Two years ago, I published a blog post titled “5 reasons to make a dramatic life change” to announce my simultaneous resignation and termination from my PhD program in Austria. In line with the catchy title, this post received more reads than any other article on my blog. Had I decided to grit my teeth and bear two more years of the program, I would be heading down the home stretch toward graduation in June. Instead, I’m preparing for the birth of a new family member in June. For childbirth. From MY body. For MY child. I’m pregnant. Okay, I said it.
For once, I am at a total loss of words to write to the world. Since I found out the news, my blog posts have petered out to zero. My social media postings have thinned to a meager dog picture every fortnight. My newsletter has gone into hibernation. My dharma talks in public classes have been simplified to “Om.” My love of keeping a public presence has been replaced by word vomit to my family and closest friends.
It’s no wonder Daniel’s eyes would glaze over after an hour of detailing my severe cravings for strawberry Nutri-Grain bars, my aversion to onions, my challenges navigating my diminishing tolerance for caffeine, the nuanced daily pattern of my nausea, the specifics of my prenatal yoga routine, and the size of our growing fetus in fruit, vegetables, board game pieces, animals, and Parisian baked goods. “WAIT. Are you even LISTENING to me?” my mood swings would suddenly force me into spinning rage.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I may as well skip straight to the baby names and crib dimensions, right? No, no, you came to this page to learn my five neatly packaged reasons for WHY on earth I would decide to dramatically change my life from the glitz and glamour of yoga photo shoots and coffee shop hopping to dirty diapers and daycare, right? You’re probably wondering HOW this happened, and more importantly, will Daniel and I get married? One thing at a time, my friend. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Pregnancy takes NINE MONTHS, or so I’ve learned. The answers will be revealed in time.
First to the question of HOW this pregnancy happened. Aside from the marriage question, this was surprisingly the one that my friends asked me most often. Do I really have to explain basic reproductive biology to my post-graduate friends? On the flipside, certain family members have felt the need to explain to me how babies are made. For example, my father’s reaction to the news of my pregnancy was in line with his typical British humor – “Did Harvard forget to teach you and Daniel about birth control?”
Don’t worry, my father’s feelings about becoming a grandfather eventually mellowed out. By the time Daniel and I visited for Thanksgiving, my father was able to look Daniel in the eye and say, “I don’t know if I should punch you or thank you.”
Okay, so HOW may not be the most important question when we get to the heart of the issue. So, WHY did Daniel and I decide to become parents?
Unfortunately, it’s extremely challenging to separate the answers into five succinct bullet points. I would turn this question on its head. Why would YOU want to become a parent? Or why would you NOT want to become a parent? If you ARE a parent, would you still be one if you could do it over again? To create life or not to create life, that is the question that ran through my mind as I approached my 10-year anniversary of being on the pill last June.
About 11 years ago, I lost my period after I started running competitively and semi-starving myself in hopes of becoming faster. Of course, I knew that my infertility was reversible. I had read enough pamphlets about the “Female Athlete Triad” to be aware that going on the pill would be my quick fix for bringing back my period and diminishing my risk of early-onset osteoporosis. Could it be any easier? I could continue to sprint until I was a skeleton while resting assured that I could become a mother anytime I chose to put my anorexia on hold. I was in total control of my body. ME. No one else.
Yet the thinner I became, the harder it became to deny that my eating disorder was in control of me, and the louder the nagging worry in the back of my head became. I wasn’t necessarily worried about doing long-term damage to my body, but I was terrified that I was jeopardizing my chances at motherhood.
Last year was the first time that I candidly discussed my history of anorexia with a physician. Her first reaction was something along the lines of, “Ooph, pity. Patients with a history of eating disorders always have difficulty conceiving. You should stop running.” As a side note, I was nowhere close to considering parenthood at that time.
I tried to hide my frustration toward her lack of empathy as I expressed my concerns with long-term use of the pill. “You have no need to worry,” she assured me as she doodled numbers on her clipboard. “You can be on the pill for twenty years without increasing your risk of breast and ovarian cancer. See me again in a decade or whenever you’re ready to conceive.”
Something about the physician’s demeanor made me distrust her laissez-faire attitude to keeping my reproductive system forever regulated by synthetic hormones. Additionally, it only took a bit of digging around the internet to realized that most of the research on long-term health risks of the pill come from observational studies, which cannot definitively establish cause and effect of exposures and outcomes. I made a secret pact to go off of the pill sooner rather than later. And so, I began playing the waiting game.
I was looking for a clear sign from the universe, although I wasn’t sure what form it would take. I knew that I needed to stay on the pill until the possibility of becoming a mother no longer terrified me. Yes, there were other, slightly less effective methods of birth control that I could explore. Fertility awareness appealed to me, but I knew that it would take months of trial and error for me to reliably predict ovulation. And “error” would result in a child. I couldn’t take that risk just yet.
But then, the spring came, and with it, a perfect storm of life circumstances:
1. Your broker sells you a nursery room
With our three-year anniversary around the corner, Daniel and I nested in a new apartment. When the broker was selling us on a two-year lease, he made a point of showing us a small room neatly adjoined to the master bedroom, as he explained with a wink and a wave of one hand, “because you never know what can happen in two years.”
OH MY GOD, HE’S TRYING TO SELL US ON THE NURSERY ROOM! – I wanted to scream. The comment flew over Daniel’s head.
2. You become a puppy mother
Additionally, on Mother’s Day, Daniel and I brought home our first puppy from El Paso. Having baby Blue in our new apartment was like having a crying, pooping newborn around. She was a million fires to put out with an ocean gaze so sweet that you had to forgive her for each adorable fiasco that she caused. Blue undoubtedly stoked my maternal instincts.
3. Your dreams scream at you
To top it off, I could no longer deny that I was losing steam for hustling around the city to teach 20 yoga classes each week. I had proven to myself that I could manage this yoga teacher life. I needed a new purpose. What next? I thought I should look to my dreams for signs.
Instead, I had nightmares about finding out I was pregnant. The scariest part about the nightmares? I was perfectly happy, fantastically fulfilled, and driven toward my new mission in life in my dreams of motherhood. I promised myself to make some kind of dramatic life change as soon as I hit 1,000 hours of teaching (coincidentally, the week I hit 1,000 hours was the week that our darling snow pea was conceived).
4. The flowers whisper at you
Yet there were also subtler signs that my time on the pill was expiring. Despite having failed for years at keeping a basil plant alive (yes, this for being a botanist’s daughter), mine was spectacularly thriving. I was starting to develop a strange yearning to be around plants, especially flowers – fertility symbolism at its finest. I could barely make it a block without stopping to smell the April tulips and daffodils that steadily morphed into May magnolias and cherry blossoms (and a hundred other flowers that I had to identify by phoning my dad, whose plant knowledge still seemed to surpass mine – “It’s pink with a green stem, and it grows in the ground. What do you think it is?”).
By the time the glory of June roses and peonies rolled around, the urges were insatiable. It was as if the peonies whispered it in my ear through the alluring pop of their soft petals: You MUST get off of the pill. NOW or NEVER.
5. Your partner is down to play Russian roulette
Okay, okay, but there’s a huge element that I’m leaving off the table here. It takes two to tango, right? What about Daniel? Doesn’t he get some say in this dramatic life change? After all, having a child is a life change for BOTH of us, not a band-aid solution to my quest for a purpose. Let’s just say that Daniel likes a little risk in his life, and avoiding pregnancy without protection was like playing with fire.
We were careful when I went off the pill in June, but by the time September hit, we felt ready to take our risk level up another notch or five. It was as if we were playing a game of Russian roulette with five bullets in a six-cylinder revolver. “In other words, you weren’t not trying to get pregnant,” the nurse rolled her eyes as she clarified for us at our first trimester appointment.
Perhaps due to his position in the driver’s seat of our dangerous game, Daniel accepted the pregnancy a day before I took the pregnancy test (i.e., he realized that having a kid might convince his advisors to hurry his PhD graduation along). Daniel was in the kitchen when the plus-sign on the flimsy stick that would determine our fate developed. “What’s taking so long?” he shouted anxiously through the door.
The door creaked as I slowly pushed it open, and he approached me over my shoulder. “It’s broken,” I said with certainty.
“Uh, no. You’re pregnant,” he said with equal conviction.
“No, but I can’t get pregnant. I was anorexic for 6 years and my body needs time to adjust to being off the pill and my doctor said I’m still underweight and I just ran an ultra-marathon in July and I’m going to India in February and …Ohmygosh, do you think it’s right?!” I was at once overwhelmed with joy, nervous laughter, awe for the miracle of life, and purpose.
As our bundle of joy grew from the size of a snow pea in delicate pod to a ripe raspberry to a sweet strawberry to a perfect plum, I kept the secret close to my heart (aside from the necessary word vomit that I shared with family and close friends). So many transformations are occurring in the growing bodies of me and our snow pea, which has made it incredibly challenging to stay focused on the elements of my life that have yet to shift. Of course, all of that will also change when June 20th hits.
In the meantime, what IS changing in my life, aside from the daily challenge of coping with nausea and food cravings? And will Daniel put a ring on it or, like my mother politely yet impatiently inquired, “Are you just gonna keep waiting forever to get married?” Stay tuned to find out.