Those of my friends and family who know me well (or who happen to have ever strolled through a mall with me) will remember that I used to do something pretty weird—one among many weird things I do, actually. There was a particular over store which, every time we passed it, I would absolutely gush and drool and do other equally strange things. I never went inside. Not once. But even at fifteen years old, I would absolutely go bonkers every time I saw it. It was not the a-little-too-cute-for-my-age Aeropostale, or the ever popular and packed-with-younglings American Eagle, or the just-expensive-enough-to-drive-me-crazy Old Navy, or the dimly lit, perfumed corridors of Hollister—or even the highly-inappropriate-for-young-people-borderline-pornographic images of young men plastered in the windows of Abercrombie & Fitch that got me so excited. I could think of nothing more feminine, beautiful, graceful, dignified, or desirable than to wear an item of clothing from Motherhood Maternity. I remember telling my friends that I could not WAIT to be pregnant, just so I could shop there. To which they would respond with an awkward laugh or roll of the eyes.
I had no plans to accomplish that goal at the time, or any time soon, or without a wedding band on my finger. But there was just…something…about the women in there, the images of radiant, gently smiling women on the walls, the mannequins with their round, gracefully draped bellies that made me crave to be among the women privileged to pass through the doors of that place. Forget about the shirtless boy staring out with pursed lips from Abercrombie with his pants just high enough to still be considered clothed. I couldn’t care less about romance, or anything that might actually make it possible for me to shop at a maternity store. I just wanted to look like those women. I wanted to feel what they felt. I imagined that pregnancy must be the most transcendent and fulfilling thing that a woman could experience.
This went on for several years. My friends came to expect my strange behavior with every shopping trip. I even had the opportunity to live vicariously through my older sister when I took her shopping at Motherhood Maternity during her first pregnancy.
Then I graduated and moved to Utah to attend BYU. Babies and all things maternity instantly vanished. Yes, I saw pregnant women and students pushing strollers every so often on campus, but church meetings on Sunday were completely devoid of the babbling voices of babes I was so accustomed to hearing in Texas. There was no nursery. Or Primary. Or even youth. Just single adults living single adult lives completely consumed by three things: school, work, and socializing. I still got a tiny little thrill when I happened to cast my eyes on that shop at the mall, but sometimes I strolled right past without even glancing at it.
Then I went on a mission. Missionaries must follow very strict rules during their service, one of which is to avoid physical contact and being unsupervised with children. This is in an effort to protect missionaries from accusations of abuse, which has been known to happen in perfectly innocent situations simply as an opportunity to take advantage of the church and/or give it a bad reputation among people who are not members. I was very diligent as a missionary to follow all the rules we were given, and while I felt very blessed and satisfied for doing my duty while away, it resulted in an interesting and worrisome side effect when I returned home.
Children were suddenly very foreign and somewhat frightening to me. Instead of seeing soft cheeks, touchable curls, pudgy hands and adorable gurgling, I saw snot, drool, dirty diapers and other messes, offensive smells and ear-piercing screeches. Many of the girls I had served with in the mission field expressed that their first and foremost desire upon their return home was to hold a baby. I never said so, but instead of feeling relieved of my duty and excited to embrace my natural, motherly instinct, I wished that I still had an excuse to avoid contact with the little minions. I knew that not everyone absolutely loves children and that that is ok, but this new feeling of reluctance—perhaps even…disgust?—worried me and made me feel like there was something wrong with me.
I still saw children as innocent and precious and had a great amount of respect for mothers. I knew that I would eventually want my own family. I even found that I still looked forward to shopping at Motherhood Maternity one day, but I had absolutely no interest in the “Motherhood” part. I wanted what I saw as the glamor and “fun” of maternity, without the responsibility for or bother of the resulting child.
I hope my words do not offend anyone, but I must be candid, and I have a sneaking suspicion that I am not the only female on the planet to have felt this way—as evidenced by the growing number of women who choose never to have children. I understand the desire to maintain independence and not turn over control of one’s life and choices to another very small, very demanding person. I understand the desire for privacy. For adventure. For travel. For greater financial security. For time. For greater, grander, further educational pursuits. For a body that will not become a leased space (rent-free!). Not to say that parenthood guarantees that all these things will be forfeited, but I think most parents would say that some of these things must be sacrificed to some degree, for some time.
Dare I admit that these have been some my thoughts and feelings, even during my own pregnancy? When Gared and I decided to get married, I had already made a firm resolution to delay having a family for quite a while still—there were many good, worthwhile reasons to do so. We both still have a lot of schooling to finish, neither of us had a large pile of cash just waiting to be spent on children, and I was very attached to the idea of continuing to get to know this wonderful person I loved so much—without the intrusion of children. I had dreams of travel to the Pacific, Europe, South America. Creating memories, doing what our hearts desired, where we wanted, when we wanted, the sole focus of our attention on each other. That was the image I now embraced—not one of a frazzled woman trying to calm a screaming toddler.
But Gared did not share my dreams. At least, not in the same fashion or time frame. See, Gared had that thing that I had lost. When we passed a new mother and her baby in the grocery store, it was Gared whose face dissolved into that expression that told you his heart had just melted. It was he who smiled at the little one and whispered, “Look at her!” It was he who grinned indulgently at the toddler who looked wide-eyed at him over the back of a pew at church. It was he who seemed to find nothing more fun than to play with his nephew. It was he who saw soft cheeks, touchable curls, pudgy hands and adorable gurgling.
And in the end, I had to admit that I had another feeling. One that told me my plans were not the right ones—not right now. That my logic was not equal to what was in store for us. That this path was better, even if I could not see why or how—even if it scared me to death. Even if following it meant that the first time I walked through Motherhood Maternity for myself, it was not the experience I was expecting. I was disappointed to find that I had dreamed it up into something it’s not. It could not make my anxieties disappear. It’s just a store.
And now for something completely different. On top of these thoughts, on top of the strange mix of emotions that comes with pregnancy anyway—on top of the dreaded nausea, the fatigue, swelling, and general aches and pains—I have experienced an additional symptom the last few months.
I have a heart condition. It’s called Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, after the three physicians who described it. I was diagnosed with this condition as a baby, but never really experienced any significant symptoms until late in highschool, when I went to the emergency room and had to be medicated intravenously to slow my heart rate. You can read all about it online if you’d like, but basically WPW (as it is most often referred to) results from faulty “wiring” in the heart. It is not something you “catch” and it is not hereditary. It’s one of those things that just happens sometimes when babies are developing, and it causes unusual electrical activity in the heart, the most common symptom of which is a rapid heart rate. Many people are asymptomatic and find that it causes them no real danger or discomfort.
Despite the episode in highschool, I was surprised a few months ago when I began to experience some uncomfortable symptoms of my condition. It took very little for my heart rate to suddenly leap in pace and pound hard, causing additional fatigue, shortness of breath, and a generally unsettled and anxious feeling. It frightened and exhausted me, making even simple tasks daunting at times. I have since learned that such symptoms are common in pregnant women, even those without a previous heart condition. No wonder, since there is not just one but two people relying on the beating of one heart. I have had very good care from my OB/GYN and a cardiologist during this time, and while I now have the comfort of knowing that neither I nor my baby is in danger, these symptoms have been a great challenge to me.
During a conversation with my mother a while ago, she reminded me that while I was at the emergency room that time in highschool, two men from church—two good family friends—came to the hospital to give me a Priesthood blessing. A common feature of such blessings is a pronouncement of healing or recovery. My mother reminded me that that was not a feature of my blessing. Although I was assured that no harm would come to me, I was not told that my condition would go away. And WPW does not go away. My parents and I were led to believe until now that I had “outgrown” this condition, but I know now that this can never be. There are treatments, and in some cases it is necessary to cauterize nerves in the heart to cure the condition—but only in cases where the irregular electrical activity is considered life-threatening. Mine is not such a case. And so…my heart will always be this way, and I can expect to experience these symptoms again in future pregnancies.
Ever the patient, nurturing spouse, Gared has often insisted on “bad heart days” that I stay in bed and not move a muscle. This has resulted in me having a lot of time. Time to ponder. Time to wonder. And of course I have wondered…”Why?” Though I am certainly grateful that my case is not life-threatening, it is at times discouraging to look forward to the coming years and know that I will live the rest of my life with these symptoms, which may or may not improve significantly after the baby is born. Will it limit what I am able to do? I have always noticed that I struggle to keep up with others in some activities—I lose my breath faster and find it difficult to develop the endurance and stamina I would like. Running, hiking, swimming—there are so many things I enjoy that have always proved difficult for me to do without discomfort and without frequent rest. And now that I understand my condition, there is a certain motivation to not try too hard—to not put more strain on my heart than is necessary. Though my cardiologist assures me that he sees nothing sinister, I can’t help but wonder if it is possible, and what it would take, to push my case from an innocent place to a dangerous one.
I do not wish to complain. In general I am very healthy. I am very blessed and feel I have much to be grateful for. But I have felt the need to find a place to let all these voices talking back in forth in my head have their say. Especially this one:
Our hearts can be faulty in many ways. How often have we read of one whose heart was “cold” or “stony” or “hard”—or one who had no heart at all? Wasn’t it the Grinch whose heart was two sizes too small? Wasn’t it, in part, the influence of a small child that made it grow? I believe there can be many reasons for even just one of the challenges we may face in life. One small thing can bring about a lot of change, or as this scripture puts it, “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise” (Alma 37:6). This verse has also come to mind a lot lately: “…and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh…” (Ezekiel 11:19). Who knew that it was possible to have a spiritual heart transplant? To exchange a faulty heart for a whole one? And is it possible for it do be done through some small thing…or small person?
I do not know why I was born with a faulty heart, but perhaps when my heart beats extra hard and fast, I can remember that it’s for my little boy. Maybe when I see him for the first time, some of the fears, anxieties, and reluctance to change my heart feels will just melt away. Maybe it’s through motherhood, not maternity, that I’ll experience what I saw in the faces of the women in that store. Maybe the image of the frazzled mother is somewhat incomplete. Maybe there is something else she has that only motherhood can give. Maybe this little boy, who is already starting to change me, will give me a whole, new heart.