Friday, January 27, 2012

what NOT to expect when you're expecting, or after the birth, or ever.....

very pregnant with Judah
My second child is now two months old. Looking back at both pregnancies and birth experiences, there are many comparisons and contrasts that I have been able to mull over in my mind. Hopefully, sharing them will prove to be beneficial to another young mother or mother-to-be reading this.

Certainly you've heard of and probably own one of the What to Expect When You're Expecting books. I have read the original and found it full of useful information. However, a wise man once told me that one of the greatest sources of disappointment in life comes from "unmet expectations." And this statement can be true in marriages, motherhood, and all types of relationships. When our expectations are high, it hurts us all the more when they are not met. I am not saying that we should have no expectations, but as I share the two very different experiences I have had as a mother, you will understand what I mean.

Pregnant with my daughter, (and if you have read my posts about my pregnancy, you know that pregnancy is not a fun time for me!) I was excited and hopeful beyond all belief. When she emerged from my womb, reality started to set in! Bringing home a newborn for the first time has got to be one of the scariest things I have ever done, but the second time around, newborns are less scary and more fun (still a lot of work and not much sleep, but more fun). When my son came home, he did not want to sleep at night, and one of my dearest friends (who has now been greatly promoted in my book!) who also has two young children, sent me a "newborn sleeper/rocker" and I don't know what I would have done without it because besides my bed, that is the only place he will sleep for any amount of time! However, I remember those first nights home with my daughter in the bassinet next to our bed... me waking up every time she moved, every time she coughed, every time her breathing changed...being exhausted and amazed all at the same time. When my son started sleeping next to my bed in his rocker, I eventually awoke one night to him waving his tiny, mitten-covered hands frantically around in the semi-darkness and smacking his lips together, and I thought to myself: "Wow, he's going to have to do better than that if he really wants me to wake up right away and feed him!" My, how things change! 

When you are already the mother of one, it affects everything that happens to bring number two into the world. There are moments and glimpses during your pregnancy, perhaps when you're alone at night or during naptime, when you think about the little person inside you and specifically address him or her directly, but mostly you are busy taking care of the one that's outside the womb already. At least, that's how it was for me. Sometimes I would even forget that I was pregnant. Unlike with the first pregnancy, you really don't have the time or the mental space to think solely of the baby on the way. I was sure that when I was pregnant with my daughter, that was all that was happening in the world at the time, and I thought of little else.

On the topic of expectations, with my daughter my husband and I took an intense 12-week training class on the Bradley method of natural childbirth. We were psyched, had a support group, and heard other couple's success stories and met their babies. Then when it came time for me to give birth, little Elisheva threw us for the biggest loop of our lives. Although the doctors had been feeling my belly and assuring me that after 30 weeks she was head-down and ready to go, my post 40 week ultrasound told another story.... she was breech and I was NOT going to have a natural birth, but rather a C-section (which in our class was the last thing I listed as something I wanted, and I didn't even thoroughly read the little information our booklet had on C-sections!) To say we were devastated would be an understatement. Ask anyone who came to visit us that day in the hospital... I was in tears for the six hours I had to wait for the surgery to happen, and my mother-in-law worried that something was wrong with the baby because my husband got choked up on the phone when he called to tell her the news. We were a mess, especially me. I was inconsolable. Someone would come, encourage me, pray for me, I would be okay for a minute, they would leave, I would start crying again, and the process would repeat itself. My daughter's birth date, unfortunately, will go down in history as one of the most traumatic days of my life. We expected that she was head down, and we expected to have an amazing and natural birth experience and to encourage others to do the same, but our expectations were too much and the resulting emotions were not pleasant. Nevertheless, we were blessed with a beautiful baby girl that day, and if I could go back and do that day over,I would do it differently...

second c-section
Oh wait, I did get to go back... my son was born under similar circumstances. This time I was looking forward to a natural vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC), but didn't train for it or have the same determination as before. I wanted to keep an open mind so as not to repeat the aforementioned experience, so I tried to prepare for however he would enter the world. Let it be noted that I did not want another c-section, but I accepted the fact that the birth might not be without medication. Towards the end of my pregnancy, however, my fears about the risk of having a VBAC rose to the surface, and that coupled with the fact that I was by no means prepared for labor and my discomfort in being pregnant, actually drove me towards a voluntary c-section. But at four days past 37 weeks, my water broke in the middle of the night, and at almost 18 hours after that, i was still only one centimeter dilated and not in labor. Because I had already had a c-section, it was very risky to induce me, so the decision was basically made for me again: repeat C-section. I didn't expect that to happen since my water had broken, but after a little disappointment and fear of yet another surgery, I rolled with the punches this time. This was not going to be the second most traumatic day of my life. This was my son's birthday. 

Because I am still 110% supportive of the Bradley method and natural childbirth (as G-d intended it, not with any New Age methods mixed in) and most of my close friends are as well, perhaps you are unfamiliar with what a C-section is like. It is the closest thing to an alien abduction that I will ever experience! Basically numb from the belly down, you feel some pressure and pushing and pulling, but no pain. With my daughter, I was also emotionally numb after all that crying and still in shock, so the surgery seemed to go rather quickly. It certainly did not feel like I was about to become a mother that day, and when they finally brought her around to see me, all I saw was a tiny baby peeking out with one eye closed... and my first thoughts: where did they get that baby from? Still feeling bitter over having her cut out of me instead of me helping her out into the world, there was not an instant connection that this was my daughter...

Our Bradley birth instructors, a married couple who had used the method themselves, described doctors as "lifeguards" when it comes to delivering babies: not really necessary, but there to "catch" the babies and there in case something went wrong. I am certainly more grateful than ever for doctors and modern medicine, because after receiving my daughter's hospital bill for her being intubated, I realized that she was probably not breathing when they pulled her from my womb that day. Seeing the frazzled state I was in, perhaps Dr. Decarvalho spared me from that scary information. She told me before the surgery that C-section babies, especially breech ones, don't always cry right away, so I tried to not be alarmed when it seemed to take awhile to hear her first cry, which was a wet-sounding one. The doctor did inform me that she was pretty tangled in her umbilical cord, and that is something she has in common with her brother. His was wrapped twice around his neck, but in Dr. Swenson's words: "it didn't seem to bother him at all." My son's entrance into the operating room was much different. During the prep, I looked up above me and realized that I could see a reflection of my belly in one of the overhead lamps. It made me wonder if I would somehow be able to see the delivery... and that question was answered when I glanced up there and thought I saw a little face, and when the doctor grabbed the aspirator and started to suction, then I knew it was his face! Before I could get my husband's attention to show him, she pulled him out, he began screaming, and I began crying... tears of joy this time. Because this was my second C-section, and because I was mentally aware and emotionally present for this one, it took a lot longer than the first. To start, the spinal epidural they gave me took forever to really numb me, and after several pinches with tweezers (that hurt!), they begin to tilt me back on the O.R. table, which was interesting, until I was numb enough. The anesthesiologist behind my head kept telling me there was a difference between feeling touch and feeling pain, and I told him I was well aware of the difference and they could not cut me until those pinches stopped HURTING! :) His last reassuring words to the doctor were : "Just go ahead and start. I'll supplement." What?! I held my breath as she started the incision, but I didn't feel a thing, so Baruch HaShem for that! 

In this operating room, the incubator was actually behind me and to my left side, so I got to see little Judah right away as they were cleaning him up. Once again, they brought me a blanket-clad newborn peeking with one eye only... but this time, I knew he was mine. The fact that he looked just like his sister helped too. 
Giving birth first in Florida, and then in Brooklyn, New York, my hospital experiences were very different. Briefly sharing a room with an orthodox Israeli woman who had just given birth to baby number seven, and hearing the Chassidic couple across the hall get the nurse to turn their lights on and off on shabbat were just a couple of the differences! We found out the hard way that in Brooklyn, it's not a given for husbands to be able to stay the night, and no one even asked if I wanted the baby to stay, because there are two women in most of the rooms. So my first night was spent alone, my husband at home and my baby boy in the nursery. The communication from the nurses this time was also not the greatest, so sometimes people were not sure when my newborn had eaten in the nursery. As I was struggling to be able to breastfeed him, he had been drinking formula as well. 
almost 2 months old
This brings me to the next difference between having number one and number two. With my daughter, I was determined to breastfeed her, no matter what. Probably the fact that I did not get to experience that natural birth I desired drove me even harder to succeed at nursing her (and succeed is the right word, because breastfeeding can be very hard work, especially at first). I have never known such pain in my life, and it is ongoing pain for the most part. I healed from my C-section, but the nursing pain never really went away for me. Sometimes the pain lessened, but it never got easy. I saw the lactation consultants in the hospital, went to La Leche League meetings, and emailed the leader, who offered me several solutions, but nothing really worked. I think I got used to how it felt for the most part, and was immensely satisfied knowing that I was giving her the best nutrition she could get, so I struggled on until she weaned herself at 14 months old. I have to say, I was so grateful when she was weaned! :) On the other hand, my son came along, hungry from the womb! Once again, I saw the lactation consultants, and one in particular was very helpful and dedicated in trying to help me succeed. Once again, I was writhing in pain. I tried to make it work, despite the pain, but when I became engorged and then thought I had an infection, I couldn't do it anymore. Yes, I experienced some feelings of disappointment and guilt for not being able to nurse my son, but I got over it. That's another thing that comes easier with number two: you have more people to think about and make a decision for in your family, and it was best for all of us for me not to be in pain. Therein lies the reason my son is bottle-fed, and he is a ravenous little monster when it comes to eating, so that didn't help the nursing situation at all! I am more than happy to let him take all that out on the bottle's nipple... and I don't feel a thing... Deciding to bottle-feed him was still not an easy decision to make, because I know and have written about the miraculous nature of breastfeeding. Formula smells funny, it's messy, time-consuming, and the last thing I needed was more dishes to wash by hand! In addition, because my daughter probably drank from a bottle less than five times ever and usually someone else was giving it to her, I was clueless about how to bottle-feed. Formula can never truly compete with breast milk, because G-d designed a woman's body to provide exactly what her child needs and when. Nevertheless, I thank G-d for formula because I survived on it, and my son will too. It certainly hasn't impeded our mother-child bonding. If anything, it has made that bonding even easier with the pain factor removed. I never blamed my baby girl for the nursing pain she was inadvertently causing me, (and Elli, I even forgive you for all those times you bit me!) but it is still hard for me to not associate breastfeeding with pain. Nevertheless, I am still completely supportive of nursing mothers, but I am definitely not going to pass judgment on mothers who choose to bottle-feed their babies. 

Hopefully through these accounts, I have communicated what I was attempting to... and that is to NOT expect to know what is going to happen when you're expecting, whether it's your first or your seventh child. I guess they call being pregnant expecting for a good reason. Pregnant women are full of expectations: they expect to have easy pregnancies, to have healthy babies, to sleep through the night, to have clean houses, to be good mothers and wives, to be superwomen even. Be careful not to expect too much, though.  Don't expect to have a natural birth experience: train hard for it, pray for it, and thank G-d for it if it happens... but I have come to realize it is a privilege granted to some women to experience, but it is not every woman's right to experience it. Likewise with nursing, some women will never experience it, either by circumstances or by choice. Many women will never experience motherhood at all, so be extremely grateful for the children G-d has loaned to you. 

Being a mother for over three years now, it has been the best time of my life. Motherhood is packed with challenges and capabilities, bruises and blessings. It will test you like you've never best tested, hurt you like you've never been hurt, and give you more joy than you could ever imagine. This post is meant for all women to read, whether mothers or not, whether mothers of one or nineteen. I recently read a beautiful article written by a mother of nine entitled "To the Mother with only one Child" which concludes with this: "Dear mother, don’t worry about enjoying your life.  Your life is hard; your life will be hard.  That doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong—it means you’re doing it right."
Also, if you have not read them before, or not lately, here are a few of my favorite posts about my motherhood journey: "The Barren Womb" (about the desire to have children and spiritual children), "Miraculous Flow" (about breastfeeding), and "Fierce Devotion" (about the overwhelming responsibility of caring for a child.) I just went back and read them for the first time in years and was encouraged. Oftentimes, I read my own work and know that it was truly G-d's inspiration that has written so many of these posts, and even I need to keep reading them again.

In conclusion, don't expect motherhood to be as expected when you were expecting... reality has a way of changing your mind and heart and helping you grow and mature. That's why we have so much to learn from as mothers from each other, especially from those who are wiser than us or further along in the process. So share your experiences. Otherwise, how will another mother benefit from them? I certainly would love to hear of your journey. Email me at if you would like me to post something you have written.

There are some things you can expect in motherhood, however. Expect to be amazed, expect your house to be a mess, expect to learn something new every day, and expect everything to be a little harder and take a little longer. Also, expect people who don't have children to not understand. Slow down, get comfortable on the floor with that _______ in your lap (tiara, truck, fill in the blank!) because children are truly as "light as air" and they grow up way too fast. Expect to not accomplish much else, and expect to be there for on the floor for a while...

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