Thursday, September 24, 2020

Welcome To The Rabbit Hole

I was almost eight weeks pregnant and too many mornings began like this: I’d awake in the dark around 4:30 a.m. and be unable to fall back asleep. My mind would spin awful thoughts.

“I am worried that I didn’t fully contemplate what 18 more years of motherhood means, that I underestimated how hard pregnancy is on my body, that I’m not up for this, that I should have appreciated my freedom and selfhood and health and should not have tried to improve on a situation that was perfectly fine by all standards,” I wrote in my journal.

I didn’t like these thoughts but I didn’t know how to stop them, either. It didn't help that because of the subchorionic hematoma (and subsequent pelvic rest), I was unable to exercise at my usual level of exertion. (Exercise has always been my most effective anti-depressant.)

One morning, while waiting for my husband to wake up, I sat at the kitchen table and Googled, “IVF pregnancy ambivalence.” An article came up about abortion after IVF, how it’s the fertility industry’s “dirty little secret.” One woman in the story was anorexic and freaked out when she started to gain weight. Another discovered her husband’s infidelity and decided she couldn’t have a baby with him. Others aborted because of fetal illnesses or birth defects. And some just changed their minds. One source quoted in the piece said, “You don’t know how you’re going to feel until you’re there.” I understood that sentiment – and it scared me.

My husband came downstairs and I slapped my laptop shut before he could see what I was reading. I was ashamed to even be reading about abortion. It went against everything I thought I knew about myself and my faith and my beliefs. The older I become, the closer to the pro-life end of the abortion debate spectrum I get. My fertility challenges only made me more conscious of how precious life is, and how wrong it is to terminate a pregnancy when there are so many women out there desperate to raise a child. So why did the article resonate with me?

I felt like we were in the midst of an unintended pregnancy – not that I’d know what that felt like because all of my pregnancies have been meticulously planned. But I imagine this is how someone in that situation would feel – sideswiped. We’d been so laser-focused on getting pregnant (and perhaps doubting to some extent that it would ever happen) that we didn’t think about what life would look like if we succeeded.

Now, I wondered if staying pregnant was good for me. (Which seemed like something I should have figured out before all the fertility treatments.) But if we’d made a mistake, what were we supposed to do? I could never terminate a pregnancy and I didn’t think I could carry a baby to term only to give her away.

Days passed in a blur. I struggled to get through each one and at the end, I’d crash and cry, eventually passing out on the couch while watching Homeland

“Is this level of depression normal for you in pregnancy?” my husband asked.

I didn’t know how to answer that. It had been 15 years since I had last been pregnant. I couldn’t remember how I felt then. I did feel like I was in crisis mode now, though.

Back to my therapist’s couch I went. I unloaded all my fears and worries.

“These feelings are all normal and to be expected,” Shania said.

“They are?” I asked. “Because there is no ambivalence or fear in the What to Expect When You’re Expecting index.”

She laughed. “You’re older and more aware, so you worry more. It’s just part of being present.”

She told me that worry was a form of preparation; money worries were a sign to squirrel funds away. Worry about caring for a baby meant it was time to expand my support network.

I told her how the genetic link – or lack thereof – with our baby suddenly felt very important. Pre-pregnancy, I didn’t think it mattered.

“The lack of a genetic link is a loss,” she said. “People who use alternative ways to grow their families often feel disappointment around that. You need to grieve it.”

I confessed to my darkest thoughts about abortion and adoption.

“I don’t think we’re there yet,” she said. “If you were unable to function, if you kept coming in week after week with doubts, then maybe we could have that conversation.”

I was grateful that she refused to walk down that ugly alleyway of my mind.

“I remember when you first came to see me while you were contemplating all this. You were very thoughtful about it – and very excited,” she said. “Is it possible that the fear and worry are due to hormones? That, and your creative mind working overtime?”

For some reason, I didn’t want to admit that hormones could make me, well, crazy. But maybe they had. Shania encouraged me to talk about my feelings so they didn’t fester or spawn shame. I didn’t have anyone to talk to outside of my husband and my daughters (and I didn't want to scare them with some of my thoughts), so I looked into support groups. To my surprise, there were support groups specifically for women expecting after infertility.

“I swear, the women that have gone before me have thought of everything,” I wrote in my journal. “God bless them.”

I never attended a meeting, but knowing they were out there reassured me that just because you get pregnant doesn’t mean everything is hunky-dory. It’s not all decorating the nursey and posting bumpdates on Instagram (both of which I was too afraid to do in case it might jinx something).

Around this time, I also discovered the book Baby Love by Rebecca Walker. It was the first book I’d ever found that addressed ambivalence in pregnancy. And while Walker had plenty of it, to the point where she wondered if termination would be best for everyone, she noted that babies are not ambivalent. Babies want to survive

It was an ah-ha moment for me. No matter how hard the ambivalence was, no matter how scary the bleeding, no matter how awful the nausea, my baby wanted to be here. She was a fighter. Who was I to get in the way of her coming into the world?

I recommitted to having this baby. Now I just needed to get through the rest of the first trimester...

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