People say that parenthood changes you, but no one ever told me that the journey to becoming a parent — of merely getting to that starting line — can be just as impactful.
Let me be clear when I say nothing — I mean nothing — went according to my plan of becoming a mother.
My husband, Brad, and I spent several frustrating years trying to get pregnant naturally. I did all the things: peed on ovulation strips, had lots and lots of sex (my husband wasn’t mad about that part), and did handstands afterward because, who knows, maybe gravity would help. I gave up alcohol, then caffeine, then sugar and then went on an all-organic diet. I tried to follow the advice to work less, stress less (ha!). You name it, I did it.
Eventually a fertility specialist told us that the reason why we weren’t getting pregnant was due to my low egg count and if we wanted to make our dream of becoming parents a reality, it would most likely require a very expensive round of in vitro fertilization (IVF).
My husband and I withdrew an alarming amount of money from our savings account, praying this medical intervention would be the silver bullet to our infertility. And, sure enough, it was! We received a phone call that despite only having one embryo to work with, the transfer had been successful and (insert dramatic drum roll here) ... I was pregnant! The entry table at our house quickly piled up with an array of baby gifts celebrating our not-so-little miracle.
Until, that is, we lost the baby.
Amid the heartbreak of our miscarriage, what I’d thought of as my unbreakable faith fractured, and I began questioning a God who would give someone their heart’s desire, only to then take it away.
It seemed as if anguish, anger and hopelessness had all seeped into my bone marrow. I could barely get out of bed for weeks. I’m careful not to casually graze over the painful grieving my husband and I endured, because at the time it felt as if the darkness that enveloped us might swallow us whole. Looking back, the bravest thing we ever did was pick up the pieces of our shattered hearts and open up the possibility of exploring another path forward, knowing how dangerous hope felt for both of us.
The bravest thing we ever did was pick up the pieces of our shattered hearts and open up the possibility of exploring another path forward, knowing how dangerous hope felt for both of us.
Our doctor’s professional opinion was that if we did another round of IVF, it would end similarly, so he strongly suggested we hire an egg donor. Here we were presented with another invitation to grieve, only this time it was because I was sitting with the reality that I wouldn’t get to participate as the biological mother. Having never considered that my child wouldn’t be half of me, it hurt something fierce to think that I wouldn’t get the chance to see the same dimples in my kid’s cheeks that my mom gave me.
After nine months of online dating for a baby mama, which is exactly what it felt like, we made our selection and started the IVF process all over with a young woman five states away. If we thought IVF was expensive, hiring an egg donor made our initial investment look like chump change.
This time we didn’t tell anyone we were doing the embryo transfer. We stealthily flew from Montana to Texas, did the procedure and waited 10 days (which felt like a lifetime) to get the news. I was pregnant. Again. I was terrified. For months I held my breath and we told no one. After five years of heartbreak, I couldn’t bear the weight of more potential disappointment.
By the eighth month, I finally let myself take a deep breath. I finally let myself be hopeful that this time, it might be different. I finally let myself revel in the fact that I would, in fact, be a mom.
My husband had just left for a guy’s golf trip to Cabo. His last hurrah. I had girlfriends flying in the following weekend for my last hurrah.
It was short-lived.
I texted my husband mid-air that he’d have to fly home immediately because my water had broken. Seven weeks early. My husband caught the first flight back and we held our breath (again), not knowing if I would be going into labor or if we could somehow hold off and let our son cook a bit longer.
I spent the next 2 ½ weeks in a hospital room, once again praying night and day that our dream would not be taken away. Fearing deep down that if it were, I might never recover. To keep my mind off that possibility, I decorated my hospital room with inspirational signs, got to know the entire hospital staff and was wonderfully distracted with family and friend visits.
I eventually hit our goal of 35 weeks gestation. The doctors induced me and it was game time.
My intention was to deliver our son unmedicated. Once again, I plan and — you know how it goes — God laughs. After 30 hours of labor, 16 hours of which I was on Pitocin, a drug used to kick-start contractions (if you know, you know), I had still only dilated less than a centimeter.
An emergency cesarean section later, I finally laid eyes on our screaming baby boy. My hopes of skin-to-skin contact were dashed when they whisked him away to address his belabored breathing. My husband and I bawled, terrified for our son’s health and safety.
Above the commotion, as the NICU doctors and respiration specialist pricked and prodded our son on a tiny table 10 feet away from me, I could hear my husband shouting, “Hey buddy. I’m your dad. Your mom is right here, too. We love you so much, Bridger.” I could see doctors wiping tears from their eyes. Having been a live-in patient and them intimately knowing how much we’d undergone to get here, they were all fighting for this dream of ours — a dream that was now here, in human form.
Our 5-pound, 2-ounce son was immediately intubated and the hole in his lung was patched. He spent 2 ½ weeks in the NICU.
When he was finally discharged, Bridger came home on oxygen, connected to all sorts of cords and monitors with alarms that seemed to give us heart attacks every 12 minutes. It felt like a lifetime, but another 2 ½ weeks later, all his cords were gone and we went from a landline baby to a Wi-Fi baby that we could pick up and take into any room at any time. Finally it felt like we were at the starting line of parenthood, with a healthy baby boy and unoriginal complaints of sleepless nights and not enough caffeine.
Looking back, I naively thought that once we finally got pregnant, I would be rewarded with an easy pregnancy and childbirth: no nausea, no fatigue, no backaches, a painless labor (ha!), no tears, and a healthy, chubby, full-term baby we could take home and share on Instagram for the world to celebrate.
Then life said, “No. Naw. Nope. We’re just getting warmed up, sister.”
Motherhood is both the best and the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, times infinity. Apparently parenthood is a vehicle to experience every emotion: unconditional love, joy, exhaustion, resentment, gratitude, fear, strength, pain, boredom, weakness, grief and ecstasy, to name a few.
The juxtaposition of coexisting emotions can feel like emotional whiplash and yet I have never felt so profoundly human as I ride the roller coaster of highs and lows. And if ever there were a righteous reason to be exhausted, the job of parenthood is it.
If our painful journey to parenthood has taught me anything, it’s that life rarely, if ever, goes according to our plan. In fact, sometimes life has to go terribly wrong in every way in order for it to go terribly right.
As I write this, I’m both madly in love and wildly sleep-deprived as the mama to a perfect, 9-week-old baby boy. The truth is, the easy stuff in life is often forgettable. Turns out, pain is sometimes the portal to the best stuff in life.
Maybe that is the invitation of parenthood, to let go of how we think life should be and to marvel in how it really is — in all its glory and gore, delirium and deliciousness — and seek out the joy in the midst of life’s messiness.
Wherever you are in your parenting journey —but especially if you are in the trenches, battling heartbreak, fear, the unknowable or uncontrollable — know that I can say with resounding certainty, being on the other side of it, our hearts have exploded with an overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love that transcends all human comprehension. And while maybe it’s not for everyone, I know that, for us, the entire journey was absolutely worth it.
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