Grieving a Due Date
by Julia Pelly
January 21, 2016
I found out I was pregnant early in the morning on the Friday before Labor Day. I grinned as I asked my husband to read the digital test out loud and immediately began to imagine what life as a family of four would be like.
That afternoon I bought my son the customary “big brother” tee-shirt and snapped a few pictures to send to my family who, after finally noting the script across my boy’s chest, called with their laughter and teary congratulations.
I told a few close friends, I started a “new baby” folder on my desktop with a list of potential names, links to baby bedding and articles about sibling bonding.
And then, as suddenly as it came, it was gone.
I knew I was pregnant for just a week before the doctor called to say that the pregnancy was likely ectopic and that my levels weren’t rising like they should be.
My best case scenario became miscarrying naturally. I cried, my husband cried and my family cried. My toddler continued to pat my belly and whisper “baby, baby” long after there wasn’t any baby at all.
I had a miscarriage before I had my son
, I was ten weeks along when it’s little heart stopped beating and I had the D&C to remove it, and, at the time I didn’t know how I would move past the grief. This time though, as devastated as I was, I moved forward more quickly.
I took my son for a walk a few hours after I started to bleed, we went to Music Together as I cramped. I shut my office door at work but didn’t take any time off. There were likely several reasons for my brusqueness regarding this miscarriage. I was further along last time and had had more time to settle into the thought of motherhood. I had a toddler this time, one whose daily care removed the possibility of curling into bed or sleeping away the hurt.
The first time I wondered if I would ever be a mother, this time I had a trust that things would work out eventually because my son, beautiful and perfect, wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t lost my first pregnancy.
What surprised me in my grief, though it shouldn’t have with the amount of thought I put into it before I got pregnant, was the loss of my May due date.
For me, it’s not enough for someone to tell me I should stop and smell the flowers; that my kids will be grown before I know it and I should remember to pay attention to them now.
My husband is a teacher and I ran a youth development program that, while active over the summer, is much more time and labor intensive during school months. I’d had my IUD removed in late spring and charted my cycles all summer to make sure that I had a great shot of getting pregnant when August came.
When it actually worked, and I became pregnant just when I wanted, I couldn’t believe my luck- it seemed my husband and I really would be able to spend the early months of our new baby’s life together as a family.
Thoughts of a shared leave with my husband excited me, but the primary driver of my desire to have a May baby was that it would be the least disruptive time for me to step away from work, which, in turn, would allow me to feel less guilty about getting pregnant in the first place.
I’d started my position with the organization just over two and a half years before, I was fresh out of graduate school and eight weeks pregnant with my son. I told my boss of my pregnancy at my thirty day evaluation with an apology and promise that I would work extra-hard until my due-date and return full-force eight weeks later. As my belly grew, I felt I owed my office mates, people who I had met just months earlier but who would, for the time I was out, be doing my job, a constant apology.
I wondered if I should get them thank-you cards or some sort of gift of appreciation but I wasn’t sure what was appropriate. It never crossed my mind that it was my offices lack of maternity leave policy or willingness to hire a contract worker that would leave my colleagues with extra work, not my pregnancy alone.
It never crossed my mind that it was my offices lack of maternity leave policy or willingness to hire a contract worker that would leave my colleagues with extra work, not my pregnancy alone.
In the twenty-one months since my son’s birth I’d become more comfortable with my colleagues and with my own professionalism. The quality of my work was evident and I felt confident that my co-workers would be happy for me should I become pregnant again.
Still though, I had a nagging fear that others will resent me for stepping out, if only for a brief time, or that in my absence I’d miss something that left me perpetually behind, unable to keep up with my colleagues who don’t have kids.
This May baby was my good faith effort to show that I was a team player, that I was willing to do my part to minimize any disruption that my brief leave would cause. We had started trying again right away after my first loss but when the May baby disappeared I didn’t know whether I should try again, or if I should I wait, an entire year, to try again for another spring due date.
If I were to be successful in getting pregnant right away, I would likely deliver in the fall, the most labor intensive season of my work. If I were to wait though, and try again for a spring baby, there would be a chance I wouldn’t get pregnant in time or that the next baby wouldn’t stick either.
The loss, and decision making process regarding trying again, brought to mind larger questions about the weight each should carry in the interplay of work and family life.
A part of me wanted to simply disregard any influence that my job calendar might have on my childbearing- I would be, after all, creating life, which is a pretty big deal. I loved my job though, and wanted to ensure that it got done well. A larger part of me than I’d like to admit also cared a lot what others thought, I wanted people to like me and feared that they won’t if the birth of my baby forced them into longer work hours.
After recognizing that the plans we make for pregnancy may be more fragile than we would hope, my husband and I decided to start try again.
We calculated and we planned but, ultimately, life happened. The growing of a baby is both unpredictable and miraculous and I just didn’t want to wait. In the months following my loss, when I saw another woman pick up her newborn or caress her growing belly, I felt an actual ache. I felt ready to become a mother again, for the flutter of kicks from the inside out, for the tightness of contractions, for newness of a just-born baby, all flexing fingers and blinking eyes.
I wanted my son and his future sibling to be close in age and I wanted to leave room for more babies after that if I so chose. In the moment, these desires seemed more pressing than the opinions of co-workers or the timing of the eight week’s I’d be out of work.
We began trying right away despite our concerns about work and, in the funny way life works, my husband and I both switched jobs within months of our loss but have yet to get pregnant.
Though neither of us are now in positions with a clear “least-bad” time to step away with a newborn, starting anew has brought to light new concerns. Now, we worry that if we get pregnant soon, which we hope we will be, we won’t have worked at our organizations long enough to build up the goodwill that negotiating a reasonable leave requires. And again, I worry what people will think and how my co-workers will feel about my potential absence.
As it turns out, being a working parent is hard and there really never is a perfect time to have a baby.
It’s been five months of trying and we’re hoping that it won’t be much longer. Until then, we’ll work hard, plan as best we can and hope that when we do become pregnant our co-workers will be happy for us, our bosses will help us make a plan for leave and we’ll grow a happy, healthy baby.
Readers, as you planned your pregnancies how much did your work, or work schedule, impact your plans?