Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Surviving Childbirth: Putting Chaos Beneath Gratitude (Life Changing Moments Series)

Last year, three Writer's Digest editors were expecting new additions in their homes in the months of May, June, and July. Brian Klems (The Life of Dad blogger) welcomed his third girl in May; Tammy and I were blessed with Hannah in June; and today's guest blogger, Jessica Strawser, welcomed her first child into the world in July. I guess happy little bundles come in threes. Jessica is the chief editor of Writer's Digest magazine. In her 12-year career in publishing, she has held a variety of positions editing magazines and books of all sorts, dabbled in marketing and public relations, and worked as a freelance writer, editor and writing instructor, in addition to her own creative writing projects. Follow her on Twitter @jessicastrawser and look for her posts every Monday at There Are No Rules.

Jessica Strawser, editor and new mom. Photo Credit: Lindsay Hiatt.

Becoming a parent is a life-changing moment for just about everyone who's done it, so it was only a matter of time before someone wrote about it here as part of this series. As a new mom and a colleague of Robert's at Writer's Digest, I probably seem like a predictable candidate to be the first to rush to the topic.

Only this isn't exactly that story. Well, it is—and it isn't.

The birth of my son last summer and the months leading up to it were nothing if not life-changing. Everything shifted: my priorities, my worldview, my plans for the future, my caloric intake, the ease with which I would cry at sad stories on the news. I was a week past my due date, impatient, sleep deprived and badly swollen from unrelentingly hot weather when my husband and I welcomed our son with that heart-stopping mix of excitement, relief and fear that new parents come to know well. We held him; we held each other; we took pictures; we introduced him to his grandparents; we moved into the maternity ward; we stayed awake, even though it was 4 a.m., to bond with our new baby for just a few more minutes while he was alert.

And then I hemorrhaged.

Any Other Way
I'd been wondering aloud how my husband could be asking for an extra blanket even as I was peeling off my own thin sheets, sticky with salt. "You're going to sweat out all that swelling," the nurse reassured me. I said I felt sort of dizzy. "You haven’t eaten all day," I was reminded. Then I asked if it was normal to be bleeding. Of course it was. I blinked at the bright spots clouding my vision and mumbled that maybe someone should take the baby from my arms. Then I heard my husband yell, as if from a distance, "Her lips are turning blue!" Suddenly, a flurry of action: The baby whisked away. Doctors paged, orders shouted, procedures done, medications administered. From my perspective (flat on my back and semi-conscious), it went by in a painful blur. When the panic subsided and I was stabilized, I was just relieved to finally sleep.

It was only when I awoke a few hours later to the ghost-white face of the man I'd married that I began to realize the gravity of what had almost happened.

It turned out the monitor I'd been hooked up to had not been functioning properly. If we hadn't still been awake and aware of the symptoms when they began, if we hadn't persisted with questions while the nurse was still in the room, if virtually any other thing had happened any other way that day, things could have ended very differently.

If, if, if.

Glad You're OK
The conversations I had with friends and family in the days and weeks following the birth—in visits, phone calls, e-mails, texts—were not the ones I'd imagined having, with everyone cooing over how sweet our new baby was, coming by with things to eat, offering congratulations, joking about when we could finally share a glass of wine again. People did say and do all of those things. But they also said: “Wow—I'm so glad you're OK.”

I was too enamored with my new son to notice much else, but it was hard to miss the many forms I'm glad you're OK can take. Good-natured friends quipped that I was like some sort of old-time pioneer woman ("Complications from childbirth? Way to kick it old school!") and, when I returned home following a blood transfusion, my husband's refusal to leave my side in case I had a dizzy spell with the baby in my care was deemed "very Steel Magnolias." It felt good to laugh. It felt good to finally hold this miraculous little person I loved beyond words. And it felt really, really good to be surrounded by people who cared so much about us both.

My mom refused to leave her hotel near the hospital until I was released, in spite of my assurances that we were fine. My brother and dad drove disproportionately long distances for too-short visits. My husband's relatives researched the complication and called with lists of questions to be sure to ask the doctors. Later, a friend took vacation time and crossed three state lines—on a bus—to spend days with me while I recovered. At my follow-up appointment, my obstetrician stopped on his way out of the room and gave my arm a gentle, wordless pat. "The thing about having kids is, it can kill you," my son's wise-cracking pediatrician remarked—but when I met his eyes to share the joke, I saw his expression was serious. Everywhere I went, it seemed, even people I barely knew were genuinely glad I was OK. And maybe the oddest thing of all was how much it caught me by surprise. How little it takes, I marveled, to surround one another with such a feeling of warmth. Why wouldn’t we all do more of that every day? I felt indescribably glad of everyone around me.

Two reasons to be thankful.
Photo credit: Lindsay Hiatt.

Chaos and Gratitude
I'd been warned that having a newborn is not what anyone expects. Well-meaning acquaintances are fond of telling moms-to-be that aside from being enamored with parenthood, we'd also be exhausted and overwhelmed. With you-just-wait-and-see smiles, they forecasted the inevitable day when the proud new dad would return home from work to a sink overflowing with dishes and a basket full of dirty laundry, and inquire about what I'd been doing all day while I was "just" home with the baby.

But a post-partum hemorrhage—not that I'd recommend it—is a good antidote to such troubles. Yes, life is (much) more chaotic than it used to be. Those frustrating moments did and still do happen. But when we nestled in at home as a family of three, the chaos took its rightful place beneath the gratitude that filled our house to the brim.

In the middle of the night, I'd rise to rock my son back to sleep and whisper into his tiny ear, basking in the gift of these sleepless nights together. Just when I couldn't imagine my heart feeling more full, across the room my husband would stir and flash me a bleary smile, and I'd see it there, again—I'm so glad you're here. Or maybe, on a less tranquil day: I'm so glad I'm not here without you.

And on all counts, so am I.


If you think you have a great life changing moment to share (and you probably have several), click here to learn how to get the conversation started. I'm sure if you think it's important, I may too.


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Check out previous posts from the Life Changing Moments Series:


HeideB said...

Nicely written. Nice to hear of a bad situation that went good. Life is full of surprises.

Maria Witte said...

What a wonderful post, Jessica. I'm also glad you're OK. You chose a great writer, Robert!

Sasha A. Palmer said...

So glad you are OK! I wish you and your family lots of health and happiness.

Amanda Price said...

What a beautiful and uplifting story. I am hoping for more posts from Jessica.

Megan said...

Brought tears to my eyes...probably shouldn't have read this while at work :) Wonderful, honest, and uplifting. We all should worry less about the chaos. Thanks for inviting Jessica write.

Kara said...

This was beautiful, Jessica. I, too, hemorrhaged after my boys were born but the situation wasn't nearly as dire. I can't imagine what you went through—the ifs—and I love the outcome, especially your perspective. Thank you for sharing. And, I can't help. So glad you're OK. :)

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing your birth story. I was moved to tears. I'm a midwife in a busy hospital based practice, and few things are scarier than a postpartum hemorrhage... and you did a lovely job of not letting the very real danger what of what happened to you, overshadow the ordinary mystery of bringing a child into this world, but used the telling of your experience, to bring us all closer to it... thank you.

PoetColette said...

Tears for the way so many showed their gratitude that you survived.
Cheers for the way you worded it and shared it here! Congrats and thanks!

Catherine Johnson said...

What a story! Glad you're okay and what nice family and friends you have looking after you like that.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reminder to not only practice gratitude for our daily experiences, but to keep a healthy perspective on things as well!

Unknown said...

oh. my.
And I love what you said about the warm blanket of our communities. So true.

Jessica Strawser said...

I just want to express my heartfelt thanks to all of you who've left such kind comments--they mean more to me than you could know! It's been an honor to be a part of Robert's wonderful series.

Kate Merz said...

You have been given an interesting road in this here life, Jessica.

Great to hear your voice.

Christina Katz said...

I am just finally reading this and you know what I'm going to say...I am SO glad you are here! Thanks for helping me feel a little more grateful today for every little moment.