coming to terms

I cried the day I found out I was expecting him. Can I say that without sounding callous and unkind? I don’t cry much, but I certainly did that day. Pregnancy is rough around here in the best of times; the edge of sanity was not a good place to start the nine months afresh. I had my reasons to cry, but callous and unkind still come to mind when I remember myself on the couch that day. No way around it.

I cried all that day; can I say that without sounding like I blame him? Because I don’t. And cliché though it sounds, I wouldn’t give him back. No, not for all the sleep and time and tight abs in the world. I don’t even like to hand him over to the other kids or his dad for too long – my arms miss his weight (which is substantial).  But I cried when I found out I was expecting him because the bearing part of my life was past and my body was my own again after a decade and a half of expansion and contraction, with all its accompanying pain and ache and leakage. I was done with all that, only it turns out I wasn’t. Four months after his birth I am still adjusting to the undoing.

Having shown myself so callous to find he was headed my way in the first place, it seems indecent, unearned to say that I cried when they told me about his heart, Two days old and he had already staked full claim on my heart. Just a quick test before you check out, the nurse said. Nothing to worry about.

I didn’t worry, not until they brought him back and said we wouldn’t be going home just yet after all.  The cardiologist who came later to explain was unnerved by the incongruence of my reasoned questioning and my endless tears. “I don’t normally cry,” I told him, trying to ease the tension. “Usually I have to drag the tears out with a suction hose.” He nodded awkwardly and looked away. There is just no easing a situation like that. Hormones will out, and that bundle of flesh and blood and nerves I had created, and which had so recently torn itself from myself, was still tethered tightly to my soul. My heart was writhing and contracting for his heart, and taking the rest of me with it.

I’m telling you about his heart because it’s ok for the time being. Maybe I would tell you even if it wasn’t, but I doubt I could tell you so soon. I don’t adjust that quickly.

He was born on Tuesday and we brought him home on Friday to a temporary apartment – the second temporary in as many months. We’d been moving by degrees since June and in the muggy heat of August, fresh from an upended world, I came home to an apartment full of furniture that was not mine, bedding that smelled wrong, a laundry basket for the baby to sleep in. The second week of August, when he was six days old, we moved across the country. In some respects I am still moving. I keep calling east “west.”

I rarely cry these days, but I am wary. Watchful. Tight. They tell me his heart is holding, but I watch more closely with him than the others. I watch more closely all around me; I’ve turned clinically nearsighted; extremes are magnified to the ripping point. There is something unsettling in living a more viscerally aware life, but I will say it: there is also something beautiful. I am more likely to grab hold of the older kids as they head out the door, less likely to mind the mess. The good with the bad? Does the good always have to come with some bad? The ground I inhabit no longer feels stable. The slightest things can topple me, knock me flat. But I’m starting to hear some music in the movement. Did it always make this music? Not just the screech of tectonics cracking and grating, but some subtle melody; a sound, maybe, that couldn’t make it through my sense of security. Sometimes when the music ebbs and soars I feel the urge to sway. One day it will lift me right out of this seat, and not just to run for the door. One day, maybe, I will dance right on the faultline.

For now I hold on tight and listen and watch. That is the best I have to offer.

18 thoughts on “coming to terms

  1. Wow, Allyson. Just beautiful. Church is canceled here in Minnesota (big snow storm), and this piece is a spirit-stirring way to start my Sunday. Thank you.

  2. I had to stop writing in my journal when I found out I was pregnant with my youngest. I don’t want him to ever know how much I didn’t want him. But someone upstairs was smarter than I…

    Good luck, with the worry the waiting the loving and fear.

  3. Ally, this was beautiful. Such rich, thought-provoking writing. Only one of my pregnancies was unplanned. After the initial shock, I was happy, but then it ended in a miscarriage—and I was so sad. Those childbearing years are so overwhelming, the emotions so complex. I hope you continue to find your equilibrium during this unsettled time. Hugs!

  4. I felt similarly when I learned I was pregnant with #4 (24 years ago). Not that I didn’t want another baby, but just not then. Pregnancies were VERY difficult for me and my latest baby was only 11 months old. Pregnancies swallowed up my life and everyone’s around me, with all the special care I required. I was scared and depressed, to put it mildly. And this last pregnancy turned out to be the hardest one of them all. But I learned two main lessons:

    1. I would go through the rest of my life thinking, “I can handle anything because I’m not pregnant.”

    2. Heavenly Father is SO much smarter than I am. There are literally no words to describe the blessing my last child has been to me. I am eternally grateful that I am not always in control of my life.

    Great post Allyson. It’s amazing the refining fires we are put through.

  5. Allyson, this is beautiful. I’ve just started reading The Mother in Me and I’m going through all kinds of mixed emotions knowing that I’m probably done with the baby years. My 5th was a surprise and I can’t imagine our family without her. My heart and my prayers go out to you and your son!

  6. Just beautiful, Ally. I’ve missed your writing, but you’ve been busy. So glad your little one is holding.

  7. “But I’m starting to hear some music in the movement. Did it always make this music? Not just the screech of tectonics cracking and grating, but some subtle melody; a sound, maybe, that couldn’t make it through my sense of security. Sometimes when the music ebbs and soars I feel the urge to sway. One day it will lift me right out of this seat, and not just to run for the door. One day, maybe, I will dance right on the faultline.”

    Wow.

  8. Timely post for me. I’ve been in the grips of a life-changing, dark depression. I was sure I was done having kids. Post-partum is just too hard for me. Now I’m pretty sure I’m pregnant. Big suprise. There have been tears today. Thank you for this post, and some of the comments, which reminds me to have faith that someone wiser is in charge, and these feelings too shall pass.

  9. Your writing is exquisite.

    Being a mother is so complex, I’m not surprise the pregnancy made you pause.

    My last two were unexpected, but desired. Still, so many emotions run through a mother.

    Pray his heart will be as strong as yours.

  10. I thought writing this would be redemptive in a way, or at least ease up my internal tension. But it just seemed to overturn the ground. Your comments, however, have done wonders. I feel planted down in something better. Wiser heavens and gentle comments putting seeds in the ground where one would least expect them. Thank you all so much.

  11. Allyson, you remind me of something I always wanted to ask one of my grandmothers but I’ve never had a chance to do. She passed away when I was 6 so I missed all those adult conversations I could have had with her. She became a mother in the age before ultra sounds, prenatal testing and even birth control. She had 10 children. I always wanted to ask her if she was ever reluctantly surprised at finding herself pregnant yet again. We live in an age where us women have more control over these kind of things. I want to think that she wanted all of those children. Even if she was surprised by their arrival.

    Then I would like to talk to my other grandmother. After she had 3 children her doctor told her not to have any more because her heart was weak. She had scarlet fever as a child and it affected her heart. I know that my grandmother longed for a large family but she knew her children needed her so she gave up on that dream. She would have gladly welcomed more children to come into her life but quite literally her heart wouldn’t let her.

    When I have those moments that I feel overwhelmed by my children, I think of my grandmothers. I admire my grandmother for having 10 children and somehow staying sane. I admire my other grandmother for staying true to the gospel even when life didn’t go as she had planned. Then I remember how blessed I am.

  12. “There is something unsettling in living a more viscerally aware life, but I will say it: there is also something beautiful. I am more likely to grab hold of the older kids as they head out the door, less likely to mind the mess. The good with the bad? Does the good always have to come with some bad?”

    Yes, wow.

    And I echo your question. Does the good always have to come with the bad? Or is this the only way we can see both (the good and bad) for what they really are?

    Allyson, this post is fabulously concentrated. Such good writing. I loved every word, and the swell of emotion. I feel for you, for where you are. Amazingly, you have eyes to see the beauty. Your last paragraph was simply transcendent. Thank you for sharing.

  13. I cried when I found out I was pregnant for the fifth time. It was a planned pregnancy (I wouldn’t call it “wanted”, but I had known for months that there was another baby who needed to come now, and I had been preparing). But I still threw the pregnancy test in the trash and cried and stomped around all weekend.

    And then I miscarried on Tuesday. And I suddenly realized what an awesome blessing it was to be able to keep a pregnancy. I felt horribly guilty for all those negative feelings I had toward that little embryo. What if I couldn’t have another baby? Pregnancy had come so easy for me that I totally took it for granted.

    When I got pregnant again the next month, my attitude had completely changed to an attitude of gratitude, and I faced the challenges of the pregnancy (and adding another kid) in a much healthier way.

    I’m grateful for that experience. It taught me a lot and made me much more grateful for my children.

  14. I wanted my second child, but shortly after I got pregnant with him I began my second year of graduate school and departmental politics made things stressful and difficult. Plus my husband started pulling away from me and the church at that time. When my little guy was born he showed up a few weeks early in a very scary, emergency way. It took me many months to recover physically and emotionally from that, and about three months after his birth we moved to another city for my husband’s graduate program. Then when my little guy was about 9 months old my husband left and said he wanted a divorce; we got back together after a few months but it was still a horrible year or so for me. My son is going to turn 5 next spring and I feel bad because I still feel so much stress/sorrow/guilt when I think about the first year of his life. He was a fussy baby who didn’t sleep and I’m sure that part of it was the fact that the rest of our lives were so chaotic at the time. I had another baby almost a year ago and it has been blissful, but underneath my current happiness I still feel a pang of guilt that I was unable to enjoy the first year of my last child’s life in the same way.

  15. wow, that is so tough. we had our last three while my husband was in graduate school; I can’t imagine trying to pull it off if I were in school as well. the list of things I do/could feel guilty about in parenting is enormous, especially when I think back to things in my own childhood that impacted me in a less than positive way. and yet I’ve been stunned at how resilient these kids seem to be, how forgiving, and how quick to grab hold of the good I have to offer whenever it shows up, rather than constantly beat me over the head with what I did not have to offer before. hopefully that has been the case for you. sounds like you (and your whole family) have earned a little bliss.

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