Hope in the face of un­cer­tainty

Maryland Independent - - Classified - Twit­ter: @right­meg

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.

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