|Melted crayon valentine hanging|
Into this pregnancy I carried my best intentions to be bold and brave in the face of deep-seated worry for another baby born early, or worse. When we found out I was pregnant on the night of the super blood moon at 3 weeks and 4 days I couldn't keep it to myself, and I didn't want to. I shared our joy with friends and family, the boys told their teachers and their friends' parents at preschool. Word was out before I had even missed my period and while it felt a little eager, I chose to embrace our great happiness in that moment without pause for worry that something could go wrong or that our path might at some point change course. It was a choice I made because I wanted this third pregnancy to be different. I wanted to put to practice what I hadn't known when pregnant with the boys and liberate myself from some of the anxiety and unrest I had experienced in past antepartum and postpartum periods. I wanted to fully feel this "redemption" pregnancy. From start to finish I wanted to feel it all.
Though my heart was all-in those first few weeks I was soon in survival mode, suffering in my own ways through a long bout of morning sickness, and questioning the decision we'd made to catapult our lives back into the unknown. Sitting with the discomfort that change sometimes brings I was disappointed and unhappy about the way that our days were compromised: our adventures, our homeschool, our time spent alone and together; and with five years between pregnancies I was apprehensive about returning to that place of high physical demand mothering after having finally learned how to carve out my independence. I even wrestled with the idea that if the spotting and bleeding made a turn for the worse and we lost the pregnancy, that it would be ok—maybe even more than ok as everything could return to a familiar normal.
Beneath all these normal emotions flowed an undercurrent of anxiety. Loss and grief remain a part of my mothering story—even all these years later—and while I had every indication at the time that this pregnancy would be different, not knowing what to expect made it difficult to feel settled and to connect with this little person for whom I carried a huge burden of uncertainty. How far into the pregnancy would I make it before giving birth? Would my third baby have to endure a NICU beginning too? Would my baby be healthy and whole despite an early arrival?
To cope with these feelings of vulnerability I kept a safe distance from the emotional call of the experience. I focused on the physicality of pregnancy and maintained family life as close to normal as possible. The baby remained an intangible possibility and the pregnancy a surreal state of in between.
At 10.5 weeks we found out I was carrying a girl. I began to dream a little about all the yet to be discovered aspects of life and of my being that I wouldn't have realized had I only mothered boys. The pregnancy itself still felt otherwise precarious with first trimester spotting continuing. But still. A daughter. A baby girl who would grow and one day get a period (!), maybe even have a baby of her own. I felt more connected to her just anticipating the mutuality of shared life experience.
At 17.5 weeks, emerging from the depths of morning sickness and clinging to my perinatalogist's new optimism for a term pregnancy, I began to feel at ease and even enthusiastic. In hindsight we had made it through the fall intact, and hey—maybe in a few years I could even do this a fourth time! I was hopeful that we would realize home birth again and finally looked forward to a postpartum done right.
These small acts of preparation brought her more fully into my conscience but it wouldn't be until a few weeks later that I would feel compelled to let down my guard entirely.
On the morning of my emergent cerclage I ruminated over recent conversations with my provider as bright snow fell in silence outside my window.
"We'll be lucky if we can get the cerclage in, there's so little tissue left."
"If I can't place the cerclage it is your legal right in VA to disrupt a pregnancy through week 24."
"If it buys you only three or four weeks I won't have done you any good."
There was a chance the cerclage could not be placed—we wouldn't know until they assessed on the operating table. There was the possibility that my bag of waters could rupture during the procedure or in the weeks that followed. My amniotic sac was funneling too, which wasn't a great sign. My provider felt that if we did nothing the baby would be born in 2-3 weeks and die. Earlier that morning Andy and I had cried together, discussing in-depth the lengths we were willing to go to intervene for her life in a very early birth.
In the hours leading up to the procedure I lay in polar bear with my hips high in the air and my head to the hospital sheeting. David Bowie's Space Oddity played softly in my ear. With my city in a snow globe and I in an unfamiliar microcosm of my own—Winslet dancing inside my belly, oblivious to all of it—I realized then that I couldn't keep her at a distance for fear of losing her. Not wanting to feel that space between us anymore I understood it was time. I needed to truly claim her. I needed to tell her. I needed to deeply feel that she was mine and ask her to stay.
So I spoke to her. Winslet, I love you. You belong with us. Please stay inside. I'm your mama and I'm going to do everything I can to keep you in as long as I can. You need to stay put. It's snowing outside. Stay cozy. Stay warm. I want you to join us when you are truly ready to be born. Move away from my cervix.
To my cervix: Cervix, you stay closed. Do not let her out. She's not ready.
In those hours leading up to pre-op I found clarity in the complexities that thrive in the grayest shadows of life as we know it, and it marked a turning point for me in my relationship with my daughter, a softening that rippled change into my being forever. A shiny new layer in my mothering journey.
|Winslet at 22.5 weeks. I think she looks like Merritt.|
I've assembled a small registry for a handful of things I would like to have before she arrives. I'm looking forward to a blessingway celebration for the two of us when we reach 27 weeks. I think about her skin, and the way she will smell, and how long her fingernails will be, and what color hair she'll have. I think about the weight of her little body in my arms, curled up close. I think about nursing her. Right alongside these details I'm also embracing NICU wires and sensors, and the look and feel and sounds of the hospital: plastic isolettes, hand sanitizer, white walls, and of weeks spent without sunshine just staring at her and holding her skin to mine, watching the monitors, and discussing her care at rounds. I imagine the first meeting of the boys with their little sister. I'm reading up on NICU life, re-familiarizing myself with the latest data and best practices, and planning for the ways I will care for myself while caring for her after she is born.
|For every week we keep little sister inside we celebrate by lighting another candle. Tomorrow we will have 3!|
At home we talk about Winslet a lot. At first I wasn't sure how far to take it with the boys, but for the same reasons I must make her real for me I must make her real for them. We are all in this together and everyone is working hard to keep her close for as long as we possibly can.
By fully embracing her in this way, a quiet acceptance for the unknown has also emerged. In allowing myself to love her right now I don't have to wait for answers. Loving her isn't contingent on knowing.
I will love her with certainty for nothing else.