zadie's birth story
It was a Friday. I was 39 weeks pregnant. I had picked up an irritating cold from the chaotic, germ-infested children’s museum that morning. (Or perhaps more accurately, I was irritable and I caught a cold on top of it.) Nonetheless, Noah and I had a successful home date night; soon after, I retreated to bed, and contractions started. I didn’t think much of them, only that they were terribly inconvenient. Every 10-15 min, I begrudgingly rolled out of bed, got on my knees and closed my eyes to focus my breath, then semi-consciously climbed back into bed to sleep for several minutes until the next contraction came.
Labor started in the middle of the night with my first kids as well. With Atlas, my water broke, and I knew I would meet my baby within 24 hours, per birth policy to avoid infection. With Phoebe, the speed and frequency of contractions were undeniably real labor. But with Zadie, I was convinced those annoying muscle spasms would fade in the morning. I wanted her to arrive on her due date like my other kids, or preferably a couple days late. I had things to do, you see. I wanted to record more prenatal yoga videos and squeeze in a photoshoot, and probably set up my room for a baby, pack a bag, and come up with a list of babysitters.
This was my hardest pregnancy. Not so much due to pregnancy itself, but more because of life during pregnancy – this exhausting season of hiddenness and loneliness and hustling, dragging out longer than I had anticipated. I was working four side jobs, my grandfather passed away, my father’s cancer returned for the third time, and I felt like the smallest nudge might send me over the edge. For the first time, I struggled being the kind of mom I wanted to be. For the first time, I was impatient with my kids, I was frustrated, and sometimes I gave in and turned on the TV. Ever since my first pregnancy, I wanted three babies, I knew I wanted this baby, but I found myself silently wishing I hadn’t gotten pregnant at all.
I convinced myself that it was okay to not feel as connected. That it was temporary and I had a lot on my plate and I just needed to get past this one commitment in my planner, and then one more, and then one last one. And then my checklist would be complete and I’d finally have space to think about this baby and then I’d be excited and hopeful and ready to give birth. And I told myself that it was okay that I didn’t feel ready, because when I saw her, I would love her.
But after hours of denial that I was actually in labor (even after arriving at the birth center), one really hard hour (during which I finally believed it was happening), and a couple of pushes: I held her in my arms and she was tiny and whole and squished in all the normal newborn ways, and I knew I loved her, of course I loved her, I love my babies, I’d give my life for them, but…I didn’t feel in love.
Whenever I give dating, marriage, parenting, and yoga advice, I often say: “Every relationship is different.” Your relationship with yourself, your partner, your kids – there isn’t another relationship exactly like yours, in this time, in this place. Like all your other relationships, love is a decision and love is a feeling. Sometimes it’s love at first sight, and sometimes it takes time, and you wait for your heart to catch up as you keep choosing love.
I prefer falling in love immediately. With people, with places, with plans. To see a face or step off a plane or hear an idea, and feel with deep-in-my-soul certainty that it’s the one. But for the first two and a half weeks after giving birth, I didn’t feel sure. I still felt disconnected. Like she was kind of alien and I knew how to care for her and I’m attentive and gentle and kind but can someone else do this? She was doing regular baby things like needing to be rocked to sleep as I pace back and forth in my room, and cluster feeding for hours at a time, and taking forever to nurse in general, and exploding poop all over my sheets, and I felt like I already have small children that are so so needy and the novelty has worn off and she’s not even that cute. I hadn’t felt that way with my other babies, and I didn’t know how long this feeling would last.
People would ask (with the best of intentions): how was the birth? And in the week after she was born, they would ask: how are you doing? And I would say: for a birth, it was fine; and for expelling a human through my vagina a few days ago: I’m fine. Giving birth was kind of awful and postpartum is kind of even more awful, but it’s all normative awful so I actually don’t really know what you’re asking or what to say and can you just feed me and talk about something else?
Because here’s what can be hard to accept: I can have a good experience and not enjoy it. I can be a 30-year-old woman without fertility issues, I can have a pregnancy without complications, I can have a natural water birth that goes according to plan, I can bring home a healthy baby that same day, and I can struggle through it all. If you find yourself skimming through this birth story that maybe is or maybe isn’t really a birth story, this is what I want you hear:
You have permission to recognize the blessing and the difficulty that exist in the same moment.
Just because something is hard does not mean it’s void of goodness. Just because you’re in pain does not mean you’re ungrateful. Just because the situation sucks and you’re crying and everything hurts, doesn’t mean that in the big picture it’s not what you want and what you would have chosen all over again. It’s possible to say, I choose this and want this and hate this, all at the same time.
I took the first weeks to process. To observe what I felt and why, to identify where my expectations were unrealistic or unfair, and to keep pursuing connection. To continue speaking love and life and intimacy over my littlest baby and our relationship. As each day passed, overall it got easier. Breastfeeding, sleeping, adjusting to a new rhythm. I didn’t feel connected with her throughout pregnancy and the initial postpartum period, but I didn’t want to stay there, so I didn’t stay there.
And now I’m in love. I love when she sleeps on my chest. I love how she holds her tiny little fists up to frame her cheeks. I love pressing my face as close to hers as possible and sharing the same breath. But many times throughout the day, it’s often still tough, still stressful, still draining. And I’m accepting that tension more easily.
Regardless of your situation, pregnant or not, I hope you can relate. I hope you’re encouraged to embrace wherever you are and whatever you feel, but commit to growth. And in your own fight for love and connection, whatever it looks like, keep going. I’m still trying, too.
birth photography: 432 photography