Down in the living room, curled up on the blue couch, I buried my face into a pillow and let the disappointment wash over me. Today was my due date, and for 40 long weeks, I had looked forward to this day as THE Day. I had recited it over and over as the answer to the daily inquiries of 'When is your due date?' But now it was here...and I was still pregnant. THE Day was going to come and go with no baby to show for it. I felt discouraged.
The next day began with crampy sensations that eventually progressed into legitimate contractions by mid-morning, and I was well on my way to experiencing for myself 'what labor feels like.' I had speculated for months, anxiously wondering if I would have what it takes for this getting-larger-every-day baby to exit my body.
And honestly, when it came down to it, I didn't have what it takes. And yet, at the same time, I did. Labor and delivery left me stripped of all the pretentious ideals I had had about how I would stay at home probably until I was 8.75 centimeters dilated and how the midwife, nurses, and even the birthing class instructor would be so proud. I would breathe deeply, meditate on truth about God, and lean into my husband. And the baby would come after only a few hours of labor and several athletic pushes. But, as you can imagine, none of those things materialized. I arrived at the hospital at 4am, after laboring almost 24 hours to find out that I was only dilated 3-4 centimeters. I couldn't walk even one lap around the nurse's station, I had no capacity to think beyond the physical effort of surviving another contraction, and I didn't want my husband to touch me or speak to me at all. Whenever he attempted to help me in anyway, I silently held up a finger and waved it at him to indicate 'No. Do not touch me.'
After hours of trying to figure out how in the world to push this baby out, I found myself sobbing over and over to a nurse, "Please help me. PLEASE help me. Someone help me. Jesus help me. Please give me a C-Section! I cannot do this. I need help. Please help. Someone. Please..." I was at probably the weakest, most vulnerable, completely out of control, powerless, 'I CANNOT DO THIS,' humbling moment of my life.
Of course, my daughter was born eventually, as all babies are. I found a position that worked for me, my body took over, and out she came.
The second night after Ava was born, in the Maternity Ward, I laid in the hospital bed and wondered if I was losing my mind. What was really going on, of course, was that my hormone levels were plummeting, but I felt like I was going crazy. I was sweating profusely, shivering, and although I was completely exhausted, I couldn't sleep. Every time I closed my eyes, it was like a mental picture of a traumatic labor memory would flash through my mind, and I'd start to cry about it.
Much before I felt ready, we were packing un-used items and loads of gift bags with tiny pink outfits into the car. As we drove away from the hospital, I felt a near-panic rise inside me at being alone in this new and scary world called motherhood. No more hospital bed to help me sit up, no more turkey sandwiches in the middle of the night from the nurse's station, no more paid staff bringing me medicine and cleaning up our room and bathroom. How were we to survive? It felt like the hospital room had been a safe cocoon for us to welcome this new individual into our family, but now our bubble was being burst, and we were being shoved into the harsh vastness of the wide-open world. I was terrified.
I cried the whole way home. I cried as my husband went into the Pharmacy to fill a prescription for Percocet. I cried when we pulled up to our familiar (yet now completely different because we now had an infant with us) home. I cried as I stood in the middle of our living room with an infant in my arms, not knowing what to do with myself as I glanced around at the remnants of our attempts to labor at home as long as we could: the birthing ball, snacks that I later threw up when the labor got too painful, a list of contraction start and end times.... Life as I knew it had now completely changed.
The first few weeks, I felt like I myself had become something that was newly born as well. I felt like my 'skin' was too fragile, too vulnerable, to be around anyone but my husband and my child for too long. I needed to be protected and shielded from the rest of the world. Like a baby animal that hasn't grown fur or wings yet and would be damaged if it was touched because it's too fragile, I too needed to hide away in the safety of my home to just breathe, and find a way to survive the intensity of my new identity as Mom.
The same blue couch where I was once disappointed on THE Day was disassembled and moved, piece by piece, into the nursery, where we reassembled it. We moved our lives into that nursery for the first few weeks: we slept on the couch right next to the baby's crib, we ate meals on the couch. Mom, Dad, and New Baby living together in one room, trying to navigate how to become three instead of just two.
On the day that the blue couch returned to the living room, and we moved back into our own bedroom, I wondered how we would make it through this new transition. Or on the day when the Dad in the triangle had to go back to work, how would we make it then? I had just begun to get used to Us Three...and now we were Three Separated by a room and a work day. Next came the ventures out of the house. We had to stretch and expand to be Three In Front of Others. What would happen if the baby was inconsolable; was that an extension of me? Would I be enough to measure up to all these new judging eyes that now assessed and analyzed what kind of a family we were?
One day, when I was completely exhausted, and the baby was napping, and the husband was napping, and I should have been napping, for I was frantic with exhaustion, I could not sleep. Whenever I closed my eyes, there was that buzzy feeling and the flashes of labor memories. So I checked my email and I found something that no new mother should be exposed to: a sentimental 'motherhood' forward. It was one those sappy emails that people forward along; it said something like, "You know you're a mother if, though you don't get any sleep, you stay awake just to watch your sweet angel baby sleep...just to count their gentle breaths." And I felt a surge of wild grief and panic swell inside. That was not me. Was I NOT a mother? Was I not cut out for this role? Because I didn't WANT to be awake. I didn't WANT to watch my baby sleep. I wanted to sleep. I wanted to rest. But I couldn't. And because I didn't want to ponder my baby's breaths, and because I did not feel the all-encompassing love that each mother is promised as soon as the baby is born, was I not a good enough mom? Did I not have what it takes? I laid on the floor and fell apart.
That falling apart, that eventually was my saving grace. We talked about it later, Caleb and I. He did the best thing he could have done for me: he listened. He stopped and he sat and he made space for me to retell and recount all the flashes of labor trauma that had been tormenting me. He waited as I spilled out all that I had stored up inside, and then he told me. He told me that feeling overwhelmed in the moment, being blind-sided by the hardness of labor and new-mothering, crying out for help in the moments of weakness, do not equal failure. 'Losing it' for a moment is not the final declaration over the experience. Feeling overwhelmed by the intensity of this stage doesn't mean that I can't do it. It's more like a necessary re-grouping. It's just an acknowledgement of the intensity. But it's not failure.
He told me, "When you take that next breath, when you keep going after the cry, when you take another step, that's the definition of the whole. That's strength. That's showing that you DO have what it takes. That's the declaration over the experience. You kept going. And right now, you are keeping on going. The measure of who you are as a mother is not in if you want to count your child's breaths or not. The measure of who you are as a mother is not in your ability to take everything in stride. The measure of who you are as a mother is in the fact that, in the face of great difficulty, you keep going. You keep trying. You take another step. You lift your eyes to the LORD, and you care for your baby another day. You are not defined by moments of feeling weak."
I find that I still need that word today: feeling overwhelmed doesn't mean failure, doesn't mean that I can't do this.
For although the little baby has grown and another has joined in the ranks to make us Four, I still find myself thinking, 'This is hard. Do I not have what it takes? Am I not cut out for this role?'
But maybe the weakness, the not-knowing-what-to-do, is less a final statement of the measure of who I am as a mother, and more an invitation to lean on the One who knows everything, is stronger than anything.
"Who is this, coming up from the wilderness, leaning on her Beloved?"
Song of Solomon 8:5