I was not one of those “glowing” pregnant women. Not even close. The only potential for glowing would have had to come from the millions of highly combustible particles orbiting my miserable, furious, fat head.
My pregnancy gave rise to the greatest joy of my life, but the months up to the arrival of my son were the most stressful I have yet to experience. Little man is now turning 2, which I hear means I’m in for a world of hurt in the very near future. As of this moment, however, pregnancy was the hardest thing I’ve been through, both physically and emotionally.
I found out I was pregnant less than five minutes after being advised that we’d been rejected for a mortgage. While waiting for one line or two to appear on the freshly-christened pregnancy test wand, I flipped through the mail and came upon a letter from the mortgage company. We’d found our dream house, and were hoping to get the mortgage settled and close on the house within several months. This would allow us to move from our adorable but itty-bitty rental house to a sprawling ranch with a lovely yard for the dogs, and multiple bedrooms for visitors and children. We’d been waiting to hear about our application for weeks, having provided notarized document after affidavit after signed authorization.
As soon as I saw the first sentence, I knew it was was not good news. “Dear Mrs. Mickley-Gomez, we are sorry to inform you…” I couldn’t even bring myself to read the rest of the letter. Instead, I slammed it on the counter and went to check on the pee-test stick. Since I’d been spewing profanity for *at least* three minutes since opening the mortgage letter, the magic wand had finished marinating and was showing two bright pink lines.
My pregnancy reveal was not the stuff of cute Youtube videos. It was more of a sobfest than celebration, peppered with a few pointed accusations and a fair amount of hormonal drama. Babycenter.com’s due date calculator told me that the baby would arrive in early February, I advised my husband by phone, and our lease was up in the fall. Due to his credit history, our new baby was going to be HOMELESS. He took it well, unsurprisingly, as he is the optimistic yin to my cynical (masquerading as “realist”) yang, and promptly left work to come home and try to calm his wife down.
This was the beginning of one of the hardest aspects of pregnancy for me: the complete inability to control my emotions. I’ve always been someone who stays calm in a crisis, and tries hard to approach things pragmatically rather than emotionally. While I was pregnant, I was hysterical and overwhelmed pretty much daily, and prone to fits of rage. This was also new to me. Sure, I giggle about it now, and get a big kick out of reading what outrageous things other preggos have done and said. When I was expecting, however, it was no laughing matter.
Example: If the dog peed on the floor during the night, I was 100% certain it was a personal attack on me. And, if my husband (leaving for work in the dark pre-dawn hours) did not see the aforementioned dog puddle, I was sure he had left it there ON PURPOSE for me to clean up – because even though I was fat and sweaty and nauseated, he expected me to be the maid. I could not be unconvinced of this. It was a most bizarre and angry time.
At work, I was equally emotional, which was a source of frustration and embarrassment. As a nurse, I’m supposed to be compassionate but unflappable, and at that time I was working with patients receiving terminal diagnoses. My ability to remain solid, grounded, and offer hope in the face of devastation was replaced by tearfulness that only seemed to subside if I let it all out and howled, something not appropriate for staff on a neurosurgical floor. Strangely enough, my patients and families seemed comforted at times that their nurse would hold their hand and cry with them. Or, alternatively, they were shattered by the news they were receiving and did not really notice that their nurse was a basket case. It was hard to tell.
The organization I was working for at the time was not kind to its employees, so I did not feel comfortable disclosing my pregnancy early on. As a result, rather than being reassured when I was feeling emotional, I was chastised. It was isolating and demoralizing. As luck would have it, though, I was hired by my per-diem job midway through my second trimester. My new office is almost entirely staffed by moms, so not only did they celebrate my impending motherhood, nobody batted an eye when I randomly burst into tears.
Many of the indecencies of pregnancy cannot be avoided, but looking back, I do think that (batsh*t crazy hormonal outbursts and back pain aside) some of what made my pregnancy experience less than ideal could have been much different if I’d approached things from a different angle. When I wasn’t a hysterical mess, I took a practical approach to pregnancy, childbirth, and baby planning. None of the decisions I made were necessarily bad or wrong. Unfortunately, they didn’t help me have an easier pregnancy or birth process, either.
As a nurse and doctor’s kid, I unsurprisingly decided to deliver at a hospital. While I was guaranteed to be treated wonderfully at Greenwich Hospital, where my parents have long been affiliated, I decided that it was better to do my own thing. The women in my family are take-charge types, and I wanted to ensure that I’d be the one who decided how things would be handled at “go” time, not, for example, my mom. Nevermind that she’s a physician who delivered 4 children of her own – and I had delivered exactly none. I was still sure that only I knew what was best for me. My dad is an internist at GH, so I was doubly afraid that I might not have the privacy I needed, since Dr. Mickley’s First Grandson was big news. Why I thought a modicum of privacy was even possible is beyond me. Childbirth is a check-your-pants-and-your-dignity-at-the-door affair. So I decided to go to Yale. Center of medical excellence, great NICU (heaven forbid) and right down the street from my office. How convenient! I could just trot on over when I went into labor! Piece of cake!! I polled local colleagues with kids on which OB group was best, and picked the head of the most seasoned practice to be my physician.
Looking back, I realize that those decisions were not mistakes, but they were very first-time-mother choices. Labor was not something I was really equipped to plan on my own, and I should have chosen a doctor I felt comfortable with, whose bedside manner was warm and reassuring. Instead, I went for credentials, and ended up with a doc who handled mostly high-risk pregnancies, and whose style was to look for the worst-case-scenario. This was the *wrong* approach for me, but I did not feel knowledgeable or empowered enough to change physicians. As a result, I was horribly anxious for those 37 weeks, constantly reviewing what could go wrong in my head. For example, when we received a battery of tests back (nuchal rigidity, genetic screening) with perfect results, I asked the doctor if that meant our little nugget had a good chance of turning out normally. “Well, no,” he said, “there’s still a lot that can go wrong.” Ouch.
Labor and delivery were equally terrifying, in part due to my inexperience and chosen ignorance. I was well-equipped, I thought, for whatever came my way. I’d done maternity, postpartum, and NICU rotations at NYU, and seen midwives, OBs, and laboring mommies in action. When I heard that they planned to induce me, I did not ask any questions, and decided not to research the process too carefully, because I thought I’d stumble upon horror stories and frighten myself to the point that I wouldn’t be able to get through it. Mistake! Because I did not read up on induction, I did not realize that because I was pre-term and my cervix was “unripe” (basically, firmly clamped shut), there was a good chance that my labor might not progress, and I’d likely end up needing a c-section.
Back to the first-time mom thing. Prior to having a baby, I was almost rabidly anti-c-section. I drank the kool-aid, read the natural birth books, practiced my yoga breathing. Unfortunately, none of my knowledge or prep applied to the situation I ended up in. There is nothing natural about having a balloon catheter inserted and then inflated in your cervix to try to jumpstart it. Since I’d chosen a teaching hospital, the doctors for my several days of labor were brilliant but brand-new residents and interns, so there was an endless amount of what I can best describe as “practicing” on me. It was awful. I was induced on a Monday following a spectacular failure of several tests, and did not actually roll into the OR until Thursday. If I had done my homework, I would have known that a c-section was not just likely but imminent. I never thought I’d say this, but I would have not just asked for but demanded a c-section early on. Instead, I hung in there for 3+ days of agony and terror, while my blood pressure climbed to stroke level, the baby exhibited symptoms of distress, my epidural failed, and I dilated a total of… drumroll, please… 2 centimeters.
If I decide to have another baby, you better believe I’ll let my mother get involved. There will be no science experiments on me. My OB and/or midwife will be capable but kind and reassuring. I will stock our home refrigerator with beer so that after my crazy ass goes to bed, hubby can kick back with a beer and maybe even have enough to forget that his wife is temporarily certifiable. When I’m too nauseated to cook, my family won’t starve to death because I will have stuffed the freezer with meals. I won’t deliver in a most inconvenient snowstorm! Most importantly, I won’t sweat the small stuff, because let’s face it, pregnancy is entirely too sweaty to begin with.