When I was a student teacher, my cohort group would meet every couple of weeks. Our coordinator (the liaison between the university and the middle school) was this tough old woman with the kind of zeal for education that anyone would find enviable. She also had a resume the length of my arm: teacher for a billion years, assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent, HR coordinator. Unwilling to completely retire, she guided the fresh faces of the student teaching program. She walked slowly, vocally despised driving of any kind, and her nails were always perfect. I loved her. She was experienced, she was direct, and she answered every little question with brutal honesty.
One day, us student teachers were talking about the work load. Let me stress: the work load for new teachers is immense. It is overwhelming at best, and burn-out worthy at worst. Linda, the coordinator, leaned back in her chair and glanced out the window, which overlooked the staff parking lot.
“When I was a principal, I hated seeing teachers leave late. Every school has a couple who do that. They come before everyone else, when it’s still dark. When they leave it’s dark too, and they’d often be lugging stacks of papers and carts of projects. I knew they were going to go home and keep working on school stuff. I hated that.”
We all looked at each other and looked at her. Isn’t that a hallmark of a good teacher? The kind of person that goes early and stays late?
Linda sighed. “In this profession, you have to take care of yourself. You can’t give 100% to your students every day. Give it to them when you can, sure. But if some days, you have to give them 70%, so that you save your sanity, do it.” She looked at us. Leveled with us, the kind of honest gaze that people of a certain age can just lay on you. “It’s better to give 70% and still be in the profession in five years. Your students will be okay. You need to be okay, too.”
I clung to that advice like it was a ship mast in the middle of an epic sea storm, because that’s what student teaching feels like. I worked my ass off most days and some days… I didn’t. Some days I rested or ignored school, or let papers sit for a day or three extra. I left student teaching excited about teaching, not scared of it.
I continued to set boundaries with my teaching. I refused to take work home (except essays. Essays almost always come home.) I came early many days because I liked it and I felt productive, but I often left exactly on time.
We glorify teachers who ruin their lives for teaching. Take Freedom Writers, that Hilary Swank movie. In the movie, the selfless teacher slaves for her students, going so far as to get a second job to support her classroom supplies, so that she can be everything and more for her students. She works heinous hours. Her marriage falls apart. She about loses her mind. And yeah, she helped those kids. And that’s great. But at what price?
I work with a phenomenal teacher who consistently amazes me. He is a department head, his lesson-planning is superb, he coaches like three different sports, is working towards administrative positions, and volunteers all the time. One day I was asking about his personal life. He told me that he had a girlfriend. When I asked about kids, he kind of shrugged and said that he didn’t really have time for them. From his tone, I felt like he was implying that he wanted kids. When I inquired further (because I suck at boundaries,) he admitted that he didn’t think he could be a good father because of all the stuff he does at school.
I am not the end-all be-all for my students.
My students are not my end-all, be-all.
I am not their friend.
I am not their counselor.
I am not their parent.
Point of fact, I am someone’s parent. He is not my student. As of this publishing, he is 20 months old and happily asleep in the next room.
I want to take care of my students. I want to give them 100% on the days that I can, because I like to and they need it. But more than that, I want to remain in the profession. And more than both those things, I want to be a good mom. And yeah, sometimes I have to choose between being a shitty mom and a shitty teacher. And I can promise you, when it comes down to it, I would rather be a shitty teacher than a shitty mom.
Right now, I am the end-all, be all for my kid.
And in many ways, he is my end-all.
Good teachers go home on time. Good teachers take care of themselves. Good teachers work to balance their home life and their professional life. I don’t always get that balance right (in fact, I often fail,) but at least I know what my priorities are and I work towards them accordingly.
I’ll say it. I don’t care anymore. The first year of my child’s life sucked royal dick.
Those first twelve months? Hell.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved that little boy with everything inside of me. And. I hated that first damn year. I often brooded, “What the hell have I done?” Because no one told me I would hate the entirety of that year. No one told me how much I would resent everything about it (except the little boy, I promise I really did love him).
No one told me I wouldn’t enjoy this part. I kind of figured I would just instantly love motherhood and everything that came along with it because, I dunno, sacrifice? I feel like I was fed this line about how everything that is hard and frustrating becomes okay because you’re a mom. As though all the negative things in life kind of wash away because of the great glory that is motherhood. I bought it, hook line and sinker and I SUNK. Holy shit did I sink.
And I’m not just talking about my post-partum depression. That was certainly part of it. But if I look back on my son’s first year rationally, three things stick out that objectively made everything about it just the Worst. With a capital W.
#1: Sleep deprivation.
There is no way to overstate the exhaustion of motherhood. Like, parents try to explain it before you birth those little babies, but… There’s just no way.
When you have a baby, if you are breastfeeding, you have to feed that child at least every three hours. Every. Three. Hours. And every three hours from the moment he starts to suck, not the moment he finishes. So if you have a slow feeder (mine took 45 minutes to an hour) that means that you get two hours, then an hour of feeding, two hours, then an hour of feeding, two hours, then an hour of feeding. And in that two hours you have to do all the following: change the baby, bathe the baby, feed and clothe and bathe yourself, plus whatever household/work responsibilities you have. Oh. And sleep. Literally sleeping in two hour increments.
And then. He gets a little older. And his feeding shortens, but he still eats all the damn time, so now you have two AND A HALF hours. Which is a big bonus, trust me.
And then you get four hours and it feels like HEAVEN ON EARTH. Seriously. I never thought four hours of sleep could feel so good.
But that was basically my maximum for twelve months.
So I spent twelve months of my life extremely sleep-deprived. Extremely. And, to be honest, sleep is number one of my list of priorities before I had children. I’m a nine-hour-a-night sleeper, minimum. So this four-hour thing? Absolute. Hell.
Sleep deprivation fucks with you. It messes with your emotional capability, your processing ability, your socializing skills. I regularly experienced sleep deprivation so real, it mimicked intoxication. Like, no. All the no. Just no.
My son did not sleep through the night until he was fifteen months old. I swear, motherhood got so much better when I could sleep a whole night. Before that? It was damn hard.
#2 Everything is in transition.
Think back on the last big transition of your life. Moving? Job or career change? Relationship shift?
Nobody really likes change. We all struggle with the transition, finding our “new normal.” Motherhood is the single biggest transition I have ever gone through. All my normal was turned on its head. And because babies grow incredibly fast, once you master one skill, they hurl another thing at you. And babies require a million skills of you for basic survival. A LOT of skills.
Like, diapering and cream and bathing and feeding (bottle or boob, it’s a giant pain) and daycare and sickness and different cries and sleep training and OH MY GOD STOP. Full disclosure: I babysat constantly through my teens, including little babies. It was helpful, yes, but it NEVER taught me the full range of skills my child required.
Remember the way you fumbled through your first “big girl” job? My entire first year of teaching felt like a big clumsy series of missteps and anxiety and frustration. Motherhood is no different except 1.) you’re sleep deprived and less able to handle your shit correctly, and 2.) there is a tiny human literally dependent on you for survival, and 3.) you never get to clock out. Pressure’s on, bitch.
Plus, your relationships turn upside down. All of them. Suddenly you don’t have time for friends the way you used to, and sleep deprivation makes it difficult to form a complete sentence, and all you can talk about is diaper cream brands anyway. Not to mention the relationship with your spouse. Want to know what kind of hell that goes through? Husband and I needed rehab and counseling just to begin to work through that shit.
#3 Babies are boring.
In perhaps the most ironic twist of it all, babies are boring as shit.
Let me repeat: I love my son. I enjoyed going through all the milestones. I enjoyed watching him grow. I enjoyed all the snuggles and bonding.
Let’s get real, though. Babies don’t do anything. Especially at first. They literally cry and eat and shit and piss and sleep. They don’t smile. They don’t hug. They don’t say thank you. They barely raise their arm. IT’S DULL.
And yeah, as they get bigger they interact more. But. Is laying on a mat and smiling really interacting? I didn’t know what to do with my son. I felt like I was “supposed” to stimulate him or teach him or… something. Leaving him just to sit and stare at the wall? That seemed so barbaric. Insensitive? Cruel? I don’t know. But I didn’t have a clue how to interact with him.
Eventually I decided to just talk at him, which probably proves my own minimal degree of sanity and predicts his, but whatever. It was still boring. And sleep-deprived boring? Fucking torture.
When my son turned one, it was like the clouds parted and sunshine bathed the land.
While he did not sleep through the night until 15 months, by 12 months he was only waking once a night. I could handle that. I didn’t like it, but I could handle it. The clutter of my sleep deprivation cleared and I started to think and feel clearer.
At about a year, the transition settled (mostly) and I felt far more secure in the world of “Mom.” It wasn’t always easy, but I had a clear idea of my expectations. I felt like MOST (not all) of the literal and figurative shit he threw at me I could handle. Or. I at least knew which Mom-Friends to call and ask for advice.
And the best part? The very best part?
My son is now the most interesting human in the world . He has a personality that totally sweeps me off my feet and restores my faith in humanity. He is gentle and snugly and determined. He loves our little dog and giggles uncontrollably when he gets to pet her. He likes to say “Bye!” to everyone anytime we change location (including, yes, strangers). He loves to blow kisses and give hugs and name things. All of those things are SO EXCITING and I love seeing the world through his fascinated and happy eyes. None of these wonderful aspects of him existed, at least not obviously, in that first year.
Hang in there, you first year mamas. It gets better, I promise.
I was kind of iffy on the power of visualization before I gave birth. I mean, just because I imagine something doesn’t make it so, right? That’s a load of hooey.
Of course, when my due date came and went without fanfare, I started getting desperate. The last weeks of pregnancy are just terrible. Like, I cannot adequately get across the encompassing discomfort, coupled with the looming question: “Is this it?” Seriously, I found myself googling the most ridiculous things. “Is ankle pain a sign of labor?”
Fun fact: everything is a sign of labor, which means nothing is a sign of labor.
My baby was due on December 19. When the 19th passed, and then the 20th, and then the 21st, a Christmas baby became a real possibility. I got very nervous, very frustrated, and extremely desperate.
And then… I couldn’t be any of those things. Sometime late on December 21, it occurred to me that I couldn’t control when my labor happened. I don’t know why it took so long for this little thought to surface. I mean, I was doing everything I could: I drank pineapple smoothies by the gallon. I had my membranes swiped. I was doing yoga and timing Braxton Hicks and begging my husband to get it on with me.
Nothing, nothing, nothing.
I had to consciously choose to relax and let it all go. It finally occurred to me that I couldn’t control this, no matter how much I wanted to puppet every bit of it – you don’t get to decide when you go into labor. Well, pitocin can decide that for you, but I wasn’t there yet.
December 22 I found myself relaxed in a way I hadn’t in weeks. I put finishing touches on the nursery. I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, my latest Netflix binge. I felt more energized than I had in a while, which still wasn’t much. That night, to get out of the house, Husband and I went to P F Chang’s, my favoritest restaurant. As I squeezed my butt into that booth, scarfing down all my favorites like hot and sour soup and lettuce wraps, I mentally timed contractions between bites.
Fun fact about pregnancy: contractions do not mean labor. What the hell, right? In fact, a woman can experience contractions for literally months before real labor happens. Most of these obnoxious quote, unquote contractions are called Braxton Hicks contractions, which are basically fake contractions. They don’t particularly hurt, they are at worst mildly uncomfortable. The whole belly goes hard, as though “practicing” for the real deal. Of course, those fake contractions start to come on harder and get closer together before labor.
The 4-1-1 rule helps a woman know if she’s in labor. When the contractions come every FOUR minutes for ONE hour and the contractions are ONE minute in length, then maybe you might be in labor. If not, suck it up buttercup.
During dinner, my contractions were six minutes apart, lasting roughly 4o seconds.
I didn’t tell my husband. Why worry him, right? Besides, if I could keep eating, then it probably wasn’t “real” labor, right?
At home, my contractions were five minutes apart, lasting 40-50 seconds. What the hell, I thought. I had just eaten my body weight in Chinese food and I was tired. If it was “real” labor, I wouldn’t be able to sleep through it, right? So I went to bed.
I managed to completely underestimate my sleeping ability. If sleeping were a sport, I could compete on a national scale. I can sleep through anything. Earlier this year, I literally slept through an earthquake. It’s a gift, really. Both the husband and the dog snore like it’s a competition. Doesn’t bother me. I am also not hindered by location: futons, floor, cars, airplane, I can sleep on anything. And sleep right through it all I will.
I cannot, however, sleep through pregnancy peeing. I woke up on December 23 at 1:00 am, and had to pee. Story of a pregnant girl’s life. Three steps from my bed, I felt a sort of tearing sensation on my left abdomen. Could it be…? Thirty seconds on the toilet confirmed it–my water broke. Gushes of reddish water came out of me. I got up and called over my husband. I didn’t realize that water just keeps coming. Yeah, those clothes and the bed sheet were eventually thrown out.
While Husband flew into activity, I noticed that the contractions of the Chinese restaurant were clearly NOT the contractions of 1:00 in the morning post water-breakage. They started pretty immediately and there were definitely harder than all the Braxton Hicks I had felt.
The plan was to labor at home for as long as possible. Stay in a safe spot, avoid being sent home from the hospital (literally my worst fear about labor *insert hindsight eye roll*). I sat in the rocking chair and focused on breathing through the contractions. Husband, meanwhile, was doing the anxious things that husbands do when the wife is definitely in labor. Packed the car, made phone calls, and generally freaked the fuck out.
The contractions quickly intensified, like really quickly intensified. They went from, “Okay, I can do this,” to “Holy shit what is my body doing” in about 10 minutes. Right along with that intensity, my anxiety climbed. Stories of women forced to give birth at home danced through my head. On the phone, the midwife said to stay at home as long as I was comfortable, which didn’t last long. Particularly when I started vomiting.
Yeah. Vomiting. Apparently some women react to the extreme pain of labor by blowing chunks. There went my Chinese food. Over and over and over… Every time I had a contraction, I puked. No one had prepared me for this possibility, the throwing up, so I basically decided I was done. Less than an hour after waking up and experiencing water breakage, I demanded we go to the hospital.
Husband didn’t argue. Protip: never argue with a woman in labor.
I held to Husband as we walked haltingly to the car. It was very cold, and snow was starting to fall, so he insisted I walk through the contractions. Like I was even thinking about the cold. In retrospect, I feel like a damn Amazon warrior for walking through contractions. Never mind that I was clinging to Husband with one arm and a pot of vomit in the other. In the car that I started to realize the severity of the pain. I mean, I knew it was bad. What I realized in the car is that it was so bad I was basically losing awareness. When I would come out of a contraction, I’d look out the car window into the snow-dusted streets and I had no recollection of the last several blocks–the pain blocked my ability to comprehend events around me. Like, damn. That’s painful.
At some point during the car ride, mid-contraction, Husband asked, “Are you hot or cold?” I was thoroughly irritated. In a sounder mind, I might have punched him. Protip: only ask a woman in labor yes or no questions. The kind of questions that she can either nod or shake her head at.
The roads were empty of people but coated in snow. The hospital was so bare it almost looked closed. We were met at the door by security. They offered me a wheelchair, which I gratefully took. It felt like a movie-moment: a security guard wheeling the cringing pregnant lady to labor and delivery. Rest assured, that was the only movie-moment of this whole affair. On the third floor, a nurse made me stand on a scale before she directed me to a room. I resisted the urge to call her a nasty word. Who makes a pregnant woman stand on a scale? Whatever. I made it all the way to the door frame before literally vomiting on the floor. I was so embarrassed, but unable to apologize, already conserving my energy for the next wave of contractions. I just shuffled into the bathroom and followed a different nurse’s orders to change.
From here, things are somewhat of a blur. I remember pieces but everything is fragmented, broken, I assume, by the contractions. Husband later liked to described it as an “endorphin hole,” where I was basically unreachable. The contraction would rise up, overtake every part of me and consume me, and when it receded I could communicate like a normal human. Well, an exhausted somewhat terrified human in the midst of child labor.
The birth plan I had written months before specifically stated SEVEN pain management techniques before I wrote the words, “I am not opposed to an epidural, but I would like to wait as long as possible.”
I never even tried those seven other methods. I asked for the epidural within half an hour of getting to the hospital. Why beeline for the epidural after alllllllllll the careful planning? Let me explain. After literally puking on the hospital floor, I sat on the toilet of the hospital bathroom, naked, holding a new puke bag and my brain piped up: “Remind me again why we don’t want the epidural? Like, what is the benefit of fully experiencing this debilitating pain?” And then I puked into the stupid bag. “Literally, why opt out? So you can tell people that you did all this without an epidural? You know there’s not an award, right? Seriously are bragging rights really worth this shit?” I puked again. “Fuck that!” Husband was surprised. The nurses were surprised. Husband quietly suggested one of my seven planned “natural” techniques. I not-so-nicely told him to can it.
After wrapping me in the barest of hospitals gowns, the nurse directed me into bed. THE bed. The one in the movies. The one that moves in all the different ways, with the stirrups and the nice warm sheets. The quiet little nurse informed me that she needed 30 minutes of continuous monitoring and 30 minutes of an IV before I could get my epidural. Thirty minutes until that sweet, sweet pain relief.
Of course the word “continuous” means “without stopping.” My thirty minutes kept getting pushed back because I kept vomiting, which made me lurch forward, and off came all the monitoring equipment. Which the nurse would try to put back on before the next wave of nausea materialized. And because I had been vomiting for a good hour at least, I was incredibly dehydrated, which meant that my IV line couldn’t get in. My quiet little hospital room started to fill with nurses as they stuck my arm once… three times… five times…. New nurses kept coming in. Each one made a special point to tell me her name. Like, really? I’m vomiting my guts out while breathing through unmediated contractions, I don’t give a shit about your name. At one point, six nurses surrounded my bed, poking my arm and calmly discussing the options. Purple-green bruises popped up on my arms. Meanwhile, I’m STILL throwing up and breathing my way through contractions. The labor and delivery nurse kept trying to coach my breath. “In through your nose, out through your mouth.” Which really pissed me off because I was doing the breathing from my damn labor class. But every time I made up my mind to slap her, someone would stick my arm or I would hurl.
An hour (more? less? time is strange when you’re in that much pain) later, I’m still vomiting, the IV isn’t in, which means pain relief is still far away, I start to feel panicky. The L&D nurse is contradicting what I learned in labor class about breathing, so I started to lose control of my breathing.
Basically, I started to lose my mind.
Which is really the last thing that a woman in labor wants. You already feel like your body is moving without you, so the few things you do have control over (like your breath and your thoughts) are really precious. So pain, plus vomiting, plus anger at this stupid nurse, PLUS I can’t fricking talk to her because the pain is so bad annnnnnnnnnd I had all the ingredients for…
A panic attack.
I am no stranger to panic attacks. I have experienced those frightening little suckers since adolescence and they are NOT something to be taken lightly. My main go-to for a panic attack is to crouch into a dark little room (AKA a closet) and breathe it out. Usually with lots of tears. Yeah, not happening when I am in bed surrounded by nurses trying to get an IV into my damn arm, contractions coming on top of each other, and my belly wrapped in equipment.
I started to feel extremely claustrophobic and overwhelmed, the pain started to feel unbearable. Bad things were happening. Very bad things. But how do you tell everyone to shut up so you can have a panic attack? You don’t. I lay back in bed and imagined the horror of a panic attack in labor. My breath quickened, my pulse started to pick up, my fists clenched.
At literally the best possible moment, right as a panic attack started to become a very real possibility, the door swung open and my midwife walked in the room.
I cannot sing the praises of midwifery accurately. My group of midwives had led me through pregnancy in a way that made me feel like a fertile goddess. They helped me feel confident and educated, answered every stupid question and assuaged all our ridiculous (and sometimes extremely valid) fears.
Jenn the Midwife hit my room with a wave of calm, she sauntered in and silently demanded the room to calm down with just her strut and her eye balls. The hospital would have knelt before her had she demanded. In she walked, right past my anxious Husband and the congregating nurses, straight to my bedside. In her cold but so comforting hands, she took one of my hands and she started speaking.
To this day, I have zero recollection of what she said. I remember only her tone–firm, calm, confident, real. Somehow, in a couple sentences, she restored my confidence in myself. I felt calm and secure and in charge but also cared for. She coached me through the ensuing contraction, her attentive and loving focus on me, and then Jenn the Midwife took over the room.
The IV got in. Anti-nausea and anti-anxiety meds were administered. The extra nurses cleared out. A soft man came and administered an epidural. My fears about the epidural had long been replaced with an overwhelming desire for pain relief. Finally, someone got a hand up me and checked. I was 6 centimeters dilated. Six centimeters is a long way to go in just a couple hours. It was no wonder I was overwhelmed. As the epidural kicked in, I was instructed to rest and relax. Apparently, people can nap while in labor. Nurses changed shifts. I listened to music. The pain hung around me. Occasionally I would have to breathe through a contraction, but it was no longer all-consuming, penetrating everything.
I thought about the baby a lot, through all of this. He brought me a great deal of comfort. Not because he was the “prize” at the finish line (I detest that turn of phrase in regards to labor) but rather, he and I were in this together. I was not alone, nor was my pain for naught: every contraction we were both working towards meeting. I mean, I knew him–I grew him. We had been communicating for 9 months, by touch and by energy. But now we would look each other in the eye, see each other, hold each other. I imagined every contraction pushing him down, widening the cervix. Despite the pain, I refused to fight the contractions; instead, I channeled them. I focused my attention and my energy towards working with those contractions, I leaned into them, I let them overtake my body but not my mind and I embraced them. Of course, all of this was a whole lot easier since I wasn’t throwing up or getting coached by an idiot nurse.
Around this time, as I focused on relaxing, my best friend Michelle came. I’ve known Michelle since high school. Where I am a straight-laced rule-follower, Michelle is a sort of nomadic hippie who literally lives life on highlines in the air. I remember talking to her through sleepy blinks, describing what had happened so far. She seemed uncomfortable at first. I wondered vaguely if she was disappointed in me for getting the epidural, she’s definitely in favor of the natural side of life. Occasionally, a contraction would break through my haze and I would have to breathe through it. I had discovered that holding a hand was helpful. It made me feel less alone, and it gave me something to focus on. I grabbed Michelle’s hand. That seemed to give her a purpose and she embraced the supportive role.
Which had really been her role from the beginning. She was one of the first people I told about my pregnancy. I occasionally waffled with the idea of her presence at my delivery, however. It’s an extremely intimate event. Bonding. Of course my husband was there, but should someone else be there?
A note about Husband. He’s a bit of a sideline in my mind for this event, but he was present. And he was his best self, as best as he could be. But the simple truth is this: Blood freaks him out. Pain freaks him out. He wanted (and I know he wanted) to be as supportive as possible, but he was also becoming a dad and totally unsure of how to support me. So he did it as he knew how to do it: he controlled the environment (who could be in the room), he did all the contacting (so that I wouldn’t have to worry about anything outside my hospital room), and he had EXPLICIT orders to leave the room if he started to panic or get woozy.
Michelle was my back-up plan. Michelle was to take over Husband’s role should he freak out. In his heightened state of protection, Husband double-checked to make sure Michelle could be “allowed” in the room. Nervous, I said yes, with the caveat that I could change my mind. I never did, although she would have been gracious. Thank goodness for Michelle. She offered the perfect counterbalance to Husband–where he was a sort of masculine anxiety (in a terribly loving way, of course) she was a feminine calm. They complemented each other, both provided two sides to what I needed.
The urge to push came far sooner than expected. Around 9:00 am (remember my water broke at like 1:00 am) the contractions broke through the epidural barrier and I felt myself “leaning into” them.
Some women describe pushing as “a relief.” I hated it. Hated. It. Like, I literally remember laying there between contractions, staring at the ceiling, thinking, “Okay, I’m done. Let’s go home.” Of course, that’s not how labor works, and I was too exhausted between contractions to actually say anything, but damn. If I could’ve sat up and walked out, I think I would have tried.
Determined (and painfully aware that there wasn’t any going back), I worked to channel the pushing and not fight it. Jenn the Midwife coached me. I clung to her words desperately, hanging on them and soaking them up like my survival depended on it. It wasn’t like the movies–no screaming, no cursing. Lots of careful breathing and low moaning, encouraging words, and a marked increase of movement and activity in the room. I ignored almost everything. I focused on listening to my body, on implementing Jenn’s instructions, on breathing. Michelle, who held my hand and massaged my leg, kept saying, “You’re so brave.” I didn’t feel brave. I felt strong, though.
Due to the pain and exhaustion, I was unable to communicate more than a nod or a word. My labor and delivery nurse moved my leg. For some reason completely lost to me now (was I pushing the leg into her? Maybe?) I really liked the feeling of my leg held like she had it. When she went to put it back down, I meant to say, “Hey, could you keep doing that? It feels nice and is really helpful.” Except, I didn’t have the energy for all that so instead I sat up and pointed and said, “No!” She held my leg for the rest of the delivery. At one point, between pushes, I overheard Michelle and Husband debating eye color. One said he would have green eyes. The other thought grey or hazel. I wanted to tell them, “Blue! They’ll be blue!” I didn’t have the strength to speak.
I knew things were picking up when people starting saying, “There he is” and when Husband started gasping. He stood by my head, a hand in my hair, and he counted with Jenn the Midwife. I found all of those things extremely annoying, but I didn’t have the strength to say, “Knock it off!” My baby boy was getting close; we all knew it.
And then… the urge to push ceased. I leaned back, chest heaving. Everyone was silent. My rest in between stretched double, then triple its normal amount. “This is a big one,” the delivery nurse said. The room held its breath. I lay on my back and panted.
The push contraction, when it came, was dizzying. And then, all at once, Jenn the Midwife said, “Molly, look down.” I did. And there he was.
Everything fell away. Everything. There were no nurses, no hospital, no sound. I reached out for that baby, that naked, blood-coated baby, and pulled him to me. I felt a small pop as I did so, but I only had eyes and focus for that beautiful baby. He started crying. My heart fell into little pieces: crying meant life. He was alive and breathing and here.
“Hello, beautiful,” I said. Then I said it again and again. Slowly, the crying calmed and he blinked those big eyes open and looked directly at me. He had the darkest blue eyes. Beautiful, alert eyes. My heart assembled itself larger and softer and it ached with all the love. My beautiful child, my son.
Dimly, I became aware of the activity of the room. There was talk about blood and the nurses kept asking me to adjust and move so they could look at these big patches of blood on my gown and the hospital sheets. When did those get there? It seemed like a lot of people were in the room with us.
Ten minutes into holding and talking to my perfect baby, a nurse told me that they needed to take him. She spoke softly and reassuringly and insisted that it was just to be sure, that there was nothing to worry about. I said it was fine, as long as Husband could be with the baby the whole time.
Then the room cleared. Just me and Michelle, and Jenn the Midwife and a nurse. Jenn the Midwife stitched me up (not as horrifying as it sounds after you’ve just pushed out a baby and you’re still under the epidural) while Michelle talked to distract me. I was shockingly okay without my baby there. I mean, I missed him, I wanted to be with him, but I wanted him to be healthy more than anything.
I later learned that his cord had ruptured on delivery–an extremely rare occurrence (none of the nurses, midwife, or pediatricians had seen it before) and it resulted in quite a lot of blood loss to my son. Luckily, Jenn the Midwife was on top of it and clamped the cord before too much was lost, but his blood pressure sky rocketed, prompting a visit to the NICU where they ran some blood tests to ensure his health. There, Husband loved on him, holding his hand and talking to him.
After I was stitched up and Jenn the Midwife had shown Michelle and me the placenta (soooooo cool, by the way) I started to get anxious to see my child again. I just… missed him. How can you miss something you literally just met? Nurses and Husband ran back and forth to give me updates, so I knew he was stable and interactive, they were just running tests. My mother in law preceded him when they brought him back. She gave me a hug and said something, but over her shoulder I could see him being brought into the room. All I wanted was to hold him. The mother in law moved, they handed me my baby, and literally the entire world was perfect.
Of course, the “fun” had only began, but it was my beginning. And in that moment, I was thrilled.
My favorite line of all time: “You’re tired? I’m growing a human inside of me. Wake up.”
Tell students you’re pregnant. I’m an advocate of telling students sooner rather than later. I remember as freshmen in high school, we constantly wondered if our English teacher was pregnant. For the whole year. Yeah, it doesn’t make sense in retrospect but teenagers are idiots. I told students that story as a lead in to “By the way, I am pregnant. Yes, this belly has a baby in it.”
Make best friends with the teacher nearest you. You will need to pee ALL THE TIME. So find that teacher nearest you, suck up like your life depends on it (because your pants definitely do depend on it,) and work out a system. I would knock on the neighbor teacher’s door with a thumb’s up. That was my signal: “I am peeing, make sure no one dies.”
Don’t pretend like it’s not there. It is there.
Milk that shit. I worked with middle school kids; this tactic may not work as well for my current high school kids, but I would connect rules to the pregnancy. It’s human nature to feel for the pregnant lady. “Class, please put your backpacks under your chairs. I currently cannot see my feet. Do you really want to be the one whose backpack tripped the pregnant lady?” All those backpacks went right away. “Class, can you move this stack of books? I can’t lift it.” Books moved so fast it was unbelievable.
Make sure that you can teach the occasional lesson from your desk. Some days, you are not going to want to walk. Prior to pregnancy, I often wouldn’t sit at my desk until the day was over. During the pregnancy, I had trouble walking just to the blackboard. “Elaina, could you write today’s date on the board?” Boom.
Don’t answer any questions you don’t want to. No joke, a student asked me, “Are you going to breastfeed?” To be fair, I know this student had an infant sister, so I do not think there was anything inherently creepy about this question. I was still not going to answer it, however. Instead, I gave him (yes, it was a boy) a death glare. He didn’t understand why he shouldn’t ask, but he walked away.
Loose clothes are your best friend. There comes a point during late pregnancy when your little kicks become BIG kicks and they are visible. There is no quicker way to derail a lesson than a student shouting, “Woah, your belly is moving!”
Make it funny. I got a sudden charlie horse mid-lesson and bent over very quickly. I also probably yelped. Dead silence. When I looked up, my little middle school kids were watching me in terror. “Are you in labor?” One of them finally asked. I burst into laughter, explained, then we all laughed. I also had to reassure them that if I went into labor, it wouldn’t look like that and I was DEFINITELY not having the baby inside the school. Apparently some students feared that.
DON’T TELL THEM THE BABY’S NAME. Kids are cruel. It’s already hard enough to find the right name, since that AH-MAZING name “Wyatt” was that pain in the ass kid that one time. Kids will always tell you exactly what they think or who they know with that name. They will also ask you if you will name the baby after them; some ask jokingly, and some do not.
Remember: you’ll get through this. And for realz, it’s worse to be a teacher and a parent of a newborn anyway. You’ll survive though. We all did.
Like many women, I have wanted to be a Mommy since I was a tiny little child. I had a baby doll, Baby Lisa, that I would coddle and hold and pretend feed and clothe and soothe. I played house constantly. To a certain extent, I played Mommy to my little sister from the time she was born (much to my sister’s dismay). I felt that “Mommy” was born into me.
Mormonism reinforced my conviction, because in Mormonland, there is no greater calling than to being a mother. Well, for women anyway. I babysat constantly, I took all the Red Cross courses, I listened attentively every Sunday and Tuesday as we young women were carefully taught how to care for our husbands and children (and never ourselves, obviously). The few times women are mentioned in the LDS’ scriptures canon, it is often as mothers. I took motherhood very seriously. I looked forward to having my own little tow-headed children, just like me, and I often thought of them.
I was married at nineteen, but unlike many Mormon couples, we resisted the urge to have a child immediately. I have great respect for the young families that choose this, I can’t imagine how hard it would have been. We simply decided it wasn’t for us – yet. We knew we wanted to have kids.
At the tail end of my University studies, I stopped taking daily birth control for medical reasons. And we just never really replaced it. We “sort of” attempted other methods, but we weren’t consistent.
So of course, I got pregnant.
I was nervous as hell and thrilled and excited and worried. Most of my worries were financial in nature. I found out I was pregnant during student teaching, which meant that I would have the baby halfway through my first year as a teacher. I worried about the finances, I worried about my doctor, I worried about baby supplies and labor and daycare.
In short, I worried about trivialities. I know that now.
What I didn’t know was how much motherhood would thoroughly and completely change me.
And not in the way I anticipated.
And not always in a good way.
Yeah, my body is different. My hips are wider, there’s a paunch in my midsection that doesn’t seem to go away, my old jeans don’t fit right. And my boobs sag. I hate that. But that’s the kind of stuff I had anticipated.
Society tells mothers that their lives totally change. And mothers-to-be anticipate that, we really do. But there’s no way to describe it, no way to fully expect the life-altering and permanent shift in all aspects of your life.
How do I put it… My identity has forever been adjusted.
When I made “big” choices before, I could undo the choice. My major in college, where I lived, even my marriage. I could back out of those things (not that I wanted to) but I could.
There’s no backing out of being a mom. There’s no “control-alt-delete.” He’s here. My baby boy is here. He is mine, but more importantly I am his.
He doesn’t have another Mommy. Yes, he has plenty of people who love him and take care of him. But I am his Mommy. I cannot be replaced. I can barely be substituted for the brief periods of time.
Do you know how much pressure that is? If you have kids, nod your head. If you don’t, you have no clue. I say that with love and a tad of jealousy. I thought I knew what it would be like. I am “on call” always. There is no clocking out. There is no unplugging. He is always, always, always in the back of my mind, even if I am not with him. This tiny human, who I desperately love, is almost entirely dependent on me to provide the right experiences and nutrition and safety and education and… everything.
Let me say that again.
I can’t escape it. I can’t undo it. And it will never end.
Yes, one day he will grow up enough to leave me. And that day will break my heart, but it will not be the end. Because I will always worry about him and fret over him. Even if he is not in my house, he is still my son and I still will feel (reasonably) responsible for him.
And sometimes, I hate that.
I am forever destroyed. I am not the person I was before I had him. I never will be. And you know what? I sometimes miss that person, the pre-baby Molly. Setting aside my post-partum depression, and the hell my marriage went through, I cannot go back to carefree living. My hobbies are not the same. I struggle to find time for me. The things I love, yoga and reading and writing and lately slack-lining, have to take a backseat to motherhood. Even when I do have time for those things, or for a night out, the mom guilt is real and palpable.
It’s a new and daily struggle and one I do not often appreciate.
When I was a little girl, I could put Baby Lisa down and go do something else. Not something to better my fake parenting skills, just something else. When I was babysitting, I went home to my own bed with little more responsibility than tomorrow’s math homework. Motherhood destroyed the person that I knew. Sometimes I like this new person. If I am being honest though, I am just getting to know her, and like most early relationships, it’s still a little touch-and-go.
It wasn’t that I didn’t notice you. When you arrived in my arms, I was thrilled to find you attached and healthy, one of ten perfect little appendages on chubby little hands, connected to the most perfect being I had ever seen.
I was so naive.
Because while I have never doubted the perfection of that tiny child, his screams certainly tested my dedication. This beautiful being cried and it broke my heart and then he cried some more and my head hurt.
I tried the pacifier, but my perfect little human responded with a kind of apathy I didn’t realize was possible of an infant. He didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t what he wanted.
I tried a blankie, soft and safe, but it held no appeal for his cries.
And then one night, one glorious night, he found you. I walked into the nursery, having noticed that our tiny human’s screams were somewhat lessened that night, and I found this beautiful sight:
This was it. This picture is the moment that the sparks flew: the stars aligned and you found each other. And you have been inseparable ever since.
I don’t know why he choose you, leftie. Perhaps you chose him. Either way, this sweet child has never stuck his right thumb into his mouth. It is only you, the left one, that he treasures so much.
At first, he found you only during sleep.
Sweet thumb, for you I have to thank many restful nights.
And lovely, cuddly, mid-day naps.
You helped on airplanes, on vacation, at home and in a carseat, assisting my little human into dreamland.
Soon though, the obsession and love between you grew, and he would find you during bathtime
And during playtime
Of course, like all good things, difficulties cluttered our path.
One time, in a classic rookie mom mistake, I cut the nail on you just a little too short. There was blood. I was horrified. The child, of course, was more horrified, as he tried to soothe himself with his thumb, only to find it the source of his pain.
I was scared to trim his nails for weeks.
You have also interrupted plenty of photos to spend quality time in the germ-infested water of my sweet child’s mouth
One time, underestimating the loving bond between you and my son, I offered him the pacifier. It was as if two great friends had been separated by a wall and tried desperately to return to each other.
I went home and threw the others away.
And you have been there since. You and my son, best friends.
Either way, I sing your praises.
Many parents stifle the finger-sucking tendencies of their littles. I welcomed you. Here you were, ready and willing to soothe his little self. I couldn’t lose you. He couldn’t throw you away. You were always at hand (no pun intended), ready and willing.
So thank you, my son’s left thumb.
He can suck on you until he’s twelve, for all I care. Because you have provided the peace a new mother craved.
“When all three of them could buckle themselves in the car.” She sighs wistfully. “For so long, I had to wrestle them all into their seats, then go through and buckle each harness. When you can just hop in the driver’s seat and go?! Those days come again.”
Before becoming a parent, I bought a baby book filled with all the little milestones. The day he rolls over. The day he sleeps through the night. The first word, first steps, first baby food.
What I didn’t realize is how little I cared about those milestones. Yeah, they were fun. They still are fun. But the day my son shoved his own arm through his long-sleeved onesie? That was effing exciting.
My dear friend Carole one day told me about the seat-buckling thing. She is raising three glorious and hilarious humans, and she knows what’s up and down on the mother train. In my newbie mama brain, she’s the great sage of wisdom bestowing her nuggets of motherhood wisdom in my ear. This post goes out to her (particularly since she wrote half of these herself).
Ladies and gentlemen: The Milestones That Aren’t in Baby Books (in semi-chronological order):
Their first public diaper blow-out. Where were you?
When he pushes his arms and legs through the sleeves of his clothes. Yeah, shoving a limp newborn arm into a giant winter coat is a terrible game of hide and find.
The first day they don’t unload every bookshelf or dump out every sock drawer. (One day I will have neat, beautiful bookshelves again…)
The first time they put a puzzle together on their own after you’ve helped them 3 zillion times.
When you can safely leave the house without a Tupperware of Cheerios. I turn into a woman on the edge when I find myself without Cheerios. Don’t have a meltdown, Don’t have a meltdown…
When you don’t have to carry his banshee-screaming, wiggly butt to the car and he can walk by himself.
The first time you cuss and they understand its a bad word…
…The first time they cuss because they heard you use that word.
The first time they “read” a book they’ve memorized word for word because you’ve read it to them 6 bajillion times.
The first time they use a kleenex instead of handing you the booger.
And when they can make it to the toilet when they’re sick and you aren’t scrubbing puke out of the carpet at 3am.
When they start actually helping empty the dishwasher instead of making more work. Finally! Having children pays off!
When they develop a sense of humor and understand why the knock knock joke was funny. For a LONG time they will tell the joke, then laugh, but can’t tell you why it’s funny.
The first time they teach you something. Not in an existential way, but truly something you didn’t know before.
The first time you wake up and no little one is in bed with you. According to my mom sources, this one is happy at the time, but turns to heartbreaking.
When the older ones start driving and suddenly you can reassign all your dropping-off duty to your child.
When you realize your kids are “friends” without Mom and Dad forcing it.
The biggest milestones by far?
Every time they do something that makes them need you less. Like getting dressed alone, or potty trained, or learning how to use a spoon. It’s the little things that turn parenthood into a magic show.