This past month I’ve been surrounded by the wonderful news of the births of new little babies in our circle and it has me all nostalgic, so I thought it would be nice to finally write about our own pregnancy and birth story – the ups and the downs. I have a few tales to tell, so I’ll break them into separate posts.
This morning when I opened up Facebook, it showed me a memory from three years ago. One of the best moments of my life and I am so glad I got my brother to film it for me. A little more than three years ago, my husband and I decided that it was time to try and start a family. We were incredibly lucky in that we didn’t struggle to fall pregnant and for that we are so very grateful. It was early January 2015 when I (sort of) missed my period (it was drips and drabs, not the usual week-long storm) and decided to take a pregnancy test. That second line was barely there, so I had to make sure and peed on 5 more sticks, a variety of brands – just to be sure you know! It was still early days, so I decided to have bloods done at the local laboratory and the nurse explained to me that yes, I am indeed pregnant, even though the hormone counts were pretty low and she suggested I make an appointment with my gynae to confirm. All I know is I was over the moon and even before that very first gynae appointment I decided that I had to let those close to me know as soon as I can.
At that time, my parents were in the Netherlands for a couple of weeks and they would return mid January 2015. So we arranged that my brother, uncle and I would go pick them up at the airport and because I really wanted to tell them in person, I decided that I couldn’t wait until the jetlag had worn off. I was so excited to tell them and wanted to make the moment special, so I created a welcome home present for them. Inside they would find 6 positive pregnancy tests and a note that read “Welcome home, Ouma and Oupa Bester!”. Before the time I also let my brother and uncle in on the secret and the surprise, so they could help me film it. So as soon as they stepped off the plane and we said our hellos, I handed them the present. They were already pretty emotional from being away from family for so long and being so happy to see us again, so that’s why it looks like my mom is already in tears. I’ll let you watch the video below to see how it played out 🙂
This video is one of my most treasured possessions. I will cherish this moment forever! Juwan was so very loved, from that very first day that we found out I was expecting.
Many women struggle with infertility and I can hardly imagine the agony couples go through in their journey to try and fall pregnant or even reaching a point where it’s just not happening. Pregnancy in itself can also hold pain and difficulty as I would soon find out. Even though I felt blessed with the miracle of life, without trying too hard, what followed was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to deal with emotionally. Thinking back on this time is really difficult – it was not the happiest chapter of my life, even though I’ve always hoped it would be.
Disclaimer: I know there are many other stories out there that is much worse than my own, but by sharing this I have the hope that somewhere, someone who is going through the same, could take courage through my story, knowing that they are not alone and that there are others that know what it feels like. I think that telling your stories can also bring healing and a sense of closure and I would like for this blog to eventually become a platform where not only my stories are told, but the difficult to talk about stories of other women can be shared and learned from – anonymously if they want.
We scheduled our first appointment with a gynae that came highly recommended at Femina Hospital in Pretoria and showed up nervous but super excited. I showed her the blood test results and I told her that the spotting hasn’t stopped yet. We had a little chat before she did the sonar, which at this early stage is done internally (weird experience – didn’t see that coming to be honest – the movies don’t tell you about that part!). She said that there’s definitely signs of pregnancy, because of the amniotic sac, but that there’s no sign of an embryo or a yolk sac. She also pointed out that the shape of the amniotic sac is abnormal – kind of shaped like a bean and not oval as in normal pregnancy. She said we should give another week or two and come back for another scan, because it could either be too early to see the embryo yet, or it could be an unsuccessful pregnancy. The bleeding could either be attributed to the fact that it’s still early and implantation bleeding is still happening, or it could be signs of miscarriage. I was obviously quite upset about the outcome of this visit, but I kept hoping and praying that there was nothing wrong and that the bleeding would soon pass and everything would be just fine.
At the next scan soon after our first, the little bubble on the sonar showed the tiniest of circles – the yolk sac! Something WAS happening. I had hope, but the bleeding didn’t stop.
Whenever my husband and I talked about it, he would say that I need to stop worrying about it – whatever will be will be (yes, like the song, but unintended) and there’s nothing I can do about whatever will happen, so stressing about it is pointless. My hubby is a very logical person: made up of pure reason and rationality. Whereas I’m the complete opposite: an emotional, irrational mess. Being female probably also has something to do with it, but of course I couldn’t let it go – I just couldn’t stop thinking, over-thinking and worrying about it. Every time I went to the bathroom and there was blood, I would freak out. The stress was immense.
I bled on and off for the entire first trimester and then some. I prayed a lot, I cried a lot. I always prayed that God would spare our little baby, but only if that’s his will for us. I wanted to be able to rest in God, no matter what happened. My family held vigil in prayer with me through all of it.
A huge highlight in this story, of course, is how Juwan got his name. For the longest time I’ve had a girl name that I knew I wanted to name my daughter one day, but when we found out that we’re expecting a boy, I was floored and had no idea. I would mull over some names and make a shortlist on my phone’s notes and we’d think about those names, but I was never sold on any one of them. So one day while I was praying, I asked God and I said “Lord, you already know his name… please, give me a hint!” and then I just moved on with my life as per usual. One day, after another bleeding episode, I called the gynae and made an emergency appointment to have things checked out in between the usual checkups. So they told me I should come in, but couldn’t give me a set time that they would be able to see me. I got there and made myself comfortable in the waiting area, eyeing a very large and thick baby name book. I started from the beginning of the alphabet – it seemed I would have all the time in the world to page through this book of baby names. I paged and paged and ticked off letter by letter in the alphabet and then I got to J. The first couple of pages nothing jumped out at me, but at some point I remember the name Juwan popping into my mind – just like that – I saw that exact spelling and everything clearly in my mind. I looked on that page and the opposite page and it wasn’t there. I remember thinking to myself – wow, what a beautiful and unusual name – but I wonder if such a name even exists as I’ve never heard of it before and if it would have a meaning? I then turned the page and at about halfway through the next page, there it was – JUWAN. And its meaning is: God is gracious. I got chills and I just knew that this was it – God gave me a hint AND a promise. He’s been good and gracious to us and he is blessing this pregnancy and this baby with mercy and grace and a name to fit. I told God that I would casually mention this name to Niekie but wouldn’t try to influence him in making the choice and if he liked it, we’d put it on the shortlist. So I told my husband and he looked pleased with the name, so we decided to put it on the shortlist. Not long after that, I brought up the names again and asked him what he thought about the shortlist and if we could make a final decision now – all the while secretly hoping and wishing he would go with Juwan – and that was the name he chose. It was meant to be and I was completely at peace with our child’s name. The family of course thought it was a really strange name and that people would have a hard time pronouncing it – which by the way is true, but after explaining to people how it’s said they usually get it right quite quickly. It’s like saying in Afrikaans…”Johan”… now replace the “h” with a “w” – simple as that! English speaking people often pronounce it with a “dj” as in “Justin”, but they also get it right after a quick explanation. If I had to write it out for a correct pronunciation in English it would read Youvahn. So that’s how Juwan got his name!
There were of course glimmers of hope throughout those weeks of bleeding, so it wasn’t all bad. In fact it was quite the roller coaster ride of ups and downs. At around 8 weeks, the sonar showed our little baby fetus and he had a healthy heartbeat! The time in between each scan felt like an eternity, but each scan was incredibly rewarding, showing nothing but good results. With the time trickling away so slowly, I spent way too much time reading up about every stage of pregnancy, googling every symptom, over researching and self-diagnosing online. Looking back on this, I realize that I took it a little too far with the research and it turned into a 10-month long nasty habit that influenced my personality and mood mostly in a bad way.
Somewhere between 16 and 20 weeks the bleeding finally stopped and it would seem things are finally going smoothly. At our 24 week scan though, the gynae spotted an irregularity on the sonar – there was a clearly divided little space in my uterus. It looked separated by a thin line, so the doc was initially not certain if it could be affecting my baby in a negative way or not. It’s called an amniotic sheet. She also said that this is probably why the pregnancy started off rough, as an impending miscarriage. She looked and looked and all the time spent inspecting this thing was making me helluva nervous. In the end she said that it hasn’t constricted any part of the baby (amniotic bands are when these sheets or extra linings cut off certain extremities and basically amputate that part of the baby’s body – super scary stuff) and that it shouldn’t cause any problems going ahead. Of course a “shouldn’t” wasn’t enough to entirely put my mind at ease, and I stressed lots. At night when I was sleeping, my mind was constantly on the amniotic sheet and I even thought that maybe it would help if I slept on the opposite side so the baby didn’t put his weight on it. I was so paranoid. At each of the next scans the little extra section in my uterus got smaller and smaller, so I could finally rest easy.
When I think back on my time being pregnant with Juwan, it started out being incredibly fearful. Which resulted in me becoming a crazy, hormonal and paranoid human being that neither I nor my husband recognized and it did our relationship more harm than good at the time. I have learned some important lessons though and that is not to overthink things, let go more and just roll with the punches – you can’t possibly be prepared for everything life throws at you and reading up about your problems online will mostly make it seem much worse, especially if there’s nothing you can really do about it. Pregnancy has so many beautiful moments, but is also a very difficult time for many people. Apart from all the normal pains and gains (yeah I gained 18kg and felt like a whale), the swelling, the drastic changes your body go through, it can go hand in hand with incredible stress and anxiety for a lot of women for reasons similar to what we went through. What I want to take from our experience most though is the fact that it was God’s will to give us this little miracle child and for his love and grace throughout this trying experience I am eternally grateful. Each and every day when I look at this little boy he’s given us, my heart wants to burst with joy and praise to God! What an honor and privilege to be called his mother!
Keep an eye out for Juwan’s birth story soon 🙂