Tuesday, January 17, 2017

When Something Important Feels Imperfect: Thoughts on a Last Birth

It broke my heart to type out the title. Mostly the last, partly the important, a little the imperfect. The imperfect and the last are very intertwined and the reason any of it matters, of course, is the important. More I guess because it brings to mind a very intense emotional pain I felt this Summer than because of the actual pain itself. Sometimes remembering is so hard. I wanted to write this after I had gotten enough distance from it that it wouldn't feel unbearable but not too much distance to remember the intensity of it.

I started this post months ago and now that we are past the half year mark with our Sarah Lamar, it's time I finish it. I put it off for a variety of reasons. The first couple of months were so hard and I was in such a difficult place mentally that I just couldn't fathom the emotional reserves it would take to process it. Then I got to where I felt better most days but this post still felt very daunting. For one thing, I just knew it would be a time consuming endeavor and my time is in short supply right now. Additionally, over the years, I've written quite a few posts where I struggled to articulate my thoughts and feelings but I knew this would be one of the hardest in that regard. How could I explain that I was grateful beyond words for Sallie and even that in some ways I found her birth extremely meaningful and beautiful but at the same time I struggled really hard because, in many ways, I was deeply disappointed by it as an experience, something I still find difficult to admit. How could I convey that I do have the perspective to know that in the overall realm of things this is decidedly not something horrible at all but at the same time it was extremely important to me.

I know that a lot of people will read this post and roll their eyes. And if I'm honest with you guys, looking back the intensity of my feelings does seem a little strange and over the top. I'm fully willing to admit some of that has a lot to do with the mental place I was in generally. Basically everything brought big emotions to the surface, so such a huge life event was bound to.

I do want to make sure to acknowledge that it's in no way lost on me that this is a small thing, comparatively. This past year I've had friends lose unborn children, young children, and adult children. Lose them to death. Lose them for this life. Lose them forever, were it not for the hope of the Resurrection. To say nothing of my hours at the grief center. If anything, my perspective is broader than it has ever been. Letting go of an experience is NOTHING compared to that.

 That said, part of what I've learned in recent years is that I'm going to work hard to surround myself with people who have no interest in dismissing my feelings and I'm sure going to do my best not to invalidate them myself. It bothers me when people say things like "you shouldn't complain, you got a healthy baby" or turn up their noses at people "looking for an experience". Yes of course, the most important part of the whole thing was a healthy baby and healthy momma, but I'm not ashamed anymore to say that the experience of birth *is* deeply important to me and that's a small part of the reason I wanted another baby and a big part of the reason I wanted another biological child (call that selfish, if you want). I've always likened birth to a marathon and I don't think we often tell people who, for whatever reason, end up far away from their desired results to stop complaining. Or if we know someone who has planned a beautiful trip- maybe a once in a lifetime trip, a honeymoon for example- and it doesn't go as planned, we typically don't dismiss their very real sadness, even if we know it's not life and death.

All that to say, those first couple of months I really struggled. I still get sad sometimes thinking about it, but not nearly as much. It taught me a lot and it was special in its own way.

I shared this already, but it's very significant, so I'll share it again.  

Back during those first few weeks after Sallie was born, I remember spending a lot of time looking at the pictures Cookie had taken at her birth.It took me several weeks to get them all edited and how I wanted them and right after I finished I started started seeing multiple birth stories and beautiful photography that made me, to be honest, envious. Envious of of the pictures, and envious of the births, even.

 It'd been a while since I've played the comparison game with houses and cars and clothes but oddly- and I feel so absurd admitting this- I got swept up in it. It was the fifth time in a few weeks that I had seen an amazing birth story or pictures. 

I reread my own post about Sarah Lamar's birth. The broken car and bright lights and novice nurse and bedpan episodes seemed nearly totally devoid of any tenderness and had nothing in common with these soft, serene accounts. The photographs that had become one of my greatest treasures weeks earlier seemed garish and too raw. And I got sad it was my last chance at it. 

I put Sallie in one of my favorite sleepers of AP's that night and I thought about how it's my last chance at everything. I wasn't going to get a do-over. Period. Full stop. And at that point I kind of lost it. It felt like so much pressure. And I think that's what a big part of the struggle and sadness was. 

When I looked at those pictures and read those stories, it saddened me. For what I didn't have this time and for what I never would again. I read where someone described her birth as "gentle" and I read some other stories where women talked about how healing their births were. I wouldn't call Sallie's birth traumatic at all, but it was a deep grief to me that it wasn't at all how I pictured it and especially so with it being my last. If anything, I felt like I had gone backwards from what I experienced with Graves. One woman had the most beautiful birthing gown on and the t-shirt I had so desperately wanted to wear in lieu of the hospital issued gowns repulsed me. 

I had read so much in the Bradley book about these pain-free, peaceful births in the weeks and months leading up to Sallie's arrival and while I knew in my head, that for me, that was likely very unrealistic, I think it created some thoughts I didn't really have leading up to Graves's birth. When I thought about it, I was hopeful it would be a beautiful, graceful event. 

I also kind of fixated on it being the last time. I wouldn't say I wanted it to trump Graves's birth because it was unbelievable and amazing, but I wanted to make myself present in a different way.  I wanted to immerse myself in those moments and be cognizant of what each contraction and push felt like. And goodness knows, I did that. But also, I wanted to really experience the beauty of birth again and that part of the experience seemed elusive. 

I've mentioned this previously as well, but I talked to a friend who gets this part of me- both the creative part and the compulsivity I often struggle with (wanting to do a thing over and over until it's perfect, which is not sustainable with, you know, giving birth). She told me she knew how important it is to me to capture a beautiful story and that she knew Sallie's birth was beautiful to me even if I lost sight of that for a bit. She reminded me that the important thing about my story is that it's mine. She was so right, and, as I mentioned recently, it was one of the deepest, most important things I learned this year.

It helped me realize how much compulsivity still effects my life. I used to count things a lot and have to recheck that my flat iron was unplugged six million times or tap things in a little pattern. I don't do that type thing near as much, but it manifests in different ways. Like wanting to have so much control over something that isn't designed to be inside my control and by its very nature is outside of it.

I also realized how much energy I spend curating an image of my life-- our stories. I do this as much for myself as for the world and I don't think it's an altogether bad thing, but it becomes that when it distracts me from really living the story. I like raw and authentic, but I realized how important to me it is to have beautiful words and pictures to look back on.

There was a lot going on emotionally back during Sallie's first weeks and months. In retrospect, I know without a shadow of a doubt this was a big indication I was not well. Yes, it was partly vanity and pride and a desire to share a beautiful story. But ultimately, being mentally unwell kept me from seeing that Sarah Lamar's birth- so fast and overwhelming and terrifying and chaotic and raw and even repulsive in some aspects- was very beautiful in it's on right. It was a incredibly fiery entrance into the world for a delightful little fire cracker. It is what it is and what it is was completely fitting of her. And completely fitting of closing a chapter, ironically one of the biggest reasons that I struggled so hard with the way it turned out.

Certainly a lot of things have helped me make peace with this- time, perspective, my nightly ingestion of Zoloft, the patience of Peyton and some dear friends, and maybe above all else, Sallie herself.
The further away I get from it, the less it upsets me. Not just because time heals all wounds, but because Sallie herself has been at work healing them. The more I learn about her and come to know her ways and observe her little personality, the more her birth is eclipsed by her personhood. That's not to say it won't always be part of her story, and to her momma a very important part; but it doesn't define the narrative the way it did when she was a feeble, drousy newborn who I loved as much as I could possibly love a stranger.

I guess, in that way, this post comes full circle. While I hate being admonished about how "the baby is the important thing", the truth is the baby is the important thing. But I needed to experience it for myself and I needed to not have to force myself to believe it. I needed to learn her ways and learn her smile and learn her love. As I said, her birth was fitting of her personality and thus far, it's fitting of her time with us- it's a good metaphor for this first half year, and honestly a good metaphor for life- beautiful in it's own way but bloody, and hard fought, and not without pain and fear and significant messiness. 

I am grateful for Sarah Lamar's story- every single part of it- and I am grateful that I get to be the one who has the privilege of helping write it, the honor of telling her the parts she won't remember, and the joy of gently guiding her through life even if I didn't get to gently guide her into the world quite in the way I had hoped I would.

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