Many of us expect to recognize the “perfect time” to have a baby. The reality is that timing may never come. But in this life-altering year, how does one even consider bringing in a new life?
My fiancé Pat and I planned it, using ovulation test strips to know when would be the optimal time. But when it came down to taking the pregnancy test, I was uneasy. I told Pat, “I don’t think you left the stick in the urine long enough.” Then he showed me the result.
But in that moment of unspeakable joy, I realized there is no perfect time, no foolproof season. In a year marked by fear, I remained grounded in the notion that our foremothers had children, intentionally or not, under far worse conditions than those we face today. It doesn’t matter whether you are 40 or 20—the world doesn’t adjust to your life; the career doesn’t stop for you. You have to decide this is what you want.
Naively, I imagined that pregnancy was a baby shower followed by the arrival of your glorious blessing. But, I have to be honest, it’s not a smooth ride. Pregnancy is hard. I remember calling and confronting my girlfriends—“Ladies, why didn’t you tell me the truth?” Or maybe they had, and I’d just chosen to hear the laughter. This idea that it would be all the wonderful things that I feel most people eulogize felt elusive. Pregnancy is many things for sure—a joy, a privilege, even a calling. But it’s also full of side effects that few utter a word about until you’re in the thick of it. (To the superwomen out there reading this and thinking, Really? Pregnancy was a piece of cake for me! For you, I have no wisdom—only applause.)
For many of us, the experience goes far beyond the usual morning sickness and back pain symptoms. And for some women, like me, there are more serious complications. Sixteen weeks into my pregnancy, I was diagnosed with an “incompetent cervix.” During pregnancy, as the body prepares to give birth, the cervix begins to dilate or open from the pressure. And if one has an insufficient or short cervix, it can open too soon, leaving the risk for premature birth or a pregnancy loss. According to the American Pregnancy Association, 1 in every 100 pregnant women will experience an incompetent cervix, but that didn’t give me much comfort.
Especially during this year, the diagnosis was a recipe for self-inflicted judgments and negativity. At times I felt like, no matter how hard I tried (eating right, meditation, prayer, reading), I was already failing as a mother.
As an Afro-Latina, I understood the complications of pregnancy that disproportionately affect us. Black women in America are three to four times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than white women. At 40 years old I carry that pain myself, and I carry the pain of my sisters. I said to myself, “You know what, Amirah, you’ve already learned this lesson, and the lesson is—call the damn doctor.” All these little buzzes in our ears are self-destructive; many of us are not used to standing up for ourselves, asking for what we need, and saying what we want. I felt blessed to have a female African American ob-gyn. She gave me comfort, knowing I had a woman aware of these issues in my corner. That’s why representation matters.
I was asked if I wanted to get a cervical cerclage, a surgery that places stitches in the cervix to hold it closed. But the procedure doesn’t come without risks of its own. The placenta could be punctured. I could get an infection. The thought was terrifying. My mental health was being seriously challenged. Still, the choice was mine. How was I supposed to know what was best? I was told because it was my first pregnancy, there was no way of knowing how to advise.