The hospital hall looked long and daunting and I stepped into a bathroom to wait out the contraction. Because by this point walking and talking through them was out of the questions. I didn’t bother to change out of my pajamas because I was certain, despite the steady and consistent pain coming every few minutes. That this was a false alarm. The nurses were going to send me right back home. Clearly, I didn’t know a single thing. About labor or being a mom.
Eventually I made it to triage and realized that I wasn’t going anywhere. I was dilated and this kid was ready to make an appearance. A few short hours, and an epidural later, I was at a 10. But she told me not to push. That the baby was not in the right place or location or something like that. All I know is that it hurt like hell and that I had thrown up for the first four months of my pregnancy. I was down to about one pair of pants and two shirts I was comfortable in and I could not sleep for more than 45 minutes without getting up to pee. I was ready to not be pregnant and the meet this baby who I imagined would come out looking exactly like my husband and I couldn’t wait to hold.You do not tell a girl in this position to “hold tight” unless you give her epidural a refill.
I had read the books. I had backed my bags complete with a fuzzy socks and a mix cd.My husband and I had discussed that he would stay away from the business end of things, but around 5 am after hours of hard labor and one sided epidurals and uncomfortable rearranging that still had not led my son to move down properly – when the nurse told him to grab a leg and count. He did. And gave me to go ahead. Pregnancy and especially delivery are an exercise in stripping the mother of all dignity and privacy, because after leaving the hospital you will not get to go to the bathroom alone for approximately 3-5 years.
I had gone to the birthing class and recalled something about finding a focal point in the room and breathing. But those things didn’t help. I pushed and pushed. My friends waiting in the hall took bets with the nurses on time of arrival. They lost and eventually, the next doctor came in for the morning shift and told everyone to prep me for surgery.
There was a pause. Longer than I wanted but I’m sure it was just a few seconds and then a much expected wail.
They cleaned him up and stitched my abdomen back up and the nurses manhandled him, like he was a rugged tough animal who had been around for awhile, rather than just an 8 lb boy only a few minutes old. I waited on whatever painkillers they would give me, he waited for someone to explain why they hell he was no longer in the safe comforts of my womb. He came out with hair that was almost black, dark skin and pale blue eyes. This was not the blond haired child we were expecting. This was not the birth we had planned. And that has to be part of the beauty of motherhood and life. It never goes as planned.
And everytime the nurses came in, they were so incredibly rough with this little tiny man that me and my husband had made. The hit him hard on the back to loosen up the fluid still in his lungs and flung him around like a bag of flour. The first time I had to dress him or change a diaper – I remember being so fearful that his little arms or legs would snap. That I was going to break him. This fear didn’t leave me until carrying him down the stairs from his one year check up. Thinking the nurse should have given me a sticker and a dum dum. Because I had somehow kept this kid alive for an entire year.
Nurses know way more than new moms.They know that babies are tough. And strong. And that they can handle a strong pat on the back to burb them and being a little firm grip during a diaper change.
And still, to this day, I sometimes need a little reminding that my kids are stronger than I give them credit for. Strong enough apparently, that they actually let us take him home.
He ate and pooped and slept in short spurts and cried. On repeat. Just like that for days. Months even.
And I wasn’t sure what motherhood was all about. It had to be more than sore nipples and bad daytime TV and even worse TV in the middle of the night.
And he grew. Quickly. Eating faster than I could keep up with. It seemed like everytime I did laundry I had new clothes to pack and give away that no longer fit. The newborn Pampers seemed so tiny and I wondered how long I could get away with wearing pants with an elastic waistline. My heart swelled when he squeezed my little finger, when his mouth made that little O that only babies make and even more when I got more than 2 hours of sleep in a row. And I loved him more than I knew possible.But I was also so incredibly tired.
Because growing your heart apparently takes an awful lot out of a girl.
My life did change more than I had prepared for of course. I could not keep up with it all, and around the four month mark when my hormones plummeted and my hair started falling out in fistfuls. I gave in.
I slept more. I went out less. And I decided maybe I should join a gym.
Then next time I became a mother was completely different. The pregnancy harder. I threw up for six months instead of only four and had a myriad of other unfun symptoms including the most disqusting set of varicose viens that everytime I consider wearing shorts I think I should probably do everyone a favor and cover them up. (that and what mother of two has the energy to shave their legs). The delivery, this time a scheduled c-section I thought would be so much easier. But an excess of scar tissue, lots of bleeding and an overnight nurse who didn’t quite set up my catheter correctly did not leaving me feeling any better than the last time. This time, I didn’t shutter too much when the nurses beat on her back or jerked her around. And again, she came out looking nothing like we expected. Her brother had a thick full head of dark hair and long eyelashes and dark olive skin. Tess was completely bald, had ivory skin and came out letting everyone know exactly what she wanted and when. Even the experienced nurses weren’t sure what to do with her.
This time, I packed less for the hospital and had less of a plan. But I still thought it would be so much easier the second time around. Because I knew what to do.
The first year of her life, my daughter taught me nothing else, other than how little sleep I could live on, how to make the pediatrician fit you in even if they are full and that people, even when they have almost exactly the same DNA couldn’t be more different.
I’ve read before that the days and long but the years are short. And today, while my daughter calls me “mamacita” because she is learning to speak some "spinich" at school and offers to set the table by sticking an opened stick of butter right smack in the middle of the table and nothing else. It has been a fantastic, but long day and I want to pour myself one more glass of wine. And break off another hunk of crusty bread and wipe it right across the butter she laid out.
And maybe that is what motherhood is about.
Seeing strength in these little tiny fragile things that you have been entrusted to keep alive. If they are stronger than they look, than so am I. Even tired with very little sleep after a night of ear infections or bad dreams or last minute school projects.That the plan is good, but be ready to watch it slip away. Along with your skinny jeans and birth plans and papers that will never get all the way graded. The days will unfold exactly as they should and it is best to find a reason to laugh and dance in the living room anyways. And that on those long days, I remind myself to look at the doorframe, where the sharpie markers inch their way higher and higher. The carseats and onsies are long gone and one day very very soon I will have to start shopping at god-forbid Justice. Because my kids grow and learn all the time. I can't stop it or slow it down and as bittersweet as it is, I really don't want to. They no longer smell like lavender baby lotion or even apple juice and graham crackers – but usually my boy smells like sweat from baseball practice and my daughter smells like whatever perfume or chocolote she snuck. It is us grownups that sometimes forget to grow and learn. We don't do it automatically anymore but is still I believe how we are made. To constantly be growing and learning and pursuing. And my kids remind me to do this too, everytime I put away pair of shoes that no longer fit or hear my son spell a word that I don't know how to spell myself. There are no marks on the doorframe to measure what has grown the most in our home, even more than the piles of laundry. This mamacita’s heart.