Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Parsing some feelings

This post turned out a lot more incoherent than I wanted it to, but I'm posting it anyway.  Maybe I'll try again in a few months when I have some additional related news to the mean time, don't take offense, just read it for what it is:  a mind dump of feelings and thoughts that I'm still in the process of working out.

A year ago this week, Paul and I started officially trying to have a baby.  It took us four months to get pregnant for the first time.  Four weeks from now is when I would have been due.

A lot of people already know all this, but a lot of people don't.  And that's exactly how it should be; I had all the support I needed, and any more would have been too much.  I was only 7 weeks when it happened, so although it was very upsetting, we were not as devestated as people often wanted to assume we must be.  That was, perhaps, even harder than dealing with the feelings we were having:  it was unsettling to feel like I wasn't anywhere near as sad as some people thought I should be.  I wasn't worried that I wasn't sad enough, I was just worried that it would give people a bad impression of me!  I was exactly as sad as I needed to be.

I'm having some sad feelings this week again because of the timing.  There have been a handful of negative pregnancy tests since November when my cycle came back, and each of those was a bummer, but not much more so than the first three negative tests before I was pregnant the first time.  In addition to the timing of a year since we started trying and getting close to my original due date, this past month I was 2 days late, so that negative test was a bit sadder than usual, but still fine.

See, the thing is, I know I am able to get pregnant.  I wasn't in love with the pea-sized little tadpole in my uterus; I was in love with the concept of being pregnant, but that all happened last October, and now that it's almost 6 months later?  I'm over it.  Really.  So I know it's going to happen again soon.  And all the gardening and planting and planning and yard work we have been doing?  I have been getting SO MUCH satisfaction out of that, out of watching our plans turn into reality, and knowing that all my hard work is going to produce lots of fresh veggies for me to enjoy this summer.  What if I was in the middle of my first trimester right now, during the most critical preparation and planting period?  Paul has been working himself ragged as it is, so without my work on weekends and evenings, I don't think we could have gotten to this point with the garden.  I am going to have to do a lot of hard work by myself while Paul is away at camp this summer, and I'm hoping to be pregnant by then, but I wouldn't trade these past few weeks if I had the choice.  Especially if I do get pregnant within the next month or three, I will consider the timing to be perfect.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the feelings surrounding pregnancy and childbirth.  I haven't really experienced either yet, but my focus stems from the path I'm on, and from watching many of my closest friends go through both, seven times now just counting the people I'm closest to!  I feel blessed to be surrounded by so many growing families.  It makes me so happy to get to know my friends' children and watch them grow, and to hear all their mom stories and know what an amazing support system I'll have once I join them.  Their births were all different: some fairly straightforward, some difficult and traumatizing, some c-sections, some with drugs, some without.  I also feel blessed to have friends who were willing to talk about their experiences openly, and a mom who was willing to tell me about her experiences.

When I picture my own pregnancy and imagine giving birth, I still picture it as idyllic.  Discomfort and pain, sure, but not too hard to deal with when you consider the reward you get at the end of it all.  And I think, no matter how many stories I hear, it wouldn't change that daydream very much.  I'm always going to imagine the best case scenario; it's just my nature.  But I also know that when I do run into problems, complications, and all the other difficulties that I'm sure to experience in some measure, having heard all these stories will help me cope mentally and physically.

The thing that I struggle with most at this point isn't the actual feelings I'm having:  I feel quite confident in my ability to feel and cope with any less-than-ideal situations I'm currently experiencing, and I'm comfortably, contemplatively moving through the slight melancholy from the anniversaries of trying and due date, mixed with the joyousness of Spring and producing beautiful and useful things with my hands in my garden.  Maybe an outsider would say that I feel so driven to knit and crochet things for other people, and put so much work into our garden, as a result of our un-success so far at starting a family, but I don't think it's that deep; I know I just enjoy doing all this creating and producing, and I would enjoy it no matter what happened in the past year; it just so happens to exist in parallel with the other stuff.  Cum hoc ergo propter hoc Correlation does not imply causation.

No, the thing I think I struggle with the most is my perception of how other people expect me to feel, and how my actual feelings, since they don't jive with their expectations, will cause weirdness that I'll have to deal with.  And not expectations of me specifically, but in reading others' stories on blogs I follow, and hearing how people talk about pregnancy and birth, the prevailing attitude of society doesn't jive for me, and it worries me on behalf of my future self once I do get pregnant again and join that world.

I'm also not talking about the popular back-to-nature movement of home births, birth without drugs, anti-c-section sentiments, anti-formula-feeding, etc etc.  I agree that birth has become over-medicalized and over-commercialized; I want to have as natural a birth as possible, at a hospital with a NICU, and then I want to breasfeed my baby exclusively for 6 months, and make all my own baby food.  Sure I want to do all of those things, and I will try very hard to make it all happen, but if I'm not able to achieve some of those things, I will not feel horrible guilt about it.  I will know that I've done my best and made the best decisions I can for the physical, mental, and emotional health of my baby AND myself.  Because if I'm not mentally or physically well, then my baby won't be either.  A friend of mine was unable to breastfeed after the first two weeks with her first child, and she struggled against attitudes that made her feel guilty because of it.  That is ridiculous.  But I also see red when I hear about women who were all but discouraged from breastfeeding by the lack of support and/or pushing of formula free samples.  Basically, either extreme is bad, which is pretty much my feeling on a range of topics, from healthcare to politics to religion.  I feel essentially the same way about c-sections too.

But what I'm trying to get at isn't the mechanics; it's the sentiment of "I loved my baby immediately and unconditionally, and I would do anything to save it."  That's what, historically, we've learned to expect.  But there's also abundant sources of stories and support groups surrounding traumatic birth experiences, and for women who do have very upsetting experiences during pregnancy and birth, and/or who don't experience quite the level of absolute imidiate love for their babies, it has become easy (at least in the online/blogging community) to find an outlet to share those feelings with others who had similar experiences.  But I worry that now that opposite extreme is becoming too emphasized as well.  When I read a birth story on a blog and the birth stories of a hundred women in the comments section, every one is either perfect or traumatic; filled with immediate unconditional love from the moment they knew they were pregnant, or struggling with difficult bonding.  The traumatic ones sometimes have the unconditional love, but my point is that there's never any mention of middle ground for either feeling.

I'm hopeful that it's largely the filter of the internet giving me this impression, because the stories from a few of my friends have been much more middle-of-the-road:  labor was long and tiring, and it was a tough call whether or not to get that epidural; it was surreal to hold that baby for the first time, and breastfeeding wasn't easy at first, but now things are getting better, and I am so happy to have my sweet baby in my arms and so in love.  And in the ensuing months, even while they're still newborns, sometimes you want to scream and sometimes you're as happy as can be.  But online and in some conversations, it makes me sad to realize that parenthood has become another issue where there are two sides to every issue and you have to be firmly on one side or the other; it's another casualty to extremism.

There's one other big area where I get apprehensive, and that's religion.  I've heard this discussed in relation to other topics (major illnesses, natural disasters, etc), but just today in reading one mommy blogger's terrifying birth story with a happy ending, I saw many commenters say, in so many words, that they hoped this experience made the parents realize that God is working in their lives and loves them and has big plans for them.  Here is my problem with that sentiment:  What does it mean for the parents whose stories end tragically?  The baby dies, the mom dies, they're never going to be able to have children, etc?  Obviously those same commentors wouldn't say that God doesn't love those people.  They'd probably say something like God has a different plan for them, but that rings false to me too.  I want people to know that I believe God's plans for us are unknowable, and it mostly doesn't make sense to me to point out God's hand in any one specific event, whether it's joyous or tragic.  I don't know how to reconcile it, but I do know that it's not like that.  Athiests have the same kinds of tragic and joyous stories as Christians or any other religion; God isn't sitting up there deciding how your pregnancy turns out based on how your life is supposed to go; these things happen for the same reason you stepped in a puddle on your way into work this morning, or found a dime in the parking lot at the grocery store.  I don't believe in predetermination or destiny, and statements about God's plan as they relate to specific outcomes of major events imply predetermination.  You can't have free will and God deciding your daily life at the same time.  I'll say it again:  I have no idea how it actually works, I just know it doesn't work like that.

We're all just trying to make the best decisions we can based on what we know and what we're feeling and what our intuition is telling us.  You can give advice until your face is blue, but don't pass judgement on other people.

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