Me, Pregnant? Inconceivable!, Volume 14, Number 1 (1987)

Me Pregnant? Inconceivable!
Personal Essay
Laurie Williams Sowby
American Fork, Utah
Vol. 14, No. 1, 1987

Suffice it to say, it came as a big surprise. We’d had four children in seven years. We had always thought that we’d have more, but after eight years of no babies, we had decided that we had all we were going to get.

In the intervening years, trying to accept the fact that my baby days were over had been somewhat traumatic for me, and I had felt much older for it. I could readily empathize with women with fertility problems, and I, too, had been hurt by insensitive remarks like, “You’ve got four. It’s not big deal if you don’t have another baby.” I ached inside when I’d see an ad for some department store’s “baby sale.”

I’d been back to graduate school in the meantime, though, and had taught at BYU. My youngest had been in school for three years; I decided this wasn’t so bad, after all. Besides, with four healthy, reasonably well-adjusted kids already, I’d been able to come and go as I please, read and write without interruption, devote time to long-awaited projects that couldn’t be done with kids around. The thought of having my freedom interrupted by a little person and having to schedule things around someone else hadn’t occurred to me for months.

Then it happened. On September 8, 1985, my husband Steve was called as the bishop of our ward. (I found out that having a wife who bakes bread isn’t a requirement after all, or could, at least, be overlooked.) It gave me some pleasure to know that the sustaining couldn’t take place for three weeks because of my schedule.

It was between those two weekends that my curiosity was piqued enough to send to the hospital lab for a pregnancy test—the first I’d ever taken; before, I’d always just known that I was pregnant. When the nurse called an hour-and-a-half later with the news that the test was positive, I was so shaken that I could barely get the receiver back onto the phone. I felt at that moment a mixture of joy and shock.

I told Steve that night, and he was elated. We decided that try to keep it a secret until Christmas when I would be four months along.

Feeling by turns thrilled and not-so-happy, I realized with dismay while waiting my turn at junior high parent-teacher conferences a couple of weeks later that I would still be coming to these things when I’m fifty-one. Not a very exciting thought. Nor was the fact that I owned no maternity clothes and had given many baby clothes away, except for a few very nice ones that I had been saving for grandchildren. This surprise was going to be expensive.

Physically, I felt amazingly well—with only four instances of throwing up, a record low for me. Unfortunately, one of those was while our oldest, David, fifteen, was eating breakfast Sunday morning, while I retched in the adjacent bathroom. He came in and handed me a glass of water and asked if I were okay.

My initial concern that I wouldn’t feel well enough to keep up with my freelancing writing job proved to be unfounded. I discovered that I could pretty well avoid nausea by keeping something in my stomach.

My body was a different matter. My waistline disappeared in a hurry, and my dresses seemed to be shrinking around the middle. I had to admit that this thirty-six-year-old body was not what it used to be. Sweat pants became my daily uniform. It was becoming more and more apparent that the big announcement could not wait until Christmas. When thirteen-year-old Mike said to me one day, “Mom, you look pregnant!” (he was trying to insult me), that did it. We decided to tell the kids the following week, the night before Thanksgiving.

We weren’t sure how the older boys would take it. After all, they knew the facts of life and might be embarrassed. The younger two were sure to ask questions. We just hoped that they would all be happy about it. The bigger question for me was, how do I tell my mother?

I devised a treasure hunt, and the kids eagerly awaited the start of this “something special” that they had been promised for the evening. “Dad said that it was better than Christmas,” said Kristin, the ten-year-old and out only daughter. The first coded clue sent the kids to the basement storage room, where the next blue was taped to the long-unused high chair. The kids ripped it off without even noticing where it had been placed and then raced to the “B” encyclopedia where they pulled out the next clue without opening the book to the marked page with the Baby entry.

When Craig, our eight-year-old, found the next clue and played the written notes to “Rock-a-bye Baby” on his violin, David’s eyes lit up with the realization, and he began to dance around excitedly. The others still hadn’t caught on, and even a calendar with the May due date circled didn’t help. While David kept his secret, we asked what the others thought all the clues added up to. Mike offered, “You’re going to adopt a baby?” Kristin thought it might have something to do with getting a Cabbage Patch doll for her birthday, which, although in April, is close to May. Craig didn’t have the foggiest idea what this was all about.

When we finally let David tell, there was a scream of delight and the unanimous expression of hope that the baby would be a girl. We looked at the remarkable photos of the development of an embryo and a fetus in A Child Is Born, sharing the wonder of the creation of life.

Mike reminded me to eat plenty of dairy products, and David confided, “I always hoped that you’d have another baby.” Kristin took her lifelike baby doll to bed that night and told me, “This is better than Christmas!” Craig made a trip next door first thing in the morning with the news. The happy reaction of all four children was more than we’d hoped for.

My parents were another story. I hadn’t seen them for a few weeks, and they hadn’t seen my tummy. We would be having Thanksgiving dinner at the house, and there was no hiding things now. Kristin told Grandma before I could even get my coat off. Both parents were low-key, but by their comments, I got the definite feeling that they were thinking, “Our only college graduate, and you do this?” You have to understand, thought, that my mother had all four children, eleven to fifteen months apart, before she was twenty-four, and by age forty-two, she was a free woman.

She started reminding me that when I was her age I would still have a child at home, to which I replied rather resignedly, “There not a lot I can do about it at this point.” Dad asked, twice, “has your doctor got any special advice for someone your age?” I let the remarks go for the time being, realizing the announcement had hit them cold. But all the hurt came out in buckets of tears the next night, about 2:00 A.M., as I sat alone in the bathroom while Steve and the kids slept.

Sunday, I made my debut in church in a maternity dress—part of a new wardrobe that I hated to put out money for, considering it was to be used for only a few months. But how good it felt to wear clothes that didn’t hurt!

Somehow, the irony of a free spirit like me looking quite maternal once again boosted my image among the more traditional sisters of the ward. Perhaps there’s some significance in the fact that I first felt the baby move as I was sitting in Relief Society. Some sisters even dared to tell me that now that I was having one, I’d have to have two—sort of a matched set to avoid the only-child syndrome. I could only answer, “No comment.” I know that the risks to both mother and baby increase with the age of the mother, and I couldn’t help wishing that I were five years younger.

I still fell ambivalent about this baby. I do love babies, but when people remind me how often they wake at night and how many years more I’ll be in the mothering business, I tell them I don’t want to hear about it. The thought of teaching one more kid to play an instrument is almost too much. But we’ll have four years before we need to start that again. I try not to think about it as a twenty-year commitment, but rather as another chance before I’m a grandmother.

The age difference between the baby and its older siblings still bothers me. David will barely know this little brother or sister before he leaves home for good. On the other hand, there will be no dearth of babysitters around here. This child is certain to be spoiled. Along with the negatives, I hear many positives from people who have had “bonus babies” and have thoroughly enjoyed them. In between bouts with crying and thinking that this is a dumb thing to be doing at my age, I plan to enjoy ours.

Postscript: I still find it hard to believe that I really did this again.

Rover Bryan Sowby is one week old today, and I am twenty pounds lighter. Our fourth son arrived May 25, 1986, uncomfortably six days overdue but conveniently two hours before his daddy had to speak in ward conference. He weighed a hefty nine pounds—nearly a full pound bigger that we’ve had before. (No wonder I had heartburn!)

That last week of pregnancy seemed interminable—especially when the due date came and went. (The other four babies had come early or on time.) I was sure I was going to have heartburn, insomnia, and swollen feet and ankles and feel like a whale forever. The kids weren’t much more patient than I; every night in family prayer they’d pray for me to have the baby, and every morning they’d say with disappointment, “You didn’t have it.”

In the meantime, they learned to leave me alone and let me sleep in mornings as they got ready for school and became quite adept at grocery shopping for the items circled on the ad, while I waited in the van with stereo and newspaper. And the day finally came after all.

After an all-night labor, we phoned the kids when the doctor said the birth was about a half-hour away. A neighbor brought them to the hospital, dressed in their Sunday best, where they waited just outside the delivery room. The door was open a bit, and I could see them gathered at the door across the hall, standing as close as they could get to the red painted line on the floor without stepping over it. I was grateful for the epidural anesthesia that allowed me to enjoy this scene.

The kids heard their new brother’s first cries, and I heard them exclaim, “It sounds like a girl!” They’d been very insistent about this baby being our much-wanted girl, and I hoped they wouldn’t be disappointed. I was just happy that the delivery had gone normally and that the baby seemed to be quite healthy and robust.

Minutes after his birth, as soon as I was wheeled back to the recovery room, Rob’s brothers and sister held him in their arms. Kristin expressed the sentiments of all four: “I don’t care if he’s not a girl. He’s a baby!”

Our little son has been an angel since we brought him home two days later; I’ve never had one who ate and went back to sleep during the night without screaming for several hours first. What a pleasure! Of course, there’s a mad rush among the kids to be the first to get to his crib when he wakes up with the slightest cry, and he often disappears entirely, only to be found in someone’s room, in someone’s arms—even though he was supposed to be sleeping. This child is definitely loved.

Seeing my older children respond to this tiny one has been a great joy already. I will always remember Mike returning to my hospital room after the rest of the family bid Rob and me goodbye in the evening. He kissed the top of his baby brother’s head and sighed, “It’s just too good to be true.”

That says it all.