Mom in the Works

Mom in the Works: November 2013

Monday, November 18, 2013

What I Didn’t Expect When Expecting

Pregnancy is a nine month journey, an all-encompassing whirlwind.  I guess I am fortunate enough to say that I liked being pregnant, but overall it was an incredibly confusing time (and I was actually confused a lot of the time. Pregnancy brain is real, people!) I can remember moments of utter anticipation as well as dread. My first encounter with what is commonly referred to as “mommy guilt,” was over the very fact that I didn’t really feel connected to my baby during pregnancy. Oh, how I wanted to. It’s not just that I felt like I wanted to. It’s that I felt that I had to. Yeah, I know. Perfectionism = my nemesis. Although I can't help but wonder if more people than just myself felt like pregnancy should feel magical and rosy? And more importantly, why do we as mothers-to-be put pressure on ourselves to feel this way?

Photo courtesy of Reilly Images, LLC
It’s probably because largely what we see in movies and the media is this overly romanticized depiction of pregnancy. The women apparently feel this intimate bond with their babies and seem so completely in love with their baby and baby bump. We have all seen the gorgeous maternity pictures of mamas gazing at their sweet baby bumps, longingly waiting to snuggle their babies. We are told that we have this “glow,” which, does anyone really know what that is?  I’m not so sure about the “glow,” but I did find extra acne, an aching back, and dry, flat hair though!

What made me feel better during this time was commiserating with other moms and realizing that there were just some absolutely terrible, disgusting moments in pregnancy. In the hilarious parody on pregnancy, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, the character Wendy, played by Elizabeth Banks, goes on a hormone-filled rant about the “joys” of pregnancy, many of which are described in the book. From cankles, to the emotional stress, to the copious amounts of antacids you may need to consume, pregnancy is far from glamorous.  If want to laugh, check out this hokey song made from a snippet of the movie:

Or better yet, just watch the movie. It’s worth it, I promise. :0)

Anyway, I think we can all agree that the physical ramifications of pregnancy are not exactly a fairy tale.. But how about what’s really going on inside? I mean, moms, you’re growing a human! Amazing, right? Totally and completely amazing. You must be so in love with the little being growing inside of you, right? I don’t know about you, but I certainly had a hard time with this one. I definitely didn’t feel very connected to my baby throughout pregnancy. Although I certainly appreciated the kind words of excitement and congratulations from friends and family, I had times that I allowed myself to feel guilty because I didn’t always feel that jazzed about having a baby. I felt like I was too selfish of a person to care for this completely dependent little person, and for every hour of the day/night! I know I had this idea that having a child is wonderful, but I knew that it is a HUGE sacrifice. I just didn’t know how much or what to actually expect. Although I was happily anticipating life with our baby, I still felt some lingering doubts. “Can we really be “good” parents?” “Am I selfless enough?” “Will I ever sleep again?”

As if that’s not bad enough, I definitely had one particular instance that made me feel absolutely terrible - the 20 week ultrasound. Dun, dun, dun. I feel like this is the day that’s so joyful and terrifying at the same time. You’re officially half-way through pregnancy, and they will be able to tell you if your baby is growing sufficiently, how his/her organs are developing, and also the really fun part of finding out the sex of your baby. As I laid there hanging on every word the ultrasound tech said, I went through a list in my head: heartbeat: check, fingers and toes: check, brain: check. We felt so grateful to find out that our baby was healthy and that the pregnancy was going well and that all the elements of a baby that looks like sort of extraterrestrial were there. When the technician asked us if we wanted to know the sex of our baby, we anxiously said “yes” and she said that our baby was “unmistakenly a boy!!” Jake shouted “That’s my boy!” My reaction, however, was somewhat less enthusiastic. I didn’t cry during the appointment, but on the car ride afterwards and at home, I definitely cried. Without realizing it, when I envisioned our baby, I pictured holding a sweet baby girl, and dancing with her Daddy. I’ll admit that I also wanted the cute dresses, little ruffles, and all the cute-sy shoes. I know that one’s hormones are a bit off while pregnant, but I guess I didn’t expect a girl, nor did I expect the confusing emotions I felt when I found out that we weren’t having a girl.  I just didn’t know what to do with boys. Growing up with two sisters and no brothers, all I really knew was how to be a girl and play with Barbies, dolls, and my Polly Pockets. I felt overwhelmed and guilty. Not a winning combination. Fortunately, I felt a little voice in my head saying that it was ok to feel this way and that in time my thoughts about the situation would improve. I just needed time.

Another difficult hurdle for me during pregnancy was not having the ability to truly see our baby, except an outline of him during the ultrasound. I am a visually-driven person, so not having the ability to really truly see my baby made it difficult for me to have strong emotion for him either way. For me personally, this brings out a larger issue:  “Why should I have to see someone with my eyes in order to love them?” I mean, I believe in God and I love Him. People who do not have sight can love. I know that it took me awhile to have true feelings for Joel, but even then, I know that love is more than a feeling. Love is an action – real love is acting in another person’s best interest. Love is not merely felt, love is not just an emotion. Yes, love can certainly manifest itself in emotions and feelings, but those are not required in order to love. Based on the Greek definition of love, or “agape,” it is not truly love unless you act in another person’s best interest. It is not self-centered, but completely others-centered. And that makes total sense and at the same time no sense at all. Real love transcends logic, understanding, and entitlement. This unconditional love is the love that Christ showed when he died for us. Given that love, we are also to love others with the same grace-filled attitude...without any conditions...not a one! How hard that is, but it is something that because I love Christ I must ask for guidance in every day. There are few things more beautiful in life than seeing that love in action, and when I reflect upon those glorious nine months of growing a baby, I can think of some ways that we as mothers continually demonstrate love to our unborn babies (we may not even realize all that we do in this respect):

-          From the first “positive” sign on your pregnancy test (or the second, third, or, oh yes, the fourth), you purge your life of all things that could be harmful to your baby from lunchmeat to alcohol, to even the chemicals in your home.
-          You are concerned about your eating habits, and want to be sure to get enough nutrients. You take your daily prenatal (or try to remember to) and try to eat enough lean meats, fruits, and veggies.
-          You sleep.  We need a lot of sleep to develop, so think of how vitally important sleep is when you’re pregnant! You know that napping can be extremely beneficial to your baby, your body, and also your mental state that day.
-          You think about your baby. Whether or not you feel like you’re actually connecting with your baby, there is something to be said about day-dreaming or thinking about him/her. I loved talking with my husband about what we thought our baby would look like, what would make him laugh, and what his unique personality would be!
-          You prepare. Everyone has their own way of “getting ready” for their baby. Although the items you acquire are important, a baby mostly needs a lot of love. Of course there is really nothing that can fully prepare you to be a parent, but I think doing your due diligence in reading or talking to a few (notice how I said only a few) trusted veteran parents is a great idea. I think there’s also something to be said about too much advice or having conflicting advice as well, so relax and if you don’t agree with someone’s advice, just feel free to smile and nod.
-          You exercise. Whether it’s a walk outside, a yoga class, or a steady swim, exercise is great for both you and your baby. You get some great endorphins, avoid gaining extra pregnancy weight, can become stronger for labor, and most of all, your baby will be soothed to sleep by the gentle rocking motion she feels. She’s happy and you’re happy!

Given that definition, I guess I truly can say that I loved my baby bean during pregnancy, even when I wasn’t aware. Of course, I am thrilled at the fact that our first born is a son (I wouldn’t have him any other way!). Even with the hard moments of parenthood, I absolutely adore our little bundle and am amazed at the essence of him. I love seeing him of course, but I also love his personality, quirks, laughs, likes, and am even learning appreciate his dislikes, (which is a process, especially with a somewhat-sensitive baby). The fact of the matter is that if we care about our children at all whether in or outside of our bodies, we do in fact love them, even if we don’t always feel “in love.” The same goes for any relationship, really. If we go beyond ourselves to truly desire what’s best for another person even if it means a sacrifice on our part, we are showing love to that person. This is something I need to remind myself of even now, when my day can be frustrating and I feel like a bad mom for one reason or another. No, pregnancy and having a baby certainly haven’t been what I expected. They have been more. More of everything – fear, frustration, happiness, joy, and of course, love. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

"The most important person on earth is a mother. She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral — a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body.
The Angels have not been blessed with such a grace. They cannot share in God’s creative miracle to bring new Saints to Heaven. Only a human mother can. Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creatures. God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation.
What on God’s good earth is more glorious than this: to be a mother?"

- Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty