First Trimester Blues

small white flowersvines on treetwo white flowerstrees on road

budding leavestulipsultrasound

Before I was a mother, life changed relatively slowly. There were long periods of static, countless days of routine, the kind of consistency that comes in a life without kids. Change present, yet so subtle often unnoticed. I viewed the seasons of life in large chunks: my junior year of college, engagement and wedding planning, my job here or there, when I lived in that one apartment.

When my sweet little girl was born, and my life changed instantly for better or worse, my perception of time and seasons was still that of a kidless adult. When I couldn’t get her to stop crying, I thought she would forever cry. When she finally started sleeping through the night, I thought we were set. When she ate all kinds of pureed foods, I thought I had an adventurous eater. But eventually she stopped crying; she stopped sleeping through the night, then started again, then stopped, and so on; sometimes she wants nothing but yogurt and frozen blueberries, and sometimes she takes a big bite of adult food right off my plate. The point is, the seasons of life with a baby/toddler/young child are constantly changing because they are constantly changing. And once something feels normal and comfortable, watch out.

My advice to any new mom would be this: it’s just a season. You will sleep again. You will read a book again. You will be up all night with them again. I know it seems permanent, maybe even unbearable, but it’s just a season, and this too shall pass.

*****

I sense the changes in my body. I know I’m pregnant. But I don’t want to acknowledge it quite yet. I want to hold off the excitement, pretend that everything is normal.

At six weeks I finally tell my husband, “I think I’m pregnant.” I’m craving sausage balls, pepperoni pizza, and biscuits and gravy. I can no longer drink hot-anything in the morning. I’m thirsty for something cold and fizzy.

At seven weeks I finally take a pregnancy test. I need the plastic stick to confirm my instincts, validate my symptoms. Sure enough, pregnant.

I’m not ready to talk about it, though. When we visit my dad for the weekend at eight weeks, I know we should tell them, explain my unusual eating and drinking, but I can’t bring myself to say it. The last day we’re there my husband finally breaks the news for us. They are thrilled. I’m uncertain. Because what if it happens again? I try to convince myself that if I don’t think or talk about this pregnancy, if I lose it then it will just feel like a late period. I cannot pull the wool over my own eyes.

First-trimester tiredness is unlike anything else. The sesame seed sized baby somehow sucks the very lifeforce right out of you. Every afternoon I slink to the couch after my toddler goes down for a nap. I should be completing the lesson for my community bible study. I should be practicing holy yoga and meditating on God’s Word. There is a dissertation that’s been sitting in my inbox for the past five days waiting to be edited. My favorite tahini dressing that I made last month and can no longer stomach has been shoved to the back of the fridge. A ring is forming around the toilet. I haven’t written in weeks. All of the things that make me thrive—spending time with the Lord, writing/creating, yoga, cooking healthy food, being productive—have fallen to the wayside. I feel so far from myself. Far from God.

At nine weeks I get the flu from my daughter who’s already had it for a week. The drainage induces gagging induces puking (due to pregnancy nausea). I am miserable for days, nearly two weeks before I feel normal again, though I’m not sure what normal feels like at this point.

At ten weeks I go for my first prenatal appointment. I’ve decided to use the midwife at a birthing center. As she lifts my shirt and smears the cold gel on my belly, I begin to feel a little nervous. Will there be a heartbeat?

There’s something about hearing your baby’s heartbeat in those early weeks of pregnancy. It’s the beat to the drum that tells you to keep marching on, keep puking and napping and crying and eating weird food because I’m here. You can’t see me or feel me, but I’m here, my heart pounding twice as fast as yours, saying keep going, momma.

But I don’t hear this drum. Instead there is warbled static with the rhythm of my own heart slowly, steadily fading in and out of the doppler machine. Why are you hiding, making me wait? More than ever, I need you to say, “I’m here, keep going, momma.” To wave your tiny hands and give me some reassurance that we are going to make it this time, that you’re going to be okay.

The midwife tells me not to worry, to come back next week and we’ll try again.

*****

It’s early Sunday morning and I’m getting ready for church. I’m playing the keyboard for worship today. My daughter slept poorly last night, hacking off and on, fighting a head cold after just recovering from the flu. She woke up at 5am, an unfortunate trend these days. I’m rattled by her being sick again, frustrated that we’ve been at it for nearly a month.

I make myself a substantial breakfast: toasted seed bread, avocado, and scrambled egg. I only have unsweetened vanilla almondmilk in the fridge and I add a dash to my beaten egg thinking I won’t notice. Wrong. I smell the vanilla as it cooks and taste it too.

I scurry to bathroom after eating to brush my teeth, careful not to induce any gagging. I’m unsuccessful: between the teeth brushing and leftover flu drainage, I gag. I feel the churning of my stomach. There’s no stopping it. My breakfast of healthy protein and fats is now flushed down the toilet. “Would you like a pop tart,” my husband asks? I cringe, knowing I will instead fuel my body with sugar. “Yes, please.” I stash a few clementines and granola bar in my purse as well.

I get on the highway and it’s now 7:35am. I wanted to be there by now so I could practice before rehearsal. I’ve reviewed the music and listened to the songs, but I haven’t actually played them yet.

And then my eyes well with tears. The tipping point. The weeks of tiredness, nausea, and sickness have done me in; the dreams of miscarriage and not knowing if this baby is alive and well. The disconnection from myself, and moreso from God, leaves me completely undone. My heart breaks as I realize the time I do spend reading His Word these days is simply to complete the lesson for my community bible study. I am merely filling in the blanks, going through the motions, when really, what I need more than ever—even more than hearing this baby’s heartbeat—is to sit at His feet and soak in His presence. In Him is life, even when my own life has been sucked dry.

You say your strength is made perfect in my weakness, Lord. I have never been more weak than I am now—physically, emotionally, spiritually even. I am completely empty, in no place to be serving—on the worship team or in leading Holy Yoga. God, may you be glorified in spite of me. Help me please.

*****

I go back to the midwife a week later to hear the baby’s heartbeat again. I lie on the table and brace myself. Despite her efforts she doesn’t hear anything. She wheels over the ultrasound machine. As she moves the wand around on my belly I cannot bring myself to look at the screen, to see an empty womb. There is silence for what feels like an eternity. “Oh look!” she exclaims, “there it is!” By the time I glance over I can only see the top of baby’s head, but while I wasn’t watching, baby popped up from behind my placenta and said “here I am!” before nestling back down. Turns out the placement of my placenta is blocking us from both hearing and seeing baby very well at this point.

At twelve weeks I end up visiting an OB office to have an internal ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy. I need a visual, a heartbeat, some resassurance. I do not get to hear baby’s heartbeat, but I see it fluttering on the ultrasound screen, 169 glorious beats per minute. I see baby’s arms and legs squirming, trying to escape the device. I see life inside me. Life.

*****

I would like to say everything changed at that point, that the uncertainty dissipated, but it didn’t. I’m still working through the hesitance, slow to form audible words, to tell others we’re having a baby! This is supposed to be a joyous time in life, and though I do feel more with each passing day, it’s been very muddled with what-if; not anxiety, but a hyper awareness of how fragile it all is. I suppose baby feels the same way too, not quite ready to be seen and heard. But in time that will change. Baby will grow and I will show, and we’ll say “here we are!”

This has been a darker season in my life, one that I didn’t anticipate, nor can I fully articulate. I suppose pregnancy hormones can take a lot of the blame. But with each day there has been hope—that tomorrow I will feel better, that baby will still be there, that the sun will shine again and the leaves will bud and the flowers blossom. I have been conditioned to these new seasons of life, of motherhood, and this too shall pass.

*****

To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:

 A time to be born,
    And a time to die;
A time to plant,
    And a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill,
    And a time to heal;
A time to break down,
    And a time to build up;
A time to weep,
    And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn,
    And a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones,
    And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace,
    And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain,
    And a time to lose;
A time to keep,
    And a time to throw away;
A time to tear,
    And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence,
    And a time to speak;
A time to love,
    And a time to hate;
A time of war,
    And a time of peace.

 

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

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