“This is your son.”
The orderly rolled my bed into the hospital’s NICU and I groggily stared over at the tiny bird-like creature lying in an incubator. His three and a half pounds was composed solely of skin and bones. The ventilator was breathing for him, his tiny body dotted with tubes and wires–and I looked at him and wondered, “Are you really mine?”
I’d gone from pregnant to not pregnant in what felt like mere minutes, and I was struggling to wrap my head around the sudden change.
My twin boys had made their surprise entrance into the world an hour earlier. After feeling a reduction in movements, I’d hauled my thirty-one week belly into the hospital with full expectations of being politely told to, “Go home.” But when the medical staff started flying in and out of the room faster than I could count, I knew that something was really wrong. The doctors left my husband standing in the hallway as they wheeled me into the operating room, and a nurse whisked up a sheet to block the view of my tummy. An anesthesiologist patted my hand comfortingly as a mask was pressed tightly against my face, and then the world went dark.
This was not the way I’d envisioned my delivery.
As a high risk pregnancy, I had decided on a “flexible” birthing plan. I wanted a natural delivery but if we needed a C-section, so be it. But when the day of the boys’ delivery arrived with a flurry of complications, nothing went according to any sort of plan.
My firstborn was born still, while my surviving twin fought for his life in the NICU. I was utterly devastated by the loss of one son, and cried out to God on behalf of the other. I mourned and I wept and I ached. There was no grief like that of losing my son.
For the next few weeks, I was surrounded by pregnant ladies and other babies. Every day, I’d head to the hospital NICU to visit my surviving little one and would, understandably, come across a woman in labor or a happy family bringing home baby. I watched one heavily pregnant woman and her husband take a stroll around the hospital grounds, pausing every once in a while for contractions. And I was angry.
I’d been robbed of so much. And, as silly as it sounded, I was grieving the labor now too.
What? Grieving the labor pains I never experienced? The hours of grunting and moaning? The pacing and crying? The pushing? The sweaty, unattractive photo of me holding a slimy looking newborn on my chest?
Yes. All of it.
I felt as if I had been robbed of a birth story.
While I heard other mommas tell tales of 30 hours of pushing, third degree tearing, husbands passing out, and doing it all without an epidural, I felt alone and left out. “I had an emergency caesarean and one of my twins died,” has a way of quieting the room.
I wanted to feel the pain of labor, just to know how strong I really was. I wanted to be awake for my boys’ birth, to see them take their first breaths and hear their first cries. Call me crazy, but I was actually looking forward to delivering the boys. I was excited about giving birth. I wanted to wake my husband up in the middle of the night and say, “It’s time!” To use the breathing techniques we’d been practicing and the laboring positions we’d been taught in prenatal classes.
For the majority of my sons’ birth story I was “asleep.” I don’t remember it. I woke up and was suddenly a mother. I felt that I needed that laboring process to fully grasp the fact that I’d had a baby. And I’d missed it. Sometimes it was hard to believe that my son was truly mine because I had no recollection of him coming from me. I felt that I’d missed out on an inaugural motherhood moment, and I mourned that.
Very few mothers get the labor and delivery they’d dreamed of. Complications arise, schedules change, and life gets in the way of our intricately detailed birthing plans. It’s okay to grieve the loss of those dreams or expectations. Birth can be traumatizing and disappointing, and it’s okay to feel that way. We don’t always get a beautiful birth story. We don’t always get the early motherhood moments we’d wanted. And it’s okay to mourn that.
Those first few hours of motherhood robbed me of so very much. And I grieve that. But I also delight in the life it gave me.
Grief and joy are never mutually exclusive. Through the aches and the pain, the laughter and the celebration, I grieve the loss, and revel in the gains.