I thought Labor and Delivery would end once my baby was born but it’s been continuing for the last 9 months. You see, for me, parenting is just labor and delivery on repeat and realizing that has made the mental act of parenting a bit easier.
Let’s back up a bit. When I was pregnant, I spent most of my time worrying about labor. I literally had ZERO worries about the actual parenting part. (Ahh, ignorance is bliss). I had decided I wanted to attempt a natural childbirth (i.e. no pain meds) and thus spent most of my time worrying about what labor would feel like, if I would be able to do it without medication, if I would even know I was in labor (spoiler alert: you KNOW when you are in labor), and the list goes on. Labor was scary to me because it was just so unknown. There isn’t really a physical equivalent to labor and the idea that I couldn’t experience even an inkling of what it would feel like ahead of time really worried me. With labor being my primary concern, I spent most of my pregnancy reading up and preparing myself for labor – taking a birthing class, reading Mindful Birthing, and scouring the internet for anything I could find related to labor and more specifically, natural labor. I more or less felt “prepared” (as prepared as one can be) and ended up having a really lovely natural birth. I was a lucky one in that my labor and delivery were short, about 5 hours start to finish, and relatively simple. It surely wasn’t painless but it also wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be and I was quite honestly really proud of myself when it was over. I was also thrilled that the end of this labor resulted in meeting our beautiful daughter, Neena. Labor and delivery was, shall I say, easy.
Then came parenting. Turns out it was (and still is) A LOT harder than I had imagined. I mentioned earlier that during pregnancy I had ZERO worries about parenting. I’m still not sure why that was the case. I had been around lots of babies as a kid and adult, had lots of friends that had babies so I had witnessed a fair amount of parenting, and ALWAYS knew that I wanted to be a mom – I guess the combination of those things allowed my ignorant self to assume that I would just sail right through parenting. Right? WRONG. Two days after Neena was born she stopped eating – went 12 hours straight without feeding at all which is not good for a baby that small. A two-day hospital stay followed with lots of hypotheses as to why she wasn’t eating and subsequently not maintaining a high enough blood sugar level. We never really found out what was wrong and were able to get her to eat again, from a bottle at first and eventually back to breastfeeding. I know I probably couldn’t have done anything different in those 12 hours but that was my first moment of realizing that I didn’t really know what I was doing. And how could I have? I had never been a parent before so I shouldn’t be expected to know what I was doing. The problem was that I had been so confident in my ability to be a parent that any moment in which I wasn’t excelling at it made me feel like a failure. This was a continuous theme for much of the past nine months. We would face some new trial with Neena and I would harshly criticize myself for what was happening and feel disappointment that I wasn’t the parent I thought I would be. This feeling wouldn’t last forever, just for short bits of time, but it would eventually creep back up when something went “wrong”.
Recently, I made a realization that I needed to start looking at parenting the same way I looked at labor and delivery to help me mentally get tackle my new role as a mother.
I’ve never been in labor – aka I’ve never been a parent
From the minute I was pregnant, I knew I had never been in labor before and easily accepted that. Turns out, I needed to also accept that I was inexperienced with parenting. It’s like when someone tells you “labor is like period cramps but worse”. That’s what babysitting is to parenting. Yes, I had been around a lot of babies growing up and had lots of friends with babies, but I had never actually been the parent. Those babies never came home with me at night and I was never ultimately responsible for them. So while I had experienced aspects of parenting (aka “period cramps”), I had never experienced full parenting (aka “labor”). I’m sure some of you reading this are thinking “Well duh, Megan!” but it was nevertheless an important realization and parallel for me to make. It was the start to letting myself off the hook a bit more when it came to my abilities as a parent. I was new at this and I didn’t and shouldn’t know what to expect and that’s okay.
The unexpectedness of labor- aka the unexpectedness of parenting.
In most cases, you don’t plan labor. Most people don’t wake up and say “I’m going to have my baby today”. That might be a bit different for cesarean sections or inductions but even those don’t always go according to plan. There are also many women who want to have a vaginal birth and end up having a C-section or women who want pain medications and end up having to do a natural birth. The moral of the story is that labor and delivery happens on its own terms as does parenting and the challenges and triumphs I will face – I can’t anticipate and plan for everything that’s going to happen and trying to do so will likely drive me crazy and set me up for disappointment. For me, embracing the unexpectedness of parenting helped me calm down a bit and remember that I’m not always the one in control. All I can do is try to prepare for the situation, face it once it arrives and be flexible to it not going according to how you thought it would. Case in point: I always thought I would be a sleeping wizard with my children and that they would sleep through the night beautifully (another ignorance is bliss moment). When that didn’t go according to plan, I took it very hard and became very frustrated with her sleeping. I had become stuck in my ways with how we were currently approaching bed and sleep and thought that if I just stuck with it that it would change and she would miraculously sleep through the night. I quite frankly started to dread bedtime and the hours that followed. Only recently did I start to realize that I needed to be more flexible and relaxed when it came to bedtime and sleeping. If our current situation wasn’t working, then try something new. Labor doesn’t always go as planned but at the end of the day the baby always ends up getting out one way or another. Parenting is the same – it might not go as I expected but I will eventually get to the outcome. My child will continue to grow and develop. It just might not happen in the way I thought it would.
Contractions – aka the hard parenting moments – and the breaks in between.
I mentioned that I read Mindful Birthing while preparing for labor and one of the insights I gleaned from that book was putting contractions into perspective. During early labor and a good chunk of active labor, most women contract for about 60 seconds every 5 minutes. So put in different terms, in an hour, you are contracting for 12 minutes. When I read that, I thought “12 minutes? I can do 12 minutes”. The book also recommended really savoring those breaks in between contractions (aka the other 48 minutes). Both of these lessons can be applied to parenting. There are many moments that are hard but they are usually finite. In those hard moments, it’s often hard to remember the finiteness of it all but if I put it into perspective it makes that challenge a bit more manageable. It helps me remember that this particular challenge will probably be over before I know it and I start to focus more on the time in between that isn’t so challenging. Case in point: This past Saturday, Neena was a real fuss pot. Nothing seemed to be pleasing her. When you picked her up, she wanted to be put down and when you put her down she wanted to be picked up. When I was holding her she wanted her dad and when her dad was holding her she wanted me. You get the drift. The girl just couldn’t be satisfied. In that moment, I told myself “this is fleeting. She must be going through something and will come out of this soon enough”. Sure enough, two days later, she was back to her smiley giggly self and I really embraced every minute of it knowing that eventually she’d fuss again. The energy I received though from those smiley, giggly, carefree moments will sustain me through the next challenge which happened to be some sleep training that happened later in the week. There is no denying that contractions hurt but they are temporary, just like the challenges I face as a parent, and putting the tough times into perspective has made a load of difference for me. Just remember: it’s just 12 minutes.
Delivery – aka the aha moments.
It’s true when they say that your life completely changes the minute that your baby enters the world. The minute I saw Neena it was like everything else went away. I was so in love and grateful to be meeting our baby girl. It also made me completely forget about the 10 months of uncomfortableness and the 5 hours of pain I had just gone through in order to meet her. This concept continues as a parent. There is a LOT of work that goes into being a parent but those delivery moments, like the first time they smile or giggle or crawl, make all that work fade into the background. That feeling of euphoria I felt when I delivered Neena comes rushing back and my pride and joy drowns out all the work it took to get there. When I look back on her labor, I don’t really think much about the pain I was in but instead I think about the moment I laid eyes on her. I’m sure that will be the case when I look back on her first year. There might be a glimmer of those tough moments but I’ll primarily think of the delivery moments.
Your labor and delivery team – aka your support system.
When I had Neena, the only person in the room with me was Neel. He walked me through every single contraction, counting to 30 just like I had asked him to. He stood by my side as I pushed and shared my joy as we laid eyes on our baby girl. I seriously don’t think I could have done it without him. He provided support and was the calm to my nerves during the whole thing. Just like labor, I needed him and a boatload of other supporters as I learned (and continue learning) to be a parent. Sure I could have done labor on my own but I didn’t want to and it made a total difference to have someone walking through it with me. Same goes for parenting. For me, it’s hard to give up control. As a born and raised Catholic, I can lay a major guilt trip on myself about needing to do everything and anything for Neena myself but that just isn’t sustainable. Just like I needed Neel during labor, I need him and others to help me as a parent. It’s also important for me to be specific in what I need. I knew that I needed Neel to count down my contractions so I asked him specifically to do that and he did. As we parent Neena, the more specific I am with my requests for support (of him and of others) the more satisfied we all are and the more helpful we can be to one another.
This labor and delivery analogy has really helped me mentally understand my role as a parent. Does it make the challenging times disappear and am I that perfect super hero parent I always imagined I would be? No, it doesn’t. Do I still have moments of feeling that I’m failing at being a parent? Yes. This analogy doesn’t make parenting a breeze but it helps me put it all into a perspective that I understand and makes it that much easier to get through (Tip: a glass of wine every so often also makes it more manageable). It helps prepare me mentally for the labor of love that will be raising Neena and any future siblings Neena might have. The joy is that I’ve gone through labor before and I know the outcome is more beautiful I could have imagined. Here’s to the next beautiful outcome.