Hope in the face of uncertainty
If you’ve gotten a glimpse of me lately, you’ve probably suspected what I’m about to tell you.
It’s totally fine. Between dipping into pickle jars, munching through a series of fast food tacos and helping myself to the last of the ice cream, I’ve noticed some changes, too. I’m pregnant! (Again.) Yes, friends, apparently the soul-crushing exhaustion wasn’t enough to deter my husband and I from expanding our family. I’m about four months along with our second child, due in March, and have fluctuated between excitement and terror since we learned the news.
The excitement was immediate, of course: another baby! A sibling for Oliver! But the terror was right there, too: a low-level fog, a persistent shadow. I figured that would happen. And I’m learning to accept that, too.
If you’re unfamiliar with the birth story of my first child, it’s this: at 30 weeks pregnant, I began showing symptoms worrisome enough for me to be hospitalized — rising blood pressure being the biggest. My doctors feared I was developing preeclampsia, a disorder affecting approximately 5-8 percent of pregnancies. The illness “rapidly progresses,” according to the Preeclampsia Foundation (www.preeclampsia.org). If left untreated (with “treatment” typically being delivery of the baby), it can lead to seizures, stroke and death.
Before we welcomed Oliver, I’d only heard the term “preeclampsia” in passing. Its main symptoms are high blood pressure and protein in the urine, but other important signs are sudden weight gain, swelling, headaches and vision changes. I had rising blood pressure, but few of the others; my swollen feet, hands and face were first written off as typical third-trimester ailments. Until just before my son was born at 32 weeks gestation, I had little reason to believe I’d have anything other than a normal pregnancy.
Ah, “normal.” What an interesting word.
I’m not alone in this. We all have our challenges. For me, it’s dealing with the fear of moving forward in a second pregnancy after a previous preeclampsia diagnosis. The disorder has no known cause (though research is growing), and it’s difficult to predict if a woman who has been previously diagnosed will deal with it again in subsequent pregnancies.
I might get preeclampsia, or I might not. I could have another premature baby, or I could go full-term.
The odds are in my favor, but I’ve never been a gambler. Remaining positive in the face of uncertainty — and traumatic memories — is my struggle, and I’ve tried to accept it with grace. Some days I do . . . and some days I cannot. And that’s OK. Oliver is now almost 18 months old, a healthy and energetic toddler. Folks say you would never know our preemie arrived so early, weighing less than 4 pounds — especially after lifting his rock-solid self today. Ollie was hospitalized for a month to gain weight, learn to drink on his own and hold his body temperature outside his isolette. The days and weeks were long, but we made it.
That’s my mantra, a constant refrain: we made it. I certainly hope we don’t have to go through any of that again — but if we do, Spencer and I will be better informed for having already seen Oliver and me through the experience. We did it once without warning, without preparation — with weak spirits and endless questions. We could again.
Maybe we won’t have to. I try to stay upbeat, thinking about the possibility that everything could be fine: a scenario that usually escapes me, given our track record and all. Before something bad actually did happen to us, it was much easier to believe that nothing would. Any remaining invincibility of youth evaporated when I heard my diagnosis.
But I’m not that woman anymore. I’m not that mother anymore, either. When Oliver first arrived, I didn’t feel like any mother at all. Even after our son came home and grew and grew, I still felt like a puppet at an impromptu performance: tonight, the role of the mother will be performed by Megan Johnson.
And you know what? That’s all right, too. It’s OK to acknowledge the sheer toughness of such tough, tough things. I wasn’t happy, not happy in the way I expected to be, but sometimes happiness takes time. Perhaps we appreciate the sweet for having stomached all the bitter, you know?
Today, I am gutted when I hear Oliver call out “Mama” as he reaches for me in the dark. I happily scoot forward as he drops in my lap, and let him move my fingers over the pages of his favorite books. He’s walking, and those wobbly steps are mesmerizing. I will follow him anywhere.
Do I love him more for having realized I could have lost him — or been lost to him myself? Maybe, but probably not. I’m not sure that sort of feeling can be quantified.
But I do know I’m stronger for having known that fear. Preeclampsia made me the brick tough parent I am now for my child . . . and the braver woman I’ll be for his younger sibling.
And so I’m thankful, too.