Our show was last night. I’m not sure how to put into words how it felt to see our show come together. To see each and every one of our cast members share intimate parts of themselves with our audience. To hear our audience’s laughter and sniffles. To see the vague shapes of heads nodding in the dim house lighting.
The sharing of our stories- of ourselves- is so simple and yet so powerful. Here is my story:
To prepare for having a baby, I bought a treadmill. I’d heard babies sleep a lot and I wanted to be able to log some miles during the long naps I’d heard so much about.
And I read. As a type A personality and compulsive reader, I read everything from Exercising Through Your Pregnancy, to Baby Whisperer to Spiritual Midwifery.
As my due date approached, I reviewed my to do list:
Read ten books on pregnancy, birth, and babies: Check
Breastpump purchased: check.
Cloth diaper service arranged: check.
Dozens of gender-neutral onesies washed and folded: check
There were a couple of items on my list that had me worried.
Giving birth and being a mother.
For nine months, I had nightmares.
I pestered my midwife at every prenatal appointment, asking for tips on how to prepare for the birth. She assured me there was no magic breathing technique, no special self-hypnosis method, nor any other type of training I could do to ease me through the arduous task of labor. As someone who wouldn’t dare toe the line of a race without having trained, the idea of showing up to childbirth without proper preparation seemed irresponsible, arrogant even.
Friends assured me I would be fine. About the birth, they said “It’ll be like a marathon.” I had completed six marathons, and two ironman triathlons. If labor was really like an athletic event, why hadn’t I ever heard any of my mom/athlete friends make that comparison? From what I could tell, an athlete was just as likely as a couch potato to proclaim that giving birth was the most painful, difficult experience of her life.
I am someone who howls over a stubbed toe, pouts over a papercut, and begs for the strongest narcotics available for the most minor medical procedure. And I was planning to have my baby at home, sans drugs.
My contractions started when I was out. On my way home, I picked my husband up and casually mentioned, “I think I’m in labor.” I felt smug. This was what everyone was bellyaching about?
Four hours later, searing pain in my low back woke me up from a sound sleep.
My husband set up the birth tub while my mom breathed with me through the contractions. When the midwives arrived at my house, the birth tub was finally full of hot water. I eased into it as the day’s first rays of gray light peeked in through the blinds and thought, “This morning I will have a baby.”
Except it didn’t happen that morning. Or that afternoon. Or that night. The baby was born in the wee hours of the following morning, fifteen days after her due date and thirty hours after the first contraction.
I could tell you about how much it hurt, or how each minute felt like an hour. About the fatigue, or puking my guts out. About my mom brushing my husband’s teeth when I demanded he get his nasty breath out of my face and then protested when he left my side. I could tell you about the hours- and hours- of pushing. About the text message I received from a friend that Friday night, asking, “You busy?”
About what it felt like to not even care whether I went to the hospital, got an epidural or even had my baby cut out of me just to MAKE IT STOP. About how, for a while, I wasn’t sure I believed I had the strength to continue laboring.
But you don’t want to hear about all that. And you definitely don’t want to know what it was like it to watch my husband pick little pieces of my poop out of the birth tub.
When the midwife placed the sticky, oily, perfect, baby in my arms, I smiled into a pair of little dark brown eyes that stared back, intently. My husband and I gazed at the precious being we’d created. My mom watched, tears glistening on her cheeks. I spread the tiny legs, “A girl!” A beautiful, healthy, alert baby girl.
I’d birthed this baby. In that moment, I felt I could climb any mountain, soothe any screaming baby, endure any sleep deprivation, tolerate any chafed nipple. In the wake of giving birth, I possessed a power unlike anything I’d ever felt before. I was confident I was capable of anything- even mothering this baby.
On the baby’s first night with us, she slept the whole night through, but I was awake all night, listening for her cries. On the second night, I was ready to sleep, but she was up on an off the entire night. By the third night I was exhausted, my sore nipples were leaking milk, soaking my pajamas and bedsheets, and I still hadn’t taken a crap- I was too scared. (no one warns you about that part). The excitement of childbirth had worn off.
The books had done nothing to prepare me for an actual baby. When my mom and dad had flown back east, my in-laws had stopped dropping over every day, the steady stream of visits and frozen meals from friends and neighbors ended, my husband went back to work, and I was left alone in the house nursing the baby all. day. long, it seemed, it occurred to me- The books didn’t mention this part.
If childbirth was unlike a marathon, actually being a mother was even less so- with no course arrows or mile markers, I had no idea how I was doing, or if I was even going the right way. Nothing could have prepared me for motherhood; not for the monotony of days spent nursing, diapering, and burping, or the nagging sense that nothing was actually getting done. And nothing could have prepared me for the intensity of the love that burst from me for this tiny being, my baby.
And maybe that was the point. Because if anything could prepare you for the pain of childbirth, the heartache of watching your baby get her first shots, the anxiety that someday someone will push her on the playground, break her heart, or fire her, then there would have to be something to prepare you for the overwhelming joy in toothless smiles, the gleeful sound of high pitched giggles, and the pride in watching your child achieve mastery of a new skill.
And the idea of being prepared for all that- if it were even possible; as much as my type A self thirsts to have all preparations in place, to be ready for what lies ahead- I know that that would only strip all the magic away.