the physicality of motherhood

I think I'm going to say something about the universe collapsing because I don't know a better way to write about the birth of our gummi bear.

I could give you a play-by-play chronology: labor started Sunday morning at 10:30, water broke at 1am on Monday (10 minutes after we finished watching the episode of The Office when Pam has her baby), and baby girl arrived 7 hours later. But that feels insufficient somehow.

Anything I say will feel insufficient. People I love and trust tried to prepare me with good advice (and I took most of it), but some things, I had no way to know. Some things aren't easily described.

I prepared mentally for labor: we went to a lamaze class, I practiced some breathing techniques and visualizations. I thought I would distract myself from pain, go somewhere else in my mind when the time came. But once we arrived at the hospital and the contractions stepped up, I realized the whole experience would be a bit more physical than I imagined.

I'm a girl who lives in her own head—enough that I occasionally forget that the rest of me exists. I often run into doors and counter corners. I trip over things I don't notice (including my own feet). Before I got pregnant, I sometimes forgot to eat.

But I could not ignore any part of my body the closer I got to delivery. I needed things I didn't expect to. Christopher's physical presence became the most important thing in the world to me. I needed his hand on my cheek. I asked him to sing, which made him promptly forget every song he's ever known, so he made up his own words. He was a champ.

To cope for those last few hours, I squeezed his other hand, closed my eyes and thought of body parts. I imagined my baby's fingers and toes, one at a time, that I would get to see soon. I pictured her eyes, her elbows, her belly, her bum.

Normally, I can sense the space around me when I close my eyes, which is what I sensed during most contractions that night. I could sense the size of the room and hear people moving around in it. But that changed during the last push, a few seconds before our little girl came out to meet us.

I had been told about the "ring of fire," and that I should be grateful for it if I didn't have an epidural because it meant the end was coming. I wanted to process it like that—to recognize it by its name and description. But words skipped town at that point.

When I closed my eyes during those interminable seconds, I felt like the space around me shrank. The universe collapsed to a single point that contained me and two opposites: dark, burning pain and the hopeful, encouraging sound of my husband's voice. I have zero memory of what that voice said, but I know I needed it.

And then, there she was, with her eyes wide open, like that whole 21-hour process surprised her just as much as it had surprised me. Like she was surprised that our bodies had just gone through all that.

When they whisked her away to Apgar her, I figured that was it: we did it! I wasn't entirely prepared to discover that the physicality of being a mother didn't end there.

For instance, people warned me about the baby blues. I understood what they said in the abstract, like any weepiness I might experience would be purely hormonal or emotional, which in large part it is.

But there's something much more physical behind the emotions I've felt for the last two weeks. I was torn in half and sewn back up again. I ache and cramp and sag in places I didn't before and hadn't really realized that I would. Healing is more painful and takes a bit longer than I anticipated. I'll never sleep as much as I want to again.

At the same time, though, happiness feels more tangible than it ever has in my entire life. It's physically manifest in this tiny person who didn't even exist at this time last year, in the little grunts she makes while she sleeps, in the hand she wraps around my finger and won't let go, in the way she quiets right down when her daddy (who is enamored with her) scoops her up and rocks her. Everything she needs is so concrete: feeding and diapering and bathing and kissing and snuggling. These last two weeks, it's like our universe has shrunk a second time and she's become the lovely center of it. We wouldn't have it any other way.

everything feels different



Monday, March 15th
7:59 am
7 lb 5 oz
20 inches

So happy.

motherhood will teach me this again, won't it

I made a long list of things I needed (read: wanted) to accomplish before the baby came.

Then the universe laughed at me. No, our gummi bear did not come early. I just got super sick. I've spent the last week moving from my bed to my couch and back again, with detours to the bathroom for more tissues and throat lozenges.

And the list?

Maybe it was a bit ambitious—even for a healthy pregnant lady. Looks like I planned on sewing, cooking, cleaning, writing, and decorating everything in the universe until the second the baby crowned. I'm working on deleting some items from the list.

I do this often: make plans too big for any person and then feel disappointed when I find out I'm not superhuman. Kind of like this little frustration:

I took on a project I wasn't prepared for, with instructions that were difficult to follow, and expected myself to finish in an afternoon. It eventually turned out, but only after weeks of tearing out seams and sewing them back up again crooked. I probably should have re-evaluated my progress halfway through and just gone to the store to buy a stupid diaper bag like a normal person.

I have a feeling that motherhood will demand that I re-evaluate and abandon overblown plans more often than I currently do. Just like this week's virus made me chuck my list, my little gummi bear will do the same when she throws up or falls down or just wants me to put down the to-do list to cuddle with her. I hope I figure it out.