I was in a hospital gown, backside exposed, tears and shock on my face, fluids running down my legs. Every part of my being was resisting the experience. The pain had become excruciating and I was ready for drugs. “Bring it on,” I called to the nurses. The problem was, I would have to wait; it was still too early to administer an epidural.
My first big lesson in surrender arrived. I remember even in those early moments, the fear that raced through my veins. “I am not strong enough to get through this”, I thought. And humiliation came up immediately.
I questioned: “Am I just being a baby?”
I justified: “Of course, I have never had a high tolerance for pain.”
I blamed: “Screw all those spiritual doulas and the nurses.”
I compared: “Is this how other first time moms respond?”
I controlled: “Let me talk to the doctor on call!”
My emotions from the moment my water broke at 2 am till I received my epidural at 7 a.m. included a rainbow of color. From insecurity and shame at the idea that I wasn’t as physically or emotionally strong to experience a natural birth to complete anger and rage at the unjust hospital system, and back to excitement of the miraculous event taking place.
As I tried to remember the tools and techniques I learned during pregnancy, there was only one that I sincerely used. It was the connection to my female tribe—the absolute knowing that if other women can do it, I can do it too. I wasn’t sure how they got through, but I knew I was not alone. Women of all ages, all over the world since the beginning of time experienced childbirth and survived in much worse conditions.
My mind raced with a million fears. Of course, the media is filled with the negative portrayal of childbirth–it’s shocking to experience such a high level of pain so quickly. It is traumatic to become so vulnerable in front of so many people.
Once I received the epidural, things felt a lot better. I thanked the epidural administer with wholehearted joy and got some rest before the time came to push. As the pain numbed, my ego calmed and therefore shut up.
My husband, parents and nurses were checking in on me and I felt safe again. When my contractions grew closer and the doctor arrived. I was ready to push my heart out and meet the precious soul that choose me to be her host, caregiver and protector. Though I was supposedly in charge, I already knew she’d be teaching me a lot more about myself and life than I could teach her.
After six intense pushes and a room filling up with doctors because of the danger of meconium aspiration; she arrived: precious, quiet and tiny. We named her Aria because of the Hebrew meaning of Ari–lion and awe–God. Words cannot describe the moment the doctor handed me my daughter. It was unreal–miraculous. Evidence that this life is much more than meets the eye.
I didn’t cry, even though I imagined I would. I didn’t automatically feel like I knew her, though I did in a way you can’t explain. I did begin to worry right away. Her weight was much lower than I imagined leading me to think that she was suffering without my knowledge during my pregnancy.
My second lesson in surrender had arrived.
I couldn’t stop thinking about why she was underweight. What went wrong? Was it normal to be told to expect an 8-pound baby and then have her weigh 5 pounds? Was there something I could have done differently. Was there danger to her healthy development?
And again, I questioned, “What went wrong?”
I argued: “But, I had the easiest and healthiest pregnancy.”
I blamed: “My doctor should have been on top of this!”
I compared,:“How much did your baby weigh at birth?”
I controlled, except, there was nothing left to control.
And even though my daughter was one hundred percent healthy otherwise, and her weight would add on quickly, the fact that there was nothing left to control means that I reverted to something we all do constantly, something that I recognize in my clients and reflect back to them: I shamed and blamed myself.
My thoughts at that point were low. They sounded like, “You’re her mother —how could you not have known that something was off during pregnancy? ”Your one job is to take care of her and before she’s even out in the world, you failed.” “If you already failed, imagine what the next few months are going to look like?”
Yes, I intellectually knew it was totally false. Yes, I was aware of how horribly I was treating myself. Yes, everyone assured me this was not the case. Yet, my emotions were filled with hurt and sadness (expected for anyone postpartum). I cried, I analyzed and I held on to it like it would change something or mean something.
Until I was ready, about four months later, I gave myself permission to feel sad about it and mourn these circumstances of birth, even after I realized that I was mourning much more than my daughter’s birth weight.
Deep down, I must have known knew I was saying good bye to that sweet girl, the one who just became a mother for the first time. I was saying a reluctant but unavoidable hello to a new life, one where I would learn to control less and surrender more: Where I could lean on my faith and intuition more than my ego and logic. Where nothing would be as expected.