When my husband and I decided we wanted to start a family, we came to the decision after much consideration and careful planning. I had finished my massage degree and had a thriving practice. My husband had just been offered a new position and was looking forward to a short break in the transition. We were ready. Within just a few weeks of giving ourselves the green light, I was sending pictures of pregnancy tests to my sister to ask if it was possible to be “just a little bit pregnant” (answer: no, there’s no dipping your toe in the pregnancy deep end). And just like that, we started preparing for the next phase of our lives. We read all the books, took the childbirth classes, had the baby shower and were sure we were informed and armed with all the necessary skills.
Interestingly, while our preparatory steps were similar for both child birth and child rearing, the underlying themes were wildly different. The word that consumed my thoughts of birthing my first child was surrender. I had an unyielding faith that my body was made to bring this baby into the world and that my job was to get out of its way and watch in awe. Sure enough, after 26 incredible hours (and 10 minutes of sheer hell while pushing our son and his nuchal arm out), my body had performed a miracle. A miracle that connected me to all mothers who came before and all mothers who will follow. I was mother. I transformed from vessel to conduit to nurturer that day and it was everything I had dreamed it would be and so much more.
Unfortunately, the word that best describes my first year of parenting is control, or lack thereof. The magic of birth was quickly clouded by the unyielding anxiety that resulted from our son’s inability to latch on to nurse. The second night of his life was one of the darkest moments of mine. I was hand expressing single drops of colostrum into a spoon and adding it to a syringe so we could feed him something, anything, to help him sleep. My husband paced back and forth in the dark, repeating “What have we done?” while holding our bundle of joy who was screaming at the top of his lungs. The next three months were variations on the same. Breastfeeding continued to wreck me both physically and emotionally. I was afraid of my own child and I resented his constant demands. I read book after book, contacted every expert I could find, took him to appointments all over the city. I was utterly consumed with the mission of getting a handle on our situation. If only I could read the right theory, meet the right guru, give my son or myself the right remedy or pill, our problems would all be solved. I’d have figured out my child. What the rest of that first year taught me, as it broke me down brick by brick, was that my willingness to surrender so completely to birth absolutely had to carry over to parenting. And you know what? The more I let go of the strangle hold I had on sleep routines, feeding strategies and pretty much every other aspect of our lives with our child, our situation improved. He started sleeping and eating a bit better and I worried less about the nights when he woke up constantly and the days when he refused to eat a single bite.
However, the week leading up to the election in 2016 had me feeling all sorts of out of sorts again. I took test after test (we had no plans for baby 2 after our narrow survival with baby 1) but all were negative. I even visited my OB/GYN for the first time since before I’d conceived our first child (boy was he surprised when I walked in with a 3.5 year old!) because I was convinced that, if I wasn’t pregnant, I must be sick. Sure enough, the morning after the election, I got a second surprise – I was pregnant. I asked my husband again and again if this could really be happening. Remember, you can’t just be a little pregnant, folks. In stark contrast to my first pregnancy, we spent the next nine months doing almost nothing to prepare. Every time well-meaning friends and family asked us if we were “ready,” we shrugged our shoulders and said, “Probably not!” When asked where baby 2 would sleep (we live in a 900 sq. ft. 1-bedroom apartment), we shrugged again and said, “Eh, probably in bed with the rest of us!” And so on. Instead of tearing through their pages, the books I’d ordered on sibling rivalry, introducing a new baby to older children and navigating the transition to a family of four all sat under a pile of mail, woefully neglected. I’d periodically open one with all the best intentions of preparing myself for all that was to come but I just couldn’t muster the commitment of reading more than a page or two. I started to wonder if I was living in some kind of alternate realm, that I wasn’t really pregnant and knew that deep down somewhere. I wondered if the unexpected nature of this baby’s conception was somehow an omen that the pregnancy wouldn’t go to term, that something would go wrong. What I realized as the days passed and my belly swelled, was that the Universe wasn’t impeding my preparation to protect me from tragedy. In fact, I was channeling the surrender I’d embraced four years earlier and had worked so hard to accept every day since. I wasn’t neglecting this pregnancy. I was accepting it, and surrendering to all of the uncertainty that came with it. This time around, we knew how much we didn’t know. We’d been so sure we knew how to be the parents we thought we should be. Now we knew otherwise. And on July 20th, in the same bedroom where I’d given birth before, I again brought a beautiful baby boy into our home and our family. This time, I replaced my expectations with hopes. I hoped birth would be easy and we’d both be safe, but I knew I couldn’t control it. I hoped I’d birth in the tub in our living room, but I embraced the knowledge that I’d give birth exactly where I was meant to. I hoped so many things, but surrendered to the understanding that I couldn’t plan for every possible wrinkle/complication/experience. And in this surrender, I was given the exceptional gift of yet another incredible birth experience. This time, it was completely different from what I’d imagined and, instead of struggling with the differences, I celebrated the swift, intense labor I’d undergone surrounded by my husband and a group of women I loved. In the days following the birth, surrender also brought me peace and grace. Peace with what was and the incongruity between that and what I might have expected. Grace to let things be in the day to day. Apartment didn’t get cleaned? Let it be. Baby wouldn’t let me put him down for two minutes? Let it be. Big brother had four hundred meltdowns? Let him be. I no longer feel I need to fix or change my children, my husband, or myself. And I know with absolute certainty that, even if I did want to fix or change any of us, that I could not. By surrendering to this experience of parenting two, I’m able to be fully present in it. I don’t have to control it, I just have to bear witness to it. This is my life, exactly as it is meant to be. Messy, noisy, humbling and utterly breathtakingly beautiful.