I was not a cheerfully glowing pregnant lady.
Don’t get me wrong, by the second trimester I looked fanfuckingtastic, like I was sneaking a well-inflated basketball out of the sporting goods section of Target. I rocked the preg-tini at the pool, my tattoo battling an expanding midsection, as the grandmas gasped, “in my day!” and fell against the fainting couch. Though I was stoked to let my ab muscles have a break and embrace my inner earth mother goddess while my round belly threatened to go hulk smash on my pre pregnancy shirts, I cannot say pregnancy was an enjoyable experience.
The piece that I took for granted was the communal aspect of the ways pregnancy sucks. Get a group of mothers together, show them a positive pregnancy test, and you’ll see what I mean. These shared experiences are sometimes off-the-wall hilarious; Jennifer couldn’t turn over in bed without a crane, Brittney peed every time she laughed, and Kelly had to use her cell phone camera to shave her bikini line.
I – I had a baby.
There was very little third trimester, and what I had was spent staring at hospital walls, wondering how far we could stretch the pregnancy. The rest was daily drives to the NICU to sit beside my tiny son, while I wondered if there would be any lingering effects. My preeclamptic ankles and blood pressure were given no time to recover, and let’s not even speak of my sliced-and-diced midsection.
See? That escalated quickly.
We were joking and having lighthearted conversations about the woes of the third trimester and newborn period, and I jump in with my story to ruin the fun.
There are, of course, serious concerns that come up when you face having a baby weeks or months before you planned. While you’re in the midst of it everyone wants to know the details, to hear how you’re doing, and to help. It was when the dust settled that I began to see the full landscape of what I missed.
I felt cheated out of a mountain of experience, and my ability to connect with other mothers sometimes felt like it fell off a cliff. It can be annoying when women share their pregnancy and childbirth war stories for the shock factor, or to scare new moms – but sometimes I have to share them because it’s all I have to contribute.
If you find yourself in a conversation a NICU mom, know that she wishes it was different as well. It’s isolating to have been part of this universal experience, and yet have so little in common with everyone else in the room.
I am lucky to have a previous full-term pregnancy and normal postpartum under my belt, so I can sometimes chime in with pithy end-of-gestation ditties, but for some women, the traumatic tale is all they have to bring to show and share. She likely feels as awkward about it as you do, and desperately wants to be able to participate, but the voices in her head tell her she’s bringing everyone down.
Try to make sure she knows she’s welcome around the campfire, even if all she ever does is hold a flashlight under her chin and tell horror stories. And if you see the glazed look of a mother who can’t figure out what to say, hand her the flashlight and ask her to tell the story, feeding tubes and all.