And I saw it. Like the flicker of a lightning bug. The heartbeat.
I stared at it, transfixed by the regular pulsing on the monitor, and my world narrowed. It was me and this little being — two heartbeats, one body.
That’s when the pregnancy became real for me.
Before I received visual confirmation, being with child was just a series of increasingly annoying symptoms that, if I wanted to, I could attribute to other things. The ability to smell everything within a 10-mile radius? Maybe I was turning into a superhero with heightened senses! Jeans not fitting right? Must be the fact that my couch and I have been spending a lot of quality time together recently. Unprecedented exhaustion? If sleeping 12 hours a day is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.
And that glaringly positive pregnancy test? Probably just a fluke.
I was half-convinced that the ultrasound technician wouldn’t find a thing and would send me home, scolding me for being a psychosomatic weirdo. But, no, I was really pregnant. Someone with a lab coat and medical training told me. It’s officially official.
To say I’m “change adverse” is an understatement. If I could literally follow the exact same routine each and every day, I would be content. I need structure and I crave control. I make lists and I have one-, two-, and five-year plans.
And this pregnancy? It laughs in the face of my carefully constructed existence.
For someone to whom “chaos” is a dirty word, the ups, downs, and physical ramifications of being a walking incubator are challenging to handle. For the first time in my life, something is completely outside of my control, and I’m having trouble processing that. I mean, I’m doing everything “right” — I’m avoiding caffeine and alcohol and all of that, but there are so many variables that I can’t plan for or anticipate.
For instance: I’m in my 11th week right now, and my baby is already fully formed, developing reflexes, and growing tiny tooth buds. But since I can’t see or feel any of this, I feel like I’m stuck in a passive state, just hoping that everything is going as expected. I know I’m meant to let go and trust that my baby is growing and thriving and that my body knows what to do, but how do I trust something I can’t fully understand?
Plus, right now I don’t have a tactile sense of my baby. I’ll have moments where I don’t feel pregnant — I feel like an imposter. There’s no baby bump yet, and I’m right in the middle of what I’ve coined the “awkwardly fitting pants” stage, where my clothes are too tight, but its more bloat than baby. Even the phrase “I’m pregnant” feels strange in my mouth; the words are right, but, like a phrase in a foreign language, I can’t quite say it fluently.
And there’s really no reason all of this should seem so strange to me. This pregnancy was very much planned — it just happened way faster than my husband, Adam, and I anticipated. We started talking about trying several months beforehand, and I jumped right into “planning” mode. I calculated everything, from possible due dates (and the pros and cons of having a baby born in each month) to an entire pre-conception checklist of what I should/shouldn’t be doing in order to make my body a hospitable place for a fetus.
“How do I trust something I can’t fully understand?”
The only thing I failed to take into account was how I would feel when I saw that plus sign. After stopping birth control (which I had been taking religiously for over 10 years), I anticipated that my body would need a few months to regulate itself before anything happened. I was wrong. The first time we tried? That was it. That was all it took. It happened so fast that I didn’t have time to happily anticipate the pregnancy before it became a reality. All of a sudden, I was faced with irrefutable evidence that my husband and I were going to be bringing a new life into this world in nine months.
Since I thought I would have several months to get used to the idea of becoming a mother, to have the timeline moved up on me caught me very off-guard. Adam was more willing to accept the situation than I was, and seeing his excitement made me feel guilty for not being able to rise to that level.
Sometimes I feel like I’m caught in the eye of a storm. Everyone around me is caught up in anticipation and excitement and joy, and I’m a calm observer, watching from the inside. I want to feel what they feel, to chatter about names and old wives’ tales and cravings, but I feel pressed into a passive calm state — rooted in caution and unable to live in the moment. While other people share their own hopes and dreams and wishes for this little baby, I want to stop them and urge restraint. I want them to slow down so that I have the chance to catch up.
I’m scared. I really am. I’m scared that something will go ”wrong,” and I won’t be able to fix it. I’ve always been able to rationalize my way through life, and now I’m busy growing a baby with a brand new set of variables that I can’t understand, let alone control. It’s overwhelming to think that soon I’ll be holding a new life in my hands, and I hope so much that I’m up to the task.
But then there’s the flip side of the coin: because I can’t control what’s going on inside me, I’m channeling that helpless feeling into something productive. I’m doing what I can to prepare, and part of that means knowing that 100% control and organization aren’t possible, or even ideal. I don’t want to be that mother that can’t let go, that stifles fun and that kills imagination. And so I’m working on myself while my baby gets ready for its big entrance. I’m learning to let go and let chaos in.
And it’s hard. It’s hard to change something that resides so deeply within my center. It’s hard to willfully stop worrying and breaking seemingly indestructible old habits. But I’m trying, and, slowly, I’m succeeding.
There are definitely dark days, where I feel so out of control that it makes me feel sick, when I feel paralyzed by fear and by everything I don’t know and can’t know on this journey as a parent. But even when I’m at my lowest, when I’ve lost uncountable hours to nameless, shapeless fears, I always find a moment of stillness and calm. And these moments of tranquility grow longer and come easier. I am ready for this. I am ready to become a mother and I am ready to share my love with this baby.
My secret to finding that place of quiet within? I just think of that little flickering heartbeat.
Stephanie Butler works in Communications for the University of British Columbia. She is a transplanted prairie girl who is happy to call the west coast home. She lives with her husband Adam and two very spoiled cats. Stephanie loves books and tea (often at the same time), and has been putting pen to paper since she was knee high to a grasshopper. She hopes to instill in her child a genuine love of reading, writing and whimsy — the very cornerstones of a happy life.