I somehow did it. My very first and very rough draft is complete. When I think about loss, losing my mom ranks high. Becoming a mom triggered a whole slew of loss, lessons and love for the woman who made me. I’ve spent years writing about it. This Mother’s Day is no exception. For those who have been kind enough to send me feedback, please keep sending it my way. In the meantime, an Ode to Motherhood.
Chapter 13: WTF? I’m pregnant.
About 4-months after the adoption failed, I started training for a half-marathon. It was just after the holidays in which in typical fashion I had overindulged in food and put exercise aside.
By this point in life, I had been running for a few years. A funny thing happened this time, though. My boobs hurt. As in, really hurt. At first, I thought that I’d jumped into training too hard. But, as the days progressed and the spasms in my boobs grew more frequent, I knew something was up. I was broken.
It wasn’t just my boobs. I was exhausted. I was exhausted when I ran and when I didn’t run. I was tired all day long and had no desire to get up in the morning. Granted, it was January in northern Wisconsin. It’s hard to be motivated about anything during this dark, sub-zero stretch of hell we call winter. But this was different.
After several weeks of enduring this excruciating pain, I decided to take a break from running for a few days. I thought maybe if I reset myself and started over it’d get better. Only it didn’t. It kept getting worse. I didn’t know what to do anymore. I shared my discomfort with my husband. He looked at me perplexed and then asked a very simple but loaded question, “You aren’t pregnant, are you?”
Time stopped. He knew I was not pregnant. I would know if I was pregnant. After all, I’d gone through years of trying to get pregnant. I’d undergone countless fertility tests, prayed to higher powers and visited multiple doctors. While my diagnosis wasn’t dire, I clearly didn’t get pregnant. We had just gone through a year of paperwork and tests to get approved to adopt in the state of Wisconsin, only to have it fail. This was in fact an extremely loaded question. Of course I wasn’t pregnant. Or… was I?
My mind began racing. I had a stash of pregnancy test strips under the sink. It’d be quite simple to do a quick test and put this rumor to rest. But a big part of me didn’t want to get my hopes up. I started to do the math in my head. Yes, my period was late. If I were a gambler, I’d be broke if I bet on the dates my period would hit. Sometimes it’d be weeks, other times months. Plus, with the stress of the holidays, it’d make sense I was late, right?
After several rounds of inner conversation that was slowly making me crazy, I decide to take a test. I’ve got nothing to lose. At least then I can rule out this particular crazy notion. I take the test. After a few minutes I glance at the test strip. I see a couple of lines and dismiss the notion. I knew I wasn’t pregnant.
Later that night, while nursing my sore boobs, I suddenly found my heart racing. I return to the bathroom and dig the test strip out of the garbage. Two lines. Is it possible that meant I was pregnant? I dig under the sink for the directions. They’re missing. I start to panic. How can I not remember if two or three lines mean I’m pregnant?!?!?!
Before you consider me a very dumb blond, remember the circumstances. Factor in that I had purchased these test strips three years ago in bulk on Amazon. They didn’t come in a pretty box. These strips didn’t have smiley faces or pink lines. They were test strips with multiple faint lines.
I immediately turn to Google looking for answers. After finding the directions online, my life changes in an instant.
“I think I might be pregnant.”
Silence. I can hear my husband carefully formulating a sentence in his brain before speaking, knowing the next words he speaks count.
“What do you mean you think you might be pregnant?”
“Well, this test says I’m pregnant, I think.”
“You think? Isn’t it a yes or a no?”
“Well sort of. But I’m guessing this test is expired.”
Chaos ensues. My husband runs to our local grocery store, the only spot in town with tests, and asks the clerk for a pregnancy test. Meantime, I Google what can cause a false positive. It’d appear that a rare form of cancer and a lot of urban myths are the only options. The sparkling optimist in me becomes convinced that I have cancer.
My husband returns home. “Well, either everyone in town tomorrow will know you’re pregnant, or a rumor will be floating around that I’m having an affair.” The joys of small-town living.
I begin guzzling water. Lots and lots of water. Three tests later, I’m starting to come to terms with the idea that I may, in fact, be pregnant. My husband is beaming and totally convinced this is the only possibility. I’d like to believe this miracle is real, but the pessimist in me refuses. I need scientific proof. Luckily, I have an awesome doctor and work at a rural hospital that can do same-day appointments.
Less than 24 hours later, I find myself lying on an ultrasound table at work, hearing a rapid pitter-patter, for the first time. It turns out that there actually was a logical explanation besides cancer for the nagging pain in my chest. His name is Jacob William Probst. At the time, I was six weeks pregnant.
In an instant, life changes but everything stays the same. I look down at my paunch and realize there’s an alien-looking create growing inside of me. That every decision I make in the coming months impacts the creation of another human being.
I’m humbled and overwhelmed and scared. Let’s face it. This didn’t happen overnight. I had come to terms with the idea of never having a baby. I’m old… in childbearing age. Did you know that if you are 35 and pregnant, that’s considered a geriatric pregnancy?
I’ve never quite understood why the marketing of that. Adult pregnancy, mature pregnancy, but geriatric? It is very similar to wedding dresses being about 2-sizes SMALLER than your normal size. Because seriously, what girl doesn’t want to feel old when she’s pregnant (as if you don’t feel old already) or fat on her wedding day.
I face the facts. I’m a plus-size, geriatric pregnant gal who was not planning to get pregnant this year. I had abandoned the prenatal vitamins and hadn’t exactly been alcohol free over the holidays. Plus, the sugar cookies. So many sugar cookies. I had just booked a trip to Washington D.C. for March and now this?
I confide with a few co-workers. Those closest know what a toll the adoption took on me. They get it. As I’m telling them the news, it finally hits me. I am actually pregnant. This is exactly what I wanted.
Or, was it? My pregnancy would be plagued with complications. An achy back and an uncontrollable bladder eventually led to a more serious diagnosis of pre-eclampsia. In rural Wisconsin, this diagnosis played out in a 75-minute ambulance ride with three strange men, no shoes, and a heightened hormonal state. Our destination – the nearest trauma center equipped with a NICU.
It resulted in one of the most undramatic, dramatic results in my life. I never went into labor. I stabilized. After two nights of monitoring and Steve eating delicious looking take-out in front of me I was allowed to return home with strict orders of bedrest. I’d spend the next two weeks anxiously awaiting Jake’s arrival while also questioning if I was capable of becoming a mother.
Motherhood is a pivotal moment that plays out over the course of years. I’ll be frank, when Jake made his overly dramatic entrance into the world during an emergency c-section that involved him not only wrapping his umbilical cord around his neck but also somehow knotting it, I didn’t feel an immediate sense of joy. I was in utter shock.
Moments later he was placed on me to nurse. Splayed out on the table, I felt like a unique combo of a milking cow and Humpty Dumpty being stitched back together. I just wanted a full fat vanilla latte with extra whip cream.
Staring down at the little alien creature, I knew I was witness to a miracle. I was torn between sheer excitement of this incredible creature I just brought into the world and scared shitless of everything I could do wrong. In that moment, I needed my mom. Not my best friend or my sister or even the man who helped make Jake.
I knew giving birth would trigger the loss of my mother. I just didn’t know how lost I’d feel those first few weeks. Hormones and sleepless nights didn’t help. Unlike some incredible women I know, motherhood did not come natural to me. It was awkward and uncomfortable and extremely complicated. I quickly learn, motherhood is messy.
Messy and memorable. Somewhere in those sleepless nights, something clicked. I suddenly understood what it meant to love someone so selflessly that you’d sacrifice everything for them.
There’s something to be said about a love that fierce. I grew up in a house full of grace. I now understand why. My mother’s love was built around the notion that I was exactly who I needed to be – not perfect – but enough. My mother never tried to change me and constantly gave me freedom to make mistakes. To learn and grow and evolve into a young woman.
When Jake was born, I felt an unbelievable pressure to not mess it up. To make sure I raise him to be an incredible man. I now understand that I am not raising a child, but rather guiding a human being through life. Jake is his own person and to think I can change that is hilarious. I can guide and steer and pray and love, but at the end of the day Jake will become who he is destined to be. That’s humbling and scary and awesome all wrapped into one. To love someone enough to let them become who they are meant to be – that’s the greatest gift I can give as a mother. One I learned from the best.
If I could tell myself just one thing, it’d be motherhood is the ultimate test in vulnerability. Lots of it. The thing with motherhood is loving someone unconditionally comes at a cost. It is an emotional rollercoaster of highs and lows. The more vulnerable and deep your love, the larger the tidal waves. I never understood mamas who cried on the first day of school or became insomniacs in a quest to make sure their child was safe until I became one.
I went into parenthood believing I’d be the best mother ever. As a perfectionist, I wanted to be a perfect mom, because I wanted Jake to have the best. What mother doesn’t? Here’s the thing, by day 1 I had failed on many fronts.
This seems obvious now but I didn’t know it then. I am raising a human. Humans are messy and complicated and contradictory. They make mistakes. They are frustrating and difficult and stubborn and that’s what makes them beautiful. Now, I just do my best every day to lead by example, love him, and set him free to be his own person. It is the single hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Is it perfect? Absolutely not. His teacher recently told us, Jake’s an incredible leader. He just sometimes leads in the wrong direction. I’ll admit, I was a bit embarrassed but bursting with pride and love.
Raising Jake has taught me, I’ll never be ready to parent a person but I was born to be a mom.