Monday, April 29, 2013

Two pregnancies, one baby

Today is April 29, 2013. This date doesn't have any significance to most people, but to me it will always be the day that my second child was supposed to be due.

Supposed to be. If things had gone according to plan. But of course, things don't always go according to plan. In this pregnancy story, hardly anything went the way it was supposed to.

This story actually begins before the beginning, long before the birth of my son, Evan, who is now 2-and-a-half years old. Aaron and I were trying for a baby the last few months of 2009, but we decided to put things on hold when I was offered a new job. I always joke that Evan must have heard us talking and didn't want to wait, because just a few months later, to our great surprise, I wound up pregnant anyway. Little did I know just how lucky we were.

The pregnancy went better than expected at first. I was hardly nauseous and only threw up once, and other than the occasional migraine, I felt great. So great, in fact, that I felt confident staying off my bipolar medications and have been without a serious episode ever since. Toward the end of the pregnancy, however, I developed pre-eclampsia. At 37 weeks labor was induced, and there I stayed for 36 hours —12 of which were unmedicated as I went through an entire day not realizing that awful cramping pain was from contractions, and the last 6 hours were of back labor that the epidural didn't touch, as the baby became posterior. The midwives were finally able to turn him after my water broke, but he was still breach, so after a few hours of pushing it became clear that a C-section was necessary. Still, off I went to the operating room with a smile, excited to have it all over with and get this baby here, safe and sound. But then the shakes started, so violently I had to be held to the table. I didn't dare open my eyes, using every ounce of concentration to calm myself so that I didn't bite off my tongue or sink into a panic attack.

And then Evan was born.

He was healthy and thriving, 7 lbs. 1 oz. 20 inches long, with little wisps of dark blonde hair and eyes so brown they were almost black.

I don't remember much about the rest of that night, only that I was too scared that I would drop him because of the shaking, so I wouldn't let the doctor give him to me yet. When I finally did hold him, I was so exhausted I could barely open my eyes. But he opened his, and I was shocked to find out that his eyes were exactly like mine, that this tiny little boy actually looked like me.

After that experience, well, I kind of wished there was some medal to be had for enduring a ridiculous labor, because I was sure I had earned it. But then, there's no pretty way to deliver a baby. You do what you gotta do, and then you thank heaven for a healthy baby if you're blessed to get that far. And we were.

The months (and years) that followed weren't easy, either. Evan is as strong-willed as they come, and he's made it known since day one. More often than not, he was doing this...

And this...

And this...

Don't get me wrong; it has also been a truly wonderful journey, and Evan learned how to be happy at last...

But between that and the memory of my marathon of labor, neither Aaron or I have been brave enough to take on the task again. So we waited for the day we would feel ready for baby #2.

We never felt ready, but that didn't stop Mother Nature. Again to our great surprise, I ended up pregnant last August.

This time, everything was different.

When I saw that little pink plus show up on that home pregnancy test, I burst into tears. I was terrified. Could I really do it all over again? And how could I with an angry toddler at my heels? But the scariest question was, how would we pay for any of it?

Aaron was only slightly less afraid than I, but we did our best to be excited, teasing each other once more about the horrid names we could give this child. But try as we might — and believe me, we tried — we could not truly get excited. For me, beyond the financial anxiety, the hardest part was trying to find some sort of emotional connection to the pregnancy. My belly grew and the nausea was ever-present, so I knew it wasn't a hallucination. But I just could not get my head around it and my heart into it.

Around week 8 I had resigned myself to the situation, and then all-out forced myself to be happy about it. And by week 9, I kind of was. I was excited for the possibility of having a girl, and I started pinning nurseries to Pinterest with reckless abandon. Aaron and I agreed on a name for a boy and continued the good-natured trash talking of each other's choice of girl names. Evan was getting easier by the day, and it seemed like things were starting to fall into place. Like I could do this, we could do this, and it would be great.

But then, one Thursday afternoon in late September, I started spotting. And again, I burst into tears. I called Aaron in an absolute panic, and in between the sobs, I told him what happened and said, as calmly as I could, "I don't think there will be a baby." For all my weeks of wrestling with ambivalence, suddenly the thought of it all being over shook me to my core. I was devastated.

When I regained my composure I called the midwife. She told me not to jump to conclusions, that this happens to many women and I could still go on to have a healthy pregnancy. I tried to hold onto hope, but somehow I knew it would not happen.

The midwife also told me that if it was to be a miscarriage, there was nothing to be done. You cannot prevent it, you cannot stop it once the process has begun, and most importantly, it was not my fault.

I went into my first prenatal appointment the next day, a Friday, trying to keep an open mind. The midwife said it wasn't clear that a miscarriage was imminent, and although I could have had an ultrasound to find out for sure if the baby was alive and growing, I declined. The $600 bill was a huge factor, but beyond that, despite all the encouragement, I still just knew that a baby was not coming.

For two more days I waited, swallowing the panic and trying to get lost in everyday activities. Besides Aaron, only two other people knew that I was even pregnant, so to call someone up to say, "I'm pregnant, but probably not for long," was unthinkable. Even with Aaron there wasn't much to be said. It was a cross I had to bear alone.

And then on Monday it happened. The bleeding had steadily increased over the weekend, but on October 1st, when I was 10 weeks pregnant, my fears were finally confirmed. I called my parents and had to say what I had dreaded: "I was pregnant, but I'm having a miscarriage." They were so caring and sympathetic, and took Evan for the morning. In what was another tender mercy, Evan took a three-hour nap, and in the afternoon I called our babysitter and again told her the news. Without question she came and picked up Evan, and again Aaron took him out in the evening. I was alone, but it's just what I needed. I was in such physical pain — a parallel to labor, but less intense — but by that point, the emotional anguish was gone. Worse than the final knowledge that we would not be having the baby was the four days of agony of not knowing one way or the other. The question was finally answered, and at long last I could put it all to rest.

And somehow, the next day, I was all right. I knew there was nothing that could have been done, that it wasn't my fault, that it was not meant to be. I was calm, and even at peace. In a lot of ways I think I knew it all along — perhaps why we could never get emotionally attached: There was never meant to be a baby. Perhaps it never even was a baby, no spirit to go with the flesh. Just an experience we had to go through, but for what reason I do not know.

I'd like to say that it made me stronger, but I don't think that's true. I think the truth is even better. This experience confirmed the strength I had built over years of trials and tribulations, confirmed the faith I had that my Heavenly Father is in charge and everything will be all right if I follow His will.

There have been constant reminders over the months, however. Like the friend who announced her due date just a week after mine, and the call from the lab at the hospital asking if I wanted to take part in a pregnancy study two months later, and the box of maternity clothes we had brought up from the basement but never bothered to put away, and the occasional thought that "I would be finding out the gender this week," or "I would be eight months pregnant by now," and of course, "Today is the day my baby was due."

But then again, I would be lying if I said I didn't also have feelings of relief. Not in the days that followed, but in the months. At first I held to those thoughts of, "Well, now we don't have to worry about how we're going to make it all work," to look for the bright side. Now I have thoughts of, "I am so glad I don't have a screaming newborn keeping me up at night right now." But then those thoughts are also tempered by guilt — guilt that I could be so ungrateful for the opportunity, that I would put my selfish comforts above the commandment to raise a family. It's a mental battle I can't win.

It's been a strange journey. But it's given me many fresh perspectives. For one, I realize how blessed I am not to have been destroyed by this. I know this experience has utterly devastated many other women, and my heart aches for them.

Most importantly, it's made me realize how truly, astoundingly blessed I am to have a healthy son, here with me now. It is an unspeakable gift to be given a child of our own, and I am so grateful for him — even all the trials and angst we've been through from birth until this very day, when he spent half of it whining and wailing for reasons I just could not decode. And that childbirth medal? I'm grateful just to have been able to make it that far.

I truly understand now that life is a gift — all of it, every bit of it — even the life that only grew for a few short weeks.

I do not know what is in store for us. Supposedly I am at no greater risk for additional miscarriages, and chances are that any subsequent pregnancies will go according to plan. I am not even sure I can get pregnant again or that we'll ever have another child ... but I still have that unshakable faith that what is meant to be will come to be, and I will survive every storm. No matter what happens or what does not happen, I am not in charge, but that's OK. We will be all right.