I became a mother on May 29.
Here are a few of the things I’ve learned in the past week.
1. Nitrous oxide is a miracle drug that should be available for all women in childbirth everywhere. It can change a woman in the most intense stages of labor from a despairing sufferer lashing out at everyone, to a chilled-out paragon of courage and strength.
2. Breastfeeding is hard and painful. It is bullshit when they say that it shouldn’t hurt as long as the latch is correct. A bad latch certainly hurts worse, and the initial suck is the worst part, but even with a good latch, a baby with strong instincts, and experienced caregivers providing support, each individual suck can pinch and pull. Engorgement means that I’ve passed the point of no return–not nursing hurts even worse than nursing does. For me, for now, on the whole, breastfeeding is bearable. For others, it may not be, and I understand that more than ever now.
3. I am amazingly lucky. My child is healthy. My labor was relatively quick and free from unnecessary medical intervention, and my physical recovery is going well. My caregivers in the hospital did a great job on the whole. My child is healthy and beautiful, with gorgeous skin, a rosebud mouth, and bright, curious eyes. I have been overwhelmed with help and support from friends and relatives, especially my mom, who has coached me in labor and in establishing breastfeeding, helped with the baby’s restless nights, cleaned my whole house, stocked my fridge, and waited on me hand and foot while I fed the baby. My child is heathy and strong, with amazing feeding instincts and the head control of a baby several weeks older. My partner is committed to both of us and eager to learn his new role. He and I have all the resources we need to care for this baby. My child is healthy and seems happy, or at least he’s easy enough to satisfy, has some ability to self-soothe, and doesn’t seem to cry for no reason (so far). My body is producing the food he needs. In almost every aspect of this experience, I have had the best possible outcome, or at least the best outcome anyone could reasonably expect. Each one of these things is an amazing piece of good fortune, without which I might be struggling. Each one of them is too good for me.
4. I want to express my happiness and gratitude without being smug or self-satisfied. I think the best way to strike that balance is to recognize that I have done nothing to deserve this luck. There is nothing that I did before, during, or after pregnancy to earn or deserve a relatively easy delivery and healthy baby, much less the other blessings, which have more to do with the generosity of others than with me. I want to be grateful for my good fortune without implicitly condemning less fortunate women. Also, I want to acknowledge that the hardest days are ahead of me and that this good fortune may not last. I want to mix my gratitude with humility, appreciating the many good things in my new motherhood more because I know I don’t deserve them. They are gifts, and can’t be earned.