Wednesday, April 29

Pregnancy Diaries, Vol. III

I have read many letters to mums-to-be, and I’ve decided to stop.

They are shared on social media frequently, they are our society being honest and vulnerable about a transformative time in a woman’s life. They begin the same way, “you think that it’s going to be all love and snuggles when your baby arrives, and I’m here to tell you what I wish I’d been told.”

And then they share about the darkness of the earliest weeks, the parts that rocked them to their core, the bits they never expected. They let those of us exepecting oxytocin and bliss in on the truth which is never spoken about.

Except, it’s the truth I’ve heard a hundred times. A hundred scary times.

I will become shell of my former self, I will feel scared, and lonely, and pathetic. I’ll be breastfeeding in agony, and I will sob every hour. I will bleed, my baby will cry for hours, and I will not shower for days. I won’t sleep, and I will move through my days as a zombie, until a few months later I will emerge and climb into a sweeter rhythm.

I don’t discount a letter they write. I feel the honesty pouring off the page. I will probably write posts just as raw, emulating these cries of suffering, in five months times.

But I won’t write them especially for expectant mums. Because expectant mums are already expecting exactly that.

Ben was ready to take the plunge into parenthood, while I was stuck on just how lowly it sounded. I have felt the cruelty of insomnia, the daze of the following day. The loneliness of depression, the inability to leave the house. The struggle to take a shower, the pain that doesn’t resolve quickly. I was instructed there is nothing you can do to prepare, and so the information seemed to flood me with foreboding. I battled for 365 days straight over the question of whether I should dare to voluntarily go to this dark place. I was chewed up and spat out by my desire to mother and my realism about what was coming.

The letters do end with a beautiful promise that the love for the baby is overpowering and like nothing you can imagine. The trouble is that the only bit of the letter you can relate to from past experience is the suffering, because you can’t fathom that depth of love. So the suffering remains in your mind. You’re still left scared.

Occasionally I wondered if the warnings are like the marriage ones we received – how bad the first five years would be. I mused: is it remotely possible that motherhood could be like the last 4.5 years married to Ben, a blatant contrast to society’s predictions of doom?

On this one, I’m inclined to believe it may be as challenging as I’ve heard.

I am grateful that when the time comes that I have a newborn, and I am struggling to float, I will not feel as though I am experiencing lows uncommon to womankind. I will cling to the stories that the pain is normal, the pain is not forever.

But I wonder if the information could be shared not as early warning, but in a season of empathy. At the right time, these words will be a balm. 

We are warned of the agony of labour, the misery of early motherhood, the tiredness that will unhinge us, the expense of children, the end of freedom, the strain on our marriage. And we’re warned before hand, when there is nothing we can do but open ours eye wide in fright, or run the other way. We’re warned before the times when the information is a comforting ‘ah, you too’, and after the biological desire to reproduce has heavily hit us.

After all the warning, we are frightened. So encourage us.  

When we are drowning, then share how you were too, and how you swam to shore.

Wednesday, April 22

Pregnancy Diaries, Vol. II

Taking bebe to ballet at 13 weeks 

In the hardest part of my pregnancy, I read on Instagram about friends who ‘loved being pregnant.’

I could think of a lot of words for my pregnancy, but ‘like’ and ‘love’ hadn’t made the list. Even ‘tolerate’ was going too far.

Vile, soul crushing, unbearable, unrepeatable, those were my words.

It felt profoundly unfair that some have the best time of their lives, while others want to take their lives, all in the exact same process. Why did some luck out so badly, I wanted to know, just as I wanted to know all those years ago why I got chronic fatigue syndrome and Tom, Dick and Harry didn’t.

I knew I would never be able to speak of my pregnancy so flippantly. You can love your baby and hate your pregnancy, I told myself. I told Ben. I told my baby.

Two weeks later, I’m in bed with Ben at 7.30 pm, settling in for a good twelve hours of sleep, gushing over how much I’m enjoying being pregnant. I’m all cosy and happy, and tonight there is no puke on my lips, no smell of disinfectant drifting from the bathroom.

It hits me that I have now stood on both sides, having felt the desolation of sickness, and the ecstasy of being pregnant. In short pockets I would do anything to lengthen, the mystery of ‘loving being pregnant’ has been revealed to me - the women who express this sentiment no longer smug aliens with whom I could never converse. I think I know what exactly they are referring to. I think I have figured out what ‘enjoying your pregnancy’ means.

I love the knowledge, the warm thought which swims in my mind all day: there’s someone else inside me. The reality that my stodgy heartbeat is not the only one, but there is a smaller faster one pattering several times for each of mine. Maybe they’re sucking their thumb, or swimming, or sleeping, cocooned in my womb. Occasionally, it flashes into my mind that having a baby growing in me is the most bizarre sci-fi concept I’ve ever heard. I imagine too many times the moment I will pull my baby up onto my chest and finally hug it and kiss it. I am embarrassingly addicted to knowing which fruit corresponds with the size of my baby. If I don’t like the fruit that one website suggests (as in, I don’t think it sounds big enough) I will select another website which compares my baby to a larger fruit. Half way through the week (more accurately, two days in), I check what fruit it will be the following week.  It’s a lemon this week. Next week it will be an apple. I know, so big! 

I take pride in my belly, even though it has laid off 90% of my wardrobe. I’ve never been curvy, I have been angular, and I love my first-time roundness. I relish the early arrival of my bump, because there was nowhere for it to hide. I do side-on views for Ben every single night, and he has to say it’s grown, and he can’t suggest that it’s bloating, or else. One friend says it now looks like I’ve actually drunk a glass of water. I’m glad my pudge has not gone unnoticed. I put a cushion up my top the other day to show Ben what I might look like in a few months; I wanted him to understand that I will not be able to see my toes. The shape was off, and I permanently stretched my top during the demo, but it was good preparation and we could not stop laughing.

The other day I got home from an opp shopping trip with my Mum and sister, our holiday tradition. Leaving the house still fills me with joy, it’s a big event. When I got home from this trip, I was completely exhausted and made a vow not to wear boots with heels next time. My back hurt, my head hurt, my uterus hurt, and I lay on the couch under my blanket. I lay there in this cloud of bliss legitimacy: I am pregnant, I have full right to lie here for two hours with my heatpack. Long ago I had to get used to the concept of rest and relaxation for all humans, even my invincible self, but there is something extra validating about ‘being with child’ and knowing that you must rest. Somehow nurturing a child means that I am nurturing myself, with even less inward reprimand than before.

We were watching the news, a rare occurrence for us. At the end, there was a story of a man suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after his time serving in the Middle East. He wrote a children’s book, for his daughter and all other young ones who need to grasp why their fathers are not the same as they were. The last page went something like this, “Whatever happens, families stick together, and love each other.” Nothing new or extraordinary in those words, but I had tears streaming down my face and Ben was bemused. I have become a marshmallow of sentiment, crying when I see pictures of a stranger’s newborn, sobbing when I read birth stories, even before the baby has emerged. Everything-is-just-so-sweet-and-sad-I’m-going-to-cry.

If it’s a bliss-and-beautiful hour, I love it. I let myself feel deliriously happy, and savour each second of feeling well. Those times are some of the best of my life.

And when I’m stuck in the midst of an eternal day, with my endless gastro, and externally achievement-free existence, I don’t even try for glowing. I sit in the mud and nearly survive.

I have this premonition that having a baby is going to be a lot like this.

 It’s going to be giddy highs of extreme love, and soggy trench-like lows, probably all in the same day. So maybe its good the roller coaster is in motion, and I’m soaring and retching, and existing all the time. And I have zero regrets. 

Wednesday, April 8

Pregnancy Diaries, Vol. I

In just one week, the first trimester pain has begun to ebb away. As it fades, the memory of misery decays along with it. The heartbeat seems to erase the struggle, and there is smiling, and brunch with Ben, and excitement - giddier than when we first found out. But below is the reality of the first.

first the worst
second the best
third the golden eagle

When we found out that I was pregnant, we were elated. We’d didn’t take falling pregnant easily for granted. We were giddy with amazement. We were terrified. There was a poppy seed child growing within. It was a mixture of us – we hoped the best genes had been picked, that it wouldn’t be a red haired boy with acne and severe eye problems, likely to be bullied. We prayed for less superficial things too.  It was all happy, miracle, wow, is-this-real?

Two days later it was all ewww, need nachos, this-is-ugly. Lucky we had felt such high levels of joy on finding out and crammed them into one ecstatic day, because they weren’t to last.

I had always suspected that pregnancy cravings were a socially acceptable notion formed by expectant women who wanted an excuse to indulge. I thought pregnant women got away with lax diets because pregnancy had become a permissive ‘eating for two’ state. I thought they couldn’t complain about baby weight if they’d given into cravings in pregnancy. I was going to exercise and eat healthily throughout the whole thing, and enjoy returning to size six in due course. Preferably by the time I left the birth centre.

Soon, I would slump to the pantry in the morning. Opening the doors and staring at offensive foods like rice, tuna, chocolate and weetbix would cause me to dry retch. Seeing food, imagining food, even former favourites, made me queasy and depressed. Posts of food on social media were my undoing. My impeccable gluten, fructose and dairy free diet collapsed overnight, after years of self discipline. I was too sick and tired to care. I sat on the couch with Ben’s box of cereal, stuffing my fist in and pulling out sugared flakes. Some days I ate an entire pack of corn chips for breakfast. One week it was noodles for all meals, then mashed potatoes, and then toast with vegemite. Whatever pleased me one week was nauseating to me the next.

The next week I began to vomit. The first time was when I opened the fridge, to get the butter for my mashed potatoes. It was the sight of the cherry tomatoes sitting on the top shelf, all perky and red. I would fight the urge to vomit all day, and all evening long. Hurling is the thing I hate most in life, I abhor the experience. I blocked my nose when Ben walked in the room after preparing food. I lay most of the day on the couch, dozing, stomach churning, incapacitated. When I had to move to another room, I did so with my body doubled over, because of the faintness. By late morning I would cry, because I couldn’t endure it and I had to endure it. I daydreamed of a drug induced coma, unconsciousness more powerful than sleep. I was afraid to wake up in the morning to my deeply lonely, couch bound, vomiting existence.

One morning I decided to make a brave trip down the road to the supermarket. I knew the gentle stroll in the sunshine would be good for my low spirits. I entered the supermarket, and was assaulted by the food, packaged, yet still offensive. I went to find what I needed, and realised that I was feeling increasingly bad. I didn’t really want to buy anything after all; I just wanted to get outside. Once outside the shop, the nausea started to rise up my oesophagus. I began to self-counsel. Breathe, it’s ok, you can control this. You’re not going to throw up. I saw a seat outside a cafe – could I sit there without buying something? My rule-abiding temperament said no so I kept walking.

Oh no, and it then it began: the heaving, and the sweating from trying not to heave. In an instant it had risen to the top. There was no return. I rushed my hands to cup my mouth and threw up into them. I dashed to the closed rubbish bin, and let it slide off my hands into the bin. My hands and cheeks were splattered, and I had no tissues. With bystanders unashamedly staring, I used my clean arm to wipe the vomit away, and I was shaking and teary. I felt like the lowliest hung-over woman that ever lived.

I had thrown up just outside Gloria Jeans, and there was a lady trying to enjoy her morning coffee while riveted by my display. She asked if I was ok, and if I needed to get to the doctor. While repeatedly retching with my hands over my mouth, I told her that I was just pregnant and she commented that I shouldn’t have gone out. Well, yes. After throwing up in one more bin, and being rudely asked for the time by a male with no idea of the personal crisis and shame I was facing, I made it to the toilets, and sat in the cubicle cleaning up with toilet paper. That was the last time I left the house without a throw-bag and tissues.

I realised that cravings weren’t so much indulgence, but an instinct to stay alive. Food was required for life, and if there was any food I could tolerate, that was the food I would eat. I have never thought about food so often. I thought about vomiting it up, and I salivated for all kinds of things that I have been an advocate against. After eating, I felt my oesophagus burn with gastric acid and wondered whether the heartburn tablet I just popped would harm the baby, as the packet clearly suggested.
In Week 6 I was struggling to zip up my black skinny jeans. I thought this was a little premature given my child was sesame seed sized. In reality it was my constipation, bloating, and sudden carb overload, masquerading as four months pregnant. We wanted to take a ‘before the bump’ picture in my first month, but that day never came. There was no more flat stomach.

The fatigue was like a heavy blanket, crushing and debilitating. I slept before lunch, and after lunch, and was held at gunpoint in my dreams. I woke drenched, worrying I’d miscarried. It was like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome on steroids, with the stomach bug twenty four hours a day. I dropped all the balls, and when Ben got home from work, he picked up armfuls. He cooked the one thing I wanted, shopped for my desires, cleaned, washed, and hugged me. Our poor puppy got walked half as often because we were drowning. I was googling cleaning help, and Light ‘n Easy meal delivery, and grocery delivery, and dog walkers.

I had no glow, no ultrasound picture, no energy, and a noticeable constipated bump. There was nothing glamorous about this experience, no, it was the hardest of my twenty five years.  I know this sounds incredibly melodramatic, because I wasn’t dying, rather, I was giving life. All I can say is that 24/7 nausea is demoralising. There was guilt that I was experiencing something many dream of and are denied, and feeling so miserable. I worried the baby would sense I didn’t love it and wouldn’t stick, because I felt wretched. And wasn’t pregnancy meant to be the calm before the newborn storm, and if we were drowning now then what? The pregnancies I’d observed were beyond the 1st trimester, they were in films, they were excited, and they were couples looking adorable on outings, women in curve hugging dresses. I’d never seen someone hobble around with a bucket, wondering if they were the weakest woman on earth for detesting every passing hour.

The worst thing was demanding a feeling of joy, yet struggling to even make it to the end of the day. I was forcing an emotion that was rightly in hibernation, and feeling guilt that I could not properly awaken it.

How do your reconcile joy and pain, and let them exist side by side? How do you tell people the most miraculous thing is coming to be, and you’ve never been more physically oppressed? How many times can you tell a friend that you are not really ok, and expect them to care? It has been the hardest time, but I believe it will lead to good times.

Right now it is bitter but it will be sweeter than I can comprehend. I’ve never met a woman who didn’t think it was worth it. I trust the truth of a million women who have walked this road, and vowed that when I first hold our baby on my chest, I will see this time as the smallest price to pay for something so precious.  

A hundred thankyous to the women in my life who sent me messages, meals, gifts, beautiful flowers, and quotes. This experience has brought me to my knees, and I have never wanted out more, so thankyou for keeping me in.