Unpredictable: a story of motherhood in my 30’s

Pregnancy number 1

I was a career missionary. The title Mom wasn’t in the plan for me. Despite the unusual amount of life experience gained from missionary life, I feel like my eyes were opened to the dangers of life in this world really and truly, starting at the time I first became pregnant.

When I started blogging, I had no idea what a rainbow baby is. Now thanks to the brave mommies who share their stories, I have learned that a rainbow baby is one born to a mother who experienced a miscarriage or infant loss, often multiple times. I learned that my daughters are technically rainbow babies.

Not many know this, but I got pregnant in 2008. I was happily living my childhood dream of serving as a foreign missionary in Latvia. My husband and I had been married 10 years without so much as me having a late period. To say we were shocked when we found out would be an understatement. Becoming parents was not part of the plan. (For my non Jehovah’s Witness readers, every Witness is basically considered a volunteer Bible teacher whether they live near home or not and regardless of how many hours they are able to spend in that work. But official full-time foreign missionaries don’t have children. They pledge to spend 130 hours a month in the public ministry and as much time as necessary helping the local congregation. That does not allow for having children or a secular job.  If missionaries start a family, they need to step down from special full time service to care for their family responsibilities. We consider taking care of your family as an assignment from God as well, so we view it simply as a change of assignment.)

So like I said, this was not part of the plan. Our whole life was turned upside down in an instant. Even so, I was quickly enchanted by the idea of a little tiny person growing inside me. I’m not sure if it was hormones or something else in the way we are made as women, but I was amazingly happy. We told our immediate family, who were also thrilled. Both with the idea of a little mini ‘us’ in the making and the idea of us coming home to live. (Even though everyone was supportive of our choice, I could still tell it was hard for them to have us so far away.)

One week later, the 5 to 6 week old pregnancy was over. I was devastated. Even though it meant not having to go through the upheaval of changing our whole life, in my mind, that had almost already been done. I had unquestioningly accepted the fact that this little person would come into the world and change our lives forever. And then he or she was gone.

Somehow I moved on. I threw myself into the ministry and slowly recovered emotionally. The few who knew what had happened were super supportive. Life kept going as it had been. But inside, I felt like I had lost everything I ever wanted, even though it was something I never even knew I wanted until a week earlier. I felt surprisingly a little bitter towards this extremely fulfilling life and career I had chosen for myself, because that meant I was not to be allowed the comfort of trying again. There was no rainbow baby in my future.

I didn’t know it at the time, but what happened to me was not unusual. Around 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, and of those the majority in the first trimester. I had been introduced to the roller coaster that is parenthood. Later I became pregnant again with our older daughter. This time I was skeptical and I hesitated to allow myself to get excited or too attached to the ‘bun in the oven’. Looking back I realize that my pregnancy with her was relatively trouble free. But I had been initiated. I knew now that pregnancy is dangerous.

Pregnancy number 2

With every passing week I learned about more and more dangers that in the world of obstetrics are part of the every day. Screenings, ultrasounds, blood tests, checkups. I was 32, going on 33 years old, and so already considered “elderly”. Potential risks pile higher each year older the mother. I learned about gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, genetic defects, RH factor, and danger of sepsis from strep B. I felt blindsided. Why is such a human and normal undertaking as having a baby such a risk?

My upbringing heavily influences my feelings on this subject. I’m the oldest of three, but my 2 siblings were born at home. My dad caught them. There wasn’t even a licensed midwife attending. I definitely subscribed to the notion that pregnancy is not an illness. A pregnant woman should be allowed to grow her baby without unnecessary poking and prodding, even during labor and delivery. I insisted on getting Bradley method birth classes instead of just going to what my local hospital offered.

The risk that became my obsession was breech presentation. My daughter was butt first and did not budge the entire 9 months! My biggest fear through the entire pregnancy was having a c-section. And that’s what we ended up with. I looked up and tried every method known to man to turn a breech baby, but it didn’t happen.

I was disappointed. I dreamed of the perfect relaxed natural birth, and instead I got the king of all birth interventions, a surgery!

Certain friends and advisors tried to warn me that in the business of having a baby you need to be flexible and ready for the unexpected. They emphasized that the most important thing is the well being of the baby and mother, not what kind of birth experience you have.

But I wasn’t really able to process that. I felt like I had cheated, I hadn’t done any work to deserve this beautiful newborn bundle of life. I lay there while the doctor did it all. I felt guilty. My daughter is now 7 and I’ve come to realize that being a parent means constant guilt feelings. It means sorting out conflicting ideas and information on a myriad of subjects. How to have the baby is just the first of a lifelong string of decisions and with each decision self-doubt and guilt about whether it was the right decision.

Pregnancy number 3

My pregnancy with my second daughter had me feeling more nervous. I was thrilled that I had another shot at natural childbirth but this time I was more aware of the odds that were stacked against me. Not only would this be an attempt at a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean), but now I was even older. At 36 I was now in the “geriatric” category. In addition to all the normal pregnancy screenings I was offered genetic tests to screen for abnormalities. I was petrified of a repeat of my last pregnancy.

However, as you mothers of multiple children know, this pregnancy and birth was nothing like my previous one. She turned head down at 32 weeks to my immense relief, but the fear of the helpless feeling that came with being forced to plan a c-section with the last birth had me on the defensive. I also think the tone of Bradley method childbirth class taught parents to be in defense mode against needless interventions as well. I sought out the hospital with the best record of VBAC births in the state and chose their midwife group for delivery.

Making a long story short, I barely, by the skin of my teeth, managed to have a VBAC. I was on the operating table being prepped for a c-section when she was born! By no means the calm, relaxed, textbook Bradley birth I was hoping for. That was probably the hardest fight in my entire life thus far. But I at least accomplished my goal. I experienced a natural, vaginal, drug free birth.

Unpredictable, maybe even dangerous, but totally worth it!

A friend of mine recently reconnected with me, and she, like me, unexpectedly had a baby after choosing a career in full time service. She and I also fervently hoped for a natural birth. I found myself now in the role of adviser and cheerleader. I found myself guardedly giving the same advice I hadn’t been able to fully process, that it’s not the birth itself but the health and safety of the mother and child that matter most. I’ll tell you what I told her. Every mom is a rock star!

Looking back, I wish I had been able to relax and enjoy the process, cherish each birth for what it was. Women get so many disconcerting circumstances thrown at them during pregnancy and labor. Most of us agonize and worry. We do research. We gladly deny ourselves anything that could potentially harm the baby. We are superheroes! But we do it humbly, quietly, willingly. And in my case, it is taking years to process it all and figure out how it has changed and molded me into the woman I am.

As parents, we sometimes struggle with losing our own identity during the process of raising children. I can identify with that feeling. But I’ve come to the conclusion, I don’t believe I’ve lost myself. True, becoming a mother totally changed my life. But look at what I’ve learned. Look at the two beautiful human beings God allowed us to create! Look at the strength and resilience I’ve discovered within myself! I would rather own this change and let it empower me, than allow it to make me feel like a lesser version of myself.

I think that each parent has to conscientiously decide what to do in each circumstance, and for each child. But after they have done all the research and made a decision, they should do their best to be at peace with that. Don’t let differing opinions make you second guess your choices. Don’t feel as if you have to take the blame for circumstances beyond your control.  Don’t get too distracted by fear or guilt to enjoy the moment. It goes by too fast!

Childbirth is a miracle. Raising children is an amazing journey. Now, whenever I feel fear and doubt creeping in, I remind myself, the best results come when you let yourself be guided by love!

I would love to know, did you moms and dads out there anticipate how unpredictable pregnancy and childbirth is? Were you prepared? Did anything about it take you by surprise? Please leave me a comment!

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