The Mom Who Learned to Let Go

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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 gotbaby@thecut.com and tell us a bit about how you became a parent.

Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

Julie and her now-husband met when they were very young, still in high school. Though the couple spoke about a future desire to have children together, Julie felt strongly that she wanted to go to college, travel, and dedicate time to work before becoming a parent. But after some health challenges changed her outlook, Julie decided there’s not a “right time” for having kids. She discusses monitoring her body closely during pregnancy, what made her angry while giving birth, and how pregnancy and motherhood has changed her outlook.

On meeting her partner at a young age. I met my husband when I was still in high school, and we started talking about having a family right away. But I realized that I did want to go to college and have a lot of experiences before becoming a parent. We waited a while to get married; I felt like we were still really young. It was only over the past three or four years that we got really serious about starting a family.

It wasn’t me with the burning desire to have kids — it was actually more my husband. I went to school right after high school, then he did. Being students was definitely not the right time to have kids. Then my my sister- and brother-in-law had their children.

On deciding to start trying. My husband absolutely adores his niece and nephew. Being around them really cemented his want to have kids. Our families would bring it up too — my sister-in-law really wanted us to have kids close in age. She wanted to know when we were going to start. I was a little more on the fence; I felt like we were still young and could do a lot of other things beforehand. I wanted more time to travel, to dedicate to work. We’re originally from the East Coast and were living in the Midwest at the time. I thought we should arrange to move closer to our families before becoming parents.

Also, my parents are divorced. I think, in the back of my mind, that made me a little nervous. I really wanted to make sure my marriage was on solid ground before we had kids. I remember how difficult it was, growing up without having parents who are together. I definitely had some doubt about the ability to be a good parent, to be a good enough spouse and parent and good person, all at once.

We were having conversations about this, and during one, my husband told me that it seemed like if it were up to me, we’d be waiting forever to start. That really touched me. It was a very thoughtful comment from him, and there was a lot of truth in there. That turned the tide a lot, for me. I decided that there’s not really a “perfect time” to have kids. I didn’t want to put something on hold that was so important to him. If it happened right away, great. If it didn’t, then we’d have time to work on it. We started trying not long after I realized this. I got pregnant right away.

On reckoning with health issues. I have some physical conditions that I knew about before getting pregnant. I was on the Pill for about eight years because of polycystic ovarian syndrome. During that time, I started having severe abdominal pain. Doctors discovered that I had tumors on my liver — because of the estrogen in the Pill. Finding out about the tumors was really scary, and it made me shift my priorities some. I’m a very career-oriented person, but suddenly, I didn’t care as much about promotions or advancing at work. I just kept thinking that if something happened to me, my husband would be all alone.

Apparently developing tumors as a result of the Pill is rare, but not so rare it doesn’t happen. I’ve met some women who’ve had surgery to remove the tumors. But it’s not really threatening, unless you’re pregnant.

On paying close attention to her body. Pretty quickly into my pregnancy, I went to see an OB/GYN with these concerns. The extra weight of pregnancy can put pressure on your liver. That, along with estrogen surges, can cause the tumors to get bigger and burst, putting you and the baby at risk. All throughout my pregnancy, I had to watch out for pain in my right abdomen and go straight to the E.R. if I felt anything. I really had to be aware and listen to my body.

I was also monitored closely because I ended up getting gestational diabetes and had to monitor my blood sugar five times a day. Toward the end of the pregnancy, I had to take insulin. That part wasn’t that bad. Having to poke your finger five times a day, though — that starts to hurt. Still, I worked almost all the way up until the last two weeks of pregnancy. Even then, I would be up, doing housework and laundry. Most of the time, was fairly pleasant.

On giving birth. There’s no way to prepare for birth, I think. I’d read a lot about it, but I think there’s no way to really know what it will be like. Because of gestational diabetes, the doctors didn’t want me to go all the way to 40 weeks. So I went in a week before my due date to be induced, and they gave me Pitocin to help start labor. I think I have a really good tolerance for pain. I didn’t find it to be too unbearable.

But at the 18-hour mark, I was talking to the doctors, who thought I’d still be in labor for a while longer. I decided to go for an epidural. The feeling is so strange — you’re completely numb. They tell you that’s going to happen, but it’s still so strange — especially when you have to push. But even with the epidural, I was having severe pain on one side every three hours, so they were giving me booster shots of pain medication. That pain was so horrible, and just in that one spot. It was so crazy to push and feel like nothing was happening.

At a certain point, the doctor told me that I could be pushing for four hours and might still need a C-section. Hearing that made me feel really focused and really angry. I felt so ready to go. I was like, “I’m going to have this baby in two hours, or I’m gonna die.” For the first 30 or 40 minutes, I couldn’t really feel any progress. Then some of the medication wore off. I started to feel like the baby was coming.

I pushed for an hour and 50 minutes before getting the baby out. It was so strange, feeling her come out and waiting for her to cry. Because of gestational diabetes, there was an elevated risk of her being stillborn. They took her, cleaned her up, and then she started to cry. I was so happy. I couldn’t believe that we had a baby, who was perfectly healthy and fine. The gestational diabetes and liver tumors really added a lot of anxiety to the pregnancy. It seemed so amazing that we were both okay, and she was finally here.

On the reality of breastfeeding. Something I wish I’d known was that gestational diabetes means your milk doesn’t come in right away. It took a week before my breast milk fully came in. For the first few days, my daughter kept crying, and I kept pumping. There was just almost nothing coming out. At the hospital, they’d said my body would make what the baby needed. But clearly, that was not the case. It was my husband who convinced me that she was really hungry and that we should give her some formula to hold her over.

Everyone had been asking me if I was going to breastfeed, and I really wanted to do it exclusively. I was so determined. I really wish my doctor had explained to me before I gave birth that there are real physical situations that make breastfeeding difficult or even impossible. I’d read a lot, but it wasn’t until I saw a lactation consultant that I found out about gestational diabetes’ effect on breast milk.

On early parenthood. Our baby just recently started sleeping six or seven hours. Before that, she was sleeping just three or four. I was definitely up two or three times a night. I was so glad my husband was there. My husband took off ten weeks from work, completely unpaid. His job ended up convincing him to work part-time, three days a week from home.

Initially, I think I was trying to do too much around the house. I was used to being able to multi-task and get a lot of chores done without being interrupted. But trying to do that just wasn’t working; I was getting exhausted. Now, I let her take the lead. If I can get one or two things done around the house a day, then great. If I can’t, that’s okay too. I feel like she’s only going to be little for so long. Being present and being with her, that trumps laundry.

On maternity leave. I ended up with six months of maternity leave. I don’t know how people go back so early. At three months, I was like, Oh my god, I would have a complete breakdown if I had to go back to work right now. She was sort of on a schedule, but not sleeping through the night. The sleep aspect is so hard. And on top of that, trying to figure out child care — it’s really a lot, for someone who’s just been through a lot physically and had a major life change.

My husband is very supportive and very helpful, but he is at work during the day. He can’t help with breast milk. I’m doing most of the feeding, most of the diaper changes. He cooks when he gets home. He helps with bathtime. It’s hard, having the child care be unequal right now. We’ve always tried to keep our domestic chores on the more equal side, but during the first year, I just have to do more than him. There’s no way around it.

On the effects of pregnancy and motherhood. Originally, I’d said I wanted to have one biological child, then maybe adopt. But now that I’ve had one, I kind of want to have another biological child, then adopt. If we do have another biological child, I think it’ll be in the next four years, before I turn 35. I really struggled with the extra monitoring because of my tumors and gestational diabetes; I don’t want to have even more because I’m over 35. I know the doctors have to tell you everything that could go wrong, but for me, that knowledge is very haunting. I just think being older would increase the amount of stress.

I think one of the things that being pregnant taught me was that I can’t control everything. I’m pretty type A and a big planner. Being pregnant and having an infant was a huge adjustment for me. You can’t control how much your baby’s going to eat, when and for how long they’re going to sleep. Having to adjust to that has really expanded to other areas of my life — I feel more able to adapt at work, for example. I don’t want to stress about anything I can’t change. Being a mom has helped me become more easy-going, and hopefully, a better person in that way.

The Mom Who Learned to Let Go