During my first pregnancy, I didn't have a written birth plan. I had preferences: Go as long as possible without pain meds; avoid any unnecessary interventions; wear my own clothes instead of the standard issue hospital gown. But I didn't have strict written plans—there were too many variables that I had no control over, too many things we couldn't anticipate.
But the one thing I expected—the thing that all the moms on the birthing videos and all the childbirth educators talked about—was that we'd forget about the pain of childbirth the second we laid eyes on our child. "There's nothing in the world like that feeling of having your baby in your arms for the first time," we heard over and over again.
It was good that I wasn't attached to a plan, because our son's birth was full of twists and turns we couldn't have predicted. A week past my due date, after two nights of mild contractions that lifted with the sunrise, we went to see my midwives. They discovered my water was leaking—instead of the sudden gush I'd been waiting for, my fluids were trickling so subtly I hadn't even noticed.
We checked into the hospital, where a midwife finished breaking my water to try and induce labor. There was the gush I'd expected, but it looked like pea soup.
"Meconium," the midwife said, letting us know that our baby had pooped in-utero. It wasn't a certain sign of distress, but it wasn't ideal, either.
When labor failed to progress after other natural interventions, Pitocin became the next logical step. I shuddered, having heard that Pitocin contractions were terrible and sometimes correlated with increased rates of C-sections. But between the meconium and the leaking fluids, our son needed to be born.
I still mourn those first few moments with my son. ... I still wish I could have a do-over.
The next morning, a nurse hooked me up to an IV and began the Pitocin drip. After several hours of increasing doses, contractions hit hard and relentlessly.
I asked for a shot of Nubain, which allowed me to rest during the brief moments between the fierce clench of contractions. Because of my son's position, I was having back labor. It felt as if someone was chiseling away at my tailbone.
I'd been up for the better part of three nights and was now moving into the fourth.
I was exhausted.
When it finally came time to push, I was so tired that I couldn't always push along with my own contractions. My son's head vaulted back and forth inside me with a frightening force. The pain meds had long since worn off.
"I can't do this," I began saying, over and over.
"You're the only one who can do this," my midwife said in a firm voice.
My olive skin went crimson from the effort of pushing. Busted capillaries sprung across my cheeks.
After four hours of excruciating pushing, my son was born.
I watched a doctor whisk him over to a table beneath blindingly bright lights. I felt separate from the scene, as if I were watching a TV show. After a moment or two, my son cried. A few minutes later, someone brought him to me.
The little boy I'd waited for was here.
But all I cared about was that the pain and that pushing was over.
Spent and apathetic, I held my newborn son. I felt a slight tug below my waist as my midwife stitched me up. I looked into my son's steel-blue eyes beneath his swollen lids, and I stared at the elongated cone of his head.
I felt … nothing.
A nurse whisked him away to the nursery. "You need to get some sleep," our midwife said. I didn't argue.
My son is 6 now. Since his birth, we've had thousands of moments together—amazing, boring, hilarious, frustrating moments .
But I still mourn those first few moments with my son, when I was so depleted that there wasn't room for anything else. I still wish I could have a do-over.
In a way, I did get one.
A few years after my son's birth, our daughter was born. My labor started on a Sunday around noon, and she was born just after 8 p.m. that night. I'd had a good night of sleep the evening before, and her birth was nearly textbook. I held her tiny body, flecked with blood and vernix, the pulsing umbilical cord still connecting our bodies. We looked into each other's eyes.
"Oh my god," I said, taking in her face for the first time. My chest felt like it would explode with awe and tenderness.
This was what it could be like. This is what I'd missed with my son.