When your ultimate wake-up call is having a baby
This should not happen to you if you listen to your mind and body
At age 34 I was I finally starting a family, something I had wanted since getting married in 2000. 10 years later, but better late than never I thought. I was already feeling behind in life, watching my friends have babies, then another baby, etc. and maintaining either wonderful successful careers or what seemingly were enviable stay at home lives. I admit I was jealous. With each friend that called to tell me their news I felt a little tinge of sadness knowing that getting pregnant had not been in the cards for us. On the flip side I was extremely busy, taking on as much work as possible. I decided to dedicate the majority of my time to my job where I was employed as an executive of a high-end bridal line. As the first hired employee, I took it upon myself to take on a lot of the work (delegation issues anyone?) and really took a deeply personal interest in the company, thinking one day I might be able to take the reigns. I convinced myself that my work was deeply satisfying, hanging on every praise and compliment that I could get from my boss. I fed off the stress and pressure that came along with the job. At the time it filled a void in my life.
Then one day I woke up and just felt different. I didn’t know why. I was married to someone who gave as much, if not more, to their career which also happened to be out of state. So with him traveling most of the time, it did not even seem plausible that I could be pregnant. Somewhat skeptically, I bought a pregnancy test. One morning when my husband was home I took the test: positive. A flood of emotions came over me, something that I wanted for so long was actually happening. Like many women before me I started questioning the timing, how I was going to juggle my career and this new development, but my overwhelming feeling was excitement. I kept that feeling to myself.
Immediately I started to panic as to how to tell my employer. I didn’t think I could keep the news secret for the suggested 3 months. She was older and did not have kids of her own. She frequently made comments that if any of ‘us’, an office full of women of childbearing age, became pregnant she’d just have to start a nursery at the office. I would be the first one. Surely she would not understand that I needed to slow down and take time off when the baby arrived. So I continued to work as hard if not harder and longer hours during my pregnancy to prove that it would not change my dedication to my job. My husband was also very quick to tell me that I would not be a stay at home mom. He said our ‘lifestyle’ would not change and he was not willing to give up anything. So I did what I could to secure my job status, juggling morning sickness and doctors appointments all while traveling for trunk shows, bridal market, etc. I went out of my way to prove to myself I could handle it all. The high level of stress I was already managing continued as my belly grew and my already bad habits continued: unmanaged stress, coffee, lack of sleep, not resting, eating poorly, not exercising, and working from home at nights and weekends.
At around 25 weeks I had a conversation with my boss. I had already expressed a desire to work for myself one day. I also expressed interest in creating a parallel or service company that could assist with the existing business. I was not wanting to let go of 11 years of hard work. My boss felt it was best for me to go my own way after I had the baby. After all, I was told, once someone wanted their own business, they would never work as hard for their current employer. In some ways it was a relief, but on the other side this gave me a whole new issue to worry about, as if I did not have enough on my plate. I scrambled to come up with ideas to make this happen. I flew to NYC around 27 weeks to present my ideas to a licensing company. I must have looked ridiculous with my big belly, there for all to see, while presenting these grandiose plans of what I could do. All the while my husband continued pushing me to have something lined up after having the baby, which was due in June.
My support system consisted of my girlfriends and my parents. My mom came every weekend to spend time with me and help me shop for new clothes and comfortable shoes so I could feel good and look nice at the office. I put off the important things like touring the hospital, birthing classes, fixing up a room for a nursery, hiring a doula, and giving my friends dates for a shower. My in-laws wanted to plan a separate shower and I just flat out said no. I was not focused on the baby’s arrival, I was focused on trying to figure out how to maintain my existing life. I put all of it off as much as I could.
The day after Easter I woke up with horrible cramping and bleeding. It was about 5 in the morning. I woke my sleeping husband, who was not super concerned, so I called by doctor’s nurse line. I already had an appointment that day because I failed the initial glucose test indicating I could have developed gestational diabetes. I was prepared to find out that I had developed this based on my high weight gain and size. My mom was planning on taking me to that appointment since I had to stay a while, so I called her to let her know what was happening, and waited out 3 more hours of bleeding and cramping. I was just 30 weeks along so in my mind, there was no way I could be in labor. Fast forward. I am at the doctor’s office, the midwife was timing my contractions at a minute & half apart. Contractions? Dilation? I started to panic. I called my husband who said just keep him posted and quickly I was whisked away to the hospital next door. I thought they would just make the labor stop.
So for 6 days I was in the pre-labor floor of the hospital. The labor did not stop. I was having contractions, pain and discomfort around the clock. I went from worrying about the ticket I had booked the following Saturday to NYC and who would take my place to how does labor even work and feel? I had no idea. I went from asking if the contractions would stop so can I go back to work to will my baby be ok if he comes early? I didn’t put the work into preparing to have a baby. I was concerned about everything else remaining the same. All my priorities were upside down and I found myself in the middle of the biggest wake up call I could have never imagined.
So on the 6th day after arriving at the hospital my beautiful baby boy was born. I kept him inside my body for 31 weeks. I learned his lungs were not developed fully yet. He was very fragile. He may not be able to breast feed, much less eat at all because they have to be closer to term to coordinate breathing and swallowing. I could expect him to be in the hospital close to his original due date. That meant 8 weeks of NICU. I spoke to my boss, my co-workers, my friends but nothing wavered my new focus on keeping my son alive. The guilt I felt was overwhelming, but it was what I needed to kick my ass into where my head and heart should have been. Not with my job but with my son. The life I created.
After this experience, when no one except one co-worker, a few friends and family visited me in the hospital, and only my best friends welcomed me and my son home with a baby shower, I came home as a new person. I fully embraced my new role as a mom and left behind the role of career climber. I created a life for myself that first focused on the needs of my child and also of myself. And when my first visit to the OBGYN came some weeks later and I heard her list the possible reasons for premature labor, the only one that stuck out to me was the word: STRESS. I will never know for certain, but I do know how very lucky I am to have a healthy child. Even after 8 tiring weeks in NICU and a very rocky 3 months at home, I still was being pushed to bring in an income. There was no way I would have have gone back to my old life and job so that never was option for me. I didn’t even think twice about it. So with the encouragement of some close friends, family and to ensure my new son was taken care of, I created my own business that allowed me to start small and work from home. It has taken time but I have forgiven myself for my past mistakes and have become a very supportive friend and employer of women. I look at everything now through the eyes of a parent and supporter of women’s emotional and mental needs. I hope that the new me lifts up others when they need it, and helps them understand how both powerful and fragile any life can be.