My mantra is that I am having a healthy and enjoyable pregnancy, and I believe it. I feel my best, healthiest, and most powerful when I am pregnant, because I have to be. My babies need me to be healthy and energetic, and I’m determined to fulfill that as their mother. However, with my current pregnancy it has taken some effort to get to that place.
It took an incredible amount of emotional strength to make difficult decisions that would be best for our baby boy, Aksa, in my last pregnancy when we discovered at 20 weeks gestation that he had Trisomy 13 (a condition “not compatible with life”). We chose to let him go a week later on December 31, 2011. That happened when my daughter had just turned one year old, I was still breastfeeding, and she still needed an emotionally stable mother (and father) to care for her and attend to her needs.
Everything with my daughter’s pregnancy and her birth had gone so well that we took having another healthy baby for granted. In both pregnancies I ate well, exercised, and lived a very healthy lifestyle. We declined having routine genetic testing done, offered in the first trimester, with our daughter and the baby boy that we lost. We simply didn’t think it was necessary- especially after having such a healthy baby the first time. The chances of having a baby with Trisomy 13 are about 1 in 10,000, and it is completely random with no known cause- just a fluke with the DNA that happens during coding very early on. Probability was on our side that we wouldn’t have a baby with Trisomy 13. But we did.
Now as we are expecting another baby boy in January 2013 (I am 18 weeks along now), I’ve come full circle in a lot of ways. Where I first had entered the realm of baby-bearing I was naieve enough to think that I had complete control over the health and well-being of the baby growing inside me. I never thought that having a baby with such a severe genetic problem would happen to us, I never imagined being told that the baby I was carrying had absolutely no chance at having a life outside of me. I never imagined pregnancy would end in death for my baby. I learned the hard way that making life is a lot like playing roulette, and a lot is left up to chance and probabilities, no matter how healthy we are.
I discovered the exact day after our Trisomy 13 baby’s due date (May 20th) that I was pregnant with another baby. Four and a half months passed between the time we said goodbye to our last baby and discovered that we would welcome a new baby. I was overwhelmed with grief over our loss, elated with joy that we were expecting again, and wrought with absolute anxiety that something would go wrong with this pregnancy. And despite the fact that I’m not someone with much faith or religious conviction, I felt the timing of this new pregnancy miraculous, as if the baby we lost was coming back to us- hopefully in a healthy body (I had taken a pregnancy test the day before and it was negative).
I spent much of the first trimester with this pregnancy waiting for the shoe to drop. In my last two pregnancies I was invincible, and now I was taking a pregnancy test every morning to make sure I was still pregnant, waiting for night to come every day so that I go to sleep and wake up and be one more night closer to knowing that this baby would be healthy and okay, one more night closer to having a healthy baby.
Every appointment I had with my midwives I cried– when we talked about first and second trimester genetic testing, when I returned to the same room and laid in the same place for an early ultrasound to date the new baby- the same place where I had laid five months earlier to be told that the baby inside me had no brain matter inside his head, and when we listened to the fetal heartbeats of the new baby through a fetal doppler.
This time we chose to have genetic testing done at 11 weeks, consisting of a blood test at 11 weeks and an ultrasound at 12 weeks. The testing isn’t diagnostic, but with the bloodwork and ultrasound combined it can provide statistically significant probabilities of our chances of having a healthy baby (specifically looking at Trisomy 18, 13, and 21). Having the testing done wouldn’t change the outcome, of course, but I was hoping it would provide me with peace of mind, knowing that chances really were on our side this time- that this baby I would be able to welcome happily into the world in nine months. I hoped that it would give me the opportunity to stop being anxious so that I could be a healthy and emotionally stable mother for my daughter and the baby growing inside me.
The week that passed between having my blood drawn and having the ultrasound was excruciating. When I finally laid down and the jelly was squirted on my belly and I saw the little baby on the screen, I saw immediately that this baby had what our last baby hadn’t- a lot of white matter in a well-formed head, and a nose. As the ultrasound tech continued scanning my belly, and as the doctor talked through everything with me, all of my emotions poured out of me. To hear that my baby looks healthy- his brain, his heart, his kidneys- all of his major organs appear as he should, was such an incredible relief. When the doctor told me that based on the bloodwork and ultrasound I had a 98% chance of carrying a healthy baby to term, I cried for the baby we lost, and cried out of gratitude to the universe for this baby being healthy.
I thanked the doctor for giving me good news and through tears told him I was waiting for the shoe drop. He was an older, small-framed soft-spoken man. He smiled slightly and shook his head saying, “No shoes.”
I’m so happy I had the genetic testing done. It took a couple of weeks for everything to really sink in, but six weeks later my anxieties are mostly gone (I think I won’t be completely free of anxiety until I am holding this baby to my breast). I can now enjoy my pregnancy and focus on being happy, healthy, and well for both of my children. Babies, and those growing beings inside us, are affected by our emotions. They are connected to us and can sense emotions, so our emotional state can be transferred to theirs.
So many things can help any pregnant woman to stay positive, peaceful, and emotionally balanced- whether it is getting reassurance after a loss that this baby is healthy and is going to make it, mediation, exercise, yoga, breathing exercises, laughter, taking walks, enjoying a hot cup of (decaf) tea, or cuddling with your partner. I find Hypnobabies to be another wonderful way to relax and stay positive during pregnancy.
Although Hypnobirthing is focused more on birthing, I find that it can be extremely helpful to promote peace and relaxation throughout pregnancy, as well. It also comes in handy for me as a traveling mommas since it includes self-study and self-guided relaxation/ meditation CDs. One of the CDs is full of positive affirmations (about 30 minutes along). This alone is a wonderful tool to stay positive, and I find it particularly useful now as I shift my mindset from worry to enjoyment. It focuses on repeating positive phrases (I am healthy, I am carrying a healthy baby, etc.) and is great to listen to every night as I fall asleep.
During my first pregnancy when my midwives asked what birthing method I was interested in, they suggested that I check out Hypnobabies. At first I was a bit skeptical about the idea of hypnosis for childbirth- I’m skeptical about things like hypnosis in general. But, I checked it out and was very interested, particularly because they offer a Hypnobabies self-guided home study, which I could bring along with me traveling and can be done anywhere (although classes are also offered in various cities).
Hypnobabies is a birthing method used in place of a traditional birthing class, like La Maze and Bradley Method (which are also natural birthing classes, but with different approaches). Taking classes such as La Maze or Bradley, or any other birthing classes is not needed if you are practicing Hypnobabies. Check out some You Tube videos of Hypnomoms delivering babies calmly and peacefully (including a 5’2″ woman delivering an 11 pound babe!). It’s pretty incredible.
In addition to Hypnobabies being a useful guided relaxation and meditation technique that helped me through my first pregnancy to stay positive and focused, and is helping me now in this pregnancy to re-center myself emotionally, I’m pretty sure it assisted me in having the birth that I wanted. Much of the techniques that are taught by Hypnobabies focus on visualizing the kind of birth that you are expecting.
Although I was planning on having a natural water birth, what I practiced visualizing daily was a short, fast, natural childbirth that I could enjoy without drugs as soon as my daughter was baked and ready to come. That’s exactly what I got. At 36 weeks 4 days my water broke at 8:30pm. By 10:30pm I was having contractions 4 minutes apart and we were on the way to the birthing center. By 1:00am I was in active labor, most of which I spent alone with only my husband in a dimly lit room with music, moving around. It was incredibly peaceful. By 4:00am I was in transition, and less than 45 minutes later I pushed my daughter out. Because I was a couple days short of 37 weeks (full term) I was not able to do a water birth, but I got exactly what I visualized- a very short and fast natural childbirth.
During transition, before I knew how dilated I was or that I was in transition, I screamed at my husband to get the midwife and give me an epidural (after asking nicely and he reminding me that I said I didn’t want any drugs) – I couldn’t do this anymore. When my midwife came she checked and I was 10 centimeters dilated an epidural wasn’t an option anymore, but that was fine with me. Now that I knew it was go-time and this baby was ready to come I could manage. I also instructed him to “turn that &$!*ing Hypnobabies crap off- I am not calm!” in the midst of pushing. He still pokes fun at me now when I talk about practicing Hypnobabies again for this birth. But I did get what I visualized in the end, didn’t I?
So this time I am going to modify my visualization slightly- I am going to modify it to have a fast, short WATER birth, as soon as baby is ready, BUT NOT BEFORE 37 WEEKS EVEN IF HE IS READY A FEW DAYS EARLIER. 🙂 I kind of think this baby might just fall out of me in my sleep.
My midwives had also recommended to me that I spend some time reading other women’s birth stories in order to stay positive and focused on my own pregnancy and birth. I did, and recommend any woman preparing for birth do so as well. It is empowering to read about what other women have gone through, and can help de-mystify the process for first time moms, too. These resources helped me to trust my body. I am a woman, and women are made to birth. Our bodies know what to do, even if we aren’t entirely sure what’s going on 100% of the time.
For further reading on natural childbirth and birth stories: