(updated July 2020) This post was originally written to coincide with the release of Surprised by Motherhood by Lisa-Jo Baker. In honor of the book’s release, the author asked other bloggers to share their own stories of being surprised by motherhood.
Trigger warning: traumatic birth story. I promise it has a happy ending.
By the time my first son was born, I was over the whole romantic idea of being a mother. It’s hard to admit, but all I really wanted was to fit back into my favorite Italian leather boots and return to a normal life.
By the time he was three months old, I just wanted to go back to work so I could take a sick day.
He was never supposed to be born.
In the second trimester, my pregnancy went horribly off-script. That was when, on a cold December evening, my doctor’s office called me at work. Within seconds, my doctor was on the phone, gently explaining test results that indicated that I had failed my triple screen. He recommended further testing, but told me that I needed to be prepared to end a pregnancy that was “incompatible with life.”
Even now that phrase hurts. I just watched my now fourth grade son walk out the door, so full of life and energy. He is very much compatible with life, no matter what the doctor might have said all those years ago.
Spoiler: He was born; he is amazing!
(2020 edit: He is still very much full of life. He knows his birth story and is ok with sharing it.)
It was Christmas. The specialists who do all those scary pregnancy tests were busy. Somehow, we got through the season and kept from sharing the shadow of our fears with those around us. January arrived. Tests happened. Tests were inconclusive.
By then, it was February. Two months of not knowing. Two months of just wanting to see the sunshine on my baby before I had to say goodbye to him. That was all I wanted.
By the time the tests were certain, it was too late. I’d already grieved the loss of my unborn child and I couldn’t reconcile the doctor’s new predictions for a healthy normal boy with my grief.
I went into labor on my due date, and in my heart I was still expecting my son not to survive past birth.
Five days later, I was still in labor. The days are a blur, but at some point, I was finally admitted to the hospital out of pity. At some point, I gave in to the idea of an epidural because the hours of pushing went too far. William was finally born via emergency c-section with a bright blue bruise around the crown of his head from my cervix and two wraps of umbilical cord around his neck.
Against all expectations, he was healthy and perfect.
When my milk came in, my tiny son pushed away from my breast and screamed. He cooed at sucked at the bottle in his daddy’s hands. It became the norm. I pumped… alone and in defeat. My husband fed and changed our son.
I went back to work with relief.
I escaped back to the world of work… away from the depression… away from the failure to have a natural birth… away from the breastfeeding failure… away from my non-maternal feelings and guilt.
(2020 edit: I didn’t fully understand that I had suffered from PPD until 2019. yikes)
God gives second chances.
William was seven months old when I got pregnant the second time. The first thing I did was quit pumping. Like every other step away from motherhood, it felt like a relief.
When Robert was born, his “big” brother was only 16 months and 2 days older. Unlike the first pregnancy, the second had been blissfully uneventful. No scary test results. No horrible labor. Just a well organized scheduled c-section two days before Hurricane Rita.
It was love at first sight.
From the first moment, that boy was in love with me. He loved nursing. and cuddling; he only had eyes for me. It was, quite frankly, mutual.
They discharged me the hospital hours before a major hurricane hit. And, as the storm crossed overhead, the winds raged and whipped the trees around us. Alone in the dark, my tiny newborn curled up in a permanent nursing position, I felt peace.
Surrounded by a storm, I felt anchored by my son. It was holy and sacred and indescribably amazingly awesome.
The sacred calling of motherhood surprised me.
In the days that followed, I lost myself. I gave myself over totally to the endless cycle nursing and diaper changing. My sense of self dissolved. My world revolved totally around my infant son to the exclusion of all else.
In order to find myself as a mother, I had to lose myself.
When the time came to return to work, I just couldn’t. I took unpaid leave and extended my time. When I ran out of options, I returned to work. Two weeks after returning full time, I realized my heart was at home.
I handed in my letter of resignation on William’s second birthday. That’s when I became the stay at home mom to an infant I was head over heels in love with. I was also committed to loving a two-year-old son I didn’t know.
God gives third chances too.
I left work because of Robert. It was the first stirrings of that fierce momma-love that will rearrange the world to do what is right for a child. My second-born needed me and that’s all I needed to know.
But God called me home because of William. My firstborn needed his momma too. The baby who had always preferred his daddy over me became the toddler who clung to my feet. With all the strength and fierceness that a two-year-old can muster, the boy and I bonded. Finally. After two long years.
I finally embraced motherhood. As I gave myself over to William as completely as I had his younger brother, I held him tight, trying desperately to make up for the lost time.
Motherhood is messy.
It doesn’t arrive in a neat little package at the hospital. I couldn’t just order some maternal instinct to go with the new crib and cute layette.
It doesn’t follow a schedule. Sometimes, motherhood and birth don’t arrive at the same time. Sometimes, for whatever reason, it takes a little longer.
It doesn’t always look pretty. The days that stretch me to my most and drive me to my knees are messy.
And you know what? That’s ok.
*(2020 edit) updated for graphics and stylistic changes. I did NOT receive a free copy of the book for promotional purposes.
This post was written to celebrate the Lisa-Jo Baker’s book, Surprised By Motherhood, which was released in April of 2014. You can find out more about the book on her blog.