I sat down to journal “a little bit” in the weeks and days leading up to my kid’s 2nd birthday, and what came out ended up being more like a novella instead of a simple journal entry. Turns out I have a lot of Feelings + Thoughts™ on all the motherhood matters. So instead of posting them all at once, I’ve made it a series, if only to make it seem like I’m not pressuring readers into reading 10k words in one sitting. See Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. This is the final one, the most heavy probably, and the longest. Trigger warnings for conception story, pregnancy, some anxiety + depression topics.
When I stopped taking birth control, it was more than a year later that I actually got pregnant. People say – doctors, I guess – that your body needs time to adjust and get back into its normal rhythms. And that it normally takes 3 or so months before you can or will get pregnant after you stop certain kinds of birth control. My doctor told me that I was able to become pregnant 24 hours after I took my last pill. I guess both are / can be true.
[Stopping here for a trigger warning: this is not a story of loss or fertility struggles or any kind of conception hardship. It’s probably the opposite of that, if there is such a thing. If you think reading that might be upsetting for you, I encourage you to stop here.]
After one year of no baby went by, MP voiced concerns. Was it time for us to…do something? Else? In addition? I immediately said no, because I knew – on some level – that I was sabotaging just a tiny bit, our chances of getting pregnant.
I was tracking my period in an app, which I was told by my doctor would not be very accurate, though I did and relied on it anyway. The app told me which day I was [most likely] ovulating, based on tracking a year’s worth of my cycle.
I had, up to that point, skillfully and slyly avoided us …being sexually active (LOL good grief what is the right way to say “have sex” when talking about conceiving. Hi I’m Sara and I’m a recovering Guilty Catholic who can’t talk about sex) on The Ovulation Day.
Apps and doctors say (though pregnant teenagers disagree) that you’re fertile plus or minus 2-3 days on either side of your ovulation day. So I figured, once or twice during that time period was probably close enough. If it was meant to happen, those swimmers would make it happen.
Well they didn’t. Or, they hadn’t. Or, the app was completely faulty and I was basing this off of false info. Who knows! Who knew? Not me.
So when MP asked the question, I said we should give it a couple more months. And if 3 more went by with no baby, then we could “do something.” Research. Make an appointment. Whatever.
I already knew I wasn’t willing to do IVF, or any version of fertility treatment. I wasn’t into the idea of adopting. I was at peace with thinking that if we couldn’t or didn’t get pregnant, then it wasn’t meant to be.
I told anyone who asked me about my philosophy. I was putting it out there, for whoever might be listening (cough, God, cough): If I’m only (“only”) meant to be an auntie, I AM COOL WITH IT, OK?!
So the next month I told myself that I would be more up front about The Ovulation Day, or at least that I wouldn’t flat out avoid Doing It (heh – “doing it,” yes I am squirming) on that day, as I might have done previously.
It feels very icky to write about this, because thinking about what YOU are thinking while reading this is making me uncomfortable. Was I essentially lying to my partner? WHY? It’s heavy. And awkward. And other things.
I could feel it inside, though I hadn’t voiced it, wrote it, or shared it with anyone in any way, that I wasn’t really 100% sold on the idea of having a baby. I would use the word “yet” – as in, “not yet,” but on the inside I think it was mostly “not.” Or maybe it was just “not sure yet.” That feels better and more accurate.
But anyway, I was willing, to try I guess – and I felt that MP deserved my participation and honesty – to give it this TRUE chance. Like if I DIDN’T want a kid, I needed to speak up, and not just quietly sabotage. And I kept saying: if God doesn’t want me to be pregnant, I won’t be. And then I’ll have my answer, either way.
The next month, I was pregnant.
But the clarity I thought I would feel did not come. I thought I would feel at peace, accepting the master plan, as it were, from my maker. If He deems it so, it will be so. And He did! The proof was in my morning sickness and cramps and boobs that were bigger immediately and obviously the numerous tests I took.
But I didn’t feel the acceptance. Or the excitement. I wanted to. I felt that I SHOULD. I said I would accept whatever happened, hadn’t I? So I needed to stick with it, then!
The thing about having or not having children is that it’s probably the ONLY circumstance in which you CAN’T try it out first.
Even marriage isn’t or doesn’t have to be permanent. A decision to become engaged is still technically a trial period. Weddings are cancelled all the time. Divorce is common, and, in some cases (like where children aren’t involved maybe), can potentially end with both parties never seeing each other again. That person becomes a part of your past that you sometimes think about with some complex emotion (I’m guessing) while talking about dick size over wine with your besties (DON’T LIE, YOU’VE DONE IT). But you don’t HAVE to be tied to them for the rest of your life. That is in fact the purpose of a divorce, to NOT be tied to that person for the rest of your life.
[hi, disclaimer time again: Families are complicated and come in many forms, shapes, sizes, circumstances, etc. I know there are exceptions and big pieces of the population who these next statements don’t apply to. There are broken homes, orphans, adoptions, miscarriages, abortions, and LOTS of other things. That’s not what I’m talking about here. You see my privilege, I ALSO see my privilege.]
But KIDS. KIDS you can’t give back. You can’t UNDO a pregnancy. Once you give birth, there’s no changing your mind about the whole thing and giving the kid back. No money-back guarantee. No returns, refunds, or exchanges, free or otherwise! No 2-day shipping either.
Some of my friends, as we approach mid-thirties (sobbing for different reasons now), contemplate what it means to be childless at this point in their lives. What if they wait too long and then can’t get pregnant?
There IS no way to know this. That’s part of the complexity.
At 31, I was still young enough to not be considered “high risk” or what is so lovingly referred to as “geriatric pregnancy” which is anyone age 35 and over, MASSIVE EYE ROLL. But the longer you wait, the more your eggs die or whatever, the more risk you take.
I want to have a way to know that if and when I decide I want a baby, I can do it sans issues. BUT THERE ISN’T, AND YOU CAN’T.
Because the only way to know if you can get pregnant…is to become pregnant. And as we said, you can’t UNDO it. Sure there’s abortion, but as soon as you do that, you’ve changed your odds of getting pregnant a second time, so your experiment is now faulty and the results tell you nothing.
This is why it takes 9 months, I told myself. My therapist reminded me. My mother told me. My friends with kids assured me. 9 months to grow the baby but also to get USED to the idea.
Yeah you gotta buy all sorts of shit but you also have to wrap your mind around it. You’re going to be a MOTHER. You’re going to be responsible for a human. Keeping it alive, yeah, but then later, teaching it all manner of important things like how to Do Life. It’s HEAVY. Kids have Instagram and TikTok now, to name 2 scary things. And GOD KNOWS WHAT ELSE.
It was a heavy I did not want to carry.
I was not excited and I was not excited about being asked if I was excited and I was not excited about lying about my level of excitement. So a lot of times, I didn’t. Lie, that is.
“Are you excited?” I would do that fake smile that looks more like a grimace and try to deflect by saying that my husband was very excited and then joke about taking a third nap and eating countless snacks. I MAKE JOKES, IT’S MY THING.
I tried to moderate based on the audience. But mostly, I would respond with a smile and a “Well, he’s in there and he’s growing!” Noncommittal, not a lie, and not an overshare of my deepest fears and scary real feelings.
One day, someone close to me suggested that I adjust my messaging because my answers about being pregnant were making “some people” uncomfortable.
This brought up all kinds of Feelings and Thoughts™ for me, again. Not only am I pregnant and dealing with all that that entails physically and emotionally, but I am now responsible for how I make everyone ELSE feel when THEY ask ME if I’m excited?!
“You don’t have to lie,” this person told me. “But nobody knows what to do with that thing you say – “he’s in there.” What does that mean?”
IT MEANNNNNNS I don’t know what to say, THAT’S what it means!
GOD if this isn’t the EPITOME of women taking on everyone else’s feelings, codependence, opposite of feminism, etc. etc. UGH. I mean it’s not like I was responding with “no, I’m not excited in the least, ugh I actually have quite high anxiety about the whole thing and I’m not sure how it’s all going to work out.” I’m not a MONSTER, for crying out loud.
I think after that I started using the fruit of the week as part of my response? Or a comment about a gift we’d received, putting some piece of furniture or other baby shit together, or I found I could be a tiny bit honest by sharing something about back pain but how much I was loving my chiropractor, or that swimming was really helping me. Or I lied, I guess, or got better at redirecting. OH LOOK, A SQUIRREL!
There have been a handful of times in my adult life where I have felt truly misunderstood, and I think being pregnant was one of those extended times. Not including being a teenager, because as we all know, no one understands them and never will.
So, WAS IT over before I knew it?
Now, on Kid’s second birthday and as I write all this nonsense down, I can look back and DO feel a bit like it was over “before I knew it.” But overwhelmingly what I feel is – again – that it was over in the exact amount of time it was supposed to be over.
He grew, thanks be to the Lort. He’s healthy. He’s hilarious, just like all toddlers are. It IS great when he calls me MAMA – though again, looking forward to that day wasn’t helpful to me in the moments when I was about to die from sleep deprivation and/or an overdose of hormones.
I DO love being his mom, but not because I love being a mom. I think I love being his mom because I am the only one who can do it.
This is and was the only piece of assurance that got me through hard moments when I questioned everything: I am the exact mother my baby needs.
No one can love him like me, no one can discipline him like me. No one can divert a tantrum like me! No one can understand his toddler babble like me! No one fights like Gaston, Douses lights like Gaston…No one hits like Gaston, Matches wits like Gaston!
I didn’t expect that to be quite so apropros of talking about handling a toddler but here we are.
Being pregnant was such an out-of-body experience for me. I knew, obviously, at the end of it there would be a baby. But going into the hospital pregnant and then leaving with a baby…there was something disconnected about those two things in my head. Coincidences, almost.
Like when you go into the grocery store and leave with a friend who you met inside. You didn’t BUY her there, she just HAPPENED to be there and you ended up leaving together. That analogy was TERRIBLE and doesn’t quite describe accurately how disconnected the two things felt in my head. Maybe more like apples and screw drivers. SOMETHING.
They give you 9 months to prepare and STILL I was a little shellshocked about the whole thing. I’m glad MP didn’t take a video of baby’s first moments because it was just me going “oh fuck, holy fuck it’s a baby, oh fuck” etc. over and over for the first few minutes until they took him away to be tested (I had some infection, they thought he might have it, he didn’t, I forget the details).
Also there was lots of blood (fun! bodily fluid details!). Not something you save for posterity or show your kids later. “Look, son! Here’s your mom having a mental breakdown from the shock of birthing you!”
As I write this, I am feeling almost equally disconnected from the time, the baby, and the ME of the newborn phase, as the pregnancy and the baby felt. And not necessarily disconnected in a bad way.
I’m relieved that part is over. Not “before I knew it,” but just over. He’s not a baby anymore. He’s in a toddler bed, even! He’s not even drinking much milk anymore! He’s using 2-word sentences! I haven’t bought clothing marked in month sizing for 6 months! I haven’t had to breastfeed in way more months than that! His teeth came in, he’s on his growth chart, we’re home free until high school graduation (lol good one, Sara).
Reflecting on all of this at this moment in time feels perfect because I’m identifying a certain clarity I already feel, or …like, you know when you’re driving up a mountain, and the road is dangerously winding and curvy, and the fog is insanely thick, and you have to slow down to like 5mph and even then you feel like at any moment you might miss a hairpin turn and drive just right off the road into the abyss of God knows what because you can’t see because of said fog? And you’re all tense in the neck and shoulders, clenching your jaw like you’re pissed (because you are, fog sucks), leaning slightly forward (as if that helps), squinting, turning the music down so you can see better (because that makes sense).
And then OUT OF NOWHERE the fog is gone, the road is straight, and everything is fine. But you have to actively relax yourself because you’ve been so tense and squinty for all that time, you have to almost stop the car, get out, and confirm that YES in fact the road IS straight now, the fog IS lifted, before your shoulders will chill the hell out, before your jaw will unclench, before you can jack the music back up and have a good time in the car again.
HAS A MORE FITTING ANALOGY EVER BEEN WRITTEN?! That’s what I’m feeling like. I’ve paused to think about it, so I can SEE that the fog has lifted.
I also feel bittersweet…ness? Is that an emotion? One of the hardest parts of reflecting on the newborn and baby phase is that a LOT of what I remember is still so clouded by my sadness and anxiety (I struggle with if/when/how to name it “depression,” but that’s another day’s topic) that I can’t really reflect on that time without thinking of and feeling a bit of those lingering negative feelings.
It’s SAD to look back and feel the feelings through remembrance. I remember feeling them so clearly and I am sad for myself that I couldn’t JUST “enjoy the newborn snuggles.”
I kept a journal but seemed to only use it when I needed an outlet for the scary-baddies. Rereading it (I dunno, if I want to torture myself) is an exercise in showing compassion to my past self, and even forgiving my past self for whatever I might have missed due to being in the fog.
I don’t WANT to feel sorry or sad or regretful when I look back. What if it’s the only time we do this? What if these are the only baby memories I’m going to get?
I did the best I could, at the time. I HAVE to believe that – I do believe it, but I also HAVE TO believe it. Therefore, there’s no room for sorry or regretful, about any piece of it.
But looking backwards and being able to see through that fog, it’s hard to NOT wish I could yank me out of it. So that present me has only pleasant memories of the time, instead of complex memories that compete to be the primary memory of the time.
Like what if I could say to past Sara: “Listen, you’re ruining – smudging these days with your sadness and if you’re not careful, all you’re going to remember is SADNESS.” Would that have helped me?
As we discussed, it sure seemed like none of the normal platitudes or assurances were helpful to me at the time. I just wonder then, what, if anything, would have worked. Medication? Would the threat of “ruining” my future memories (that is an odd turn of phrase) be motivation for me to…to what? UN-SAD myself?
Is it something we just have to GET THROUGH? [This is a doorway into a greater discussion on depression, and I’m not stepping through it, simply pondering in relation to my specific version of sadness, at that specific time.] [Ok no wait, I am going to peer through the door super quick.]
I discussed this recently with a friend who is currently pregnant, and we agreed that sometimes, for some people, there IS nothing to say that “works.” Some people DO just need to GET THROUGH IT. And it IS uncomfortable to sit with, when you’re in it, AND when you’re trying to SUPPORT someone who’s in it. We want to leave people with positivity and encouragement. When talking with my pregnant friend as the one who’s been there, I now feel weird telling her like, “I didn’t love it, it wasn’t great, ok talk to you later!” That feels NOT OK, right?! SUCKS FOR YOU, BYE! Like, no!
I guess this is where people say that they appreciate being seen and heard, and that’s enough. I SEE my friend in her own struggle in her pregnancy. Instead of leaving her with an “it’ll be ok” that I neither meant nor was sure of (how could I know that it would be ok for her?) (It feels weird for me to say something that meant nothing to ME when I was in her place), we agreed I could leave her with something like “I’m here for you.” The end.
Back to the hormones!
Now, 2 years in, (2 years 9 months I guess), I still carry resentment towards The Hormones, that they made me so sad, so much, and didn’t allow me to “soak it all up because it’s over before I know it.” I resent GREATLY the anxiety and sadness of that time. I resent it for making me fight with MP over god-knows-what, for making me look at my baby and cry instead of smile, for turning bright colorful pictures of me and him into dim black and whites.
I resent it for not allowing me to keep all of this to myself because it would probably be a lot more comfortable for everyone around me if I could just keep it together and NOT GET SO EMOTIONAL AND SO WORKED UP.
So yeah, distance from that time has helped me. I’m not so sad, so much, anymore. I have great and fun days WITH my kid. I have great and fun days WITHOUT my kid. I still fight with MP (turns out fighting with your spouse cannot be exclusively blamed on hormones WHAT A BUMMER). I still have a therapist, and it’s still super helpful to talk with her.
But my head is clearer, and I will not wish for the baby phase so I can get more newborn snuggles if the baby phase means I lose my clear(er) head and ability to just BE with my baby-who’s-not-a-baby and be content in it.
If someone had told me – yeah, let’s play this game – that I would struggle a bit and not really “get clear” or find my stride or whatever phrase we’re going to use, until close to year 2, I might have said no thanks to this whole endeavor. I MIGHT HAVE.
But just like how you can’t test pregnancy or having a baby, you can’t KNOW how you’re going to handle things until you HANDLE YOUR THINGS (is there a boob joke in there?).
I knew about postpartum depression before I got pregnant. I knew it was possible – probable – that I would be affected in some way. But I don’t think the risk of it is enough to say no to kids, for me.
I JUST NOW came to that realization, so let’s say it again. I don’t think the risk of mental health struggles, for me, is reason enough to NOT have a baby. I wonder if 2018 Sara would agree. I guess it doesn’t matter.
Does this mean that I now agree that “it’s all worth it?” I still want to hate this phrase. OF COURSE your kids are worth it because what the fuck is the alternative?! No returns or exchanges, remember?!
It’s somewhere in between a foregone conclusion and a moot point. SHOW ME a mother who will say aloud that like nah, after a couple years, she’s come to realize having kids wasn’t WORTH IT. It’s just a dumb phrase, I’m sorry, I hate it so much.
YOUR CAR is a thing you deem “worth it,” and you get good USE out of it. It’s WORTH something tangible. My kid isn’t WORTH a tangible amount of anything. His WORTH is not determined by how much I did or did not suffer to birth him and keep him alive in the early months of his life. His WORTH is not even determined by how much I love or do not love him, especially in comparison to how much other people love or do not love THEIR kids.
I think my car is “worth it,” despite the fact that it’s not my dream Mini nor is it a self-driving Tesla that cooks my lunch and paints my nails concurrently. But I don’t love my son DESPITE THE FACT that he smacked me in the face TODAY with BOTH HANDS AT THE SAME TIME. It has nothing to do with WORTH IT or NOT. I love him simply BECAUSE HE IS.