Expectations rarely line up with reality. I know that. I vividly remember being in my early 20’s watching Rachael Ray whip up a 30-minute meal on TV and naively heading to the bookstore to get her cookbook so I too could eat a healthy dinner in half an hour’s time. I had visions of myself looking regal as I stirred my pot of delicious healthy food and sipped wine in a pristine white apron while I fielded compliments from my eager dinner guests.
Reality looked more like me in grease splattered pajamas sweating and frustrated as my 30 minute meal entered its second hour of cooking and prep time before you even added in the sink full of dirty dishes I had frantically produced trying to correct mistake after mistake. The only “guests” were the people from the apartment next door that came to check on me when they heard the smoke detector wail after I forgot about the stuff in the oven as I ruined the stuff on top of the stove as fast as I could. I felt like I was trying to steer a drowning ship and I looked like I was deranged and possibly in need of medical attention.
I just didn’t have the requisite skills to pull together a dinner in 30 minutes. But I kept at it because I knew I COULD do better. I just needed some patience with myself, some knife skills, and a lot of practice and now I can get a dinner on the table in 30 minutes (or I could before I got pregnant).
And this kind of expectation/reality disconnect isn’t limited to just forays in the kitchen. No, I can fail to meet my own expectations in any room of the house, even in the great outdoors. Let’s just say that the out of breath, sweat soaked, wheezing, limping woman with dirt on her face was not the vision I expected to encounter in the reflection of my car window after my first mountain hike.
And when I first suspected that I might be pregnant, I told myself that I wasn’t going to be one of those crazy people that spends a fortune peeing on sticks 3 times a day waiting for that second pink line to show up. But sure enough, I took over 20 pregnancy tests in a single month and found myself sympathizing with neighborhood dogs that have to stop on their walks to pee on every single mailbox post. I couldn’t even finish waiting for the tests to show a positive or negative before I was already chugging down water in preparation for my next opportunity to pee on a stick. And when the second pink line showed up, I was elated but I still tested over and over again for the next few days just to watch it get darker. I totally turned into a pee-on-a-stick addict despite my expectations and desires NOT to do that.
I went into this expecting it to be hard. I expected it to be uncomfortable and painful and include unpleasant side effects. I expected back pain, hip pain, nausea, vomiting. I expected to be exhausted and moody. But once again, reality has reared up and shown me that I’m just not as creative as I thought I was. For things that had NEVER occurred to me as possibilities have reared their heads in this pregnancy. And I KNOW that pregnancy is hard on every woman that goes through it. The hormones alone are brutal but the discomfort, pain, swelling, hunger, nausea…well, it just isn’t easy on anyone 100% of the time. There are fairy tales about women that do crazy stuff while they’re pregnant like clean and do laundry or go to work and act like it isn’t a HUGE feat just to put on pants, but I’m not sure these women are real. I think they may be urban legends. However, surely pregnancy isn’t as hard as mine is on everyone or the human race would have died a long time ago. Because this pregnancy has been miserable. I want this baby so badly but I have to say that it’s a good thing I am terrible at predicting the future because had I KNOWN….had I realized that my body was this ill-equipped to gestate, I don’t know if I could have knowingly put myself (or my husband) through this.
I am not just dealing with your normal pregnancy issues of hip and back pain, heartburn, and irritability. I have an autoimmune disease. For those of you not familiar with the workings of an autoimmune disease, they go through periods called “flares”. These flares are where your disease basically turns into the biological version of a paranoid schizophrenic. It suddenly views something in your body (usually a piece you are using and need like say a liver or a kidney) and it becomes CONVINCED that this vital organ is a horrific deadly pathogen that will kill you immediately if the immune system does not murder it. No amount of negotiation will turn off the disease’s paranoia, there’s no hostage negotiation or reasoning with the autoimmune disease. And as long as it has it in it’s little autoimmune consciousness that the offending organ must die, it will continue an outright assault on this piece of your body that you would like to continue to utilize and if other organs or bones or whatever get in its way, they have to be murdered too. Eventually, one of two things happens. Either the autoimmune assassin realizes it’s mistake and calls off the attack or it continues until it kills the offending organ. The treatment for such a “flare” is to suppress the immune system with drugs until it’s too weak to continue to do damage until it snaps out of assassin mode. And it can attack things other than organs. For example, it can attack bones and joints and cause arthritis and inflammation. It can attack bodily systems like the endochrine system and cause your metabolism to go haywire. But whatever it chooses to attack, it’s usually highly unpleasant, often painful, and really inconvenient.
Pregnancy automatically causes a woman’s immune system to sort of back off to protect the baby. Well, my autoimmune system viewed this reduction in defenses as an act of war and instead of attacking the baby, it’s decided the only solution is to kill the host (me) apparently. At least that’s how it feels. I’m in agony. Between joint inflammation, IBS, and too many other symptoms to list here, I feel like I am being murdered by my own body. And I don’t want to make this blog all about how hard my pregnancy is but I felt the need to explain it in writing to some extent even though I’m not going into colorful details about every symptom so that if ANY of you hear me ever utter the words “I’d like to have another baby,” you can all remind me how my body tried to kill me while I was gestating the first one.
Pregnancy is hard. Pregnancy with an autoimmune disease that wants to kill you is harder. My expectation was that pregnancy would be tough. My reality is that pregnancy is horrifically brutal and painful. Don’t get me wrong, I desperately did and still do want this baby. We’ve named her and bonded with her and are so excited to get to meet her in just 9 more weeks but getting her here has been an uphill battle every single step of the way.
So, as I read expectant mother message boards and articles on parenting and nursing, I’m trying REALLY hard to temper my expectations. I’ve already decided that since I’m having a C-section, the only parental goal I’m going to have for maternity leave is to keep the baby alive…by whatever means necessary. I’m not going to be that mom that has a clean house and wears clean clothes every single day of the week. I’m not going to be the new mother whipping up a batch of homemade soup while wearing my infant in a sling humming lullabies and savoring my mastery of 1950’s housewifery while the washer and dryer plow through another load of laundry. My goals are as follows:
- Hygiene: Try not to stink
- Housekeeping: Keep a clear path from the bathroom to the bed
- Parenting: Keep the baby fed and diapered.
That’s it. That’s what I’m going to count as a win. And if I do a load of laundry or clean up the kitchen or make a hot meal in the 12 weeks between delivery and returning to work, I’m going to give myself permission to celebrate it like I finished an Ironman. If I manage to leave the house to grocery shop or anything like that, I will expect a ticker tape parade upon my return to the house.
In other words, for the first time in my life, I’m going to give myself permission to suck at everything. I’m going to give myself permission to let my husband take care of me (which he’s already doing since it’s really hard for me to get around). It’s going to be that first 30 minute meals recipe all over again. I wasn’t automatically good at cooking just because my apartment had a kitchen and I’m not going to expect myself to be good at mothering just because I came equipped with a uterus and breasts. I’m not going to care about how awkward I am trying to figure it out. I’m going to laugh at my mistakes and maybe (probably) cry too and not apologize for that. If you come to visit my messy house and meet the baby, I’m going to have to insist that you just be amazed we’re alive and accept that everyone else probably had to move a load of laundry to sit down also.
I have complete faith that hubby and I will figure it all out and find a groove but I’m not giving us a deadline or expecting it to be easy. We’re just going to do the best we can and give ourselves permission to learn. We aren’t going to aim for perfection, we’re just going to aim for progress.
Before I sign off, I have an awesome story for you. Since I’m having a C-section, I wanted to get my mind around what I should expect birth to be like. So, one evening after work, I went online and began hunting for videos of C-sections. As I expected, most of them were videos taken by excited dads sitting next behind the curtain next to their wife’s head as the doctor performs the magic trick behind the curtain to free the child from mom’s abdominal cavity while she anxiously looks at her husband waiting for the announcement that her child is born. Being that I’m pregnant, these videos made me cry…watching those mothers anxiety and fear and relief and joy all in such a short time frame had my hormone saturated brain swimming in the same emotions.
And as YouTube does, after each video was a “related videos” list encouraging me to continue to watch these moments that birthed babies and new parents. Eventually, I came to one that had a close up view of an iodine-covered belly entitled something along the lines of “<feminine sounding name I can’t remember> C Section” displayed. I nervously clicked on it thinking that THIS video would be showing the actual surgery. And having worked in EMS, I’m not really squeamish watching medical procedures happening to other people. I don’t get squeamish until my own blood is flowing or my own nerves are sending pain signals. Then it’s all over.
The video started and the doctor quickly begins. I am watching with rapt fascination at what I’m seeing which I will refrain from describing for those of you that are squeamish. And as the doctor goes to reach in for the baby and pull it out, I feel myself holding my breath. This is it, this is the moment a child is born. This is the most amazing moment. Tears gather in my eyes for what I’m going to witness and the doctor pulls the baby free and my brain cannot process the discrepancy between the expectation of the perfect little human form I was anticipating and the sight in front of my eyes. I actually screamed a little, yelled “What the hell is wrong with that baby?!?!” I dropped the ipad on the bed but continued to watch in horror as my brain slowly caught up to my eyes. You see, the “baby” was not a human baby at all, but one of the canine persuasion. Because the video had been so zoomed in on the shaved belly of a dog, I hadn’t realized that this was a veterinary surgery and not a human surgery. About the time the doctor went in to get puppy number two, my brain caught up and my horror subsided into hysterical laughter. The kind of choking, can’t stop, hysterical laughter that might make some pregnant women pee themselves. Not that I’m admitting to peeing myself, I’m just letting you know that I was laughing THAT HARD.
But, this video is just one more example of how reality and expectations often don’t line up, and sometimes the best thing you can do is laugh until you need clean panties. I hope I can find reasons to laugh at myself as a fumble through parenting a newborn for the first time. If I can do that while keeping baby alive, I’m going to consider it a successful job and pat myself on the back. Bonus points if I don’t stink too bad and can find clean clothes.