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.