Sunday, October 3, 2021

The Deeper Wound

"No shame." That’s what everyone in the room during the match meeting kept saying. The adoption agency staffers. The prospective adoptive couple. I kept my mouth shut, but later wished I had spoken up.

Because I am ashamed. Ashamed that I apparently don’t know what I want, or went about getting it the wrong way. Ashamed that I let this situation progress this far and still don’t have a plan. Ashamed that at my age, I’m unsure about a decision as monumental as whether or not I can care for a life I insisted on creating. Ashamed that my change of heart could alter an innocent little being’s life trajectory forever.

No shame?! I am drowning in shame. I have done some truly embarrassing, awful, idiotic things in my life, but none so mortifying as this. I can’t believe a person as educated and experienced in parenthood as I am, someone who wanted this baby so badly pre-pregnancy, would even consider putting a child up for adoption. I am not an ignorant, reckless teenager who accidentally got pregnant by some loser high school kid. I am an adult with a full-time job and a functional family who had to jump through multiple medical hoops to get and stay pregnant. So how did I get to the point? I should know better.

“The judgment is not helpful,” my therapist, Shania, said during our latest session. “You haven’t done anything wrong.”

Really? Because I feel like the biggest fuck-up in the world right now. How was pursuing another pregnancy, despite all the evidence indicating I probably shouldn’t (including my husband’s resistance), not an unforgivable mistake?

Shania reminded me that I was very intentional about this pregnancy, and passionate about it, too. She said that if I hadn’t pursued it, I would likely be dealing with other hard feelings – like regret and resentment.

She repeated the old refrain that I’ve tried to tell myself (and which has failed to be convincing) that I did the best I could with the information I had at the time. Now I have new information (i.e. toddlerhood is hard AF, we don’t have as much money or energy as I thought we did, our marriage is more strained than I realized, etc.) and so I am considering other options.

The problem is: I don’t like any of the options. Keep the baby and I might not be able to give her the mothering she deserves. Place the baby with another couple and I might not be able to withstand the grief. I hate to say it like this, but I feel like those jealous, abusive men who think, “If I can’t have you, no one else can either.”

“Whether the baby ends up with you or with another family, you are giving the gift of life,” Shania reassured me.

I’m not sure the child will see it that way. What if she’s angry I gave her life only to hand her off to someone else to raise?

“No matter which family your child grows up in, she will have challenges,” Shania said. “If she grows up with another family, she will likely have challenges related to her identity as an adopted child. If she grows up with you, she’ll have the challenges that go along with being in a potentially stressed-out family.”

Great. So no matter which choice I make, she’s going to be messed up, too.

I told Shania that I felt completely alone in making this decision – a scary place to be, given that after what feels like a recent string of stupid missteps, I can’t trust myself to make the right choice. So I don’t make one. I wait for some divine intervention, some sign, some clarity that never comes. I flip and flop daily on what to do. And then I do nothing.

Shania had another take on my indecision. She said it wasn’t indicative of me being flaky or immature; instead, it indicated that I was taking my responsibilities as a parent very seriously.

“It would be much easier to be in denial,” Shania said. “But you aren’t.”

You can say that again. I am in the motherfucking trenches right now.

“What do you need to help you make this decision?” Shania asked.

Finally – an easy question to answer.

“What is need is for people to tell me what to do,” I said. “Everyone is tip-toeing around this decision. They aren’t being honest with me. They’re leaving it all up to me.”

“Including you,” I wanted to say. But I didn’t have to.

“Erica, you’ve known me for a long time,” Shania said. (15 years to be exact.) “If I thought you were headed down a dangerous path, I would tell you. But I truly believe there is no right or wrong decision here.”

And then, a few moments later, she said, “Whatever decision you make will be the right decision.”

That, ladies and gentleman, is the perfect example of “not helpful.”

Shania did eventually give me something useful to ruminate on: which decision would I regret less? When she phrased it that way, the answer was – for once – clearer. I would regret keeping the baby less. I know how hard parenting is, but I also know I’ve never regretted having any of my children, even in the worst of times. Adoption, however, is a wild card. For all I know, I might regret it every day for the rest of my life. How could I live with myself if I did? (And, yes, I know this isn’t all about me, but I do believe the baby will be fine no matter what. I don’t know if I will be.)

“You may never feel 100 percent certain about this decision either way,” Shania said. “This is about identifying what will be the deeper wound.”

“When you say it like that, I think the deeper wound would be adoption,” I said.

Even just talking about adoption makes me cry – every time. Does that mean something?

To wit: just three days after the match meeting and three days prior to my session with Shania, I was prone on an exam table in a dimly lit room. A sonographer rolled her wand across my belly for my 32-week “growth ultrasound.”

As I suspected, the baby was big – 5 pounds, 4 ounces already. Tack on another eight weeks of weight gain, and we could easily be talking about a 9-pound-plus bundle of joy. (RIP my lady parts.)

The 3D ultrasound feature usually creeps me out, but this time, when the sonographer switched over to it, I was aghast. The baby’s face looked fully formed, and oh-so-adorable. She had a hand on her head and was even sticking her tongue out. I started to cry. There was my little girl, alive and kicking. How could I even consider giving her away?

“I saw the cutest little face,” I told my husband when I got home.

 “Uh-oh,” was the extent of his reply.

Uh-oh is right. (Though file that in the “unhelpful comments” section, too.)

I wish I could say the brief calm and clarity I felt during my session with Shania endured. It didn’t. I still go back and forth on the adoption issue daily, seeing pros and cons to each side and feeling unable to decide. Can I endure the next six weeks (or as few as three weeks if the baby comes early) of uncertainty and trust myself to make the right decision after the birth? Will I be in my right mind then, given all the postpartum hormonal upheaval? Is this a question of faith? And if God is involved, what is His intention? That I be the answer to the adoptive couple’s prayers? Or that I trust that I can juggle parenting along with everything else because He won’t give me more than I can handle?

I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.

So I write and I cry and I wait for a certainty that seems to be taking its sweet fucking time…

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Are You My (Baby's) Mother?

You gotta give it to life: it sure does get creative with the conundrums. Just when I think there’s nothing new under the sun, I find myself in a dilemma that makes me wonder “WTF is even happening right now?” Take, for example, our recent “match meeting” at an adoption agency.

The meeting took place in an antiseptic conference room on a Friday evening. There were three tables arranged in a U-shape; my husband and I sat at one, the adoptive couple sat opposite us, and the adoption agency staffers sat in between. My older teen and my toddler played on the floor nearby.

The couple was everything I hoped they would be. I’m limited by confidentiality agreements from getting too detailed, but suffice to say they were young, attractive, educated, compassionate people with professional and personal ties to the Christian Church. They didn’t just talk the talk, they walked the walk, having spent years overseas as missionaries. They were "better" than my husband and me on every metric, if it's appropriate to even say such a thing. I felt old and dumpy and even a little dumb in comparison. 

Each side began by sharing how we had ended up at this juncture. The couple had struggled with infertility and, after a period of prayer, decided to give up on medical interventions and focus on adoption instead. I explained how “we” (let’s be honest: it was mostly me) had come to decide to start a family together a few years ago, realized that might not be possible with our own genetic material, and ended up going the donor embryo route. I added that we’d once considered adoption, but figured that as a blended family, no birth mother would ever pick us. Everyone in the room laughed. I hadn’t meant it as a joke.

Ah, but the laughter didn’t last. As soon as the pregnancy counselor asked me to share my feelings about open adoption, I started crying, and she had to fetch a box of Kleenex.

“I’m conflicted about the open arrangement,” I said as I wiped my eyes. “I know it’s better for the child, and I want her to always feel like she can reach out to me with questions or meet me in the future, but I just don’t know if I can handle receiving updates or pictures.”

I was torn between feeling that contact would help me feel better about the placement (i.e. "Look how well she's doing!") or worse (i.e. "Look what a wonderful child I gave up.").

I explained that so far, my best idea was to set up a dedicated email account to which the adoptive couple could send a monthly update for the first year, then annually after that. This way, I would only open the updates when I felt strong enough to see them. As for in-person visits, I didn’t want to say “never” but I couldn’t imagine myself being able to do that unless the child requested it.

“I don’t want to interfere,” I barely managed to choke out.

The couple had some questions for us, mostly about our motivations for pursuing adoption and what was behind all my flip-flopping. I felt my reason was utterly uncompelling. “I’m overwhelmed,” I said. “I don’t know if we can be the kind of parents this baby deserves given the amount of stress in our lives right now.”

They wondered: was this sense of overwhelm pandemic-related? Unfortunately, no. The pandemic has actually made life easier in a lot of ways because it limited our activities and outings, allowed my husband to work a more flexible schedule, and gave me more time to freelance.

Was the stress something that could be remedied with more social support? Maybe, but where would that support come from? “One of the major flaws of our family system is that we have no support,” I told them. Our parents are too old, we’re not close enough to our siblings to rely on them for childcare, we have no friends with young children, my teens are not available enough anymore to help us to the extent we need, and we have no other community to speak of. Daycare is out of the question and the nanny search is ongoing (and has yet to produce any viable candidates). We’re really doing this whole parenting thing on our own.

The couple asked what had been helpful in contemplating the adoption decision. I told them, honestly, that nothing had been helpful so far; that’s why I’ve changed my mind so many times. I am in a battle between the head and the heart. My rational mind says there is no way I can handle another child but my heart can’t bear the thought of severing what little bond exists between me and the baby.

What I really need is someone to tell me what to do; I’ve often fantasized of having a “professional decision-maker” to weigh the options and choose one for me. I would pay pretty much any price right now to hire such a person, though as far as I can tell, no such professional exists. Alternately, I wish my husband would sit me down, look me in the eyes, and say, “You don’t have to make this decision because I am going to do everything I can to make sure we can keep, and care for, this baby.” But I don’t think he has the balls, quite frankly, or the ability to follow through. So now I have to be the bad guy and make this impossible decision all by myself. Topic for a future couples counseling session, if we ever go back (yup, we dropped out).

When it was my turn to ask a question of the couple, I had only one: “How would you explain this child’s origin story to her?”

I asked because I had no idea how to “spin” this in a way that wouldn’t make her feel abandoned, or rejected, or inferior. But everyone else was as stumped as I was on how to explain this situation in a positive way. All we could come up with, collectively, is telling her that she was so very wanted and that even though her origin story would be unorthodox, it was still beautiful. I was not fully convinced that this would be enough to satisfy her, but it was the best we could do at the time.

During the meeting, my toddler would play for a bit, then crawl into my lap for some cuddles. Juggling this heavy conversation with her needs made me feel like a natural mother. I thought, "There's no way I can go through with adoption. Nor do I need to. I am fully capable of caring for another child."

And yet, just the night before, my toddler had been up for two full hours in the middle of the night, treating our bed like a bounce house and refusing to go back to sleep. I passed her off to my husband twice, then returned to bed, where I wailed like a wounded animal because parenting is so freakin’ hard. I felt raw and exposed and exhausted. I was barely functioning. The thought of dropping a newborn into that scenario felt insane.

I had half-hoped I wouldn’t like the couple, that they would reveal some glaring flaw so I could put this adoption idea to rest already. But I couldn’t find one. I know no one is perfect, but I couldn’t have asked for better adoptive parents. I had no doubts that the baby would be loved immensely and that she would be doted upon and well-cared for. (Hell, I wish they could adopt me!)

As the meeting drew to a close, the pregnancy counselor asked where we wanted to go from here.

A thought flashed through my mind. "What if I just decided to give the baby to them? Could I be at peace with that?" It would make the couple so very happy. It would free up money, time, and other resources to tend to my toddler. And yet, every time I envision leaving the hospital after birth empty-handed, I see only darkness and grief, an emotional weight so unbearable it could crush me.

“I can’t make a decision about this until the baby is born,” I told the couple. “I don’t want to make a promise to you that I can’t keep.”

The couple said they understood – and I didn’t get the feeling they were just saying that to be nice. I truly believed them when they told us they’d been praying about the outcome of all this and that they trusted God would make something good out of it, whether that was some sort of situational or emotional change that would give me the strength and support to parent or if that meant that I would give them the gift of parenting.

“We’ve accepted the uncertainty,” they said. “And if this meeting is as far as our relationship with you goes, we are OK with that.”

I could hardly say “thank you” through all my tears. It was so sweet of them. I wish I had that much faith. I barely have any these days. I’m afraid that no matter what decision I make, I am going to hate myself for it.

"I wish I were mature enough to just say, 'I'm giving them the baby and I'm going to take the next two months to prepare myself for that,'" I said to my husband as we left.

"I don't think it's a question of maturity," he responded.

Then what is it? Selflessness? Beneficence? Detachment? What makes a mom able to give up a baby? And is that what’s best for the baby – or anyone else – in this scenario?

I just want to be a good person and do the right thing. Why is that so hard?

I have no answers, only questions. So I took them to my therapist, Shania, who, while also unable (or unwilling) to tell me what to do, helped me sift through the muck in search of some clarity...

Friday, September 17, 2021

If You Love Something, Let It Go

Having a family is equal parts wonder, exasperation, and heartbreak. Lately, it's been heavy on the heartbreak.

My oldest daughter left for college recently. Though she's not even half-an-hour away, her departure felt like a death. I know I shouldn't compare the two things, because the dead cannot text or call or visit like a college student who lives nearby can, but the blow of her absence was as devastating as losing a loved one. You don't realize how many little, yet meaningful, interactions you have with someone you love and live with until they're gone. In many ways over the past year, I had become closer to her than my husband.

"I guess you'll have to talk to me now," my husband said. Before I could stop myself, I laughed out loud. Talk to my husband? Ha! The suggestion seemed ludicrous.

The first couple of days without my firstborn, it was a struggle just to get through each moment. I felt like I had a gaping wound right through the center of my chest. I tried to distract myself with outings and beauty and mind-numbingly stupid entertainment, but the sadness would break through and I couldn't stop crying. It was a bottomless well of emotion that kept surging up. Nothing helped me feel better.

Sure, I'd heard of Empty Nest Syndrome, but I guess I thought it was something that much older helicopter moms with no lives of their own experienced. I thought that being relatively young (for having a child in college already) and having a job would protect me from it. And just in case, I started having babies again to guarantee I would continue to feel like a mom and keep my house full and my life busy. But it doesn't work that way. You can't replace people, not with busyness and not with more people. That probably seems obvious to everyone reading this, and on a rational level, I knew that, but to feel it was a whole 'nother thing.

So instead of being too preoccupied with other things to grieve my firstborn leaving, I had to grieve while also managing a household, working, and parenting a very needy toddler – not to mention growing a baby that I still feel deeply ambivalent about.  

And the losses just kept on coming. No sooner did my older teen depart than my younger teen got a car, returned to in-person school, and started a new job. In other words, we never saw one another. 

Then my toddler entered daycare – and to say it was a rough transition would be an understatement. I thought we had carefully selected a quality Christian child care center, but taking a 10-minute tour and actually surrendering your child to a bunch of strangers for 20 hours a week are two completely different things. My toddler wailed and thrashed when I passed her off to the daycare caregivers (who suddenly seemed to be different people every day rather than one consistent, caring presence). I would hold my emotions in until I was out of sight, but I started crying in the hallway and continued into the parking lot and all the way home. 

Though the daycare sent me pictures of my toddler, looking complacent if not content, every morning, when she got home in the afternoons, she was more volatile than ever. She wouldn’t eat, her naps shrunk to just over an hour a day, and she acted out more often. She clearly wasn’t happy with the new arrangement.

Nor was I. All of a sudden, I found myself at the kitchen table in an empty house, the deliciously cool, autumn-esque breeze blowing through the screen door, hours stretched ahead of me with no one demanding my attention. This is what I wanted, wasn't it? Peace and quiet? Breathing room? So why, instead of relief, did I feel like I’d been deserted on an island? Why did it feel like I had lost all of my children in the span of only a few days?

Instead of luxuriating in the new normal, I regressed to old coping mechanisms. I baked huge slabs of brookies and binged. I answered an ex's email. I immersed myself in grisly true crime stories (my current obsession: all things Dr. Death). I was wasting most of my daycare time trying to avoid or medicate my feelings about daycare! I did every unhealthy thing in my arsenal to check out until it was time to go pick up my little one.

One afternoon when I went to pick up my toddler from daycare, she had dried snot stains running down her face, indicating she'd been crying, hard. Another day, I arrived and heard her wails all the way from the front door. I raced to the toddler room, where my daughter was so relieved to see me and so eager to get into my arms, she ran too fast and face-planted.

“What happened?” I asked, thinking my toddler had been injured prior to my arrival.

“It’s just a sympathy cry,” the teacher said, claiming a little boy had gotten upset and my toddler was simply reacting to his emotions.

I looked around the room. No one else was crying.

Perhaps impulsively, I contacted the center’s director that afternoon and announced I was pulling my toddler out of daycare. What I didn’t realize is that in doing so, I was forfeiting a week's worth of tuition and seriously limiting my childcare options. Now I'm racing to find a nanny (which I really can't afford and are in short supply anyway) or a different daycare center (which I really don't want to traumatize my toddler with, and besides, the good ones are all full) before the baby is born.

And speaking of the baby, you’d think that given how wrecked I've been over my older teen leaving for college, how in the hell could I even contemplate giving a baby up for adoption? But, in the midst of all this emotional turmoil and change, I initiated what's known as a "match meeting," meaning my husband and I are going to sit down with a childless couple to talk about the possibility of them raising our baby. 

Why did I do that? Because, I guess, I realized that children are no buffer against sadness, against loss, against heartache, against much of anything, really. They help you inch closer to understanding the meaning of life but they can also make you feel like death warmed over. As a mom, I often feel like my choices boil down to: whose heart should I break? My child's or my own?

I don't know how hard it would be to give up a newborn baby, but I do know how hard parenting is. And I don't know if I can take any more…

Sunday, September 5, 2021

A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Lies

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, but are any of them true? My experience with portrait photography is that at best, it captures the idealized image you have of yourself or your loved ones in your head; at worst, it's downright visual manipulation. Add social media to the mix and you've entered a world of highly cultivated bullshit.

That's a cynical preface to a post about maternity photos, I know. And yet, I went ahead with this third-trimester tradition anyway. Given how deeply ambivalent I've felt about this pregnancy since day one (OK, not that early; sometime around week six), I thought maybe getting a fresh perspective vis a vis a pro's camera would help stoke some excitement about my baby-on-the-way.

I did not go to the same photographer from my last round of maternity shots. She was too expensive and busy and honestly, I wanted this process to be as anonymous as possible. (Why, exactly, I'll get to in a moment.) So I booked one of the photography services where you choose a date, time, and location and are assigned a photographer at random. You get a 30-minute session with the photog for free, then only pay for the pictures you like.

"You're so small!" was the first thing my middle-aged and somewhat grizzled photographer said when we met up on a Sunday morning at a rose garden in Minneapolis. I've heard this refrain before and it always boggles my mind. If this is small, what do objectively "big" preggos feel like? Because I feel like a fucking whale and I still have 10 weeks to go until D Day.

"Thanks," I told her. "Though I don't feel small."

The shoot was rather uneventful. She walked me through the garden, stopping me along the way for some very awkward poses that I was sure would look ridiculous later. (A model, I am not.) I focused on not looking directly at the camera (anathema as far as I'm concerned) and tried not to appear too surly, though I felt anything but smiley.

Halfway through, she led me to her dusty, old sedan, popped the trunk, and showed me a couple of maternity dresses she'd brought along in case I wanted shots in something other than the skin-tight blue gown I'd bought off Amazon. One was a short, velvet purple frock that never should have left the '80s and the other was a regal, dark green number that I never would have chosen for myself but that she insisted would look great with my coloring. Feeling pressured to please her and accept this generosity, I opted for the latter. She popped a portable changing room upright, I made the swap, and she finished shooting.

The photo shoot triggered something in me. It felt so frivolous and vain. It did not make me feel more appreciative of my pregnant body or connected to the baby. In fact, it had the opposite effect. Like people who excessively photograph themselves being all gooey with their significant others (and force the rest of us to look at, if not "like" it), it reeked of desperation.

I'd put thoughts of adoption out of my mind, despite having met with the pregnancy counselor, filling out all the paperwork, and choosing and communicating with a potential adoptive family. Now, those thoughts about giving the baby up (or, as the current woke vernacular goes, "making an adoption plan") came rushing back. I wondered: Am I capable of parenting another child well? Do I want to parent another child? (According to the pregnancy counselor, not wanting to parent even if you are fully capable of doing so is a totally valid reason for making an adoption plan.) Is it wrong to bring another child into the world just to give our toddler a sibling, playmate, and lifelong companion? Am I meant to bestow the gift of a baby to a family who would be more enthusiastic about welcoming her? Is this story not one of me raising another baby but about giving one away? Is it, in fact, selfish of me to have four children when others have none? What does God want for everyone in this situation? Does God even give AF about me and my petty dilemmas anymore? 

I tried to stifle those questions throughout the week as I waited to see the maternity photos. When they arrived I was about as dis/satisfied as I expected to be. Out of 50 photos, only a few didn't make me cringe. It wasn't the photographer's fault; I am just merciless when it comes to judging myself. I nit-picked my way through the gallery. Too old. Too wrinkly. Too lumpy. Too frowny. Too veiny. I found something wrong with every image, even the ones I liked. Part of this was that the photography service doesn't do any editing (or so I thought). And part of it is probably just old-fashioned self-loathing.

After spending way too much time attempting (and failing) to Photoshop the images I purchased, I texted the photographer to see how much she'd charge for airbrushing. She said couldn't provide that service, contractually speaking, but that the company could. I inquired with the company and was given an estimate for editing, which I eagerly paid just so I would have something worth posting for my paltry social media following and to enlarge and frame on the nursery wall.

The pictures came back lightly airbrushed. My skin looked smoother but it was still me. My body was still my body. And my attitude still stunk. And yet, I posted the pics on Instagram and Facebook, just like all the other approval-hungry pregnant women out there. The whole process reminded me why I've cut way down on my social media use (I've only posted twice so far this year on my personal Instagram, and both times were unnecessarily fraught). The process makes me feel obsessive and unhappy and inferior. I doubt any of that comes across to the few people who bothered to scroll and "heart" these new maternity pics, though. To them, I likely appear feminine and elegant, blissed out and blessed. A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but in this case, they are lies.

I do not like how my body looks. I hate how it feels. There is nothing wondrous about being pregnant this time, despite all the effort that went into "achieving" this pregnancy and the fact that this is the last time I will ever be pregnant. I wish I felt differently, but I don't.

My hope is that a massive wave of relief and love will wash over me when the baby is born, that the positive emotions will be strong enough to erase the mental hell of this pregnancy and make me grateful that the baby is finally in the world and in my arms. My hope is that I will be freed from all this negativity, that the darkness of these nine months will seem like a psychological glitch, that I will return to a place of gratitude and contentment (happiness is far too lofty a goal for me, given my almost lifelong depression). My hope is that I will want this baby, ferociously.

That is the picture I try to paint in my mind. I just don't know if I believe it yet.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

No Sudden Moves

I suppose this blog is overdue for an bumpdate. (Overdue. Ha.

Summer and the second trimester of my pregnancy perfectly coincided, though that’s about the only thing that’s gone perfectly over the past three months. It’s been a whirlwind, and nothing like the honeymoon period I experienced during the second trimester of my last pregnancy.

Among the developments:

My husband and I contemplated – then changed our minds about – moving. After preparing our home to go on the market and just as we were about to commence house hunting, we decided we needed to just stay put for the time being.

We met with a pregnancy (read: adoption) counselor and even tentatively chose an adoptive family, then put that plan on hold when I realized giving up a baby would wreck me emotionally even more than raising two kids under two years old would.

We’ve been working on getting our toddler off the bottle (seemingly never going to happen) and onto finger foods. Newly diagnosed sensory issues are apparently to blame for this developmental delay. Progress is painstakingly slow, requiring visits to a feeding clinic (yes, that’s a thing) and multiple waitlists for occupational therapy. We’ve given up on sleep training and are simply grateful any time she sleeps through the night, even if she does so attached to me like a jellyfish. (Now if only I could get some shut-eye...)

My incessant exhaustion (aka my new default state), which I had attributed to pregnancy and parenthood plus depression, was found to have a medical cause: anemia. Other than that, my body has been doing its miraculous, gestational thing flawlessly. Physically, this pregnancy has been the most uneventful I’ve ever had. And yet, at every OB appointment, my refrain is: “How soon can we get this baby out of me?” (“You won’t make it to your due date,” a nurse recently told me, though it wasn’t clear if that was just her wishful thinking or if, as a “geriatric mother,” some kind of medical intervention is more likely to happen before my due date.)

I signed on with a doula, as my husband might be too busy wrangling our high-maintenance toddler to attend the new baby’s birth (and children are not allowed at the hospital due to COVID restrictions). I’ve made it clear to all involved that my goal with this birth is to be comfortable. I have nothing left to prove. Honestly, if they could knock me out and wake me up when it’s all over, I’d go for it. In lieu of that, bring on the epidural!

As if all that weren’t enough, I’ve also been working as hard as I can, running (make that “lumbering through”) a four-mile route three times a week, eating way too much sugar (my latest vice: brownies slathered with M&M cookie dough), and getting bigger every day (please, Lord, let the baby weight come off quickly this winter).

I wish I could say I felt excited about the impending birth, but that would be too Pollyanna. The fear and dread and depression have ebbed somewhat, and that just might be the best I can hope for at this point. I am so eager to not be pregnant anymore (or ever again, for that matter). I can’t wait to be freed from the three massive, fleshy bowling balls (two in the chest, one in the womb) that I’ve been hauling around all summer. And get me off of this “hormotional” rollercoaster, please and thank you.

As the calendar flips over to September, my family stands at the precipice of so much change. My older teen leaves for college. My younger teen returns to in-person school after an 18-month hiatus. My toddler starts daycare. And I enter into the home stretch of what has been, emotionally, the hardest pregnancy I’ve ever had.

As I surrender to the third trimester, I feel a strong urge to stick close to home and refrain from any impulsive decisions or major alterations to routine. It is a time for nesting, inward reflection, and maybe, just maybe, a little peace and quiet before life gets chaotically turned upside down all over again…

Friday, June 25, 2021

Even Preggos Get The Blues

Leave it to me to get exactly what I wanted and then feel like the world was crashing down upon me.

While I experienced some prenatal depression with my last pregnancy, as soon as I entered the second trimester, it dissipated and I was excited AF to be pregnant. This time around, the primary emotion I felt as a newly pregnant mama was dread.

I can’t blame it on physical discomfort. Aside from a week of light bleeding, mild nausea, and only one vomiting episode, my body felt great.

But my mind was a cesspool of incessantly anxious thoughts and my mood was getting darker and darker as the weeks ticked by. Why? Let me count the ways.

First, I was overwhelmed. One of the inconvenient truths about parenting is that as soon as you think you’ve got it down, your child grows and changes and you have to reconfigure everything all over again. Just when I’d mastered a routine or developmental task with my toddler, another challenge would present itself. She was walking and needed a lot more stimulation – and supervision – now. Naps were spotty. We hadn’t kicked the co-sleeping habit yet and she had seemingly regressed on sleeping through the night. I was worn out and couldn’t fathom how I would juggle a full-time at-home job, chasing a toddler around, and caring for a needy newborn without any paid help.

But how could we afford help? Financially, we were bleeding out. My husband’s income decreased substantially during the pandemic (though I didn't realize it until we filed our taxes in the spring because we keep our finances separate), making me the unlikely breadwinner – as a freelancer! (No pressure!) Our roof needed replacing. Our AC died. Our washer broke. Our drains were constantly clogged. The monthly home repair bills rivaled our mortgage payments.

Our family was in flux, too. My oldest daughter – my confidant, my best friend, my most reliable household helper and babysitter – was graduating high school and preparing to leave for college. My younger teen came out as trans to his dad, which did not go well. Soon we were both on the receiving end of a lot of politically incorrect lectures and insistence on therapy (and not the gender-affirming kind). He refused to let our teen medically transition, and I had to deal with the emotional fallout since he only parents two hours a week these days.

And then there was my marriage, which had devolved into a co-parent/housemate-style relationship. My husband and I didn’t even feel like friends anymore. We were just checking things off the to-do list but never really connecting. (And don’t even get me started on sex – or the complete lack thereof, which I take full responsibility for. I was too resentful at having been thrust into being not only the primary wage earner but also the primary parent. Being forced to play the man and the woman of the house is a real libido-killer.) Our arguments increased in both frequency and intensity until one day, during what I hope was our rock bottom, he started moving his stuff out and I started slinging around words like "divorce" and "lawyer up." (He came back. We both cried. We’re trying therapy.)

Despite all this stress, the pregnancy progressed normally. My boobs ballooned and my belly grew bigger and faster than my previous pregnancy. But I didn't relish my rounder shape. I despised it. I started running again at eight weeks, terrified of weight gain. But it didn’t help, because I was also bingeing -- on everything chocolately, peanut buttery, and sugary I could get my hands on. I was engaging in old, familiar, eating-disordered behaviors again. It was my way of “coping” with the disturbing thoughts and feelings – except it only made me feel worse, just in different ways about different things.

It was all too much. What the fuck was I thinking when I decided to get pregnant again?! I couldn't imagine bringing a baby into this mess. It didn't seem fair to her. And yet: she was coming, whether we were ready and willing or not.

Depression, which used to visit me for a day every few weeks in an inconvenient but manageable way, was now a more omnipresent, vicious presence. I would cry myself to sleep. I would wake in the middle of the night and review all the ways I had fucked up – as a wife, a mom, a Christian, a human. In the morning, I would weep some more. I couldn’t even muster a prayer – I didn't know what to say, didn't feel like I deserved God's attention, much less grace. I felt like I was beyond saving. Even a miracle didn't seem like enough.

I can’t believe I’m about to write this, but: I hoped for a miscarriage. (And this is coming from someone who has had two miscarriages and a disappearing twin and wouldn’t wish pregnancy loss on her worst enemy.) I was disappointed when the aforementioned bleeding stopped. I was shocked that running failed to dislodge the baby. Each prenatal visit, the nurses and Dr. Baby-Maker greeted me with unbridled enthusiasm and I could barely force a fake smile. (Thank goodness for face masks.)

One of the reasons I took a break from blogging is because I was afraid and ashamed. Afraid that I had made a mistake. Ashamed that I wanted this pregnancy so badly and now that it was here, I wanted nothing to do with it. Ashamed that I’d put this deeply intimate and personal journey on the internet for public consumption and didn’t have the guts to see it through. Ashamed because I thought that a “good mom” shouldn’t wish her pregnancy had failed.

Soon I was 15 weeks pregnant and realizing that I was running out of time if I did not feel capable of going through with this pregnancy. I not only let the thought of abortion cross my mind, I actually took active steps to learn more about it. (And I don’t even believe abortion should be legal past 12 weeks unless medically necessary!) At one point, after clicking through Planned Parenthood’s online information about surgical abortion, I logged onto the clinic’s so-called anonymous chat. It went a little like this:

ME: How late in pregnancy can I get an abortion in Minnesota?

PP: Hi! I’m Trevor! What’s your name?

(Wow. Are you fucking kidding me? How about 1) don’t let men run the Planned Parenthood chat and 2) don’t ask for my name if it’s supposed to be anonymous.)

ME: I don’t want to give you my name. I want to know how late in pregnancy I can get an abortion.

PP: Have you taken a pregnancy test?

(OMFG. How dumb do you think I am?)

ME: Yes, I have. I’m 15 weeks pregnant. Is it too late to get an abortion?

PP: Most states allow abortion up until 24 weeks, but some states have restrictions after 20 weeks. You would have to call your local clinic for more information.

(I didn't want to call the local clinic. Speaking to another human about this would make it too real. Can you believe Planned Parenthood doesn’t have some kind of nationwide chart available for its employees to reference when asked this question? WTF. Do better, Planned Parenthood.)

I knew I couldn’t abort the baby – because she was a baby by now. I’d mostly been avoiding the What to Expect When You’re Expecting app on my phone, but I’d glanced at enough updates to know that she would soon have fingerprints. She could detect light with her eyes. She could hear. She was moving. I had only seen her briefly a couple of times on early ultrasounds – when she looked no more detailed than a chickpea – but by now, she would look fully human on a sonogram. Though abortion would be the “easy” way out for me, I couldn’t bear having that on my conscience. The chances that I would regret an abortion seemed greater than the chances that I’d regret having a baby.

I contemplated another option, one I never thought I would consider: adoption. I wanted to believe it wouldn’t be as traumatic for the baby to be placed with another family because we weren’t genetically related. I would be like a surrogate for another reproductively challenged couple – but without the generous paycheck surrogates get for their services.

I perused profiles of couples wanting to adopt on a local social services website. There were plenty to choose from, but of course no one seemed “good enough.” Their detailed profiles only provoked more questions. Why was this single woman single? Why did she want to adopt instead of trying IUI or IVF herself? Did this extroverted, sports-loving couple drink too much? Was that couple too old? Was this one too religious?

There were other questions as well: would the baby feel like she’d been abandoned twice – first by the gamete donors, then by me? Would I adhere to the tenets of open adoption, being receptive to getting updates about her or to her seeking me out in the future? How would I answer her if she asked why I gave her up for adoption?

Speaking of donors, there was that complicating factor, too: I’d found the sperm donor on the Donor Sibling Registry and had contacted him. He responded immediately and suggested we become Facebook friends. So we did. He was educated, successful, kind, and handsome. Surely, he could make cute, intelligent, healthy babies. I clicked through all his photos and saved a few pics along with his contact info in a file for the baby should she want to reach out to him in the future.

So I couldn’t give the baby up. I felt accountable to her sperm donor. What would I say to him if he inquired about the baby later? What would I say to all the people who saw my belly growing but never met the baby? What if I picked a couple to be the adoptive parents, and then gave birth and decided to keep the baby – and broke their hearts?

I wish I could say something snapped me out of this crisis, that I had an epiphany, a breakthrough, an ah-ha moment of magnificent proportions. I didn't. I’m still struggling.

But when I went for the big anatomy ultrasound at 18 weeks, and I saw the baby’s profile pop up on the screen, and her perfect head and hands and feet and head all wriggling around, it hit me: the only way out is through...

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Two Week (I Can't) Wait

Embryo transfer complete, the dreaded two-week wait was underway.

Cue “symptom spotting” (aka looking for any sign you might be pregnant). I noticed that my belly had become very Santa Claus-esque. I literally already looked pregnant, which was absurd yet undeniable. (So much for the skinny legend I’d become.) I Googled “weight gain or bloat?” and was relieved I was not the only person to wonder. Everything I read seemed to indicate it was bloat, but I didn’t “feel” bloated. Was it possible to show even before a positive pregnancy test? Were my stomach muscles so loose from the last pregnancy that they were just like, “We give up”?

For a few days following the transfer, I also felt little tugging sensations in my uterine area, just like I did during the first trimester of pregnancy with my daughter. I also experienced frequent urination, constipation, sleeplessness, and a level of exhaustion that left me near catatonic, though these seemed less like tell-tale pregnancy symptoms and more like mere coincidence – or signs that something else was wrong. I’d been incessantly cold, too, which is not a symptom of pregnancy, and began to wonder if my thyroid had gotten out of whack again.

Mood-wise, I felt surprisingly calm. I wasn’t chomping at the bit to take a home pregnancy test (mostly out of fear of a false negative). I mentally held space for both the possibility that I was pregnant and that if I was not, I would get another transfer scheduled ASAP. I even started researching whether I should transfer two embryos next time.

“Why are you researching this stuff?” my older teen wanted to know. “You’re manifesting the transfer not working!”

“Because it makes me feel better to have a backup plan,” I said.

One week post-transfer, my patience ran out. I decided to take a home pregnancy test. The night before the test, I had two pregnancy dreams: the first involved a pregnancy test gadget so complicated, I couldn’t figure out where the results window was. In the second dream, I was at a gas station under the guise of buying candy for a movie, but I was really scoping out the pregnancy tests and trying to figure out how I could sneak off and take one. And I did – but once again I was having trouble finding the results window. Finally, my dream self flipped the test over and there they were – two blue lines!

I woke up at 4 a.m. and headed straight to the bathroom to see if my dream would literally come true. As I prepared all my testing items – pee stick, plastic cup – my hands were trembling so hard I could hardly get the test package open. I didn’t realize how excited I was about the outcome until I was actually moments away from knowing it.

Using only a nightlight for guidance, I peed in the cup, dipped the stick in the pee, and placed the test on the counter. A minute later, I glanced down. Just one line. Negative.

“I knew it!” I thought.

It was dark in the bathroom, though, and I was not wearing my glasses, so I thought maybe I should turn the light on to confirm the test was negative. I did, and…there was a second line! Thin and faint, but there! 

I took the test back to the bedroom and put it on the nightstand, where I continued to check it every few minutes in between prayers of gratitude.

The second line stayed. My heart swelled. I felt so amazed and scared and grateful and nervous all at once.

Later in the morning, I ran downstairs to find my husband pouring his coffee.

“I have a squinter!” I said and produced the test. He was not wearing his glasses, so he couldn’t see at all what I was trying to show him.

When he realized what I had in my hand, he couldn’t believe it. He didn’t seem happy, per se, more shocked.

“I had a birth dream about you last night,” he said.

“How did the baby look?” I asked.

“I don’t know. It was just a baby.”


Just like my previous IVF pregnancy, what initially felt like a finish line – a positive pregnancy test – was really just the first hurdle. I ordered a pair of store-brand pregnancy tests from Target (never again!) and took one the next morning, expecting the second line to be darker, stronger, as the HCG in my body (and urine) should have been increasing exponentially daily. But the second line was still faint, anemic even. The following day, I did another home test – and the line still wasn’t darker. The results from those home tests were so discouraging, I threw them away. They were psyching me out.

Thankfully, beta hCG day arrived. It was a gray and cold March morning as I drove to the clinic for my blood draw. Random snowy patches dotted the tan grass and the trees were sad and leafless along the route. “This is how the weather will be when the baby is born,” I thought, calculating a late fall due date.

My blood draw was so fast, I didn’t even have to pay for parking. I spent the entire morning refreshing and refreshing my online patient chart. Finally, around lunchtime, the result was in: my hCG was 170! (A normal hCG level for four weeks pregnant is between 10 and 708.)

While I was reassured by the number, it wasn’t as high as my first hCG had been with my daughter, and it was lagging behind that of several newly pregnant members of the West Coast IVF Facebook group. And yet, according to one study, an early HCG level higher than 100 has a 90 percent chance of resulting in a live birth. The odds were on my side. Now that number just needed to double in the next 48 hours.

Like all things pregnancy, I once again felt like I was holding my breath and waiting to feel reassured.

On the morning of the second blood draw, I was greeted by a nurse I didn’t recognize. She was wearing pink scrubs instead of blue, and her name tag said “medical assistant” rather than “lab,” which made me wonder if she was really qualified to draw blood. As it turned out, nope, she wasn’t. Though she complimented my veins, she couldn’t penetrate them. She tried twice in my right arm, jabbing me painfully and then trying to maneuver the needle into a better position.

“Has anyone ever told you your veins roll?” she asked.

“No,” I said. (“This is not my problem, it's yours,” I thought.)

Thankfully, after bandaging me up, she called one of her colleagues over – who got the blood drawn on her first try.

After the lab visit, I headed over to the specialty pharmacy to pick up more progesterone and needles. The latter were out of stock because of the Covid vaccine, so I had to wait 10 minutes for the pharmacist to finagle a substitution. While I was waiting, a nurse from Dr. Baby-Maker’s office called. My bloodwork had confirmed that my thyroid was on the fritz again, so I was to restart medication for that, too. (Proper thyroid function helps sustain pregnancy.) So many drugs just to do what most women's bodies do (and mine has done in the past) naturally. Grr.

I continued my refresh-refresh-refresh routine on my online chart until the hCG results came back that afternoon: 424! More than doubled! My West Coast IVF treatment coordinator called to congratulate me and went over the upcoming important dates: seven weeks (first ultrasound), 12 weeks (the end of progesterone and estrogen medications), and my due date.

I put the photos of the embryo and the transfer on my bedroom wall along with the embaby’s profile to make her feel more real. Mild physical symptoms aside, it was hard to believe I was pregnant. Now I just had to wait and hope and pray that the pregnancy would stick.

And stick it did. But while this pregnancy was the easiest, physically, that I’ve ever had, emotionally, it was a motherfucker