Because no two paths to parenthood look the same, the Cut’s How I Got This Baby invites parents to share their stories. Want to share yours? Email email@example.com and tell us a bit about how you became a parent.
Dana started dating her now-husband when they were both 19. They married in their late 20s, and Dana got pregnant at 31. Her pregnancy went smoothly until about eight weeks before she was due, when some concerning pains sent her to the emergency room. After doctors told her she needed to stop working and go on bed rest for the remainder of her pregnancy, Dana informed her boss, whose reaction was not at all what she was expecting. She describes the way her boss handled her pregnancy and maternity leave, what it was like to hear doctors whispering seconds after her daughter was born, and how her first pregnancy changed her husband’s views on abortion.
On an unexpected pregnancy with complications. I never thought I’d get pregnant. My husband and I had been together so long — I wouldn’t say we were trying or not trying. I just felt like if it was gonna happen, it would have happened. Then it did.
Two months before I was due I had pains in my left side, so I went to the hospital for an evaluation. My blood pressure was basically skyrocketing, just sitting in a bed doing nothing. I was due October 17; this was in August. I had to go on bed rest for the remainder of the pregnancy and be very closely monitored.
Emotionally, I didn’t really grasp the bed rest until after I had the baby. At the time, I was just upset that I had to stop working because I wanted to get as many paychecks as I could and take the least amount of time off work. But once I went on bed rest, I could feel there was something wrong with my body. I would feel physically like I was getting sick; if I walked too much I’d feel like I was going to pass out.
On how her boss handled the situation. When I got pregnant I was working as a store manager and was active in the production aspect, which meant I was on my feet all day, moving around. The doctors had given me all the papers saying I needed to be on bed rest, but the woman I worked for didn’t understand what they meant. So I had to go in and fill out my own papers, essentially doing her job for her.
Then while I was on maternity leave, I told her my return date needed to change — and I got a totally unexpected reply.
On the logistics of her maternity leave. I had a C-section, so I had eight weeks of leave. When it was getting close to that time being up, I emailed my manager and said I was planning to take more time, using FMLA. She emailed back and said she no longer had a job for me, that she’d given it to someone else.
I was obviously pissed off. I did the whole thing over email because I knew she was a sneaky person — I wanted documentation of everything. Though I thought it would just be a record of me asking for leave, not that the exchange would end the way it did. I wasn’t even done with my maternity leave and, already, I didn’t have a job to go back to.
On the reason she needed more leave. We didn’t know about our daughter’s cleft palate until she was born. Some people have an indication in utero, if it’s the lip and the palate. But that wasn’t the case for us. I wound up having a C-section, and once they take the baby out of you, you really can’t see what’s going on — but I could hear the doctors whispering. Then they brought her over and said she had a cleft palate. I didn’t even know what they were talking about. I was strapped to a table with my stomach ripped open — I thought maybe her chin was just really far back. Then they told me she basically had no roof in her mouth.
It was very visible, once they showed her to me: You could see the lines to the septum because there was nothing there. You could see her complete nasal passage. She spent about 20 days in the NICU, and the nurses and doctors taught us how to feed her using a special technique. Then we took her home.
On caring for a child with unique feeding needs. Our first year was very focused on making sure she was eating, making sure she was gaining weight and hitting milestones. Sometimes kids with clefts aren’t getting enough nutrients — you also have to be careful to make sure they don’t eat for too long. It’s strenuous, for them to eat; anything longer than 30 minutes and they’re burning more energy than they’re taking in.
It was fine with me, but other parents didn’t really understand that for us bottle-feeding was a process. It was a lot more than sitting there. You had to participate, the way I assume someone who’s breastfeeding 24 hours a day would feel. There was a special bottle, and a specific angle.
On an unexpected financial situation. Because I didn’t expect to be out of work after maternity leave, I pursued unemployment benefits, which my manager fought. But I didn’t quit my job — I didn’t do anything wrong, and I deserved unemployment. The appeal process with Unemployment took nine months. That was nine months of no pay, until the appeal went through and I received six months of unemployment pay in one lump sum.
Those nine months were tight for us, financially. But when I was pregnant someone close to me passed away and left me a little bit of money. That let me cover what I needed to cover. My husband was working of course, but I still had my end of the bills to pay. I was able to stretch the inheritance and make it work.
I’d been at my job for six years, building relationships with customers and vendors. Sometimes I’d see my customers out and about in public, and they’d always want to know what happened — I think it had been clear I wanted and expected to be at that job for even longer. Pregnancy discrimination is definitely a real thing. You can see it with me and other people in everyday life, all the time.
On navigating health care. She had surgery on her cleft palate a little bit before she turned 1. We’d been preparing for it and expecting it; we knew what was going to happen. She had the surgery, she did great — we took her home the next day and started the recovery phase. Her surgeon did an amazing job. We drove into the city to use a certain surgeon; we’re very grateful we did that — and that this surgeon took our insurance — instead of going to the local hospital 12 miles away.
The insurance company, though — that came with some annoyances. I was on the phone with them the day before the surgery was scheduled. We’d started the process five months beforehand, but still we were waiting for them to finish the paperwork and do what they needed to do, right until the last minute. It was really down to the wire.
She’s 3 now — she speaks really well for a 3-year-old. You’d never know about her cleft, if you just met her.
On beginning a new job as a new mother. Right around that time, the end of my daughter’s first year, I was looking for another job when someone literally knocked on my door one day. The manager of someone I had worked with before was about to go on maternity leave; she was looking for someone to come in and take over while she was gone. A delivery driver for the business knew where I lived and when he was in the area one day, he came to my door and explained the situation. I started the job a few weeks later.
My daughter was a year and four days old when I started working again. I look at that first year and think, now that she’s 3: I don’t understand why people complain so much about that first year, because I thought it was so great. For us, 3 is a whole other story.
On her first pregnancy. I was 16. The decision I made was the right choice for me. I also believe it was the right choice for who that baby would have become, I guess you would say.
I’m not a feminist, but I’m extremely pro-choice. There are so many circumstances in life where you can’t judge one way or another. I was a teenager: Obviously, I was stupid, and I wound up getting pregnant. I knew that person didn’t love me. I knew any child we had could potentially have would have a pretty shitty life.
I was doing drugs — I was doing them before I knew I was pregnant. How would that be fair, for another potential person to maybe have a lot of problems because I was an idiot and did drugs? It just wasn’t going to be right for anyone involved.
On how other people reacted to her decision. The guy was not great. He was my first real boyfriend. My parents, obviously, wanted to kill him. My mother was an old-school Italian mother — after I told her, she went and bought a test to see for herself; she had to know for herself that I wasn’t imagining things or being a pain-in-the-ass 16-year-old. Looking back at it now, I’m sure I would do the same thing.
The guy was not treating me right anyway, and my parents were there to pick up the pieces. They made the appointment for me and took me. They dealt with the emotional aftermath; he didn’t. He basically didn’t have to deal with it at all. Not that money mattered, but he didn’t pay for it. He didn’t come to the appointment. I don’t think he was emotionally involved in any way. It just didn’t really matter to him — until his sister found out, maybe a year after it happened. And then he was saying he was angry about it. And I was like, What do you think my family thinks, about you?
On the way she thinks about the abortion now. When you’re 16 you think you know everything. Later you look back and realize that was not a good decision, that was not a good person for you. Abortion is all over the news right now. I will clearly say it’s not an easy decision and one you have to live with the rest of your life. I could potentially have an 18- or 19-year-old walking around right now. It’s not cut-and-dry.
My husband knows about my abortion. He was pro-life when I met him. He’s pro-choice now. I told him before we started dating, when we were just friends. I was upset one day because the anniversary of the abortion was coming up — we talked about it briefly, then got into a more detailed discussion later that shifted his opinion, but basically: We would have never met if I hadn’t had that abortion. I wouldn’t have the child I have now. We wouldn’t have the lives we have now.
On parenthood expectations. For me, not having anything like a birth plan was the best plan. Going into motherhood, I didn’t set my heart on things — I never said, I’m going to have a natural birth, or I’m going to breastfeed no matter what. It turned out I couldn’t do either of those things, so I think not setting myself up for disappointment worked out very well for me. I just wanted to be the best mother I could. And I think that’s made my marriage better, too — our expectations are to just do the best we can, as happily as we can.