Week 38: Surprises

This is the first day of my life
Swear I was born right in the doorway
I went out in the rain, suddenly everything changed
They’re spreading blankets on the beach
— Bright Eyes, "First Day of My Life"

Sometimes the surprise IS the surprise.

Technically, I never made it to my 38th week as a pregnant woman. My son, who even in his last few hours in the womb felt the need to teach his mother a lesson or two in planning, decided to catch us all by surprise and make an earlier entrance than any of us could have anticipated. Not too early to require a hospital transfer, but just early enough to catch me off guard.

As much of a mini shock as his early arrival was, THAT is not the reason Week 38’s focus is on Surprises.

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No, his birth, or the fact that I would be giving birth at any moment’s notice should not have come as too much of a surprise to me. Most women have that moment of realization, maybe earlier than others, that they will have to eventually give birth once they become pregnant. We’re sort of classically conditioned in our culture to fear that day. The pain, the long hours in agony, the spouse that cannot find a way to comfort you and keeps reminding you to breathe, the dangers that await at any moment’s notice. All of these factors help amp us to dread D-day (delivery day).

I come from a big family and as the oldest of a big family, you’d think that pregnancy and birth was something I at least was familiar enough with not to be afraid. But, really, when I think back to when my mom was pregnant with all my siblings, I don’t remember too much of what she went through. Maybe this is because as a kid, we remember what stands out, and on the day to day, her pregnant was not too unusual for many years. For whatever reason, my earliest impressions of birth came from the television show, TLC’s A Baby Story.

I watched the heck out of that show. They aired a couple episodes a day, after a Wedding Story, and a Dating Story before that. It was the early years pre-reality television when shows like these were supposed to be an informative, slice-of-life depiction of the regular family. What stands out to me after all these years is that no matter what, the climax of each episode was a baby’s entrance into the world. There’d be cries, cheers, smiles, tears, kisses, and lots of joy.

When I was 19 years old, I had the opportunity to witness my friend give birth to my eventual godson. Seeing a child come from another woman brought forth feelings in me I couldn’t even begin to describe. It was a rush of a lot of happy things all at once and without even meaning to, tears streamed down my face when I first laid eyes on him.

I couldn’t wait to feel that and more when I thought about the day I’d meet my own son.

I told people about how much I couldn’t wait.

I told people about how I had reacted in that moment 11 years ago and how much I still could feel that feeling inside me just thinking about it.

I told people that was the thing I was most eager for. That first moment. That first feeling.

I craved it.

After my dog passed away, three weeks prior, I yearned for it. I needed it to help me over the hump of grieving I couldn’t get over.

When the time came that I gave birth, after all that anticipation, you can imagine my surprise when the feelings I expected to flood me barely made a peep.

I did not cry.

I did not cuddle and fawn over my newborn.

I did not kiss my spouse.

And, a few days postpartum, alone with my child at home in my bedroom, reflecting on all that gave me pause. Pause led to concern. And concern made me reevaluate myself. What kind of person was I, had I become, that did not feel the way I knew I was supposed to feel.

I tried to work it out with myself, in my head, to try to figure out what wrong, what was wrong with me.  

When someone so emotional that she tears up to the Growing Pains theme song doesn’t cry or visibly show extreme bouts of joy and happiness during the most beautiful, intense, intimate moment of her life, what does that mean? How would you interpret that?

Parents will tell you to remember that babies are different from day to day. To not get too hooked on one routine, or get too comfortable with the way things are working out, because as soon as you do, a milestone will hit, or they’ll regress, or start teething, and you have to create a whole new normal.

Babies are people, they tell you, with their own set of ideas, moods, and preferences. What works for one baby will not necessarily work for another. There is no one-size-fits-all. Babies are people after all -- so why was I so critical of myself for not being an emotional robot? Moments of bliss, joy, wonderment, and surprise look differently. Surprisingly, this was much harder to convince myself to believe in the days that followed my son’s birth.  

We hear too often in this world about the woman who did not react the way you would expect a woman to react when she was assaulted. When that happens, it’s often followed by assuming that it must not be true, that she embellished, fabricated, exaggerated, or reacted impulsively after regretting a poor decision the night before. This is because we have a hard time accepting multiple versions of the same truth, or in this case, multiple versions of the same feeling.

Time and time again, we need to remind ourselves that we are human, and even our own actions vary day to day. One day, I may have cried. One day, I may have screamed obscenities at my husband. One day, I may have been the most zenned out calm laboring mama. One day, I may have laughed in complete shock or hyperventilated and begged to be taken to the hospital.

On this day, in the immediate moments following the birth of my son, I was awestruck (dumbstruck rather), mostly quiet, processing everything inward, left in a state of absolute resignation of control. Is this too a way one can show joy, love and happiness?

Of course, right? But, this is not a familiar representation. This is not what I had ever seen when I binged watched A Baby Story. It’s not what you would expect of others. It’s not what I expected at all of myself.

Still, when I asked myself, if it is any less true that, in that moment, I wasn’t the happiest I’ve ever been? That I didn’t know my life had changed in an instant? Did I not feel a new overwhelming, immeasurable sense of love and attention and bliss all at once?

If you’ve read the past 18 entries, by now you have some sort of idea about the type of person I am. Last week, I called myself a control freak. I mapped out exactly how I envisioned my birth to go, after spending my pregnancy trying as hard as I could to be the A Student in Pregnancy Class.

At the same time, while trying to be the perfect pregnant woman, I’ve also spent the last 18 weeks (and really 38 weeks of my pregnancy) trying to convince myself of the notion that I do not need to have my pregnancy dictate the person I am. It’s been a time for me to work to preserve my identity, something I’ve seen women struggle to do so often, once they become mothers. At the same time, I couldn’t deny and did not want to deny the fact that this pregnancy and the idea of my child growing inside me changed me from the moment I saw the first positive pregnancy test result in my bathroom. It boggled and still boggles my mind that ever since, how effortlessly my child, a person I had never before met, was constantly on my mind. I knew that I had more than me to worry about with every action. In the past, I hated and resented the women (and men) who quickly whipped out the “you couldn’t know because you don’t have kids” response when it suited them. But here I am trying to explain an unexplainable sensation to others in that same way.

With all this said, you can imagine my surprise over how little control I had over even my own emotions in the moment I caught my son and held him to my chest for the first time. Hearing his cries and all the events that spiraled from there sent me somewhere I’ve never been before. I let go. Let go of all the things I was trying so hard to control for so long. Hours felt like minutes. And at some point later in that day, I remember my eyes feeling very heavy and eventually I slept. I didn’t take a picture of my son until after 9 pm (he was born at 11:45 a.m.) and for a long time during the days that followed, I had to keep reminding myself that this was real. That it all was real. That I had made this beautiful baby boy and brought him into this world.

 
 

Another surprise? Nothing I imagined came close to what I had right in front of me.