Friday, May 28, 2010

When You Grow Up, Girl

Come back when you grow up, girl
You're still livin' in a paper-doll world
Livin' ain't easy, lovin's twice as tough
So come back, baby, when you grow up

You look real good like a woman now
Your mind hasn't gotten the message somehow
So if you can't take it 'n' the goin' gets rough
Come back, baby, when you grow up
~from "Come Back When You Grow Up Girl"
by Bobby Vee

I turned 29 years old last month, but apparently I still look like a teenager. I've always looked younger than my age would suggest. Two recent examples: When I was admitted to the hospital at 13 weeks pregnant (at age 28) to be treated for severe HG, the intake nurse asked me about the highest level of education I'd completed. When I told her I had a bachelor's degree her head snapped in my direction and she mused, "Huh. I thought you were just 15 or 16!" This last week when we were at the rehearsal for my brother-in-law's wedding I was walking with Anna in the Ergo, Caleb holding my hand and Sarah walking two or three steps in front of us. A lady sitting on a bench stopped my and asked, "Are they all yours?" When I answered "yes, ma'am!" she clicked her tongue a bit, shook her head in shame and said, "No. no. You're just too young to have all them children!"

I've never wanted to be, or look, older than I am. My dream has always been to be treated as an adult. My husband likes to say, "Becky, you're a 29 year old married mother of three children. You need to start seeing yourself as an adult!" How can I view myself as something opposite what nearly everyone else sees?

When I was pregnant with my first child, Sarah, I thought that having a baby would make me feel more "grown up". I felt certain that becoming a mother would elevate me society's eyes and I'd be respected, finally, as a woman, a mother. Sure, we snicker and roll our eyes when a teenage girl says that about why she had a baby with her boyfriend, but there is truth in feeling that a baby will mature a girl/woman.

As a first-time, pregnant mother I never felt more childish. I felt stripped--robbed--of any adulthood and autonomy I'd gained. At my very first prenatal appointment, someone who was not the doctor came in, told me she was going to do an ultrasound and without waiting for a reply or permission, stuck a thin ultrasound "probe" into my vagina. She had a difficult time finding my uterus and said so in a way that implied it was my fault. So I did what any polite southern child would do and apologized. During a subsequent visit I was told that I wasn't a good mother because I was so squeamish that is was impossible for the lab technician to draw my blood. Once, when trying to explain the extent of my (pre-diagnosed hyperemesis) nausea, the doctor spoke down to me condescendingly and said that I was being a baby, that women (implying I was a baby, not a woman) the world over dealt with morning sickness all the time without complaining, and that I should just suck lemons.

Despite all this, I harboured hope that the act of giving birth would make me a "real woman". I'd give birth on my own, without anyone holding my legs, without anyone telling me when or how to breathe, without numbing or mind-altering drugs. I'd push my baby out with my own strength, hold her in my arms, and feed her with my breasts. Yet, if you've read here long enough you know that none of those dreams were realized. I was taken in for an unexpected cesarean at 37 weeks. I wasn't told exactly why I needed the section, just that my uterus was a "hostile environment" for my baby and she'd be "better off" outside of my body. I was numbed from the chest down, strapped to a table and cut open. My baby was brought forth from my body by the gloved hands of a stranger who didn't even know her name, instead proclaiming that she was "her peanut". Finally, with a slashed uterus and numbed breasts, there was no nursing.

The very things I had associated with womanhood-uterus, vagina, breasts--were all either damaged, ignored or numbed. For me, this first birth had occurred in a little girl's paper doll world.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

My terrible secret

I want to talk a little bit out my "terrible secret". If you've read here for awhile then you probably already know a few things about me such as: I don't use artificial birth control (though you may not know we've made the decision to stop NFP, as well), I hated my cesarean, I adore the experience of giving birth. What you may not know, however, is that I'm absolutely, whole-heartedly, terrifyingly afraid of my next pregnancy. So scared, in fact, that last night I dreamed that I finally got my period back and woke up in a cold sweat, shaking, at the thought that now I was sure my fertility had returned.

So there it is. My secret. It's not that I don't like pregnancy. I do! I've never been a skinny girl, so when I get pregnant I sort of get it into my head that, "I'm not fat, I'm just pregnant!" I think pregnant bodies are amazingly beautiful and I love feeling beautiful. I love watching my belly grow. Feeling my babies move in my womb is one of the most treasured memories of my life. I feel so special and blessed when I'm pregnant. What an high honor to be chosen to help bring life into the world!

For me, though, there's a putridly dark side of pregnancy. My body hates pregnancy and babies and does everything it can to starve and kill my babies and me. I suffer from a traumatic pregnancy illness called hyperemesis gravidarum. I've had it will all of my pregnancies except the baby I miscarried, so that's three times I've survived.

It's a horrifying, soul-crushing illness. For me, having HG is exacerbated by hypersensitive senses; specifically taste, smell and touch. In my pregnant state, the world--everything--smells as if it's coated in a thick layer of vomit. My sense of smell is very sensitive when I'm not pregnant so when I become pregnant my husband calls me the "human bloodhound". When I move from one smell to another, I vomit. Leaving my bedroom and going into the hallway-I vomit. Going out the front door, I vomit. Getting into the truck, vomit. From the truck to outside the truck, vomit. It's really that bad.

Everything tastes horrible. The thought of eating food repulses me. I can't even stand to kiss my husband or children. I can't stand to put anything in my mouth. My HG world is also filthy. I feel like everything around me is covered in grime, dirt, sewage, etc. I can't touch anything.

Do you see how awful this is for me? HG is bad. So bad that sometimes women die from it. So bad that women will abort...abort!...wanted, prayed for, dreamed of babies because they feel like they're dying and no one will/can help them.

So the idea of going through this a fourth time gives me hives but... what if? What if I'm supposed to be learning and growing from these pregnancies? What if all the knowledge and strength gained from a mother-led, unmedicated birth is also available to me if I quit "numbing" my pregnancy with fear, doubt, lack of faith, hopelessness?

What can I learn about my Lord, my body, my husband, my children, my baby, myself... from an un-numbed HG pregnancy?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

What happens when the child you're given isn't the child you expected?

Recently, sister H's daughter, baby C, was diagnosed with autism. She's just 19 months old, which is very young for a diagnosis and that's encouraging.

Most of the autistic children I've met have what they call a "regressive" form of the condition. Everything seems perfectly as it should be, with baby reaching milestones on or before "schedule", and then sometime between 15 months and two years the child begins losing previously mastered skills and milestones.

This is not baby C. For us, her family, it was very obvious almost from birth that something wasn't quite right. Sister H was blind to it, but my mother, other sisters and I could see. She never looked at you. It always seemed as though she lived in a the rest of us. She used her feet as most children would use their hands and could sit for hours opening and closing a drawer. She just began walking at 17 months and spins in circles frequently, and still isn't speaking beyond the babbling you hear in a 6-7 month old baby.

As I said, we could all see that baby C needed help, but we were afraid of insulting sister H. No matter how gently you suggest something like that, what most mothers would hear you say is, "your kid's messed up." Thankfully, sister A sees the same pediatrician as sister H, so she mentioned our concerns to the doctor, and the doctor (who also has an autistic child) brought up the subject with sister H at baby C's 18 month well-child visit.

The diagnosis hit sister H very hard. She became deflated, a shell of her normal self. It was so hard to watch. Surely she must have suspected something before, but to be confronted with it finally...

She's very sensitive in general, but even more so about baby C now. It's hard to talk to her about anything related to C's autism. There's so much I want to tell her. I want to tell her that we all love baby C to death, if not as much then even more than before. I want to tell her that every mother experiences the "death" of the baby she'd imagined. The baby birthed from a woman's womb is never the baby she conceived in her mind. For some of us, the differences are minor but for some they're dramatic. I want to tell her that baby C is precious in the eyes of the Lord and that she is "beautifully and wonderfully made," just as we all are. I want give her my whole body for support; arms to wrap around them both, shoulders to cry on, ears to listen, mouth to speak encouragement, eyes to view every victory and feet that are swift to run to her side.