I am terrified of pregnancy and childbirth. Terrified. I have extreme anxiety about all the things that could go wrong, from placental problems to me having a stroke on the operating table. I live in a constant state of worry, sometimes manageable, but other times so extreme it keeps me up at night, one awful scenario after another running through my mind as tears stream hot down my cheeks.
I am terrified of pregnancy and childbirth, yet I did it again for the third time.
I wasn’t always terrified of it. When I was pregnant with Alister, I was overcome with excitement and joy. I didn’t yet know how insufferable morning sickness could be or how uncomfortable that third trimester is. As I experienced these unfortunate side effects, my enthusiasm for my condition lessened, but my joy remained. I may have hated being knocked up, but I was enthralled with the idea of soon holding my new baby boy, never imagining anything would go wrong with either the baby or me.
When I was pregnant with Ewing, my fervor may have been lacking, but my joy certainly was not. I was committed to seeing this pregnancy through with some semblance of glee, but the discomforts of being with child certainly weighed heavily on my psyche. Near the end, I was miserable, suffering from pre-term contractions, which triage doctors halted with God-awful medication; enduring unbearable pelvic and cervical pain; and waddling around, much, much bigger than I had been with Alister just two and half years prior. Still, I remained naive to the possibility of anything going amiss until just hours after birth Ewing stopped breathing on his own and had to be rushed to the NICU where, after a day and a half of tests, doctors determined he had suffered a stroke in utero.
Those days following his birth were atrocious. Not only was I in agonizing physical pain, the result of my body’s intolerance for conventional pain medication and anesthesia, something we had discovered after my c-section with Alister, but I was also in excruciating emotional pain. I did not know if my baby would live or die. If he lived, I did not know if he would ever be able to walk properly, use his arm and hand properly, speak properly, or learn properly. I did not know how I would get him to the countless doctor and therapy appointments the neonatologists and pediatric neurologists informed me he would need to see while still working full time, something my family depended on for survival.
I did not know how any of us would make it, and so these memories and this period in life are ones I’d rather forget and certainly ones I never want to repeat — ones that prevented me from feeling anything other than battered and broken on Ewing’s birthday for nearly 3 years.
People would comment that we should try for a girl in the years following Ewing’s birth or would ask if we were planning on having another. My response was always no; I couldn’t go through that trauma again. And I truly believed that I couldn’t go through that trauma again. I still believe it.
And then, unexpectedly, I discovered I was pregnant a third time, and immediately, fear flooded my being. I couldn’t be pregnant. I couldn’t go through the physical pain and suffering associated with pregnancy and childbirth again, nor could I cope with the psychological hardship of no longer being naive to the possibility of something going awry.
But no amount of fear or crying or worry changed the fact that I was, indeed, pregnant for a third time, and so I began the bonding process with my developing baby, my angst and trepidation taking a seat in the forefront of my mind, making itself heard late at night and on long, lonely drives to and from work.
And then it happened.
At my routine ultrasound, the doctor informed us that it looked like Baby had a birth defect and she was sending us to the high risk doctor for a second ultrasound to confirm. I was defeated. I could not control my primal anguish. It was happening all over again, maybe not to the life threatening extent as it had before, but certainly to a degree great enough to make me curse the universe and wonder why this was our lot in life — why our children were destined for physical and emotional challenge.
Miraculously, the high risk ultrasound showed no indication of a birth defect. A piece of fantastic news. Everything we could have hoped for, right there in a medical report. We would love this baby and he would be a happy, beautiful blessing, birth defect or not, yet learning he had one less challenge facing him was music to our ears. But my husband and I did not jump for joy. We did not embrace enthusiastically, marveling at the goodness of God’s grace. We did not celebrate in the traditional sense of the word.
We smiled at each other. We heaved great sighs of relief. We muttered silent gratitude to whatever was responsible for this turn of events. But we remained cautious. Optimistic, but cautiously so.
That’s because we no longer delight in naivete. We no longer believe the likelihood of enduring complications in pregnancy and childbirth is akin to the odds of winning the lottery or getting struck by lightning. We no longer bask in the ignorance toward what can and does go wrong that so many of our fellow couples who are expecting or already have children enjoy throughout their pregnancies and the births of their babies.
That luxury — the one of expecting and planning for an unremarkable birth, a short hospital stay with one’s baby close by in the room, and a joyous homecoming filled with gifts and doting loved ones — is no longer one afforded to us. That is not our reality. Our experience has told us so. Our experience has forever altered our perceptions of pregnancy and childbirth — has forever altered us.
On one hand, I envy most of the people I know who go about having babies without uncertainty or incident. I was once them — incapable or, perhaps more accurately, unwilling to believe that it could happen to us — and I long to be filled with nothing but unfettered excitement about my growing child once again. On the other hand, I am angry at them, fully aware that it is not their fault my experiences are laced with apprehension and sorrow and physical agony, yet somehow still brimming with animosity toward the ease with which they bring precious life into this world. I try to remind myself that everyone’s odyssey toward parenthood is full of obstacles, but my emotions persist. I am not proud of these feelings, but they are there regardless, festering and rearing when I’m at my most fearful and anxious, eventually retreating when shamed into submission by logic and reason.
And so I am terrified of pregnancy and childbirth, a feeling accompanied by love for the child burgeoning inside me no matter what can or does happen, no doubt, yet a feeling which demands center stage and absolute attention despite all the good and fortunate things that have and will happen along this journey. I am cautiously optimistic about that which lies ahead, of course, but I am also terrified of pregnancy and childbirth.
Terrified. And full of love. But also, terrified. And, try as I might, there is no escaping it.