Right from the start, I knew I was unprepared to have a baby. I had very little exposure to babies beforehand, had never changed a diaper, had held a newborn maybe twice ever. But you know when you just can’t know how much you don’t know? It was definitely one of those situations.
In some ways, I thought having a newborn would be harder and crazier than it actually was, starting right at giving birth. All of Hollywood and many mothers assured me I would curse, throw things, definitely scream, almost certainly send my husband to hell. I was sure I would cry from the pain. And while all through labor I kept waiting for the moment I would turn into a bawling monster, it never happened. I gave birth to Noam with no anesthesia and relatively quickly. Yes, 7 hours is apparently fast for this kind of thing.
And that’s not to say it didn’t hurt. It did…so, so badly. There were moments that I didn’t know how I would make it. There was a moment I thought Noam would be born in the car (he wasn’t), a moment I asked for an epidural (I didn’t get it), a moment where I wanted to put the whole thing on hold for a few hours to catch my breath, rest, watch Netflix, then try it all again. But more on all that later.
Noam’s birth was something planned since before I was pregnant. We worked with a doula, who is basically a laboring woman’s psychologist. We had meetings prior to the birth where we learned about the anatomy of birth, a fetus’ development, and working through pain. Of course, the doula was there with us through most of labor and then the birth. But as anyone who has given birth can tell you, nothing really prepares you. Maybe preparation is futile.
In Noam’s case, he came three weeks early (his way of showing us that everything is on his terms no questions thank you). My water broke while I was asleep, probably around 1:30 AM. After a comedic episode in which we tried to determine if I had wet the bed or was in labor, we concluded that Noam was more likely than not on his way.
Back in the doula sessions, we had learned about stages of labor and saw that there is an early phase when cramps are light and the best thing to do is take a walk, try to eat something and peacefully welcome the day your child will be born. I had imagined us walking through our neighborhood at dawn, seeing the sun rise, holding hands and listening to the first birds waking up, slowly saying goodbye to our life as a couple and making way for our new life as a family.
HA. HAhahahahahaha. By the time I had wondered aloud if I was really in labor, a wave of contractions came on so strong that it made me vomit, then immediately respect all mothers of the world about 97 times more than I already did.
When we studied labor and birth, the doula tried to help us reimagine the pain of childbirth. During a contraction, she encouraged me to try to connect to the baby, understanding that each wave of pain brought me one movement closer to meeting our little person. It’s pain with a purpose, a pain full of life.
That is so beautiful, it really is. And I believe it all, in a purely logical sense. But as I tried to think these transformational thoughts during labor, I was peskily interrupted by the will the explode the world, which alternated with the desire to implode, faint, fast forward, disappear, and change my mind about the whole baby thing. I tried to connect to him. I searched for the baby, I really did. I wanted to listen to him and let him know I was waiting for him here on the outside. I hope he got that message somehow because I don’t think I managed to formulate a complete thought the entire time.
I also thought, naively, that I would have beautiful photos of laboring serenely and crying with joy as we held our baby for the first time. I had arranged everything with a wonderful photographer and friend. Well, Noam came 21 days early and the photographer was on vacation. What I have instead is a selfie that Fuca took as I was slung over the back of a raised hospital bed while in labor. “Hey, smile!” I glanced over, confused. Click.
The list of surprises goes on. I thought I would hate the hospital experience. I had seen pictures of hair nets and dressing gowns and didn’t relate. Well, I certainly didn’t like having random doctors I’d never seen standing around waiting for the baby to crown, and I may have thrown a hair net on the ground, grumbling rudely that I would not be wearing any of their sterile protective crap. However, the overall experience was beyond expectations. After the baby was born, there were nurses there to wrap my belly to, um, hold things together. There were nurses changing Noam, a nutritionist who crafted a personalized hospital food menu, more nurses bringing delicious food four times per day for both me and Fuca. I felt like I was in a five-star baby hotel and quite honestly, thought we could stay a few more nights.
As it turns out, health insurance plans don’t like to pay for perfectly healthy people to stay in the hospital just because they’re lazy and scared of being on their own with the baby. So back home we went. And it happened that the feeling of walking into the little room we had prepared for Noam, but this time with him in my arms, was surreal. I live it over and over again; it doesn’t get old. Even without the nurses.
These frequent and overwhelmingly beautiful moments of bliss and sublimity are essential, since the moments of urgent desperation are always lurking. No one told me what baby gas crises were like, or that it was possible for a baby to wake up every 60 minutes for the first 6 months of life (I’ve confirmed it’s possible. I don’t want to talk about it). I had no idea I could have trouble pumping milk, or that when I decided to embrace the pacifier, Noam would totally reject it. I didn’t know just how tired I could get, or how much my body could take. I didn’t expect how many times my husband and I would almost kill each other, just to look over at the sleeping baby and melt into tears, forgetting the whole thing.
Everyday I reconnect with how clueless I feel and how improvised everything is. But Noam shows us that it’s all OK — in his own way, he is always improvising, too. He sees countless things for the first time on a daily basis. And he responds with his whole being: his eyes, his body, his voice and his breathing all swerve to attention, becoming purely present for whatever it is he’s learning right in the moment – even if it is just watching us peel a carrot. I think in so many ways me and Fuca are the same: present in a way we’ve never been before, for something we’ve never done before. And definitely amazed by it all.