This is the day that I reveal a bit a lot more about those blessed nine months of my pregnancy. My joys. My trials and tribulations. Even my belly.
Ever since I was pregnant, I notice pregnant women. I notice the camaraderie I feel with them. The excitement I have for them, knowing what’s in their future. A precious, squishy, sweet-smelling, brand new baby. The greatest joy that many say they have ever experienced. When I say “congratulations,” it’s not an automated response. I mean it in every sense of the word.
And those bellies, I love ’em. All of them. The barely noticeable to the huge watermelons to everything in between. I don’t discriminate when it comes to baby bumps. Particularly when the mother is lovingly cradling, patting, or rubbing her swollen belly. What a beautiful sight.
Then there’s the non-existent bump. I’d love those too, if I knew how to spot them. The first trimester mama-to-be. Anxious and terrified yet terribly excited.
Pregnant women generally conjure up images of huge bellies. But in reality, the hugeness is shortlived. It’s just the finale. There are indiscriminate pregnant women all around who look like everyone else on the surface. But they most certainly aren’t. They are glowing and special.
Last Friday at the farmer’s market, a pretty blonde lady approached me at the Herbal Philosophy stand to shyly ask which herbs I’d recommend to drink during pregnancy. Since she didn’t appear to have any sort of belly, I said “So you must be in your first trimester?” And she responded by rubbing her belly, “Yes! It’s in there, I swear!” As if the absence of a round belly meant she wasn’t quite as pregnant as a woman who is “showing.” But hey, sister, if you’re pregnant, you’re pregnant. Either there is a baby in there or there’s not. It doesn’t matter if the baby is microscopic or 20 inches long. And she certainly had the glow.
(For the record, I drank a tea made of red raspberry leaf, lemon balm, nettle, oatstraw, spearmint and alfalfa. I gave birth only 5 hours after my water broke, which you can read about here. But please consult your doctor/midwife before drinking herbs when you are pregnant.)
Since my daughter is only four months old (as of last Thursday), pregnancy is still a rather fresh memory. Not yet frayed at the edges by the inevitable passage of time. Only slightly blurred. But I hope that I will never forget how I felt during those nine long months.
Fragile yet strong.
I had a number of scares during those nine months. The ultrasound at 19 weeks to determine the baby’s sex showed that my cervix was slightly shorter than average. Either I simply had a short cervix like someone might have short fingers or short legs, or the increasing weight of the baby was causing my cervix to melt away. The latter being called incompetent cervix. Ouch. Who wants to have a body part considered incompetent? Particularly when that body part is vital to your pregnancy. When that part is holding your baby inside of your body. Your baby who is definitely not, under any circumstance, ready to be born.
My doctor ordered me to become a couch potato and return in a week for another ultrasound. No more long walks. No exercise. Spend as much time lying down each day as you can. The less pressure on your cervix, the less likely it will start opening, the less likely you will go into preterm labor. Too early for the baby survive. The next ultrasound showed that my cervix was stable. Just one more ultrasound, and we will know that you fall into the first category. You simply have a short cervix. And so it was, by the grace of God.
What were the other scares? My belly was continually measuring small, so my doctor worried about low amniotic fluid and intrauterine growth restriction. I had a marginal placenta previa, which meant the placenta was close to my cervix and I would possibly be at risk for hemorrhaging when I gave birth, necessitating a cesarean section. None of these fears were founded. There was enough amniotic fluid. The baby was growing at a normal rate. The placenta moved out of the way just in time for me to proceed with the natural birth I had planned.
Modern medicine is good for many things. But it has it’s downfalls as well. Before the advent of ultrasounds, I would never have wasted countless, needless hours worrying. I would have been blissfully ignorant about all of my potential problems. Non-problems, as they turned out to be. We opted out of the optional 12 week tests to determine your baby’s risk factor for down’s syndrome, among other genetic abnormalities. Although more than 80% of couples proceed with the testing, I followed my intuition and my husband supported my decision. We said no. And I’m so thankful we did because with my luck, it would have likely resulted in further stress. More gray hairs, which I have already sprouted at 24 years old.
An ultrasound gives us a window into the womb. A sacred space beyond human understanding. Our doctors try their best to interpret what is happening in this space. But it is impossible. Contrary to popular belief, medicine is an art. Not a science. Doctor’s make educated guesses, not error-free diagnoses. Yet many babies have been saved by modern medicine. As difficult as it was to endure all of the extra tests, to be told that my body might be incapable of keeping my baby safe, to be warned that my baby might not make it, I still count my blessings that I did not have to test the competency of modern medicine. All of my doctor’s fears were unfounded. My tears were in vain. My body was not only capable, my body was a rockstar. I delivered after an unusually short labor. I required no medical intervention. Not even stitches because my perineum didn’t even tear. Breastfeeding was easy. At my postpartum appointment, my doctor actually said, “your body is made for this.”
After all of that, after all of the worrying, my body was made for making babies. Who would have thought?
It takes a long time to grow a baby. Months of waiting. Worrying. Wishing. Praying. I can remember feeling like I’d been pregnant my whole life. As anxious as I was to meet the little bean, I knew myself. I knew that I would terribly miss being pregnant if I didn’t cherish every moment. It helped that my husband made me feel like the sexiest pregnant woman alive. He, too, admitted that he was going to miss the belly. So, we cherished my pregnancy together. We rubbed my belly. We took photos of my belly. We talked about what she would look like. What she would do. How amazing it was that we had together made a baby. How she would steal our hearts. And she has.
I miss feeling her kick. I miss the round belly. I miss knowing that she is always comfortable, warm, fed, and protected. I miss the incomparable feeling of life flourishing inside of my womb. But more than anything, I love to tenderly kiss her chubby cheeks, delicious legs, and tiny, wiggly toes. I love falling asleep next to her every night and waking up next to her every morning. Pregnancy was a special time, but nothing compares to holding my daughter in my arms.
Here are some photos my husband took of me exactly 17 days before my due date. Exactly 16 days before Giovanna exited my womb and began her life on this earth. Just like the details of my pregnancy, I have yet to share most of these photos with the world. So here they are, four months later. Unedited, raw. Just like real life.
Mamas, what do you remember about being pregnant? Was it a joyous time for you? Scary? Uncomfortable?
Non-mamas who hope to one day be mamas, what are you most looking forward to when you’re pregnant?