I did not do pregnancy well. The whole happy-glowing-pregnant-goddess thing? That wasn’t me. I think I missed some sort of pregnant-millennial training session where you learn how to pose flawlessly for maternity photos with lace over your belly. Then there was probably a follow-up session on Instagram filters so you can make that photo of your husband kissing your belly the pièce de résistance. The only maternity photos I have were taken in my backyard while I was on bedrest, and I’m pretty certain they made it to the front page of r/awkward on Reddit. Oh, and when it comes to adorable maternity wear…I lived in my husband’s sweat pants and rocked a little something I like to call “boob sweat.”
Pregnancy was not my thing, folks. It was rough. With baby number one, I gained 65 — pounds with most of it on my ass. Ice cream was not my friend. Neither was stress. And then there was my irritable uterus, which paired nicely with my irritable bowel and irritable personality. All and all, it was an irritably good time.
In summary: Pregnancy isn’t all sunshine and rainbows for a lot of people. There are some seriously weird and seriously conflicting emotions to follow that positive pregnancy test. But for me, by far the worst of it was birth, which went from irritating to full-on traumatic — to totally isolating. At least, I feel isolated whenever I compare myself and my pregnancy/birth experiences to other moms’ — and realize that my experiences were far from normal.
Of course, when I got pregnant I was already fully aware that growing and birthing a human would likely be much more complicated than it seems on Instagram. And motherhood? I knew it would be chaos. I knew being a mom wouldn’t be glamorous. Of course, it’s hard to realize this when you’re looking at social media: all those adorable pregnancy announcements, gorgeous maternity photos, and staged family photo shoots that are nothing short of #squadgoals. Yet, behind the unicorn-emblazoned onesies and the lace-covered bellies, there’s a mom (or 1,200 moms) hiding their feelings — or maybe even dreaming of running away to Mexico.
I’ll be honest: My own social media page gave no indication that my pregnancy was a living hell…at least for the first bit. There were adorable weekly “bump shots” and cute pictures of our nursery — and don’t even get me started on the teeny-tiny pants hanging in the closet. But the truth behind the photos? Our world was falling apart.
I was 12 weeks into my first pregnancy when a routine ultrasound completely changed the tone of my experience. It wasn’t my first ultrasound, but this time around, my husband and I were especially excited: our little sea-monkey would finally resemble an actual baby. I watched my husband’s face light up as he looked at the little life on the black-and-white screen. I clenched his hand with excitement.
But little did we know that only days later, I’d be clenching his hand with tears running down my face. In the days following this ultrasound we found ourselves anxiously seated in our doctor’s office awaiting results we never anticipated to hear — that our baby had an abnormality.
In medical terms, our baby had something referred to as a thickened nuchal translucency. In English, our baby had a soft marker for Downs Syndrome.
As quickly as the words left the tip of my doctor’s tongue, the tears began to stream down my face. Hardly able to catch my breath, I locked eyes with my husband as our doctor began to recite the risks of our pregnancy.
This was just the beginning of the trauma that would come. From there, another marker was found – fluid between the third and fourth ventricle of my son’s brain, raising concern that he may have a chromosomal micro-deletion.
During this time, to the world, I was pregnant and expecting my first baby. I was a first-time mom with a belly just itching to be rubbed. I should have been on cloud nine. Yet, every time someone asked me if I was excited to be a mom – or even worse, when someone asked me how the pregnancy was going and if the baby was healthy – I died inside.
The truth is, this was a time in my life when I couldn’t muster up the courage to celebrate other’s healthy and happy experiences. I wouldn’t say our experience caused jealousy – because truly, I was so happy other people had healthy babies and beautiful pregnancies and safe births – but for me, it was only a reminder of what was at stake.
After my son was born (healthy, thankfully), the trend seemed to continue. I could not connect with moms at mom and baby drop-ins who had baby’s who slept or pregnancies without complications, or even baby’s who latched. My intro to motherhood was hard and messy. I had post-traumatic stress disorder and postpartum depression. Happy go-lucky mamas were a hard pill for me to swallow. I couldn’t relate to their positive experience. They didn’t hold resentment. They weren’t afraid. They would nurse their babies with ease, as I sweat bullets trying to get mind to latch between pumping. They got it – but they didn’t, and I felt incredibly alone.
Like anything in life, it’s easy to build friendships with people you have something in common with. For me, in this period of my life, it was moms who could understand my hurt and broken heart. It was moms who went through similar genetic testing and scares. It was the moms who could understand the fear still embedded in my soul. They got it on the same level I did. That sometimes, pregnancy and motherhood isn’t perfect – and sometimes that causes trauma that is hard to understand.
My closest friends today – the ones I can call in the middle of the night, no questions asked – are the mamas who have walked in those hard-pill-to-swallow shoes. The ones who have cried right along side me as I’ve navigated some of the scariest experiences of my life.
It doesn’t mean I can’t have friendships with those who have had it easier. I have those friends, too — but there’s an unbreakable bond that comes with other moms who just understand.
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