Great Expectations: What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting
By Stephanie Hanrahan
To get my two children I had to give up two. Or rather, my body did. At six and seven weeks my miscarriages were early, barely existent, yet so significant. I remember my first missed period. Oh, the joy! I had waited so long for life to hand me this favor. I didn’t expect becoming a mother to be without hardship, I was well-versed on the risks, and let’s face it, life had not always been kind to me. But after meeting my husband the sea steadied and for the first time, I was free. I was finally living a predictable life. One full of safety, security, and dreams coming true—as evidenced by the tiny pink plus sign on that pregnancy test. Of course, I found some elaborate way to share the news with Shawn. I remember tying a handcrafted note around our fur-baby Nugget’s neck. Surprise! You’re going to be a father! And then a few weeks later, surprise you’re not.
After the first loss, I slipped into survival mode which for me consisted of facts and statistics, and control. I did everything in my power to become pregnant again, and alas, it worked. And then it didn’t. By the third pregnancy, I was robotic. Creating a baby had lost all allure. I was on a mission, detached from the actual act. We needed to check a box. We needed ovulation kits, timed intercourse, every app that told me when to breathe and when to baby make.
And when it happened, when the third pregnancy took, the pregnancy that would indeed produce the most precious of baby girls, I couldn’t feel one ounce of joy. It was all fear. There was no special announcement; I called my husband at work. I didn’t buy a single item for her, not even a bib until she was practically born. How could I buy bows and booties when the other shoe would surely soon drop? Every day I awoke and obsessed. Over kick counts, caloric intake, even the mildest of cramps.
To heighten my fears further, I am a Labor and Delivery nurse. One might assume this would be calming, extra ultrasounds, and extra knowledge, but in this case information was not power. L&D is indeed the happiest place in healthcare until it’s not. And when it goes bad it’s very, very bad.I have had the privilege of being present for families' most private and vulnerable moments. I have watched them hold the grace of God in their arms, pink flesh, and first cries, and then I’ve heard the opposite: primal cries and panic. The evaporation of hope. And the latter is what I fixated on during my fertility struggles. The devastation.
The loss. It is impossible to not see what I’ve seen, so every story—every baby I held that had not been given enough breaths, every prayer I prayed over them as I silently washed, and dressed, and handed them off to women who had carried them and now cried for them—it was all ingrained in me. And when it came time to get pregnant, the memories flooded back. All I could focus on was that even the best of blessings can be taken away. And when my blessings were taken too, my faith faded. I was spending time analyzing statistics instead of turning to scripture. I wanted answers. Quick, now, and easy. I wanted to not feel jealousy and rage when I scrolled through social media and saw yet another pregnancy announcement. Oh, look, someone who hadn’t even been trying.
Comparison is indeed the death of all joy. But I didn’t want their baby, I wanted my baby. And that is what I would hear God tell me over and over again as I sat with an empty womb, “That’s not your baby, Stephanie. Your baby is on the way.”But what God didn’t mention was the timeline for that. The waiting. The expecting of a baby and getting nothing but disappointment. Let’s talk about a messy little thing called expectations. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes...well, you know the rest. It’s been beaten into us as women that there is a natural progression to things. Find man, make baby.
It’s also been beaten into us that if for some reason things don’t go as planned while creating said family, you should keep quiet about it. But I couldn’t disagree more. Staying silent keeps the pain present. We are women. We need to release it. How dare we be hushed. My husband is a great sounding board, but he’s also at times an insufficient outlet. Men can be internal. Men can differ in communication and expression. Men didn’t expect to bear a child and find themselves bleeding instead. But if you follow what breaks your heart you’ll find your tribe. And I promise you are not alone. I’ve stood witness to many women who have had difficulties getting pregnant and staying pregnant. They are out there and they are warriors.
Fighting for their children before they are even conceived. And if you have the courage to open your mouth and share your struggles, I bet you’ll be met with an astounding number of “me too’s.” We are women hiding in plain sight and we need each other. Because there will come a time when you are called to wait. To just sit still and surrender. And this uncertain period lumped somewhere between our plan and His, shouldn’t be done alone. There is great power in finding someone who can say, “I get it” instead of “I can’t imagine,” and there are droves of women who can do just that. I am one of them. In nursing, we are taught to never provide a patient with false reassurance. You are forbidden to tell them it will be okay, because, what if, it isn’t? But that is where my medical training and my spirituality conflict. Because my God—my amazing, awesome, always-good intended God—is a God of miracles and of assurance. He makes it okay. Always. He is a God of abundance.
And if you are in the throes of it now, if you think I’m only saying this because I got the outcome I wanted—I got my babies so of course, I would believe—you’d be mistaken. My final two pregnancies were complicated by much more than just anxiety. I gained over seventy pounds with both, in spite of perfect exercise and nutrition. I labored for thirty-two hours and still had a c-section, which got infected and ended my ability to breastfeed. And that’s just my birth story. God also gave me children who have extra challenges and difficulties. He did not tie up my life in a neat little bow. The idea I had in my head of who I’d be, and who they would be, was taken from me as quickly as the miscarriages were. But that’s the lesson again: trading expectation for appreciation. His plan is better than any birth plan I could ever come up with, and because of my losses, I am well aware of just how much I have gained.
My season of waiting was preparation for the life I have now, I just didn’t know it at the time. So while you are waiting, be pregnant with possibility. It will all be revealed soon enough. I can’t tell you that you’re going to get pregnant on your first try, or your tenth. I can’t tell you all the medical interventions in the world will even work. Because sometimes they don’t. But what I can tell you is this: with an incredible amount of pain comes an incredible amount of purpose, and if God can put a baby in Mary’s belly, he can impregnate you with a really full and beautiful life.
So hang on. It all gets better when you relinquish control. And by the way, your baby is on the way. And that’s not false reassurance. It’s faith.