Will power

Overachieving at pregnancy doesn’t necessarily translate to motherhood


Maria Pilar Clark

I am the only mom I know who wanted to overachieve at being pregnant. When I learned that I was with child, I threw myself into reading every tome ever published on the subject. Month one found me learning about seemingly-harmless-but-secretly-toxic poisons like feta cheese and hot dogs; month five, about pudding pants (leukorrhea if you want to be technical about it); and month nine had me researching techniques on how to lure my baby out of the womb by using World War II-era smoke bombs or a particularly enticing cut of meat.

Labor and delivery followed the same thread. Friends, strangers at the grocery store and even my freakishly perky Lamaze instructor spoke in low, creepy tones about The Birth. All filled my head with hair-raising tales about The Birth and its trappings, including pain so great women could crush hand bones like walnuts. I was told my water wouldn't break at home and that I would dilate the width of a Cheerio for a head the size of a dodge ball, causing me to suffer hour after endless hour.

I would eye my swollen stomach warily. The Birth was looming and I felt like my neatly packed hospital bag was missing hardcore labor essentials, namely a harpoon, some flares and a large stick to bite on.

Once I was in the thick of The Birth myself, I found that bulking up on information during my pregnancy allowed me to simply enjoy the hours-long moment. My water broke at home. As my husband gingerly tucked me into the backseat of the car, my contractions were only a couple minutes apart. Within a few hours of arriving at the hospital, I was dilated to seven centimeters. While I did feel a slight twinge of disappointment at not being able to bring out my harpoon, all that was forgotten when the nurse handed me my son. As I hefted William's hulking 10 pounds more comfortably in my arms, we dopily blinked at each other under the fluorescent lights and my heart melted all the way down to my epiduralized feet.

But what about after The Birth?

Nary a week had passed at home when it dawned on me that by no means was I going to overachieve at being a mother. No one had told me that William's diapers would leak gooily in the night; that my buxom bosom would yield a paltry 2 ounces of breast milk after hours spent hooked up to a dairy cow-like pump; or that his fuzzy, mango-shaped head would loll oddly to one side accompanied by his left arm trailing behind him like a wayward octopus tentacle. It dawned on me that veteran moms lull mothers-to-be like me into a false sense of security, making us feel certain that after The Birth, baby rearing will be relatively manageable.

Although my pre-mama savvy had shriveled up like William's umbilical stub, I had a nagging feeling that something was amiss with his development. My pediatrician told me to shake off the "new mom jitters" and that it would all blow over. He might as well have handed me a lollipop and patted me on the head. Ignoring him, I instead poured over my books looking for anything that might describe the lolling mango head. Nowhere in those pages did any author, doctor or free-spirited placenta-planting guru indicate that they had a clue.

Womb whiplash

Two months went by and William's head remained stubbornly, but endearingly, cocked to one side, his left side listless. At our first appointment with a new doctor, we learned that our son had in utero positional plagiocephaly and torticollis. Translated to mommy-speak, plagiocephaly refers to a denty head shape (the mango head) caused by external pressure to the infant skull, which in our case, was in utero constraint. Torticollis often goes hand in hand with plagio, and is a twisting of the neck that causes the head to rotate and tilt on an angle. Kind of like womb whiplash. Great. Our son had needed a crock-pot while slow-cooking in my stomach and I had only been able to supply a Thermos.

But all was not lost. An intensive round of physical therapy was prescribed, and I soon discovered that William could match wits with any yogi after our sessions that included a virtual gauntlet of neck stretches, headstands and balance ball work. A month went by and his head stopped lolling. At 3 months he started grabbing his pudgy toes and Daddy's big nose with his once limp leftie. Now, at 4 months, he can sit up, roll over, and is an expert drool monger. He's the only baby I know who wants to overachieve at being, well, a baby. I wonder where he got that from …

Maria Pilar Clark and her strapping young son William spend their days focusing mainly on the wonders of drool and devising ways to make Daddy change dirty diapers. All call Clarendon Hills home.


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