A few weeks ago a dear friend asked me, “So, what’s she like?”
I loved the question. I loved that she wasn’t asking me what the nights were like, with all the loaded expectation that the question brings, or if she likes her bath, or what the weird rash on her face was from. I love that she was asking about my new daughter as a person.
But I didn’t know how to answer.
Or rather, I didn’t like my answer.
She seemed exactly like GG. She looked like him, sounded like him and moved like him. The way she stretched as she woke and squished her lips together after a feed brought back strong memories of the last time round. She was transfixed by anything with stripes, just like he used to be. She wore his clothes, and she felt like him in my arms.
I felt like such a phony.
I’m constantly ranting about how all babies are individuals, how they are whole people from birth, and yet I couldn’t even tell the difference between my own two babies. I’m embarrassed to say I even had a hard time remembering that she was a girl from time to time, and I constantly called her the wrong name.
And by comparison, GG with all his rambunctious toddler energy, babbling away in two languages, running and jumping and joking and yelling, he felt like so much more of a whole person to me. The little one felt like just an outline, whereas GG is full, vibrant color.
Things are shifting now, but slowly.
A few weeks on and it’s clear, this is a different child. This one likes to sleep, swaddled up and cozy in her bed. She knows exactly what she wants, and as long as she gets it she’s content and predictable. She loves to nurse but only when she wants to – there’s no shoving a boob in her mouth when it might be convenient for me. She picks the pace. She’s calm and clear, as articulate as a newborn can be. And she’s beautiful, naturally.
But still, I can’t believe how hard it is to write this without making a comparison to GG. To write a preliminary sketch of my little girl’s emerging character without referencing her brother. Even though they’re so different and I’m supposedly so observant and perceptive. As bad as I feel saying it, he’s my only benchmark.
She’s almost two months old now, and we’ve got the basics down pat – eating, sleeping, and diapering. Apart from that, all I really know is that when she smiles at me I melt, and when we gaze into each other’s eyes it feels like I’ve known her forever. I guess it’s just a matter of time, as she reveals more of herself to me, and we build a relationship that’s ours and ours alone.
For now, though we’re still physically linked as a little ecosystem, as individuals – as mother and daughter – we’re still getting to know each other.
A year ago today I sat on this couch and said goodbye.
The previous couple of days, after we found out, I’d been gung-ho, all action. Rationalizing that it was better to find out now, to spare ourselves the heartbreak of finding out later on in the pregnancy or even at birth. Making arrangements. Speaking to friends and family, reassuring them that everything would be okay. I put on a brave face, smiled for my husband and my son. I oozed bravado.
But somewhere in among all that noise, two wise women in my life shared what they did before terminating their pregnancies, and their words hit home for me. I realized it was time to go within. Time to acknowledge the sadness that was welling up inside of me, even if I couldn’t quite name it yet. Even if I wanted to believe was somehow strong enough to transcend it.
So I sat on this couch, alone.
Alone not because there was no one around me, not because I didn’t have support. Alone because it was time to be alone. Because there was no one who was going to be able to get me through the next day but me. No one else getting wheeled into that operating theater. Alone because I needed to go within.
I sat on this couch with my hands on my tummy and I meditated.
I took deep breaths and grounded myself into the present. I let myself feel what was going on right then. The visceral, emotional experience – not just the words swimming around my head trying in vain to make everything okay. I felt the sadness, the beginnings of grief. The incredulous shock that this was happening to me, to us. I didn’t want to but I did it anyway. And I sat there with those feelings, for a few long, heavy moments.
And when I was ready to say goodbye, the sobs came right up from that place. As I hugged myself I explained why we had to do what we had to do, in my heart. I didn’t know who or what I was explaining to. I’d been trying to convince myself that this was just a pregnancy, a fetus. Not a baby and certainly not my baby. Yet I spoke with the voice of a mother. About how this was the only decision for our family, for GG. How we’d meet again, if that was even something that I believed in, if it was meant to be.
And somehow I felt better, that cathartic calm that comes after a good cry. I didn’t know then that the worst was yet to come, that I’d crash a month later, and then many times during the pregnancy that followed. But for right now – right then – I felt better.
Now I sit here on this couch, a year later. The same couch but in our new home, with our new baby cooing in her cot beside me.
Would a glimpse into the future that night have brought any comfort? The knowledge that this is how everything would look in the not so distant, only a year later?
Could be. All I know is I’m happy to be on the other side of this year.
By the time the big day finally rocked around, I was so done. Done with the anxieties of a pregnancy after two consecutive losses, with being huge and uncomfortable, with mounting pressure to induce. Done with well-meaning but really fucking annoying text messages ranging from thinly veiled “how are you”s to flat-out “any baby yet?”s. Done with agonizing about where GG would be when I finally went into labor, whether we’d have time to get to the hospital where I wanted to give birth, how to plan getting there in enough time to be safe but not too early. Done with the constant and irrational fears that kept arising that there was something wrong with the baby that hadn’t been spotted on the scans.
I was so done.
And after a day-and-a-half of mild but regular contractions at 10 minutes apart I was battling to keep my shit together. I was winning, don’t get me wrong, but it was a struggle. So at 41+1 weeks pregnant, when we went to the hospital for my third round of overdue monitoring, I was extra done. And when the attending doctor recommended I have a c-section because of the baby’s considerable weight and stomach circumference (according to ultrasound assessment), I was almost done enough to just say yes. Almost, but not quite.
My husband and I talked it through and consulted with a doctor friend who I trust, along with my doula, and decided we had more questions. We happened upon a more senior doctor at the hospital who told us that while her official recommendation – according to the numbers – was a c-section, she was pretty sure that this baby wasn’t bigger than 4kg, and that I could successfully birth her naturally. GG was born just under 3.8kg, after all. We left the hospital confident that this was the best choice for us but still nervous – as much as I trust my body and the process of birth, I also trust the staff at this hospital and medical research in general. And after recent experiences… I didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks.
In any case, through all of these phone calls and conversations, an energy was starting to build in my body. The best way I can describe it is by drawing on my memories of party drugs back in the day – it was like a pill slowly coming on, a kind of low buzz with the promise of peaks to come. The contractions were also starting to take on a different quality, and getting closer together. I guess the threat of major abdominal surgery was just the push I needed to finally let go and bring this baby into the world.
By this point lunchtime had been and gone and we’d hardly eaten, so we headed off for a nice brunch. But by the time we parked at the cafe I didn’t feel like I could sit still, so we hung out in the car and timed contractions – 5-6 minutes apart! We bought some sandwiches and fruit had a little picnic in nearby park instead. I consulted with my doula again and we decided to slowly start heading back to the hospital. If we were at home we probably would have hung out a little longer, but since we were in the area we figured why not get checked again, and avoid getting stuck in traffic driving home and back. A long drive and strong contractions didn’t sound fun at all.
At some point during all this I was struck with pure excitement, and stopped for a moment to breathe it in and give Uri a big hug. More flashbacks to partying back in the day. But this time the joy was real and unadulterated. The day had finally arrived – we were going to meet our little girl. I burst into tears and let that sink in a bit, and from then on I was calm – I knew she was coming. I didn’t feel rushed or stressed. My body was starting to do its thing and my baby knew what to do.
We ended up at the hospital earlier in the labor than I probably would have planned – I was 4cm dilated by the time I got through the 2 hour ordeal of getting monitored and seeing the doctor – but in hindsight it was perfect. Instead of answering lists of questions and getting poked and prodded while in the throes of intense contractions, I was able to get that bureaucratic part out-of-the-way while still in the latent stage of labor. It felt like I was in some sort of very convenient labor holding pattern – definitely on the way to giving birth but clear-headed and comfortable for the time being. By a stroke of luck the natural birthing suite was available, and after another wait we were in there getting comfortable by about 5pm.
Around that time my midwife and doula both suggested we try a couple of tricks to get things moving. To be honest I was hesitant – I felt like I’d pushed hard to let my body lead the way and I didn’t want to start interfering, even by natural means. And yet on the other hand, I really wanted to meet our baby already. So I took deep breath along with both of their suggestions – my doula rubbed some clary sage oil on my lower back, and the midwife sent us off to walk up and down a nearby flight of stairs.
Something must have worked. I made it up about half a flight of stairs before I was hanging off the railings and moaning like, well, like a woman giving birth. From that moment on everything changed.
Emotionally I did a full 180 – I felt much more serious, totally lost the urge to chat or even to speak at all more than what was necessary. Even giving simple instructions like telling my husband where to massage my back seemed incredibly difficult. And physically – well, pain just messes with everything, right? The hippy hypnobirther in me wants to describe it all as pressure and surges and visuals of flowers opening and whatnot but no – every contraction just fucking hurt. Yes I was picturing each one bringing my baby closer to me, and it did feel like productive pain, but still. Each contraction hurt more than the one before it, and they quickly got so close together that I felt like I was getting no rest in between at all. I became obsessed with finding the perfect position and panicked if a contraction was starting and I wasn’t on all fours or leaning forward, preferably with Uri behind me squeezing my hips. I couldn’t get comfortable in the birthing pool. I was freezing when I got out. Sitting was impossible. I cried that I couldn’t do it, that it was too hard. I fantasized about being one of the ‘normal’ women in the rooms down the hall – hooked up to an epidural and resting through my dilation.
And then suddenly, finally, my waters broke. I was squatting on a stool in the shower at the time, and I felt that pop and everything gushed out. The midwife brought over the wireless monitor – one of the main advantages of the natural birthing room – and checked the baby’s heartbeat as I stood in the shower. She also checked my dilation – 8cm! For the first time in hours I felt encouraged, like I was actually progressing. And then a few minutes later I was already feeling the urge to push. I was so excited – in GG’s birth I never felt that urge, and I think that’s how I managed to do so much damage to my body, by pushing before I was ready.
We moved over to the bed – a nice, comfy double bed with an adjustable head – and I got on all fours. Again, my whole mood shifted – finally there was something I could do! I knew the end was near, and I also felt like I was getting some rest in between contractions. In reality it was only a minute or so but I honestly felt like 20. And with those few rejuvenating breaths my presence of mind returned. I was once again aware that I wanted to push gently to avoid more damage to my pelvic floor. To use the pressure of the contractions to move the baby down the birth canal. That our baby girl was almost here.
The midwife told me to use low humming sounds as I exhaled. On the first push I felt her head come all the way down, and then pull back up a bit. Uri got a glimpse of her full head of hair. On the next push her head was out. And the push after that, her whole body came sliding into the world – all 3.98kg of it. She cried a split second later, and my heart exhaled and I was flooded with relief.
Relief that the pain was over. That the pregnancy was over. That the birth was over. Relief that she was finally here. Our rainbow. Arya.
The minutes and hours that followed brought more of the same. Within a few minutes she latched on and nursed for well over an hour. After that I got up and had a shower. Of course no birth is the same but this was a difference of night and day from my previous birth, after which GG needed to have his stomach pumped and I lost a lot of blood.
This was a totally different experience for all three of us. Uri took the baby to get some routine tests while I cleaned up, joked around with the midwife and tidied up our stuff. I got a few stitches – but again, nothing like the first time round. And then we rested, with big smiles. Albeit in a packed room in a packed ward of a public hospital, but we had our baby and it was magic nonetheless.
This beautiful birth reminded me of the strength in flexibility – the flow that comes with being open to any outcome, any deviation from my plans and preferences. It reminded me that my man and I can support each other through anything. And it taught me that it’s okay to pick and choose tools from different schools of thought, that I don’t have to be any one thing. That my strength lies in being able to deal with whatever life throws at us – rather than being able to control or predict it in any way.
The last few weeks of pregnancy are such a weird time for me.
My hospital bag was packed weeks ago. Baby clothes are washed and folded. Supplies purchased and tucked away. We’ve met with our doula, planned a route to the hospital. My husband’s mother is on 24/7 alert to take care of GG when I go into labor. The house is clean and the pantry is stocked.
I’ve researched pushing techniques to prevent my pelvic prolapses getting worse, teas to strengthen my blood in case I lose a lot again. I take my prenatal vitamins every day like clockwork. I go to yoga classes and I feel relatively healthy. I’m resting as much as possible.
There’s literally nothing left to do but wait.
Now it’s all up to our little rainbow; whenever she’s ready.
The mindful mama in me knows exactly what to do now. It’s time to surrender. To ground myself, meditate, keep coming back to this moment. To practice patience and trust, reassured in the knowledge that every day snuggled up inside me is doing her good.
But I am not all mindful mama, not quite yet. I’m also a doer, a planner. A control freak. I like to research and organize. To know what’s going to happen when. And this limbo before labor is very tough for that side of me.
Every little twinge – whether it’s a Braxton Hicks contraction, a hunger pang or just that I need to pee – sparks off a spiral of “oo, maybe this is it!” thoughts in my mind. Who do I need to call? Should I start timing contractions? What’s traffic like on the freeway right now?
I’m so excited I can hardly sit still, and yet wrapped up in that excitement is also a whole stack of nerves that I’m only just starting to meet and name. The fear of feeling like crap like I did after GG was born. Of giving birth in the car on the way to the hospital. Of something going wrong. It’s all wrapped in joy and anticipation, but it’s fucking intense and fucking exhausting at the same time. As if schlepping around this massive baby wedged under my rib cage wasn’t enough to tire me out right now.
But still, there’s nothing to do. Nothing but coming back to the present moment, over and over again. Acknowledging the fears as they come up and the excitement as it bubbles around in there, too. To rest and enjoy our last few moments as a family of three.
To breathe as much as my poor squished up lungs will let me.
When the inspiration strikes to write at the moment, all I want to do is whine. About how tired I am, all the time. About needing to pee from about 5 minutes into my 1 hour plus commute, every day, twice a day. About how GG always claims he needs to pee 2 minutes after I put him to bed. And how hard getting him dressed and undressed is when I can barely touch my toes and he thinks running away in the middle is hilarious. About stomach viruses at 9 months pregnant…
But I don’t want to write that post. This is not a whiny blog.
Instead, I’m gonna force myself to write about the things I’m grateful for right now. Because really, life is fucking sweet.
We just moved into a beautiful new home. Yes, we have a massive mortgage to pay off, but most people don’t have access to that sort of loan, so I’m truly grateful for it. And for the supportive family that helped us get here.
And that squirmy toddler I mentioned? In between the bahhhh moments he is the light of my life. Hilarious and cuddly and unbelievably smart. And obsessed with Goldilocks, but that’s a story for another time.
And that kid’s father, he deserves the lion’s share of my gratitude. He cooks and he cleans, mainly while I lie on the couch doing pelvic floor exercises and practicing Hypnobirthing breathing. He takes care of all our paperwork coz dealing with bureaucracy over here is hard for me. It’s a pain in the ass for him too but he does it anyway. He listens when I whine about how he doesn’t communicate properly with me and tries so hard to rectify it that his emoticon text message replies warm my hormone-riddled heart. And somehow he fits in a full-time job and a side job, too. He’s the best father I could ever want for my kids, and I’ve got a feeling he hasn’t even warmed up yet.
Ok enough mush.
I’m grateful for the breeze blowing through the door as I write this, a gentle reminder that the humidity of the Middle Eastern summer has finally broken. I’m grateful for the Internet and all the information, entertainment and connection it brings daily. I’m grateful for my girlfriends, old and new. I’m grateful for fresh fruit and vegetables, and for dark chocolate. I’m grateful to have a voice and the power of expression. To share the shit going through my head and connect with other people as a result.
I’m on the way to work, sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on my new one-hour daily commune, when my husband calls to update me on drop off. He sounds uncharacteristically defeated.
“Babe,” he says gingerly, “I think you’re going to need a new yoga block.”
I’ve got two options – laugh or cry. This week I’m choosing laugh. Last week was mostly cry.
It’s been a tough month. GG finished up at the daycare he’s been at (and loved) for two years. My grandmother passed away back in Australia. At 33 weeks pregnant I wasn’t able to fly over for the funeral and to be with my family. We moved cities. GG started a new kindergarten. And did I mention I’m a bit pregnant? Between my hormones, my husband’s exhaustion and our two-year-old’s emotional reactions… I don’t even know what words to use.
Last week the language that came to mind was pretty harsh. Now it feels like we’re a cartoon family. Toddler running out onto the road and peeing on things around the house to get attention (like my yoga block), me groaning and holding my lower back when I have to bend over to pick things up, the husband staying up late to get extra work done so we can cover our new mortgage. Oh so textbook and mundane.
When I’m my best self, which is only for fleeting moments right now, I remind myself that it’s all impermanent. That we’ll get used to our beautiful new house and all the arrangements that come with it, and GG will settle into his new kindergarten. That this testing behavior is totally normal for a toddler at the best of times – let alone during a month like this. That my pelvic floor will get better (right after it gets worse). That this too will pass….
And hopefully we’ll have a few days to enjoy the calm before I go into labor and we get to meet #2.
Granted, I’ve been kind of off all day. The afternoon probably never stood a fighting chance. I woke up feeling weird, with shooting round ligament pain up my sides and a general blurgh feeling. The heat has been getting to me this pregnancy and last night was particularly humid.
I kept it together okay at work, with only minimal breaks in concentration to neurotically Google things like “stitch-like pain in right side 27 weeks pregnant” and to brush up on the signs of preterm labor. And then it was time to be a good mama for the afternoon.
I knew there was no way I could deal with taking GG to the park in the 34 degree heat. I also knew that the chances of my mood not eliciting a reaction from him were slim to none. I braced myself.
The first part of the afternoon was fine. We walked to the car slowly, stopped to get petrol on the way home (one of GG’s favorite activities), then made fruit ice blocks on the kitchen floor. I started to relax and we seemed to be in sync.
But something changed in the energy a few minutes later, and he started to lash out at me. Hitting and kicking and pulling my hair. Grabbing at my stomach and trying to bite me. Seriously this shit is hard to handle at the best of times but I’m fucking pregnant and hormonal and in pain and yet I so badly do not want to yell at him. I actually never have, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt closer to it than I did this afternoon.
Summoning up my best self, the mother that I want to be, felt almost impossible. Oh – and did I mention he was laughing hysterically this whole time, more and more when I told him sternly that he was hurting me? My words were doing nothing. At least I had enough awareness to realize that. And I had no emotional energy to tap into how he was feeling, either.
So I used my hands. I sat next to him on the floor and I held him down, physically restraining him from hurting me. I told him I wouldn’t let him touch me like that. He tried again a few times nonetheless, and then gradually his cackles started to die down, his breathing calmed, and he asked me, “are you happy Mama?” This is what he asks whenever he can sense that I’m not.
“Not really,” I told him. “I’m annoyed that you hurt me just now and I don’t feel so great.”
After that he got up, tried to run off, tripped and hit his cheek on the carpet. He burst into tears, sprung up and melted into me. I was his mama again and he was my baby. We were no longer adversaries in some strange, uneven battle. We hugged it out. I thought all was solved.
But this cycle continued over and over the next couple of hours, right up until bedtime. Everything would be fine and then he’d start testing me again. He threw my phone across the room, watching me with an expectant grin to see how I would react. He tipped a glass of water on the floor during dinner with the same glint in his eye. Lobbed pasta in my shoes. Tried to pinch my nipple once or twice. I dealt with each incident as calmly as I could. I willed myself to stay in the moment, to react to each outburst as though it was the first of its kind today. Because I knew that GG was just reacting to my low energy, and I honestly didn’t know how I was going to be able to take care of him if I strung this series of events into a horrible story and started feeling sorry for myself.
So I did the best I could, for today.
Ultimately, I just had a hard day, and it continued into a hard afternoon – no surprises there. GG reacted to my vibe, on top of just being a two-year-old. Nothing to do but accept it and move on. To make sure I get a good night’s sleep and hopefully feel better tomorrow. To wake up a stronger, more energized mama, so my little son doesn’t have to test the boundaries quite so much tomorrow.