Next up in our series on pregnancy, birth, and motherhood is Katrina. Katrina and I worked at the same hospital together before graduate school, in Boston. She immediately struck me as someone with a great sense of humor who was warm, patient, and accepting. So when I found out that she was about to become a new mom, I was thrilled – not only for her, but also for her baby. I knew that Katrina would be an amazing mom.
Katrina had a difficult pregnancy and an unexpected c-section, but her son is happy, healthy, and as cute as can be. Here Katrina shares her thoughts on coping with hyperemesis gravidarum, maintaining work / life balance, and savoring the sweetness of being part of a new little family.
How did you decide to become a mom when you did?
My husband and I both always knew we wanted kids, even back in high school when we were first dating. By the time we were in our mid-twenties, we had serious “baby fever.” You know, when you see babies and emit a high-pitched “ooooh!” and your uterus clenches a little?
Our decision on the timing of kids actually happened on a random day when we were in the car running errands. I was in graduate school and had a required internship year about two years in the future. This year was rumored to be very intense and not a good time to be pregnant. Unfortunately, two years was pretty much exactly the time frame we thought would be ideal to have a child. So, we were left with the options of having a child sooner or much later. We decided to go for it. Then we figured if that was the plan, we should get married first. We got engaged later that month.
What did you love most about pregnancy?
I loved the idea of pregnancy, but the reality was very hard for me. That being said, the day we found out the sex of the baby was incredibly exciting. I also loved tracking the baby’s progress and development.
What were your greatest challenges in pregnancy?
Within the first few weeks of pregnancy, I was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum, a pregnancy complication affecting about 1% of women consisting of extreme morning sickness. The nausea I felt was akin to 8 straight months of the stomach flu. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t watch TV or even listen to anything because the nausea was so overwhelming. I just remember trying to breathe and make it to the next moment.
There were a number of things about this situation that made it the hardest thing I had ever been faced with. First was the pure physical pain. That was no joke!
Second, was the impact on my work and career trajectory. I had to disclose my situation to my graduate advisor before I had time to prepare myself for this conversation because I was suddenly non-functional. I was used to overcoming difficult situations by working harder, but obviously this tactic didn’t work. I was mad at my body and terrified that I’d disappoint people. My advisor and the graduate school ended up being incredibly supportive. However, it did tack on an extra year to graduate school.
Third, the emotional toll was high. I hated being pregnant and felt very little connection to my baby. I remember trying a prenatal yoga video, but quickly turning it off in disgust after a few minutes of being coached to send positive vibes to my baby. I was likely depressed. I recall filling out the questionnaires at an OB-GYN appointment and noting how hopeless and down I felt. Only later did I realize I had just filled out a depression screening measure (a tool I readily administered as a therapist)! I am actually surprised I didn’t get a call from a mental health professional.
Lastly, it was very isolating. Though my husband took amazingly good care of me and worked from home, I was lonely. I also felt like I missed out on the wonderful things other women described loving about being pregnant. I found an online support group for women with HG and that helped. Recently, Kate Middleton has brought some attention to this condition.
What helped you overcome these challenges?
I’m still trying to figure this out! As awful as this experience was, I want another child and I will likely be this sick again. I know my husband and family helped just by being there with me physically and emotionally. I am looking into developing some coping skills for dealing with chronic pain (millions of people out there deal with this!) while I’m healthy enough to try them out.
How was birth different from what you expected?
There’s a joke about how people with the most detailed birth plans end up having emergency c-sections. I had every expectation that I’d have a normal birth, but Liam stopped moving for reasons unknown at 38 weeks, and I had an unplanned c-section that day. It was scary not knowing if he was okay and having surgery for the first time. Luckily he was fine and it was incredible to suddenly have your child in your arms. I didn’t have the immediate fall-in-love moment that some people do. It was more like an ever-growing feeling of amazement and appreciation for this new person I just met.
What is the toughest part of being a mom?
Balance, balance, balance! I have a demanding job where I learn a ton, but am exhausted. I have a beautiful, amazing child whom I love, but who leaves me exhausted. I actually think, with the help of my incredible partner and great childcare, that I have a good balance, but maintaining balance is a daily skill. My husband and I laugh—we are exhausted by the time Liam goes to bed, but we sometimes immediately start looking through pictures and videos of him as he slumbers not ten feet away.
What is the best advice about pregnancy, birth, or motherhood that you’ve received?
I think it’s pretty amazing how much you settle into child rearing routines that fit who you are. I would definitely turn to others (friends, loved ones, the internet, books) for perspectives and advice, but you and your partner will naturally find a rhythm that suits you. Not everything is perfect and that’s ok. Being open to learning and trying different things is key. Hand the wailing child off to your partner when you’re about to lose your mind. Oh, and damn, breastfeeding is hard!
What is the most fulfilling part of being a mom?
Watching his eyes droop closed as I rock him to sleep. Hearing him sing to himself on the baby monitor. The delight that lights up his face when he masters something for the first time. Snuggling all together and talking about our day. Sitting back and drinking in the joy of being a part of my own perfect little family.
Thank you so much, Katrina, for your frank description of pregnancy, your realistic advice, and your sweet account of motherhood! Liam is so lucky to have you and will make an outstanding big brother, I am sure, when it is time for baby number two!
For more interviews with women about pregnancy, birth, and motherhood: Follow me on twitter @shespoised