I cried from shock, I cried because it felt as though I had watched it happen to someone else until I locked eyes with my son and my husband, who stood beside me as shocked as I was.
When I heard my first baby inhale for the first time, I cried. Perhaps it was the sheer exhaustion. (I had no idea what exhaustion was at that point.) Was it relief? The triumph of actually doing what my body had been preparing to do for 41 weeks. Or perhaps the visceral realization that with that first breath, I was finally and absolutely a mother?
Then my second child burst into the world. His entry, as chaotic and frenzied as his character, rendered me breathless. I didn’t cry though. Was I not as emotionally triumphant as I had been two years before? Or was I simply too stunned by the details of having a birth in which he crowned in the car and emerged pink and perfect with shocked interns and my husband in attendance? Not a tear was shed. I laughed instead.
When my third son arrived, my tears came quietly, unhindered and freely. His was the quickest labor and birth that I have ever experienced. I think that the incredible shift into new motherhood, when just 45 minutes prior I had been comfortably fixing breakfast for my toddler and preschooler, was shocking to me.
Fast labors are intense for reasons that many may not realize. The body still travels from incomplete to fully dilated. But doing so in under an hour means that there is quite literally no time to settle into each nuance and stage of labor before you become a parent. Your body has no time to adjust to each phase of labor, no chance to employ comfort measures, no time to catch your breath, sip water, be encouraged or appreciate the support of your attendants. In my case, no time to do anything but make an abrupt call to my midwife just before my patient husband washed his hands and caught our newborn son as he entered the world. By the time you recognize that you are having contractions, you are pushing and minutes later you are holding a baby. I cried from shock, I cried because it felt as though I had watched it happen to someone else until I locked eyes with my son and my husband, who stood beside me as shocked as I was.
The long arrival of my first daughter brought me close to tears, more from the amazement that, following a labor as intense and quick as her two year old brother’s, hers took more than six hours to take shape and another three before I entered transition. How could a body that had previously birthed a baby in a record 45 minutes possibly take such time to labor? Was something wrong with me? Was I really in labor or was this a long, warm-up? When I finally reached for her tiny body (she was born a bit earlier and smaller than her siblings), was it the relief and triumph that I felt years before when looking at my first child for the first time? Or did I cry because I had just given birth to my first daughter?
My second daughter’s birth was bathed in tears. This was the first birth in which I was surrounded entirely by women, all mothers. (My husband was frantically trying to return from a hastily scheduled business trip and was stranded at the airport.) This was the first birth in which I was finally humble enough to welcome my own mother’s support. She was awash with emotion at being able to witness her daughter become a mother to a daughter right before her. The first in which I had a doula present. (Previously, my doulas were otherwise occupied with my older children or they simply were unable to make it in time.) The first birth since passing through the ridiculous threshold that considers 35 to be “advanced maternal age”. The first birth that followed a complete surprise pregnancy. The first time that I did not have a posterior baby. (She was breech — my children don’t like to do anything simply.) And the last time my body would labor and birth my own child. I cried having my last baby.
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