What to REALLY Expect When You’re Expecting

***Originally posted 1/23/15***

So this article from Scary Mommy popped up on a friend’s Facebook wall today and it made me really want to write this post about my own experience with pregnancy. I thought I knew “what to expect” when it came to pregnancy. Not just the societal ideals and pop culture memes, but on a more thought out level because not only had I read the entire What to Expect When You’re Expecting book before I was even thinking about having children, I read it in service of working on my graduate thesis

In case you can’t see, that’s a paper fetus from when I played pregnan Helena… Photo by Woods Pierce from All’s Well That Ends Well directed by Linden Kueck

which dealt with staging pregnancy and pregnant characters in Shakespeare and how that highlights some gender issues we have as a society. I knew a lot of facts, but really:

I did, though, have an idea of the one thing I will confidently tell anyone to expect during pregnancy: difference. I mean, obviously, your body will become different, but what I really mean is- every pregnancy is different. In our desire to connect with each other in what a brilliant marketing campaign has described as the sisterhood of motherhood, I think it’s easy for people to ask questions that seem forward or personal or to share stories people who are pregnant don’t necessarily want to hear (please god don’t tell me about all the things that went wrong with your 20 hour labor if I didn’t ask for it… particularly if we’ve never met), or to assume that their experiences with carrying a baby will be the same as another woman’s experiences. It took me a while to realize this. And I would argue that sharing all these stories from one perspective and another about both motherhood and pregnancy (including not being either) are important. In the end, that’s kind of what I was arguing in my thesis- mothers are people and every person is different (same goes for babies!) If we try to stereotype to one extreme or the other, which often happens in culture:

then we lose the individual and any semblance of treating them as a person instead of a stereotype.

Most of my own experiences with pregnancy fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. I had pretty bad morning sickness, but it was rarely truly debilitating and I never ended up in the hospital with Hypermesis Gravidarum (you know, that extreme morning sickness Princess Kate Middleton had). My son was positioned pretty far back, so at the end of my pregnancy I would get intense dizzy spells and almost faint as he pressed back on my spinal cord, and I ended up having back labor, but I had a healthy pregnancy without gestational diabetes or preeclampsia. But the scary mommy article doesn’t mention some of the experiences of being pregnant that I found truly amazing. I would marvel at how it feels to hear two heartbeats inside one body. I almost wept during my sonogram when we could see the different parts of baby’s brain. And my favorite- feeling those kicks never stopped being a joyous surprise- eve when they started to hurt or would keep me up at 2AM!  I was so excited to have a baby and thankful and was lucky enough not to have to deal with post partum depression, but I dealt with the other side of that coin, the side people talk about far less frequently. I had fairly severe pre-partum anxiety. And that, more than all the other crazy stuff pregnancy did to me, made me miserable for most of my pregnancy.

I had heard of PPD, but when I started having crippling, irrational feelings of panic during my pregnancy, I had no clue that it could also be hormone related.

I thought I was just taking my medical phobias to an extreme because pregnancy involved so many doctors and potential complications. I thought I was going crazy. I thought I had just experienced the tragedies of too many friends when it came to having children. I tried to hide it as best I could, especially since we are societally taught to hide your pregnancy until after the first trimester. Even my close friends, who caught a glimpse into what I was feeling, had no idea how many times my husband or my mom had me call them sobbing, barely able to breathe, often unable to pinpoint how getting this upset even happened in the first place. I was certain everything was going to fall apart. I had constant nightmares about losing my baby either through miscarriage or getting into a car crash or something going wrong in the delivery room. All these thoughts that probably come to mind for many expecting parents in fleeting moments, but these thoughts would be taken to extremes and I was unable to escape them. I was miserable. And on top of that I was feeling guilty. I would mention my worries to people occasionally and they would remind me that stress can hurt your baby or make your baby hardwired for stress the rest of their lives. So on top of my already present anxiety I felt anxious about ruining my child with my anxiety…which of course only made me more anxious. On that note… the book What to Expect (and Dr. Google) is NOT helpful if you are already anxious. It will tell you all about what can go wrong when you’re expecting. What can go wrong you ask?

I know, same meme in 2 consecutive blogs… but it’s just so true…

The anxiety got a bit better when I realized that it was likely this constant feeling of being on edge had to do with the crazy hormone levels I was necessarily experiencing in order to grow a human. It got a bit better when I made it past the first trimester. It got a bit better when I felt comfortable sharing our news with friends and family via Christmas cards (and then over Facebook- talk about differences, I would not have thought I was going to share anything about it until the baby came, but it was a joy and a relief to acknowledge I was pregnant publicly after what felt like the biggest secret of my life!). It got a bit better when we had our anatomy scan and I saw so much detail about my son and that he was growing and looking good.

Even with all those landmarks though, I still said more desperate prayers every single day while pregnant in moments of extreme anxiety than in any other part of my life. I tried very hard to throw my anxiety on the Lord, and it did help… a bit. I had this C.S. Lewis quote bookmarked and would say it to myself daily:

“Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith. I don’t agree at all. They are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the Passion of Christ” 

That helped a bit too. As did these beautiful pieces hanging up in my house that I would look at each day:

 

But the only thing that REALLY helped? NOT being pregnant anymore. If pregnancy was my share in the passion of Christ then holding my son for the first time was a glorious resurrection of becoming more myself again, maybe more myself than I’d ever been before.

SO worth it!

Instead of the post hormone crash some women get during the post partum period, I finally got my appetite and my optimism back. (Not to say that those first few months were easy, but I slept MORE the first two months after the baby was born than I did the last three months of pregnancy.)

So there’s a very VERY small piece of my pregnancy experience. It feels funny sharing something so personal. The thought of sharing such an experience would have offended my pre-pregnancy self and it is still a very scary thing… but maybe someday someone else who is suffering from prenatal anxiety will read this, and feel a bit better knowing that they will get through, it will pass, and the skies will clear again.  Maybe someday that someone might even be me… though who knows if I will have that same problem were I to get pregnant again. (Friends and family: PLEASE note the use of the conditional tense! This is NOT an announcement!!) Every pregnancy is different… even pregnancy to pregnancy in the same mother. Let’s keep reminding everyone that those differences are ok. Let’s expect it.

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