I waited a long time to have kids.
My husband and I had our 11th anniversary a few months before our son was born. We were an aunt and uncle several times over and just about the last of our friends to have children.
I felt like I had seen enough to know that almost everything about having kids does not go exactly as planned. I tried to cage my expectations of motherhood and felt like I maintained decent perspective throughout my pregnancy.
When people asked if I had a birth plan, I would laugh and say my birth plan was to have a baby.
Of course I had general ideas of what I would like for the birth of my first child in a perfect world: a natural birth and to breastfeed. I figured some of this would work or not work in varying degrees, but I certainly wasn’t stressed about it. I didn’t realize how attached I was to those ideas until, well, none of them went as planned.
For the most part my pregnancy went pretty smoothly. I entered the last month and started my weekly check-ups. At my 36-week appointment, I saw the doctor, and I was not dilated at all. The general consensus was that this baby was not going anywhere any time soon. I was relieved because my doctor was out of town for the week and my husband had an all-day hiking trip planned for the following Saturday.
Saturday came, and I sent my husband on his trip, and I planned to go for a walk and then go float in the pool and relax. Throughout the morning, I noticed the baby was not really moving or kicking as much as he normally did. I tried juice, caffeine, and walking, and still felt “off.” I had been doing kick counts each day, so I knew this was odd. I decided to call the on-call doctor.
When I spoke to the nurse, she told me to come in if I felt at all uneasy, and at this stage in the pregnancy it was better safe than sorry. I genuinely felt like everything would be OK.
I did not bring my hospital bag. I left my pool stuff for when I got home. I didn’t even take a shower. That’s how sure I was that I would be home in a few hours.
Once I got to the hospital, they hooked me up to the fetal monitor and everything seemed fine. I even texted my husband not to worry about coming up to the hospital when he was done hiking. Then the baby’s heart rate spiked and dropped.
The whole atmosphere changed in the room. The nurse told me I would definitely be staying at the hospital, and the doctor was going to come see about possibly inducing me that night. Um, what?!
I immediately called my husband who was already heading to the hospital. Thankfully, he hadn’t listened to me about not coming to the hospital. He arrived, exhausted after a 19 mile hike, just in time for the baby’s heart rate to drop and spike again and to hear the doctor say today would be the day we would meet our son.
I was going in for an emergency C-section immediately. The next hour was a blur of shots, IVs, and surgical prep. Less than 4 hours after arriving at the hospital and only an hour and a half after my husband arrived, our son was born. Thankfully they took him when they did. It turns out that I had a placental abruption that could have gotten serious quickly.
This was not the delivery I imagined: not my doctor, no natural labor and delivery, no immediate skin-to-skin, and no idea why any of this happened.
After all the chaos of the delivery, I hoped everything would settle down once I was in the room with my baby. I looked forward to holding him and feeding him. He had to be fed formula immediately after birth due to low blood sugar, so I did not get to hold him for about 45 minutes. It was tough. I was so foggy and nauseated from the anesthesia that much of my son’s first few hours are blurry to me.
I am thankful I have pictures and video of me meeting him for the first time because I honestly do not have the clearest memories of it. This, more than anything else, was the hardest to get over.
Call me crazy, but I had looked forward to the experience of childbirth. I was not naïve to think it wouldn’t be excruciating but what a powerful moment to share with your spouse and baby.
Irrationally, I almost felt cheated by the C-section experience. I felt like a spectator and not a participant in my son’s birth.
Over the next several days in the hospital and at home, it became apparent that breastfeeding was going to be a challenge. Whether it was the early arrival, the trauma of surgery, or something that would have happened regardless, my milk was slow to come in. At my son’s one-week check-up, he had lost too much weight. He was up all night screaming and trying to nurse with little success.
Our pediatrician told me to supplement with formula. I’m not sure why I felt like I needed permission to give my baby formula.
Once he was getting enough to eat, we had a healthy and happy baby. My rational brain understood that, but I was desperate to make breastfeeding work for me. I felt I had missed out on a part of the bonding experience during his birth and wanted to compensate for something I felt I had lost. I knew I had to let go of this idea that only one kind of experience “made” me a mother.
I was clearly his mother in every way. My intuition is what got us to the hospital and very possibly averted an even greater birth emergency. I knew I needed to focus on the positives: I delivered a healthy baby with no preemie complications and both of us were home and doing well.
Once I let go of these expectations, life got much easier. Eventually, with extensive pumping and time, my milk supply finally increased but if it hadn’t, and he had to stay on formula, that would have been fine, too.
So what can I say about babies and our plans for them?
I learned you can make all the plans you want, but your baby is going to come how and when it wants. You can hope to feed your baby one way, but at the end of the day, you have to do what works.
Motherhood is a balancing act of expectations and reality. Right after my son was born, Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma decimated Texas and the Gulf Coast. Watching the images — of people who lost everything, of NICU babies being evacuated via helicopters, and even a mom who braved waist-deep water and a boat ride to get herself to a hospital to deliver — really put things in perspective for me.
No, I didn’t get the delivery I wanted. Breastfeeding didn’t come easily for me, but at the end of the day, I am blessed, and I am lucky. Regardless of how I got there, I have a perfect baby boy that calls me mom. So what if nothing went according to plan … my reality is so much better.