Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Category: Pregnancy

Things I Don’t Miss About Being Pregnant (a.k.a. talking about big bellies and peeing)

I was sitting on the couch the other day, working on my laptop, and I pulled my legs up to the cushion and crossed them and thought…

Whoa… Been a while since I’ve been able to do that.

Six months postpartum and 28 pounds lighter–and just now starting to realize that I’m starting to really move past the physical limitations that pregnancy put on my whole body.

From the second trimester until now (October 2016-August 2017), I haven’t felt comfortable with/haven’t been able to…

  • lie on my stomach (duh)
  • lie on my back (heavy uterus on my spine)
  • hunch forward (it cut off my air supply)
  • sit with legs crossed (belly in the way)
  • sit with legs closed (again, the belly)
  • sit much, period (weight of belly would pull me forward)
  • stand in place for a period of time (low back pain)

Now, think about your day. Think about how much time you spent in any of these positions.

Now, take that time away and replace it with either walking or lying on your side. Because that’s how I basically existed for most of Week 40 and 41.

Miserable.

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41 weeks, 3 days

I remember in that last trimester being horrified that my boobs were literally resting on my belly.

And worse, my belly was resting on my thighs.

From my neck to my knees, I just felt like pure belly.

I did not find this reassuring or comforting or magical or any other variation of positive.

I just felt e-nor-mous.

Now that I’m six months postpartum, I’m starting to regain a lot of my old physical self. I can do kickboxing for an hour and running for forty-five minutes. My legs and feet aren’t so swollen that I don’t recognize my legs.

And, hey, I can pee. Normally.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been about a whole year of altered peeing.

At first, it was frequent peeing because of hormones.

Then, it was frequent peeing because of more amniotic fluid.

Then, it was frequent peeing because, geesh, my bladder was completely smooshed under the weight of the baby.

And then, it was my organs moving back into their original places and my brain readjusting my expectations of how long I can go between peeing and then being amazed when, wow, I haven’t peed in two hours and I’m still okay! And, look at that!, I didn’t pee myself when I sneezed!

Woot.

At six months postpartum, a woman’s body (particularly hormones) start returning to pre-pregnancy levels, making it much easier to shed the baby weight. I’ve started to really notice this in the last three weeks. While it took me 5 weeks to lose 1 pound when I was between three and four months postpartum, I’ve now started to drop about 1 pound every two weeks.

To which I say, ” ‘Bout time.”

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4 days postpartum

 

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2 months postpartum

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6 months postpartum

17 pounds left to go.

Bring it.

Week 12: Destiny or Chaos?, a.k.a. The Deep Questions

Regardless of how you define “life,” at 3 months old, a baby has officially been a growing organism for a whole year.

From this:

fertilization

To this:

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In 365 days.

A. Ma. Zing.

This child was conceived four months after a miscarriage. We could have tried sooner, but, you know. Closure. Time. Space. All of these things are good and healing.

Because I was charting my basal temperatures every day for months before all of my pregnancies, I had a pretty good idea of when I would ovulate.

I thought.

Day 14 is ovulation day for a “typical” 28-day cycle. Mine was usually Day 16, but sometimes, it was as late as Day 22. This meant that I had short luteal phases, which can make it difficult to get pregnant or to keep a pregnancy. (I often had a nine-day luteal phase, and sometimes as low as six days. Not good.)

When we conceived our first child, it was Day 18. So, based on past experience, we decided to aim for Days 14-18. You know. Cover all our bases.

Right?

But Days 14-18 of that particular cycle landed right smack in the middle of our “vacation” to the D.C. area. 

I put vacation in quotation marks because we were traveling with a 2 1/2 year old.

So, yeah, it wasn’t really a vacation that was very conducive for baby-making. But that was the timeline.

So be it.

Three days before we left for that trip, our daughter went to bed early and this beautiful window of an hour with nothing to do opened up.

It was Day 11. In the 22 months of data that I had collected, I had never ovulated before Day 14. But whatever. Let’s just have a good time, we thought.

As it turned out, that was my ovulation day.

We officially started “trying” on Day 14, but of course, nothing we did at that point would have gotten us pregnant.

The best laid plans sometimes, right?

***

It would be easy to write this story as destiny. That because our baby is so beautiful and perfect, we were just meant to have sex days before we had planned. God just knew that we needed to get together then in order to make this beautiful baby. Or something like that.

Believing in destiny is all well and good when it’s going your way.

But for all the healing that believing in destiny can do, it can just as easily bleed you dry.

When we miscarried, were we just meant to have sex at the wrong time?

Was that destiny?

Or is destiny just a comforting idea that we hold on to when it helps us?

If there is no destiny, is it all just chaos and luck?

Or do we call it chaos so we don’t need to acknowledge the real consequences of our actions?

Although I’ve been thankful for this child that made his way from cell to zygote to blastocyst to embryo to fetus to baby…

I sometimes wonder about the two pregnancies that didn’t get this far. What would they have been like? Were they boys? Girls? One of each? Did they have chromosomal problems? Would they have been perfect if my body could have held onto them? Would they look like my two living children, who both look more like their cousins than they do their parents?

What alternate course of events may have played out if those pregnancies lasted?

Destiny?

Or Chaos?

When it comes to conceiving a child, it feels like a bit of both.
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I Wore a FitBit During Pregnancy and Childbirth: Here’s What I Learned

Disclosure: I’m a bit of a data nerd.

Not in the sense that I like to design studies and collect data. Just in the sense that I like to look at charts and graphs and timelines and other visuals.

Call it “data-nerd-light.”

I began wearing a FitBit Charge HR last February, shortly after I started running as a regular form of exercise.

At first, it was useful for keeping track of my exercise. Having information about my sleep patterns and steps was just fun information to use to challenge myself.

Then, in early May 2016, I got pregnant.

Over the course of my pregnancy, I regularly wore my FitBit and amassed loads of interesting data about how my body changed and responded differently to exercise over the course of my pregnancy.

The FitBit Charge HR will monitor your heart rate and calories burned, as well as your number of steps, floors climbed, and miles traveled. Then, it spits out all of this data into usable and easy-to-read charts. (UPDATE: My Charge HR started separating around the display and I had to replace it after 16 months of use. I recently upgraded to the Charge HR 2. It’s just $20 more and much more durable. The bands are replaceable too, so the same problem can’t happen on this model.)

fitbit

I started this pregnancy at 147 pounds (at 5′ 7.5″) and my ending weight was 192 pounds, which is a 45-pound weight gain. My pre-pregnancy condition was quite good. I was running about two miles in the morning every day and lifting weights once or twice per week. I was maintaining my weight. I had good energy. I could climb several flights of stairs without getting winded.

So what does pregnancy do to a healthy body? Let’s take a look.

Resting Heart Rate

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My pre-pregnancy resting heart rate was about 56 beats per minute, a sign of a fairly athletic lifestyle. You can see my heart rate climb steeply in the second trimester when I have my first major growth spurt, and then again in the last trimester during the last month of growth. Both time periods correspond to an increase in blood volume in my body.

Fun fact: at the end of pregnancy, a woman’s blood volume increases 40-50% throughout pregnancy.

Weight Gained

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I put on most of my weight during the second and third trimester growth spurts, and just a few pounds gained in the first trimester. This is a healthy weight gain curve, although, I assure you, it didn’t feel healthy at the time. I remember that I kept thinking, No! Four pounds in a week! This baby is going to be twelve pounds by the end of this!

Daily Calories Burned: Pre-Pregnancy

On the left is a typical day of exercise on a pre-pregnancy day, which includes a two-mile run in the morning and regular movement at work.

On the right is a day that I’m proud of: the day that I ran six miles around the National Mall in Washington D.C. Included in this number are the other calories that I burned throughout the day, just by existing. See the number of calories burned? Keep that in mind as I show you how many calories during the late third trimester.

Daily Calories Burned: First Trimester

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In my first trimester, I continued to run whenever I felt well enough. (Weeks 7-11 were Nausea City, so I limited my exercise to walks during this time.) But I took it easy. I didn’t exercise in the peak heart rate zone if I could help it. I monitored my run pretty closely so I stayed in the lower heart rate zones.

Daily Calories Burned: Second Trimester

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I continued to run in the second trimester. In the early second trimester, I incorporated more indoor aerobic exercise because it was so damn hot outside in late July to August. In this screenshot, you see the end of October, when I was 24 weeks pregnant, right at the end of my second trimester growth spurt.

The important difference is my resting heart rate, which has jumped to 70 beats per minute. Because of that elevated resting heart rate at this point, I was more likely to reach a fat-burning heart rate for daily activities, beyond the time when I was intentionally exercising.

Daily Calories Burned: Early Third Trimester

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I continued to incorporate running in my exercise all the way to 32 weeks of pregnancy, but over time, I slowly decreased my running in favor of walking. By 33 weeks of pregnancy, I was done running. This screenshot is from Week 30. It’s not terribly different from my second trimester stats. Notice that my resting heart rate continues to rise.

Daily Calories Burned: Mid-Third Trimester

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This is when pregnancy becomes an outright test of endurance. This screenshot is from Week 36 (which, for my 41.5-week pregnancy, was mid-third trimester). On this day, I walked for 30 minutes. And I existed. End of story.

I mean, it’s the day after Christmas, for goodness sake. What could I possibly have done? I’m sure I was doing things like eating my fifth sugar cookie and picking up bits of wrapping paper and rogue pine needles. Along with a rousing game of “Ketchup or Mustard?” with our three-year-old. (What? You’ve never heard of that game? You just ask the person if they want ketchup or mustard over and over and over again. That’s it. Fun, huh?)

So that’s why pregnant women say, “God, I’m so tired” at the end of the day. Not only are they carrying around a lot of extra weight, but their resting heart rates are elevated, causing them to be burning loads of calories for hours.

But wait. It gets harder.

Daily Calories Burned: Late-Third Trimester

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Okay. So here I was at five days past my due date. At this point, I was desperate to get this kid out of me. So I decided to go for two thirty-minute walks, which you can clearly see on the graph. My pace was much, much slower than normal because my hips were so gelatinous and my gait was off. But pace isn’t important. It’s getting the heart rate up there that counts.

With just two thirty-minute walks and existing for 24 hours, I burned as many calories as I did when I ran six miles and existed for 24 hours. Courtesy of an elevated resting heart rate and additional body weight.

In addition, my body’s center of gravity was off, it was difficult to move, and I had an assortment of new aches and pains to deal with just to get through the day (and night).

What were your calories burned on the day you gave birth?

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So glad you asked.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. That peak heart rate must have happened during my pushing phase.

Nope.

That was when I started hemorrhaging after the birth. Obviously, this wasn’t part of the plan and it isn’t a typical part of the birthing process for most women (thank God). Only about 4% of women will experience a postpartum hemorrhage. (The most likely cause of my PPH was an “overdistended uterus” due to my baby being over 8.8 pounds.)

As a result, my heart rate soared in the peak heart rate zone for close to an hour. As blood poured out of me, my heart pumped loads of fresh blood to the affected tissues and organs. All of this put my body into metabolic overload and it was the main reason I ate like a crazy person for the first five days post-birth.

Most of my labor raised my heart rate into a low fat-burning zone rate, so it was still important that I ate and drank during labor. This is what I will never understand about typical hospital policies regarding labor. Is it really worth it to deny women the right to eat during labor simply because of the minuscule possibility that 1) she’ll have a C-section and 2) during that C-section she aspirates?

Labor burns a lot of calories. And if you’re restricted to clear fluids, you’re pretty much relying on the sugar in Sierra Mist to pull you through. I think that if you have the urge to eat, you should be allowed to eat. The risk of eating harming a woman in labor is just far too small.

I mean, really… When you are awake for days and laboring for hours and hours, you burn a lot of calories.

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So there you have it. An inside look at one slice of what a woman goes through when she carries a child and gives birth. It is a test of strength and endurance simply to carry a child to term and give birth.

The fact that women give birth so often might make the process seem ordinary, but it is truly an extraordinary feat for both mother and child to come out on the other side, whole and alive.

UPDATE: Just wanted to thank you for stopping by this post, which has been gaining a lot of traffic lately (probably because this post shows up in Google searches that include “pregnancy” and “FitBit.” Ha!) If you’re a new reader, please check out my book, Becoming Mother, available in print ($12.99) or Kindle ($2.99) editions.

Peace.

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Week 36 1/2: The Last Trimester Funk

Doug asked me to take Felicity to get bread at Trader Joe’s today.

That was the question.

That was what sent me into tears.

Because I don’t want to do anything today.

Because I don’t want to be around my daughter for the fifth day in a row.

And why does her daycare have to be closed this week?

And that makes me a terrible mother.

And soon I’m going to have two small human beings that need me.

And I just had to buy the next size up in maternity pants.

And the next size up in underwear.

And I woke up every hour on the hour last night. To either pee or switch positions.

And I don’t want to be pregnant anymore.

But I’m not ready to have another baby.

And after the miscarriage last year, I swore to myself that I’d never complain about being pregnant again.

And I am.

And I woke up to an email from a friend who just had her baby this morning and she was just so beautiful and life is so full of goodness.

And I’m so grateful that my body was able to do this without complication just one more time.

And I know a small fraction of the things that could have gone wrong so far.

And my legs don’t look like my legs anymore.

And I had to send out a family Christmas picture in which my daughter looks like an angel and I look like a puffed-up version of myself.

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And everyone tells me that I’m really not carrying much extra weight.

And I’m tired of thinking about whether I’m eating enough protein or vegetables or calcium or omega-3s.

And I just really want to have a Guinness.

And I don’t want to think about how much weight I’ll have to lose this time.

And all I really, really want to do is lie in my bed with my Snoogle wrapped around me and pull the covers up to my face and sleep and sleep and sleep like I won’t sleep for another year.

Because once this baby escapes, that’s pretty much the truth.

 

Why Women Have 20-Week Abortions

You are pregnant.

(Just go with me.)

You met your husband in your 30s. It took a while for you to find the right one, but you did. You waited a few years before thinking about having kids. Then, you started trying. Everyone else was getting pregnant so easily, so you thought it would happen without much effort.

Six months go by.

Then a year.

You’re 35.

You start visiting the experts. You take medications and injections. You and your husband are put through the wringer. You spend $20,000 of your own money.

But it works.

The two lines on the test confirm it.

You are pregnant.

But now, the anxiety sets in. You want to know that everything is okay. You wonder why doctors haven’t invented some special at-home ultrasound for you to check out your uterus everyday. Your bloodwork is normal. The genetic tests have come back normal, but you ask them not to tell you the baby’s gender. Not just yet.  You want to have that moment at your 20-week ultrasound.

When you’re 18 weeks pregnant, you finally feel it.

The baby moves. It kicks you. You rush to your husband so he can feel it too, but it’s still too early for him to feel anything.

You relax a little.

When the day of the 20-week ultrasound comes, you are more excited than nervous. You both stare at the ultrasound screen, not quite sure what you’re seeing. You’re smiling. You’re ecstatic even. Waiting for the technician to tell you if it’s a boy or a girl.

But she is quiet as she moves the wand on your belly. You see feet and legs, kicking and squirming. You see hands and a chest.

“So, you’ve got a little girl,” she tells you.

You cry. Because you were hoping for a girl.

But the technician is still quiet.

“I need to run some measurements by the doctor,” she says as she places the wand in its cradle. “Just one second.”

Your heart bottoms out.

***

The doctor says a word that you’ve never heard before.

Anencephaly.

…baby has no brain… incompatible with life… cannot survive…

But you’re not listening anymore.

Your thoughts are running wild.

You know it’s your fault. You should have gotten pregnant earlier. Why did you selfishly wait to try?

You should have taken more folic acid. That’s what causes brain defects like this.

And then there was that time that you went through those full-body scanners at the airport when you flew home to see your parents for Christmas. All that radiation couldn’t have been good.

And didn’t you have a spicy tuna roll in those first few days of pregnancy, before the test came back positive? That was careless.

You don’t deserve to be a mom.

Get a clue. Spend your energy elsewhere because you’re not cut out for this.

But…

When can we try again? Maybe it will be better next time. Next time, I’ll be more careful. Next time, I won’t take any risks, no matter how small they seem. I swear.

Somehow, you manage to ask the question. You’re not crying. You’re completely numb. As the words come out of your mouth, it doesn’t even sound like you saying them.

“Do you know when we can try again? Because… I’m going to be 36 soon. It took us a few years to get pregnant… and I just…” You can’t finish your sentence.

He tells you that you can start trying again when you’re ready. After you deliver this baby.

Right, you think. I still have a baby in me.

***

You spend the evening sobbing, your thoughts still running wild. You google anencephaly and you almost throw up. You google pictures of babies that have it. Actual babies who are born with it. You read miracle stories of babies surviving anencephaly.

Your husband holds you, but he has nothing to offer except his own tears.

Your head is throbbing, but you don’t want to take any medication because… Then you realize that you no longer have a reason to be careful anymore.

You toss back some Excedrin. You think about having some wine, but you can’t bring yourself to do it.

When you wake up the next day, you lie there in the morning light, your hand on your still-so-small belly. You talk to your baby.

You tell your husband, “I cannot do this. I want this to be over.”

You call the doctor. You talk about abortion. You want to know whether they use anesthetics so the baby won’t feel any pain.

And that is when you find out.

You don’t have a choice.

You will have to give birth to this child–because in the state of Ohio, it is now illegal to end the pregnancy.

You cannot believe it. Your child won’t live. You are suffering. You cannot do another day of this. And now you might be carrying this pregnancy for another 20 weeks.

***

But that’s not what happens.

That would have been much more merciful.

At 23 weeks, your water breaks.

You give birth.

Your baby tries to breathe, but she turns blue. Her lungs are underdeveloped. She makes a horrible noise that no mother should have to hear.

But she keeps trying.

It takes your little girl three hours to die.

In your arms.

***

On its face, this is a fictional story. But it is made up of a collection of stories that I have heard and read from other women who have walked this terrible path. A story like this can, and probably will, happen in the state of Ohio next year.

Because on December 13, 2016, Governor Kasich officially signed a 20-week abortion ban. No exceptions for rape, incest, fetal anomalies, and “only very limited exceptions for women’s health.”

Twenty-week abortion bans have become more and more common. Seventeen states now have similar 20-week abortion bans.

I know, I know. Some of you are thinking, Please. This emotional, fictional story that you just told doesn’t represent all 20-week abortions. I know a lot of those babies didn’t have any problems at all.

So, let’s look at some facts.

How many women would the state of Ohio stop from having abortions after 20 weeks?

In 2014, it was 510 women (Ohio Department of Health’s 2014 report on induced abortions, p. 9).

That was 2% of all abortions performed in that year.

Out of those 510 abortions, how many do you think were performed on viable fetuses?

One.

One abortion.

The other 509 abortions were performed on non-viable fetuses.

***

One of the main reasons that women have abortions after 20 weeks is because they have just learned that their child has a terminal diagnosis. And carrying these pregnancies can put the mother’s life at risk.

This is Mindy Swank. Here, she talks about how she was forced to carry a non-viable pregnancy because her Catholic hospital wouldn’t perform an abortion.

“…he tried to breathe, he was turning blue… he wasn’t conscious. It wasn’t a magical time, like people think.”

Or how about this interview with a woman who had an abortion at 32 weeks?

Or this woman who had an abortion at 21 weeks because her baby had half a heart?

Or the women mentioned in NARAL’s 2016 report entitled “Abortion Bans at 20 Weeks: A Dangerous Restriction for Women”?

These are just a few women who have had to face the reality of how 20-week abortion bans affect women’s physical and emotional health.

***

But let me be pro-life for a moment.

Let me acknowledge that some of you are reading this and thinking, Okay, fine, but I’ve read articles that have talked about women who get third-trimester abortions on perfectly healthy babies! And I won’t stand for that! It’s not right! If those women weren’t so selfish, someone could adopt that baby, someone who could give it a wonderful life!

Let’s assume you are right. Let’s assume there are women who are ending viable pregnancies after 20 weeks.

You know what?

That woman’s right to end her viable pregnancy is intertwined with another woman’ right to end her non-viable pregnancy.

The truth is, not many of these 20-week abortion bans that have been passed in individual states make a distinction between mothers seeking abortions for a non-viable versus a viable fetus.

They’re all lumped together.

Just as they are in the state of Ohio now.

Banning 20-week abortions isn’t simply a matter of “protecting life.”

At least in Ohio, a ban on 20-week abortions doesn’t save babies from certain death because many of these babies will not survive.

Instead, a ban like this amplifies the already unimaginable grief that some pregnant women bear.

The truth is, women in Ohio will soon be forced to carry non-viable pregnancies, regardless of how they feel about it.

There’s nothing pro-life about that.

A Response to Ohio’s New 20-Week Abortion Ban: My Letter to Governor Kasich

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December 16, 2016

Governor Kasich,

I recently wrote you in regard to the Heartbeat Bill, which was part of HB 493. I’m so very glad that you line-item vetoed it. I understand that you had different reasons than me for disapproving of it. Your rationale for your veto was based on the likelihood that the law would be struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, as was the case in laws passed in North Dakota and Arkansas.

But, as you wrote in your statement, you have “a deep respect for the pro-life community and their ongoing efforts in the defense of unborn life.”

You presumably demonstrated this respect for unborn life by taking a different action.

You signed into law a 20-week abortion ban. With no exceptions for rape or incest. And very limited provisions for abortions that endanger the life of the mother.

On its face, this law can seem more reasonable than the Heartbeat Bill. After all, 20 weeks? That’s five months of pregnancy. What kind of woman waits that long to make the decision to have an abortion? And what about all those pictures of aborted 20-week-old babies? Awful. Just awful.

Certainly, such a ban stops the most atrocious acts of violence that are being committed against thousands of innocent, unborn children?

Right?

But this rationale is a myth.

It’s not grounded in reality.

I read the Ohio Department of Health’s 2014 report on induced abortions. If you pay attention, a quite different picture of a typical 20-week abortion emerges from this report. Here are some quick facts:

  • Only 510 of the 21,186 abortions that were performed in 2014 happened after 19 weeks of pregnancy. That is 2% of total abortions.
  • Of the 510 abortions after 19 weeks, only 1 was performed on a viable fetus.
  • 509 abortions after 19 weeks were performed on non-viable fetuses.

Those are facts, collected and compiled from your own state agency.

In other words, only 1 abortion in the state of Ohio was performed on a fetus that could have survived outside of its mother’s womb.

Unfortunately, the exact reasons that women obtain abortions after 20 weeks has not been widely studied, possibly because they make up only 2% of total abortions in the United States. (Even though they garner the most public outcry.)

But let me point out one clear reason why some women have abortions at 20 weeks.

It is at this point that some women first find out that their child will not survive outside of the womb. They have anencephaly (no brain) or bilateral renal agenesis (no kidneys) or severe omphalocele (all organs are growing outside of the body).

This is the reality of the 20-week abortion ban: It means that next year women who would have chosen to end their pregnancies because their child was not going to survive, now have no choice about how to deal with their grief.

They must carry their dying babies as long as their bodies will allow and as long as their babies’ hearts continue to beat.

Yes, I know. Some women have told you remarkably moving stories about how they persevered through their grief and gave birth to their babies and held them for a few hours before they passed away in their arms. Their stories are regarded by many as both honorable and heroic. Even in the certainty of tragedy, these women pressed on and allowed their children the great blessing of being born into this world. Even though they died shortly afterward.

These experiences are beautiful stories. And for some women, these experiences are the major catalyst for their own healing.

But–and this is truly, truly important–not every woman grieves in the same way.

Grief is personal. It is highly dependent on our individual personalities and coping mechanisms.

What I am saying is this: We should not create one acceptable path for how women are allowed to process the grief that follows the devastating knowledge that their child will not survive after birth.

It is no less motherly to want to end your child’s suffering inside the womb so he will never know a life of pain. It is no more motherly to carry your child to term and hold him in your arms as he passes.

They are just different ways of grieving.

But this 20-week abortion ban takes away one of those options.

Now, women who are carrying babies with terminal diagnoses will have no choice about how to deal with their grief.

Can you imagine what it feels like to carry impending death with you? Everywhere you go? Every moment of your life?

Can you imagine just trying to live a normal life, without having to remember every moment of it that your child is dying? Even as your body continues to grow and grow?

Can you imagine trying to go about your day without bursting into tears when someone tells you “congratulations?”

Can you imagine all the strangers’ comments, every day, all day? How far along are you? What are you having? Is this your first? Are you excited? You look great! Do you have the baby’s room ready?

Can you imagine trying to get out of conversations about the pregnancy? Because you don’t really want to explain the whole situation to your mechanic. Or the cashier. Or the visitor at your church.

And every time, feeling that you are just betraying your child once again.

Can you imagine the tension of wanting your child’s life to end so you can finally move on?

Can you imagine the unspeakable guilt? Can you imagine these feelings that you don’t dare utter aloud because people will think that you don’t love your child?

Can you imagine your absolute rage that you have become a prisoner to your own body, stamped and approved by the country that you love, but whose laws you so passionately disagree with?

Can you imagine… reaching a point when you look for an alternative?

Maybe someone can help you out. Off the record. Maybe you could get this process going with some medications that you order on-line. Or maybe you could go to another state? Not Indiana. But maybe Pennsylvania?

That is how women find themselves looking at ways to have abortions at home. Without medical help.

That is how women die.

Governor Kasich, I don’t believe it is your intention to put women into such a situation. You seem to be a reasonable man, but perhaps a man who isn’t familiar with the perspective of pregnant women.

I am currently 34 weeks pregnant with my second child. At this stage, this pregnancy is consuming my life. I’m carrying around 35 extra pounds. I can’t breathe normally. I can’t eat a full meal. I can’t sleep comfortably. I pee about 18 times a day and constantly through the night. In every conversation that I have with strangers, they comment on my pregnancy. I cannot avoid it without being rude.

So I just take it.

As will these women who won’t be able to have abortions after 20 weeks.

To carry a pregnancy doesn’t just mean to keep living and breathing. It means that you slowly conform to the child. You let go and let go and let go. The child grows and grows and the only way to get through it is to surrender.

That is hard enough to do when you know your child is healthy and will very likely survive.

Can you imagine how hard that is to do for women who know their child is going to die?

Governor Kasich, I ask that you carefully consider the reality that this law will now have on women. We’re not talking about saving thousands of perfectly healthy babies from selfish, horrible mothers that want to kill them. We are talking about a group of women who are making the most incredibly difficult decision of their lives while immersed in grief.

Respectfully,

Sharon Tjaden-Glass

Dayton, Ohio 45459

 

 

A Response to the “Heartbeat Bill”: My Letter to Governor John Kasich

heartbeat

December 8, 2016

Governor John Kasich:

I am writing you in regard to House Bill 493, the “Heartbeat Bill”, which would ban abortions once a heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks of gestation. There are no provisions for cases of incest, rape, or medical complications that put the mother’s life at risk. If this bill becomes law, once there is a heartbeat, no medical facility or clinic could perform an abortion.

I am truly shocked that this bill has passed both the Ohio House and the Ohio Senate. But when I learned that this bill was tacked on to a larger bill that addressed child abuse, I just shook my head.

Politics.

I am currently 33 weeks pregnant with my second child. I’m due in January 2017. Our first child turned three years old this past August.

I’m telling you this because I know what it means to carry the life of a child.

I grew up in a conservative Christian household. We attended a Southern Baptist Church. I went to church on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. I memorized Bible verses in the AWANA program. I was quite good at that. When I was finally able to vote in 2000, I proudly voted a straight Republican ticket.

I was pro-life. I thought abortion was abhorrent. Women who had abortions must have been heartless, soulless, and godless. They needed to be saved from making the most dreadful, horrifying mistake of their lives. I believed that the U.S. Supreme Court needed to overturn Roe v. Wade. Only then would we be able to stamp out the evil of abortion across this country.

Abortion is murder. Plain and simple. And murder is a crime.

If she gets pregnant, she should suffer the consequences. If she wanted to have sex, she should have at least been responsible.

If she was raped, she shouldn’t make the child suffer. And are we even really sure that she was raped? Getting pregnant from a rape hardly ever happens.

Yes. I had those thoughts.

It was easy to hold these beliefs because they went unchallenged. I socialized mostly with other conservative Christians. At school, I viewed my classmates who weren’t Christians as “the lost.” They didn’t truly have a working moral compass. They needed to be saved.

And as an evangelical Christian, I should be the person who saved them.

I began my college career at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio in 2000. During my four years there, I met a lot of different people who did not grow up in the same conservative circles that I did. In conversations, I began to realize that some of my beliefs about social issues (same-sex marriage, poverty, race, abortion) were not automatically echoed and supported by others. I was challenged to think critically about my opinions. I was challenged to support what I believed.

I’m so very grateful for having been challenged.

Because I began to realize that the foundation upon which I was basing my beliefs on many issues was flimsy at best. What I had to support my opinions were soundbites that crumbled under the power of even the simplest of questions. Jesus never talked about abortion. But he sure talked a lot about caring for the poor and loving others. Especially those who were on the margins of society.

And then a thought occurred to me.

Why did I think it was my responsibility to restrict someone else’s choices?

Who was I to decide how someone else lived their life?

Was I so inherently right in my beliefs that what I thought about the world should be imposed on everyone else?

Once I posed those questions to myself, I was ashamed of how arrogant I sounded.

However, I have to admit that all of my changed beliefs about abortion were still vague abstractions that didn’t directly impact my life. I had never been pregnant. Privately, I wondered if being pregnant and giving birth would change my opinion yet again. Maybe I would revert to my pro-life stance of years past?

But I didn’t.

In fact, I am more pro-choice now than I have ever been.

Because now, I understand what it means to become a mother.

Becoming a mother is not strictly a physical test of endurance. It’s a mental and emotional marathon that not only requires sufficient financial resources, but also a social support network. Otherwise, you will completely implode.

My husband and I are firmly established in the middle class, yet we still found the costs of having a child to be quite burdensome. It cost us $3500 just to give birth in a hospital—and we had health insurance. We spent another $12,000 on car seats, furniture, diapers, formula, clothing, medicine, and other supplies. Because I wanted to return to work, it cost us another $11,000 per year for our child to be in daycare.

There were days in that first year of motherhood when I wasn’t sure that I could go on—and I wasn’t worried about the financial aspect. There were days when I wanted to be free of the constant 24/7 responsibility—and my husband and I had wanted this child.

Now, can you imagine being a 20-some-year-old single woman with a high school diploma, taking some college classes part-time while you work a job that might bring in $20,000 per year? That’s the most common portrait of a woman who gets an abortion in Ohio that emerges from the Ohio Department of Health’s 2014 report on induced abortions (p. 9).

Becoming a mother is a huge responsibility and it’s not one that we should force women to take on if they are not prepared to do so. At a time when Republicans want to slash spending on social programs, outlawing nearly all abortions would not only force unprepared, single women into motherhood, it would drive them into years of poverty as they struggle to not only provide for their children, but to do so with increasingly shrinking assistance from the government.

As I review the Ohio Department of Health’s 2014 report on induced abortions, what strikes me most is that the abortion restrictions in House Bill 493 do not seem to respond to the reality of abortion statistics in the state of Ohio. Here are some interesting facts that I gathered from this report:

  • In 1976, there were roughly 10,000 more abortions in the state of Ohio than there are today (Figure 1, p. 2).
  • Since 2001, the rate of abortions per live births has steadily decreased (Figure 4, p. 5).
  • Since 2001, abortion rates have fallen among women aged 15-34. The sharpest decline in abortion rates occurred among women aged 18-19 (15 fewer abortions per 1,000 births) and aged 20-24 (13 fewer abortions per 1,000 births) (Figure 5, p. 6).
  • Of the 21,186 abortions performed in 2014, there were only 36 instances of post-abortion complications (Table 10a, p. 26). That means 99.8% of abortions were performed with no medical complications.
  • Of all abortions performed in 2014, 53% were performed before 9 weeks of gestation. 31% were performed from 9-12 weeks of gestation. 13% were performed from 13-18 weeks of gestation. Only 2.1% of all abortions were performed after 19 weeks of gestation (Figure 3, p. 2).
  • In 2014, 510 abortions were performed after 19 weeks. Of those abortions, only 1 abortion was performed on a viable fetus. The other 509 abortions were performed on non-viable fetuses. (Table 18, p. 39).

In short, in the state of Ohio…

  • the number of abortions have decreased
  • the rate of abortions has decreased
  • complications of abortion procedures are extremely rare
  • 97% of abortions are performed before 20 weeks
  • after 20 weeks, abortions are almost always performed because the fetus cannot survive outside of the womb.

All of this information makes me question the purpose of the Heartbeat Bill, which now awaits your signature in order to become law.

Is it to decrease abortions?

I doubt it. They’re already decreasing.

Is it to protect women’s health?

Clearly not. Abortions are incredibly safe.

Perhaps passing this law is a moral endeavor?

We should not impose one group’s definition of morality over all residents of this state.

The best conclusion that I can draw is that this bill is purely political. It is a means to appease a vocal and staunchly pro-life segment of Ohio’s population at an opportune moment, presumably to give the U.S. Supreme Court a reason to revisit their decision on Roe v. Wade.

But let’s be honest here.

Many of the people who express such disgust for abortion will never, ever face a reality in which the Heartbeat Bill will ever affect them.

They are men. They are women who would never have an abortion because of their moral opposition. They are women past the age of childbearing. These groups of people can vociferously support anti-abortion laws with no consequence to themselves.

But I am a woman who is affected by this law. I’ve got skin in this game.

As I mentioned before, my husband and I wanted to have a child. We were responsible. We got married, started our professional careers, paid off debt, and made plans for when to have our first child. The importance of my right to have an abortion never occurred to me. After all, we were trying to get pregnant.

But as I held the sonogram pictures from our 20-week ultrasound for our first child, a terrifying thought struck me.

What if we had found out that our child had no brain? Or no kidneys? Or some other fatal abnormality? Would we have been able to have an abortion?

20-week-ultrasound

Truthfully, I didn’t know at the time if the state of Ohio had any abortion restrictions.

The thought scared me. That if we had received devastating news at that ultrasound, that my choices about how to deal with that news might be limited depending on where I lived.

I began to realize that, for me, preserving the right to have an abortion isn’t about “killing babies.”

For me, it’s about offering options for the grieving process.

When you already know that your child will not survive, you fall into this quagmire of grief. The last thing that you need is the government telling you what you can and cannot do in order to move through that grief. Some women find comfort in giving birth and holding their child for however long their child lives. Other women find comfort in ending their pregnancies in the womb, so their child will not be born into a short life of pain.

In Christmas 2015, I had to walk through that path of grief. At nine weeks of pregnancy, I watched the doctor show me our silent, motionless baby, floating on the ultrasound screen. No heartbeat. I do not have the exact words for how I felt in that moment. It was an awful feeling of denial, anger, sadness, guilt, and frustration.

I had the choice to either miscarry naturally or to have a D & C.

I waited for my body to miscarry naturally. But it wouldn’t let go.

After a week of carrying death inside of me, I just could not take it anymore. I wanted to move on. I wanted to let go. I was ready to move through my grief. I called my doctor and scheduled the D & C. The procedure was quick and uneventful. I had no complications. In five months, I was pregnant again.

But under this new law, if my baby still had a heartbeat, even if the diagnosis was terminal, I would not have been allowed to choose that same path. I would be forced to bear that grief for as long as my body wanted. Only then would the government be satisfied.

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld that all women have a choice. And because of that ruling, no woman is forced to walk a path that she doesn’t want to. No one will make her have an abortion. No one will make her carry her child to term.

In the end, it’s the mother who bears the emotions of her choice. She is the one who cries the tears. Not the advocacy groups. Not the protesters. Not the government. She, alone, lives with her choice.

And with that in mind, I hope that you consider voices like mine above the voices of those who have no personal stake in this issue. Women like me are the ones who will be affected by this law.

I am not a baby killer. I don’t disrespect life. I don’t need to be taught a lesson in personal responsibility.

I am a mother. I am a wife. I am a Christian. I’m educated, thoughtful, responsible, and compassionate. I deserve to be trusted to make my own health decisions.

Please remember that as you make yours.

Respectfully,

Sharon Tjaden-Glass

Dayton, OH 45459

 

 

Week 27: Here Comes the Weight Again

Last week, I pulled on a pair of underwear and thought, “What happened?”

Tight. All over.

And these were the underwear that I wore at the end of my first pregnancy.

I stepped on the scale, the number staring me in the face.

Well, that makes 25 pounds so far

And still 13 weeks to go.

I tried to put it out of my mind, but when my husband asked me what was wrong, I just started crying.

pregnant-woman-black-and-white

***

Now, I’ve been through this whole thing before. I know how this goes. You gain a few pounds in the first trimester. Things kind of “explode” in the second trimester. But it’s the third trimester when you really start packing on the weight.

In my head, I know this.

I also know that I was able to drop the weight after the birth. I wish that the way that it melted off me for the first two weeks had continued until I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight. But the truth is, after those first weeks of blissful, unintended weight loss, losing weight resumed the same old narrative that it has always had in my life.

Losing weight was a fight.

I’ve won that fight three times already.

Up in the 190s and then down to the 130s.

Up to the 170s, then down to the 130s.

Up to the 180s, and then down to the 140s.

But it’s still hard.

I am used to navigating the seasons of my life when I need to “batten down the hatches.” I become goal-oriented, willing to forego what I want in the moment for the results that I want in the future. Even when it doesn’t pay off immediately. Look at how I spend my time: I teach. I write. I knit.

These things come easy to me because I have control.

But this season of my life is markedly different.

Pregnancy is a time of growth and expansion. That’s pretty easy to see. It’s probably the most widely understood parts of pregnancy–that you grow bigger and bigger and bigger.

But if you’ve never been pregnant, let me tell you how this is effectively me internally.

At 27 weeks, this baby is now pushing up against my rib cage while at the same time kicking and brushing against my pelvic bones. Since this is my second pregnancy, I’m feeling round ligament pain. My lung capacity is starting to shrink so I’m taking more breaths per minute now. My stomach is compressed so I can’t eat a full meal like I used. I feel so stretched on the sides that sometimes I wonder how I’m going to possibly contain this baby for another 13 weeks without my stomach just splitting wide open.

13 more weeks…

But the physical stuff is a lot easier to deal with than the emotional stuff. And the emotional stuff is a lot harder to see.

It’s not just that I’ve gained a lot of weight. And that I have more to go.

It’s that I’m struggling to let go.

Struggling to surrender.

Struggling to relinquish control.

Struggling to humble myself, once again, to this great task that lies ahead of me.

Week 25: The Edge of Viability

A baby cannot survive outside of the womb prior to 21 weeks.

At 23 weeks, it has a 10-35% chance of survival with significant intervention.

At 24 weeks, it increases to the 40-70% range.

At 25 weeks, it’s 50-80%.

At 26 weeks, it’s 80-90%.

In this short time span, some women end their pregnancies. Many of them have received devastating, terminal diagnoses at their 20-week ultrasound scan. Diagnoses that end with the crushing phrases like, “little chance of survival” or even “incompatible with life.”

Anencephaly. Bilateral renal agenesis. Severe spina bifida. Severe heart and lung defects.

 

To obtain an abortion past 20 weeks inspires the ire of millions of anti-abortion advocates. This anger has boiled over into politicized (not medical) terms like “partial birth abortion.”

Yet only 1.2% of all abortions are performed after 21 weeks in the United States.

preemie

***

As I stand here on the edge of viability, I ask my fellow citizens who are the most enraged about second trimester abortions this:

Do you think that I would choose to end this pregnancy for some selfish, frivolous reason?

After having coming so far?

Through nausea and indigestion

Fatigue and weight gain

Only to decide to end this pregnancy because I don’t realize the sanctity of life?

Do you think that I don’t feel the weight of this life inside of me?

Do you trust me to understand what it would mean to end my pregnancy at this point?

Or do you think that I need laws to keep me in my place?

Do you trust me to carry this life?

Do you really care about my child?

Do you really care about me?

 

And if you say that you do…

Does your concern for the well-being of my child end once it’s in my arms?

Would you do an about-face once my child is born and tell me now it’s your responsibility, not the government’s?

Do you care whether my child and I have an income

while I recover from the stretching, the pushing, the tearing, the leaking, the constant waking, the weeping?

Does your heart break like mine does when I have to return to work just six weeks later?

Does it?

 

If we want to respect the sanctity of life, that means respecting the mother who carries that life as well.

It means not turning up your nose when someone bemoans our nation’s lack of guaranteed, paid maternity leave.

It means not decrying the fact that your taxes are used to pay for programs like Medicaid, WIC, Head Start, food stamps, and subsidized childcare.

It means not demonizing clinics like Planned Parenthood, which millions of women rely on for their health care services.

It means that you don’t flag down a store’s security guard to report that a woman is breastfeeding her child in public.

To me, the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” don’t completely encapsulate what we’re talking about.

What is “life” without health?

Who “chooses” death over life?

These are the questions that the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” evoke. And I think they entirely miss the point.

I believe and will always believe that pregnant women feel the weight of the life inside of them.

It can be exhilarating.

It can be terrifying.

But I don’t think that pregnant women feel nothing.

To characterize the need for second trimester abortion restrictions as a way to “keep women from killing children” does a great disservice to what many of these mothers and fathers face when they walk out of the doors of their 20-week ultrasound.

Reeling from the worst possible news.

Figuring out whether to or how to end the pregnancy

Determining if they’ll have to travel to another state in order to do so

Wondering if they will be expected to “explain” to family, friends, co-workers, and even acquaintances why they are ending the pregnancy.

Waiting for judgment to fall on them.

week-20

First Trimester

I knew it was true before the test.

I knew the feeling of that tiny, dense star settling in.

Laying its roots.

Sensing its first lines of communication.

Even though the tests had been coming back negative.

10 days past ovulation.

11 days.

12 days.

13 days–I’ve missed my period.

14 days.

Then, at 15 days, the faintest of lines.

Tiny. Wondrous.

Terrifying.

So terrifying.

You’re four weeks pregnant, the app announces. A tiny cluster of cells, burrowing, hopefully in a good location. I feel twinges and fullness, a familiar Oh, right. That’s what it was like. I begin teaching my fifth (and final) seven-week term of teaching for the academic year. I make plans to accomplish everything that I can do ahead of time before the hard weeks set in.

You’re five weeks pregnant, it tells me. A tiny tadpole, the neural tube forming. I wonder how many days I have left before the cloud of nausea overwhelms me. I look back at my previous pregnancies and chart out my symptoms to help me make an estimate. I worry about not feeling much yet. Then I tell myself to be grateful.

You’re six weeks pregnant, it tells me. The heart starts beating. The symptoms begin. I leave work early to sleep and sleep. I read about a gorilla dragging a three-year-old boy at the Cincinnati Zoo. I watch parents mirror the same aggression, ripping the mother to shreds with their judgment plastered across social media.

You’re seven weeks pregnant, it tells me. The organs move into place. The symptoms build. I stop exercising at 5:00 a.m. I spend mornings trying to establish equilibrium with my nausea while teaching 8:00 a.m. classes four days a week. I tell myself that I’m grateful that I’ve made it this far. I read about the Brock Turner rape case. It makes me more nauseous.

You’re eight weeks pregnant, it tells me. The organs develop. The symptoms peak. Mundane teaching tasks take all my concentration. I battle hunger and nausea hour after hour after hour. Trial and error. Carb or protein? Water? No water? Constantly queasy, wave after wave after wave. I wake up at 2:00 a.m., hungry, nauseous. I eat crackers in the night.

I read about another mass shooting, this time in Orlando. I watch the familiar script, that we’ve all been trained to follow, play out in detail after agonizing detail on social media. I’ve just about had enough of the argument that more weapons = more safety.

Then, a diversion: more parent-shaming as a toddler is attacked by an alligator at a Disney resort.

 

And then, the ultrasound.

 

The beauty of a tiny flicker in the center of its chest.

The unmistakable wahn-wahn-wahn-wahn.

166 beats per minute. Good rate. Chances of miscarrying now are much, much lower.

I relax.

You’re nine weeks pregnant, it tells me. The tail disappears and the hands forms. The symptoms continue, with just the slightest hint of weakening. I put away my size 6s. And my size 8s. It’s size 10 for right now. I think about how much longer I can hide this.

I watch Democrats start a sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives. I read about Brexit, shocked and dismayed.

You’re ten weeks pregnant, it tells me. The baby inside me looks like a baby. It is tiny and translucent, but complete. I look in the mirror and I know I need to start telling people soon. I’ve put away my fitted dress shirts. I’ve taken out my stash of maternity clothes, now three years in hibernation, but every summer shirt was bought for my third trimester. They are huge. So I buy some larger clothes to get by.

I think about telling my co-workers, but then I decide against it. What if I lose this one, too, just like the last one? Am I ready to have those conversations with everyone?

I’m not. I’m really not.

So as the last day of my teaching contract passes for this academic year, I turn in my final exams and final grades, pack up my snacks at my desk, and unceremoniously bow out of my teaching responsibilities until mid-August. Without sharing the news.

You’re eleven weeks pregnant, the app announces. My baby begins to open and close its fists. Its bones begin to harden. I’m officially living in someone else’s body. On some days, my lunch sits in my stomach until 7:00 p.m., my digestion moving at an absolute crawl. Everything causes heartburn. Everything. I’ve given up on coffee. It’s just too painful. I want to eat protein and more protein. I want nectarines, grapes, peaches, watermelon, tomatoes, anything high in vitamin C.

Screw it, I think. I put away the size 10s and embrace maternity jeans.

I stop reading the news. It’s too depressing.

I hear my baby’s heartbeat again at my next appointment.

I relax more.

We visit some friends who have just had their second baby. They are hosting a Fourth of July cookout. A gaggle of kids take turns diving into the inflatable kiddie pool, despite the overcast skies and cool temperatures. My friend’s tiny newborn sleeps curled up on her chest, tucked into a baby carrier. It makes me smile.

I wish this whole pregnancy were already over and I were in her same position. I’m already exhausted with this whole process and I’m not even out of the first trimester. I want to be able to eat a normal meal without wondering how long it will sit in my stomach. I want to run like I used to, early in the morning, three miles. I want to sleep through the night without getting up to pee at least three times. I want to take medicine when I get a cold. I want to have a cold Guinness from the tap on a summer night.

I want a spicy tuna roll. Badly.

Of course, I know that the postpartum period is even rockier for me than pregnancy is, but in this moment, I just want to be beyond where I am.

I feel like I’m getting too old for this.

But dwelling on all of this doesn’t make it go faster. It just robs me of my gratitude.

So instead, I fix my attention on what I will do during these next six weeks, while my daughter is in daycare, while I continue to grow a human being, and while my body finishes the exhausting job of creating a placenta. (And, God… it is.)

I will read. I will write. I will exercise on my own schedule. I will take care of myself and hopefully dive into some creative project that heals my soul enough to swallow another year of new rules and policies and mandates that don’t lead to better education.

You’re twelve weeks pregnant, the app tells me. The baby now has reflexes and will squirm away if something prods it. I think I’ve learned the new rules about how to eat and feel okay in this new body of mine. It’s humbling to bow to the truth that someone else is steering this ship again.

I’ve forgotten how hard all of this is.

I turn on NPR again to catch up on news.

More shootings. More death.

I rest my hand where life is growing.

I think about what I might write about all of this.

 

If you liked this post, check out my book Becoming Mother, a great gift for first-time moms.

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