Originally published March 23, 2012, at The Next Family.
In the spring of 2005, not long after I came back from an amazing trip to see the sandhill crane migration in Platte River Valley, Nebraska, I started feeling… different. I had gone off of birth control pills early that year because my body simply hated them and I was sick of the battle. Weight gain, mood swings, just not feeling “right”- tender boobs, not hungry, tired. My husband Dwight and I had been trying to avoid pregnancy until some time in the future (or not, I wasn’t sold on the idea of kids, and I still don’t like them much), and were religiously using condoms and spermicide. But after about a week of “offness” I broke down and took a test, and nearly fainted when it came up positive. Dwight was thrilled, on the other hand; he wanted kids, and couldn’t wait to be a dad. I swear he’s more maternal than I am still to this day.
The next few weeks flew by with relatively low interest. The only difficulties were nausea (I lost ~20 pounds in the first half of my pregnancy, and I only ended up 3 pounds higher at the end than prepregnancy) and the emotional aspects. Dealing with an unexpected pregnancy was not easy for me, and it took me until our second trimester ultrasound to really believe that I was pregnant. I even looked into an abortion very early on, only to find out that I would have needed my husband’s signature to have one. I resigned myself to becoming a mama, and did what I do when faced with a new situation. I started researching. In theory, the whole process seemed amazing, the changes, developments, and endless possibilities for mediated interactions of the fetus with the environment were astounding and intrigued me. I simply felt detached from the whole thing, like it wasn’t really me that was going through all this. It was surreal, to say the least.
Eventually, we made it to the twenty week ultrasound. We had decided on names for both genders, but hadn’t decided whether we wanted to know or not. A girl would be Ella Rae, a boy would be Kenneth Alan, after my father, who died when I was younger. As the tech started, she asked if we wanted to know, and as she was asking that, we saw a very obvious flash on the screen, and the question was moot. Dwight and I both have biology backgrounds, although he has since gone back to his real love of history. Ken’s been just as “in your face” and sure of himself ever since.
Fast forward again to Christmas eve that year. I was still a little over a week from my due date, and my midwife had reassured me the Thursday before that everything seemed right on track and to expect a calm holidays before all hell broke loose with an infant. That morning we were getting ready to go to my grandparents’ house for the family celebration. A friend had fixed my dad’s old subwoofer for me, and it was sitting in the trunk of the car. I had been pestering Dwight all week to get it inside, so we had room to load up gifts and food to take, but he hadn’t done it. So in my infinite wisdom and patience, I ran downstairs while he was shaving and lugged that giant wooden box to our upstairs condo. He finished shaving, I packed the car, and we headed off.
At my grandparents’, everyone was remarking how cute I looked, and how they figured I had at least three more weeks, and how well pregnancy suited me. I come from a large family on my mom’s side; these were meant to be compliments. I was on my feet and snacking most of the day, and by the time we started the hour drive home, my back was aching. I figured it was punishment for being stupid with the speaker. We got home, went to bed, and I tried ignoring the throbbing pain in my back. Yes, I said throbbing. Around eleven I woke up when it became apparent that my back ache was oddly rhythmic and we called the hospital. The nurses let us know to come in after midnight if it kept up, and they would check on me. We waited around until after midnight with not much change, and went in. My water hadn’t broken, but I was having contractions, irregular and not coming close together. The midwife told me to go home, enjoy the holiday, and she’d see me in a few days when I gave birth. We all honestly believed that. Armed with a sleep aid to help me relax and get some rest, we went home.
The next morning (Christmas morning), I woke up not really sure I had slept that night. I hurriedly tried getting the house ready for company; we had planned for both of our parents to come to our house that year, to be close to the hospital just in case. All the while, my backache was getting worse and more regular. By 10AM, when people arrived, I was not up to cooking Christmas dinner. We ate treats -snacks that I had made and froze earlier that week, unwrapped gifts, and had fun in between my trips to the bedroom to concentrate and breathe through a difficult contraction. I got to know my birth ball quite well that day. About 3PM, Dwight and I decided it was time to go, left the family to order Chinese and lock up when they were done, and set off for the hospital again. I broke the “Oh-shit” bar on the front passenger side door, and never did have it fixed.
After about five hours and a shocked midwife, it was go-time. With a nurse cranking each leg back, and Dwight holding my hand, I started pushing like I meant it. After a few pushes (have I mentioned I’m impatient?), I was ready to give up, until my midwife brought my hand down and pronounced, “Feel that? That’s your son.” I pushed even harder after that, and soon she was snot-sucking out his nose and wiping off his face after his head had been birthed. As soon as that bit of cleaning was done, my midwife brought my hands down again and told me to birth my baby. She helped me grab under his arms and pull him onto my chest.
I’d be lying if I said I felt an immediate heartfelt connection. It took a few weeks to really fall in love the way I had heard mamas were supposed to feel. What I did feel was an immense obligation and awe. I had made this. I was responsible for this. I had to do my best for this little critter that was long and skinny, pale and covered with orange fuzz. I owed it to him to be nothing less than my best. Now, I still love that feeling of accomplishment, the awe of creating something out of nothing, but I have enough on my plate- I’ll let someone else deal with the obligation and hard work of raising a child. That’s an education I’ve already had, and love to share.