Birthing a Love Story

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Unlike all other Wednesdays, this one had me crying in the shower hoping that my water did not actually break prematurely and ended with my baby being rolled away to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). So when my preschooler first asked me to tell him about the day he was born, images of the scariest day of my life flashed through my head. There were some happy moments in between the terror, like when I held him for the first time or saw that he was healthier than we expected for his age. Overall, it was a day full of uncertainty and fear, with the usual nerves of a new parent mixed with the knowledge of a pediatrician parent who knows the risks of premature birth. My first foray into parenting was wrought with drama. It was all too complicated to explain to my now five-year-old son, so I thought for a while before extracting a few positive notes that I could simplify and G-rate for the wild imagination of a preschooler.

There is much about his birth story that reflects what I would later learn was his personality and he chose to show it to me from the very beginning. Had I known him already, I could have imagined that he would storm out of my uterus screaming. I would have known that he would come whenever he was ready and with great determination. Everything about his birth terrified me, yet I remember how eager I was to meet him and knew that while he would continue to make me nervous, he would also bring me peace. Every worry that fluttered into my mind was swatted away when I nuzzled our faces together, fanned his tiny fingers over one of my own, or inhaled his sweet newborn smell.

So when I look at my son, now a healthy six-year-old, I tell him this story:

You and I could not wait to meet each other and we were in such a rush to meet that you came six weeks early so that we could spend more time together. Then we were so happy together and even though you were little, you were strong, and we were stronger together. You were so tiny they had to keep you in a special box to stay warm but you ate and ate and grew and grew and they let you come home with mommy and daddy forever. We are so lucky that we had six extra special weeks with you.

While this silver lining version of his premature delivery made me feel warm and fuzzy each time I told him, it left me wondering how I would describe his sister’s post-dates birth. If his preterm vaginal birth was the story of an organic, eager, and resilient love, what was the theme of her drawn out labor and caesarean section? It was two days beyond my due date, three days of labor, and two hours of pushing until they had to cut her from my body. I felt defeated, devastated, and debilitated. For me, her birth story was one of mixed success and failure. I felt a great accomplishment in carrying her to term after her brother’s premature birth, but incredibly disappointed that her delivery ended in a caesarean section. It seemed like the entire pregnancy led up to this moment of failure, which lasted only a few minutes but left a literal scar on me forever. How could I spin this story to be cheerful and blameless when it still stung to recant it?

Like her brother, her birthing personality would hold true for what I would later describe as her personality: independent, indecisive, and sweet. When I felt a loss of ownership over the labor, I knew that she was in control. She was the captain of the ship. Her full term pregnancy became a badge of honor and although I had to reconcile the unnatural delivery that culminated those nine months, her health was more than enough justification. And so, like her birth, her story was more difficult to extract but eventually sat comfortably in my heart:

You and I were so happy together that we did not want to part. You nuzzled yourself with your head facing up, as if looking at me, and I rubbed your back as it pressed along the right side of my belly. You wanted desperately to stay with me, which is what I had hoped for the entire time you existed. You were so smart and beautiful that you amazed us all. Although some may have seen you as being stuck at birth, I think you blazed your own route. You were nothing like what I expected and yet exactly who I dreamed of my entire life.

Much like a horoscope, I imagine that I could read what I needed to hear from these situations. I could be projecting my own hopes and biases onto a single moment in our joint medical history or glamorizing these events for the sake of passing along an oral history my children will enjoy for years to come. I want them to have these shiny versions though that tell the story of our individual and unique relationships. How deeply I love both of them, yet differently, just as our first and most intimate interactions were varied.

My children ask me to repeat their birth stories to them often and so the glamorized versions that I created to protect them from the reality of childbirth are weaved into their personal narratives. A story they will someday reflect on as they prepare for the births of their own children. It tells the story not only of their first days of life, but of us. So as I recite these personal tales as bedtime stories with them snuggled in my arms, I respect that I have avoided the usual birth story platitudes and polished a narrative that reflects the beauty of our relationships; they are the love stories of my life.

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