I don’t like the way my daughter was born.
I wish I could rewind. I wish I could write the script myself. “Open on a clear blue pool, in the middle of a verdant green meadow; the sun casts a soft, golden glow.” Or “a soft cocoon of an apartment in winter, the softest sheets and blankets, warm and cozy.”
Instead, my daughter was born in a crummy New York City hospital, all sterile and institutional and ugly. And the nurses, those bastards, those well-meaning bastards, waited 20 minutes before they gave her to me, before they let me hold my baby girl. Well, I got to hold her briefly, after begging, but then they whisked her away for cleaning and various tests — tests the same hospital’s education department had told us, in childbirth class, were not necessary. “Skin to skin contact for the first hour of the child’s life is essential,” the instructor told us — for bonding, for the child’s health — and I craved it, yearned for it. I dreamed about that first hour of her life, alone with me and Jordan, like the 10 minutes we stole after our wedding ceremony, before the reception. Private, intimate time, amidst the hubbub. And they stole that from me.
“A healthy baby, that’s the most important thing.” That’s what so many people say, and of course, yes, that’s right — at the end of the day, if I had to pick one Important Thing, that would be it. And I say a prayer of gratitude every day for my daughter’s continued health. But the experience of giving birth, and the experience of being born — those are other Very Important Things. And there is a sadness in my heart related to the un-beautiful way my beautiful daughter came into this world, and those missing 20 minutes, that gap, that time I can never get back. The first 20 minutes of my daughter’s life, when she belonged on my chest, goddammit, not in a hospital tub getting birth material washed off of her, not getting poked and jabbed with tests that could wait.
You can see that I’m still very emotional about this, 8 months later. I don’t talk about it. I try not to think about it. What’s the use? She’s healthy, I’m healthy, and every day we have moments together that I cherish. I didn’t write a detailed birth plan because they seemed like nonsense — why bother scripting the way you want it to go, since it’s gonna go however it goes? But I swung too far in that direction. It’s one thing not to get locked into expectations. It’s another to not to take any steps to try to create the experience you desire. And I didn’t take those steps. I’ve taken more care to set the atmosphere of every dinner party I’ve ever hosted than I did to create the kind of birth experience my heart craved.
And yet. If I’m being honest… my heart mostly craves it in retrospect. Only now, as a mother, knowing my love for Alison, do I care so much about the atmosphere in which she took her first breaths, spent her first days. I craved it somewhat beforehand, but less for her, and more just because I’m always drawn to comfort. I didn’t realize the significance that comfort, and warmth, and nurturing, would have on this of all days. It seems so obvious, looking back. But we only know what we know when we know it.
Everyone has an origin story. Maybe it’s the story of your literal birth, or the story you tell yourself about your upbringing, about where you’re from. So often, these origin stories don’t serve us. They make us feel small, like less than we are. So why do we keep repeating them to ourselves? What kind of sick urge makes us tell ourselves stories that don’t serve us, again and again? And here I am, doing that to Alison’s story; maybe, if you’re a parent, you do the same thing.
The truth is, it’s easier to hold onto something negative, because it gives us something to fix. At least, I’m realizing that about myself. My brain wants something to chew on, to puzzle over, to worry about. When everything’s ok – it doesn’t know what to do. We are addicted to stress. We are afraid to relax.
Maybe we need to practice accepting that everything’s ok.