Last October, I sat on the toilet and peed onto the stick of a pregnancy test. Before I could pull up my panties, the test screamed positive. I wrapped the test in toilet paper and crammed it to the bottom of the garbage can, and sat on the edge of the tub.
Mizz Givens: I'm no fool. I know having unprotected sex leads to many things, pregnancy among them, but my kids are 11 and 10 and I haven't used birth control in 10 years, and there hasn't been even a scare, and what do you mean I'm pregnant?
Oh my God, right? I called my travel agent to cancel our trip to Puerto Rico, and then revoked my registration for the writers' conference I had looked forward to all year. Already I was tired and depressed and somewhat resentful, and the baby was the size of a fingernail.
My pregnancy sucked. I had been in the best shape of my life, strong and healthy, and all of a sudden my back hurt every waking moment, I had frequent headaches, acid reflux, and could barely keep my eyes open past 7 PM. Almost worse, I could no longer drink coffee, which now smelled putrid and tasted bitter and gritty.
My first prenatal appointment was with a midwife, a specialty I chose so I could be cared for in the tender way I saw midwives interacting with their clients on pregnancy shows on Discovery Health. The midwife, Susan, walked in the examining room, glanced at my chart, and looked me squarely in the eye. "You're overweight," she said. "No more fast food." I mumbled that I don't eat fast food, but she raised her eyebrows and told me to lie back for the vaginal exam. Before I could relax, she shoved the speculum into my vagina, scraped my cervix with a long cotton swab, and poked at my belly. She pulled off her latex gloves with a snap, pronounced me of advanced maternal age, and recommended genetic testing. I asked if I could hear the baby's heartbeat, and she said she'd try, but that it might be too soon given the excessive fat on my belly, which might make it difficult to pick up the sound.
I left her office in tears and told myself I was firing her ass and getting a doctor that would treat me like a human being. Unfortunately I didn't get one of those until I was 36 weeks pregnant. In the interim, I went through two OB/GYNs, skipped half my appointments, and didn't take any prenatal tests, vitamins, or supplements.
I wanted to be excited about my coming baby, but I just wasn't. I thought my family was already perfect. I felt guilty because bringing another baby into the family would change our family dynamics and perhaps reduce the amount of attention, emotional support, material possessions, and life experiences I could offer my children. All day and night I worried. My kids required so much already. Maya was entering puberty unreasonably fast. Zion has a medically based learning disability for which we provided supplemental services, tutors, and spent hours communicating with teachers and doctors. Supporting him was a full-time job by itself, and I wondered how I would manage to give him the time he needed and at the same time, spend time with Maya, teaching her what it means to be a woman. I couldn't imagine how I would be able to find time to write, or make private phone calls, or take a long bath.
I worried about the cost of infant child care, diapers, and formula. Two months before the baby arrived, I opened the door to my office, the door that had remained closed once I realized I would be losing my private space to the nursery. One wall was filled top to bottom with books I'd read over the years, books that inspired me or changed my perspective about myself or the world. Another wall held a cherry armoire, full of the work I'd produced as a writer.
I set to work separating the books into two piles: One pile of the books I couldn't live without, and the other pile of books I would fondly remember but didn't have room enough to store. The first stack of books I moved to the top shelf of the walk-in closet in my bedroom. I crammed nearly 300 books into that space. I stored my writing in the bottom of the armoire and left the remaining portion for the baby's clothes.
Elijah was born on July 5, 2009. It was my daughter's 11th birthday. As a family, we went to the hospital, and the kids ate McDonald's pancakes while doctors, nurses, and the anesthesiologist roamed in and out of my room. When the Cesarean was complete and I was back in my room, there was my family, holding the baby, smiling and pleased.
The next two months were a blur of diapers, bottles, and tiny clothes. My husband was on leave as well, and together the five of us spent the summer at parks across the Puget Sound area. Nearly every evening we drove to the lake, where Charles and I would relax together and read while Elijah slept and Maya and Zion took turns throwing each other out of the raft. We went to the Seattle Aquarium and spent long afternoons at bookstores. We had meals together and read books out loud. We took turns holding Elijah, snapped dozens of pictures, and looked forward to his few waking moments.
I loved the summer we spent together. It was the first time we were all home for an extended period of time, and I felt relaxed and in love with my family. As summer turned into fall, I began to truly enjoy being a stay-at-home mom. I didn't mind getting up at night with Elijah; in fact, it was an intimate time we shared in the middle of the night, our house dark except for the light above the stove, the two of us curled up together on the couch in the family room. Each morning I woke early, made the kids a hot breakfast, and drank my coffee while they ate. Once I got them off to school, I woke Elijah, dressed him, took him on walks, pointed out flowers and trees and our neighbor's red truck. When he began to get sleepy, I held him and watched CNN. I put him to sleep on the couch, cleaned the house, prepped for dinner, and paid the bills. I played multiple games of online Scrabble and caught up with friends on Facebook.
When Maya and Zion came home from school, I had a snack waiting for them and helped with their homework; I enforced the rules. I was rested and relaxed and parented my kids in a thoughtful, intentional manner.
In the evening, after homework and dinner and chores, when Elijah was taking a nap or otherwise occupied, I got out my laptop and wrote. I felt content. After Maya and Zion went to bed, I read or watched TV, mostly holding Elijah, and I talked to my husband about the changes the baby brought to our lives. I couldn't imagine life without him, and I couldn't remember why I thought I would be missing out on something, or why I thought I would be compromising my life and my dreams by bringing this baby into our family. I realized I could enjoy my life and my family, and take care of them well, without losing myself in motherhood. My heart and my ability to parent well, to love deeply, has expanded with Elijah's arrival.
In October I went back to work, and that changed everything. I no longer have the luxury of long walks with the baby and afternoons spent running errands. I wake at 5 AM so I can have a complete breakfast and coffee before my commute. After work, I try to help with homework, cook a balanced meal, make sure the kids are loved and listened to, keep up with the laundry, play with the baby, be a wife to my husband, and try to carve out a few minutes to read once all the kids are in bed. I'm tired and short-tempered. I only manage to make it to the gym two or three days a week, and I tell myself it's better than nothing. I write here and there, but it's hard to get my mind in the zone. Mostly I end up on Facebook, the greatest procrastination tool of all time. It's mindless entertainment, the only thing I can handle after a long day.
Still, we are all crazy about Elijah, and I wouldn't change anything, except to add more patience to my demeanor. It has somehow been a fluid transition from being a family of four to being a family of five. We run about the city like we did before he came. We all pile in the car and shove Elijah's gear in the trunk. We take turns pushing the stroller and soothing him when he gets fussy. And as we all take care of the baby and make room for him in our family, we somehow began to love each other more.