I applaud the advances in science and medicine that make childbearing so much less likely to result in death. I also suspect that all those advances are sometimes guilty of scaring the wits out of expectant parents unnecessarily.
Early ultrasounds scored you a fuzzy black and white image that would assure you that you were going to give birth to a potentially healthy baby that may or may not be a boy or girl — or an alien squirrel.
Today’s ultrasounds are so crisp and clear you cannot only spy on the baby, but actually decide if it looks more like Aunt Lou, Uncle Joe — or an alien squirrel.
This in-depth monitoring has made it possible to test for a host of things both serious and silly long before the actual birth of the child. Nowadays it’s not unusual to have someone tell you, six months in advance, their daughter will be born April 10, 2011, at 2:41 p.m. and she’ll have blue eyes, blonde curls and a wicked pitching arm.
For the most part, all the prenatal testing has been a bonus in letting worried parents-to-be know all is well. Once in a blue moon, however, the test results are more terrifying than reassuring.
During our first pregnancy we received those results. One moment my greatest concern was decorating the nursery to my exact specifications. The next moment a routine blood test indicated something might be wrong with our baby.
I won’t bore you with the details of a relative stranger’s medical history. Suffice to say the next two months were fraught with tears, fears, worries and hourly bargaining with God that if He would just let our baby be fine then I would never, ever ask for anything again. Amen.
The test, as it turned out, was wrong. So I spent all that needless worry over those early, and fortunately, erroneous results.
When I think of the unnecessary stress I endured worrying about genetic abnormalities I could just cry. What I needed was the test to forewarn that our baby would be born with an aversion to hair cuts and a biologically programmed predisposition to eye-rolling.
One minute you are spying on your child in the womb, desperate to gauge their height, weight and physical health. The next, they are out in the world and you marvel, if you are so fortunate, at their height, weight and sheer physical reality. This happens in the blink of an eye.
The baby I once cradled on my shoulder now has shoulders as broad as my own. The playful “I’ll get you!” as I “chased” him toddling around the living room has been replaced by “I’ve got it mom!” because he’s stronger and can lift more than I do.
When I hear of prenatal testing casting fear over otherwise joyful pregnancies, my heart aches for the parents-to-be. People who know our story have put terrified mothers-to-be on the phone with me so I could talk them off the fear ledge.
“I’ve been there. He’s healthy. Now breathe.” I repeat this as needed.
As a seasoned veteran what I really want to do is put my arms around the terrified parents, smile warmly, and say with the utmost sincerity: “Get used to it.”
Parenting is the best ride you will ever take. Parents in the throes of pre-natal terror have simply learned early it is also terrifying and has no guarantees. When other parents are blissfully concerned only with “pink” or blue” you have simply skipped ahead to the core of creating — and nurturing — a life. Be it girl or boy there will be endless joy.
There will be stresses and tests for you too. There will be daily tests of you, your child, your patience, your strength. There is the stress of letting them learn for themselves. From bumping their heads when learning to walk, to bruising their hearts when learning to love.
In the end, if you are lucky, they place a healthy baby in your arms and remind you to hold on tight. That part is laughably easy. What you don’t know is that all too soon the ultimate test in your parenting journey will be taken. That is learning to let go.