I love birth photos. The ones with the exhausted new mom clutching her naked new baby in sheer joy. Love to see them, and love to hear the stories behind them.
But, I don’t have one of those. Or at least I didn’t with my first baby.
I have this kind of awkward picture that I’ve only let a handful of people close to me see. (I’m letting you see it now because I realize a whole blog post about a picture I won’t let you see would drive any normal person crazy.)
Let’s start with how my baby looks in the photo. He was fully swaddled and wearing a hat when I first saw him and the picture was snapped. Not naked. Not natural. No skin to skin like I had long anticipated. Because he was two weeks late, there was a LOT of meconium in my fluid, so he had to be whisked away to a team of pediatricians who made sure he didn’t inhale any of the yucky stuff. I was so deeply fortunate to get him just minutes later, healthy and meconium-free. But not naked
And then there are my eyes. They’re red, puffy and glassy, not from tears of joy, but because I had just spent the past two hours crying hysterically. Why? Because two hours and thirty seconds ago, I found out I needed an emergency c-section and every hope I had for my natural water birth was crushed down to nothing. My impending c-section made me feel ashamed, like I was failing or cheating at natural birth.
Then there’s my weird right hand. I could hardly move it. It was numb and useless from all of the anesthesia, I couldn’t open my fingers to caress my newborn’s precious face. I remember just wanting to feel my baby and I couldn’t do that.
I’m also wearing a surgical cap. Who looks like a beautiful maternal figure in a surgical cap?
And of course there’s the way I’m holding my baby. My midwife had placed him on my chest and tried to get him to nurse. But I only had this narrow area of chest available for him to lay on, as the rest of my body was being operated on behind a blue curtain. And his 9.9 pound, 23 inch body took up all of it. It felt like he was crushing me, like I couldn’t breathe! On top of that, my body’s reaction to the anesthesia and birth shock was several hours of involuntary full-body shakes. I was so happy to see him, but I wanted him off of me.
So, that’s why my birth photo isn’t picture-perfect by any stretch of the imagination.
It wasn’t how I pictured it at all. My birth story wasn’t what I’d written in my head. I was hardly 22, had the healthiest pregnancy possible, and was in great birth-giving shape. I took all the classes, read all of the books and blog posts. I planned for a natural water birth and assumed a c-section was for anyone else but me.
My birth picture isn’t anything I want to show the world, but you know what? It’s still really beautiful to me. It’s the day I met a soul I would love and nurture into eternity. I don’t love the picture but it was just the first day. There would be many days to come, many hundreds of real-life photos to be taken.
Because the truth is, birth happens once. One or two hard days, and it’s over. You heal. The scar fades. That one day becomes a fond, distant memory. No matter how it happened, you’re a mother by the end of it all and you’ll probably cherish your birth story no matter how it panned out. And then, Lord willing, you get thousands of days after the birth day to raise that baby into adulthood.
For me, it’s way more about those thousands of days after than that one hard day.
If I could go back, I’d tell my newly pregnant self to throw out all of those expectations, opinions and preparations for birth. Those expectations will only lead to pride if you succeed or shame and disappointment if you fail. Focus your energy, instead, on preparing to parent a real person, a little soul, a life entrusted to you.
Because it’s the day-in, day-out journey of motherhood–the thousands of days–that will shape your child’s life, not their birth day. Live for the thousands.