I'd been looking forward to motherhood since I was a little girl. My first positive pregnancy test was a very conflicted experience though. I had been married less than a year with a full-time job and a year of full-time college left. The experience I had been waiting for my whole life came at a terrible time, and it wasn't by choice.
I was baby hungry from day one of marriage. I was excited and full of love from the new family we had created that I just wanted more. We had two years left of college, however, and our job situation was far from permanent. My husband helped me think ahead and we agreed that it wasn't a good time for our family to grow.
I cooled down with time. I loved our simple, cozy life. We had a small student apartment and enjoyed our flexibility and freedom. Nine months into marriage we were talking in bed before falling asleep. I told my husband that now I wanted to wait even longer to have kids. Our life was great, and we could never go back to this if we had a baby. My husband was pleasantly surprised and agreed.
About an hour later, a few things shifted in my brain and clicked together. Some weird things had happened the previous week and I suddenly realized they were all connected. "Jared!" I said. "It's too late, I'm already pregnant!"
I had to wait until my lunch break the next day to get a test. I waited the agonizing five minutes alone in our apartment (my husband was at work). Sure enough, the test read "pregnant" when I flipped it over. My eyes filled with tears as I called my husband. A few were happy tears, but mostly they were sad tears. I wanted this baby, but this was terrible timing.
It wasn't just the sudden loss of our uncomplicated life. I was working and going to college, both full-time. Could I keep up the pace while pregnant? This baby would be born halfway through our last semester of college. How could I possibly finish all my classes and graduate? We had no money, little understanding of insurance, lived in a tiny apartment, and I was terrified of what would happen to me physically and emotionally. Could I handle the pain of childbirth? I didn't know much about postpartum depression, but I was worried it would find me.
The first trimester was incredibly difficult. First trimesters are the hardest for lots of women. You have all of the symptoms with none of the bump or kicks. Nausea hit me hard. I have anxiety about throwing up so I only did once, but from week 8 to week 16, I felt like puking around the clock every day. I cried all the time. I gained weight early trying to battle the morning sickness by keeping my full stomach. I had hot flashes early and my breasts ached. It was my personal hell.
My mental and emotional state was also hell. I resented my pregnancy and I hated that I felt that way. I felt terrible that there was a sweet, innocent person growing inside me that didn't know it's mother didn't want it. But that wasn't entirely true, I did want this baby, just in another six months when we at least had steady jobs!
I also knew a lot of people who were struggling with infertility, some were close friends. How ungrateful was I that I had gotten pregnant so easily, without trying, and didn't want to be? I cried about these thoughts all the time too.
I felt like a monster.
Things started to get better second trimester. At week 16, the nausea suddenly went away, and we found out the gender of our baby (a girl!). I thought things would get better if I knew who I was carrying inside me and it worked! She became real to me and I could start talking to her. I found it much easier to grow love for her than for the "generic tadpole" that had made me so sick.
I loved the kicks and smiled through the pain of her digging into her favorite spot, my upper ribs. I learned more about childbirth and the ways my body would adapt to make it possible. I was hot, itchy, occasionally leaky (my milk came in around 6 months pregnant!) and I still cried a lot, but I had accepted my pregnancy and our new life.
I was induced and the delivery was surprisingly easy. I had been on an epidural for a long time before I had to push, and the pushing was quick. Holding her for the first time was so surreal. My tiny human that I had grown. She was perfect.
My daughter, Olivia, is two now. Most of the things I was scared of did happen:
- Our apartment was too small and we moved when I was 39 weeks pregnant.
- Olivia spent her first 5 days in the NICU with pneumonia. She fully recovered, but it was a heart-wrenching experience for me.
- Our insurance problems showed up a month after her birth, leaving us with crushing balances. I spent hours tracking bills and calling insurance and providers. We paid it off two years later.
- I gained 50 pounds during pregnancy and 30 stuck. I've been chipping away at the weight for two years and it's still not all gone.
- Within months of attempting a new career after graduation I was at home, with daycare being a large factor. (I did graduate on time with the help of professors!)
- Postpartum depression didn't get me but postpartum anxiety did. I didn't know it existed until my daughter was about 9 months old. My transition to becoming a SAHM revealed it big time and I had a steep battle for the better part of a year.
Yet, her birth forced us to look at our life and pick only what was most important to us. The transition to being home was extremely difficult but I've come to enjoy many new hobbies. I love developing such a close relationship with my daughter and watching her experience life. It's only because my daughter needed me at home that I've recently created my dream business of freelance writing. If it hadn't been so hard, we wouldn't have learned how resilient we are or been brave enough to go after new dreams.
I've learned much more about mental illness. My understanding of the darkness of anxiety has totally changed my capacity for empathy and compassion. I learned that there is no shame in struggle. I have more friends now than ever who struggle with infertility, and it is so draining and requires huge amounts of courage. But, my struggle with an easy conception that we didn't choose shouldn't be compared to my friends' struggle with infertility. They are very different,, but very real battles and both deserve compassion and support.
My surprise pregnancy and resulting toss into motherhood has stripped me down to my core. My daughter has taught me so much about love, patience, empathy, resilience and gratitude. This experience has been the hardest of my life and I wouldn't trade it for anything.
Written by: Kelsie Hasleton