In great anticipation of my son’s arrival, I would frequently stare at his 23-week ultrasound snapshots– squinting at his profile, imagining how he might look on our side of the world. It became a ritual, and also a distraction while working at my desk.

And, in great anticipation, I read everything I could about the process of childbirth. I read most of Ina May Gaskin’s publications, I read about Hypnobirthing, I read Birthing From Within. When I should have been sleeping, I was on my phone, reading countless articles about everything from natural birthing to how to help your toddler sleep at night.

Fellow parents and midwives gave me the great advice of not getting too attached to one birth plan, or an idea of how things are going to go once labor starts. I consider myself very seasoned in “going with the flow”. Maybe this is because I’m undisciplined in planning, or have dealt with a lot of art school projects collapsing on me, or rock climbing trips gone awry. Between all of my research, and confidence in myself, I felt that I was ready.  I was going to push this kid out naturally, and I was immediately going to love him and never let go.

In an effort to keep this post short, I will simply say that my labor and delivery did not go as I’d hoped. I’m not ashamed to say that those days were traumatic. I’ve spent most of my adult life being active, and doing things like rock climbing despite extreme fear, riding my bike in horrible weather, and also dealing with extreme emotional situations, so I figured I’d be able to muscle through labor. I’d also been told many stories, from friends and through texts I’d read, that birth would be liberating. I was advised that I just needed to focus on staying calm, and that if I exercised, and was regimented in doing squats and kegels during my pregnancy, my labor should go easier.

My labor (from early labor to the start of delivery) lasted almost 30 hours. The night before I went into “real” labor, I’d had false labor for 8 hours, so by the time “pushing” started, I hadn’t slept in 3 nights. I tried to keep it natural, and then finally surrendered to an epidural so I could simply get rest so I could spend time with my baby, if he was ever going to come out. Other complications followed.

My delivery lasted four hours, as in I pushed for four hours straight. My son came out covered in meconium, and for 24 hours afterwards, he gagged a lot and could barely stay awake long enough to nurse. I got hassled in the hospital about him losing weight and not nursing enough and “sleeping too much”, and no one could leave either of us alone long enough to rest or hang out with each other.

When we were finally released and came home, I just couldn’t stop crying. I felt like the life I’d treasured with my husband had disappeared. My thoughts kept returning to my days in labor, bringing on a lot of dark feelings instead of empowerment.

And the little bundle I’d come home with, I just couldn’t bond with him. It was different, at the hospital; it was like he was a little stranger that I’d gone through something crazy with, and we had that to bond over. At the hospital, it didn’t feel like he was mine. At home, he and I struggled with breastfeeding, and I felt resentment towards him. I easily settled into self-loathing. Then I got sick, and felt like the problems were endless.

But you know, having a newborn is hard for everyone. I’m sure that if you have an “easy” labor and birth, something else will come up later that will make those first few weeks hard. It’s helped me a lot to keep in mind that the newborn phase is finite. And it’s really difficult not to compare yourself to other mothers, especially if you’re a skilled self-critic.

As I write this, I know that I love my son. He’s whining because he keeps shooting his pacifier out of his mouth, but he really wants it in there, he can’t relax without it. He relies on me to ease it back into his mouth so he can drift off into a half-asleep nirvana, only to wake himself up in frustration because he’s lost the pacifier again. As we go through this 30-minute cycle, I see a lot of my time and ideas for artwork growing wings and migrating on to another decade. Maybe they’ll return, along with my time for rock climbing and cycling with my husband.

But this little needy creature has and will continue to grow on me. Every day he looks less like a sack of baby, and more like a cute tiny human. My sister used to refer to him as scungilli before he was born, which is an Italian phrase of endearment for little babies—its translation is culinary, it’s the meat that comes out of small conch shells, which is kind of a delicacy. I think the nickname stems from the blindness of pregnancy and childbirth, and how babies are little faceless organism slowly growing— an eventual delicacy to some mothers, and hardly seeming delightful to others.


Scungilli is where this drawing comes from. It’s in my natal sketchbook, and I started drawing it in those days of looking at my ultrasound photos, expecting love, but really feeling a lot of unknowns about my son’s entrance into my world.




51 comments on “Unknowns

  1. Welcome back! You are now part of the trauma birth elite! I’m sorry to hear you had a difficult labour, to be honest there aren’t too many first birth stories that have a lasting happy memory left on the mind of the mother. This painting captures the wonder in the womb perfectly for me and thank you for sharing. I hope your son is thriving and the bond continues to grow between you x

    Liked by 7 people

    • Thank you for reading, and yes, I think you’re right– many of my first-time mom friends had very tough deliveries. While I wish it was easier for all of us, I do like that we all have something crazy to bond over. I appreciate your comments 🙂

      Liked by 4 people

  2. Nothing ever prepares you for that first labor and delivery. Somehow we women allow ourselves to feel guilty if our birth plan got waylaid on the way to the delivery room. Sounds like you and your little man are getting to know each other and falling in love in a natural fashion. I love your natal drawing, it is lovely!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Love this post. Thank you for being so honest about your experience and struggles with birth and new motherhood. I think women aren’t “supposed” to talk about the trauma and difficulty and incredible challenges of this time. Wishing you love and bonding with your little one. 😊

    Liked by 6 people

    • I couldn’t agree with you more. My goal in my writing and sharing about my experience as a mother is to be honest about everything. I appreciate so much all of the mothers I’ve talked to who were honest with me about their feelings and mistakes and disappointments. And yes, I’ve gotten the feeling from the beginning that if you don’t love every motherly moment, you should keep quiet. Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I’m hearing you sister….. Brought memories straight back of the birth of my youngest who turned 37 recently. Treasure these moments, the good days and the bad, as they really do go by in a wink even though it may seem like an eternity at the moment. You are creating still, but in a different way and all of it will feed into your output when it’s time to fly again. Your painting captures beautifully the darkness and the light of the greatest of all the unknowns. Best wishes to you.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I thinks it’s great how open you are about your first experience with child birth. It’s certainly not easy in the moment, but looking back you see how it’s a labor of love. You are a wonderful writer, keep it up!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Scungilli!! Interesting nickname. Does it have a real meaning?? Love your paintings!!
    Good luck being a mama! It is certainly tough and no amount of coaching can prepare you for it. It is an individual learning process but that is where our bonding with our babies start. The changing from being a girl to a mum is unique and therefore lovely. Being a parent is a huge challenge and believe me, it gets tougher as the children grow. Sorry!!Not trying to scare you, but although this path is fraught with tensions, it is also where we form sweet, lasting family memories. When older, one travels down memory lane, the fragileness of the sweet memories holds stronger than the bitter ones! So hang in there and enjoy being a mother!!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. So good! There is so much women feel like they can’t or should not talk about when it comes to those first couple days/weeks if it’s not exactly like the perfect picture painted for us! Thanks for the honesty, it is refreshing! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I love that someone has posted an article of this topic, and though I haven’t experienced birthing firsthand, my cousin did and had a similar experience after giving birth to her daughter by a previous boyfriend. Truly captivating and very powerful.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Thank you for your post. Your words touched me very much.
    Giving birth was a tumultuous experience for me, thought I was
    so deeply in it I didn’t have the capacity to be aware and observe it much.
    I became a Mom for the first time over 28 years ago and feel
    that I now understand how miraculous and transformative
    becoming a mother was and continues to be for me.
    Your writing inspired me to try and give it words.
    Thank you for sharing your writing and your art.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. I shared a lot of your feelings about my birth which didn’t go to plan either, but time is a great healer and nearly two years on I have not come across anything as difficult as the newborn baby stage – it gets easier.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for your comment & taking the time to read my post. I hope that what you say becomes true for me as well– I think the hardest part about this stage is not being able to communicate with him. Best of luck to you in your future parental adventures!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I work in a roomful of women, most of whom have had children. Hearing their stories, and yours, in addition, I’m convinced that if men had babies, there would be no such thing as a population explosion. My wife and I have had two of our own. Her stick-to-it-ivity still puts me in awe, even after the kids have left the coop. Your story rings true.

    Liked by 1 person

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