I have been watching some friends of mine go through their first pregnancies recently, and it’s brought back a lot of memories of when I was pregnant with my kids. And the lessons that pregnancy taught me, the most important of which was that we don’t really have control over our lives as much as we think we do.
We get to make a lot of choices in our lives, every day. Which shirt am I going to put on? What kind of coffee will I order at Starbucks today? What route will I take home from work? What will I cook for dinner, or will I just order a pizza? What TV show will I watch? We make so many choices that we think we have control over everything in our lives.
But we don’t. And pregnancy, and parenthood, remind us of that every day. Our bodies change when there is a fetus in them. We get morning sickness, and we pee ourselves. We become anemic and our thyroids go wonky and we develop diabetes. Our feet swell and our hips ache. None of these are things we have any control over. They just happen, because we don’t have control over our bodies.
I, like a lot of women, had a lot of plans for how the birth of my first child would go. In no version of any plan I had was there a NICU team present. My body made that happen when it decided it couldn’t carry The Boy to term. I didn’t choose for him to be born the way he was, or to spend the first 9 weeks of his life in a hospital. It was a harsh lesson for me that I didn’t have control over everything that happens to me, and I certainly didn’t have control over what my body did.
When I was pregnant with The Girl, I didn’t make plans about her birth, because I knew that in the end, I wouldn’t have control over what my body did. The best I could muster were wishes, and even those didn’t all come true. There was a NICU team at her birth too, because there was meconium in my amniotic fluid. And although her birth was a much happier experience than The Boy’s was–complete with Frank Sinatra playing, and surrounded by wonderful, supportive people–having the NICU team in the room was not one of my wishes.
When I hear my friends talk about what they want for the birth of their children, about their plans for the birth, my heart drops a little. I hope they will get what they want, but I also know that in the end, it isn’t going to be their choice to make. That c-section may have to happen, no matter how much they want a home birth. They may want an epidural, but labor may move too quickly for it to happen. There may be a NICU team in the room. They might not get to hold their baby right away, or for days. None of these things will be their choice, because they don’t have control over what their bodies do, or what the baby needs. And that’s just the start of the lack of control we have over our lives when we become parents. Nobody chooses to clean up baby puke at 2 AM, it just happens. That’s life.
This is one of the main reasons I believe so strongly that it’s really stupid to judge each other for how things go when we parent, and why mommy wars over the best way to give birth seem particularly absurd to me. Because, in the end, having the birth we want, or having the child we imagined, is not something we have much control over. The best we can do is play the hand we are dealt and hope for the best.