What NOT to Expect When You’re Expecting….

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I feel like this photo says a lot about our family dynamics….

Back when I was teaching third grade, I worked with a dedicated co-teacher who was about 25 years older than me. Every once in a while, this teacher would sigh and say, “It’s hard being a grown-up.” Since I was 23 years old at the time, I’d smile and nod knowingly, but I didn’t really have any idea what she was talking about.

Now I do: It’s HARD being a grown-up, because it feels like you never actually reach the elusive state of being finally, completely GROWN UP. I keep thinking that the day will come when I’ll feel like a fully-actualized grown-up; when everything I’ve learned and resolved and written about will crystallize, and I can just coast along in my grown-up-ness for the rest of my life.

I’m starting to think that’s never going to happen.

Take my experience in late May/early June, for example. There I was, 9 months pregnant. Each day brought me closer to my due date: June 6. I was cruising along, trying to be peaceful and nonchalant about the whole thing; after all, this was my fourth pregnancy, so I should be a pro, right? I even wrote a piece on this very blog about how I’d learned NOT to plan too much because every past childbirth experience had thwarted all of my “plans.”

Guess what? I lied.

While I wrote that piece with my conscious brain, my subconscious brain was busily building a fortress of expectations. It went something like this:

“Because this is your fourth child, and also your LARGEST baby, and also your most uncomfortable pregnancy, this baby is surely going to come early. Let’s just hope you make it to 37 weeks! Best to be totally prepared a month in advance: buy newborn diapers, return the books that you’ve borrowed, finish sewing the doll dress that you haven’t touched in six months, watch the Season 3 finale of ‘Downton Abbey.’ Stop putting new events on the calendar, and if you do add something, make sure to specify that it’s ‘pending baby’s arrival.'” Every night for a month, I went to bed with all of our family’s ducks in a row, just in case I gave birth overnight. It was exhausting.

The weeks passed: 37…38. I attended events that I’d been certain I’d miss. My parents wanted to be present for the baby’s arrival, and by 39 weeks life was getting hard enough that we called them to come up early. At that point, I joked, “You know, if you come up early, I’m sure this baby’s going to be a week late.” Ha. Ha.

I started having regular, strong contractions five days before my due date, but I knew not to take them seriously until I’d given them time. Sure enough, the contractions stopped. That’s how it went for the next week: contractions, nothing, contractions, nothing. My emotions followed a similar cycle: frustration, excitement, depression, acceptance, and back to frustration.

Suddenly, I was looking at my due date in the rearview mirror. I couldn’t believe it. How had this happened to me? Every morning, I’d wake up and realize with a sinking feeling that I hadn’t had the baby. I started calling the fetus “Godot,” as in: “Waiting for….” That might seem good-natured, but remember that Godot never actually shows up? I was certain that I was the exception to the rule that nobody STAYS pregnant: I would be 9 months pregnant forever. I dreaded going out in public, because I’d have to discuss my lack of a baby with everyone I ran into — AGAIN. A neighbor whom I hadn’t seen in a few months did a double-take: “ANOTHER one?!? This is number FIVE, right?” No, still pregnant with the SAME FOURTH CHILD.

I felt stupid for allowing myself to develop expectations. I felt guilty, because I started resenting the baby: The LEAST you could do is be born when we expected! What gives?!?

Somehow, AGAIN, I’d stumbled into the delusion that I had control. I’d let myself think that I knew, better than my body or my baby, when this birth would happen. It was deja vu all over again: NO, you DON’T have control, dummy!

As a side note, here are a couple of things that are NOT helpful to tell a woman who’s waiting to give birth. (Both said to me by loving and well-intentioned family members):

1. “You just have to wait on God’s perfect timing.” This is very true. But the thing about God’s perfect timing is that it’s best appreciated in retrospect. I’ve often looked back and thought, “OOOOH, I didn’t understand it at the time, but God knew what he was doing.” However, telling me when I’m in the middle of waiting that I need to depend on “God’s perfect timing” only leads me to one response: I know he’s GOD and all, but in this case, God’s timing is clearly WRONG WRONG WRONG!

2. “You just need to relax and not think about it.” This advice almost always comes from a male. Telling a 9-months-pregnant woman to relax and not think about giving birth is the equivalent of saying, “Hey, you have a 150-pound anaconda on your head! Just relax and don’t think about it.”

Waiting to give birth is HARD. There’s the physical discomfort: huge belly and swollen feet and sleepless nights. But there’s also a mental component. No matter how many times you’ve done it, pregnancy is harrowing: nine months of trusting your body, hoping the baby you can’t see will be okay, giving up control every second of every day. By the end, I always have lack-of-control fatigue; I just want to SEE this baby, to get it on the outside so that I can care for him/her with my own hands. To have the illusion of control.

*****

Everything above was written on June 10;  Abigail Esther was born early on June 16, 10 days after her expected due date. In retrospect, of course, the timing was perfect: I was able to participate in every major June event on our family’s calendar, my parents were still around to help (they’d planned to give up and leave the very next day), and — as a lovely gesture to Erick, as if to compensate for the 1:5 male:female ratio she created — Abigail decided to arrive on Father’s Day. She arrived on her own timing, four days before my doctor would have induced labor.

She was worth waiting for. And her tardiness was consistent with her character thus far; Abigail has been the easiest of all our babies and seems — in contrast to her sisters (and her mother) — almost relaxed.

So, if I had to do it all over again (which I can virtually promise you I WILL NOT), I’d remind myself every day that prior experience and due dates mean very little. Part of being a grown-up is accepting how little we can control or predict anything in our lives — and realizing that that’s usually a good thing.

Lesson learned. Again.

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