I have Lupus (an autoimmune disorder), Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (a connective tissue disorder), Mitral Valve Prolapse (a heart condition), and scoliosis. (I like to think I hit the cosmic jackpot on good health.) On my own, I’ve learned how to adapt to any challenges my conditions have brought me. But when I found out I was pregnant, any sense of confidence I had in my body’s abilities went straight out the window. My preexisting health conditions didn't exactly make my pregnancy a breeze. In fact, it gave me a front-row seat into what having a high-risk pregnancy is like: the good, the bad, and the jobless.

The minute I found out I was pregnant, I felt this bone-crushing weight of responsibility. Suddenly every choice I made caused an alarm to go off in my head. I couldn’t be the same stubborn kid who saw doctors’ orders as challenges. I was responsible for my body – now more than ever – because someone else was depending on it. I was scared, because my body, it seemed, has always had a challenging enough time taking care of just me, and nervous for what a pregnancy would mean for both me and the baby. But I had to quit my job because of my high-risk pregnancy, and that was something I couldn't have ever mentally or physically prepared for.

My initial fear of the unknown was somewhat soothed after my first prenatal visit, but I quickly discovered a whole new set of things to worry about. I never knew just how many physicians I’d need to see. There was my primary OB-GYN, a Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist (who was two hours away), a gastroenterologist, a neurologist, a cardiologist, a rheumatologist, and an orthopedic surgeon on standby.

Courtesy of Sarah Bunton

In my first trimester, when my severe morning sickness was at its worst, I couldn’t make it through a shift of waitressing without puking at least a half a dozen times. Initially my co-workers and managers were accommodating, some even sympathetic. Most knew about my health conditions, but they also understood just how determined I was. Yet only a couple months in, my frequent trips to the bathroom left my manager feeling like I wasn’t dependable. They had me sign a paper for a medical leave of absence intended to last for a month.

While friends and celebrities alike were sharing pictures of that mythical pregnancy glow, I was worrying about gaining enough weight to stay healthy. Throughout my entire pregnancy I had hyperemesis gravidarum, which is basically severe morning sickness. The first five months were so debilitating that I was actually losing weight. I knew that stress wouldn’t help the situation, so I tried to focus on what little I could still control in my life. The one thing that kept me feeling like a person and not just a name on a medical chart was my work. There, people saw me for my skills and for what I could offer. But what value did I hold at work know that I struggled in my job performance?

Because they legally couldn’t fire me, the rumor was that my bosses were hoping I simply wouldn’t come back after the month was over. I tried not to pay too much attention to the rumor. True or not, I was dead-set on returning to work once my involuntary leave of absence was up. And armed with ginger candies and breath mints, I went back to work. Per my doctor’s orders, my schedule was reduced, but I felt empowered. I was saving up money, being productive, and was finally providing for my unborn child in ways my body couldn’t.

It was scary. I felt like I was holding my breath, desperately hoping to make it to (and through) each important milestone. First, I hoped for a strong heartbeat, then I just wanted to make it past the “miscarriage window." Each week that passed without premature labor or a complication was a tiny victory worthy of celebration. Sometimes it was hard to really allow myself to enjoy the happy moments with a high-risk cloud hanging heavy over me. I downsized my work schedule even more by temporarily leaving my job as a Cognitive Skills Trainer and turned my attention to making things work at my restaurant job — even if it wasn’t always easy.

I wasn’t resentful of my pregnancy or my baby. I was mad at my body for failing me in my time of need.

My pregnancy was marked with several scares and complications. From ruptured cysts to dislocated hips, my body seemed to be breaking at the seams. I knew from the beginning that bed rest was a possibility, but like so many other times in my life, I thought it wouldn’t happen to me. In my mind, “taking it easy” was tantamount to weakness. Though I never engaged in any reckless behavior, I was not about to just lay in bed, defeated. But at month seven, it was just what the doctor ordered.

Courtesy of Sarah Bunton

As anyone who's worked in the service industry can tell you, job security can be fleeting and there are a million other people lined up and ready to do your job when you can’t. So when my OB-GYN told me at my bi-monthly checkup that it was no longer safe for me to work, I knew it was the end. My visceral reaction was full of anger and resentment — a co-worker had worked right up until the week before her daughter was born and everyone commended her for it. I wanted to be that warrior goddess who stays the course, but my flawed body had other plans.

The first week after I had quit and was on bed rest, I was conflicted. On one hand, I was bitter. On the other, binge-watching Netflix in my pajamas was pretty sweet. I wasn’t resentful of my pregnancy or my baby. I was mad at my body for failing me in my time of need. I tried not to let my anger get in the way of focusing on staying healthy. But I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: After about day five of bed rest, I was bored out of my mind. Getting up to shower quickly became one of the highlights of my day. Although I wasn’t completely bedridden, I still felt claustrophobic inside the confines of my own body. Yet with all the potential problems that could occur, I was not going to let my zeal be reason something went wrong. So I bided my time until the date of my scheduled c-section.

When I quit my job for reasons beyond my control, I felt like I was throwing away all the time I’d spent fighting for financial equality and my identity as an independent woman. But I learned that real strength is knowing when to take a step back.
Courtesy of Sarah Bunton

Just like with my involuntary leave of absence, I thought that the bed rest was just another temporary setback, and after the baby was born I’d be back at work in no time. Surprisingly, once my son was in my arms, I could not have cared less about pushing beyond limitations or proving myself to anyone. Before I gave birth the feminist in me worried if quitting a job was a sign of failure. But quitting my job was actually one of the best decisions I’d made. It freed me from expectations set by myself and by society.

As a woman, I'd always felt that I had to do more to prove my validity and worth in the world. Women are still paid less than men. So when I quit my job for reasons beyond my control, I felt like I was throwing away all the time I’d spent fighting for financial equality and my identity as an independent woman. But I learned that real strength is knowing when to take a step back. My ability to be a mother to my son, a partner to my husband, and a person with some semblance of a healthy, happy life is directly tied to how I treat my body and how often I listen to its needs. Being strong, for me, is not longer about doing everything all at once and doing it OK. It's about taking care of myself so that I can then take care of everyone else. I may work less now, but my work carries more weight and more power than it ever had before. And I know in the years to come that my son will see that. He'll have a mom who's strong in all the ways her body isn't, and a mom who turned every "no" into a "yes."

I did eventually go back to work, but I did it on my own terms. I value my health more than money. I’d rather go without luxuries if it means that I’m able to focus on being healthy and not exacerbating my health issues. I can’t care for my son if I don’t take care of myself first — and that was the most important lesson of all.