This was never part of the plan
I spent the majority of my life convinced that I didn’t want kids. I think when I was little, I might have envisioned myself a mom, but somewhere after high school I started on a trajectory that involved a successful career and higher education. I had a good group of friends, a good job, my dogs, and had traveled all over, certain that kids would ruin that life. That might have been true. But when I re-connected with and then quickly married, my high school love, everything changed.
We decided that we definitely DID want kids.
Having spent my entire life trying not to get pregnant, it was a strange shift to suddenly hoping I would be. I kind of just assumed it would happen quickly. It didn’t. After six months, I wasn’t quite worried, but I was wondering what was going on. After one year, I was really nervous and sitting in my OB’s office waiting on an ultrasound to check that everything looked normal. That’s when I was told I had PCOS and that it would be more difficult for me to get pregnant. Start medication, change diet, see what happens in a few months. Another six months, and I’m given Clomid to help things along. Then we schedule a hysterosalpingography, or HSE (hands down the most painful part of getting pregnant or having a baby for me).
At this point I’m struggling with concerns that I had waited too long, and that now I wouldn’t be able to have children. Those were difficult months, because now that we had decided to try, it was all I wanted in the world. The thought of giving up at any point was heart-wrenching, but we knew that IVF would be beyond our means. We took a breath, and decided to stop focusing on getting pregnant, and remove that stress for the time being. So, of course, in early August of 2016 I found out I was pregnant and we were in for the most eventful two years of our lives so far.
I was fortunate to have an easy pregnancy. Even with high blood pressure, I didn’t have any physical issues or complications leading up to my due date. However, my husband works in a somewhat volatile industry and it’s normal to change jobs or be a temporary employee. So the question of medical insurance was a constant worry. In fact, we had to make the decision to induce a week early because our coverage was going to end five days before my due date.
I was nervous, but my OB wasn’t concerned and we were all pretty confident things would go smoothly. I’d even been having mild contractions the day we were scheduled to go in. After a round of cervidil and a couple of pitocin, it became clear that my daughter was not ready to be born. The contractions were progressing, but I was not. My water never broke, I never dilated, and she never dropped into position. At this point, we couldn’t keep using medication to move things along, and we were running out of time. So, after 24 hours of labor that went nowhere, we decided to do a C-section. I was relieved, because at this point I was exhausted, and starving. Once surgery was under way, we discovered why this was the only course of action her birth was going to take. The umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck, not once, but twice, preventing her from dropping. Had we tried to keep going, we would have ended up in an emergency C-Section anyway, with her at risk.
Life with a newborn baby
She was a good newborn, and was sleeping for 6 hour stretches within a couple of months, and for twelve hours at a time by four months. She hit some developmental milestones early, and took her sweet time with others. I read a lot of advice for new moms, and got some from friends, but the best was, by far, from one of my roller derby sisters. She told me, “For the first couple weeks, don’t worry about anything but you and that baby. Feed her, and yourself, and get lots of skin to skin. Rest, cuddle, and soak it in. Ignore the house, ignore the mess, ignore your inner cleaning lady, and just bond with her and your husband and enjoy that time.” I tried to keep that in mind, and while I still couldn’t keep myself from cleaning up a little bit, her first days and weeks are what I remember the most. Once I was up and doing everything again, time started to blur, until she was almost six months old.
My entire pregnancy I had this vision of our first year as a new family. Evenings spent with our baby, late night and early morning cuddles, first laughs, first foods, and all the other milestones. I knew it would be hectic, but that it would also be beautiful and contain some of the best memories of my life. While all of that is certainly true, the reality of this first year has been far from what I imagined.
Reality of the first year
Family is important to both myself and my husband, and we both come from a world where you do anything you can for them. So when his mother faced a significant life change and needed to move in when my daughter was six months old, we cleared out our front living room and dining room and moved her in and her other son into our home. The change for me was difficult. I’d gone from a stay at home mom who could spend the day in my pajamas with my new daughter to sharing the house with my mother-in-law and her teenage son.
I’m an only child, and have generally avoided having roommates. I’m also pretty Type-A and a Cancer, so I like to maintain control of my home environment. Suddenly I felt incredibly outnumbered, like I was a guest and was instantly uncomfortable in my own home. This wasn’t a result of anything they had done, but just the way my mind works, and the way in which I’m used to living.
For awhile it didn’t really affect me; I’d had her 1st six months with just the three of us. But around the holidays I started to wear thin. It was difficult trying to keep the house in order and live up to the expectations I’d placed on myself for her first holiday season. I felt stressed, overwhelmed, crowded, and guilty that I’d somehow failed already. I made things pretty tough on my husband, using him to vent about the thousand little things that drove me crazy every day.
Two more perspectives, four more hands to help
One day, he sat me down and offered some advice and perspective that I try to keep in mind every day. He acknowledged that no, this wasn’t the plan we had, and that he knew how much that bothered me. But he reminded me that she was, at least for now, growing up in a home with not only her parents, but her grandmother and uncle. We have two extra people to help if we need it. She has two more perspectives with which to see the world; two new ways of interacting.
Everyone will tell you to have a birth plan, but be flexible, and understand that sometimes things jsut won’t happen the way you had intended. This, for some reason, was easy for me. I didn’t have major regrets once she was born, because I knew we did the right thing for our situation. What you don’t hear as much about is to be flexible for that first year. Maybe things go right on schedule. Maybe your little one hits those milestones right on time. Maybe she stands before she sits up. Maybe he doesn’t crawl until 9mos.
I’ve learned that there’s always a trade-off. I get jealous of moms who succeeded in baby led weaning, but have to remind myself that they don’t get to sleep through the night, let alone until 8:30 in the morning. I might feel crowded, but my daughter is surrounded by people that love her and will jump in to take care of her at any moment. I live with my mother-in-law, but I get to go to appointments, and run errands without hauling the baby with me if I don’t want to.
My husband and I can go have a date night whenever we want, and I’ve got someone who has raised a couple of kids on standby if I need advice. It was easy for me to accept that every pregnancy is different, and to be really laid-back during those months.
Now I’m learning to apply that same perspective to life with a kiddo. It’s important, because this part lasts so much longer.
~ Jennifer Fread
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