This is my belly with my baby in it, one week before my first child was born. It was election day, and my neighbors in line with me to vote were seriously concerned that I was going to go into labor right then (as I mentioned in my last post, that’s not how it works, but I’m glad they cared). I know it looks like I’m about to pop. But, I really can’t express how bothersome I find the language of “popping,” “bursting,” etc. in reference to anything that happens when a baby is born. I prefer words like “ripen” or even “cook” – they have a less painful connotation to me.
A week later I woke up to a contraction. I was lying next to my husband, and his hand was on my belly. The contraction was so strong that it woke him up, too. To be fair, I’d been having contractions for weeks, so it wasn’t that unusual, but it felt different. I knew this time that the contractions weren’t going to go away.
That day was completely surreal, because I knew that having a baby was imminent. I used to teach a class in an after school program, and my husband went for me, while I worked feverishly to finish as much of my day to day paperwork as possible, so I could really take a few weeks off after the baby was born. We had our classes that evening, and I just tried to pretend that everything was normal…I couldn’t believe I was really in labor (I had convinced myself that my baby wasn’t coming for at least another week), but when I snapped at both a student and a parent during one of our taekwondo classes, I could tell that I was not behaving normally, and decided to retreat to my office. At some point, I realized I should probably start tracking my contractions and when my husband came to check on me and realized they were 1 minute apart, he sent our last class home, and we went home and called our midwife.
We set up our birth pool. I tried to eat and relax, while it filled up. It didn’t work. So, I climbed in to the pool to wait. My husband took this picture. And as you can see from my face, I was in the process of saying, “Are you seriously taking a picture of this?” He said, “I think you’ll appreciate it some day.” At the time, I said, “NO, I WON’T!” But as it turns out, I love this picture. Despite the pain, the almost nakedness, how unprepared I was for what was about to happen – this is the last look I have at the person I was before I had children.
Gone are the days where I can grab my keys and dash out the door without a diaper bag, gone are the days when I don’t have to clean up someone else’s bodily fluids, gone are the days when I lounged in bed all day on a lazy Sunday engrossed in a book.
If I could go back in time, I’m not sure I would spend that day trying to work, pretending that nothing unusual was happening. I mean…giving birth was one of the more remarkable experiences of my life. It was something that I had wanted and hoped for, and it was also completely different than I expected. Also, in a more practical sense, giving birth is exhausting, and I went into it tired from my long day – I feel like things would have gone a little more smoothly if I’d rested.
What I realize now, is that in many ways, the woman, the wife, the teacher, the daughter, the friend – the person I was before my daughter was born doesn’t really exist anymore. Perhaps I’m like a flower coming into bloom, a butterfly that emerging from a cocoon, or (more likely) someone more like the helpless baby that emerged from my womb.
I’d like to pretend that “post-partum Maggie” has some kind of knew knowledge, wisdom, grace, equanimity or something like that – or is at least more beautiful – but that’s not really the case. I have a whole bunch of extra stretched out skin around my belly; I wake up a lot in the middle of the night to check on my kids; and despite my obsession with pelvic floor exercises, I’m still pretty paranoid about leaks when I jump or sneeze.
In retrospect, the labor of parenting day in and day out, being patient when my toddler insists that she wears her “summer dress” instead of her “heart dress,” or her “Troll undies” instead of her “Zootopia undies.” Changing her diapers, teaching her to use the big kid potty. The delightful work of watching her roll over, crawl, scoot, walk, run and take her first taekwondo class. Learning to breast feed her, persuading her to eat other food, weaning her and then trying to persuade her to eat banan
as that had been imperfectly peeled – these things make the “birth” part of having a baby seem like a happy memory. Remember when all I had to do to be a good mother was let my body push you out of my vagina. Now I feel like I’m part circus ring-leader, part hostage negotiator, part stand up comic, part maid.
I wonder sometimes about that woman who eagerly waited and anticipated this new life four and a half years ago. What would she have said to me if we’d bumped into each other in the grocery store? Would she have thought my daughters are good kids? Would she have wanted them in her taekwondo classes? Would she have wanted to be my friend? Would she think I’m doing a good job? Ultimately, these questions are not super helpful. I would have grown and changed with or without my daughters – I just would have grown and changed in different ways.
A better way of putting it is that motherhood hasn’t made me someone different, but instead has made me more of who I already was. Motherhood has magnified both what is good and what is bad about my personality. With my daughters, I am accepting and fun, but I’m also really bad at making them to things they don’t want to do. I’m patient and creative, but when I get hungry or tired I can be terse, hurtful and even mean. I could lounge around all day and read children’s books with them any day.
I often refer to my daughters as my little zen masters because they seem perfectly designed to challenge me and make me grow in the ways that I most need to be challenged and grow.
They press the buttons that I prefer not be pressed; they ask the questions I would prefer not to answer; they ask me to do that which I most dislike doing. I feel like we’re growing up together – I’m going through childhood all over again, this time with a hope of helping us both be and do a little better.