Julia’s son, Miles, was born 4 weeks early after a midwife noticed that his heartbeat was decelerating. Originally planing to give birth at home, Julia was rushed to the hospital, where she spent 3 days laboring while keeping careful watch over heart rate monitors. Here she discusses planning for a baby while grappling with fertility issues, fostering a spontaneous and flexible approach in one’s household, and gracefully combatting unbelievably rude comments on your pregnancy from strangers and friends.
Did you prepare yourself mentally and / or physically for your pregnancy or for motherhood? If so, how?
My husband David and I had fertility issues, and had been trying to get pregnant for quite a while. We already knew a lot about the science of a pregnancy through research and previous knowledge. My mental and physical preparation really only pertained to the “getting pregnant” step.
Physical preparation was necessary, but I wasn’t in control of that process. It involved hormone medications, a surgery, and many appointments (IVF). The most I could do was limit alcohol and try to limit stress (ha!).
The emotional preparation was something altogether different, and I developed a definite sense of not “allowing” myself to imagine a pregnancy until there actually was one. There was a very real chance that we would never have a child, so I was trying to prepare myself for not being a mother at the same time as being physically prepared for a pregnancy. Quite an odd pairing of emotions. I figured, if I ever got pregnant, there was no sense in trying to “forsee” what it would be like for me by reading everything under the sun. Every pregnancy is so different for each woman, I figured that I would just roll with the punches if they came, and if I was lucky enough to get pregnant.
The moment we heard our son’s heart beat on the ultrasound 6 days after our little ball of cells was transferred was the moment I let go of my anxieties. I felt like a mom! No other preparation was necessary. I just had to keep Miles safe until we could meet him.
What were the most difficult aspects of pregnancy?
Having people insert themselves into my pregnancy!! Physically, I did not find it difficult at all. I was just so happy to be pregnant, I didn’t care at all about occasional morning sickness or having a changing body. The hardest thing was having people (e.g. coworkers, random strangers) make comments about my body or judge my choices. Here are a few very real examples of things people shouted at me down hallways and brought up in every day conversations at work:
“Damn girl, what’s up with your t*tties? You pregnant?!” (Classy).
“You are definitely getting bigger! You seem to be carrying in your face, though” (I wasn’t ).
“A boy? Are you sure?? (grabs my belly) This feels like a girl to me.” (We had a DNA test done!)
“I can’t believe you are still working. Well, I guess it only takes one miscarriage to slow you down. Be careful.” (Who says that?!)
“Kids are a lot of work, are you sure you want them??” (Said by someone who knew we did IVF, when I was about 6 months pregnant).
I could go on forever, really. If there were a “pregnancy island” full of soft couches, books, and free foot massages, I would have holed up there for my entire pregnancy. No idiotic comments allowed!
How did you take care of yourself?
Poorly! I was working a very stressful job at the time. I had a pager that never got turned off, so there was a lot of physical and emotional stress that I was very used to by the time I got pregnant. There was no way around the logistics of that, but I pampered myself at night by having David put cold washcloths on my feet, and by indulging in watching youtube videos of babies in-utero (amazing!) and vlogs by new moms. David helped take care of me when I got home as well, making sure I had some decompression time. I also made sure to not stress too much about what I ate. I ate sushi, deli meat (hormone free, from a good deli), and never once felt guilty about it. My son is just fine, and I enjoyed my pregnancy.
How was birth different from what you expected?
I knew that birth could range from easy to ridiculously difficult, so I wasn’t fantasizing about the perfect birth. I was fantasizing about being ready and just getting through it. That being said, I thought I would at least be able to go into labor naturally! We were initially set up for a home birth, but wound up having to be urgently induced at 36 weeks due to Miles having a decelerating heart rate. I did not imagine that I would be terrified of losing my child through 3 days of labor! I figured it would be difficult physically, but the emotional stress was much greater than I was prepared for. I was surprised that pushing was much easier, though: 4 minutes, 2 pushes!
What helped / gave you strength through the birthing process?
My doula, and the thought that this kid needed me to keep it together to get him safely out into the world. I just took the labor one contraction at a time, and eventually had them turn down the volume on the heart rate monitor so I could focus on my own labor, instead of worrying about Miles the entire time. Rocking on a birth ball while having my lower back rubbed by my Doula was actually very peaceful 🙂 I also brought an iPod mix to listen to when I got tired of people, and made sure the lights were down as much as possible. The Doula also really helped me feel like I didn’t have to worry about David during the labor. He was free to catch naps or talk to family without leaving me alone, and it was nice to be able to just focus on myself and the baby.
What is the most challenging part of being a mom?
I have had two phases of being a mom: The working mom, and the stay-at-home mom. Without a doubt, working was brutal with a newborn. Trying to pump in random bathrooms or in my car was humiliating, and logistically very difficult with the type of work I was doing. At barely 6 weeks postpartum, with a child who was born early, going back to work felt like I was a momma bear being torn away from her cub.
Being at home makes it hard to feel like I can take time for myself. I have to try and recognize when I am getting overwhelmed and ask for help.
What helps you cope?
Humor, and not sweating the small stuff. You have to have a good sense of humor to survive parenting, and I am very lucky that I have a lot of good people around me to help me keep a good perspective. It also doesn’t do any good to stress about little things like pacifier sanitization, super strict schedules, etc. Allowing some flexibility gives me relief, as well as keeping creativity and spontaneity alive in our house. We are big on the “village” aspect of raising a kid. The more people he is exposed to, the better! It also helps us stay centered and connected to other parents/friends.
Have you found any life saving baby gear?
Definitely. For the first 6 months:
-Total Baby App: This app is amazing. It syncs between different people, and helps keep track of the last time you changed a diaper, fed, etc. This really helps when someone is babysitting or if you need to have some time away. You can come back and know exactly what the kiddo’s status is (he will be hungry in about an hour, etc). Also helps you see patterns in their behavior.
-Moby wrap. This wrap is great for breastfeeding or carrying the baby close while getting stuff done around the house. Hands free is gold!
-Breast pump, and a million bottles. having other people feed your kiddo is immeasurably helpful.
-Boppy or some type of breastfeeding pillow.
-Set up a diaper changing station in your car!! Not all public places have them.
-Netflix subscription 🙂
What do you feel would be useful to know before the baby arrives? How did you and your partner figure out how you wanted to approach parenting? Do you adhere to a particular philosophy?
Watch birthing videos and breastfeeding videos! Wrapping your mind around that is pretty soothing. Babies are on their own timetable completely until they are older (4 months-ish), so we didn’t worry about a sleep schedule in the beginning. We felt strongly that he should have his own room/space, and that we needed to have a separate space that was ours. This has definitely helped keep my marriage more connected, and helped Miles find his sleep groove.
We are not adhering to a particular parenting philosophy…we are winging it completely! As long as we keep our humor, reinforce good behaviors, and listen to our kid, that is considered a good day in this house 🙂
If you had 9 months remaining before getting pregnant for the first time, how would you spend that time?
Relax! There are still 18 months of life with no baby, IF pregnancy happens the first month of trying. Soak up life with your partner, spend time on yourself (massage, creativity!), and read books/watch videos on birth/parenting if it feels good to do that. Know that it is okay to delve into baby land, but make sure to involve your partner in that; watch documentaries and read together. A lot of parenting is instinctual, and will kick in once you meet your baby. After all, every child is different, and you are the ultimate expert on your own child. I would also say to save money as much as possible…heaven forbid pregnancy does not come easily, it is nice to have a nest egg to draw from in case it is needed for help from a specialist. If pregnancy is easy? Great! Spend that money on visiting people with the baby, or flying out friends/family that can’t afford a flight. It comes in very handy 🙂
Thank you, Julia, for your frank, thoughtful, and sensible advice! Miles is such a sweet-tempered baby, and it is a pleasure to observe you and David parent. Looking forward to watching your family continue to grow!