Monday, July 20, 2009


I had a very uncomfortable pregnancy. Nearly as soon as I found out I was pregnant, I began suffering pretty severe back pain. At the same time, I began having serious food aversions. I couldn't walk, I couldn't eat. And I was pregnant for 41 weeks.

Childbirth was also very difficult for me, as it is for many women. My story involves 18 hours of frequent contractions with no progress, being turned away from the hospital three times, and severe tearing.

The first few weeks with a newborn were shockingly hard. I became a zombie, acting and reacting only on instinct. If the baby cried, I had to get up and feed him. Instinct. He would not breast feed for two weeks. I had open oozing sores on my nipples. I did not heal. Physically or emotionally.

Six weeks into parenthood, many women were through with their maternity leave and had to go back to work. That meant that six weeks after childbirth, normal women had pulled things back together. Six weeks after my childbirth, Tim and I looked at each other and wondered aloud, "What is wrong with us, that our lives are not normal?" It was hell.

Twenty-two months after childbirth, I was at a conference in Scotland, and a colleague mentioned that in the UK, by law women are given six months of paid maternity leave, and twelve months unpaid leave. I almost started crying there at the table. Six months! "That is so reasonable!" I remember saying. Tim and I would have given ourselves much more credit for struggling to go back to work after just three months. We would have stretched the date for being normal out to the end of another semester. And we might nearly have met that deadline.

When I was in the middle of my postpartum-ness, well-meaning women would tell me that I would forget how hard pregnancy and childbirth were, and soon be ready for another baby. I would shake my head emphatically. How could I ever forget something that had scarred me so deeply?

My youngest sister had a baby about two weeks ago. She called this week, wondering about breast feeding, asking for advice. And of course it all came back. The pain. The panic. The pumping. I attended two conferences in October that year, scouting out the ladies' rooms, trying to find a suitable place to spend 20 minutes pumping every three hours.

I asked her how it was going, and her non-committal answer spoke to me. Did she mention feeling isolated from all humanity, cut off by her inability to plan whether she would be awake or asleep at any given moment? Or was that me, remembering? Did she ask how long until normalcy? I don't know, but I remember answering: Don't give yourself a deadline. But make it at least six months. At least.

This was not going to be a post about childbirth or motherhood. This was going to be a post about remembering.

I spent some time this evening looking through blog posts from this year and last. I have been very pleased with myself and how nicely I wrote. I have also been remembering all the horrible things I had to write about. Starting somewhere in July of last year, I spent at least six months living in a state of near panic. There was the move. The house renovation. The new job and Bob the Enemy. Childcare, including a son who retreated into himself and his thumb sucking.

It's no wonder my writing has been suffering. Look at my life. It's GOOD! My job is going well. My son loves his school, and is excited to start first grade in the fall. My marriage has never been better. My house is beautiful and comfortable. My family is healthy. Our finances and my body weight have stabilized. I feel like crying, I am so overwhelmed by the goodness. Maybe even my stress-induced gum disease will start to go away now. Maybe.

The Mormons have several scriptures that speak to me here. There must be an opposition in all things. Humans "taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the sweet." Or even stronger: "if they never should have bitter they could not know the sweet".

Does the remembered pain of childbirth and motherhood cause me to hold my son a little closer? It certainly helps me to hold these days closer, free from pain and soaked in nights of full sleep.

I'm sorry I have nothing to write about.

Let's keep it that way.


Tiffany said...

I'm so sorry for your pregnancy and post-partum woes. I remember such similar feelings, like I was the oddball out there who was not falling into my role of mommy as naturally as everybody else in the world.

You're right, it takes the hard times to appreciate the good ones.

Lisa, Skye & little MC said...

Hopefully the good outweigh the bad

Mark and Emily said...

Ah, I am in the midst of ALL of this right now...just add on to it recovery from a c-section, a freakin' large kidney cyst, drainage of said cyst, and now surgery to remove said cyst. Breast-feeding is certainly a dramatic event for us too. Especially with interruptions (like iodine from cat scans) that prevent me from feeding him. GRR!!! Perhaps Jake will be an only child as well :)

Chickadeedee said...

I thought, for a minute, that your post would end with an announcement. I will never forget the overwhelming, all-consuming, fully exhaustive, how could having a newborn be any more difficult than this, cry to relieve pressure daily stage that seemed it would never end after having Lucy. Do you remember visiting our cottage and folding our laundry?

Yes, you had an especially hard time with pregnancy and nursing. I had been paranoid of morning sickness (knowing my mother and aunt's experiences) and breastfeeding (friends warning that the first 6-8 weeks can be hellish). All the tricks I had studied out didn't help at all for my morning sickness when it struck, but I got lucky and discovered I could keep it from spiraling out of control by feeding it like hypoglycemia. So, not only did I have to eat like a newborn (every 2 hours and sometimes in the middle of the night), but I began sleeping like a newborn by the end of pregnancy. I was lucky to find good latch-on tricks that worked well for breastfeeding. I got lazy doing the careful check with EJ and extreme developed nipple soreness on one side that lasted days. I found a great book that helped me through various problems with breastfeeding (including mastitis many times over with EJ) along the way. I have to admit that overall, I enjoy breastfeeding.

We have a Canadian friend who would get 6-12 months off when each of his five kids were born. After Prince Hal, I told myself not to expect things to start getting better, albeit gradually, until six months with the next. Now, Little Bit has been the most easy-going girl, and so sweet. You never know what you're going to get.