My daughter’s birth was complicated. The morning after I had my baby, a post-partum nurse asked how I was feeling. I made the mistake of answering honestly: The birth left a bright pink scar skidding across my pelvis, and other people’s blood pumping through my veins. After a long labor, my daughter’s heart rate decelerated. It was not rebounding. I had to be rushed in for a Cesarean section under general anesthesia. The last thing I remember was staring up into the ceiling light in the operating room, crying quietly. My husband had not been admitted into the OR; he was left alone in a room somewhere to wait. My daughter was pulled out of me, and born into the hands of strangers. The doctors called my husband in while they were sewing me back together. My husband saw and held our baby first; I didn’t meet her for endless hours. It took a while longer before I was functional enough to attempt breastfeeding. The transfusion I needed caused other issues.
My daughter was fine and thriving.
I felt like I had been hit by a truck.
The summary had left me breathless. When I was done, my listener all but rolled her eyes. And then she glanced at her watch and sighed, “Be thankful you have a healthy baby. Isn’t that all that matters?”
I thought of the birth I expected. I wanted an all-natural Ina May Gaskin special–or at least, to be awake at the time. I wanted to hear her first cry and inhale her freshly baked smell. I wanted to kiss my husband and nurse my newborn. Instead, I missed the whole thing. I missed the instant that I became a mother, and I could never get it back.
Yet in that moment, I knew: In the eyes of my world, I had no right to grieve. To do so meant that I was an ungrateful woman, or worse, a bad mother. I had flunked my first parenting test.
My daughter deserved the best mother in history, and that’s what I wanted to be. Each time I gazed at my tiny girl, my mood instantly lifted. I was constantly awed by this miracle. I built her! I loved her more than I thought possible. I promised that I would not fail.
This was not the birth any sane person would dream of. It is not the start any family would hope for. But there were no prescribed rituals to help me mourn. I couldn’t recite Kaddish. There would be no yahrzeit candle, unless I counted the one on my daughter’s birthday cake.
Jews bury our deceased swiftly, and that’s what I tried to do. But I would never forget my sweet dream. Three years have passed since that morning. Physically, I healed well. But I’m still mentally processing it all, and I probably always will be. I discovered that there are a lot of women like me out there. We are a huge, scarred minyan (quorum of ten required for traditional Jewish public worship) of mothers.
We remind each other that our feelings do matter. They should matter, and wanting to matter is not a bad thing. If a mother is wholly responsible for taking care of a small, helpless person, then we need to feel whole, too. This does not make anyone unappreciative of the blessings bestowed upon us. Emotions are separate and distinct, and the presence of one does not imply the absence of the others. They can stand together.