"You'll know the difference," the nurse told me, unhooking the fetal heart rate monitors and wrapping up cords that had been tracking my contractions for around an hour. My midwife came in with her sweet, mothering eyes and big Italian personality. It's why I fell in love with her - sincerity with a dose of sarcasm. I'd seen her in births before: gently stroking a laboring mom and giving a pep talk that was 50% reassuring and 50% 'you're doing this, or else'. We shared a few laughs, talked through her upcoming schedule - as I was insistent on seeing no one else - and we were on our way. Off we went, into the night with my contractions still coming in melodic waves, washing over me before finally settling down.
For weeks it continued. I went through the final weeks of my pregnancy in near silence, staying close to home and trying not to verbalize my complaints as my patience wore thin. I ripped out the front flower bed in the house we were renting and replanted, reorganized boxes of baby clothes, and generally avoided sitting or working on the computer for anything more than a few minutes at a time. I was determined it would be any day now. My days were filled with strong contractions I simply learned to cope with, sharp pain and tearing fascia that kept me awake at night, and a little guy growing bigger and bigger as the days wore on. I walked. I cleaned. I waited.
I was two weeks overdue and heading into a weekend that my midwife was certain to be out of town. We had already rescheduled my induction for the following Monday, sure that my body would take the steps in labor in its own time. Friday morning, feeling frustrated after yet another uneventful week, we went on a hike in a nearby nature preserve in the 80 degree, Florida fall weather. I hiked along the trail alone, feeling the usual strong surges and quieting my mind with thoughts of the future. We climbed into bed that Friday night, ready for another restless night. James dozed beside me and I tried to calm my body and use my breath to trick my body into sleeping through the steady waves of contractions.
After about an hour, I felt a snap. No pain, just a jolt like a rubber band pulling apart. I reached behind me to tap James' shoulder until he awoke. As he jostled himself awake, I calmly told him, "I think my water just broke," and slowly attempted to stand. I think I was afraid a giant rush of fluid would hit the ground like when Phoebe is getting ready to go to Atlantic City and they all rush her to the hospital after her water breaks all over Monica's apartment floor... (For the record, yes. My concept of labor and delivery will forever be jumbled up with 90's movies and early 2000's sitcoms no matter how many "free yourself" meditations I do preparing for birth.)
We fast forward through the awful 45 minute car ride to our hospital (I really loved this midwife, remember?) in which I thought my whole lower body was going to internally combust and I would die right there in the car while James gently touched my hand and tried to remind me of the breathing techniques and meditation we had practiced...
When we arrived at the hospital, I was feeling completely worn out. Taking those post-water-breaking contractions sitting down and confined to a tiny car was about all I could take. Once up and moving, I could breathe my way through and everything seemed like it would be okay. Enter triage: in which I was strapped to a bed with fetal monitors and once again unable to move and thinking I would die from the pain... Do they not realize you are in labor?! Everything in me screamed to move, but the pain took over and I wanted to crawl into a ball and squeeze my eyes shut until it was over. I felt as if months of preparation were slipping through my fingertips.
Later, I would sit across from the angel sent to me during my dark and scary early weeks of breastfeeding and mourn these moments. After relishing in the warmth and love that comes with a newborn baby and helping me through the practical issues, she listened as I recalled the hard stuff. The moments when expectations broke, when I thought I couldn't, when I changed plans and it still didn't give me the relief that I was seeking, when I felt trapped and confined but had to live with a decision, when my body 'failed' me at breastfeeding, the overwhelming first 24 hours in the hospital when I was I was told I would never nurse un-aided, the hours dragging on when all I wanted to do was take my little family home and rest in the newness, the weeks of unsuccessful breath feeding and fighting to hold on and get a stable milk supply...
You know, I had planned on sharing Beck's birth story. But who needs another detailed rendition of someone else's labor? It's such a beautiful, deeply personal thing. One that should absolutely be written down, celebrated, or committed to memory. But that's not really the point anymore. I want to just stop and say something to the new mama's out there.
To the new mom whose pregnancy, labor, delivery, early days/months didn't as expected or planned, you are not alone. If everything felt broken in those early moments, grieve them. Take time to write out the pain and disappointment. Give it over; then, let healing take over. Let newness and peace take its place.
I struggled with what I expected and hoped for and what my reality was in my birthing experience and in the early weeks with a newborn. I don't want to share every detail of our birth story. Not now. I just want to extend the same hope and space for healing that was given to me and hope that this is meant for someone reading.
I was hard on myself as a new mom. But I'm learning to let that go and let grace take over. I found healing in pausing to grieve these experiences before moving forward. I found healing in a community of moms that said, "I've been there too," or "You've done great. You are doing great."
Motherhood is damn hard. It's a good thing we're not in it alone.
Just look around. The world is full of life-giving, strong, loving, understanding mothers.
We're never going to be perfect at this motherhood thing.
We might as well find the strength to forgive ourselves and keep loving these beautiful creatures we call our own.