The Kiddy Pool: Pregnancy, Ambivalence, and Faith

Every week in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.

I am in the final weeks of my pregnancy, and I’m looking forward to the birth of my second daughter with relief and anxiety. As I count the days and try to predict when she will arrive, I recognize that I’m impatient for an unpredictable, life-altering event that may actually be harder than my pregnancy. But that seems unlikely.

I recognize how much I have to be thankful for, that I have never experienced difficulty conceiving and I do not know firsthand the pain of infertility, and that every midwife’s report confirms that my baby is healthy and strong. Those are tremendous blessings. Yet at this point in my pregnancy, people mention how quickly my pregnancy has gone, how “fantastic” I look, and then ask how I’m feeling. Nothing about this pregnancy has felt quick or fantastic, and the honest answer is that I’m struggling physically, psychologically, and spiritually—and have been for some time now.

I knew I was pregnant before I could confirm it with a test; the first-trimester nausea and vomiting hit early and lasted well into the second trimester this time. The minor sickness I had with my first daughter intensified this time around. I would vomit at home, drive to work, and teach my classes on an empty, sour stomach. Changing my toddler’s diapers made me vomit some more. In one memorable incident, I knelt over the toilet puking while she lay patiently waiting for me to finish changing her. She kept asking “Are you OK, mama? Mama, are you OK?” Um, sure?

The brief respite I got for a few weeks during the second trimester (often called by well-meaning pregnancy websites an “energy surge,” though I can only label it thus comparatively and in hindsight) didn’t last long. In the third trimester I have been plagued by migraines, 2-3 per week, so that I feel trapped in a constant cycle of pain and nausea followed by an exhausting day of recovery. Each headache begins with classic aura, so I get some warning (though there are few remedies I can take safely while pregnant) and lose my vision for a while during the process. Add to this bouts of severe contractions when I try to do strenuous things like teach my classes or go to the grocery store.

I write about this here because I don’t know how to reconcile the joy of my daughter’s impending arrival with the deep ambivalence I feel about this pregnancy. The last eight months have stripped me of some of the most important markers of my identity. What kind of athlete can’t walk without vomiting and contractions? What kind of teacher can barely focus on her students because she’s so consumed with sickness? What kind of wife piles more chores on her patient and dutiful husband because she, again, needs to rest? Even as a mother, the most basic biological component of my self right now, I feel like a failure; I simply can’t engage with my toddler with the energy and creativity she deserves, and it’s hard not to imagine the child in my womb as a vampire-like creature. And, yes, I feel tremendously guilty saying that, because pregnancy is “supposed” to be filled with joy and hope, but the women who gush about loving being pregnant feel like a foreign species to me.

I see the limits of my suffering, the smallness of my plight, its temporality. In a few weeks, I’ll get to hold that precious parasite in my arms and these months of trials will be but a memory. In the meantime, I keep on struggling through each day—reminding myself to endure when I realize there’s not really another option. And as I wait, I know that of all the identities I’ve lost, I’m still a child of God. And while all of those other identities are finite and dependent on my own strength, as a child of God I am embraced, accepted, and forgiven forever—in spite of all the ways I fall short.

About Erin Wyble Newcomb

Erin Wyble Newcomb earned her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction and Women's Studies from Penn State University. In addition to parenting her daughters, running marathons, and making things with glitter, she teaches in the English Department at SUNY New Paltz. Follow Erin on Twitter @ErinWyble or at http://phdmama.com/.

  • Kristen

    I am sorry your pregnancy has been so difficult.

    Those ‘foreign species’ women who gush about loving being pregnant are likely women who either experienced infertility or have very different experiences with pregnancy. I’ve been pregnant three times, beginning with a much longed for and outrageously easy one that I loved pretty much every single second of.

    I certainly don’t think anyone (except maybe those so burdened with a longing for a pregnancy they fear or know they will never experience) could fault you for not ‘loving’ feeling sick all the time or having migraines you cannot treat. Those are very real and hard things.

    I think the points you made in the final paragraph are the key to reconciling your ambivalence about pregnancy. Your audience here surely includes some who are in the midst of suffering through infertility and hearing someone say, ‘I hate being pregnant’ when they are pregnant is incredibly painful. I don’t say this to shame you, honestly. When I was about 18 months into fertility treatments, I had a dear, dear friend who was 8 weeks pregnant with her fourth child and horribly sick at the time tell me, ‘You should just adopt. Being pregnant is horrible.’ This remains the single most hurtful thing said to me during those years. (We are still friends today.)

    Again, I want to say I know that some aspects of pregnancy are difficult, sometimes incredibly so. I had sciatic for six weeks with my second and could barely walk. I know I complained about it. I had the flu with my third and didn’t ever really recover until I had her. I know I complained about it. I hope I didn’t hurt anyone in doing so, but I probably did. Pregnancy can definitely be difficult, but I can think of few (if any) difficult things that end so predictably with a miracle.

  • http://howtotalkevangelical.addiezierman.com Addie Zierman

    Beautiful and honest. Thanks for writing into the tension. (I had lousy pregnancies too. What you put into words about feeling like your identity had been stripped away…I felt that too but could never figure out the words until you said it.)

  • http://goodokbad.com Seth T. Hahne

    It’s more like getting the gift of a new identity: the identity of an invalid! (Welcome to my club.)

  • CS

    I had difficulty conceiving and when I did become pregnant I was hospitalized and diagnosed with Hyperemesis Gravidarum. I spent my pregnancy on the bathroom floor, in bed, and in a hospital. I missed out on friendships, family, birthdays and, well, life. I struggled to gain weight, to stay hydrated, and worried and prayed about that little baby I hadn’t met. All this to say that in the end, as you know from your own experience, it was more than worth it. But you’ll never get me to say anything else positive about being pregnant. ;) I don’t think the curse refers only to labor, lol.

  • Monica

    Motherhood is not for sissies. Praying for you to experience physical relief and spiritual renewal as you wait for your baby girl.

  • jon

    hmm, well if you think thats tough try being disabled for decades with no end insight.

    suffering produces grace and compassion. Christ is enough. I don’t mean to be crass but compared to most od the suffering going on in the world this was your choice and you end with a gift, most of us don’t. just think if you were the average woman in India, Africa, or China and count your blessings like i do. you see i have been disabled for nearly a decade and can not work. the illnesses are genetic and not my choice. believe me when i say there is always someone with it worse, so count your blessings and remember complaining is a sin.

  • jon

    this is my gift to you,,. the truth. Christ’s suffering we share is a small shadow and the glory a large portion. if you feel lonely He who is Life experienced Death and Separation from all things fpr our sake. if you feel suffering He Suffered and Died when he took on our sins. Our suffering passes quickly for we could not bear what He bore for us.

  • jon

    This is our indentity “litle Christ:”

  • CS

    Jon, Christ didn’t suffer and die on the cross and then rise up so he could say, “Suck it up, I went through worse.” ;) Glory is heavy.


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