When I was four years old, I announced to my parents that my dream was to have five kids and live in Hawaii. They were taken aback with surprise because they were trying to raise career-ambitious daughters, and they certainly knew that I had no idea what it actually meant to raise five kids.
Flash forward to my early twenties, when I graduated from college and was going off to get my PhD in Biomedical Sciences. At that point in my life, Matt and I had been together for five years. I knew I wanted kids someday, but did not feel that grad school was the right time and was solely focused on my career goal of becoming a research professor. I pushed the thought off and figured that I could decide later maybe after I graduated.
The women who have gone before me
But as time went on during grad school (and a PhD in my field commonly takes 6 years!) I started feeling unsettled with my career path because I realized that it wasn’t just a career path but a life path. I looked around at the women who had “made it” and were successfully running a research lab and I saw a lack of meaningful family time. I saw women who didn’t have kids, women who had kids but had to have other people help raise them, and women who were “multi-tasking” which meant being there but not being present as they tried to answer just one more email.
I could not find an example of a woman who had the life that I wanted. They worked all hours of the day and weekends. Their work was their life for fear that if they ever stopped, they might not be able to keep up with securing funding, publishing papers, and being on the forefront of scientific discovery.
I truly have no judgement for any woman’s life choice. I think we should be celebrating whatever a woman wants to choose to make her happiest. But it was in going through grad school that I discovered more about myself, who I am, and what I wanted with my own life. It’s an unsettling feeling when your values no longer feel aligned with your goals.
Following my own pursuit of happiness
During this time, I started my photography business and began to discover another side to myself. I saw boss moms and women entrepreneurs who were building a life for themselves full of freedom and family time. Women who determined their own rules for success and set their own boundaries. Women who were designing a life that was just right for them and what would make them truly feel joy and happiness. And I wanted all of it.
So at the end of grad school and a short postdoc fellowship (9 years after college) I finally decided it was enough. I was 30 years old, and I didn’t want to wait to have children any longer. The perfect time was never going to come. And it was time to prioritize what I find to be the most meaningful and important role of my life. I was ready, but also worried that if we tried to have children we might find that it takes us years to conceive. I had no idea if it would be easy or not for us, so we figured it was time. Four months later, I found out I was pregnant.
I know there are a lot of stories out there about the difficulties women have faced conceiving or going through pregnancy. And I write this next part with the utmost gratitude to the women who have shared their stories. I think it is beautiful to be able to feel comfort in seeing other’s journeys and know what you might be facing. But those stories gave me anxiety before and during my entire pregnancy. So I want to also share my story of a healthy and relatively uneventful pregnancy. It was the most beautiful I have felt in my life. I had mild nausea and sensitivity to smells during my first trimester but it only resulted in me losing my appetite on occasion. I never got sick. By my second trimester I had so much energy and started getting that glow. I had lush hair and was still working out at the gym, and overall I felt great. Nesting and preparing Arthur’s nursery was so much fun! Once I passed my gestational diabetes test, I gave into my ice cream cravings (and tall glasses of milk!).
When things started to turn
My third trimester was uneventful as well until the last week – end of week 38. I had started developing high blood pressure and was seeing some swelling. By the end of that week my doctor decided that it was time to be induced because high blood pressure can get really dangerous. So that day we headed to the hospital! After 48 hours and multiple rounds of pitocin I had experienced some contractions but they never really hurt. Was I some weird unicorn that didn’t feel contractions? Turns out that I needed an emergency C-section because there hadn’t been any progress (I mean the boy’s head is off the charts huge) and once they break your water you only have so long to deliver before you risk infection.
I knew what a long road to recovery it meant and was so upset. I felt like my body had failed me. I felt like I had been robbed of an empowering birth experience and some warrior woman right of passage. I felt like I was going to have a disfigured body from being stapled back together. And that I wouldn’t just spring back and be up and about headed out to the grocery store in a couple days (like my mom haha). But here’s the thing about motherhood, you do it for the kids right? As long as he was delivered safe and healthy it is really all that matters. Don’t get me wrong, we as mothers have a right to feel all those feels and cry our eyes out as we come to terms with all the fears and emotions. But at the end of the day we have to make the sacrifice because that is that path we have chosen as mothers.
And then here’s where things really took a turn for the worse. During my C-section my anesthesiologist was performing a spinal tap and I had what is called a “window” where I could still feel in one area of my body where it was supposed to be numb. It is something that can happen at no fault of the doctor. I also had a drop in blood pressure and felt extremely nauseous. They weren’t able to re-do the spinal tap and said that if I had that drop in blood pressure again it could become serious. They would have to put me completely under and I wouldn’t be able to meet Arthur right away. So they started the C-section, but to spare the grim details, let’s just simply put it as, I was able to feel…things.
I haven’t spoken much about what happened during that time because I had some trauma postpartum from it. It took me a few months to get over waking up suddenly in terror imagining the operating room. I have come to terms with the fact that my birth experience was far from beautiful, and that my body is forever transformed. When I look at Arthur now I can only feel grateful for how healthy, intelligent, and loving he is.
Your legacy is a triumph
For those who have made it this far reading, please don’t be fearful if you’re wondering if this will happen to you. The thing that I learned is while you can’t control those feelings of anxiety, there is a certain amount of surrendering that you have to do. No amount of planning the perfect birth plan or reading all the stories will affect what will ultimately be your unique motherhood journey. When I think about my experience and all of the stories that I have heard, I am just in awe of what women are capable of. No matter our career path, our life path, or our motherhood journey, the legacy we are leaving for humankind is truly remarkable. And I hope that you know that what you have achieved is a triumph that is worth celebrating.