Amanda Cunningham on Keeping On
Tell us a little about yourself.
I am 35 years old, mama to a 2-year old human and 7-year old rescue dog, wife to a U.S. Congressman, yoga teacher, and Development Director for Her Future Coalition, a nonprofit that works to break the cycle of poverty and exploitation in survivors of human trafficking and high-risk girls through traditional and vocational education.
What brought you to where you are now? Bring us along from the beginning.
A lot of twists and turns. After college, I was seeking wanderlust. I quit a very good job, sold everything I owned, and started working on yachts as a stewardess and yoga teacher. Seven years and 40 countries later, I met my husband in Tahiti (he was crew, too), and we moved back to land three months after meeting.
He decided to go back to school to get his law degree (he was an ocean engineer before he became an attorney), and I opened my first of three yoga studios. Once he graduated, we packed up again, moved to Charleston, SC, and absolutely love living in the south.
Tell us about your partner. What made you want to start or grow a family together?
My partner, Joe, is a family man. He comes from a family of five boys and between those five boys, they have 15 children (16th on the way!). I knew from the start he wanted a big family of his own. But as the years passed (about five into our relationship and one into our marriage), we realized neither of us were ready, per say. He was starting his law career a bit later in life, and I was just opening another studio in South Carolina. However, we knew we needed to start.
So we started and kind of joked, when I get knocked up we'll just have to be ready!
What was your journey to parenthood like?
Not an easy one.
I'm going to admit to things that I've only ever spoken to my husband and a dear friend. Something I hold tightly inside. Why? Because if you've found yourself here, you're most likely experiencing a hurdle in fertility. You might feel alone. You may even be blaming yourself.
I've been there. So many of us have. That's not supposed to make it easier, it's just fact. And I wholeheartedly believe that the more honest, open, and raw we are as a community, the easier it is for those who travel behind us.
I went 30 years trying my best NOT to get pregnant and was successful. We started by going off birth control and a year went by with nothing to report. Then I started using Ovia, the app that tracks periods and fertility windows. We had sex every time the app told us to, yet another year went by with no results. I added in peeing on ovulation sticks to test it against the app. When we got a bit worried, we both got tested. Negative. Keep trying, they said. And just as we hit the three year mark, literally days before I had planned to start clomid, my period was late.
I had thought about and envisioned what that moment would be like—when I saw a positive for the first time in my life. And like most situations, the hype was more than reality. I was happy, nervous, and a bit shocked. I called my sister first. It was a day before April 1st, and even to this day, I'm surprised I kept it a secret, but I did for 24 whole hours! I told my husband on April Fool's morning as he was leaving the house to run a 5K. He said, “nice try” and walked out the door.
The emotions that came those next few weeks were equal parts worry and excitement, equal parts regret and gratitude. The moment I saw the positive sign, my metamorphosis from just me to mama me began.
My OB told me to come in right away, solely because she knew how long it had taken and what a rollercoaster we had been riding for three years. I saw it. A little oval in my belly. I thought I would feel connected to it, but I didn't. It didn't look like a baby, and I didn't feel pregnant. But I knew I was. There on the screen was proof.
The next time I saw that oval was not by choice. I started bleeding at seven weeks. The moment I saw the blood, my heart beat out of my chest. I called the OB immediately and came straight into the office as they had requested. Again, the ultrasound showed a little oval, and to my absolute surprise, I heard my baby's heartbeat. Tears filled with relief rolled down my cheeks. I was sad my husband wasn't there to hear it, and little did I know, he never would. The OB was a bit quiet and said, “I'm not sure what's going on, but you need to rest until the bleeding stops.” I left feeling hopeful but as I look back—she knew. As the hours in that day passed, the pain got worse and worse. From period cramps to mini contractions, I was losing my baby. Even then, I didn't believe it.
I begged for the baby to stay. I promised aloud that I wouldn't complain anymore about my changing body or the nausea.
My husband was home now, and we were confused. We had no idea what to do. Who do you turn to in such a situation? As the pain got worse I also felt an urge to poop. (I considered saying bowel movement for the sake of being PC, but I'd like to keep it real) I was in our home, in our guest bathroom, pooping, and bleeding heavily into the toilet. The rushes came and went—yet, I was still holding onto hope.
A large rush came, and with it, the toilet was full. I wasn't sure what had happened and in a moment of emotional chaos and pain—I flushed the toilet. I flushed the toilet. I flushed the toilet. I flushed the toilet.
These words still play in my head to this day.
Minutes or hours passed as I lay on that bathroom floor realizing what had just happened to me. To us. My husband came in, picked me up, and carried me into the living room. We cried. I felt utterly horrified. How could I have flushed the toilet? Was the oval in there?
Many moons later, I realize it's what I should have done. It's what everyone else has done. There's not a manual or rule book or even anyone on the phone telling you what might happen and what to do when and if it happens. I was a 33 year old—distraught and confused—looking at a filled toilet bowl, and I flushed.
The next day as I lay on my back with the ultrasound on the screen and my husband next to me, we peered at a screen that showed no oval.
How freeing it can be to say it aloud. To admit to it. To know that we've been there too. On that bathroom floor—sobbing, bloody, confused. But also, we've crossed the rainbow because we kept going. You must keep going, mama. You have it in you, and you know it deep down. You were made for this, if you want this, and you'll be a mama when the time is right. This way or another way, a child will be yours to hold someday soon. Mine is almost two now and asleep in the room next to me. I'm grateful for him—my rainbow baby.
What was happening in your life when you decided to start your family?
Both my husband and I were building our careers in our 30s. Newly relocated to South Carolina from Kentucky. My husband decided he wanted to leave his five year career as an attorney and run for the United States House of Representatives. We were just in the beginning of what turned into an 18-month congressional campaign. I co-owned a yoga studio and was working as a Development Director for the nonprofit. So...we were busy AF.
How did you care for yourself while trying to conceive?
Looking back, I really didn't. I went off my antidepressants, took prenatal vitamins, and continued my yoga practice. But our lives were busy, filled with unhealthy levels of stress. I fell into a depression after my miscarriage and decided to go back on meds—that eased the next few months for me as we tried again.
How did you care for your body while pregnant?
Having a miscarriage made me a bit nervous when I became pregnant again. I continued my yoga practice, ate a clean diet, stayed on antidepressants to ensure my mind was as healthy as my body. I used BioOil on my belly, changed my facial products to chemical-free options, and slept a ton!
What experiences shaped your understanding of conception and pregnancy
When I first saw The Business of Being Born, it drove me into a world of research. I became a little obsessed with the pregnancy and birthing process. I read as many books as I could, hired a midwife, doula, and birthing coach, took natural-birthing classes, and studied Hypnobirthing.
Tell us how you found out you were pregnant. We'd love details!
It's the bland part. I peed on a stick randomly, and it was positive. I called my husband, and we both thought, no way! We had launched his congressional campaign and decided to put our three year trying to get pregnant plan on hold. Turns out, our rainbow baby had different plans.
What have you learned as a result of trying to get pregnant and/or being pregnant?
Gosh, so much. I've learned about my weaknesses and strengths. I've connected stronger to my intuition. I've suffered loss and felt triumph. But most importantly, I learned that even though you want that baby and even though you prayed for it, not every part of being pregnant is beautiful. I think we need to stop pretending it's a 100% glorious event and be real about ALL the feelings that come up. For goodness sake, we are in a human metamorphosis process, and that is not an easy task. Nor is creating a human.
What's your wish for women who are trying to conceive?
Be patient. Love yourself. Love the journey and know that you will be a mama of a child one day. It might not look or feel as you imagined, but nonetheless, this process (even the hard parts) is the journey you were meant to have.
Anything else you'd like to share about your journey to parenthood?
Don't be afraid that life stops after you have a baby. YOU are the author of your story and can write the life you want.
If you want a natural birth or an epidural or a C-section—you do you, mama! But especially, if you want a natural birth know that YOU CAN DO THIS. Your body was literally designed and is on Earth for you to birth life. Do not let doctors, media, or friends tell you otherwise.
I've been there. So many of us have. That's not supposed to make it easier; it's just a fact. And I wholeheartedly believe that the more honest, open, and raw we are as a community, the easier it is for those who travel behind us.