My Pregnancy – An Emotional Journey
Fatigue, nausea, constipation, as well as swollen hands and feet, were some of the ailments I was warned about during my first pregnancy. However, the emotional hardship I was about to face, with its enduring impact on my life, far exceeded any of these physical discomforts.
Let me explain . . .
In March 2006, I was 12 weeks pregnant with my first child and suddenly faced the unimaginable. My mother, just 52, was diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer and given just three months to live.
I wanted to spend as much time with her as possible, so the visits to my Charlotte doctors during my pregnancy were short and sweet. I would get a clean bill of health and an “OK” to get back on a plane to spend time with my mom in Tampa, Fla.
Throughout it all, there was no doubt I wanted to help my mom, but I worried about my own physical and emotional health. With a history of anxiety disorder, I questioned whether I had the strength to accompany Mom to her radiation and chemotherapy treatments and to be there for her emotionally. I remember so vividly telling my husband and close friends, “I can’t do this.” But, in the end, I didn’t let my fear paralyze me from being there for my mom.
When she wasn’t in tremendous pain, we would lie in bed together surfing the Internet for cribs and nursery décor.
On several occasions, Mom sent both my sister and me out to purchase all the “I love Grandma” bibs and “onesies” we could find. We had a nightly routine of rubbing lotion on my belly while watching my stomach make alien-like movements. Mom loved to sing lullabies while laying her hands on my stomach to feel the kicks and flutters of the baby moving inside. We even came up with our favorite baby names.
Mom held on strongly to the hope she would be around for the birth of her first grandbaby in September. When she made it out of a risky surgery in May, a day before my 29th birthday, the first thing she said when she opened her eyes was, “I’m going to see my grandbaby.” My family and I breathed a sigh of relief and smiled in delight, but the doctors weren’t so sure. The tests showed her cancer was spreading rapidly and her body was extremely weak.
Mom had been anxiously awaiting grandkids for as long as I can remember. Upon sharing the news of my pregnancy, I can still hear the excitement in her voice when she shouted, “I’m going to be a Grandma.” I will forever treasure the page in my pregnancy journal where she wrote, “Dear Baby Behlke, I can’t wait to be there with your mom and dad rejoicing in your birth.”
Throughout my mom’s battle with cancer, she never once gave up hope. She exuded a rare inner strength and courage that inspired anyone who knew her. She had tremendous gratitude for the doctors and nurses who cared for her. After her first stay in the hospital she made it a priority to write thank-you notes and cards to all of the nurses on the floor where she stayed.
Just four months after her diagnosis — in July — my mom passed away in her home surrounded by her family and friends. I was 32 weeks pregnant. The sadness I felt was unbearable and, at times, made me physically sick to my stomach. She was my best friend and confidante, a person who understood both my fears and aspirations. I immediately felt a huge void in my life. But when I looked down at my protruding stomach, I knew I had to stay strong. I was about to embark on a new journey, motherhood.
I stood tall and proud at her memorial service, reading her eulogy at a beautiful park located on Tampa Bay. Mom loved nature and being outdoors, so the park was the absolutely perfect setting for her memorial. We asked everyone there to write down their fondest memory of our mom, so my sister and I could one day share them with our children.
In mid-July, I returned to work full time. I spent long days in the office catching up on work and preparing for my maternity leave. On the weekends, I helped my husband put the finishing touches on the nursery. And there was just enough time for my sister to host a baby shower with all of my friends and co-workers.
A few weeks later on Sept. 13, my water broke just after midnight. My husband and I headed for Carolinas Medical Center’s main campus in the early hours of the morning. Because my water broke and there wasn’t much cervical change when we arrived at the hospital, Pitocin augmentation was started to enhance my labor. When the pain became unbearable, I closed my eyes and envisioned my mom helping me through each contraction.
I was also accompanied by Kathy Shields, the Nurse-Midwife on call from Charlotte OB/GYN. Kathy saw me the most during my pregnancy, so I was grateful she was there to deliver our baby. She had been a Nurse-Midwife at Charlotte OB/GYN for 12 years and delivered more than 1,500 babies. I also had the love and support of my husband and sister. They helped me through each contraction with their words of encouragement and selfless acts. They fanned me with magazines and kept a constant supply of ice chips. They were all excellent coaches.
After just an hour of pushing, our daughter arrived. She was 7 pounds, 4 ounces and 20 inches long. Kathy commented how great I did during the delivery and was very surprised it was my first baby. She said that the labor was influenced by a very reverent and sweet spirit and the presence of my mom was everywhere in the room. The nurse who assisted with the delivery said I inspired her because every time she came in to offer the epidural, I resisted.
The strength I earlier saw in my mom both comforted and guided me through an entirely natural childbirth. My mom was my focal point and my inspiration. And although she was not physically there with me, I felt her presence the entire time.
When I think back on my pregnancy, it’s not one of cravings with associated aches and pains, but one of strength. In addition to caring for my mom, I took good care of myself and my unborn child. I ate a healthy diet and exercised until the day my water broke. I stayed strong despite the difficult circumstances — a tall order for someone with a history of anxiety disorder.
Bearing a child and becoming a mom is not an easy task. It is an emotional journey with endless rewards. Each day I am able to see the beauty in my mom through my daughter’s eyes. And the love I feel for her is a constant reminder of the love my mom felt for me.
I will forever treasure the time spent with my mom during her final weeks. And even though my daughter will never meet her Grandma Mary, she will surely know by the stories I will tell how much she was truly loved.