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.


Deja said...

Kath, that was lovely. Just lovely. I have no other words.

Misti said...

Beautifully written...or course I expect nothing less from you. And thank you for the reminder of that feeling and that love. It is truly amazing.

Lindsey said...

That has got to be one of the most beautiful and real birth stories I have ever read. Thank you for sharing. :)

EP said...

You delivered! What a triumph! It is so amazing what our bodies can do. And you gave birth naturally? 21 hours? You are my hero! A goddess!! More exclamation points!!!!!!!!

Adrienne said...

Absolutely beautiful.

Anna and Stephen said...

Beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing this. As I anticipate that delivery day, you hear so many crazy things, but this was the most beautiful and real of them all. Thank you.

Genevieve Beck said...

21 hours naturally!! You are awesome! I can totally relate to everything you wrote too. You're "prepared" and then find out that the baby has their own plan and you'll somehow work around theirs. Try to get as much sleep as you can. :)

Jennifer Rose said...

Congratulations on your new beautiful little one. I agree that nothing can really prepare you for motherhood, both the joys and the difficulties. Sending our love!

Jenn, Andrew, Sarah, and Anna

Doug and Angela said...


I can feel your words, I know what they mean, and I have never seen a better description to the feeling of being a mom (in my case, minus the delivery pain ;)

I am VERY proud of you!

Mike and Lauren said...

Universe shrinking moments are the best in life. Love you three!

ashmae said...

this was so nice. thanks for being so honest and writing about your experience so beautifully. I hope to see you guys again soon!

Emily Horrocks said...

You are so strong! Are you not just amazed at what you did!? What a beautiful story. As much as we all try to tell each other the Truth about Childbirth, it just doesn't come out until you experience it yourself.
Incredible! And what a beautiful baby girl!
Congrats and ALL the best! We want updates!

Brian Spittler said...

That was beautifully written, Kath. I love you guys! We can't wait to meet Claire!

David/Dad/Doc said...

That was beautiful as was
the delivery and as is

Danielle said...

Wow. Congratulations. I am so proud of you! Birth is such a humbling experience. After I had Rebecca, I wondered a few times why it had to be such an exhausting experience with healing/nursing/everything, and then I had the thought that maybe Heavenly Father does it that way for a reason, to really make us realize we need help. You sound like you are doing wonderful.

meg said...

Thank you for sharing that. I have to agree with Deja--it really was just lovely. I love that you are enjoying these magical first few weeks with her since newborns change so quickly. And hang in there with the healing--the miracle of birth continues when you realize that your body can heal from it, no matter how broken you feel now. (and i wasn't going to give any advice, haha.)

e. del mar said...

oh this is so gorgeous. i'm so happy happy happy for you!!! i can't wait to meet her in real life!

Bryson and Tara said...

Amen to what everyone else said! And, I repeat what I told you last week. It will get better. Your body will feel better and you will be able to sleep again! I promise. She is beautiful! Glad I got to see you guys, if only for a few minutes.

ke said...

Lines from Bob Hicok and I thought of you:


But ouch.


But seriously: ouch."

Not terribly enlightening, but true I think.

Love you guys. ke

Miss Ashley said...

Congrats Kathy. I appreciate that you didn't lie about it being painful. I think all mothers lie when they say it wasn't bad.

Alli said...

Hi you guys:) Lauren told me a long time ago that you had a little girl and I meant to find you in cyberspace and congratulate you and it never happened. But I found you today and I'm so glad I did- your blog is lovely and I've loved reading about the birth of your sweet baby. I'm going to have one any day now! Thanks for the inspiring words and pictures. You guys are awesome!