37. Baby Steps

37. Baby Steps

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You

Baby Steps

Motherhood has a very humanizing effect.
Everything gets reduced to essentials.
 ~Meryl Streep

I was in the habit of taking pregnancy tests. For two years my husband and I tried to have a baby with no success. We kept our cupboard stocked with the home kits and every month I would give a cursory glance at the negative sign and throw it in the trash. I repeated this familiar routine one day in the fall of 2005 when, to my surprise, my test was positive.

I went into the living room where my husband Jimmy was watching TV, sat down beside him and stared at that positive sign as it shook in my jittery hands. Jimmy let out a whoop when he saw the test, and then he became quiet too. I don’t know how long we both sat there, gazing at our unexpected gift.

The day I went to my obstetrician to confirm my pregnancy was balmy and fresh, a sign, I thought, of the happiness to come. I arrived more than 30 minutes early and had to wait a long time to see the doctor. She came into my examination room with her face buried in my paperwork.

“You’re pregnant, Mrs. Reese.”

I grinned and waited for the congratulations I knew were coming next. Instead, my doctor frowned at me.

“It’s dangerous to become pregnant at your weight. You need to be very careful if you want to have a healthy pregnancy.”

She continued with a daunting recitation of the hazards of being overweight and pregnant. She talked about miscarriages and birth defects, all the while writing down an overwhelming list of rules for me to follow.

Twenty-five minutes later, my doctor handed me the list and looked up from her sheaf of papers. She seemed suddenly aware that I hadn’t spoken since our visit began.

“Are you all right, Nancy?”

It took all of my strength to nod my head and keep my tears at bay. The doctor moved to leave the room, and as she brushed past me, she squeezed my arm.

“Congratulations.”

I barely made it to my car before erupting into tears. My girlfriends who had babies before me were elated after their first doctor’s visits. Many of them celebrated their pregnancies by picking out baby names or nursery colors.

I began my pregnancy feeling like I had already failed my baby.

As I sobbed in my car, I was confronted with all the years of pain and hopelessness I had suffered due to my weight problems. Overweight since I was seven years old, I had countless memories of feeling broken because I was fat. From being the last one picked in gym class to being overlooked for job opportunities, my past was cluttered with images of people measuring me by my weight and finding me inadequate. Still, none of those experiences prepared me for the thought of beginning motherhood as a bad mom.

When I ran out of tears, I began my drive home. I tried to be rational and evaluate my situation, but my sorrow was so intense that I felt paralyzed. Suddenly, right before I arrived at home, an epiphany pierced through my sadness. I realized I was acting like a victim and that I had been a victim for a very long time. I realized it wasn’t really my weight that held me back all those years, but my own inability to empower myself enough to change. Most importantly, I realized that if I didn’t make serious and immediate changes in my life, my baby would be a victim too.

I became a survivor that day.

During my pregnancy, I took better care of myself than I ever had before. Every meal was an opportunity to nourish my baby and every movement was a chance to strengthen my body. My obstetrician was thrilled with my progress—my blood pressure stayed consistently low and my weight gain was on target. I was doing so well, in fact, that after my first trimester, my doctor decided my pregnancy was no longer considered high risk.

In the spring of 2006, my son Ben was born. He was healthy, beautiful and happy right from the start. I was fortunate to spend the first three months of Ben’s life at home with him, doing all the “usual” things that make those early days so extraordinary. Every sound he uttered convinced me he was a genius; every bath resulted in a photo shoot; every smile was a miracle.

I had returned to my pre-pregnancy weight by the time my maternity leave was over, and was faced with yet another revelation: My health was still at risk, and now my life was about more than just me.

I wanted the stamina to keep up with Ben when he grew into an energetic toddler, to live to see him mature into a man. I also wanted to set a great example of health and fitness for my son.

Before I was pregnant, I tried every fad diet out there and failed at permanent weight loss every time. So, for six months I researched weight loss and exercise methods and carved a path I thought would work for me. I knew I needed a solid plan that was tailored for my personality if I was going to succeed. Finally, I was able to put my strategy into action.

It’s not easy to make up for a lifetime of poor eating habits and sedentary behavior. I had a lot of success when I began this journey and the pounds were coming off quickly and steadily. But as I get closer to my goal and the weight loss slows, it’s been a challenge not to go back to my old ways. Fortunately, I have a very good reason not to give up on myself: a bouncy, curly-haired three-year-old.

Today, I am 60 pounds lighter than I was before I got pregnant. Losing another 30 pounds is still a part of my plan, and it can be quite daunting to consider how much further I have to go. I try not to dwell on the long road ahead; instead I simply try to make one healthy decision at a time.

Ben and I were putting some of his baby clothes into storage recently, and we came across a stack of old photos. He picked up a pre-pregnancy picture of me, and asked, “Mommy, who’s that?” When I told him it was me, he shook his head and answered with the kind of blind confidence only three-year-olds possess. “That’s not my mommy!” I wrapped my arms around my son and said a prayer of thanks that Ben’s mommy is, indeed, very different from the woman in the picture. I am so grateful to have improved my health and quality of life, and I’m blessed to have a little boy who inspires me to live fearlessly.

~Nancy Higgins Reese

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