I’m sitting at our old wooden table right now. There are wine stains on it, and flour has been permanently scoured into its surface. The cats use its legs as scratching posts. This table had a generic start: in an Ikea store in Minneapolis, but over the years it has collected memories.
I kneaded my first loaves of bread on it, Jordan and I had our first dinners living together on it, and it has hosted Passover feasts and Christmas tree celebrations. In the time we’ve had it, Chara has grown from only being able to reach the bottom quarter of the legs, to being able to place her head on the table itself. It’s lived in six different houses, in three different states.And now it’s about to collect more memories. Some of the most important ones in our early days as a family.
This past month has been full of big changes—both for us and the table. We moved to Georgia, I started a new job, Jordan defended his Master’s thesis, and we bought our first house. (The table now sits pushed up against the dining room wall, where I have a good view out the window of our delightfully shaggy backyard).
But the biggest and most exciting change is one that we’ve known about for a few months now: soon we will have a third person sitting at the table. And I don’t mean another cat or dog (though sometimes they do sit at our table as well).
I mean another human. Yep, that’s right. We’re having a baby. Come November, we’ll likely sit at that table with a baby boy.
So, with that said: some Feathery Thoughts on pregnancy.
Pregnancy is the most miraculous thing that has ever happened to me.
But that wasn’t true the first time around. We’d taken a relaxed approach to having our first child—we wouldn’t really do anything to prevent it, but we wouldn’t try to make it happen, either. If it happened, we’d be excited. If it didn’t, well, that was okay too. I’m not sure what we were expecting. Somehow I think we had the vague idea that babies came at exactly the right time, and that we’d get pregnant after we transitioned to our new life in Georgia.
So when we got a positive test exactly one month after I went off the pill, we were stunned. Jordan and I left the positive test on the bathroom counter so that we could run in and peer at it every five minutes, like maybe the results would change overnight.
We had long conversations about what we’d do, and how we’d handle it. The baby was due in July, the same month Jordan would be starting his PhD. Would I give birth in Mississippi or Georgia? Would I find a new job while very late in my pregnancy? Would I be able to? Or was it better to give myself a break from working for the first few months after birth, and then look for jobs? But we also talked about the fun stuff. We made lists of names, and giggled over ridiculous ways to break the news to our parents.
When morning sickness and fatigue hit at six weeks, I started to wonder whether I could really do it all—whether, if I could barely handle a bad bout of heartburn, I’d be able to handle birth. And then a squalling infant.
We didn’t feel anxious about whether or not the pregnancy would work. Of course it would work! We were young and healthy, and we’d gotten pregnant within two weeks of me going off the pill. How could it not work? Babies were still things that most of my friends were trying to prevent. If you had to prevent them, they must be easy to have, right?
So when we went into that first ultrasound and were told that there was no heartbeat—no baby, even—we were shocked. And crushed. Jordan’s first words when we stepped out of the room were, “I didn’t even know to be nervous.”
I hadn’t known either.
After that, I started to read about the biology of human reproduction, my eyes tracing each tiny step required to create a viable embryo, trying to figure out what had happened with ours.
The more I read, the more I marveled at each intricate process that had to happen just right—or the baby, and pregnancy, would fail. Where had our baby gone wrong? Was it when the cells had first joined? Had it failed to properly develop a spinal cord? I’d grown a full-fledged placenta, and my uterus had expanded accordingly. I’d had sore breasts and nausea and cravings. There was just… no baby.
Suddenly, children began to seem miraculous. I remember standing in the grocery store check out line, smiling at a baby who peered seriously over his dad’s shoulder. He had perfect black curls, perfect chubby cheeks. I thought about how far he had come to get there. How many cells had multiplied in just the right way, the perfect sequence, to put him in his father’s arms.
How freaking miraculous.
The more I learned about it, the less surprised I became that somewhere between 15 and 50% of pregnancies fail (percentages vary from study to study, and depend on lots of different factors. Also, many early miscarriages are never even known about, and go unreported). How did any human being end up on this planet? How was it possible for our species to thrive when everything from conception to birth seemed so perilous? And how the heck did people have babies by accident?
So when I got a second positive pregnancy test, again exactly one month after we’d started trying, this time that double line had a whole different meaning. It no longer meant an automatic baby in our arms.
(Though I’d also like to acknowledge how very, very lucky we were to get pregnant so quickly. That is not the case for everyone, and I can’t imagine the pain of waiting month after month. I could barely handle the intervening months between finding out that our first pregnancy had failed and that second positive test—I laid awake at night, scrolling through page after page of women who had had similar experiences to me, searching for glimpses into my own future in their words. I could barely look at happy families in grocery stores, and cheerful pregnancy announcements on Facebook made me relive my own loss. To be in that limbo land for years would be unimaginably painful).
It meant that from that moment, our future could split into two directions: one where our wildest dreams came true, and we ended up with a child. Or one where we were dealt another crushing blow. Where we had to go through another period of loss, and more mourning and fear and anxiety about ever becoming parents. One that could mean years of infertility, of drugs and needles and cold doctor’s offices.
We celebrated quietly, by going out to eat tacos at the local Mexican shop. Each day that slipped by uneventfully felt like another victory, and a hard won one. I couldn’t keep myself from running daily statistics about our chances through my mind. Unlike last time, Jordan and I didn’t talk about names, or how we’d tell our parents. Instead, we spoke in “ifs”—“if there’s a heartbeat,” and “if we have a baby in November.”
I couldn’t stop myself from analyzing every twinge and dizzy spell and craving. My morning sickness was barely existent this time, and on the days when I felt nothing at all, I stressed about whether or not my hormone levels were dropping. I felt jealous of pregnant friends who couldn’t stop throwing up, because studies have shown that high levels of morning sickness usually signal a reduced chance of miscarriage.
And then two days before my first doctor’s appointment, on a miserably stormy day, I started to bleed.
I called Jordan, wrenched the words out in a tangle of tears. “It’s happening again. I’m miscarrying.”
“I’m coming home,” he said without hesitation. On his way, he called the doctor’s office.
I remember limping gingerly out to the car in the pouring rain, the warmth of his hand on my arm, the leather car seat sticking to my damp legs as I curled up. Rain thundered on the windows as Jordan peeled out of the driveway.
We were halfway there when the storm broke. I looked out of the window with blurry eyes to see a rainbow stretched above the trees, against a slate blue sky. For a brief second I felt calm, lost in appreciation for something beautiful. A small moment of light on a dark day.
And then the waves of terror flooded in again.
In the doctor’s office, they took one look at me and got me right into an ultrasound room. “I’m bleeding,” I told the technician apologetically–ashamedly even–as I placed myself on the white-papered chair.
“That’s okay, hon,” she said, but her face was grave.
She prepped the wand. For a moment all we saw was a black screen. And then, in the middle, a tiny white bean materialized.
“You’ve got a peanut in there!” She was triumphant on our behalf, but I still wasn’t hopeful.
“Is there a heartbeat?”
She pressed a button, and a strong, fast thrum filled the room. “138 beats per minute. That’s perfect.”
An animal gasp left my mouth, and Jordan’s hand tightened around mine.
That heartbeat had seemed so unlikely. So impossible. It felt improbable that something so wonderful could have happened to us, that the good news could be true.
“I’m still scared,” Jordan whispered as we waited for the doctor to come in. We clutched each other’s hands. A roll of freshly printed ultrasound photos trailed from my lap.
“You have a healthy little baby growing in there,” Dr. Lott said as he bustled in with our chart. He looked at our white faces. “Listen, you’ve got to relax. Now that we’ve heard a heartbeat, there’s a 98% chance you’re going to be parents.”
“What about the bleeding?”
He shrugged. “Probably the placenta was just settling in deeper and hit a vein. Don’t worry too much about it.”
Not worrying is impossible, but 19 weeks into my pregnancy, we’re finally beginning to believe him. We still aren’t taking one second of this for granted—there is still the second half of my pregnancy to get through, and birth itself is dangerous for both mother and baby. But hope has slunk slowly back into our lives.
It’s been miracle after miracle. Going back for our second visit to find a still-healthy baby who had tripled in size. Having a gender scan, and watching our newly dubbed boy kick and squirm and grab his toes in real time. Being able to count each one of his five perfect fingers in a grainy photo later that night.
We even picked out a name (though we aren’t telling until he’s born–and his middle and last name are still up in the air).
Perhaps the best part was feeling the first flutters of movement in my abdomen, knowing that he was alive and well and active.
Now Baby L is kicking regularly, and it never ceases to be a minor miracle to me. He seems to comment on the foods that I eat with jabs and squirms. And on Saturday when Jordan got home after two weeks in Mississippi, he was able to feel his son’s kicks and rolls and flutters for the first time.
Each movement is a gift. A sign that he’s still in there, growing and developing and doing all the things that he needs to do in order to come out strong and healthy.
And my sense of wonder has made my pregnancy easy. I feel so incredibly lucky to have a live baby growing inside of me. It feels miraculous to watch my belly swell and my veins twist into super highways under my skin. When I finally puked for the first time, I did a little dance, and texted my friends.
Each week I read my pregnancy book, and it lays out the symptoms that I should expect as my baby continues to develop: heartburn, dizziness, a growing bump. My body seems to be following it like a manual, and each matching symptom with the book is another small miracle to me.
I know this might be an unpopular opinion. There’s a whole movement of moms embracing the fact that a lot of pregnancy sucks. Who are stepping away from the mom guilt that plagues our society by freely admitting they don’t enjoy every minute of it. I don’t mean to feed into the insane pressure that society puts on moms to be perfect, or to enjoy pregnancy or motherhood.
But I love being pregnant. I love feeling exhausted because I’m growing a human. I love that the hormone relaxin is actually working—and that my joints hurt because of it. I don’t love the mood swings (sorry Jordan, pets and Jenna), but I love that they mean my hormones are going haywire. I’m even down with the acne that has sprouted on my cheeks for the first time since I was sixteen.
And I’m not saying that anyone else should feel this way, or that if they don’t there’s something wrong. I’m not even saying that I never complain about my various ailments—because believe me, I love to complain about them. It’s one of the privileges that comes with pregnancy.
But I am saying that we should all remember to take the good moments—maybe when the nausea has receded, or you feel less fatigued than usual—to step back and revel in the miraculousness of it. And if you’re not pregnant, or never want to be, or can’t be, take a moment to look at another human being—or heck, look at yourself. Count your fingers and toes. Take a minute to realize how freaking incredible it is that you exist.
To make you happen, one million tiny things had to go right. And by some miracle, they did.