Will this be the week I give birth? Could it be tomorrow or later today, even? One way or the other, it will be this month, at least. Somehow, I still can’t wrap my head around the idea.
My mum messaged me the other day, checking in, and said how this time last year I couldn’t believe I’d get to this point. To be honest, I’m not sure I believed it at the start of this year, even with a healthy 12-week scan under our belt.
Yet here we are. I’ve found the third trimester harder than I could have anticipated. It hasn’t quite matched the agonisingly slow, drip-drip of days of the first trimester, with its round-the-clock fear of fresh blood and blank, unblinking ultrasounds, but the confidence I’d thought would grow with each week past ‘viability’ hasn’t arrived either.
I’d hoped that reaching a point at which a baby could realistically survive outside of the womb would unload some of the pressure. Knowing that doctors could and would intervene if something were to go wrong, that it was no longer just down to my body alone, should have been a relief. Or something close to it.
Yet, as the third trimester wore on, that pressure – an intense feeling of responsibility – simply shifted from body to mind. Instead of worrying that my recalcitrant uterus would do something cruel but ultimately beyond my control, now I feared it would be my brain and attention that would fail our baby. And this specific fear only intensified as the odds of survival improved week on week. Now – my brain kept telling me – if something were to happen it would be because of a lapse on my part. I would fail to notice a reduction in baby’s movements or to spot some other potentially troubling symptom. I would wait too long to go to the hospital. I would make the wrong decision over which treatment or interventions to have during labour.
Far from letting up, the demands of constant vigilance weighed heavier than ever. There have been intrusive thoughts and unsettling dreams of a kind I haven’t had since the foggy, semi-traumatised days after the first and most violent of our miscarriages.
At the same time, in the final few weeks of pregnancy, the amount of baby-related admin has ramped up. Even if you are taking a cautious, minimalist approach to preparing for a newborn like us, by this point, there are so many things you can’t really get away without doing or buying (especially during a pandemic, when the prospect of waiting and doing one massive shop once they’re born feels less than practical). There are ante-natal classes. Growth scans. Pelvic floor exercises to be done. A body and mind to be prepped and stretched for labour. Hospital bags to be packed. Tiny clothes to be washed.
Many of these are milestones that, of course, bring joy. Or rather, they allow the bass chord of happiness, which is always there under-scoring every day that you are still pregnant, to really resonate; to be felt. Yet they also direct your attention squarely and unrelentingly towards one place – the place where your longing and your fear live side by side.
Added to a few weeks of living under a question mark as to whether our little one’s growth is where it should be, or whether they would need to be induced early, and I’ve felt like I’ve been limping towards the finish line, rather than making a determined, euphoric sprint.
And I feel like I should be euphoric. I certainly don’t want to be the person who complains that even their wildest dreams aren’t what they’re cracked up to be. Because I really wouldn’t change any of it (OK, maybe I could have done without the bleeding scare at 8 weeks and pranging the car in the second trimester…)
The truth is, this has been the happiest and also the hardest time of my life. I suspect untangling its many emotions will be a far longer project than simply writing this post. It’s all there, swirled together – joy, yearning, terror. The fluttering heart of hope and the cold, creeping fingers of caution, with their wagging reproach: You mustn’t rejoice just yet.
Not yet, not yet, not yet.
I’ve worried about what comes next, too. After so much trepidation, superstition, wearing the same clothes to appointments and scans, waiting, not buying things, and always, always keeping our expectations on a tight rein, will I struggle to bond with this baby? By being so cautious, have I actually been negligent? Am I less prepared than I should be? Destined to be a bad mother, after trying to keep my distance for so long?
Worst of all is this unbidden thought: Have we, in fact, made a huge mistake? What if having children isn’t really the right thing for us after all? It comes and goes as quick as a flash of lightning and is just as electrifying. After four years of yearning for a baby and so much trying, how could it even occur to me? And how could I ever admit to such doubts, however fleeting?
I’m sure (at least, I hope) it is something that races through the minds of many prospective parents; that it’s only natural, when your life is about to shift so seismically, to question your choices. But in our situation, after what we’ve been through and everything I’ve written, it doesn’t feel natural. It feels outrageous, ungrateful, verging on monstrous. I’ve done enough therapy and reading around mental health by now to know that our thoughts are not reality. They’re just thoughts. Still, this has been an especially unsettling one.
This week, though, I dreamt about our baby for the very first time, home and safe and perfect. I dreamt I’d given birth. I dreamt of Dan, carrying the baby upstairs, bringing them to me to be fed. I dreamt of a shock of dark hair, of small, flailing arms and tightly curled fingers. And so this is the image I’ve been trying to hold on to in the strangeness of these final few days. This is the picture I try to keep in mind, while I wait for labour to start at long last; willing the dream to become reality.