection of women writers’ birth stories. I spent more and more time on Babycenter’s December 2014 Birth Announcement thread.

I might have been able to tell myself I was looking for camaraderie, a way to feel less alone or confused or scared had any of the interactions I witnessed through the message board been supportive. Instead of downplaying anxieties and offering reassurances, women posted stories of prenatal cancer diagnoses, sudden infant death syndrome, horrible birth accidents, tales of spousal abandonment, emergency hysterectomies performed before the fog of general anesthesia had even worn off. The spectres of loss and death–mine or my daughter’s–that felt increasingly menacing as I tried to heed advice to focus on the positive. I couldn’t verbalize these fears precisely. I guarded vigilantly against negative thoughts which meant I couldn’t even bring myself to confront them.

But before this–before I’d given birth, before I’d become a mother, the most concrete and tangible way that my life was changing seemed to be that long-distance running, my primary social activity and vehicle for self worth was off limits. The end of years of keeping bodily shame at bay through distance running, was the loss I feared. Mostly, of course, the notion of control over my body was an illusion, but it was an important illusion that had defined decades of my life.

I wish what I felt viscerally that I needed had been as simple as a cheeseburger. What I craved instead was connection. Not like “I’d like to spend the evening with some friends,” but deep, insatiable yearning for a connection both to the person I’d spent thirty-two years understanding myself to be and to a much bigger and even abstract community of mothers.

Before I got pregnant, I thought of myself as someone who needed a lot of alone time. When I was about five months pregnant, Nick was gone for a week at a conference, and instead of enjoying the opportunity to watch independent movies while eating all the pregnancy-safe-sushi a person could ever want, I grew lonely, and moved to fill my evenings with plans. I went to my parents’ house for dinner, caught up with friends from work. But, all the while. I couldn’t shake this feeling that I was still lonely. That the real me was watching a different me go through these motions.

I once heard depression described as a floating sensation. In Marjane Satrapi’s graphic autobiography Persepolis, she depicts herself as a teenage Iranian refugee floating with terrifying rather than joyful weightlessness in an almost entirely black sky.

The first time that the sensation of loneliness got strong enough to knock me over, I sat on the bottom step of our staircase, crying inconsolably, imagining myself as a hybrid of Sandra Bullock’s character in Gravity, space shuttle untethered and tumbling hundreds of miles a second in some unknowable direction, and the image of young Marji, lost without a place that feels like home (and how absurd, I realized even as I imagined it–I was not woman fighting for oxygen in outer space, nor a refugee in the Iranian Revolution, but a lucky, healthy, American woman with a good job, a kind husband, a supportive and loving family, expecting her first baby after few months of waiting for a positive pregnancy test). Over and over again, I kept telling Nick, “I’m so lonely,” to which he kept responding, hurt, confused, “But, I’m right here.”

Even before I met my husband, I wanted to be a mother. I had an uncomplicated vision of what this relationship meant in the same way, I had wanted to be a teacher, a wife, a friend. I thought that I’d share my passion for literature with a classroom of undistracted and eager students, or that marriage would be cozy Sunday afternoons with chili on the stove, that my childhood friends and I would remain close for life. That none of these relationships were as simple as what I’d once imagined didn’t make me any more prepared for the disconnect I’d feel during pregnancy. I still could not envision motherhood or pregnancy as nuanced in the way I’d come to understand these other relationships. What kind of person would I be to admit fear and loneliness, sometimes building on one another until I’m floating, untethered in the middle of the night? What did my preoccupation with fear and my feelings of shame mean? That I would be a bad mother?

***

In movies, pregnant women are often shown crying at commercials about puppies. Hormones! Ha! I both did and did not want to blame hormones. I wanted to be able to explain to Nick that he really had done nothing wrong, and that in the light of most days, I could see how irrational my panicked, lonely tears really were. But, the emotions were as real to me as any others I’d experienced, and so, it seemed unfair to dismiss them as a side effect of pregnancy hormones.

I’ve tried to think of all the rational reasons I might have felt so lonely while pregnant. I do not have many friends, at least not friends from before motherhood, with kids. Although Nick and I were going to become parents together, I was the one who was pregnant. With daylight savings, the nights came early and those exhausted hours between the end of the work day and bed felt bleak.

There was some voice in my brain telling me that I should not feel so alone. That pregnancy connected me, not only to my own mother, but to women everywhere, and for generations before and to come, who have carried and borne children. All these women on babycenter.com, even the ones who named their children something I found tacky or who posted pictures of baby shower cakes with a doll’s head crowing from a frosting vagina, had something fundamental in common with me.

***

The last time during pregnancy that I cried, I cried about fear of labor. Much of what I tried to explain was the same feeling of alone-ness, of being alienated from myself, that I’d tried to explain on past nights. On a logical level, all I could explain was that I was worried about complications. Somewhere, floating far from my space craft, I mumbled aloud that I was scared I might die.

That fall, one or both of my parents began attending my team’s cross country meets. At first, I thought they were just really getting into the team’s success. Then, somewhere around the third week in a row when my dad made a ninety minute drive one-way to watch my girls race across a field in Manchester, CT, I realized that they were worried something might happen to me. Not necessarily that I might die, but that I might go into labor while far from the hospital where I planned to deliver, far from my husband and his car with its infant car seat carefully installed, that it might take longer than it needed to, or be more uncomfortable than it could have been for me, their daughter, to have her daughter.

I grew up with the unquestioned understanding that it’s bad luck to even mention early symptoms of a cold outloud, and that denial is a powerful tool of self-preservation. I feel immense guilt that I allowed myself to vocalize my fear of dying. And even now, pregnant with my son, that I might have courted disaster by articulating the unspeakable fears of my first pregnancy. I’d like to think that I meant “dying” metaphorically. That I was afraid the self I’d always been would be replaced by a new, unfamiliar self, and that the process would be one of death and rebirth rather than of transformation. I was reading a lot of Joseph Campbell then, so that may have been a part of it. But, I’d also been reading all those labor stories, many of them natural childbirth testimonials (meant to be empowering, but often quite the opposite), and that fear I articulated was at least on some level literal. Childish, wimpy, selfish… everything other than what I believe myself, or an ideal mother to be.

***

Some of the posts are marked “*trigger,*” the warning women use to label threads about seriously ill babies or domestic violence, and it was here, not in the news that I first learned this term. One of the most common pieces of advice I received while pregnant was to shield myself from negative thoughts. That I should avoid the sensationalist, violent news coverage, cut out obligations that drained me, sever ties with the kind of friends who would judge me if my house was dirty in the months after my baby was born. I took this advice seriously.

But what about darkness–triggers–that are of my own making, sprung from within? I like to think of myself as positive, kind, hopeful, optimistic, energetic. It wasn’t just the life I’d always known, or the friends I’ve always had that I feared I might be floating away from on those rough nights (though of course I was), but that in facing the darkest parts of myself, I feel I’d found something in myself that was meant to remain locked away and banished. Maybe I was lonely from myself because I’d come face to face with a part of myself I never wanted to acknowledge existed, a part of myself I don’t want Nick or any of the people he so gently suggested I reach out to to know about.

“Maybe you should call Laura,” Nick suggested an hour into my sobbing. I was curled embarrassedly into the corner of our brand new couch (I picked it out imagining our little family of three snuggling here). And, because I was worried that all these lonely nights were taking a toll on Nick before the sleepless nights of the baby even began, I did.

Laura and I got lunch, but there was only so much I could say. We sat at Panera, where I picked at a slimy turkey sandwich (many women on babycenter.com don’t eat cold cuts during pregnancy; I ate any protein I could stomach, but always felt guilty to be seen eating turkey in public). Laura is a woman who’s opened up to me about her own postpartum depression. We’ve been friends since before she got divorced from her first husband, before she got remarried. She introduced me to Nick. But, when she asked how I was feeling, although I managed to tell her that I’d been having some hard nights, I couldn’t help myself: I steered our conversation away from the places my mind goes untethered, and we talked about work, about running, about our sandwiches.

I’ve heard some women say that labor is less frightening the second time around because they know what to expect. But, I felt so keenly aware of death’s proximity during labor, which is something I had tried to stop myself from realizing beforehand–and I know that now. I was a healthy, thirty-two year old woman with no history of complications or serious medical issues. But perhaps it was something I had considered. Or, if not considered, known. Perhaps that’s what I was looking for–an acknowledgement of this dark side, a validation of the fear I felt, not just of labor’s pain and unpredictability but, for all of medicine’s advances, the extent to which the life of my child, even from the very beginning would depend on me. And not in the passive way of pregnancy, but on my work–my labor. Instead, I read the confessions of women hundreds of miles away, I kept track of my weekly running mileage, tried to find new ways to wear the few pieces of clothing that still fit and I said that I missed being able to put myself in pain.

Next week, when I’ll be 28 weeks pregnant with my son, I’ll go for the one-hour gestational diabetes screening. I haven’t had any cravings this pregnancy, either, and I’ve still been running. Is it different this time?  I haven’t been on Babycenter much–just every few weeks to check in on the physiological changes my baby and I are experiencing. Motherhood has undeniably separated me from decade-long friendships, and at the same time precluded forming new friendships of the intensity I once took for granted. In the mom’s group or at preschool drop-off, women ask my due date, how I’m feeling, if I know the baby’s gender. Sometimes we even talk about why our toddlers are crying, but in these stolen moments of adult conversation between women who are not exactly friends but part of the community of mothers, we don’t talk about shame or guilt or fear or where the word delivery really comes from.

 

Amanda Parrish Morgan taught high school English in Connecticut for seven years. Currently, she is raising her young daughter, coaching the local cross country and track teams, and working on a collection of essays. Her short story “Teratoma” was named a finalist in Glimmer Train’s Short Story Contest for New Writers. Her essays have also appeared in N+1 and The Rumpus and The Millions.

 

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. Sep 30-October 7, 2017.. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

 

Join Jen Pastiloff at her signature workshop in Atlanta at Form Yoga on Aug 26 by clicking the picture.

 

Donate to the Aleksander Fund today. Click the photo read about Julia, who lost her baby, and what the fund is.

Grief, Guest Posts, Pregnancy

I Was A Mother Waiting To Make The Call

May 8, 2017
call

By Mallory McDuff

I waited until I was three months pregnant to tell him about the baby. Then he died three days after my phone call, when my six-year old daughter shared the news of a baby sister in her future, squealing her delight in a high-pitched voice that sounded like a toddler, although she was quite pragmatic and focused for a first-grader. What drove me to call on that day rather than later in the week, when it would have been too late? And why was I devastated by his sudden death but comforted by his support of this unusual pregnancy?

“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” my mother always said, describing the twists and turns in our lives that both confound and amaze us. This phone call to my father was definitely a mystery, one of those encounters I could never have predicted, even if I’d written the script in advance.

For starters, I’d gotten pregnant while separated from my husband, separated for nearly three years, as we avoided the eventuality of the end of our marriage, much like we often waited until the last minute to do our taxes. While we waited for something to happen (a move, an affair, a sudden desire to teach English in Japan?), I got pregnant, much to my joy-filled delight. We were separated, but not separated enough, I learned to say to anyone who questioned the timeline. Hearing that quip, people stopped asking questions, which was the intended outcome. This conception came several years after we ended a second pregnancy due to a genetic disorder affecting the baby, a gut-wrenching decision made from a foundation of love in the midst of a crumbling marriage. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, loss, Pregnancy

Choices

December 4, 2016
survive

TW: This piece discusses medically necessary termination of pregnancy

By Leslie Wibberly

A while ago, a friend and colleague received some devastating news. She and her husband were expecting their second daughter, and at over three months into the pregnancy they had assumed everything was fine. A routine ultrasound unexpectedly revealed multiple birth defects and a tumor, called a terratoma, attached to the base of the baby’s spine.

They were told they could choose to terminate this pregnancy, as the effects of those birth defects were not clear. Or, they could try to carry the baby to term and hope that surgery might be able to correct the problems.

As she shared her news with me, her despair carefully but not completely masked, I was brought back to the moment many years earlier, when I had received similar news. A tiny tsunami of nausea intermingled with terror and regret, flooded my body.

My first pregnancy was planned, but happened sooner than expected. Exhausted from full time work and a year of studying for a post-grad certification, my body was not in peak condition. My husband and I had fully intended to start trying for a baby once my exams were over, but the universe was impatient and so conception was precipitous.

We were overjoyed none-the-less, and I did what assume every mother-to-be did. I bought parenting books, baby-name books, maternal vitamins, I started to worry about never sleeping again, and I prepared to say goodbye to my thirty-something pre-baby body. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, motherhood, Pregnancy

Stretched

September 18, 2016
baby

By Rachel Schinderman

I was very pregnant.  38 weeks.  I remember being very aware of my belly and not because it was as big as it was.  And it was big.  Huge actually.  But because, it felt hollow, empty.  It was a Wednesday and my husband was at work.  I knew my running off to the movies to while away an afternoon days were coming to an end, so I sat down in my seat in a dark theater on 2nd Street to watch Little Miss Sunshine by myself.  The baby was scheduled to arrive in a week by C-section since he was breech.   I was trying to get it all in.  Lunch with an old college friend and a facial were rounding out the week.

I half watched the movie, half pushed on my belly.  Where are you I wondered?  But he never moved much.  That was his way.  It was normal.  Occasionally, like at night when I was trying to sleep he would remind me he was there.  Once it seemed he had friends over, but that was not the norm, he was snug in his spot.

It seems this would be the moment where I would race out of the theater and head straight to my doctor’s or arrive at the hospital.  This would be the hero move.  But as a first time pregnant lady who had called her doctor often over Braxton Hicks and other not feeling quite so well moments, I figured again it would be the same answer.  I was fine.  The baby wasn’t moving, true, but the baby never moved much.  And besides, I had an appointment the next morning. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, Pregnancy

Downsizing.

September 13, 2016

By Megan Birch-McMichael

The blue Tupperware tub sat for months after the move, stored in an alcove under the stairs, sharing space with infant detritus that had been through two rounds of child. A swing, a crib mattress, a breast pump, waiting to see what their ultimate fate would be; a landfill, Goodwill, or in the fourth bedroom that was a combination guest room, office, catch-all room that swelled with our indecision.

 

A good friend revealed her third pregnancy to me on a playground as we watched our children skitter around, laughing and pushing and filling each other with joy. In a fit of re-organization and purging, I offered her the contents of the bin, pulling out the maternity underwear and nursing bras, and handing over the tops and bottoms that had held in my belly for the long summer months that I thought would never end. “These are just a loan,” she said, “I’ll bring them back when I’m done.” She brought them to the car in two overflowing shopping bags and for months, I forgot them.

 

***************************** Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Pregnancy

How to Not a Have a Baby

April 3, 2016
pregnant

By Catherine Newman

I am having my blood drawn for the third time in four days. “Me again!” I say to the cute, hoop-earringed phlebotomist. He smiles and then looks politely away while tears leak out of my eyes and into my hair. I’m sure he’s not supposed to talk to me about my situation, but when I stand up to go, he punches me gently on the arm he hasn’t stuck, and smile-frowns. He says, “Hey, I hope this turns out good for you.” My chart says, Pregnancy. Suspected ectopic. As I leave, he’s swabbing the chair with alcohol, and I feel contagious.

If you’ve had one go badly, then you know the terrible exponential math at the beginning of a pregnancy. Hormone levels are supposed to double every three days, and you picture these numbers as a representation of the baby itself: it’s getting twice as big, twice as big again, cells properly multiplying in a kind of magical embryological choreography. Everything folds up the way it should. A flat plane of cells become tubes and tunnels, because your body has learned origami while you were sleeping! You are so good at this! Multiplication is your best and favorite function! But not always. Sometimes the numbers go down instead of up, a simple subtraction problem represented by the kind of dark blot in your underpants that makes you sit there with your head in your hands long after you’re done peeing. That was the kind of miscarriage I had before Ben, and it was quick and certain. After a second trip to the clinic down the street, a friend who happened to work there  walked over with our results. She hugged me. “Not this one,” she said. “But it will happen.” And it did. But first this melancholy reproductive subplot had to end, what with the bleeding and the cramping and my drama-queen of a body throwing its miserable clots into the toilet.

This time there is no clarity, of either multiplication or subtraction. This pregnancy stays in a kind of algebraic twilight zone: x = x = ? Nobody knows. At first I picture a stalled-out ball of cells, neither growing nor dying. In nine months I will birth our beautiful blastocyst! I will swaddle it tenderly and push it around proudly in a pram. Babies with limbs and facial features? “Totally overrated!” I’ll say. “This one’s so easy!” I say this to a friend and she tortures me by not laughing. I am left hanging in more ways than I can count.

The stalling continues, and my doctor is on vacation, and her substitute is suspicious. If you might have one, don’t Google “ectopic pregnancy.” You will picture not only your baby growing uncomfortably in your fallopian tube—“Mama! I’m too squashed!”—but also your own death, your motherless children and motherless blastocyst dressed for school by a man who can’t remember if it’s a skirt or a dress that “also has the shirt part.” Blood work, numbers, no change. Day after day.

I am superstitious enough that I worry about the wish I make every year when I blow out my birthday candles: that everything stay the same. What kind of wish is that? It’s a crazy wish! I’m like Midas, only instead of a daughter made of gold I’m going to permanently have a three- and six-year-old, along with this ball of cells. Fifty years from now, I am going to be so sick of these ages. “Why can’t you be more like the ball of cells?” I’ll say to Ben and Birdy. “You don’t hear it arguing about the compost smell!” I always thought this wish was an improvement over my childhood wish—that I not have seen the terrifying Injun Joe cave scene in the Tom Sawyer movie—but now I’m not so sure.

I had not pictured adulthood as the crazy derangement of joy and sadness that it’s turning out to be. The children are lost to us over and over again, their baby selves smiling at us from photo albums like melancholy little ghosts of parenthood past. Where are those babies? They are here and not here. I want to remember the feel of a warm little hand in mine, or the damp, silky weight of a naked kid in my arms straight out of the bath. When I prop Birdy on my hip, she still slings a little arm around my shoulder, jaunty as a boyfriend—but she’s so heavy. The kids grow and grow, they grow right out the door! Like creatures in a Dr. Seuss book about people you love and love and then they move out and leave you and go to college like jerks, marry other people and refuse to live at home with you who love them so much, who loved them first. (Assuming you can even keep them alive that long.) Loss is ahead of us, behind us, woven into the very fabric of our happiness. I don’t wish nothing would change as much as I wish for the absence of more loss.

This, now, is change and loss. We didn’t even want a third child. I will give you a secret piece of advice. Ready? If you are ever kneeling above me with a wrapped condom in your hand and I say, panting, “No, no, we’re good, it’s safe”? We’re not good, and it’s not safe. Just, you know, FYI.

Birdy is three and Ben is six, and I don’t want another baby. I fear change, for one thing (see above), and for another I am starting to be not tired, which is intoxicating. The problem is that, also, I do want another baby. I have always loved to get pregnant, by accident or on purpose, in a way that I can’t really describe or explain. I don’t mean that I always knew I wanted to have kids, although that’s true too. I mean that since I’ve been having sex, I have always, and sometimes secretly, hoped to get pregnant from having it, even at times in my life when I fervently didn’t want to get pregnant. This is as crazy as it sounds. After some poorly-contracepted sex with my high-school boyfriend, I was terrified that I might be pregnant. And by “terrified” I mean something more like tantalized. It would have totally screwed up my track season, but I wanted to be pregnant anyway. The excitement is definitely part of it—the reproductive equivalent of a bee buzzing against your classroom windows, and everyone screaming or running out of the room. A break in the routine! Something fabulously different from American History, even if you end up getting stung! I got my period, between classes, in the third-floor bathroom with the big silver radiator that never turned off, even when it was broiling out. “Phew,” I said from my stall, sweating, to my best friend. “A total relief.” And this was and wasn’t true.

It is not new to me, ambivalence, and the pregnancy desire has not always matched desire itself: I have gotten pregnant with a bonfire raging in my heart, and I have also gotten pregnant with the matter-of-factness of boiling an egg or tripping over the flipped-up corner of the doormat. I have gotten pregnant using birth control well, using it badly, and using it not at all. Which is, you’ll notice, more pregnancies than the number of children I have. And yet every time, I have thrilled to the peed-on plastic stick with its baffling system of symbols: plus, minus, yay, nay. I always want to be pregnant. And even the losses have satisfied an odd craving, like a  hook on which I’ve hung the heap of despair piled up inexplicably on the floor of my psyche. I don’t always understand my own sadness. Me and my Achilles heart.

Did you see the final episode of MASH? Do you remember Hawkeye and his flashback about a woman choking a chicken to death because it was making too much noise on the bus and they feared for their lives? Only then the memory came into focus, and it wasn’t a chicken, it was a baby? In this story, mine, the miscarriage comes into focus and it’s actually an abortion. Only it’s not this miscarriage, it’s an earlier one, which left behind the same agony of emptiness. But that’s not the story I’m choosing to tell you here, although it’s part of this story, the same way old bones are part of the milk in your baby’s cup.

After the red ectopic herring, the numbers drop to zero, and turn this into a plain old miscarriage. Uncertain as I am about the baby, I will be bereaved by its goneness. I will be alone, drinking the bitter reproductive blend of privacy and shame. “You have to remember to ask me about it every day,” I will cry to Michael, whose body will not offer him gory reminders of the wreckage. Later that week, Ben will crawl into bed with us after a nightmare and, moments after Michael whispers, “Tell us all about it, sweetie,” we will hear him gently snoring—which will make Ben and me laugh, but will also make me want to kill him. I will be furious. I will be depressed. Everybody around me will be suddenly hugely pregnant, teetering around on little feet like circus performers. I will take a lot of baths. I will buy a lot of maxi pads. I will kneel on the floor to fish a dark shape out of the toilet, then scrub my hands before touching my living right-here children. The would-be baby will fade into a melancholy background hum, a kind of pale outline that fills in on its due date, on its birthday a year after that. We will try again, but without conviction.  I will start to feel old, to doubt my ability to bear anything other than a phlegmy little clump of cells, to doubt I have the energy to rock the clump to sleep every night.

On medical forms, I will write a number for “pregnancies” and a number for “live births,” and they will not be the same number. I will be indignant. “Live births? Are we guppies?” Eventually, I will be almost entirely happy again, under only the faintest shadow of doubt. Birdy will tell us that she remembers when they took Ben out of my belly. “I was already there, and they saw me there, and they took Benny out, and they closed you back up!” she’ll explain. “I had to wait.” “You were so, so patient,” I’ll say, and she’ll nod smugly and shrug. “I was.”Catherine_Newman-Author20Photo20Catherine20Newman20Credit20Ben20Newman

Catherine Newman is the author of the memoir Waiting for Birdy, and the blog Ben and Birdy. The above essay is a selection from her most recent memoir, Catastrophic Happiness, which can be ordered here. She is also the etiquette columnist for Real Simple magazine and a regular contributor to the New York Times Motherlode blog. Her first middle-grade novel will be published in 2017. She lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, with her family. 

 

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Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany Sep 17-24, 2016. There are 5 spaces left. This will be her only international retreat in 2016 and is her favorite retreat of the year. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com asap. More info here. Must email first to sign up.

 

Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

depression, Guest Posts, Pregnancy

Not Waving, But Drowning: Pregnancy & Depression

February 25, 2016
depression

By Anonymous

As I idly looked at the prescription bottle of sertraline, I realized that one of the light blue warning boxes on the label read: Third trimester use can cause health problems. Discuss with your doctor or pharmacist. My third trimester started yesterday.

Since adolescence, depression has been a presence in my life. When I say depression, I’m talking about the kind that is clinically significant enough to warrant a low dose of antidepressants, but never interfered with my life to ruin a job or school. When I am overwhelmed with responsibilities or work, I take on more. And fulfill all of my obligations. Well, I might add. But when I got the news about my fertility last January, I went off my antidepressant, thinking I would get my body as “healthy” as possible for conception.

I made the decision to become a single mother by choice after getting the news that my ovarian reserve was very, very low. This pregnancy was planned meticulously. I had always wanted to be a mother, fiercely and desperately.

Things went well, until I started progesterone for the second half of my cycle every month for a luteal phase defect. The progesterone caused dark moods, irritability, and depression. Then Clomid gave me mood swings. When I got pregnant, I had to take an even higher dose of progesterone, twice a day, for the first 13 weeks, in order to improve my chances of keeping the pregnancy. That, along with the stress of not knowing how my family would respond, caused me agonizing, crippling anxiety and depression. Constant nausea and bone-crushing fatigue beginning at 6 weeks only added to my depression.

Arriving at my 20 week ultrasound and OB appointment by myself, the tech exclaimed, “All alone?” I said yes, and climbed up on the table. I was more interested in the actual fetal anatomy than any cute pictures – which, to be honest, I didn’t fawn over, nor did I think were cute. In the waiting room, another patient was there, along with her husband, her parents, his parents, and various brothers and sisters, poring over their ultrasound pictures. My pictures were folded up in my bag, and all I wanted to do was go home and sleep.

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Binders, Guest Posts, Pregnancy

Don’t Tell Me It’ll All Be Worth It

August 9, 2015

By Abigail Rasminsky

When I was 14 weeks pregnant, my husband and I flew halfway around the world to spend Christmas with his family in rural Nevada. We live in Europe, and by the time we sloughed off our coats and boots at his aunt and uncle’s doorstep—I cannot even begin to tell you how many flights later; I sobbed for most of the journey—I was a wreck. I managed to wave hello to the 10 or so people in attendance, and disappeared into the spare bedroom for most of the visit.

I’d had debilitating nausea since Week 7 and although I’d been told it would dissipate by the end of the first trimester, I woke up every morning pressed firmly against another wave of it. I couldn’t grasp that my decrepit state could, in six months, culminate in something joyful. Although the baby was planned and very much wanted, I seemed to be the only person in my life who wasn’t thrilled by the pregnancy.

On one of my infrequent visits out of the bedroom, my mother-in-law sat down across from me while I took slow bites of a peanut butter sandwich. She raised three boys largely on her own and is one of the very sweetest people on earth, but she seemed puzzled by my state. “It’s all worth it,” she said. My husband’s aunt, also a mother of three, who was bending over backwards to make me feel at home despite my fervently anti-social behavior, chimed in: “Yes! It’s totally, totally worth it.” This became their mantra for the week: It’s all worth it.

Now that I have a child—that child—an absolutely delightful almost-two-year-old whose very being structures and enlivens (and frustrates) my days, I, of course, know exactly what they were saying: This part, this short part, ends—and then the rest of your unimaginable, irrevocably changed life begins. Then you are a mother, hopefully forever. Then you will feel how completely your heart can be turned inside out. Then the pregnancy will be but a blip on a vast and textured landscape.

Pregnancy, however, is all too often treated simply as a gateway—something to get through on the road to the real event, the baby’s birth; not as a momentous, life-altering, and emotionally and physically treacherous event in and of itself. It is rarely something that women are allowed to experience and enact—to speak of—in all its nuanced complexity. Continue Reading…

Anonymous, Grief, Guest Posts, Pregnancy

Summer Solstice

June 24, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Anonymous

Scout was conceived during the New Moon and was lost during the Summer Solstice. Before I even got the bloodwork results, I felt her leave me as the thunder stormed through the shortest night of the year. Which is silly, of course, since she was only 4 weeks and 2 days.

But I swear, I knew I lost her.

A “chemical pregnancy, “ they call it, since there would be no sac visible on ultrasound that early. To me, there was nothing “chemical” about it. The two pink lines, clear as day, over and over and over – two days’ worth. The nearly immediate instinct to rest my hand on my stomach. After months of trying to be a single mother by choice, two months of Clomid and three of progesterone, I was finally part of that club I envied; those women whose bodies were doing what they were supposed to. Mothers. I walked around, amazed that my life was changed so much already, but no one else could tell. I looked up my due date. February 26, 2016. I wondered if I would have a leap year baby.

When the spotting started hours after the first lines appeared, panic swam through my veins and soaked through my skin. I tried to tell myself it was normal implantation spotting. Instinct told me otherwise.

The next morning, bright red blood spattered the toilet paper and my insides clenched in horror. It kept coming, insistent and scarlet, on the toilet paper, on the pad; later, there were clots. I called the midwife and was sent for bloodwork. I bled through pad after pad. Asked the cab driver to please hurry, this is an emergency. Tried to quell the alarm that was quickly overwhelming me. Laid on my back with my feet up.

I talked with her. Pled with her to stay with me. The night before the positive test, I drank for the first time in months, since the pregnancy test that day was negative. Scout I’m sorry, I know that’s not the best way to start our relationship, but I swear I will never do it again. I feel guilty already; welcome to motherhood, huh? I prayed to Sarah, Rachel, Rebekah, Hannah – infertile women of the Old Testament who were eventually blessed with a baby. I begged Yemaya, a goddess of fertility and motherhood, to please help me stay a mother. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, Pregnancy

A Bend in the Light

June 18, 2015
Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

 

By Aileen Weintraub

It was the morning of my son’s eighth birthday and I was having trouble getting out of bed. In three hours, fifteen family members, including grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, would descend upon my house to celebrate. I pulled the cream colored sheets up to my chin and then tucked the thin tattered quilt firmly around my shoulders to make sure I was wrapped tight. It was a habit I had retained from five months of pregnancy-related bed rest leading up to the birth of my son. The last eight years seemed to have flown by, but when I think about those five months, it still feels like a life sentence. I ignored the familiar pang in my chest that accompanied the memory. Even now, so many years later, I still struggle with remnants.

I had made a promise to myself all those years ago: if this baby survived, no matter what, I would will myself out of bed every morning to care for him. By now I knew that I could face the day, as long as I eased into it. I ticked off a list of to do items for the party: prepare crudités, defrost burgers, clean bathrooms. I gave myself two more minutes under covers, watching the shadows dance on the wall, another habit I had picked up from what I came to refer to as bed rest purgatory. Maybe it was the way the light hit the wall this morning or the fact that we had come so far, but something inside me triggered details I had tried unsuccessfully to cast aside.

It was right around my twenty-ninth day of bed rest, at which point I had become an expert on two fronts: light patterns on varying surfaces and the direction in which dust swirls before it settles. That particular afternoon was a hot June day, and I lay in bed watching the sun streaming through the window making rainbow prisms on the wooden floor. The pressure in my lower belly was unbearable and I raised my hips up onto a yoga block in a poor attempt at relief. Even now, thinking back, I can almost feel the summer’s breath caress the curve of my neck as it passed between the crinkled white curtains. What made this day different than the previous ones is that by then, all the hoopla of bed rest had died down. The phone had ceased ringing, there were no packages in the mail, and I was undeniably alone. The hustle of setting up my space and receiving visitors had held the sadness at bay for the first few weeks. But then, the house fell silent as all the well meaning people went back to their workaday lives. I was unsettled because the very next day would mark the one month anniversary of the emergency sonogram that showed I had three monster fibroids invading my uterus.

Fibroids are bulbous growths that form on the uterine wall. One of them was pressing up against my cervix causing early effacement. Most of the time they are relatively harmless, unless of course they are trying to escape. There was a battle inside my belly, and I was told in no uncertain terms that the fibroids would likely win. The doctor, whom I now only remember as a bleached blond with Louboutin heels and bright red lipstick told me with her head still between my legs that I’d be lucky if my baby made it to twenty-four weeks. I had been eighteen weeks along at the time. Go to bed. Don’t get up. Wait. That was the only treatment she offered. And there I was on that twenty-ninth day, just skimming the surface of the first full month.

The initial shock and fear eventually simmered, leaving in its wake a hollow shell of guilt. In the space of the silent afternoon, just around the time when the light pattern darkened on my bedroom wall, I began to obsess. I worried what people thought of me and I judged myself against other pregnant women. No matter what anyone else had to say, at the time, there was only one way for me to see this. I had failed at the very essence of womanhood. I was an incubator, a stationary vessel in the truest sense.

My mother, in her well meaning way, told me to keep busy, and, to get my mind off my situation, she would send care packages. But once the mail had already arrived, or the UPS driver hadn’t shown up on his morning run, I had nothing left to look forward to for the rest of the day. The afternoons were ruthless.

I had dubbed the hours between 1:00 and 3:00 ‘the endless’ hours. Not a single car on the road drove by, television became a wasteland of soap operas and reruns, and this is when the sadness hit the hardest. I struggled to distinguish the physical pain of the fibroids pressing up against my cervix from the emotional pain that dug a deep pit in my middle. I could drown during those hours, turn deep inside, and never come up for air if I allowed myself to slip. By 3:00, I could muster energy enough to reach over and click on the television remote to watch talk show hosts crack jokes that left me cold.

Each day after that twenty-ninth one I continued to observe the slow and relentless disintegration of my body as if it were detached from me entirely. At every turn, something new failed me: first my uterus, then my cervix, my blood sugar, my joints, the list goes on, and soon I had a small army of vitamins, pills, needles, and medications. For the first time I could sympathize with elderly people who lived inside flesh and bones that just could not keep time with their soaring spirit. I realized what it meant to be in pain every single moment of the day and how it could change your entire personality. I imagined each little joint, artery, and nerve ending, blessing them and saying silent prayers that nothing else would fail and that this baby would thrive. Even now to this day I say a prayer, thankful for my life right down to my smallest blood vessel.

It took a while to realize, but sometimes there is simply no pill or procedure, or anything else. Sometimes it’s just you and whatever or whomever you believe in trying to figure out how to get through the next moment. Unlike other people suffering from depression, by the very nature of this beast, I could not change my environment. I could not “take my mind off things” even if I wanted to. It was a test not only of emotional and physical endurance but of mental acuity. It would have been so easy to follow the darkness in its entirety, to go deeper.

My husband was dutiful, making me a cooler packed with food in the mornings and leaving it bedside, calling once a day, and even stopping by with the occasional chocolate ice cream shake or other goody. But he had just bought a lawn and power equipment dealership that, it turns out, we had no idea how to run. As a matter of fact, we closed on the business the very day I was sentenced to purgatory. How’s that for tear your hair out stress? He tried to hold it all together, juggling a sick wife who cried all day and a fledging business. Mostly he came home and vomited from stress.

In the evenings, once he had shoveled a handful of cashews or almonds into his mouth, probably his only dinner, he would make his way into the bedroom and stand over the bed, his tall, slim figure casting a looming shadow. One night he asked me how I was holding up. I didn’t know how to answer so instead we made small talk. Our marriage was fresh and new, and we were not well equipped to deal with the impending tragedy of a child lost. But then again, who is? That night he watched me with love in his eyes, but tempered by a look of pity and concern. That was when I knew he felt as hopeless as I did. From then on, I began to sleep away the days, but even that was not without hesitation because my dreams were riddled with nightmares.

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