A range of emotions:

Sometimes I don’t feel worthy of telling my pregnancy and birth story simply because each and every night I kiss my beautiful girls, tuck them into bed and say I love you; in which I hear giggles or “love you mommy” back.  This alone is a privilege that not all women who have been pregnant can say, and even though my pregnancy journey was atypical and rough to say the least, I don’t take for granted my happy ending.

What I found the most through my three pregnancies though, is women do not talk about their journey enough.  I always joke pregnancy and motherhood is a secret cult until you experience it firsthand.  And what I have learned is that it’s ok to speak freely about the experience and to speak of the range of emotions felt.  It’s ok to share your story because each and every pregnancy journey is truly unique and by telling your story, you might just help another mother or mother in waiting.

Truthfully, I hold a lot of guilt regarding my pregnancy and the path I placed my babies on.  Pregnancy was anything but a beautiful experience in my opinion and saying that is the first guilt I feel; because, I know how desperately some are longing for this experience.  Yet, I struggled each day with all 3 pregnancies.  I had hyperemesis and morning sickness was 24/7.

36 weeks into my first, I developed pre-eclampsia and was induced.  I delivered a healthy baby girl who only spent an extra night in the hospital to bring down her bilirubin level.  Everything appeared in line to bring her home; however, I still felt awful- but what did I know?  This was my first.  If it wasn’t for the nursing aid who was sent to wheel me out of the hospital with my baby girl telling me “mama you don’t look good,” I question where I would be today.  He gave me the courage to acknowledge my symptoms were real and to call my doctor to be seen before going home.  I was diagnosed with a double kidney infection and placed on antibiotics and pain medication immediately.  My husband took our daughter home while I stayed behind for evaluation.

We got the surprise of a lifetime when 3 months after her birth I found out I was pregnant! We would have our second child just 5 days shy of our oldest birthday- or so we thought.  Instead baby girl 2 thought 33 weeks was a great time to enter this world.  Just 10 short months after her sister (thanks again to hyperemesis and preeclampsia).  Here is where I experienced the NICU.  At birth, I held my little one for a minute before they swept her off for evaluation.  I had 24 hours post birth magnesium – so only my husband could visit our child and come back and give me updates.  Once the timer went off, I prepared to go see my girl only to be greeted by doctors stopping me to inform she needed to be intubated and it would be a little bit longer before I could visit.  It wasn’t until another 12 hours later I could see and finally truly hold her.  Again, I felt guilty.  Guilty I couldn’t do better, hold her in longer.  Guilty that I made her fight during her first hours of life because my body couldn’t go on further with the pregnancy.  And at the same time, I felt in awe of this tiny miracle- having this inner strength to survive in a world she entered too soon.  Each day with the help of a skilled medical team she proved she was her own superhero and she would thrive.

I appreciated the medical team for devoting their life to this profession.  For giving up hours with their own families in order for me to have my family.  I appreciated the partners of the NICU. Who stand firmly in the background, letting mom have all the time she needs.  For me, my husband.  He was the quiet rock next to me- allowing me to just cry when needed, allowing me the visitation time and never complaining; even though I often forgot to ask what he needed during this period.  Looking back on the experience, we can’t forget the needs of partners in the NICU and have to do a better job checking in on them and also thanking them.

Through all this I still held a hope that I would have the “normal” pregnancy experience.  I craved that experience.  So, after lengthy conversations with doctors, my husband and I decided to roll the dice and try for a third.  Three was always our desired number.  Even if we experienced the NICU again, I thought I was prepared- we did it once.  We knew the ropes.

8 weeks into my pregnancy all hope was shattered.  Instead of gaining weight, I was losing and food was public enemy number 1.  It was decided a PICC line was the correct option to aid me along, in addition to multiple medications (usually contraindicated in pregnancy).  This pregnancy I felt scared I wouldn’t make it through.  Some mornings I didn’t know how I was getting out of bed to function- A full time job, 2 kids under 3, school work to complete for my doctorate and the feeling of my body failing daily (oh and did I mention a pandemic!).  Yet, this is what I wanted, I chose this – and I constantly reminded myself that even if it might not seem it – there was light at the end of the tunnel.  I feared my medications would cause baby side effects either at birth or later in life.  But there comes a time you have to also choose your health – and I think that’s overlooked in pregnancy or not very encouraged.  We constantly ask how baby is- but we also need to ask how mom is.

Finally at 35 weeks, baby girl 3 arrived.  I prayed she was my “take home” baby- the one I leave the hospital with normally.  Yet, she needed some extra love and back to the NICU we went.  While she seemed “healthier” than our 33 weeker- she didn’t thrive as well and ended up in the NICU longer. I thought I was prepared for this experience – but the curveballs got to me – and I had a harder time accepting my baby wasn’t home with us. Lesson is, you are never prepared for the NICU – because just like pregnancy every experience is different and comes with its own set of ups and downs.

Today, all 3 are home and we are living a normal chaotic life ! Which I’m incredibly grateful and thankful for.  I think back on my story and there isn’t the glow of pregnancy – mainly I think my story would scare women into not having children.  Or now sometimes I also think my story proves that women will go to hell and back for their children (isn’t that the definition of motherhood?) Maybe it will give hope that no matter what you’re going through, pregnancy loss, infertility, a rough journey, NICU stay or even a beautiful pregnancy you’ll get through it.  Let’s stop talking about “normal pregnancy experience” because each pregnancy is “normal” for the women going through it and each pregnancy is beautiful in its own way. So go ahead mama, share your story.

-Bridget McKinney
Lead Contributor, Mom Division President,
PJ’s and a Smile + Wrapped in Love,
The Superhero Project