I was recently invited to speak at a breakfast fundraiser for Mother Mentors. Mother Mentors, a non-profit program on Whidbey Island, supports mothers, fathers, and primary caregivers of young children by matching families with volunteer mentors. Mentors typically visit families with infants once a week for a few months. They offer support in a variety of ways — caring for the baby and siblings while the new mother takes a nap or shower, helping to prepare a meal, washing a load of dishes, folding laundry, offering a listening ear, or other equally simple, yet essential, gifts. I discovered Mother Mentors while I was pregnant with my second child. I had always dreamed of having a post-partum doula to support me after birth, but wasn’t able to prioritize it financially when I became a mother. Mother Mentors offered me that kind of support, for free, as an extension of the amazing community where I live. I was paired with a mentor both after my second and third child’s births. It was a wonderful respite during an incredibly demanding time. I was honored to be asked to share my experiences with guests at the fundraiser.
In preparation for my offering I reflected on the gap between the dreams I had before having children and the reality of motherhood. When I was pregnant with my first child, I was so excited to finally live out in my own family all the amazing and inspiring philosophies and skills I had learned in my study as an early childhood teacher. I planned a beautiful home birth — a natural and gentle transition into the world for my new baby. I prepared for my child’s first bath. I gathered all the necessary items: soft towels, gentle soap, an antique enamel baby bathtub. I read a book on how baby baths can be given with great care, respect and full attention. I considered how to dress my baby, the right place for my baby to sleep, how to change my baby’s diapers, which carseat to buy, which songs to sing, which toys to have… Every detail, every decision, every item I chose with deep consciousness. I was getting everything ready to become a mama.
And then the moment came.
I went into labor in the morning. I was easily able to manage on my own until around lunch time when I asked my husband, Mark, to come home. A couple friends came over who were going to support me during the birth. The afternoon was filled with great excitement over the coming of our baby.
My midwife arrived in the evening. My labor progressed. I started pushing. After about an hour my midwife checked and thought that our baby would arrived in another hour. Everything was happening the way I dreamed it would…
Until it wasn’t.
An hour later our baby didn’t arrive. I continued to push. After another two hours our baby went into distress. An ambulance was called and I was transferred to the hospital.
I delivered my little boy by c-section with my husband and midwife in the operating room with me. The doctors had to remove meconium that he had ingested, which was very difficult to watch. I asked if I could hold him and they said no. A nurse brought him over to me and pushed him in my face, telling me to “Kiss your baby. Kiss your baby.” I wanted to hold and touch and explore my baby, not artificially kiss him. I couldn’t even see him because he was too close for me to focus on. I told her to give him to Mark to hold, that I wanted to see Mark hold him. They let Mark hold him for a moment and then took him away. Mark went with them as they took my little boy to the NICU. I didn’t see him again for four hours.
I was taken to the recovery room and left by myself. For nine months I had carried my baby under my heart. For nine months he had been my constant companion. For nine months I had been preparing and dreaming of the day of his birth. And now I was a mother… and alone.
I stumbled through those early days of motherhood. I watched as Mark and my mother gave him his first bath in the hospital room sink. I nursed him and then handed him over to Mark to diaper and dress. I relinquished control. I let go of my plans, the “right” way to do things… at least for the moment. I found myself grieving the dream of my child’s birth and celebrating in the beauty and joy of the baby in my arms.
And slowly I discovered the gifts in my disappointment. Because I was unable to take control and lead my baby’s caregiving the way I was taught, my husband was able to find his own way. And he was a natural, amazing father. Because I was unable to overthink and overplan each activity, I was able to focus on the moment and feel the great expanse of becoming a mother. Because I was unable to have the birth I had planned, because I had to focus on healing my body and taking care of my baby’s needs, because I was overwhelmed by the loss, the joy, the pain and the deep, deep love of motherhood, I was able to let go of everything I had learned as a teacher and just be with my baby.
The moment a child is born is a crisis moment for a new parent — whether the birth goes exactly as planned or in another way all together. That moment marks a turning point for the parent. Life is forever changed. It is the beginning of great possibility — transformation and deep growth — of both the child and the parent.
Finding support during this time is crucial. It offers the bridge between all the ideals you hold as a parent and the reality that you face in the moment. The gifts I have received from Mother Mentors, my teachers, my family and friends allow me to hold on to my vision of motherhood while striving to practice self-forgiveness when I fall short of the ideal and celebrate the joy in the everyday moments. These gifts have inspired me to find ways that I can continue reaching out to parents and teachers working with young children so that we can widen our circle of support.