(It only took me over a month to compose this short post…)!
Levi turned three on January 4th. Between his birthday day, birthday party, first soccer lesson, and a friend’s birthday, I haven’t had much time to reflect, ponder, think.
On the eve of his birth day, Dawn and I did sit in bed, after he had gone to sleep, and stared at the pictures of his birth (thanks to our amazing midwife assistants, we have a series of images showing him emerge inch-by-(slow)-painful-inch). He was bluish grey like most babies upon arrival, and then oh so red. I cannot remember what his cry sounded like or even what his skin felt like, so having these images to return to is amazing and so helpful.
I have written my birth story here before, and I know that a lot of birth stories describe the joy, the wonder, the complete and overwhelming sense of love in those moments following birth. And yet, I feel confident that there must be lots of birth stories out there, my own included, where those are/were not the primary feelings and emotions. I would describe my immediate reaction/feelings as numbness, confusion, relief, and exhaustion.
Exhaustion: This one seems obvious. I’m sure it is a feeling shared by all newly minted mamas. Labor is exhausting. Forty-plus hours of labor without any food or sleep is…well, maybe we don’t have a word for that yet in the English language.
Numb: The exhaustion was so powerful, so dominant, that it left little space for other feelings and emotions. I think this is why in my memory I was filled with a kind of numbness. This wasn’t even a dumb awe caused by the wonder of the moment. It was more like: I don’t care about anything right now because I cannot. Like “I cannot” in its truest sense.
Confusion: The numbness was fed by the confusion of now having an additional human being in the room, in our home, in our lives. Obviously we knew this would be the outcome, and yet, when it came to be, I didn’t know what to do. I am a woman of routine, of structure, of carefully made plans. If ever I had to step outside of my life for an entire weekend, my first step upon returning to it would be to clean the house or read the news while drinking coffee and planning out the day ahead. None of these were options. It was completely disorienting. I remember lying in bed over those first few days with my iPad on my lap, trying to read the news, so I felt some sense of connection to the world. There are many wonderful things about home birth (and perhaps one would feel this way in a hospital too…), but after spending an entire weekend going no further than my own bedroom, I felt like I had come untethered from the world. I would stare out our bedroom window at the other houses, but I felt that they were a part of a separate universe that I was no longer a part of.
Relief: I was just so freakin’ glad that labor was over and that the baby was out of me. When Levi was crowning, my midwife kept saying, “Jenn, your baby has so much hair. So much hair!” And I was thinking, like I care about its hair?? Get. It. Out! I was so deep into my own sense of relief in that moment–so glad the pain was over, the sleepless nights were over (ha!)–that I couldn’t really give a whole lot of thought to this helpless creature on my chest. I have this one picture where Levi is laying at my breast, and I have my eyes closed and a very faint smile on my face. I look totally blissed out in this photo, and I love it. But I know that in that moment the bliss wasn’t really about him. While I was happy to have him earthside, I was more happy to just be done with the experience of labor.
The point of this three years later reflection is not to lament my long labor or the lack of immediate joy that followed, but rather to point out that it is normal (and probably quite common) to feel less than ecstatic. In fact, one might feel very little after the emotional and physical rigor of labor.
My other, more important, point is that the ensuing three years have been defined by joy. Surprise and joy. Surprise at the amount of joy that has come the older my “baby” gets. It matters not at all now that in those moments following his birth, I felt so little, because now I feel so much (too much at times).
Lastly, I will note what a funny (distorted) thing that retrospect can be. When I finally wrote my birth story a year and a half after the event, I said,
Looking back on it now, however, that moment makes me want to do it all again.
But that is inaccurate. It wasn’t that moment of his birth that makes me want to do it all again, it is the current knowledge of the awesomeness that comes after the arrival, and I mean long after the arrival (for me at least).