Behind the Belly

Behind the Belly you will find little old me: Mom, girlfriend, daughter, sister, auntie, confidante, writer, dog-lover, watcher of soaps and crime dramas, and educator. 
Of all the roles I have had the privilege of portraying, being a Mommy has been the most transformational, my most rewarding.  In the years leading up to me becoming a Mom, my life was consumed with thoughts that I may never experience Motherhood.  You see, I chose the education and career route.  Throughout my twenties and into my early thirties, I immersed myself in furthering my education and focusing on my career as an elementary school teacher. 
I attended California Polytechnic State University for my undergrad, receiving my Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Studies.  After returning home, to Port Hueneme, and substitute teaching for a year, I landed my full-time job as a fourth grade teacher.  At the same time, I got together with my future husband. 
While teaching in a self-contained classroom, I went to school at night to earn my Teaching Credential and Master’s Degree in Education.  Azusa Pacific University, a private college, offered an accelerated program so I completed both in just two years.  The nights were grueling, though; after working all day in a classroom, I would sit in another classroom for 4 – 5 hours learning how to do what I was already doing!
After taking a year off, from being a student not a teacher, I returned to my academia roots and found myself in pursuit of a doctoral degree.  Fortunately, I had two dear friends and colleagues whom undertook this journey with me.  If not for them, I don’t think I would have finished!  This venture proved to be particularly challenging as the program was not kind to working professionals.  Our first year of coursework went rather smoothly, as we were able to take night classes to satisfy our chosen degree, but the second year found us having to creatively schedule our classes, since very few were offered in the evening.  Luckily, I worked in a year-round school district at the time, which gave me every fourth month off.  Each quarter I was able to sign up for one day class. 
Education and career aside, I nurtured my relationship with my future husband.  When we finally did get married and decided to have a family, I was well into my thirties.  It took my future ex-husband and me nine excruciating months to get pregnant the first time.  I was incredibly naïve and inexperienced when it came to matters of the belly, so I began celebrating immediately.  I went shopping for newborn clothes and started compiling lists of names (for both boys and girls).  I talked to my belly and, even though it was still as flat as ever, I began holding it, caressing it and cuddling it.  I was already in love with the baby growing inside of me. 
When, in my second month, I began cramping and spotting, I doubted whether my pregnancy test had been accurate.  I grappled with the idea that maybe I hadn’t even been pregnant!  Was this the onset of a late menstrual cycle?  But, when the pain intensified to the point of curling me up into a ball, I knew better.  I remember the exact moment I lost my baby.  It reminded me of when I had had a biopsy to check for uterine cancer a few years prior; a sharp, pulling pain as if skin were being ripped off.  I went to the doctor the next day and she confirmed that I had, indeed, been pregnant.  I carried my first child to 7 weeks and 3 days. 
This loss tainted me.  I was no longer blissfully anticipating conception.  Instead, I was shrouded with fear and doubt; doubt that I would be able to carry my child to term and give birth.  The next time I conceived, another 9 months later, I was terrified!  Every little ping and twitch took me back to that excruciating loss nine months earlier.  To make matters worse, my ex-husband was less than compassionate.  During my first miscarriage, he had kept himself busy in our computer room, playing games with virtual strangers online.  He didn’t even bother himself enough to check in on me while I lay crying in bed. 
He wasn’t all bad, though, not as bad as I make him out to be.  He tried to celebrate the fact that I was pregnant for the second time by looking at a baby name book with me.  But, each time I tried to talk to him about this second pregnancy and how I was scared after losing the first, he changed the subject, usually to our impending road-trip to Arizona and New Mexico.  I wasn’t comfortable going on a road trip during my first trimester but I was even more uncomfortable telling him that I didn’t want to go.  “Coward,” I would tell myself but dutifully continued to make arrangements for our trip.
With all his negativity and disinterest aside, I tried to enjoy my pregnancy.  I went shopping and listed baby names, again.  I counted down the days leading up to my first miscarriage, telling myself that if I could get past that date, this pregnancy would stick.  I was so elated when that day came and went.  Sadly, this feeling would only last another two weeks. 
At 9 weeks and 3 days, I lost my second baby.  I believed her to be a baby girl because I dreamt of her almost every single night.  I had even named her Baby Grace.  I mourned this child much the same as I did the first, with a slightly heavier heart though because I knew from the beginning of this pregnancy how fragile and precious it was.  I didn’t have the same innocent naivety that came with my first pregnancy.  This one, I knew I could lose.
Well, the thought of going through it all again proved to be too much for my ex-husband to bear.  A mere two weeks after my second miscarriage, he came to me and said he didn’t want to have a baby.  He claimed he never did but had only tried to make me happy.  I was numb!  More than ever, I wanted to be a Mom and he was taking that dream away from me.  I simply replied, “Then I guess we will have to separate because I do and this isn’t something we can compromise on.” 
Of course, the separation and imminent divorce weren’t as simple.  We tried going to counseling but with neither of us budging, there really was no reason.  I slipped into a deep, deep depression.  Cutting myself off from my friends and family, I wallowed in my abysmal sadness.  I went to work and put on a façade that everything was fine but in the hours I was not in my classroom, I cried constantly; in my truck on the way to work, in my truck on my way home, and in my truck during my recess and lunch breaks, I cried.  I took my dogs for walks along the beaches and harbor, shielding my red, puffy eyes behind dark glasses.  Sometimes, on these walks, I would look around and if nobody was watching, I would break into sobs.
Later, I would realize that I wasn’t just mourning the end of my marriage.  Yes, my divorce hurt but I had never truly grieved the loss of my second baby.  I was simultaneously grieving the loss of my child, my marriage, my future and any hopes of becoming a Mom.  At thirty-seven and single, I truly believed motherhood had slipped away.  How would I ever find someone, get to know him, develop a lasting relationship and get pregnant before it was too late? 
You see, I had a vision of how my life was supposed to have been: a mother, a father, and a baby.  There was no way I could bring a child into this world without that “traditional” family structure.  But, as fate often does, she had other plans.
What ensued were three meaningless relationships with men who would never be able to give me what I wanted: a family.  I was just trying to make it through my life, one day at a time, until I reacquainted myself with an old high school friend.  Everyone warned me to stay away (he had a bed reputation) but that made me even more determined to prove them wrong.  He was sensitive to my feelings and my needs and my desires.  He built me up at a time when I was at my lowest.  And, he was fun! 
We had such a great time together, until I found myself pregnant.  The morning I told him I was pregnant, he pulled away.  I couldn’t understand why.  From the very beginning of our relationship, he knew how desperately I wanted to be a Mom.  He knew, because I told him, that if I ever got pregnant again, I would keep the baby at all cost.  So, when he stopped returning my calls and texts, I was at a loss.  I eventually wrote him a lengthy letter, naively expressing my hopes that we could someday be a family. 
Well, it turned out that he already had a family!  He was married with a child of his own.  His infidelities, of which, it turns out, there were many, had finally caught up to him and there was a child to prove it. 
I could have allowed my situation to soil my pregnancy but I refused!  I was determined to have the pregnancy I had always dreamed of; after all, it would probably be my only one.  So, once the nausea subsided, I left all remnants of an unhappy pregnancy behind me.  I relished in growing a life inside of me.  I glided as I walked!  I smiled constantly!  And I languished in the idea that I was never, ever alone!
With my history of miscarriages and, being the tender age of thirty-seven, I was sent to a specialist for close monitoring of potential problems and birth defects.  I was quite adamant that, regardless of anything that might be discovered, this child was going to be born.  I went to every single appointment, followed all my doctors’ advice, and conducted extensive research into how to have a healthy pregnancy. 
At twelve weeks and three days, my specialist confirmed, with 99.99% certainty, that I was having a boy.  I already knew this though because the moment I found out I was pregnant, he came to me in my dreams.  I no longer dreamt of that beautiful little girl from years earlier.  My dreams were now telling me I was having a boy.  With 4-D video, I was able to see my son, my sweet little boy, moving around inside of me, even at that early of an age! 
And, we got the most amazing ultrasound pictures from that first meeting.  I held onto my ultrasound photos like treasures, stock piling them in albums and keepsake boxes, each one precious and rare.  They were a welcome reminder that my pregnancy was a strong, healthy one (a mantra I would repeat thousands of times throughout my pregnancy). 

As my baby grew and my belly expanded, so, too, did my happiness.  With the nausea gone, four excruciating months of it, there was nothing that brought me more joy and more fulfillment than being pregnant.  I loved to lie down and hold my belly.  I talked to my son, read to him, played music for him, and danced with him.  My favorite song to sing to him was “Say, Hey” by Michael Franti. 

It was around this time that I realized just how much of my pregnancy had already passed and, wanting to preserve every moment of this precious experience, I began journaling.  I wanted to document every single day, pay homage to the little things that are oft forgotten but with my track record of leaving journal after journal unfinished and half empty, I was afraid this one would meet the same fate.  So, I decided to write to my unborn son because I knew my dedication and commitment to writing to him would be much stronger than just writing for myself.
And so began my memoir writing; preserving my memories, my feelings, and my emotions.  I didn’t just write down what had happened each day, I recorded little moments such as the first time I tried to paint my toenails but could no longer reach my feet and, more importantly, how those moments made me feel.  

Then, on January 20, 2010, in the middle of a wild and stormy week, my beloved son was born.  After 14 hours of labor and 44 minutes of pushing, my son lay tenderly in my grateful arms.  His crying subsided the moment I held him and, within 5 minutes, we were peacefully nursing.  I had always heard that, no matter how long a mother was in labor, the moment she held her child, all exhaustion evaporated right out of her.  This was true for me!  All I wanted to do was hold my child, look at him, and bond with him.  Sleep truly was the furthest thing from my mind. 

Looking back on my pregnancy and birth, I can say that I truly, truly savored every moment.  And, I have the memoirs to prove it!
But my journal writing didn’t stop there.  Once my son was born, I continued to write to him.  I journaled his entire first year, with the same dedication and devotion I had throughout my pregnancy.
And, it is my hope, my desire, to help other mothers find the inspiration and motivation to preserve their journeys to and through Motherhood.