I could almost feel God laughing when I wrote the following words in my recent post, “Where Have You Been?”:
When or if I get pregnant, it is because of years and years of work tearing down this ego Satan has built inside of me.
Seriously. Hollywood couldn’t have scripted a more hilarious thing to write literally within the days of the conception of my pregnancy.
(And boy – I mean literally. I’ve been charting my cycles with the Creighton method, and literally July 8th is around when ovulation happened.)
So, hey, wow. Let’s get this party started:
That quote was dead on. (TMI Alert!) Thanks to EMDR, I overcame my emotional blocks (one day at a time) and we started making love to completion in late May. We made love that way three times, and then I became pregnant. This is interesting to me on so many levels, because I thought we had physical conception problems for the past three years.
But the story starts a little earlier. In April of this year, I completed a Whole 30 (very strict no sugar, grains, dairy, or “Paleo” desserts). For the first time in 5 years, my thyroid numbers were within range of normal.
So, were we infertile until May, and then would have become pregnant regardless of whether it was to completion or not? Or have we been fertile this whole time, and it’s only since EMDR has been working in my heart that it was going to happen? Literally only God knows.
“Knowing I’m Pregnant” Week 1
Are you ready for this? My first reaction to my pregnancy was terror and panic. I cried. I had panic attacks for the first time in a long time. I shouted at my husband — through gasping sobs — “I don’t think I can do this.”
Is this any way to react to a miracle? Or, Lord help me, did Mary feel anything like this?
Looking back (er, looking at me now still), I can see there’s three parts to this reaction:
- Probably pretty normal: I’m not ready for this. I thought I had more time. This is a lot of change. Why not wait a few more days/weeks/years?
- Less normal but still normal: I’m a sick person. My body can’t possibly support a pregnancy, so this whole thing is doomed from the start. (This is what keeps me up at night the most, when I’m not crying about it).
- Even less normal, pretty wicked: I don’t want to do this. I want to be comfortable, and I was just about to achieve it with my dedication to health and fine-tuning my mental performance so I could make money with my business.
I really had shelved a baby. I was always afraid of it (my chronic health issues make me afraid of being sick, and let’s face it, being sick is basically the daily cross of being pregnant). But I also felt misty-eyed when I thought of not having children.
(Side note confession: If I weren’t Catholic and I didn’t understand deeply just how much of an abomination it is, I would totally have thought surrogacy was an option).
I was in this weird, Catholic-but-oddly-secular place where I got to have the satisfaction of “wanting kids” and the freedom of “not being able to have kids.” I was getting away with it. And then… suddenly… I wasn’t.
Pairing that sense of joyful disbelief (I already gave up on a baby, after all) with the sense that I was on this path to utter destruction (it starts with queasiness and exhaustion and ends by ripping your body apart), my brain was on overload. I cried most of the first week and scared my poor husband.
“Knowing I’m Pregnant” Week 2
OK, I lied a little bit in the first section. My first reaction to pregnancy was actually very practical: I called all my doctors and determined that I should drive to a city about an hour away to start bioidentical progesterone shots.
It was surreal — telling nurses I was pregnant, getting HCG and progesterone tests, and so on. Turns out I was so newly pregnant that they weren’t sure I was pregnant and it had to be confirmed with another blood test over the weekend. That’s part of my life now, getting stuck in the butt with a big needle on Mondays and Thursdays. So, let’s start that timeline, too.
As for week 2, I was less panicked, but still crying a lot. This is a good time to mention that we also moved. Nothing quite like ripping yourself out of your home for the past 3 years for a new, bigger home, that’s a little more expensive and not quite as nice. I’m sure half my stress comes from getting used to a new place, but wow, it all combines at night to make me feel like this otherworldly, terrorized, crazy lady.
Things got slowly better, though. During week 2, we bought some fun books about parenting and pregnancy. I had a few moments of actually being excited about this, and enjoying the prospect of being pregnant. What if this really could work out?
“Knowing I’m Pregnant” Week 3
This just about brings us up to date. We’ve told a few close friends (basically the support network I would want if we miscarry) and my anonymous Internet community (that’s you guys). Everyone else is going to wait until October 1st.
I get very, very sad sometimes, and I am struggling with depression. But that seems to be my main “pregnancy” symptom.
I am relieved to say that I was so afraid of throwing up, and I haven’t yet! I get queasy easily, and the most appealing things to eat are mostly off-limits to me (carbs and sugar mostly, and I’m at risk for gestational diabetes so I started tracking that carefully).
I’m also exhausted a lot easier than ever before (and that’s saying something — I was already working 10-15 hour weeks to accommodate my lowered energy!). Making food for my husband and I is so far off my radar. We’ve been eating more to-go food and prepared food than ever before, and my counselor gave me the green light to not feel bad about it. We still eat very clean foods (we eat a Paleo/Whole 30 template), but cheese and gluten-free packaged treats have been sneaking into it.
Your Gift to Me: Fear Venting
I hate to bog you guys down with my fears, which are less real to you, but WOW if that’s not what I need to do!
I’ve been pulling away from friends and activities because I hate to cry in front of people without a solution in hand. Then there’s trying to think of something to say to people who don’t know I’m pregnant yet. I’ll work on this, but in the mean time I hope you’ll forgive me for walking through the deepest, darkest part of my heart right now:
- What if we miscarry? This is a real risk for everyone who gets pregnant. The rates vary, but it could be as high as 25%. I felt a lot better once I learned that in many cases it’s simply unavoidable: it’s because the baby isn’t viable for some chromosomal reason, and it has to go. But I still fear this greatly, not just the loss but also the physical pain of uterine contractions. I’ve had very bad period pains before — to the point of getting hot/cold sweats, shaking, and thinking I was going to pass out — and I’m afraid I won’t be able to handle the pain of a miscarriage.
- What if we miscarry and I have to do this again? The idea of starting over at O with a pregnancy makes me cold to my bones. Honestly, part of my thoughts (that I can’t control) is that this is it, this is my shot, and if something goes wrong I’ll find a way to not have to do it again, like not having sex every again. I can’t explain this thought process, but it’s all based in fear, which means it’s not from God. I need to work on this.
- What if I can’t work? I work for myself as a freelance writer. My income depends on me 1) finding clients, 2) writing for clients. Pregnancy craziness affects concentration and energy, which affects both those things. I am terrified I won’t be able to focus and then I won’t be able to make enough money to 1) cover the next few months of bills, 2) cover a maternity leave, 3) cover our taxes for last year and this year. I pray for a financial miracle every night (if that’s God’s will for us… otherwise I pray to be brave through all of this).
- How do I maintain my friendships? My friends are almost all split between single women who crave a husband and a home life, and married women who are struggling to conceive. They have all been so gracious to me. But inside my head all I can think is that they want me to hush up and be grateful for the wonderful things I have in my life. And hey, I can’t argue with that, I should be grateful! But how do you deny your fears and discomforts to embrace only the positive? At my core I feel fear and discomfort with my new home and my pregnancy. I’ll pray to God to let me release them.
Well, there you go. Thank you so much for reading. I don’t want to dwell on my fears — my hope is that by sharing them with you, I can release them and focus on being excited to be a mother, grateful for the ability to be pregnant and the pregnancy itself, and closer to God by being closer to the miracle of life.
I don’t think it will feel real until I see a heartbeat at 12 weeks, but getting up 4 times a night to pee feels real enough for now!
Time to turn the mic to you: If you’ve been pregnant, what were the first few weeks like? If you’re struggling with infertility, do you forgive me for being terrified?
When I look back on the changes in my life in the past two months, it feels like it’s a different person writing. That’s only a testament to the amazing change that can be wrought in your heart when God, the Holy Spirit, and counseling work together.
I’ve worked a lot, traveled a bit, and been in counseling almost every week. Here are some themes that are playing out in my life and bringing me closer to God:
“You are more than what you do”
I have a tendency toward false idols (I think we all do). Work is a big one. Because I’m good at it and it rewards me with money, I tend to pour all of my time, thought, and energy into it in order to avoid harder things like being present to my husband, putting myself out there for my friends (new and old), and being available to God.
Right now, my business is in a slow growth state, which gives me a lot of time to reflect and feel fear. More than ever before, though, I’ve been trying to stick with mantras like, “It’s all in God’s hands,” and “What happens will happen.” I’m still very afraid, but I also feel a bit of anesthesia from a fear that would usually be wringing my guts out. I’ve prayed for peace from God (and the ability to stop seeing money as security) and I can feel God working in me.
Sex as mutual self-giving
At the time of this writing, the past two times we’ve made love has been to completion. It feels so weird and amazing (and TMI) to write that, but it’s an important part of my story. It’s also one that I want people to know about. When or if I get pregnant, it is because of years and years of work tearing down this ego Satan has built inside of me.
I want to be clear it’s all by the grace of God and that the only way forward was to get out of my own way and give everything to Him. Which, ironically, sounds a lot like what I was afraid of in the first place (giving everything up). So it’s all an amazingly intertwined spiritual pretzel.
I still worry I’m not having sex enough or that I won’t be able to have it to completion enough (or each time), but part of the work I’m doing has been to turn off my brain. I am enough. What I’m doing is enough. And I should never dwell on not being enough, just as I should never stop trying to improve myself and my spiritual condition… the beauty of the Both/And Catholicism!
I still wonder if other women go through this. It’s not something people bring up in polite company too often, so it’s hard to get a sense of how normal this is, but if I keep chugging away with my story I hope I can find others or help someone dealing with the same thing.
What does “OK” mean?
So many things affect how I think I’m doing. My health, my bank account, my mood, how much I’ve accomplished in a given day. But God tells us only one thing matters: I’ve had to keep reminding myself that I will be the best-version-of-myself no matter how the future finds me based on my spiritual health, not my physical health, possessions, or mind.
What does OK mean to you? Getting into a certain college? Getting a certain salary? Dating a certain person? Imagine how much stress would fall away from us if we focused on the only thing that matters: how quickly and easily we express our love for God. When that’s all that matters to us, we stop fighting those great things because they don’t look the way they think they should, and we leave room for God to do great things in our lives.
There’s so much more, but that’s enough of a check-in for now (and I hope to be back more regularly starting now). I’d love to hear how you all are doing and what you’re reading!
As a Catholic, this is probably a super weird opinion to have. And, honestly, maybe it’s a leftover from my days as a secular feminist and it’s something I need to work through still. But either way it’s something I’m here on this blog to untangle, lucky you!
Musings of a Michigan Man is a thoughtful blog that I’ve loved reading over the last few weeks. However, one of the themes that comes up a lot on his blog and in his posts (especially the comments of the one linked above) is about how the purpose of marriage is procreation. This is a really common sentiment in the Church and — it seems to me — particularly among men. And I have a problem with it.
Hear me out! I don’t have a problem with it being true (or with Michigan Man, a guy I’d love to call a friend) — it is true. The purpose of marriage is children. The purpose of sex is children. The greatest purpose Catholics have on the planet I think is, arguably, children. But approaching it like that from the start is a little disordered and can be a bit of a turnoff for Catholic women like myself.
Turn-Offs Aren’t Great for Babies
Here’s a true gem from Scott Hahn’s book about the mass, The Lamb’s Supper, that opened this can of worms in my heart:
The various forms of sacrifice [throughout the mass and throughout the gospel] include one positive similar meaning: life is surrendered in order to be transformed and shared.
For people who don’t have a serious issue with sperm like I do, this might not be a big deal of a statement. But I’m not exaggerating when I say that hearing this (on my audiobook as I walked) stopped me dead in my tracks. I rewinded. I listened again. I rewinded. I wrote it down.
This changes everything and, (if you’ll forgive me for using you as the scapegoat, Michigan Man) it explains why the typical Catholic phrasing about marriage, women, and babies turns me off so much.
“Girl Surrender” Doesn’t Have the Same Ring To It
Growing up in the 90s (and in my formative boyfriend-girlfriend relationship), feminist power plays were the lay of the land. My mom stayed home to raise 4 kids while my dad was deployed, literally giving over her body and mind for the good of her family for years. When she looked to me, her only girl, and reflected on a lifetime of sacrifice, her motto about relationships was more like “Don’t get married!” or “Do everything you want to do in life before you get married!” because of her experience.
In my formative girlfriend-boyfriend relationships, my boyfriend wanted things from me (namely sex) and it was up to me to make the play and keep the guy by fulfilling your side of the bargain (which at the time I was very consensual about fulfilling). The more he wanted me (the more thin, more sexy, more girlfriend-like I was), the more “powerful” I was in that relationship (supposedly).
Later, when the effects of relationships like this began to dawn on me, being distant, using sex as a tool, and controlling or suppressing my feelings was the “power play.” I got really good at it, hence the blog title of Sarcastic Catholic.
Finally, we can pile on all the secular media, headlines, music, movies, and everyone else in my life who said sex was power and it’s time for women to use it. Specifically, “Girl Power!” and now “Girl’s Run the World!”
The result of these forces? A girl who is not about to surrender anything.
I became a perfect example of the modern feminist: highly educated, highly opinionated, unrestrained, and loud about it (after all, “Well-behaved women rarely make history,” right?). I was anti-Catholic, pro-“spirituality and equality” and pretty much toted the party line on everything else.
I was trained to control every area of my life. I planned my education, my career, my dates, and my relationships. I was the one who said “yes,” and “no,” and I had all the power.
So when the moment came to have sex without contraception — to in every sense of the world surrender my body (for the pregnancy itself), my mind (to the pregnancy hormones and postpartum depression), and my future (my career and whatever else that would sideline as I was consumed by children) or even my life (with all those wonderful stories about mothers having near-death experiences or passing away during labor) — is it any surprise that this girl (who doesn’t give an inch in any area of her life) had a panic attack?
I’m Surrendering Now, With Caveats
Naming the problem — that’s the real power. And that’s what I’m doing week by week as I untangle these complicated emotions during EDMR counseling. I’m point-by-point identifying and replacing disordered experiences with the healing love my adult self, who has access to the Truth, Christ, grace, and everything else wonderful.
(And man-o-man can I say these sessions are working? I am nowhere near finished, but I can already see a big difference in my day to day ability to process emotions and in my sex life with my husband).
I’m learning to surrender now, and it’s really showing in my relationship with my husband. I still have caveats that I need to clear out in order to fully submit to God (and I still haven’t worked up to having sex “to completion” yet), but I am heartened by the progress I’ve made in just 5 or 6 weeks of working at this.
Still, at the end of the day, I completely understand why I and other women today don’t want to hear from a man of God that “marriages and women are meant for children,” even though it’s true.
What I want to hear — what resonates with my spirit, even if it’s semantics — is that “Our love will be so overflowing and mutually self-sacrificing that we will be transformed by having children together.”
Side note: We’ve even started replacing how we talk about sex around the house or in jokes or in TV shows with Truth-oriented language, which is so corny but really helps me differentiate between what my husband and I do and the lies that come from the world. For example, instead of “doing it” and “boning” it’s “mutual, self-sacrificing love,” and “making love,” etc.
Because it’s not as simple as “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage.” It’s “first comes love, then comes Christ’s love in your marriage, then comes mutual self-sacrifice and self-giving, then comes a baby.”
To leave that part out tells a story of power, not of surrender and transformation; a story where the man has the power and the burden falls on the woman, and that’s simply not true.
There’s so much more to this story, but that’s as far as I can dig into right now without composing a novella. I’d love to hear thoughts from women and men on this topic, because I know I’m not alone and I know there are some who disagree with me!