My daughter is seven weeks old.  Seven weeks!  How did that happen so quickly and slowly at the same time?  I’m looking at her now as I type this.  She is peacefully sleeping, her perfectly tiny hands resting on her stomach and her pacifier dangling from her lips.  She has changed so much in these seven weeks, I can hardly reconcile the baby she was those first days to the baby she is now.  What an awesome journey.

My husband and I were married five and a half years ago and immediately began building a house the hardest way you can probably imagine.  I thought the house would be finished and we would be moved in and cozy within a  year and then we’d get to the baby making!  I couldn’t wait to become a mother.  Even during the long years that went by when we were building our house and were in no position to start a family,  when I would tell people I didn’t really want children (probably to ease the pain of waiting), I always knew deep in my heart of hearts that this was the only job I really wanted.  My sisters tell me they cannot remember a time that I wasn’t waiting for motherhood.  Last winter, when we thought the end of house building was just beyond the horizon (ha!), we decided to throw caution to the wind and begin trying for a baby.  We didn’t consider the timing.  We didn’t consider anything, really.  We just wanted a baby, and luckily we didn’t have to wait long for that positive pregnancy test.

Pregnancy was easy for me.  In fact, I spent the first four months insulating and plastering the house just about full time and the next three months working full time as a teacher and plastering at the house on the weekends and after work.  I have a great photo of myself well into the second trimester twenty feet high on scaffolding plastering the second story of our house.   I was nervous about the birth, though.  I knew that it would push me to the limits of anything I had ever done before and I was scared.  To ease my fears, Jason and I signed up for a nine week Mindful Childbirth and Parenting class.  We learned how to meditate, practiced prenatal yoga, learned all about what happens physically and chemically during birth, experimented with pain management and were introduced to breastfeeding.  I left that class with my fears eased–the birthing process was demystified and I was sure that if I couldn’t handle the pain, at least I would not be afraid of it.

As fall turned to winter, and then winter turned to deep winter, my due date approached.  The winds picked up and the temperatures fell to well below freezing.  We live on an unbridged island off the coast of Maine, and these two factors meant that boats were canceled almost on a weekly basis.  I began to feel a little nervous about how the heck I was going to get to the hospital when the baby decided to come.  This was the only time in the whole pregnancy I really kicked myself for not considering the timing of this baby!  What were we thinking:  Giving birth to a baby in the dead of winter when you live on an outer island with unreliable transportation to the hospital–crazy!  I spent many windy nights awake, pleading that she would wait for a calm day.  It turns out she did.

I was in the middle of teaching a science lesson when the first signs of birth began with the sensation I was peeing my pants.  I tossed the dry erase marker in my hand to my long-term sub, Lauren, who happened to be shadowing me that day and ran to the bathroom.  Sure enough, the signs were there that my waters were beginning to leak!  I was in a daze for the rest of the day.  That night my husband and I sat with each other at the dinner table and toasted to the possibility that our lives and our relationship were about to change forever.  We were excited and nervous.  I went to bed that night as the first contractions started.  They grew steadily throughout the night, but never got serious enough to warrant waking Jason.  By 5am, the contractions were steady enough, strong enough and close enough to get up and make arrangements to catch the first boat off the island at 6:30am.  I packed up what we would need for the hospital and grabbed the baby bag while Jason ran out to the new house (no we’re still not in it–soon, though!) to stoke the stove and feed the chickens.  We hopped into the truck and drove down to the dock to catch the morning boat.

It was a stunning morning.  The water was like glass and the sun  coming over the horizon was streaking the sky pink and orange.  She could not have picked a more beautiful day to be born!

Of course by the time we got off the island all contractions and signs of impending birth had completely stopped.  I was so bummed, but also certain that if I ate enough pineapple and walked up enough hills things would get going again. My good friend and doula, Emily met us at the dock.  She spent the entire day with me and Jason trying to restart the birth process.   As the hours went by and nothing happened I felt embarrassed and so confused. The whole island knew we went off during the morning, Emily had rescheduled all of her work for the day–how could I possibly go home without a baby?  As the morning turned to afternoon and afternoon turned to evening, I began to come to terms with the fact that this baby wasn’t coming.  Jason and I decided to sleepover at Matt and Nichole’s just in case and Emily decided to go spend some time with her family.  The rest of the evening I tried to make light of the situation.  I joked around with Jason, Matt and Nichole and even had a glass of wine to relax a bit.    Finally it was late enough to go to bed.  I fell asleep, disappointed.

I woke up just 30 minutes later.  The contractions were back and stronger than ever.  I worked through the first phase of them for about an hour before needing some help.  I woke Jason and we worked together until the contractions were just 30 seconds apart.  At this point Jason mentioned that maybe we should call the hospital.  After the previous day, I didn’t really trust that what I was experiencing was the real thing, but I agreed that we should call.  The nurse encouraged us to come to the hospital.  Jason helped me to the car and we made the 10 minute drive to the hospital.  By then it was 1am.

Once in the hospital things progressed quickly.  I spent the next hour, hour and a half in the tub laboring through stronger contractions while Emily and Jason both helped me by applying pressure to my lower back and wiping my forehead with cool water.  Labor was intense, but I was surprised by what a peaceful experience it was.  The room was dark and quiet and each contractions came in a predictable wave.  As each contraction subsided I was able to relax and connect with my breath.  I kept reminding myself that I was now connected to every other mother on the planet.  I felt so happy!

Then it was time to push.  Jason helped me move from the tub to the bed.  Just as we reached the side of the bed and I put my hands down for support, my water broke.  I remember experiencing such a rush of surprise by the sound and feel of warm water just gushing from my body.  And then the first true urge to push overcame me.  It came from the tips of my toes, rushed up to the top of my head and then bore down on my whole body with such force I could do nothing but moan and brace myself against Emily, Jason and the bed.  It was during this part of the labor that I had to dig deep into myself to find the strength to keep going.  My mind rushed from thought to thought and I said “I can’t do this” more than once.  Of course, I had no choice.  The moments that I remembered to stay present and find the few wisps of peace between contractions were very helpful.  After just an hour of pushing, Lauren, the midwife, shared that she could see the baby’s head!  I reached down and felt her emerging.  With just one more push her whole head was out and one more push her body slipped out into the world.  Giving birth was simply the most amazing thing I have ever experienced.

And then everything changed.  In just one moment, with just one push, our lives were completely altered forever.   Now we began our life after the birth of our beautiful daughter.  If I thought that being pregnant was hard, I realized while laboring that pregnancy was nothing compared to giving birth.  It was soon after welcoming this helpless, precious little being into the world that I realized that if I thought giving birth was hard, it was nothing compared to the journey we were just beginning.

For me the hardest part of this experience so far is the loss of my former self and the birth of a new version of me.  I don’t know how to describe what this process has been like so far except to say that it feels like a slow surrender.  The first stage of this surrender came after the first week of the witching hour.  From the very first week of her life, Luciana has suffered from evening colic.  Every evening starting around 6:30 and lasting between three and five hours, our little girl screams uncontrollably.  Her face turns bright red, her body becomes as stiff as a board and her steel blue eyes seem to plead with us to do something to help her.  We swaddle her, play white noise, bounce and rock and dance, hold her on her belly or on her side and hold a pacifier in her mouth until she realizes it is there and begins to suck.  Our efforts to sooth her work to calm her crying, but she is still stressed, and short, violent bursts of cries continually slip out of her throat throughout the night.   It is utterly painful for all involved.

When this behavior first began Jason and I fought against it.  We complained about it and felt frustrated.  One night, during a particularly frustrating episode, we looked at each other and said “What did we do?  This was a mistake.”  After days and days of growing frustration, we finally realized that this was just how the next period of time was going to be and there was nothing we could do about it.  After we realized that the coming days, weeks and possibly months were going to be like this in the evening, things began to shift.  We stopped trying to eat supper together and instead took turns soothing our baby and eating.  We stopped thinking that we would get to bed at any predictable time and we started taking turns caring for her and sleeping.  As this surrender to our little baby continued, we also began to recognize that our frustration with her during this time became less and less and our compassion for her grew and grew.  There are certainly still times that we are frustrated, but we have learned to support each other during those times and we are getting through each night bit by bit.

Surrendering to this baby has not been easy.  It’s been exhausting and trying.  In fact, to find strength to make it through this, I began to pray.  I’m not a religious person and my prayers are not to any God in particular.  In fact, they are probably prayers to myself more than anything else.  I pray for strength, patience, and the mindfulness to cherish each moment with this little baby–even those during the witching hour and those in the middle of the night when she wakes up for diaper changes or feedings or just because.

I’m not sure if this surrender is complete yet.  There are definitely times that my frustration level boils up unexpectedly and I need to take a break, but things are getting easier.  I’m finding deeper pools of strength and patience than I ever realized I had within me and I am falling in love with my baby more and more every day.  It is true that I instantly felt love for my precious baby, but somehow that love grows infinitely stronger every day.  Even when I’m exhausted, sore, frustrated, and sobbing, my love for this little human overwhelms me.  It’s a love like I’ve never experienced before.  I now also recognize how quickly she is growing and changing.  Where before I just wished and wished for her to develop so things would be easier, now I try not to wish these moments away.   At night, before I fall asleep and the baby is sleeping next to me in her cradle, I gaze at her and try to remember each detail of her sweet expression, her little fingers and toes, the way that she breathes and moves her arms when she begins to stir.  In the middle of the night when she wakes up to nurse and I cradle her in my arms  rocking back and forth I now recognize that these hours in the middle of the night are my favorites.  I’m sure this is the beginning of my own transformation, but so far, I like this new version of me and I’m open to the continued surrender.

Looking back on the last seven weeks I know now that I wasn’t prepared for this life after birth.  But then again, is there anything that could have prepared me?  The first weeks were the most challenging of my life.  This whole experience continues to be the most challenging of my life.  But I guess that’s the thing with parenthood.  Yes, the sleep deprivation, the uncontrollable roller coaster of emotions, the discomfort of breastfeeding, the loss of independence–all of those things are really, really hard, but somehow, even with all of that, this experience is also the most intensely amazing, loving, beautiful and wonderful of my life, too.