Evolution of a Mother
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18 No. 4, July-August 2001, p. 131-132
I was 36 years old when I became pregnant with my first child. We had tried for a year to get pregnant so we were very excited when it finally happened. I always knew I wanted to be a mother, but had never really considered the details.
Would I work full time or stay at home? I remember telling my boss that continuing to work would not be a problem because my husband is a firefighter and he would be able to be with the baby when I was at work. No day care needed. No problem.
Would our baby sleep with us or in a crib? Of course we would use a crib. My only experience with a "family bed" was a friend who slept with her two daughters, ages seven and ten. I thought it was weird. We would use a beautiful hand-made cradle first, then the crib given to us by my sister-in-law. No problem.
Would we bottle-feed or breastfeed? This was more of a problem. I was very unsure about breastfeeding. I knew if I did consider it, I would never breastfeed in public. I was not even comfortable saying the word "breast" out loud. I did realize that human milk was probably superior to formula. My husband and I had one of out biggest fights ever because when I said, "I'm not sure," he heard, "I won't breastfeed." He was very convinced that breastfeeding was the best choice for our child.
Parenthood was all very romanticized in my brain. Sleeping child. Ecstatic mother. Proud papa. Then reality hit. What kind of diapers should I buy? Cloth or disposable? What kind of bottles? What color should I paint the nursery? How much of this baby stuff do we really need to buy? What had I gotten myself into!?
Fast forward to the end of the pregnancy. The room was painted. Diapers were bought, both disposable and cloth, in several brands so I could make an informed decision. We had plenty of bottles. We had more clothes, toys, and baby paraphernalia than a couple expecting sextuplets. I had even attended a La Leche League meeting two weeks before because I was determined to breastfeed my baby in spite of my inhibitions. I had done enough research by now to realize that human milk was far superior to formula.
By this time, all rosy visions of pregnancy had disappeared down the toilet. I was just ready to get this thing over with. It was June 6, and my due date had been June 1. I was grumpy. I woke up grumpier than usual and on top of that, I felt rotten. Then I started to realize that I was feeling rotten in fairly regular waves. My husband likes to tell people that I reminded him of Jack Nicholson in "The Shining." When it finally sunk in that I might be in labor, we called the doctor. "Head to the hospital," she said. The adventure was about to begin.
We had prepared quite thoroughly for this moment. We had taken childbirth classes. I had bought a small CD player and collected what I thought would be relaxing music. We had tennis balls for massage, extra pillows, and a very specific birth plan. We even purchased a video camera to record the first moments of our child's life. Everything was packed and off we went. At this point, I still felt okay at least some of the time. It was about 10:00 in the morning. My labor had started around 7 Am. I felt lucky to have a full night's sleep behind me.
At the hospital, we got settled. I think I was five or six centimeters dilated and 80 percent effaced. That sounded great. I was almost there. I was still having moments of minimal discomfort, still thinking how helpful the tennis balls would be. My husband took a few minutes of video. I appear on the tape threatening to hurt him if he came near me with the camera. I discussed my birth plan with the nurse, telling her how important it was to me not to have any drugs. She was very supportive, saying how unusual it was for first-time mothers not to request drugs.
Then things started to get more intense. In my experience, the biggest myth I encountered was the one where they promise you breaks between contractions. I felt like I had a three-hour-long contraction. Once it got going, it didn't quit. We never used the tennis balls and I never heard the music.
When it finally came time to push, I did. Every time I pushed, the baby played, "now you see me, now you don't." After that went on for an hour, the doctor asked to use a vacuum extractor. Now this was something I hadn't done much research on. But how bad could it be? Nice, soft suction cup, a little bit of pressure and magic, here comes the baby. Right. It wasn't quite like that.
But soon, our daughter was born without any more problems. Then came the moment I had waited years for, the moment they handed me my baby. My all-consuming thought was not, "Oh what a beautiful baby," it was "What do I do now!?"
My husband took the baby and the doctor stitched me up. Then they handed her back to me to nurse. This was my private moment of panic. I have to do this in public? Never mind that my most private parts had recently been out in the open for all to see. This was worse. I still haven't decided if the nurse's comment about having perfect nipples to nurse made it better or worse. Yes, I had read every book I could get my hands on about breastfeeding. Yes, I was familiar with the mechanics of good positioning. I knew how much of my breast she had to get in her mouth in order to avoid the horrors of sore nipples. And yes, I was scared to death. But my daughter, my beautiful baby, Kelly, knew exactly what to do and she nursed for a full thirty minutes the first hour of her life. It was then that I began to understand what a wonderful gift I had been given. Thanks to the support of women I met through La Leche League, I have continued to breastfeed my now two-year-old daughter. When my husband and I had our original argument, we discussed my nursing for one year. I wondered how I would ever make it that long. Now I don't want to quit. I understand the grief women go through during weaning. I went back to work part-time about six weeks after she was born and lasted about a month. I am now a stay-at-home mother and proud of it. She slept in the cradle the first few months in our room, then we moved her to her crib in a separate room. That lasted about a week. She now sleeps with us. I owe La Leche League a debt of gratitude for connecting me with other parents who support choices like this. Most importantly, I have learned that you must respect your own intuition where your child is concerned. All the "experts" in the world can recommend a certain method for child raising, but if it doesn't feel right to you, it is not right for your child. La Leche League has given me the courage to explore my own path as a mother.
As to those initial concerns, I am now a fervent believer in co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding, and attachment parenting. Much as I hate to admit it, I'm also a believer in disposable diapers, although I occasionally have visions of trying cloth diapers the next time around!