Learning Life's Hard Lessons
Updated: Sep 12, 2020
I have been a parent of kids outside of my body for 2,275 days. On day One, the day my son was born, I learned a hard lesson: sometimes you have to let your kids go, and trust someone else to care for them. Today, I am relearning the same lesson again, as my daughter is dealing with starting school as someone with a limb difference. They say life will give us the same lessons again and again until we learn from it. So, I am here to explore this lesson for what it wants to teach me.
Let's go back to day One, the day I gave birth to my little boy. He was born eight days past his "due" date, after two days of pretty exhausting birth sensations. I was well supported by my husband, my mom, my doula, and our midwives. We had planned to have our baby at home, but when my water broke there was meconium in the fluid. This meant that my little dude had already had his first poop, which usually doesn't happen until after they're born. Sometimes it just happens because they're ready to be born, and sometimes it happens if a baby is stressed in the womb. My midwife recommended we go to the hospital, in case he needed help to breathe, so we did.
(photo by Tracy Armstrong)
After a long night of breathing, swaying, hip squeezes and back rubs, I was ready to bring my baby out into the world. I was very excited for this part, because it meant I could do something active to finish the birth process, I didn't have to passively endure the sensations anymore. I pushed like a champ, and my little guy was born at 7:37 in the morning. The midwife placed him on my belly, and I marvelled at his little face and hands and feet, and the amazing thing I had just done.
(photo by Tracy Armstrong)
We spent a few minutes like this, feeling each other out, locking eyes and learning each other's faces. My helpers (mom and doula) left, exhausted after the long labour they'd supported me through. Then the midwife said it looked like my baby was having trouble breathing, and they needed to help him. He was whisked away, my husband and midwife following close behind, and I was left completely alone. I'd just done this incredible thing, and the reward for my efforts was not there anymore. He was struggling to breathe, and the staff at the hospital were trying to help him.
In my first minutes as a mother, I had to learn the hard lesson of trusting others to take care of my child. I wonder now if I could have said, "No thank you, I'd like him to stay here with me, where he'll feel safest and be able to regulate his breathing." But I trusted my midwife and the doctor there who wanted to intervene and help him clear his lungs and get him the oxygen he needed. I did ask someone if I could go see him in the other room, and they got me a wheelchair and brought me over.
It wasn't the skin-to-skin of that 'golden hour' that we had hoped for. I've done some healing around this, because I know that it made a big imprint on me. Being with my baby for those nine months on the inside and those first minutes in my arms, it was so hard to be apart from him so soon after finally meeting him. He was transferred to another hospital where there was a NICU, and I was again alone. Thankfully I slept, and my midwife advocated for me to get a bed in the hospital where my baby was. I left that bed as soon as I could, and made my way across the hospital to be with my baby.
I have no idea now what medications he was given, what he was fed, or what other procedures were done to help him become healthy and strong. I think I was flustered by it all, having planned to just have my baby at home with no interventions or medications. We spent five days in the NICU as his lungs cleared and he checked all of the boxes for levels of oxygen, sodium, blood sugar, and so on. Today I know more about birth and that precious postpartum time, and I know that if this happened now, I would have more to say about what he was fed and how he was cared for. But I'm okay with the fact that I didn't ask, and that he was likely given formula those first couple of days, before someone thought to ask me if I was pumping for breastmilk. I trusted that he was getting the care he needed, and I focussed on doing what I could to let him know I was there loving him. Even though I might have done things differently now, our birth story is ours and my boy and I got through it, with so much love from his dad, our parents, and friends.
Now it's day 2,275 of being a mom. This morning I brought my daughter to Kindergarten, her fourth day of going to school. She had a hard day yesterday, when another little girl asked to see her little arm (which you can learn about here), and didn't drop the subject when Lily said she didn't want to show her. As parents, we knew that these things would happen once she started school. Lily is different, and kids are bound to be curious. Of course, we've had some curious kids approach Lily at playgrounds and pools, and we've been there with her to have those conversations and help her to tell them about herself. It took so much of my strength this morning to leave her in the hands of someone else (who is thankfully a wonderful and caring teacher, who has Lily's back 1000%), to not stay with her and protect her from everyone all of the time. It is hard to not just say, "Okay, why don't you stay home today, and then you won't have to answer any questions about your little arm."
But I did it. I hugged her one extra time, and I left. I know that I have given her the strength, the words, the love she needs to be able to face this. I trust that her teacher will be there for her, and do her best to facilitate the conversations Lily is forced to have because she is different.
Trust is a tough one, especially as a parent. We all want our kids to feel safe, protected, and loved all of the time. That's easier to do when we are physically present with them. It's so hard to have to be apart when our instincts want us to draw them close, but sometimes it's what they need in order to grow. I am proud of myself for being strong for my kids when that's what they need, and I am proud of myself for breaking down and bawling when I am alone and need to let myself feel it. I think that's the true lesson I needed to find today. I am learning. I am growing. And so are my two beautiful children.