19 February 2016

getting pregnant is hard

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To clarify, *I* am not trying to get pregnant. We are done/shop is closed/that ship has sailed (for us)/we are happy with two.

But my friends are discussing when to start trying to get pregnant, and I suddenly remembered when my partner and I were first trying. Prior to this, we thought if we didn't use some kind of protection, we'd be zapped by pregnancy immediately. Ha!

I want to set some things straight, and I hope this can help someone out there feel more prepared. Knowledge is power, so let's get powerful.

1. It's not that easy to get pregnant.

There is basically this teeny tiny window of a few days each month where pregnancy is even possible, and some months, nothing will happen for no obvious reason at all. It's supposed to take up to a year for healthy couples to get pregnant, which means (for the non-math-inclined) there are eleven months of not getting pregnant without any causes other than chance.


We now know tons of couples who have tried to get pregnant "the old-fashioned way" and were unable to for ages and ages. And those who are able to afford IVF don't always get their promised baby, either. Friends have endured rounds of failed IVF treatments, or when baby finally "sticks," it doesn't make it full-term.

2. It isn't that easy to stay pregnant.

Miscarriages are sooo common. Half of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, often before the woman even knows she's pregnant. Of the recognized pregnancies, a quarter will also end in miscarriage. So, why don't people talk about it? There seems to be shame and/or blame, as if you did something wrong/there were something you should have done differently. Nope, probably not.

It just means that baby wasn't, for whatever reason, going to be fit/healthy/robust enough to thrive. I think it's better that nature helps us determine that earlier rather than later. Both of my pregnancies felt immediate, yet I also had what basically amounts to a false positive with my first (also called a chemical pregnancy, where you get pregnancy hormones but no gestational sac/placenta) and a miscarriage with my second.

But don't lose hope, either! I got pregnant three months after the chemical pregnancy and three months after the miscarriage. So, should something like this happen to you, don't fret. It's so common and just means you'll have to have more sex before that positive shows up. So, think positive. It's like you're making up for the sex you won't get to have after the baby is born.

3. Being pregnant isn't that easy, either.

Some women are literally sick to their stomachs throughout their entire pregnancy. Some throw up every day and have to stay in the hospital so they don't get dehydrated/malnourished. One of our friends was a triathlete and had to go on bedrest with her first pregnancy so she wouldn't miscarry. You just never know what pregnancy will be like for you until it happens.

With that said, some people feel great being pregnant and love it so much, they keep doing it. One of our friends is done having her own children and is being a surrogate for a gay couple in San Francisco. What an amazing gift to give someone, no?

I had great pregnancies and felt great most of the time, but even those with "easy" pregnancies are going to have to get up to pee at night (so much for getting some sleep before your newborn arrives), will waddle and be clumsy in the third trimester because your body is loose and off-center, and so on. You are often uncomfortable for one reason or another, you might break out (I did), you might knock things over with your belly because you don't realize how big it is, and you'll say, "Excuse me while I squeeze by" and then not fit with your big belly.

4. It ain't over when you deliver the baby, either.

Recovery takes a lot longer than people think. There are all these stories floating around of women who popped out their babies and then went back to work the next day or went hiking the following week or whatever. Uh, yeah, maybe. But you'll want to rest and take it easy for at least a few days. Probably a month, really. It takes about four months for your body to feel more normal, and even then, sex might hurt, depending on how you're healing down there. So, to be completely back to your pre-pregnancy self, I'd say it can take six months to feel 100%, like you might be ready to bounce back into your old activities. And if it does, let's just forgive ourselves for being human (you *did* make a human being and might even be feeding it) and allow ourselves some respite.

The newborn that comes out usually isn't as cute as one might expect at first (even though you'll think it's the most beautiful thing you've ever seen), and it will be a humbling lesson for anyone who said they didn't need much sleep just how sleep deprivation will really rock your world/knock you off your feet. Diapers will be filled as quickly as you're changing them, and whether you use disposable or cloth, it's still a not-particularly-pleasant chore. (I came to see diapers as a positive thing because when you're breastfeeding, you don't know how much milk your baby is getting except through the number of diapers they wet and soil, so they become relieving signs that your baby is getting enough nourishment to be healthy.)

Breastfeeding might be free and give your baby everything their little body needs, but it is also *really* painful for most women at first (so much for it being something "natural") and doesn't come as easily as we're led to believe, either. And if you go the bottle route, it is still a pain to wash and prep formula, etc. So, if you stick with breastfeeding, it does get better, but don't believe anyone who tells you caring for a newborn is natural or easy.

You never know what your body is going to do, and each pregnancy will be different, just as each child is different. I had no stretch marks with my first, but I got some pretty unattractive ones with my second. Some people are proud of their "battle scars," but here I am, seven months postpartum, and they're basically gone. So, even if I didn't get to keep my battle scars, I still participated, I still was valiant, and I still delivered two baby girls into this world.

It sounds like I'm telling you not to get pregnant, and that's definitely not the case. I just wanted to put some of the harsher realities that people glaze over out there so you could be better prepared. With that out of the way, here are some upsides of pregnancy.

1. You finally see your body as the miracle it is.

Maybe you already view your body this way, but I didn't. Getting pregnant made me feel so lucky to be a woman. And if you're a papa-to-be, you deserve credit for pollenating the flower, so to speak. I know a woman who takes full credit for giving her husband her children, and I feel that's a bit misguided. Yes, we carry the baby, but the fathers are a pretty necessary ingredient.

In any case, sperm meets egg, and then, somehow, your body takes care of the rest. Baby grows while you eat breakfast, check email, go for a walk, whatever. Just like we breathe and our hearts pump our blood with no effort, this baby grows with basically no extra "work" from us. It's awesome and humbling and instills incredible gratitude when at the end of it all, a healthy baby emerges into the world who happens to look like little you and little your beloved.

During pregnancy, your hair will be full (it stops falling out during pregnancy), you may have skyrocketing hormones that make you feel a happy high and give you a radiant glow, and you will just about fall out of your chair when you first feel that baby moving inside of you.

Your mind will be blown. "Whoa! Baby is real! And I made that baby! Yeah!"

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2. Your sense of love explodes.

I always thought I was a loving person, a generous person who would do anything for my loved ones. Then, I had babies, and holy moly, my heart exploded with so much love, it took my breath away. I can see how mothers lift cars to free their trapped infants. You'll see your little one as little you, and you will do everything to protect little you from harm.

And while some couples find a baby creates distance between them, my partner and I actually had the opposite experience. Sure, sex pretty much disappears at first, we didn't go out on dates at all, and we were both zombies from sleep deprivation, but the love and bond between us was immense. I felt such gratitude that my baby had such a loving and helpful father, and we marveled that we created what we felt was a perfect little baby. (All parents find their own offspring adorable and perfect, at least on good days.)

3. You're brave enough to discard the bull now.

My partner and I love to make people happy, and we try to be helpful and kind whenever possible. But it also means we sometimes give too much and stretch ourselves too thin. Having babies takes away the leeway to do so because there just isn't time or energy for anything extra anymore. It seems Herculean just to keep everyone fed, clothed, and (sometimes) bathed; everything extra (like cleaning the house) pretty much gets relegated to "Yeah, we'll take care of that when we get a second to breathe." Which often doesn't happen for a while.

What's awesome is that you now have this legitimate excuse to blow off everything you don't want to do. And perhaps a taste of that freedom will enable us as parents to learn to say no and teach our kids to say no. That's power!

4. You get a little human being and the opportunity to create your own family.

A baby gives a sense of hope like few other things in life. It's truly a fresh beginning, and the challenge and colossal responsibility of raising a kind and conscientious citizen is daunting but also such a gift. You see things with new eyes, you get to be a silly kid again, and while it is soooo hard to be the parent you want to be at all times, it is also so rewarding when things are going well.

You may have just had the worst week of your life, but when your baby smiles at you for the first time, that week suddenly feels redeemed. Or maybe you're stressed and frustrated, and your toddler tries to comfort you by saying, "I love you." Suddenly, things don't seem so bad. These little humans are magical, how they learn to roll over, then crawl, then stand and walk, all on their own volition. Before you know it, they're talking and spewing opinions and preferences that you definitely didn't supply them with.

You might worry you won't have a maternal/paternal instinct, but you will. You'll know your baby better than anyone else, so trust your gut and believe in yourself. You, too, will figure it all out.

As an impatient control freak (not a great recipe for good parenting), I keep trying to tame my perfectionist and take a deep breath when even the simplest things take for-e-ver. I try to bite my tongue when I want to fix everything, correct every minuscule infraction, and as someone who always spoke first/thought later, it takes constant effort to maintain calm and not become reactive.

But it's so worth it. What else matters as much as being our best selves? And having kids pushes you to be your best. Maybe it's because you're doing it for them rather than for yourself. But now, you have more incentive to set a good example and be the parent you want your child to have.

So, if you're trying to get pregnant, know it won't necessarily be immediate, but it'll be worth it if you can keep your eyes on the bigger picture. And while it feels like you're pregnant forever, it'll suddenly be over, and you won't even believe you were that big or that your rapidly growing child was ever inside your belly. (Make a belly cast as evidence; I'm so glad I did!) And most of all, try to enjoy each step of the way. It's fun to make a baby, and exciting to get that positive test result. You'll be in awe of your pregnancy and blown away by how powerful you feel when you give birth. And when the pregnancy is over, and that tiny baby is sleeping in your arms, nestled against your chest, outside in the real world, your heart will explode into sunbeams of love.

Everyone will tell you it zooms by, and you'll nod and say, "Uh huh" like we did, but it *really* does go by quickly. So, enjoy every moment you can with your children, too.

Good luck, and have fun. :-)