Every part of my eight-year-old son’s existence was planned. Except for the fact that he is, and will remain, an only child.
By choice, my husband and I were married for nine years before becoming parents, simply because we had things to accomplish first. I earned my Bachelor of Arts degree and became an elementary school teacher. We increased our savings account. We became a two-car family. We moved into a larger apartment. We took my dream trip to Paris.
When all the “must do’s” became “have done’s,” we planned for my pregnancy by working backwards. I added up the amount of time I’d receive for maternity leave, my unused sick days, and my summer vacation. With that knowledge, I knew when I wanted our baby to be born so that’s how I knew when I would need to conceive.
Like clockwork, I became pregnant shortly after we began trying. My son was born at the end of March, allowing me to be with him full-time until September, when the new school year began.
But for all our planning, we were unprepared for the strain and tension that being parents would place on our marriage. Because of it, we decided that, most likely, we wouldn’t have any other children, because we didn’t know if our marriage would survive another child.
But then I became sick, and the final decision was made for us.
For over a year, doctors tried to diagnose my “mystery ailment.” There were scary possibilities that were eventually ruled out including muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, leukemia, and cancer. We stopped considering whether we’d try to get pregnant again. Instead we were trying to find out if I’d live to see our son grow up.
A rheumatologist finally diagnosed me with a rare autoimmune disease called Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disorder. It wasn’t fatal, but it was chronic. And while it wasn’t life-ending, it was life-changing. I was placed on medications to try and control the symptoms. Medications that prohibited a pregnancy.
Over the years, I have found that there are parallels to being pregnant and living with a chronic medical condition. To a large extent, my body is out of my control.
There’s only so much I can do about how I feel or how my body reacts to something. I have regular doctors visits. Folic acid has become a pill I take again (to serve as a preventative means against side effects of a strong medication).
But unlike our most-wanted, most planned pregnancy, this disease was neither planned nor wanted.
And though I planned on my pregnancy, I haven’t been able to plan large parts of my son’s childhood. The fact that he would be considered a “late walker” — not conquering that milestone until after he was a year and a half old. The fact that when my son started preschool it would be an incredibly difficult transition for him, resulting in hours of crying. The fact that, starting in first grade, he would need glasses.
And all these facts have taught me that plans are important, but as John Lennon so famously said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
Parenting doesn’t just mean making plans; it also means leaving space, having patience, and showing compassion for everything else that happens.