“In the first trimester of pregnancy common symptoms can include bouts of nausea, depression, fatigue, headaches, restlessness and mood swings. You might be left feeling delighted, anxious, exhilarated and exhausted — sometimes all at once. Even if you’re thrilled about being pregnant, a new baby adds emotional stress to your life.”
When I fell pregnant everyone had helpful advice…whether I wanted it or not. There were screeds of books and pamphlets and magazine articles about everything from conception to labour…and I was constantly having them thrust at me. I went on a lengthy course of antenatal classes where the midwife, in perhaps the greatest understatement known to man, described labour as “somewhat uncomfortable” and had everyone I came across – from family members to total strangers – using my belly as a free-for-all; it was touched and rubbed so many times those nine months I felt like a statue of the Buddha! Everyone would croon and crow when I came along, very nearly achieving that rare phenomenon of being almost as wide as I was tall, and took turns to be the current authority on pregnancy and childbirth.
I got through it successfully twice, although some may not call a 24 hour labour and me, the once-ardent supporter of natural childbirth, sitting on my knees about 12 hours into it, hanging on to the nurses legs and begging for drugs, a huge success. Then I went on to the rearing and raising as best I could, still with the ever present advice and good counsel and helpful advice and magazine articles to guide – or in many cases – confound me.
Nineteen years passed like a flash and I found myself on the threshold of a son going off to college…and suddenly there were no magazine articles or self-help books to guide me. No one could give me any advice how to deal with this pain. There were no drugs – well none that as a responsible mother I should dabble with – to take the edge off.
It’s hard to describe just how much of a wrench it is to let your children go, no matter how independent you think they may be…or you without them. There’s no getting away from the fact that they have been your absolute first priority from the moment they are put, slippery and screaming, on to your chest, at birth. Yes, it was often terrifying, those first few days and weeks when I wondered if we had what it took to keep him alive till his first month birthday, times when, in the middle of the night, I’d wake up to his ear-splitting scream and have absolutely no idea what to do, nights when we’d get so little sleep that I was sure my brain would seize up and stop functioning altogether. While your children are solely under your care every decision you make every day puts them first. Every major life decision has their best interests at heart. And then they’re gone and someone else is in charge of the daily task of seeing to their needs and you’re left with a whole lot of free time and head space you don’t know how to fill.
So it’s been a week since we saw him off to university on the other side of the planet and I’ve had some shaky moments – while sitting in his favourite armchair in his room, for example, the books he didn’t have room to pack still piled up on his desk, the smell of his aftershave still woven in the air. And in his cupboards I’ve found his old bag of Lego and the little Thomas the Tank Engine train set he loved so much as a toddler. They’ve all brought fresh rounds of tears accompanied by feelings of dizziness, nausea and mood swings: the first trimester of the gestation period of a college student.
Other parents going through what I am, you’re not alone. That sensation like you’ve just had a limb amputated or a vital organ removed? It’s real. But as a good friend said to me recently, there are countless parents who send their children off to war…or on a shaky ship on rough seas seeking refuge from turmoil. There is every chance they will never see them again.
I sent my son off to a wonderful college to get one of the best educations available – far greater than my financial means could ever have hoped for – and his achievement in getting accepted and qualifying at the end of it will be the reward. It’s much like that first trimester of pregnancy: even as I was lying on the bathroom floor those first three months, wasted and dehydrated from hours of endless vomiting, deep inside I knew there was an incredible prize at the end of it. And the promise of a prize will keep me going again now.