Even though I have always known I wanted a family, I was one of those women who secretly rolled her eyes at the endless new-mom stories from my girlfriends. Stories of “I can’t eat the salad with the goat cheese” and “I’m five minutes away from my fourteenth week” morphed into “The baby blinked!” “The baby smiled!” “The baby laughed when I tickled her!” I would always think to myself that women have been giving birth and raising children for millennia—this new obsession with pregnancy and postpartum depression (whatever!) was just another example of our society’s “Look at me!” attitude. Horrible? Yes. I was aware of it. Then something happened: I became pregnant.
We weren’t planning it at all—in fact, my husband and I had literally been back from our honeymoon for a month when I went to the OBGYN for my normal checkup. The doctor walked in and asked if I knew I was pregnant; I stared at him for probably ten minutes without speaking. My husband and I had been living together for almost four years before we were married and I had been using the same birth control the entire time. What are the odds of getting pregnant either during our honeymoon or shortly thereafter? Apparently very good. The doctor happily chalked it up to fate and I, already an emotional wreck, called my husband sobbing while he was away on a business trip. He was considerably calmer and echoed the doctor’s thoughts. Fate. Now I think it was a combination of fate and irony.
From the week, I learned I was pregnant, I decided that my hit-or-miss knowledge of what to expect wasn’t going to work for me. So I bought What to Expect and proceeded to read it cover to cover in a matter of days, which incidentally is a HUGE mistake unless you want to spend hours in abject terror for your unborn child. Still, the month-by-month explanation offered allowed me to put a name to the changes I was already experiencing and I found it (gulp) FASCINATING. So much so that I talked about it all the time. I even insisted that I, and I alone, could make out the tiny little eyes and arms and legs in my first ultrasound (which looked like a gummy bear doing kung fu). I was still fully aware of my pre-baby feelings on baby talk so I mainly focused my growing obsession—no pun intended—on my husband and mom girlfriends. After even my mother tried to change the subject a few times, I finally had to admit to my husband that I understood why pregnant women talk about it all the time—it is with you every minute of every hour of the day and you not only know it, you FEEL it. It is the most awesome experience I’ve ever had.
Don’t get me wrong though. I did not enjoy being pregnant. I had all the mild issues—insomnia, back pain, mood swings—but nothing too major. I made it through almost the entire nine months with little more than slight nausea. My biggest issue was the waiting. I loathed it. I must have folded and refolded all of her (a girl!) clothes at least 100 times, paced her room, rearranged furniture, all of it. Then it got worse: I was put on bedrest. I developed mild preeclampsia in the beginning of my ninth month—the swelling was the worst of it, for all that it says in the What to Expect book, that and the constant testing and retesting at the hospital to make sure the proteins didn’t go over a certain level. We also found out that she was breech, which combined with the preeclampsia, meant that a C-section was inevitable. The doctor told me she would probably be taken early yet I went in for tests twice a week for three weeks straight before the last one. When I went in for my last protein lab test, the doctor told me to pack a bag and be back at the hospital in two hours. In the delivery room, I was surly and exhausted and my husband was white as a ghost and terrified. Caroline was born in the early afternoon, and two completely different people—PARENTS—emerged at the same time.
The interest I had in my pregnancy changes paled in comparison to the awe I experienced while staring down at my newborn daughter. The first few days were surreal, like something out of a dream. I tried to be Super Mom, declining help even in the hospital, running on three hours of sleep a night for nearly two months before I cracked. I learned very quickly that my preconceived notions of postpartum depression were entirely false, not unlike my snarky assumptions about obsessive moms-to-be. Those affected aren’t just the women who loved being pregnant and all that—it hit me like a ton of bricks almost immediately because I was completely overwhelmed. A lack of sleep during and after pregnancy made me an emotional basketcase and my inability to produce enough milk to breastfeed made me feel like a failure as a mother. This is apparently a side effect of preeclampsia, which I didn’t find out about until after the abrasive pediatrics nurse told me I was starving my child at our first visit while I sat there sobbing. So I started supplementing, meeting with a therapist (the old me was completely beside herself) and asking for help when I needed it rather than trying to do everything myself. Slowly but surely, I was able to get back to staring at Caroline in awe and watching her adorable face change daily rather than looking at her in misery, worrying that I was doing everything wrong. It is an ongoing and enlightening process.
Now we are five months in, to the day, and I am riveted by her every move. If she smiles, I send a text message. If she cuddles Mr. Ribbit in a cute way, I send a picture (regardless of how many identical ones I’ve already sent). She can now eat cereal from a spoon, roll over and sleep through the night. I can barely remember the early rough patches as time passes so quickly it’s like a blur. When I saw this forum, I felt as though I should share my story from a place of honesty—so many stories I read were these soft-focus lovely tales that I’m sure were heartfelt and true. But I probably would have benefitted from a story where the mom wasn’t sure of herself, wasn’t comfortable in her own skin and didn’t emerge from the hospital in heels and full makeup with all the answers. Especially if the story ended with a happy, healthy, and spoiled-rotten adorable baby who only has eyes for her mommy and daddy.