During one of my frequent long walks around the Silverlake Reservoir (long because of swollen feet and huge belly) I saw a mother, perfectly put together with black sunglasses, straightened hair, super cute yoga gear, pushing a stroller with one hand and walking her dog with the other. She bumped into some friends. They laughed. They oogled at baby. They made small talk. I imagined it was about play dates and school picnics. The whole scene seemed so effortless. I was a few yards behind, and thank god I was wearing sunglasses too, because I started to cry. Fuck pregnancy hormones, I thought. How embarrassing. But my tears didn't stem from all that progesterone or estrogen. I realized that this right here had always been my dream and it was about to come true. I was going to be a mom to a little human! I don't think I had ever acknowledged my dream until this very moment because it was too scary-- what if I was unable to get pregnant? What if I couldn't carry to term? What if my husband and I weren't genetically compatible for some odd reason? What if what if what if. But here I was, pregnant as can be, feeling incredibly grateful.
A few days later my husband and I took a hospital tour with a handful of other hopeful, anxious, first time parents. A cheerful, blonde nurse led us down hallways and corridors reminiscent of my freshman college dorm, stopping every five minutes or so to say "Really? No questions?" as if we were already failing at this parenting thing (my own off-base interpretation I'm sure). I tried to memorize the basics: what floor L&D was on, where to check in, what to do with your car. But my mind was too consumed with the prospect that out lives were about to change in a very permanent way to absorb anything this nurse was saying. My husband and I squeezed hands as we could feel each other hold back tears. I felt a little embarrassed getting so emotional on a routine tour amidst a handful of strangers, but I also wondered if they were secretly feeling the same. The nurse showed us a typical Labor and Delivery room. She gestured to different parts of the room like a flight attendant pointing to the restrooms and emergency exits. "This is where you'll give birth." "This is where they weigh your baby" "This is where dad will sleep" "This is where you store your things"... "Any questions?" she asked for like the tenth time that afternoon. Silence. "Really? No questions?" I wish someone could've just blurted out, "I'm too terrified to ask questions okay?!" and then we'd all go "Me too!" and share a moment of connection, but like my LA apartment building neighbors of 9+ years, we kept to ourselves. We were a decidedly quiet bunch, which the nurse pointed out to us every opportunity she got.
On our way out my husband and I noticed a new mom in a maroon robe, beautiful and tired. She must've just given birth hours ago. She held her infant in one arm and pink balloons in the other, as they were wheeled out of the elevator to meet dad who was pulling up the car. My husband and I watched them as the dad struggled, shoving the balloons into the car and fumbling with the carseat, putting his baby in it for the very first time. The mom waited, quietly seated in her wheelchair, as the dad kept popping his head out flustered, unable to figure out the damn seat. The mom just sat there, shrugging her shoulders, undoubtedly overwhelmed too but by exhaustion. The nurse also remained silent letting this new family figure out their first of many little challenges-- a scene I'm sure she has become accustomed to over the years. After giving dad a few tries, the nurse came around to the car and buckled their infant in. The mom slowly got out of her wheelchair and went around to the other side so she could sit next to her baby. Dad helped her into her seat and closed the door. He quickly hopped into the driver's seat and they all drove off to begin their journey of parenthood.
As they left the parking lot, a valet pulled up our car. For the first time, our future felt close. I could picture that moment when I was the mom getting wheeled out of the big hospital doors and my husband was the brand new dad fumbling with the car seat, buckling in our baby for the very first time. I thought about what that first night home would be like-- just the three of us! I thought about the first time I'd get to hold her and feel her skin on my skin-- delayed cord clamping! The first time I'd change her diapers-- cloth only! The first time I'd breastfeed her-- no bottles! How I'd rock her to sleep -- no pacifier! I understood parenting was going be hard, so much so I couldn't even imagine but I could imagine all these beautiful firsts. I took all the classes. I had all the apps. I followed all the Instagrams. I studied! Hard! I'm a good student. It was going to be a beautiful adventure, entering into motherhood, and I couldn't wait.
And then Monday rolled around.
We were watching Netflix after dinner, as we always do, when I felt a strangely familiar sensation in my stomach. Was I about to get my period? That's weird. Why would I get cramp-- Oh, wait. Oh, shit. This is it. It's happening. It was painful, sure, but I smiled through it all because I was going to get to meet my baby soon! The contractions continued into the night. I thought I might get a little sleep-- I had read of women sleeping through contractions before. But every time I closed my eyes a wave would hit and I'd be writhing in bed, clutching my stomach, trying not to wake my husband. By 2 AM I thought it was time, after all I was measuring contractions very carefully using one of those apps, and they were about 5 minutes apart. I woke him up and off we went, a 7 minute ride that felt like forever. We made our way to the sign-in desk and I can't remember everything but at some point they checked my dilation and... 3.5cm. That's it?! We went back home and I spent most of Tuesday failing at distracting myself from the contractions. Again, I'd heard of women going out to brunch for a last meal before the hospital, or watching a movie, but now that I was in the thick of it nothing could distract. By 2PM they were really ramping up so we drove back to the hospital. This time: 4.5cm. Seriously? Just ONE centimeter more? But it was enough to be admitted to L&D. Fast forward 12 hours, 19 laps around the "healing garden", and 5 bounces on the exercise ball (couldn't quite get that technique to work for me) I dilated only ONE more cm. I'm sure in many ways my experience was typical, but I detail it here because I feel like we take for granted this incredible feat of childbirth. It's like one minute a woman's pregnant and the next it's "Mom and baby are healthy and doing well!" next to some flawless pic of mom and her offspring. What about the epic, crazy, wild, intense shitstorm in between?! And yeah I mean shit literally, sorry/not sorry for being TMI. Again, we don't hear these things! Anyway, the doctor recommends pitocin to speed things along, which it does. By around 6:30AM on Wednesday I was finally fully dilated. Then the real work began. I will spare you the details here. Fuck I had no idea how hard this was going to be. But it didn't matter because there was the most wonderful prize at the end-- meeting my baby for the very first time! After the 4 most intense hours of my life my baby entered into the world... and then they took her away.
The doctors cut the cord immediately (something we thought my husband would get to do) and rushed her to the bassinet in the corner of the room. My husband held me as a team of doctors crowded around her just a few feet away. I didn't get to see her, I didn't get to hold her, feel her. After what felt like an eternity they put her on my chest for a brief moment but then wheeled her out of the room to NICU. I was not prepared for this.
15 days. 15 days I wouldn't wish on my own worst enemy. To meet someone for the very first time and fall in love in the same instant that they are taken away and you're not sure if you will see them again is the most painful thing I have ever experienced. And I'd just experienced childbirth. 15 days of uncertainty. 15 days of attempting breastfeeding through cords and wires. 15 days of pumping/raw nipples/clogged milk ducts. 15 days of no sleep. 15 days of returning home to an empty bassinet. 15 days with 11 different nurses. 15 days of friends and loved ones innocently texting "Hey! Baby here yet?" "How are you?" "How's baby?" I was wheeled out those big hospital doors empty handed.
Ultimately, they weren't able to tell us what exactly happened. (I know I'm skipping a lot and perhaps that's for another post). But after 15 days of medical tests, clinical examinations and observation, they sent her home. It wasn't the original homecoming I'd imagined: just the three of us getting to know each other, privately figuring out breastfeeding together, falling asleep naked and exhausted on the couch... Instead, we had a constant rotation of family (soooo, no privacy). I had nonstop unsolicited breastfeeding/feeding advice (if I hear "lactation consultant" one more time I'll scream). I had well-intentioned comments on my weight loss after birth (the commentary on how your body functions doesn't end with pregnancy! I guess it's just the state of being a woman). I had idyllic hopes of changing cloth diapers but after 15 days of Pampers it was hard to make the switch. And so on and so forth. How silly of me! Of course it wasn't how I imagined. I completely romanticized this whole birthing/parenting/newborn thing. This was partly due to my own tendency towards romanticization of big life events, but also due to the plethora of social media images and even images from my own extended social circle of new moms in cloth baby wraps valiantly proclaiming the benefits of breastfeeding, sleep training, homeopathic methods of postpartum recovery all while looking damn good for having just given birth. I don't blame these moms-- or anyone for that matter for putting out a certain image. I do it, too. We can't help but post the "highlight reel" and even when someone posts the "this is real life" pic it's still somehow aesthetically pleasing and includes some sort of humble brag. Again, totally cool, it's just I didn't realize how much of this ideal image of labor, birth and motherhood I subconsciously subscribed to until I experienced it all for myself.
I'm now 3 months in and I'm starting to get the hang of things. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't triggered by those Bump photos of a newborn on her mama's chest seconds after entering the world, or by a group of moms hanging out in the park chatting while they breastfeed their babes. I'm learning to take my own path and trust in my decisions (and holy decision fatigue when it comes to parenting!) and let go of all the "firsts" I didn't have. In the end none of that is important. What is important is through all of this my dream came true: my daughter.