It seems obvious, but I’ve continually reminded myself that every single person on this planet came to be through a mother that has given birth. The barista at the corner, the UPS lady, my boss, our president, my mother, me.

That’s a lot of pushing. A lot of “Oh my god, I can’t do this”, a lot of epidurals, surgeries, birthing tubs, sweating, cursing, breathing, bleeding. A lot of fear and a lot of hope, joy, despair, relief, hormones.

It was six am, the dreaded return to work after a holiday, and while getting a roll of new toilet paper from under the sink, I noticed the pack of at-home tests a friend had left over after becoming pregnant two months before.

Two lines immediately appeared. I looked at it in three different rooms in different lights, held it to the window, put it down and came back to it, in case I was dreaming. The lines remained, growing darker like a mood ring when you sweat.

Positive pregnancy test

I was suddenly a mother - the thing that I wanted to be the most since I played with baby dolls as a child way too old to be playing with baby dolls. Since I became first a babysitter, then a counselor then a teacher. I felt like I had won something. And I cried from fear.

My pregnancy on the whole was “normal”, or however normal nine months could be watching your body go through a transformation somehow simultaneously brutally slow, yet devilishly unstoppable.

I gladly accepted seats from subway strangers and shared a small smile with other pregnant women on the street, like we were in some kind of emotional support club and understood each other. I blasted air conditioning despite the August electric bill, wore the same pair of Birkenstock clogs every day, and told myself that the bagels I was eating three times a week “settled my stomach”.

I tried to stay healthy, stay calm, despite a history of an autoimmune illness which has left me convincing myself that bad things happen to my body. I was a "high risk pregnancy", but let that slip from my mind as much as I could.

Somehow, I spent relatively little time down the rabbit hole of pregnancy blogs, advice columns, and WebMD, and repeated to myself that the scary things that happen to others wouldn’t happen to me. Hah!

At about 35 weeks, my husband and I found ourselves in the Labor and Delivery wing at NYU. My blood pressure had been creeping up for the last few days, and after checking (once or twice, or 28 times) at home it was high enough that I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia and admitted immediately.

Emily in Labor & Delivery

Strapped up to belly bands, an IV on the back of my hand, my stomach turned with anxiety every fifteen minutes when a blood pressure cuff would start boa constricting my upper arm. “Try to calm down,” a nurse said, and I wanted to punch her. She must not be a parent.

I was asked a series of questions, many of which could apply pregnant or not. Do you have a headache? Very possibly. Blurred vision? Not terribly. Belly pain? Um...yeah. Are you tired? Obviously... Do you feel weak or nauseous? Big time.

Soon after hanging up with my parents telling them not to rush into the city from New Jersey because I was five weeks early and no way was this really happening, the hospital “safety team” flooded the room moving quickly.

They unhooked my IV tube and injected medication directly into my arm once, twice, and again, like I was an addict getting my fix. I heard a doctor’s voice in a haze explaining that my pressures had become severe, and my platelet count was dropping.

I then started shaking, sweating, retching. I watched my husband as he watched my face turn white and I pleaded with the doctor on call to help me, convinced that I should have seen this coming, done more research, eaten better, prayed. I grasped my stomach and spoke to my baby and apologized. I wondered what the woman must be thinking, the next curtain over.

24 hours later, he was here. An induction, drugs, catheters, pushing, sweat, the whole thing you see and fear, and want, and don’t know how to prepare for. It somehow happened to me, with me, at me, through me. He was small, red headed, and named James. I wondered if he’d recognize me from the inside out. Was he angry at me for making him come too soon? Did he know the difference?

Emily's son, James

I struggled for months. I felt guilty and ashamed for wanting breaks from holding the little baby who looked up at me with the most sincere eyes. I handed him off and tried to remember what it was like to have a mind free of “How long since he ate?”, “Time to pump again”, “His chest hasn’t he breathing?”. I couldn’t imagine a future where my head would feel clear, when I might be able to finally relax, or sleep.

My body ached, my breasts were a constant source of discussion, and I longed for some validation that I was doing this right and that I wasn’t alone. I blamed myself when Nick could settle him and I could not, convinced that it was because I didn’t spend that last month with him inside me, that he was disappointed in me, that the mother I thought I would be wasn’t how I ended up. I felt sad for him that I was who he got.

I wish I could remember the moment it changed, but I can’t. Maybe it was a bunch of little things-  the baby laughing at a silly face I made, my parents watching him so my husband and I could go out to eat, buttoning up a pre-pregnancy pair of jeans, when James would reach out for me when he was sad, scared, lonely. Daycare. The park. Formula. His two front teeth. I slowly became a parent who I didn’t hate.

Inch by inch I began to trust that I knew what to do, even when I didn’t know I knew it. Saturday mornings became fun- blasting an “Oldies but Goldies” playlist and watching as James bounced around, silly grin, arms flailing and we would join in.

I would squeeze Nick’s hand to remember the moment. I could cook food that we could eat together. I didn’t check on him 10 times a night. Somehow it changed and I felt my body slowly slowly exhale. James is almost two. I’m biased of course, but he’s such a sweet and special little boy. I’m so proud of him. And maybe even a little bit proud of myself.

I’m pregnant again. Only 10 weeks, but she’s in there- and she got me as a mother. Nick as a father. James as a brother. I cannot wait to meet her.

-September 27, 2020


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