We very recently celebrated Zoë’s second birthday, and of course, together with the joy of celebrating this beautiful milestone, comes a time of bittersweet reflection. I am looking back on 2 years of mistakes, failures, achievements and successes of being a mom. I wrote the piece on my birth experience below when Zoë was 10 weeks old, and how I wish I could go back and tell that tired, stressed and fearful version of myself that, compared to what lies ahead, those first few weeks were just a drop in the ocean of the entire experience of raising my little bear.
Today I would like to share this piece with you. Many of us have dreams of how we imagine our birth stories will be, and more often than not, it doesn’t work out the way we planned, which can lead to feelings of defeat and failure. All while trying to cope with the overwhelming task of nurturing a tiny little human and finding your new identity as a mom.
It’s 2:30am on the morning of 17 July 2016, my due date. The weeks so far has gone by at a reluctant pace, my anticipation growing and my patience wearing thin. For days I have been anxiously awaiting any sign of labour, and this morning at 2:30am the undeniable sensation of light contractions heralds the long awaited arrival of my baby girl.
It’s 9am as we step into the hospital, my contractions are getting stronger and are now 5 minutes apart. The excitement is palpable, but lurking underneath, gnawing at the back of my mind, is anxiety and fear. I am terrified of what lies ahead!
I have done copious amounts of research, and read up on everything in preparation for childbirth. I read blogpost upon blogpost written by aspiring mothers who endured unmedicated births at home, and brought their little bundles of joy into the world in the manner that we as women are designed to by our Creator. Photos of sweaty, joyful and teary-eyed moms and dads embracing their naked newborn babies (umbilical cord still attached) inside the birthing bath surrounded by candles and helping hands, beamed from my computer screen and imprinted in my mind.
These moms are brave, fearless and empowered, and here I am, clutching my little hospital bag, completely terrified.
Failure no 1
It’s 11am and my contractions are getting intense! I would not wish this on my worst enemy. The friendly nurse invitingly suggests an epidural. The glowing mommy in the birthing bath flashes through my mind, as well as the article I read on how an unmedicated birth is beneficial to the baby and helps with successful breastfeeding in those first crucial minutes. Another contraction engulfs me. It hurts so much I almost cry, and I welcome the epidural.
Failure no 2
It’s 3pm. The epidural has blissfully numbed my lower body, but I have grown tired and impatient. My gynea broke my water and we hope that this will speed up the process.
It’s 6pm, I am exhausted and anxious, and nothing is happening. My gynea confirms that my baby is not turning and her head, although already descended, is not in the correct position and I will have to have a c-section. I am crying now. Everything I had planned and hoped for has turned out the opposite. I dreamt of giving birth and having my baby skin-to-skin on my chest minutes after birth, doing the belly crawl to find the breast. I have dreamt of smelling that soft sweet baby head as she latches for the first time. I have dreamt of tears of joy, of pride and accomplishment, but instead, I will not be giving birth naturally. My baby will be removed from me by a team of doctors and taken away to be examined while I lay helplessly on the table.
Failure no 3
That awful surreal feeling of my insides being jostled, pulled, cut and sewed while my baby is elsewhere, is the only birth experience I will have.
It’s 3 days after the birth of our gorgeous little girl, and I am trying to be a strong, confident mother. I am trying to show everyone around me how well I am handling new motherhood. But it’s 3am and I am crying hysterically, on the verge of a panic attack. I have to be calmed by my mom and husband.
Failure no 4
It’s 2 weeks after the birth and I still feel nervous and panicky when I’m awake with her at night. I feel like crying for no apparent reason and I keep looking back to my carefree days, where all I could feel was excitement while carrying my big pregnant belly. It feels like my old life, the old me, is gone. I am struggling to envision and embrace my “new life” and the future with my child.
Failure no 5
It’s 3 weeks after the birth and my baby is congested. I convince myself she is struggling to breathe and we rush her to the hospital. Only to be told that she has a slight cold, here’s some nasal spray now be on your way. I feel like a neurotic crazymom who freaks out about everything, and I am sure I’m doing something wrong.
Failure no 6
It’s 5 weeks after the birth and my baby is sputtering and choking at the breast. I have an overactive milk supply and the one thing that’s supposed to comfort my baby, is causing her discomfort and frustration.
Failure no 7
It’s 6 weeks after the birth, time for immunisations. Again, I feel I have to be strong for my little one, I need to have it all together for her sake. But I can’t bear to even hold her while the nurse plunges what seems to be a 5cm needle into her little leg. At home, she is upset and not feeling well. And I am crying.
Failure no 8
It’s 10 weeks after the birth, and I am writing this, while my sweet little one is lying asleep next to me. I remember all the times I’ve cried in the shower, praying, trying to surrender my fears and begging for strength. I realise, my prayers are being answered, and I am conquering motherhood one tiny step at a time, gaining confidence as the days pass.
Although I still have a painful twinge in my heart when I think back on the birth, I realise that I did give birth. I was terrified, yet brave as they wheeled me into the theater. I stayed strong and calm as they took my baby out, even though my heart was pounding with panic. I gave my all to bring my child into the world safely. Even though it did not go as planned, I rest knowing that she entered this world into the caring hands of doctors, the loving hands of her dad, and after a short separation, onto my warm breast, and into my heart.
Thinking back on that hysterical 3rd night, and the couple of weeks that followed, I know that I did have everything under control to the best of my abilities. I was doing my best handling new motherhood, despite all the hormones slushing in my veins, causing the emotional roller coaster I found myself on. Nobody ever told me this, but the baby blues are real!
I realise now that all of my supposed “failures” were not failures at all, but proof that I am a good mother. Proof that I care enough to rush my baby to the hospital when it seems that she can’t breathe. Proof that I want to comfort my baby as best I can, and even though she sputters at my breast, she always comes back for more, always wants to be right there at the breast, in the comforting arms of her mom. Proof that my mommy heart loves my baby so much that I can’t bear to see her hurt and I will do anything to protect her. My fears that I am doing something wrong is proof that I want the absolute best for my child.
It’s only been 10 weeks, and I am aware of many more “failures” that lie ahead, but I will keep reminding myself that I am not a failure at all, quite the opposite in fact; I am a good mother.
Reading this, and looking back, I don’t feel any guilt or regrets about the birth any more, I only feel a little sad that this is how I felt, back then. If I only knew that bringing my girl into this world safely, happily and healthily was all that mattered in the grand scheme of things, maybe I wouldn’t have been so hard on myself. And yes, there were many more “failures” in the past two years, and many more to come, but I believe now, even more than then, that I will make mistakes as a mom, but it does not make me a bad mother, or a “failure” whatsoever.
Maybe you are going through the same thing right now, feeling helpless and anxious, but I wanted to share this so you would know too, that you are a good mother!
Marinda De Jongh