|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: