Two hours after our baby was born, he stopped breathing. Or his breathing slowed dangerously. On that point we may never be sure, as the information seems to have been lost in the whirlwind of emergency alarms that followed. My own recollection of it is blurred by morphine, along with the residual cocktail of drugs from my c-section. Blessedly blurred, according to the attending nurse, who does not have the luxury of reliving that moment through a medicated haze. I’m leaving out further details because David and I have decided to retire the story beyond the broadest of strokes. Suffice to say, after some oxygen and observation in NICU, it turned out that he was fine. Staggeringly healthy even.
But in that moment, I totally and definitively became his mother.
During my pregnancy, longtime APW contributor Morgan suggested I read Love Works Like This by Lauren Slater. It chronicles pregnancy while coping with severe partum depression (something perhaps I’ll write about one day), and it saved my sanity in the worst of the second trimester. My pregnancy started looking up in the end days, and I even had a birth I would describe as wonderful (emergency c-section included). And from the second they pulled the baby out (excepting a few hours around the emergency) the sun truly came out. I was not pregnant, my hormones were singing again, and I had a baby. An exceptional baby. A baby way beyond our expectations and dreams.
The way I would explain it all is this: In Love Works Like This, Slater makes a list of the pros and cons of having a child. The cons: many. The single pro: “learning a new kind of love.” And that is the place David found me the morning after I gave birth. I was still unable to walk after surgery, but I was frantic to get out of bed and get down to the NICU and see my baby, afraid he’d forgotten me. And when the NICU nurses found me sobbing in my wheelchair over his tiny little bassinet, they frantically told me to “pick him up for goodness sake!” and the moment I did, this teeny tiny new person opened his eyes and sighed with the most profound kind of relief. “He didn’t forget me!” I sniffled. “Of course not,” the nurse said, “you two are the only people he knows.” It turns out there is nothing like having your heartbeat meet a tiny new person’s heartbeat, and to have that somehow make everything okay.
The one thing I can generalize about motherhood is that I can’t generalize it. Every parenthood journey is different. Every road has its desperate lows, and its profound highs. Some of our journeys run through pregnancy, some of ours don’t, but regardless, no two are the same. For me, pregnancy was something I’d looked forward to most of my life. I’d spent years thinking about how wonderful it would be, how cute I would look, and how exciting the beginning of motherhood would feel. It turned out for me that my journey did indeed run through pregnancy, but thanks to my particular hormonal makeup, it was awful. People told me that having a baby would “make it all worth it,” like somehow the slate could be wiped clean, and that wasn’t true. If your journey is particularly painful, the joy does not erase the pain. Joy and pain are different things, and they can each exist without diminishing the other. But for me, it turned out there was some semblance of balance. The lows of the journey made the hard parts the post-partum healing and newborn period infinitely more manageable, if only because my point of comparison had set the bar so low. This freed me up to savor all of the great parts.
And I loved the newborn period—the haze of sleeplessness and the baby screaming in my face at one a.m. while I cried, and all. Because I still woke up (every two hours) and saw a tiny little bundle, our tiny little bundle in the bassinet, and would wake David up saying, “We get to keep him! We get to keep him! We get to be his parents forever!” The intensity of meeting a brand-new person was overwhelming to me, in the best of ways. At three in the morning I would rock him a little longer than I needed to, knowing that he’d never be that small again (I may do that for a long time).
None of this is to say that motherhood makes you a new person (I’m shocked how exactly the same I still am), or that motherhood gives you some superhero power that no non-parent will ever understand (no). And I certainly don’t know all the kinds of love now (each of you knows kinds of love I’ll never even be able to imagine).
But instead, I simply mean, seven and a half weeks ago, I learned a new kind of love.
It was terrifying, but I would never go back.
Photo by Maddie, from Meg’s personal collection