From the moment I discovered that I was pregnant, I was ready, working to ensure that my baby would be as healthy as he or she could be. Yes to lots of fruits and vegetables. No to nitrates or cured meats or sushi (a particularly difficult one for me). No to Caesar salads, yes to the flu shot (after wonderful advice from my doctor). Yes to telling immediate family. No to telling anyone else… yet. Yes to dreaming up names and possibilities for a future my husband and I could only imagine. Yes to the excitement and even the sense of overwhelming responsibility of the enormous tasks that lay ahead. Each step pondered, considered, and thought out.
From the moment I discovered I was pregnant, it was all about control. Control over what I ate, where I went, and the plan I set for the future.
How different the world looks now, almost six years since my first pregnancy. The initial moments of my pregnancy were all about embracing that control. Our lives now, however, are anything but.
I could control what I ate during pregnancy, but I could not control what happened when my oldest child got on the school bus for his first year of kindergarten and encountered another boy who, day after day, grew a little less friendly and a little crueler. A piece of me crumbled inside as I heard the concern in my little boy’s voice when he had to get on that bus in the morning. Sure, I reached out and talked to all the people with whom I needed to speak about this situation, and I assisted him in beginning to work on some essential life skills that he will need when dealing with bullying or simply in day to day interactions with others, but ensuring my son’s full safety and well being every time he steps on the school bus is still impossible.
I could control the bedtime routine when my younger son was an infant: a book, singing the shema, and kisses all around. But I cannot control our bedtime routine now that he is older and more determined to do things his way; every night feels like a marathon. It seems as if every night brings more questions and more requests, more frustrations and more tears. Bedtime is not the sweet, meaningful time I had imagined; it is just not that much fun anymore.
I could control the safety of my boys as they were swaddled in their blankets, resting peacefully in their cribs. But, I could not prevent the bumps and bruises along the way. Though some were cured with kisses, others could not be. Three emergency room visits, 40 stitches, and one broken bone later, I realize I can be just a step away and something can still go wrong.
I could control–or at least in my head I could control–two healthy pregnancies, which I imagined would set the course for my children’s future well-being. But I could not control the moment I sat in the doctor’s office as she told me that my third pregnancy had ended in a miscarriage. I could not control the feelings of sadness, of hopelessness, that overwhelmed my whole being. And, I could not help but wonder if I could ever fill the emptiness it left behind.
Intellectually, I know that pregnancy–and parenting, and life–is not about control. If only my heart could catch up to my mind on that one.
And yet, there are glimpses of a whole new reality I have been privileged to witness as this pretense of control has vanished.
Every evening after school, I now sit with my boy curled in my lap, discussing our day. We share the good–a compliment from a teacher or a game we played or a discovery he made. We share the bad as well. I cannot prevent those experiences from happening, but I can listen and help him navigate the complicated world in which we live. These moments together have become, for both us, a favorite part of the day.
At night, as my son curls up in bed, we now sit for a few minutes cuddling and laughing. We reconnect with one another when our individual expectations have missed meeting somewhere along the way. And in the midst of letting go of what I thought bedtime should be, I have uncovered something new. My son loves to sing. A few verses from a Disney song can shift his mood. We sing together, smiling at the shared joy we both get from the experience.
And when I look around our dinner table, the fifth chair I once imagined adding is gone. But, as I gaze at the faces of those who do surround that table, I am overcome with gratitude: for the caring and supportive husband who always amazed me, but who is, even with his own grief, there to support and to love and to demonstrate such tremendous patience. For the two boys, who sit there playing and laughing and teaching us to laugh once again. I sit there with a new appreciation for my family of four.
My sense of control has been forever shattered. But slowly, slightly, tentatively, in its place has emerged something new: a slowing down, opportunities for connection and, of course, a growing, indescribable love.