My sister-in-law has a wonderful story about the birth of her first child. “I feel complete,” she told me. “My body has now done everything it’s supposed to do.” Every time I’ve heard her tell it, she’s been giddy. She speaks of the wonder of a woman’s body, the physical instincts that take over during labor, the miracle of actually pushing a child into the world.
Three children later, I am still jealous.
I am a statistic, one of the don’t-read-this-unless-you-need-to end sections in What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Two months before my first baby was due, I got sick. My feet, hands, and face swelled up like Cheerios in milk. I’d been tired throughout the pregnancy, but suddenly it was worse–a heavy layer of exhaustion that weighed me down. My stomach hurt constantly, and I couldn’t keep most food down. I’d call my OB/GYN two or three times a week, and the nurses would always say, “It’s a virus. You’ll get over it.” But it didn’t feel like a virus. It felt wrong.
By the time the hypertension and proteinurea showed up a month later, I couldn’t find my ankle bones and had only three foods that I could eat: chicken nuggets, orange Gatorade, and cheap chocolate milkshakes (anything higher quality than McDonald’s came right back up). The diagnosis was pre-eclampsia, also known as toxemia and pregnancy-induced hypertension. To my doctor’s credit, he did take some steps to try to induce labor, but my body resisted them and Beth was born via c-section less than 24 hours after I arrived at the hospital.
I’d been attending a natural childbirth class, but missed the third session while I was in triage in the ER. I’d wanted to do things differently. Instead, I’ve never so much as gone into labor. I am profoundly grateful for hospital-based births and a community of careful, well-trained, inspired medical personnel. Mostly, I am thankful to be alive. Yet I can’t help but feel that I’ve cheated somehow–that I’ve missed something important and empowering about my physical body.
So I find myself thinking about expectations–how high we set them, especially when it comes to motherhood, and even more especially when it comes to Mormon motherhood–and how difficult and guilt-laden they can make our lives. And I want my addition to this series on birth and rebirth to be this: Whatever it is that you are feeling guilty about, whatever it is that you are afraid you aren’t doing right, lay it down and give yourself some rest. You are enough.