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One thing I can tell you about myself is that I never thought I would get married and I never thought I would have children. There are a lot of reasons for this. One is that I’ve always been ambitious about my writing and prioritized it in my life accordingly. Another is that I always gravitated toward less-than-ideal relationships, the type that would never end in marriage or any other form of long-term commitment (which I always knew from the beginning but often stuck around to watch things either fizzle or explode anyway). Thirdly, I always felt fulfilled being an aunt/ mentor/ friend to children. Fourth, when you combined all the factors and realities of my life and lifestyle, I was: broke, single, barely able to take care of myself financially, and unable to predict my work schedule from one week to the next. This hardly seemed like the ideal environment to raise a child, nor did I have any desire to raise a child on my own. If I wasn’t in a loving, committed relationship with an adult who could share the duties of parenthood, I wasn’t interested in parenthood.
And then there’s a fifth reason, one I’ve only recently admitted to myself because the first four seemed valid and a fifth seemed superfluous. But my fifth reason is as true as anything: Pregnancy scares me. This likely has a lot to do with the fact that both of my sister’s pregnancies were extremely complicated and life-threatening; watching her struggle with everything she went through was scary as shit. Also, I’m a healthy person. I’m not a hospital person. I’ve had stitches in my chin twice, but beyond that I’ve never broken a bone. I never had my wisdom teeth pulled because I straight-up never got wisdom teeth. I’m guessing my sister’s had over twenty surgeries in her life (at a certain point I lost count), but I’ve never slept in a hospital bed for even one hour.
Pregnancy changes everything for a woman: her body, her diet, her lifestyle, her hormones, her emotions, her habits, her routine, her sense of control. A person who chooses to be vegetarian for twenty years likes to be in control of what goes into her body. A person who chooses to work from home and structure her own schedule likes to be in control of the timeframe of her days. A person who chooses to work out and eat healthy to combat wintertime sadness likes to be in control of her emotions. A person who worked hard and lost 40 pounds is happy to finally be at a place where she’s in control of her own body. Pregnancy changes all of this.
Pregnancy also serves as a morbid reminder of the circle of life, which can be exacerbated during a year like this, when members of my family keep having health scares that make me fear the future. If given the choice between keeping my parents around forever or starting a new life, I have to be honest: I’d choose my parents any day. But of course that’s not how life works and of course that’s not how the options get presented.
All of this brings me to this: When I met my husband something inside of me shifted and all those years of thinking I’ll Never Have Kids went away and were replaced by a bright, pulsing desire to bring a child into the world. And although this isn’t something we want to happen today or tomorrow, it’s something we’re looking forward to. We’ve talked about and planned for a child long before it was necessary to do so because that’s the kind of people we both are. Me, especially: I’m a planner. I like to always be working toward a goal. I haven’t been working so hard to get in the best shape of my life over this past year just for me. I haven’t been reducing my alcohol consumption, upping my water intake, decreasing junk foods, increasing fresh fruits and veggies, transitioning toward a clean diet and making exercise a regular part of my life just for me. So much of what I do now is for him or for her or for them (God knows twins run in my family) when the time is right. When the time comes, I want to know I did everything possible to get myself as healthy as possible. And if and when I someday actually get pregnant, I want to live those months as naturally as possible. I want to pay attention to the ingredients not just in my food, but in my makeup and skincare and hair care and house cleaners and clothes. I realize to some people this probably sounds insane, but to me it makes the most sense.
I also want to prepare myself for the very real possibilities of infertility or miscarriages, which are more common than I think most people care to admit. I don’t think either my husband or I are considered young anymore. As much as I like the idea of control, I accept the fact that a large part of our lives is completely out of our hands no matter how many green smoothies I eat or miles I run. I don’t know what will happen. I’ve seen enough things happen to enough people I personally know to realize that I don’t get a say in any of this; what happens is what happens. Some adults die, some children die, some children in wombs die, and some children are born but then face a lifetime of health complications. We don’t get a say in any of this, and maybe that’s the scariest part of all.
I don’t yet know what it’s like to either be a mom or be pregnant and I’m sure if and when the times comes for both, I’ll be shocked by how much the experiences vary from my expectations. What I do know is this: Getting pregnant is one of the things I fear most in this world. I fear it for the stupid, little reasons (will I be able to successfully give up my coffee?) and the bigger ones, too (it’s not unheard of for women to die during childbirth, after all). Most importantly, I want to be honest with myself: about my fears, my excitement, my anxiety. I hope that some day my child will look back and know that I did everything I could to prepare for his or her arrival – but I also know that children don’t really care about any of that, as long as they’re healthy and happy.
When people ask me how I’ve maintained a clean lifestyle after all these months, I think there are a lot of reasons. One is that I enjoy living my life this way, so it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. Another is that the changes and improvements I’ve made in my life have strengthened me, empowered me, and convinced me I’m so much more capable than I originally thought. And third: This whole process is so much bigger than me. I have always had the eventual goal of a pregnancy in mind – always, from Day One. I’ve never done any of this just for me (though I’m not disparaging anyone who does anything for herself – you are enough, doing this for you is enough, and never let anyone tell you otherwise). Thinking about a future person scares me and strengthens me in equal measure. Thinking about a future person makes me feel responsible for something that goes beyond me and it convinces me I have the energy to keep going, even on days when I feel like I don’t.
I have a theory about all those people who talk about how excited they are to have children and never mention any of their fears. My theory is that they’re lying. Maybe they don’t have the same fears, but how could something as big as this not in some way be scary? It’s important to me to make a promise now to always be honest – to myself and to you. Whatever happens during this process, I’m going to tell you about it. I’m going to tell you the whole story and not just the pretty, hopeful bits. I’m hopeful, sure, but I’m scared, too. I’d be lying to you and me both if I gave any other version of the story.
I have another reason for sharing this part of my story. I’m a big proponent of having fun, being silly, rewarding yourself, and not taking life too seriously as you navigate your way toward a healthier lifestyle. I encourage you to put sprinkles and whipped cream on your coffee. I encourage you to collect stickers when you reach your goals and redeem those earned stickers for a day at the spa or a new pair of shoes. I encourage you to make workouts fun, and to put a smiley face on your sandwich, and to find a reason every day to smile. But I also encourage you to find a reason that goes beyond the silliness – something that will keep you going when it’s the dead of winter and your bones are tired and nothing sounds more loathsome than getting up and fixing yourself a healthy meal, much less throwing your cold, tired body into a workout. You can pump yourself up, you can smile over your fears, you can throw confetti to make yourself believe you’re excited to go out for this run – but at the end of the day, if you don’t have a bigger, deeper, below-the-surface reason to keep going, it may be too tempting to stay in your warm bed. Give yourself a big reason to keep going. It doesn’t have to be for a child. It doesn’t have to be for your health. It doesn’t really matter what it is, as long as it means something to YOU. You’re the one who has to drag yourself out of bed every morning. Figure out what you have to do to make that possible. Find your big reason. Believe in it with all your guts.