Ella, Jack, and Caroline. Somehow, all three of them are mine!
Three beautiful children by way of three difficult and different pregnancies. I first suspected we were expecting Caroline on January 12th- just under two weeks into the year. So my 2020 has been dominated not just by strange headlines but by this pregnancy.
It’s no secret that I don’t enjoy being pregnant. I always get really sick during my first trimester without really experiencing the mythical energy boost of the second trimester. I don’t sleep well or manage my stress well or do just about anything that needs doing well. But motherhood is my calling and pregnancy is our chosen road to getting there and I am blessed to have been able to bring our kids into the world. So it’s always worth it in the end but it’s hard to see the end from the beginning.
Now that my third pregnancy is over, I’ve been thinking about the sum of my experiences. As a first time expectant mother in 2014 all the way to a few weeks ago, when I gave birth to Caroline with two other little ones waiting at home for me. These children I’ve been called to raise didn’t get here without a lot of difficult and necessary lessons. Here’s what I’ve learned after three pregnancies and deliveries.
This was probably my toughest first trimester, though Ella’s was a very close second. It’s hard to love organization and control as much as I do and allow anyone to see me struggle or let on that I need anything. But sickness has a way of humbling you and I was truly humbled by the offers to help me through those difficult first months. Dinners, flowers, babysitting help, you name it. And I didn’t end up feeling weak for accepting the help; I created stronger connections to the many women who reached out to me.
Does anyone else absolutely hate going to their OB appointments? Not having to go to the doctor is one of the best parts of finally having the baby. I tend to feel defensive and nervous at these appointments because the questions and interactions can be so personal but dehumanizing at the same time. But during this last pregnancy, I tried to remember that I was the patient too. The focus can be on how the baby is doing or what you’re doing for the baby but your experience and needs are important too. You need looking after as well.
Part of making sure your experience is taken into account is to advocate for yourself. I know the doctors are the experts but you know yourself. And you’re the one who’s going to have to live with the consequences of your pregnancy/delivery for the rest of your life.
So you have to stand up for yourself. This was especially important for me this time because of the Covid restrictions. Matthew couldn’t come to my appointments with me and in the past, I relied on him to speak up for me or notice when I was uncomfortable with something. This time, I had to do that for myself. And when I was pressured to have my baby weeks before her due date, I had to push back. It can be intimidating but it’s your body and your child and your life. So listen to your doctors and weigh what they have to say against what you know is right for you. I wish it hadn’t taken me 3 pregnancies to learn this lesson.
Okay. So. There can be a lot of complicated emotions surrounding c-sections and I will not add to that. I don’t have any bad feelings or complexes around needing to have c-sections in order to safely deliver my babies. On its face it might seem like I’ve had three identical deliveries. But that’s not true, the same way three vaginal deliveries would never be exactly identical to each other. I had an emergency c-section, a failed VBAC, and a scheduled c-section. And I learned something different from each one. With the emergency c-section, I learned to trust strangers. The anesthesiologist sat by my head and reassured me that all the commotion going on around me wasn’t chaos but a well oiled machine.
With Jack, I learned that healthy babies cure everything. I’ll be honest: I didn’t want to have a second c-section. It’s not that I had a complex about it; I just didn’t think I would need one. But when my birth plan was overruled at the last second by doctors at my practice, I was devastated. I thought I had tripped at the finish line. I’d had this hard pregnancy and I wouldn’t even get the joyous end. But as soon as I saw Jack, that fresh wound healed immediately. It just doesn’t matter how your baby gets here.
And now for the scheduled c-section. I thought I could rely completely on my previous experiences but it was a very different process, logistically and emotionally. I was afraid that it would be sterile and impersonal and less special but when it comes to having a baby, I just don’t think there’s such a thing as “less special.” It’s the most special moment I’ve ever experienced, every time. I’ve learned that the delivery doesn’t have to define the experience. You’re meeting your baby and however that happens, that is enough.
Having a baby is exciting but it can also be very overwhelming and scary. C-sections are no exception. There’s a point where you are separated from your spouse and that’s the moment I dread the most. When I was being wheeled into the OR to deliver Jack, my anxiety clouded every other feeling. But a phrase came to my mind that I grasped on to and repeated over and over. “You are a warrior princess.” I know it sounds dumb! But that’s what came to my mind and it helped me get through the agonizing minutes before Matthew could join me in the operating room. It was a reminder that I was strong and had endured months of difficulty and survived. With Caroline, I deliberately tried to come up with a comforting phrase. “There’s nothing bad when you’re getting your baby.” I repeated that to myself and again, I felt comforted. It’s made me a believer in mantras and the power our minds have.
After you have the baby, honesty is super important. Be honest about your pain level, your emotions, and your needs. It’s a really vulnerable time and keeping those things secret will only isolate you and make it harder.
You just don’t appreciate how small a baby is until you see one next to your older kids. I’ve really made the effort to appreciate that this time around. I feel like we only think about the newborn stage during pregnancy but that time is so short. And it’s such a sweet, amazing time and I have to remind myself to cherish it.
I really struggled with this when I had Jack. I wanted another baby but I didn’t realize how high the stakes were! But you are creating a new family each time, letting go of the old one. I kept that in mind my entire pregnancy and really tried to appreciate that season of life with just two kids and prepare all of us for the next chapter.
All three of my pregnancies were transformative experiences and I hope I’ve come out better on the other side of each of them. Motherhood is an interesting teacher but this life has to be the most beautiful classroom.