She’s having a baby

Pregnancy is a time for preparation, fear and education

Kat Kerlin contemplates giving birth several weeks before Lilian’s arrival.

Kat Kerlin contemplates giving birth several weeks before Lilian’s arrival.

Photo By jessi lemay

When my husband and I decided to try to get pregnant, we expected it to take a few months, if not a year. Grant was excited at the prospect of “Honey! Now! We have to do it now!” envisioning the sort of scenario we’d seen on television shows, where couples were equipped with thermometers and timers, and the man was always worn out by the sexual demands of his wife.

After we got off birth control, I think we got pregnant on our first or second try.

My first signs weren’t morning sickness, as I’d expected. It was severe exhaustion. I couldn’t understand why I had to conk out in the middle of the day, why I was barely functional for hours. Other signs followed. Then three over-the-counter pregnancy tests backed me up.

I went on an errand for groceries, a final OTC test and a book. Too excited to wait, I took my final test in the bookstore’s bathroom then started to think of how to tell Grant. Over dinner? On a walk? When I got home, my husband was in the front yard constructing a rock wall for a raised bed. “Look at this,” he said. I laid the grocery bag on the driveway, noticing too late that the pregnancy test box was visible through the white plastic. “See how the color of that rock blends with that one, and oh, oh, see here, how this corner rock curves and flows into this one … ”

“Yeah, babe. It looks great,” I said. Then he spotted it.

“Um, why do you have a pregnancy test?


“Are you pregnant?”

I nervously smiled and said, “What would you think if we were?”

“Are you?”

I nodded, smiling.

“How do you know?”

I listed the litany of signs and the three tests as proof. He walked up to me, wrapping his arms around me, with a happy, bemused look on his face. “This is good. This is good,” he said.

My husband wishes I were an Ecuadorian

There were things I expected from pregnancy—getting very round, for instance. Morning sickness, for another, though that only lasted a couple of weeks for me. Then there were things I hadn’t given thought to, like that extreme fatigue I mentioned that stayed with me through my first trimester, but also how vulnerable I would at times feel.

RN&R special projects editor Kat Kerlin plays with a mobile for the baby’s room.

Photo By jessi lemay

I simply didn’t want anything to go wrong. Grant’s grandparents rented a house in Tahoe in August, when I was just a few weeks pregnant. His uncle brought a jet ski, and Grant wanted me to ride on it with him, which I did. Moving along the choppy waters toward Emerald Bay, I suddenly thought “What am I doing?! You’re not supposed to ride a horse when you’re pregnant, and this feels like a trot!” I had him turn me around and drive slowly back to shore. He thought I was overreacting.

“What about all those Ecuadorian women who ride the buses?” he tried to reason. We met in Ecuador as Peace Corps volunteers, and we were both well-acquainted with the jolts an Andean mountain bus ride can produce in a body. “I’m sure Ecuadorian women lose babies, too,” I answered.

This Hardy Woman theme reemerged again when I got scared from a cramp I got after moving a flower pot. “Ecuadorian women carry big bags of stuff when they’re pregnant,” he’d say. I reminded him that Ecuadorian women in their 70s would also hike miles with gallons of water on their backs—a feat I couldn’t do when I wasn’t pregnant.

I learned not to worry so much but just to listen to my body, and he eventually realized he had to let me do that. A home landscaping project that had me shoveling dirt and horse manure and pushing wheelbarrows left me feeling great, not vulnerable. When I was tired, I would stop. By my third trimester, however, my days of hauling horse poop were traded for prenatal yoga and a few laps at the gym swimming pool. And Grant stopped talking about Ecuadorian women.

Why would she say that to me?

One of the hardest parts for me about being pregnant, especially in the first few months, was not the physical limitations or discomforts, or even giving up caffeine, wine and sushi. It was trying to overcome fear of losing the baby.

I’m sure other pregnant women think about this, but they don’t talk about it much, probably because talk of losing babies is the last thing a pregnant woman wants to hear. And yet, people can’t resist.

Upon telling her I was pregnant, one woman told me, “Now if it doesn’t take, keep trying. My friend had seven miscarriages before she got pregnant, and now she has a beautiful baby.” Why would she say that to me?

Or an older woman who cornered me to tell me the horrendous story of their friend whose wife was in a car accident when she was nine months pregnant and both she and the baby died. Why would she say that to me?

I could already think of a handful of people who’d lost their children when they were five months pregnant or even after the baby was born. But the story that haunted me throughout my pregnancy was that of an out-of-state friend whose pregnancy I’d followed on Facebook. She posted a picture of her growing baby bump every few weeks; she talked about her itchy belly and cravings for fudge ice cream. When her baby was due, I opened her page, fully expecting to see a photo of her with a newborn baby in her arms and lots of happy messages. Instead, her profile picture was of a drizzly, gray beach and her son’s name written in the sand. He died shortly after she gave birth, and her page was full of messages of sympathy and pain. I broke out in sobs in the middle of my office at work. I cried that night in bed. I couldn’t stop thinking of her and how she had to go home to an empty nursery, not to mention the physical and mental pain the experience was causing her. Her story stays with me, but I realized after a couple of months that I couldn’t dwell on it. I couldn’t keep thinking these negative thoughts. I began envisioning my healthy baby, giggling as I lift her up and kiss her belly. When I would begin to think of people I’d known who’d miscarried, I’d shift my mind to think of all of the people who had healthy babies. The latter list was always longer. I’d remind myself that every person I saw was proof that successful births happen all the time. And while every day we live is a chance for tragedy to strike—a car accident, a disease, a violent crime—it isn’t something I obsess about, so why obsess now? Because I’d never been so responsible for someone else’s life.

Chemicals, chemicals everywhere

And while we’re on the subject of fear—you were expecting a joy-of-pregnancy story?—I have never been so acutely aware of the chemicals surrounding us as I’ve been while pregnant.

I’d already been eating lots of organic foods, had known for years not to microwave plastics due to leaching chemicals, and my main cleaning product is a one-to-one ratio of water and vinegar. But when you have such a pure and tiny thing trying to grow inside you, you want to do everything you can to keep her from having developmental and other problems I’d heard could be caused by things like volatile organic compounds (VOC), offgassing paints and mattresses, and chemicals in everything from canned foods to vinyl floors to air fresheners.

Local organic farmer Marcia Litsinger once explained to me the driving force behind her commitment to organic foods. She said something like, “For you and me, it’s too late. Our bodies are already poisoned. But the babies, they still have a chance.”

So we bought a barely used organic crib mattress off Craigslist and organic bedding. We bought VOC-free paint. I ate more organic foods. I started investigating what sorts of non-plastic toys and baby goods are available. (There are tons, though often expensive.) I avoided smoky places and car tailpipes and perfume and … it all makes me a little crazy sometimes. But my baby has been a daily reminder that there is no escaping chemicals, though there are ways to reduce how much we’re around them.

The industrial baby complex

Before we got pregnant, I did a little research about what a child costs each year. The short answer is around $10,000. This flabbergasted me. Part of that includes how a lot of new parents decide to get a better house or better car when they have a baby. We just bought our first house last May, and winter weather continues to tempt us to buy a “family” car capable of getting around the snow for next year, though we’re still waiting on that one. And once she’s born, my insurance will go from taking 9 percent of my salary to more than 30 percent of it for me and the baby.

I thought that, at least for the first year, a baby couldn’t cost much. I intended to breast feed, so there wouldn’t be much more extra food to buy, people tend to give you baby clothes, and beyond that, there’s just a few things needed, right? That Ecuadorian mama again crept into my psyche—those babies didn’t have carseat/stroller travel systems, fancy cribs, $50 baby carriers, baby monitors or designer crib bedding, and they seemed to do just fine. Yet when I added up all the things parents and baby websites told me my kid was going to “need,” it would cost me between $1,500 and $3,000 if I bought everything new. Other things could be found on Craigslist for about half the price, or used and discount stores in town or given or passed down by friends and family members.

RN&R contributor and expectant father Grant Nejedlo serenades wife and expectant mother Kat Kerlin and expected child Lilian Marie Nejedlo.

Photo By jessi lemay

Like anything heavily marketed, new parents sometimes get suckered into wanting the cutest and most contemporary baby stuff out there. But many new parents don’t have the luxury of $1,500 cribs. Those clever marketers further get you by basically telling you your baby could die if you don’t buy something. Baby magazines are loaded with ads for products claiming to protect against SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). “You need this specially designed ‘sleep sack’ that won’t go above your baby’s neck because if you don’t, she could die!” goes their basic message. “You must buy this $200 video/sensor monitor, or your baby could die!” goes another.’ Am I going to buy those things? Yeah, I am.

Luckily, we have something not all couples do: Incredibly supportive family members who’ve helped us pay for many of these things through combinations of birthday and Christmas gifts, baby showers and general charity. We also found some things for half the price on Craigslist and baby consignment and thrift stores in Reno. My sister’s sewing skills have also come into great use when it came to the nursery curtains, plush toys, bibs and breastfeeding covers that look much like the popular, named-by-a-man “Hooter Hiders” brand.

Meanwhile, we try to keep it in perspective, to stop looking at Pottery Barn Kids catalogs, to summon my inner Ecuadorian woman. When my baby comes, she will have everything she needs—love, of course being foremost, but socks and tear-free shampoo also help.

Drugs, breath and the pregnant girl

When Grant and I signed up for a six-week childbirth preparation class through Saint Mary’s Hospital, I was envisioning us propped on pillows on the floor, my husband behind me as we practiced breathing and massage. After all, I was told by other mothers that these were the things that most helped them in labor. Breathing, they said, was everything. We were told to wear comfy clothes and bring two pillows to class, which I took to be a good sign.

Our instructor was engaging, spoke fast, and had the comedic timing of a standup routine. But breathing and relaxation were not her strong suit. In fact, they were barely suits at all. We learned helpful information about the signs and stages of labor, but the only breathing exercises we did consisted of 15 minutes on a bean bag during the second class and an instruction to “practice breathing at home” on the third. And it wasn’t because we ran out of time. The class was to last for three hours, and yet, in six weeks, we never used all of our allotted time and were usually done in two hours.

I was feeling frustrated and a little duped. So I decided to talk with her about it after the third class. I thanked her for the clinical information but said I’d hoped the class would have more breathing and relaxation in it. We talked for nearly 30 minutes about how I’d like a natural birth but that I realized I may be pleading for an epidural when the moment arrives. I explained that I simply want all of the tools at my disposal to deal with either of those situations. She said I was part of a “new wave” in childbirthing—or a new old wave, since women in the 1970s were interested in natural childbirth. She said that interest had tapered off by the 1990s and was just now starting to attract more women. She said most moms come off the hospital elevator and want to back into an epidural right away.

We were taking her class to prepare ourselves for childbirth, but I felt like I was mostly being informed about what the hospital staff would do to me and very little about what I could do to help my labor go more smoothly.

It’s no wonder birthing mothers beg for epidurals at the first sign of pain. How can we know of real alternatives if they’re never presented to us? Also not covered in the class were the downsides of drugs—like slower labor, increased chances of c-section, and decreased mobility during labor because moms are hooked to IVs.

At the end of our conversation, my teacher seemed excited. “You just wait. I’m going to come up with something for you.”

Yet at the next class … nothing, though she wrote on the board that we’d do breathing the next week. That week came, and again, no go. On the final class, she wasn’t even there. Instead, guest speakers told us how to communicate better with our spouses, about car seat safety and infant dental hygiene.

Frustrated as we were, the $85 class fee was not a waste of our money. I learned a lot about things I didn’t know. But my husband and I felt we’d only gotten half the picture, the clinical half.

For women with no interest in natural childbirth, the class may be just what they’re looking for. I know not all hospital childbirth preparation courses or instructors are the same. Leslie Cowger makes breath and relaxation a big component of her classes at Renown, but I wanted to take our classes in the same hospital in which I was to give birth.

So there I was, just two months before the baby is due, and feeling at a loss for my role in labor. I’d declined to take Mandy Colbert’s hypnobirthing class due to its $200-plus price tag, but I read a hypnobirthing book that gave me good visualization, positions and breathing exercises. But it was written with a near evangelical zeal that made natural birth seem like the only option, and I was trying to protect myself from feeling guilty if I didn’t go natural. It’s so hard to find sources and people who are middle ground.

I’d been taking weekly prenatal yoga classes from Kim Allcock all this time. They’d been the one constant haven for me, working the kinks out of my ever-growing body while strengthening it for the work of labor, all within an environment of other, supportive pregnant women. One of those women was a newly pregnant Colbert herself. When I voiced my frustrations to her about the hospital classes, she told me about a one-night, $25 pelvic alignment class she was giving that week. So in a last-ditch attempt at childbirth preparedness, Grant and I went on a Friday night date to a yoga studio to learn about how our baby might best fit through my pelvis. It was great. A couple of hours to learn about gravity, positions and breath was what I needed. Thank you, Mandy.

Ready or not

I don’t think I’ll ever really feel prepared for childbirth. I’m told it’s indescribable pain, generally followed by indescribable joy. How to prepare for that other than to work on calming the body and mind in the face of stress? All I can say is, at 38 weeks, I feel more equipped to face it than I did at 14 weeks. Most of the time, I feel confident and ready to do this. And yet, as the baby has dropped lower, I’ll occasionally feel twinges of pain I mistake for a contraction, and a sudden, terrifying panic follows: “Is this it? Is she coming? Can I do this?”

Maybe I’m just being terribly American with all of this childbirth research and class-going. Americans seem to need a degree or certificate to prove they are “prepared” for something. So I read the books, I go to the classes, and I get overwhelmed by information and hope for the best.

Birth is a daunting prospect. When I watch birthing videos on YouTube, my emotions are always the same: tension and awe as I watch the women labor; then the baby comes, and I tear up with happiness for them. Pregnancy, childbirth and being a mom is something I’ve always wanted. There is nothing more powerful on earth than birth and life, and I’m currently facing the positive end of that spectrum. It’s the most normal, amazing thing in the world, and I feel honored to get to experience it. I watch my tummy make strange waves of motion as my baby kicks, like my belly is a blanket under which she’s hidden. Her movements make me laugh in surprise sometimes. I keep imagining the moment when I’ll first look into her eyes. There’ll be no looking away.

Editor’s note: Kat and Grant, surrounded by family and friends, welcomed Lilian Marie Nejedlo into the world on March 6, weighing 7 pounds 14 ounces. Surprising even herself, Kat did it naturally.