Yesterday, a friend of mine gave birth for the first time, to a little daughter.
The date also coincided with five years on from the date that I was expecting to become a mother.
Obviously, I know due dates are far from an exact science. Not many babies are born on the due date that’s written in their hospital notes. I know that.
But my first baby – she was born a whole 6 weeks 2 days before her ‘due date’.
A preterm baby. A 33-weeker. A preemie.
I had never, ever anticipated that.
The shock was intense. My baby was so perfect, so miniature, so beautiful… and so fragile. I was scared to pick her up. I was scared about the future. I was lost in the intensity of the hospital baby unit, which operated in a language I didn’t speak, even though it was English, and which muddled my emotions and thoughts and made me so, so anxious.
Later on, I had another baby. And he was born even earlier, at 30 weeks. He needed far more medical intervention than his older sister had. Incubators, antibiotics, feeding tubes, phototherapy, continuous positive airway pressure, long lines… these became part of our daily life, for a time. We were more prepared the second time, and even though we knew bereavement was a possibility, by God’s grace we held it together.
Both our babies survived. Both are healthy, inquisitive, unique, and beautiful children. Beautiful. We have so, so much to be thankful for.
Yet it seems to me that motherhood hasn’t ever been what I wanted or expected. From the moment I became a mother, it was not at all what I’d ordered. Not what I’d planned. Not what I’d dreamed of.
From the moment I gave birth to my daughter, in a highly-medicalised setting which the antenatal classes had taught me to studiously avoid, everything went against the plan. I held her – then she was taken away. She went to the baby unit – but I went home. I wanted to feed her myself – but she could only be fed through a tube. (We did eventually have a wonderful and long-lasting nursing relationship, but I had to fight for it.) I thought I would breeze through the early days with panache and grace – then I encountered postnatal depression.
Is motherhood ever what we dream it will be?
My friend who gave birth yesterday, had a caesarean section due to her baby being breech. She didn’t ask for that. She also had a twin miscarriage eighteen months ago. She didn’t ask for that.
I am thankful for what I have and for what I’ve learned from my experiences of having two premature babies. But I would never have asked for that.
For all the dreaming we do, we can’t ever make the reality perfect like the images we see in adverts. The beautiful images we see and dream up are just… images. They’re one-sided. They’re a pale reflection of the glorious, messy reality that we live daily. For it is a glorious, messy reality. It is what we live. It is full of all kinds of stuff that we didn’t anticipate, didn’t want, didn’t mean to do – and it is full of new chances, full of forgiveness, full of grace.
We don’t get to choose everything that happens in our lives. Birth and motherhood are stark examples of that. From the moment of conception, there’s a whole vast array of possibilities and we don’t get to be in charge of them.
Yet we can know that every day, every moment, every thing is a gift. Even the things we didn’t ask for.
This article on the blog of This Mum Runs, the running community which I’m part of here in Bristol, also candidly and poignantly describes one woman’s experience of motherhood and baby loss. A good read.