All moms do it: just looking at my 7th grader walk into the house with her lacrosse stick and giant backpack stuffed full of gear makes me marvel that she once took up residence in my belly no too long ago. But just as big as she and her siblings are getting, so too were the serious, sometimes breathtaking, life lessons she and her younger siblings passed along to me during their gestation periods. As they were growing, so was I.
My gratitude runs deep to be able to say I’ve had four successful pregnancies: one easy, one plagued with sciatica, one that ended abruptly almost 10 weeks early while on vacation in the Bahamas, and one final hoorah that was labeled “geriatric” at the age of 42.
Fourteen years ago, I ran around the streets of New York as a general assignment reporter for WPIX-TV the whole way through pregnancy number one — and again for a part of pregnancy number two. The hours were crazy, my belly was huge and my energy was high. “You need to sit down!’ said one interviewee who couldn’t get over that I was still bopping around the city in heels and reporting live from shootings and fires and movie premieres. That’s when I first realized the stunning power of pregnancy. The goddess-like aura that comes from knowing you are bringing a new life into the planet. I did what was expected of a pregnant woman and my body produced magical newborns. I gave myself no restrictions and in return, pregnancy made me invincible.
Well, that theory held up for the first two pregnancies. Then came pregnancy number three. It was riddled with issues right from the start. A screening at 12 weeks that came back with horrible results. For nearly two months we held our breath that this baby would stay with us. She did. Exhale. But immeasurable life lessons were still ahead.
It was the first week of April 2008. Dan and I decided to sneak in a quick 3-day trip to the Bahamas to celebrate my birthday before baby #3 arrived in mid-June. My gynecologist green-lighted the getaway because I was in great health and my previous pregnancies were easy and full-term. I was nervous to leave our toddlers at home with Grandma and Grandpa — but my ever-optimistic husband convinced me to relax. When we landed in Nassau, all my concerns slipped away.
We had one fantastic day in the sun and then things shifted. What comes next is a bit of a blur. The baby made one huge move as we sat at in Bobby Flay’s restaurant for dinner. It was the most dramatic feeling I’d ever felt from a fetus. The next day, April 5th, was my 37th birthday. It also happened to be Dan’s mom’s birthday. She passed away in 2003 so our shared day always felt a bit empty to not to have her to call. During the afternoon, I had a twinge of pain here and a little pressure there. It’s nothing. It’s nothing. It’s fine.
A few hours later, Georgia Grace was born by emergency c-section at Princess Margaret Public Hospital. Bam. Most of what occurred is yet another blur. I remember the ambulance, my screams and the fear on Dan’s face. It was terror. Terror because it wasn’t time yet. Terror because this was supposed to be a scheduled c-section in NYC. Terror because we were alone in the Bahamas.
The details of what went down are for another time. The life lessons learned, however, are worth sharing now. Our 9+ week premature baby girl weighed 3-pounds, 1 ounce. She was tiny and looked nothing like our other newborns. She had a feeding tube and a ventilator. She made my heart ache. I sobbed as I watched a little lear jet and a team of incredible neonatologists whisk her off the island and back to the NICU in New York. I was crushed. And I was guilty. My body evicted her for some reason. I failed.
Ten years later I know how wrong that narrative was. I wish I could hug my despondent postpartum self and tell her that our diminutive baby grew to be an amazingly warrior-like girl. Most importantly I did not fail. Lesson #1: you cannot control everything. Lesson #2: Be kind to your pregnant self. And finally lesson #3 (and this may ruffle some feathers): think before you travel late in pregnancy. I was probably one in a million. But it happened. And it was bad. And we were lucky. Just one mom’s opinion…for what it’s worth.
That experience made us swear off pregnancy and confirmed that three was our magic number. That was until the summer of 2013. I was 42-years-old when my superhero sense of smell kicked in again. What the heck is going on? I knew in my bones it could only mean one thing. To say Dan and I were perplexed that I was pregnant is beyond an understatement. We had three kids who were 9, 7 and almost 6. Days of diapers and high chairs and newborns were long gone. Like teenagers, were couldn’t actually figure out how it happened. I mean, we KNEW, but it still didn’t compute.
Please refer back to Lesson #1. You can not control everything. Wow. So true. And, THANK GOD. The future we had in mind for our forties was wiped out with one positive pregnancy test. We were almost embarrassed to tell our friends and yet that emotion turned quickly to ecstasy. Hugh Thaddeus is now 4 and he’s pure joy. His birth breathed new life and so much happiness to our entire family. The big kids worship him and he adores them, too. So do the grandparents. My mother — who is critically ill as I write this — thought we were joking when we told her I was pregnant with her 10th grandchild. She, like we, thought that door had closed. To watch my mother and Hugh together during the past 4 years has been one of the greatest gift I’ve ever received…and I know my beautiful mom feels the same way.
So here’s the thing. Pregnancy can be lots of things. It is bliss. It is power, and it can be painful & heartbreaking, too. It’s a journey and after a little experience, all I can really say is fasten your seatbelt and just do your best.
Patti Barrett is co-founder of The Pickup Line newsletter -- a daily newsletter for moms delivered while they have a few free moments on line at school and sports pickup. Check it out www.thepickupline.net