how i got this baby

The Mom Who Tried ‘Natural’ Family Planning

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 and tell us a bit about how you became a parent.

Photo: Constance Bannister Corp/Getty Images

While Molly was never staunchly opposed to the idea, she says she can picture a life where she never becomes a mother. The man Molly married, however, felt strongly that parenthood was important to him. Molly discusses her experiment with “natural” family planning, gradually deciding to continue her pregnancy, postpartum depression and anxiety, and her thoughts on having a second child.

On becoming a mother. I didn’t necessarily picture myself as a parent. I had very mixed feelings about it: I always wanted to do something creative and be a very productive, career-oriented person. Not becoming a parent never felt like it would make my life incomplete. I still think I would have had a very rich life, if I hadn’t become a parent.

My own mother had a hard time getting pregnant after me, and she was desperate for a second child. She ended up adopting my younger sister. I grew up with the idea that as far as motherhood goes, it can be very, very hard to make it happen. I remember thinking that I could never assume it would happen for me.

The man who is my now-husband has always wanted to become a parent. He’s always known that’s important to his life. When we met, I came around to the idea, thinking that becoming parents was something that we would get to later on down the road. During the first few years of our marriage, my mother warned me that it might be hard for me to conceive. She didn’t want me to think I could just get pregnant the second I wanted to. I’d also had a few friends who went through fertility issues. It was definitely on my mind.

On “natural” family planning. I went to a workshop in Brooklyn, a “natural family planning, hormone-alignment” seminar run by a woman who does natural cosmetics. When I came away afterward, it was as if reason had gone out the window. I think of myself as a person who really evaluates choices carefully, but something about being in this room with other women talking about this, made me think, I don’t need these hormones. Because we knew we wanted to have kids, it seemed like the right path to start us off.

I came home and told my husband I was going off the Pill, and we’re going to do “natural” family planning. He was pretty skeptical. He didn’t think it seemed like a very good idea. He pointed out that sometimes I get very excited about things but sometimes my follow-through isn’t the best. But I assured him that we could do this. I was going to take my temperature and chart it on this free app. Now I’m a big believer that if you’re not paying for something, you’re the thing being sold.

Our best parent friends have a child the same age as my son — and she also got pregnant using a free pregnancy app as a prevention/avoidance mechanism. Now, it’s sort of funny. We’re all happy parents, but the timing was definitely accidental.

On reckoning with a pregnancy test. We went to a wedding and the day after, I had the worst hangover of my life. I just thought, God, I’m getting old. The next day, I still felt terrible. On my lunch break, I went to a drugstore, bought a pregnancy test, and took it in the office bathroom. According to the app, I should have gotten my period by then. The test came back positive. I was like, The test is wrong.

I was so convinced the test was wrong that I went back to the drugstore and bought two more tests. I took them, and they were very much positive. Then I texted my husband — he still has this text message — in all-caps and said, You must get into a conference room and call me immediately. When I told him the news, even he who had always, wanted to be a parent, didn’t think it was the best timing. We almost felt like we’d played with fire and gotten burned.

That night, we had tickets to the U.S. Open. I’ll never forget this: We met on the train platform to go together, and I was crying. I was really upset. I just remember us embracing. The question was still very present in my mind: Should we keep the pregnancy?

At the U.S. Open, Venus Williams was playing. We didn’t watch even a second of the tennis. I was sitting with my head in my hands, thinking about the vision I had for my career. Even our living situation — a cool but totally baby-inappropriate loft — would have to change. It seemed like everything I was thinking of for our near-future would have to go out the window.

On deciding what to do. For a couple of weeks we didn’t tell anyone. During that time, my husband really came around to the idea. He was like, You know what, maybe we would have wanted to get pregnant in a couple of years, but let’s just go with it. We were young and healthy. At the time, I was 30.

We did start to evaluate our finances, to figure out what it would look like if we had a baby. He wanted to see what would happen if I didn’t want to go back to work right away. I was pretty offended by that question when he raised it. I was like, I know myself, and I know I’ll want to go back. That did prove to be true, but while I was home with my son, I did experience a much more maternal side of myself than I expected.

While we were deciding, I met up for ice cream with a very close friend. I said to her, “I have really terrible news.” She thought it was something actually terrible — I’ll never forget the look on her face when I told her I was pregnant. She was so confused and didn’t understand what I was telling her. I told a very few number of friends during this time. The conversations never made me lean one way or the other; it was just something that was cathartic to talk about.

I don’t know that there was one moment where I thought, Okay, I’ve changed my mind. It was definitely over a series of conversations. I do think that part of it, maybe even way back in my psyche, was my mom talking about how trying to get pregnant could be a really emotional experience. Eventually, I think I just got to a place where this was an accident, and my initial reaction was unsure — “ambivalent” is maybe generous. But I did have a “lemonade out of lemons” feeling. The pregnancy happened so easily for us. I started to feel like we should just run with it.

Once we had decided to move forward with the pregnancy, my husband brought up telling his parents during an upcoming trip. It was scheduled for about a month after we found out I was pregnant. I don’t mean to insinuate that I decided to go forward with the pregnancy because of them, but I did think about how hearing our news would excite them, and how maybe some of that excitement would rub off on me. My father-in-law has since passed away, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say we continued the pregnancy for a reason, I am very glad he was able to meet his grandson.

On pregnancy and birth. The rest of my pregnancy was — knock on wood — a very uneventful pregnancy. I had not one appointment where there were any concerns.

The actual birth was quite long. I had bad contractions for an entire night; they were painful but not getting closer together. By the time I went to the hospital, I had not made very much progress as far as dilation. I really didn’t want an epidural; I wanted to tough it out, which I now think is kind of ridiculous. A few hours later I realized there was no way I’d have the stamina to push if I didn’t get some rest. After I got the epidural, I was finally able to get some rest before I had to push. It took me three hours.

As soon as he was born, they put him on my chest. We didn’t know, going in, the sex of the baby. My husband said, “It’s a boy!” Because he’d swallowed some meconium, people swarmed in to flush his lungs. That was scary — I remember being like, He’s a boy? Is he a live boy? But beyond those first few scary moments, he’s been very healthy.

On postpartum depression and anxiety. I did have pretty bad postpartum, which I worked with my doctor to treat. This is a concern of mine, if we are to have a second child. I had such a totally fine pregnancy. Parts were definitely uncomfortable; it doesn’t feel great, being pregnant. But it was very healthy. To go from that, to having a newborn in my house, was a very stark contrast. No one was getting any sleep, I wasn’t producing enough milk, and I was so stressed out I thought I was going to die.

My maternity leave was four months long. The first two were terrible — I felt like I was in prison. The second two months were wonderful: I went on antidepressants and started seeing a therapist, my son started sleep training. It was completely different, after that.

On early parenting. Parenting can be so hard — and that’s from the point of view of someone with a healthy baby, born to term. I just really underestimated the amount of daily, logistical planning it takes. If I need to leave for a work trip, my husband needs to pick up the slack, or one of the grandparents needs to fly in and help out. Now that we’re looking at preschool programs, I’m just floored at the amount of energy that applying takes.

Overall, having my son has made me much more empathetic. I have such a different experience of even something like being on a subway car. Looking around the subway car, especially during moments where you’re hot, stuck, the train’s going slow, I’ll think, Everyone on this train car had a mom. Someone took care of every single person. Someone was up with them in the middle of the night. Someone wiped their butt. This outlook gives me a very different way of interacting with the world, in general.

On having a second baby. Recently, my husband told me he wants to have another kid, ASAP. That threw me for a bit of a loop: I just got back into the swing of things with work. We’re fully moved in to a new place. Our son is thriving.

After our experience of the first time, I’d like to be very exacting with the next time. We realize that just because getting pregnant was easy the first time, this doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy the next time. I think a lot of these kinds of decisions come from a place that’s a lot more emotional than my naturally type-A personality usually operates from. When we decided to continue the pregnancy, I realized it would be additive, that it would change me, probably for the better. I want to approach having a second child again much the same way, but maybe with more of a realistic sense of what’s actually involved. I know how lucky I am: I had a comparatively generous parental leave, a loving partner and co-parent, and more. We’re very fortunate.

The Mom Who Tried ‘Natural’ Family Planning