Saturday, October 30, 2021

Countdown To Catastrophe

I cannot tolerate being pregnant anymore and yet I realize that as soon as the baby arrives, the hardest part of the journey will begin. I will have to make a decision about her fate and live with the consequences.

Emotionally, of all the shitty situations I have found myself in over the past 40 years of my life, this seems like the worst, if only because it was completely preventable yet I plowed ahead anyway. Now, so many people’s lives hang in the balance.

"You were trying to better your family, for lack of a better term," my therapist Shania said during our most recent session.

Yeah, well, as an ex of mine used to say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. What I wouldn't give to go back one year and do everything differently.

It wasn't that long ago that I marveled at women who somehow magically knew they were done having kids. How does a mother ever discern that? I wondered. It befuddled me. Now I know, because I am utterly, completely done having kids. It's unfortunate I didn't figure that out before I got pregnant.

"Maybe you didn't need to have another child to know that," Shania said. "Maybe getting pregnant was enough. It was an itch you needed to scratch."

It would seem so. But doesn't it suck to be the baby I created in that pursuit? Granted, none of us had a say as far as when or under what circumstances we came into the world, but this little girl really got dealt a bad hand. Shouldn't she be welcomed with all the love and joy her parents can muster, not fear and dread?

Physically, I am at the point in pregnancy where everyone feels the liberty to gawk, smile, and comment on the state of my body. The pregnancy counselor wants to check in. The doula wants to chat. The teachers at my toddler's ECFE class inquire about names. I want to pretend none of this happening.

"Let me see if I can get a few pictures of the face," the sonographer said at the 37-week OB appointment after breaking the news that the baby continues to measure huge. (Why do I make such big babies despite lower-than-average pregnancy weight gain? It’s a mystery.)

"That's not necessary" I said. "She'll be here soon enough."

At my 38-week appointment, there was no warning, no consent. The sonographer went straight for the 3D face shot. And how dare she! The baby is freakin’ cute. I’ve often thought that the decision to give the baby up for adoption would be easy if 1) I could be unconscious during the birth and 2) I never saw her face. Neither of those things are realistic.

How in the world am I supposed to meet a little being I grew inside of me and then give her away? On the flip side, how the fuck am I supposed to care for another kid when I can barely take care of the current members of my household, much less myself?

The fact that the 8-pounder who has been treating my cervix like a punching bag will be here soon feels so surreal. Like many women nearing their due dates, I feel like I will be pregnant forever. But in reality, we are talking days now, not weeks, until I give birth.

We’re also talking about induction, which Dr. Baby-Maker has offered me at 39 weeks because I am of “advanced maternal age.”

At our last appointment, she laid out the timeline: arrive at the hospital at night, insert Cervadil to soften my cervix, and take something to help me sleep (because, believe me, I'd need it). Twelve hours later, break my water and start Pitocin.

"Ideally, you'd meet your baby by 4:30," she said.

There was one hitch, however; quarantine has resulted in a baby boom, so if the hospital was full on the night of the scheduled induction, I would have to wait until the next morning, and receive Cytotec every two hours instead of Cervidil.

Once Dr. Baby-Maker started listing the medications and interventions required for induction, I silently questioned who all this was for. It wasn't better for the baby, and it didn't sound great for me, either. My primary concern, though, was that an induction would mean I'd miss another night with my toddler, whose breathing, mucous, and choking issues have reemerged. (Whether that's due to seasonal allergies, a cold that's been circulating through our household, or something else has yet to be determined.)

It sounds absurd, but I don't want to dedicate any more time giving birth than absolutely necessary. I have other responsibilities to tend to!

When Dr. Baby-Maker asked if I had any questions, I said, “I’ve heard induction can be very painful.”

Labor is painful,” she responded.

OK, but I think we can agree that not all pain is created equal. It's a spectrum. That's why the pain scale exists. A 5 is not even in the same stratosphere of sensation as a 10. And I've heard induction is an 11 at best. I suppose it doesn’t matter since I’m dead-set on getting an epidural anyway, but…why prolong or intensify the suffering unnecessarily? Haven’t I been through enough?

Induction seems like a lot of hassle for something that will eventually happen on its own -- and likely more efficiently, if only I can summon some patience. Still, I agreed to the induction date proposed by Dr. Baby-Maker, figuring I could always cancel or change the appointment. Then I went home and Googled Cytotec, and was horrified to discover it associated with things like uterine rupture, maternal hemorrhaging, and fetal distress.

So, yeah, that’s a no. At least for now. Nature can have a little more time to take its course.

Every morning I think, “Today could be the day! It’s a beautiful day to give birth!” By nighttime, I think, “Phew. I’m glad it wasn’t today. I wouldn’t have been up for it.”

Back and forth. Back and forth. Get out of there, baby. Stay put, baby. Let’s get this over with. Wait, I’m not ready.

In the meantime, I try to cherish the one-on-one moments I have left with my toddler, taking them as seriously as though I had a terminal illness and will have to say goodbye to her soon. I love watching her sleep, the way she throws her little arm around my neck or falls into my lap and kisses me unprompted. I delight in the funny things she does, like shuffling around the house in her big sibling's Crocs or busting a move to '80s pop. She adds new words and phrases to her vocabulary every single day. (“Hello there!” “Here you go!” “Uh-oh!” “Rascal!”) I am so enamored with her. And I feel terrible about how much her life is about to be upended. She has no idea what's coming (nor do I, really, for that matter) but I know my mental state and my ability to be fully present will likely decline after the birth, regardless of where the baby ends up.

What would it take for this situation to feel less like a waking nightmare and more like a dream come true?

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Preggo On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown

I don’t know how I am going to survive this. And by “this,” I mean, the next few weeks, months, years. Regardless of whether I keep the baby or give her up (and don’t come at me with your bullshit PC language of “making an adoption plan,” because for the birth mother, adoption is very much about giving up – a piece of your soul, your heart, an entire being you made with your body), the foreseeable future is going to be hell.

I feel like I am on the verge on a nervous breakdown. I wish I could be sedated through the end of the year and in the meantime, the rest of the world, or fate, or God could make the hard decisions for me. Then I could wake up and work on accepting whatever unfolded while I was out.

I am anxious about when I might give birth. I feel like I have a bomb in my body that might detonate at any moment. I fear I do not have the emotional and physical strength to get through it.

I know I should give the baby up – it probably is best for everyone involved – but I feel so deeply sad about it.

I feel so alone. No one fully understands what it is like to live in this limbo day after day. No one else has to shoulder the burden of this decision or its consequences.

Sometimes, when I am calm, I can imagine texting the adoptive couple after the birth and saying, “Come and get your daughter.” How happy that would make them. But then I also imagine looking into the sweet, sleeping face of the baby and knowing I may never see her again. How intense and enduring would that devastation be?

I think about “karma points” (even though I know that’s not how the universe or God work) and wonder how many I would “get” for giving the baby away. Is going through with adoption some twisted form of penance for all the ways I've sinned in the past? Is God punishing me by putting me in a position where I feel forced to consider adoption? I fear He has more bad things in store – like some fatal medical mishap during the birth – and, even worse, that I deserve them.

I am angry at my husband. I feel like his failure to stand up to me pre-pregnancy has brought us to this place. I feel like he abandoned me in this decision. I am furious that he won’t step up, or give up his creature comforts, so that I don’t have to feel like this baby –and its future – are my sole responsibility. Sometimes I fantasize about divorce, if only to break his heart as much as he has broken mine.

I feel resentful toward the adoptive couple. I feel like they got IVF and surrogacy for free – no medical appointments or needles or medications or body-destroying pregnancy or postpartum recovery. They just get a perfect baby handed to them. All they had to do was wait! I feel like they should try harder to entice me to give them the baby. Even if they express gratitude at some point (odd that there hasn’t been more of that thus far, no?), is there enough gratitude in the world that would make this all feel OK?

Women are often told that giving birth is like crossing a narrow, rickety bridge. People can stand on either side and encourage and support you, but no one else can walk those terrifying steps from one side to the other. You have to do it alone.

This feels like that, only so much more precarious. Nobody knows how much this hurts and even if they can approximate a guess, no one is able to – or even offering – to relieve the pain. They are all spectators, waiting to see how the soap opera ends.

Sorry (not sorry) for this word vomit pity party, but this blog exists for nothing if not catharsis. By putting my ugliest thoughts out there, perhaps I can be free of them, if just for a little while...

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Ready To Pop

The countdown begins.

I am on the cusp of the 37-week mark of pregnancy (aka the milestone when a baby is considered term, even if born before the due date). Theoretically, I could go into labor at any time. (But probably won’t for at least a couple more weeks.)

I’m in the home stretch, but it’s the most uncomfortable part of pregnancy for me. It is a time of breathlessness, backaches, indigestion, and incessant urination. I'm already dipping into my postpartum supplies (hello Poise pads, Preparation-H, and Hemorrwedges, my old friends) because my body is in revolt. My breasts and belly are too cumbersome for running. Very few of my clothes fit, but I don’t see the sense in buying more maternity wear because I am never going to be pregnant again. (Mark my words!) I am hungry all the goddamn time, but the only things that appeal to me are fruit and baked goods. I am beyond exhausted but often find myself awake at 3 a.m., Googling, worrying, and revisiting All The Ways I’ve Irrevocably Fucked Up My Life.

I am not nesting; quite the opposite. I scan the tornado of crap that is our house and make mental lists of all the baby-related shit I want to get rid of. I want nothing more than to purge this living space of all things infantile, but I can’t…just in case the baby stays. (And that is how I preface pretty much every statement these days: “If the baby stays…”) So I fill online shopping carts with more baby merch because as it turns out, there are still some things you need, even if you’re preparing for your fourth kid.

I pack my hospital bag – perhaps the one exhilarating task amidst all this ambivalence, indecisiveness, and tumult. I am terrified of giving birth (especially without a beloved support person present), but I am so looking forward to not being pregnant anymore. I can’t wait to have some semblance of a normal stomach again; I don’t even care if it’s a pooch streaked with stretch marks. Just get this baby out of me.

I paint my toenails for the first time in over a year, my vanity somehow reemerging with the anticipation of my bare feet in stirrups and a bunch of medical professionals surrounding them. I wish I could properly tend to that *other* area soon to be on full display, but my bump is so huge I can’t see well enough down there to do anything about it. Au naturel it is.

I scroll through newborn pictures on Instagram and try to feel…something resembling excitement. I see babies out and about and try to imagine a little being burrowed into my chest…but it’s difficult for me to fathom loving anyone as much as I love my toddler.

Nevertheless, support seems to be bubbling up out of nowhere. I interviewed an excellent (if outrageously expensive) nanny. A daycare I’d been on the waiting list for contacted me with an opening. My mom offered to babysit when the baby arrives (and she hasn’t even said “congratulations” about this pregnancy yet). I had a blissful string of days where I felt calm and confident, a la “I can do this. I can take care of another baby. I am supermom. Watch me juggle it all!”

Then my toddler kept me up one night and the furnace refused to ignite (on a frigid Friday evening when no pro was available to repair it, of course) and just those two little things combined resulted in one of my now-signature mommy meltdowns, the ugly-crying “I can’t do this” kind of upset. And when those happen, my mind returns to adoption, which is not something I want to do, but something I fear I have to do. Knowing there’s a couple across town who would be over the moon to welcome this baby just makes me feel worse about my lack of enthusiasm for her arrival.

I consult with the pregnancy counselor on contingency plans. What if I don't want to bring the baby home from the hospital? What if I do but I change my mind later? "If I decide to go through with adoption, I want it to move quickly," I tell her. "I don't want too much time to change my mind." I collect cell phone and on-call numbers of adoption agency employees. The counselor offers to reach out to the social worker at the hospital so she has a heads-up on my situation and can check in with me during my stay.

I pray: “Please, God, let me be strong enough to give this baby up.” And then a breath later: “Or let me be so enamored with this baby at first sight that I can’t give her up.”

I see a church sign: “God’s plans are bigger than your mistakes.” (But what exactly is the plan? And what is the mistake?)

I “like” an Instagram post: “Sometimes your heart needs more time to accept what your brain already knows.” (Wise words indeed.)

I read on a mommy message board: “You can hate being pregnant but still love your baby.” (Is that what’s going on with me?)

I rewatch Californication (I know, of all things) and this statement sticks: “I’m disgusted with my life and myself, but I’m not unhappy about it.” (Hmm…)

I go back and forth and back and forth. I prepare for two possible outcomes simultaneously. (Isn't there supposed to be a middle way? Anyone know what it is?) I wait and wait and wait...

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…