Loving the unexpected


"There's no way I want to be pregnant in Taiwan," I'd say to people who would ask when I planned on trying to have another child. You know, because it’s a totally acceptable and not at all personal question to ask an often complete stranger.

"We'll consider it after our big trip in September, that's the plan."

As per usual, the "plan" didn’t quite go to plan. But the best things in life are unexpected, right?

We were two weeks out from our trip to Taiwan and because I was a week overdue for my period, I'd promised my husband I'd buy a pregnancy test the next time I did the supermarket shopping.

In true mum-life style, however, I stretched what little food we had in the pantry another four days before I actually made it to the shops. I wasn't pregnant, I said silently for the hundredth time. We weren't even trying. I was just late. It was fine.

I sat on the toilet, pregnancy test in hand, later that night. I've never been so shocked by a little blue line.

Just twelve months after my first pregnancy had ended, my second pregnancy had begun. It's not the closest of gaps, but to me it seemed just yesterday I was waddling around the house, drinking gallons of raspberry leaf tea and eating pineapple like my life depended on it.

In fact, had I ever not been pregnant? Is "motherhood" just one big long blur of pregnancy? Because I felt like I hadn't actually had a break from it.

This time, however, not only was I preparing to live in a foreign country for a month, but I already had a time-consuming toddler. I had two part time jobs. I had life and housework and hairy legs and overdue laundry and a thousand other things I already didn’t have time for.

I hate to say it but - honestly - I didn't have time for the pregnancy ahead. And I felt ripped off.

Yep, that's the good, old, selfish truth. I'd planned to spend the summer season finally wearing cute non-breastfeeding-friendly outfits, to finally fit into the denim shorts I hadn't seen since 2016, and to enjoy a night or two out with my husband while I had a toddler who no longer needed his mother every three hours.

Now I considered the months ahead: another summer of saying no to the red and the Christmas ham - and the blue cheese - all while flailing uncomfortably in 30 degree heat...

Was I ready to gain all that weight again? Was I ready to give up my body completely? Was I ready for the months of searing heartburn?

The weeks rushed by. The things got in the way. I didn't have time to dwell on these questions just like I didn’t have time to dwell on the pregnancy itself. 

Instead I ripened into days of morning sickness and over-sensitive smell, often spending my first hour each morning curled on the couch, hoping Ashton wouldn't need me until the nausea had passed.

Morning after morning, I stuck him in front of the television and told myself it was for the best. Morning after morning until I hit my seventh week of pregnancy. I managed to have a last minute dating scan on the same day we flew out of New Zealand, and then suddenly, we were in Taiwan.

I was surrounded by new sights and smells and I was exhausted, just trying to survive each day. I didn’t have the TV; I didn't have time to think.

I did however, still have morning sickness, but now that my husband was there to help, things felt so much more bearable. During our first week in Taiwan we dined at five star hotels and naturally I began to relax into the holiday.

In our second week of travel, in Taichung, I fell ill. 

I recovered, just. Two days passed and I fell sick again. Very sick. This time, it was a bigger wave of sickness and the recovery was much slower.
After a Skype session, my incredibly worried mother got in touch with my midwife in New Zealand and the news wasn't great.

Listeriosis, she was certain.

Was it serious? Not at this stage, she had assured my mother. If Rachel has recovered again, that's good. But if she gets struck down again, that's not good. That's really not good. That's a trip to hospital.

I instantly googled my condition and felt my heart drop. How could I have been so careless?

Listeriosis is the thing all pregnant women are warned about. It's the reason we become such fussier eaters and refuse so many things. It’s caused by a bacteria called listeria, found in soil, uncooked meat, poultry, fish and eggs, ill-prepared foods and unwashed fruit/vege. It causes early infant death and miscarriages - and somehow, I'd let it into my system, compromising my own health and the health of my unborn baby.

"Hang in there" I whispered to my stomach silently, "it'll be okay, little one. It gets better, I promise".

As soon as I thought those words, it hit me... like a wave (not a vomit wave).

I was completely,  ferociously, irrevocably, unexpectedly, head-over-heals for this child.

My soul ached, my heart grew, my plans gave way.

I would give up my body, my dainty dresses and my schedule. I would give up my weight and my expectations.

This baby needed me, I was it's only means of survival.

It wasn't giving up just yet. It was a fighter, so I needed to be, too.

Once I’d recovered a second time, I kept myself hugely hydrated and we went about finding food options that would be safe. Taiwan is the land of the pre-packaged, ready-to-eat meal and according to google that kind of food was a big no-no for those wanting to avoid listeria.
Instead we visited the grocery store and tried to prepare most meals in our very basic Air B’n'b kitchen facilities. Olly scrubbed fresh fruit for me (which I was craving, as it turned out) and put up with my requests for plain ramen or udon. 

We passed up on local delicacies and delicious looking street food, much to my husband's dismay, and suddenly I started to get my groove back. It was going to be okay.

Then, two weeks before we left Taiwan, Olly reminded me I had just two weeks left of my first trimester.

The tears came over me like.... like a wave. I'd pretty much turned into a beach. 

Ten weeks already? My wee babe, almost fully formed, ten weeks cooked.

Already!? It was incredible but I had missed it. I hadn’t been able to give this blessing much thought at all. How had I missed the wonder? Why hadn't I taken a second to stop and dwell on it all yet?

Look, I won't pretend that all the days will be wonderful. I'm sure I'll still have pangs of guilt where I find myself thinking back to the days I could see my toes, or eat a full sized meal without an ensuing bout of heartburn. I don't expect to love every second of this pregnancy. I don’t think this baby will ever get the amount of time he truly deserves either. It’s physically impossible for me to do that.

I do know, however, that this little life inside me is a gift. I do know that its worth everything this pregnancy might bring along with it.

And I've been getting better. Better at stopping, at resting, at putting the phone down, at feeling the kicks. I've been getting better at thinking of my expanding family, rather than my expanding waistline. I've been leaving space for things un-planned and unexpected.

How "planned" can we be, anyway? Life is a wild ride full of plan b's and c's and d's. Its chaotic, but it's LIFE.
And it sure is better when you're surrounded by people you love (whether in utero or not).

So here I am, 14 weeks later, with my belly and my heart swelling. My little boy is kicking. His big brother runs a hand over my tummy and plants a sloppy kiss right by my belly button. My husband has his arm around me. We take in the moment of stillness.

I am so unexpectedly grateful.

Rachel Chen