The Way It Went

(Blogging & Lunch / 5 days old / October 26, 2011)

This is one of those posts that I was talking about when I said I needed a couple of weeks to let my emotions settle so that I’d be able to see straight. I’m not sure that they’re settled entirely quite yet – so forgive me if I ramble, or if things aren’t quite wrapped up with a neat little bow – but this is the best I can do for now. Mostly because man, I’m tired. Happy, but tired.

What I’m writing about today: my labor. It was not what I had expected. I was not what I had expected.

All the books I read, the classes I took, led me to believe that there would be endless hours of pacing, massages, exercise balls, and warm showers. Time to watch episode after episode of The Walking Dead (weird pick, I know; that’s what I’m into lately) and read Star while we waited for things to progress. Time to wrap our minds around what was about to happen, how our lives were about to change. A sleepless night of walking the hallways in the maternity ward – maybe even two.

I also expected certain things of myself. Of course I anticipated that it would all be stressful and difficult and beyond my control and such…but I certainly expected to be able to handle things the way I like things handled. Which is to say, on my own terms. Without needing much in the way of help from anyone else.

As it turns out, that wasn’t exactly the case. There were two moments in particular that, in the week or so following the birth, I felt were moments of “collapse,” of being somehow less than the person I’d hoped to transform into – basically, a superwoman – the second I became a mother, and they were moments that I initially felt pretty ashamed about.

To make a long story short: ten days after my due date had come and gone, my doctors decided to induce labor. I went into the hospital, started the induction process, got an epidural a couple of hours later when the contractions became overwhelming (before they were too overwhelming to permit me to sit still while needles poked around near my spinal cord), took a short nap, and woke up fully dilated and ready to push.

In other words, I more or less skipped the whole labor thing. Which of course was wonderful in many ways, but also made me feel sort of…guilty. Like I didn’t go through it, so somehow I didn’t get that gold star that women who have truly borne the misery of a long labor get – that big red check mark that says that they’re worthy of motherhood, that they’ve proven themselves strong enough to cope with whatever may come. (The pain, by the way, came later; I didn’t get to skip it entirely, in case you were wondering.)

You know, I had this idea in my head of how giving birth would be. I knew it would hurt, sure…but I thought that I’d be all swept away by the spiritual gravitas (or whatever) of it all, and that I’d find a deep reservoir of strength and determination somewhere inside me that would carry me through the pain with grace. But when they said it was time to push, I wasn’t ready. I was groggy – I’d just woken up, I hadn’t in any way experienced the kind of labor I’d expected to have, and I felt that I hadn’t come to terms with what was about to happen yet. I started to panic not because I was scared of the pain, but because I wasn’t in the emotional place I had hoped to be in when I brought our child into the world. I wanted so badly to be in the moment, to really be there when my son’s life began.

And then the epidural wore off, at the very moment that things got really real, if you know what I’m saying. While I had prepared myself for the idea of “pain like you’ve never known”…I don’t think I had prepared myself for the reality. The “finding your center” thing? Bye-bye! Any semblance of zen-ness flew straight out the window, not to return until I finally saw our child’s face, and in the minutes before my son was born I felt very strongly that I could not do this on my own. In between bouts of fainting and sucking on an oxygen mask, I screamed at the doctors to “get it out” (it!), told them they had to do whatever it was that they did when it was an emergency and the person was too weak to continue with the birthing process. I wanted them to treat me like a woman who was incapable of finishing what she’d started, because in that moment my worst fear came true, and I was that woman. I needed help.

But of course, I did it. And later, when I told Kendrick how horrified I’d been at my inability to disregard my own pain in the moment of my child’s birth, he told me that what had felt like an hour of crying out was really only a minute or so. In the moment after I screamed that I was unable to go on, I did go on, and it was in that moment our son came into the world.

In the days following, there was another moment that I’ve needed some time to wrap my mind around.

On the night we came home from the hospital, I was crushed – absolutely crushed into pieces – by my love for my son, and my terror at all the ways in which the world could hurt him. I couldn’t stop crying, and simply didn’t know what to do with all the pain that I felt – both physical and emotional. It wasn’t rational – I knew that – but it was a misery so overwhelming that I turned to Kendrick and told him that I needed help.

I don’t know that I’ve ever said those words so plainly in my life, or meant them so much.

“I need help,” I said…and I did. And he took me seriously, and promised me that we would get me that help. The next morning, my doctor gave me a prescription (safe for breastfeeding women, of course) that took away the overwhelming parts of the anxiety and the pain immediately and completely. I hated that I needed a pill to help me handle those first couple of days…but I did.

You know, I thought I’d be strong, unflappable, capable of handling all this motherhood jazz without breaking a sweat. My whole life, I’ve had trouble saying that I can’t just handle things on my own; I like feeling like whatever comes my way, I can deal with it. Do you know, just before I went into the hospital I actually was asked to appear as a guest on the Nate Berkus show a couple of days after I would have given birth, and I very seriously entertained the idea of saying yes? Because I really felt that sure, it’d be tough…but I could do it! It was a big opportunity for me, and the pain? The exhaustion? I’d just…deal.

But what I found out over these last couple of weeks is that I’m not a superwoman. Sometimes I can’t do it all alone: I need help. But as it turned out, I didn’t have to do it alone, and that was a cool thing to discover: that help was right there waiting for me when I asked for it, and even when I didn’t.

Jeez, re-reading this: my account of the experience sounds pretty negative. But like I said, I think that’s because I’m tired and rambly (sorry about the length; my internal editor is taking a nap in my stead). I left out so much of the other stuff, the wonderful stuff, because what I wanted to focus on here was what the experience taught me, and to me those two moments of enormous need were what taught me the most.

And I get it, you know. I get that I did the best that I could, and that not being able to do everything all by yourself is not just OK, it’s necessary. There have been times in my life before when I’ve needed help, and I’ve known that I needed it…but I wasn’t able to ask for it, because I was too scared of seeming weak. Of being weak. But I was wrong about that: there is enormous strength in knowing when you need help, and being willing to ask for it.

“Ask for help when you need it.” Big deal, right? We all know this. But it’s one thing to know it…and another thing to experience it, because when you need help, really need it, it’s scary. Because if you don’t get it, you don’t know what will happen. And when that need coincides with a moment you’ve been scared you wouldn’t live up to in the first place…that just makes it all the harder to admit you can’t go it alone.

But it also makes it even more important to find the strength in yourself to reach out to someone. And that’s something I’m proud to have done.

The truth is, there’s a lot of pride in my memories of the birth, too. I’m proud that when it came down to it, I did what I thought I couldn’t do: I brought our son into the world. And I’m proud that I wasn’t too stubborn to refuse to take medication when I really, really needed it. I’m proud that I’ve figured out how to breastfeed while checking my email, and that I now know how to make a bed with one hand. I’m proud that I got through this week – my first week all alone, without anyone around to help me – and that I’m smiling at the end of it, because I got to see my baby smile for the very first time, and that smile was just for me.

I am proud that I am a mother, because despite all those fears and insecurities, I am a mother, naturally and completely, and with every single part of me. And that’s no small thing.

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