If you’re reading this, thanks already.
But first, let’s make sure you’re caught up on this story before you venture any further:
And if you’ve gotten this far, please know I am incredibly grateful for your support in joining me through my story of self expression.
And if you wish to listen to this current blog via audio instead of the written format below, you can do so by clicking HERE
Now, let the journey continue…
After the initial hiccups that arose throughout the first trimester: the struggles of conception and the first few months of pregnancy felt like they were behind us. Anxiety lifted (slightly), appreciation grew (immensely), and there were many days where I could finally lean in to what was happening.
In hindsight, I feel like this may be the point of the blog series where the protagonist (me) starts flowing with good energy after what felt like a year from hell.
As COVID continued to shut down businesses, minimize group gatherings, cancel weddings, exhaust frontline workers and pin our world again each other: the goodness of what was 2020 for me will always overpower the craziness of the pandemic. 2020 silenced the world and wrecked havoc on mental health and busted our economy and yet I still look at that year with such utter appreciation.
On my 29th birthday, I announced to the world that a Gunderson baby was in the making- and a few weeks later- through genetic testing, the gender of our baby could be known. Talk about technological advances. 1 blood test and $200 later: my doctor knew the sex of our babe at 14 weeks.
She wrote the sex on a piece of paper and placed it into an envelope which stayed in the hands of my friend Olivia for almost a MONTH- until, albeit COVID restrictions, I put together an outdoor Gender Reveal celebration fit for a Pinterest Mom-To-Be.
Our close family and friends gathered to watch coloured smoke and confetti thrust its way hundreds of meters above us: with over 95% of our guests lining the premises of my parents’ acreage- dressed in a sea of blue.
Blue hats and blue beaded necklaces filled the yard as nearly everyone (other than me) had agreed upon baby-boy vibes for our family.
Seeing pink smoke & streamers fill the air that day confirmed all of my gut instincts and yet still came as a surprise.
Following the exploding-pink-cannon-confetti-magic: my baby nieces filled the yard covered in rose-coloured sparkles. For the first time, I watched those girls with the knowledge that I too, would have a baby girl to add to the mix. Baby Girl Gunderson would be the 5th female born in the last 4 years into our family. Auntie Ashlyn would get to be a Mom, too.
The second trimester continued in an enjoyable and progressive fashion. In fact, if pregnancy only consisted of the second trimester, I’d share my body for a decade. My hematoma continued to decrease in size, my baby continued to increase in size, my belly grew big-and-round and I was able to establish and maintain a consistent food and exercise routine that felt nutritious and enjoyable.
Like I said at the beginning, the protagonist of this blog series is finally thriving in her second trimester.
I simply just took really good care of myself: perhaps even in excess. I took on pregnancy as if preparing for the biggest athletic endeavour of my life. Olympic-style pregnancy if you will.
I am talking weekly prenatal massages, acupuncture, yoga, meditation, books, podcasts, workouts, and hours in the bathtub: these things watered the garden of growth of my baby girl. I treated my exponentially growing body like the Queen it was.
I felt empowered. I felt grateful. I felt sexy. I felt “bigger” and “heavier” than I’ve ever felt and yet the most nourished and self aware I’ve ever been. I liked these weeks.
Albeit the typical weight gain, dimplier-than-normal ass cheeks and developing umbilical hernia- the appreciation for my body was top notch.
Glowing skin, flawless hair, pedicured toes, eating for nourishment, practicing mindfulness, exploring my creativity and expanding my knowledge: yup, pregnancy ruled.
These were the days I’d daydream of while 6 weeks deep into postpartum- running on 3 hours of sleep, no clothes that fit right and severe uncertainty on how to care for my baby. The mid to end of my pregnancy still serves as one of the most at-peace and joyous mindsets I’d ever grasped.
But I still had my moments. Que: staying up all night spiralling down a Google rabbit hole the day John Legend and Chrissy Tiegen lost their baby. Their child was due the same week in February and these trending pregnancy loss reminders sent me spinning.
My weekly bump photos continued as each week provided a solid opportunity for another pun-friendly and prop-necessary Instagram photo. The fact that I legitimately produced 30+ weeks of solid bump-updates shows my devotion to the process.
By Week 22 I had worked up the courage to purchase baby clothes and necessities: something my anxiety-filled brain refused to do prior. Putting away baby items after a miscarriage stings. Putting them away twice is downright defeating.
I’ll never forget walking alone into my first baby-boutique: spending $60 on one sweatshirt and another $50 on a newborn sleeper that would last her all of 2 weeks. The items might have been overpriced but the experience in itself was not.
I placed the items in a bag and walked to my car with my chest held high. I had allowed myself to be excited. That was bravery. Vulnerable as fuck.
Weeks 20-36 of pregnancy were some of the best times of my life despite living through the 2020 pandemic as the owner of a small business and high-risk pregnant woman. I no longer spent most of my mental real estate focussing on becoming pregnant or what could go wrong once I was. I joined every pre-natal ZOOM yoga class offered, set-up private pre-natal education classes with a local Doula (*highly recommended) and linked up online with other pregnant women who were trudging through unchartered COVID territory too.
And you know what- I found joy in the online community. The social-media-motherhood-society was one of the most welcoming and girl-powered groups I had ever been a part of. And although I’ve never experienced a pregnancy with mom-groups and in-person support options: I felt pretty fucking welcomed. This ra-ra for all-things-mom’s and babies gave me a circle of virtual support and I opened my arms to it fully. As the saying goes, life Is what you make it– and the same is true with your social media, online platforms, use of the web and choices of who you engage with and follow online. Proximity is power: and when the entire world was in isolation, I was able to be filled with connection and encouragement thanks to power of online tools. So for that, and for all those who continue to follow and support my journey to create this web of sisterhood, motherhood and all-things-support: I am so grateful.
And, we can’t forget about Robbie.
Oh, this guy was Dad of the Year before 2021 even hit.
My husband joined forces to do all the dad-to-be shit: a perfectly painted pink coloured nursery, an over-priced crib built to perfection, lots of stay-at-home date nights, foot massages, heart-burn management, car-seat installations, birthing classes and added creativity and openness to trying new sex positions (out of necessity and not always pleasure). But he still told me I was sexy and he showed up for it all.
My husband is the type of guy you want with you when you’re in the trenches- he knows how to navigate uncertainty with confidence, and he can make calculated decisions on a dime. He’s also the guy you want to celebrate the good shit with- cause his smile duplicates any portion of happiness you might be feeling and his eagerness to celebrate and empower you humbly is uplifting.
As the end of the third trimester came near, my watermelon-sized-child wrecked havoc on my body as she settled hard on my pubic bone . In the final 10 weeks I received an SPD diagnosis from my pelvic physiotherapist along with a plethora of exercise modifications and a sexy belly-belt.
In addition, my belly button began to look real funky- almost like I had two of them. I had developed an Umbilical Hernia due to the internal pressure babe was placing on my body.
And, to keep shit authentic, I couldn’t talk about internal pressure or bad pregnancy symptoms without mention of the most evil of them all: fucking, hemorrhoids.
Hemorrhoids deserve their own paragraph in this blog as they are a stand-out item on my “downfalls of pregnancy” list- they stand at the top of that list, but in good company- next to other things like heartburn, lack of sex drive, cellulite, and supreme nausea.
My stories of hemorrhoid management are both lighthearted and downright painful to admit.
I tried everything guys: from sitting in a bowl of Epsom salts and aloe vera water on my kitchen floor to perineal sprays, witch-hazel, ice packets, donut-shaped pillows and all the creams imagined.
My dog would sit and stare at me intently as I sat in a salad bowl of warm water on my kitchen floor, sobbing of pain and discomfort.
I would lye ass-up on my couch, belly hanging between cushions, face pressed into my yoga bolster, wiggling uncontrollably as my husband held a package of frozen bacon between my ass cheeks. I would scream in agony, giggle of ridiculousness, then scream yet again.
Rob would set a 3min timer while coaching me through the excruciating pain (and coldness) of the bacon packet pressed again my taint. I sobbed in pain with a humour-filled undertone.
The weeks prior to Baby Gunderson were filled with cleaning, organizing, scrubbing shit, high emotional states, leaking boobies, OCD arranging and systemizing of baby clothes, frantic work updates, many Netflix binges and continual packing of the perfect hospital bag.
At 38 weeks, I was ready to rock. My belly button was exploding, my perineum was killing me, my cervix was 2cm dilated, my baby-betting-pool was set and I struggled getting through my 30min workout circuits. I spent most of those two weeks doing ALL the Olympic-style-labour-prepping-things: daily baths, yoga-ball-hip-circles, date-smoothies, red-raspberry leaf tea, induction-acupuncture techniques, hypno-birthing meditations, spicy AF hot wings, reflexology, perineal massage, the 90min Miles Circuit and cervix-softening-sex with my husband: none of which budged the timeline on my daughter’s arrival.
I am not exaggerating: I did every single one.
In hindsight: nothing stimulated the urgency of Baby Gunderson’s arrival like the phone call I received 18 hours prior to my daughters’ entrance into this world.
COVID restrictions had lifted for dine-in eating so a dinner date and a 1km curb walk in -32*C weather was how I wished to spend our last child-less weekend together. I insisted to my husband that a movie and cuddles were in order.
We were now 48 hours away from our due date and we sat debating over whether Rob should head to the gym for a late-night workout with my younger brother or stay and snuggle me and my pregnancy pillow (with whom we had named “Christoph”)
“Take a nice bath- and by the time you are out and cuddling Christoph I will be back” he insisted as he stood like an eager pup by the front door asserting that he get in his lift. He also knew, I couldn’t turn down a nice bath- or a cuddle with Christoph.
Reluctant to argue, Rob left the house, and I dropped my drawers, took a photo of my naked, 39w5d pregnant body in the bathroom mirror and slipped into my bubble bath.
And I lightly dozed off in the candle lit bathtub- my last true moment of aloneness as a childless woman. I would never be this same woman again.
And within’ a few moments, my younger brother was calling.
“Hello”? I answered quizzically
“Ash…” he said with a tone of concern.
“Robbie just got taken by ambulance to the hospital, something is wrong with his heart”
The words hospital and heart happened to of been two of the most triggering nouns in the English language for me after the result of my stepfather’s sudden death just 14 months prior (See: The Red Dot That Ruined My Life: Part II). I froze without the ability to communicate effectively.
“He doesn’t have his truck keys or his cell phone” my brother continued.
My mind could not formulate the proper message, so I asked for time: a solution to frantic mental processing I had finally learned as an adult:
“just let me process what is going on and I will call you right back”.
I hung up the phone and paced my bubble bath-water-dripping-naked-9 month pregnant-physique across the bathroom floor.
Little did I know, within the next 24 hours: all three of the Gunderson members in our soon-to-be-family-of-three would be admitted the Lethbridge Regional Hospital.
If you’re interested in finishing the Red Dot Blog, hearing all about my birth story and some insight into my postpartum experience, please subscribe to the blog and be notified when Part X is released.