Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Motherhood: A Calling

I always knew I wanted to be a mom someday. In fact, I would say when I was younger that I wanted a pile of kids. Like 6 or 7. Then I had one.

My first pregnancy was one of the most exciting times of my life. It seemed like every week was filled with an amazing discovery. Learning the baby had a heartbeat around 5 weeks. Hearing that heartbeat myself a short time later. Watching my body change. Feeling the movement of life inside me. Preparing our tiny home for our new family member. I remember washing the first load of baby clothes so everything would be ready. They were so small and cute. It was like playing with dolls when I was little, only better because it was real! Then she was born.

My first labor and delivery was definitely the most difficult. Mostly because I didn't know what I was doing, despite all my research and attempts at being prepared. And also because I had nothing to compare it to. I often find in life it is easier to persevere through something difficult when you have been through that difficult thing (or at least something similar to it) before. No life experience I had compared to that one! So, I had such a limited view of what was going to be required of me. Could I continue? I didn't long did anyone think I may have to continue for? I remember a nurse saying she thought it wouldn't be long. Even if it was a lie, or a guess, it made me feel better. After 9 hours of labor it was over. Never, ever in the history of Heidi has there been the feeling of relief as strong as in that moment. I loved her right away. Actually, I would say I loved her already. But that experience was such a physical one, that honestly, left me a little traumatized. I remember thinking, I think I want more kids, but I don't know how they're going to get here. After delivery I sort of had this feeling of accomplishment. Like I did what I came to do and was ready to go home. Then I remembered the baby was coming home with me. Oh, yeah. The delivery part was just the beginning.

Once home, the realization that I, actually we (my husband and I), had no idea what we were doing hit hard again. I laid the baby down in her crib and walked away satisfied that I could do something else. A couple of minutes later the baby started crying and that was the first dilemma. What do we do? Do we pick her up? Let her cry? Feed her? Change her? Where the heck are the nurses?! What followed were days and nights and weeks of sleeplessness, so much crying, a lot more pain than I ever expected in the healing process and in the world of breastfeeding (I thought that was supposed to be natural?), frustration, and the feeling of helplessness. I was overwhelmed with the weight of being responsible for another human being. Every noise or movement from her caused a lightening bolt to shoot through my body as all senses were alerted. Like an alarm announcing that I was needed, or maybe just that I might be needed. I was overwhelmed mostly with the feeling that I loved this baby girl, but I didn't want to do this anymore. Can I just put my doll away now and play something else?

Like many things in life, it got better with time. We learned how to swaddle her, nurse her properly, and all the little things that she specifically required (like eating and sleeping upright). We also learned she had colic. And so we could accept that challenge instead of seeing ourselves as failing. We learned to live with a lot of crying. Learned to survive on very little sleep. And eventually we crawled our way out of what I call the dark abyss of Newbornland. And it wasn't long before that little girl had us falling in love with every single thing she did. Much like the pregnancy, there were a million new discoveries, each one of them amazing. Our family adapted and changed and after a while we felt we were ready for number two.

My second pregnancy wasn't anywhere near as fun or exciting as my first. I discovered that carrying an extra 20-30lbs while caring for a toddler was a pretty rigorous job. All those new discoveries were replaced with exhaustion and fatigue. I still treasured that little life inside me. Thriving on the movement I'd feel to remind me she was there. Unlike my first, the pregnancy seemed to fly by. And on exactly the day she was due she was born 3 hours from the start of labor. I pushed one time and she came out. The nurse said, "Holy fast and furious!" I loved her already too, and this time had an appreciation for all that I knew we would experience together. I felt much more confident nursing this time and I was sure we wouldn't have 2 babies with colic. Our second daughter indeed did not have colic. But what I didn't know at the time was that she had one fierce little personality! And what I also didn't know was that every time you add a new member to your family, you upset the groove. This became abundantly clear the minute we arrived home from the hospital. It felt more like stepping into another world. As we opened the door to our house our newborn was screaming and so was our toddler. Our newborn had needs she was demanding be met immediately and so did our toddler. What's more, it was a quick realization that it would be impossible to meet all or any of those needs when expected. And also, I felt pulled between whose need I wanted to meet first. How could I let my toddler suffer without me when all she had known was having me available to her? I can still see myself in those early days, running down our hallway with what my husband likes to call 'a baby on the boob' trying to get my potty training 2-year-old on the toilet in time. What often resulted was just a mess I couldn't even clean up until the baby was done nursing. We just learned to live with a lot more crying (including my own crying!) and stress and take one day at a time. Once again we slid into the dark abyss of Newbornland. The land where you still haven't brushed your teeth at 3PM because you simply couldn't make the time. The land where there is no sleep. There is no such thing as no one needing you. And where friends and family come to visit (and even bring you food and nice things) but no one stays for long. 'Cause they know. I loved the new baby. But I was also mourning the loss of our little family of three. The ending of an era, is what my husband called it. He was right. But, again, with time came good things. The girls fell in love with one another. And our family learned a new groove.

That new groove didn't last long! Just 7+ months later we would learn number 3 was on the way. The pregnancy was a little more exhausting because I now had 2 toddlers to take care of. But I tried to appreciate it and I was in no hurry to get back to Newbornland. My labor was completely different. I labored at home waiting for my contractions to become "regular". In a moment of weakness I almost punched my 1-year-old when she tried to feed me a piece of apple skin she had spit out while I was doubled over with a strong contraction. Once I recognized the signs of being almost there (which would be tears) I told my husband I think we better go to the hospital. From the moment I walked into the hospital it was only 20 minutes before we would welcome our third daughter into the world. It was probably the most empowered I have ever felt, bringing a life into the world with no intervention. She was perfect in every way and this time I was thankful we got to take her home with us. I don't know if Newbornland was less difficult this time around, or if it just got overshadowed by larger life stresses (like the fact that we had a baby, bought a house, and started a new long-distance job all at the same time). Either way, I felt more seasoned this time around and it became clear that nothing would really phase me. I spent those next months literally changing one diaper after another, not sleeping more than 2 consecutive hours for the better part of a year, and accepting the fact that life now was largely about trying to control utter chaos.

People like to tell me all the time how I have my hands full. I haven't quite figured out their motivation. Do they think that's helpful? Are they just trying to make a connection with someone? I don't know. I appreciate the people that follow that up with asking if I need a hand. Even if I don't need a hand. What does need really mean anymore anyway? Many people are kind to mommies who have their hands full. Minus the time that I almost punched the lady at Walmart that caught me in a bad moment, I try to respond, "My hands are full, but my heart is too." And that's pretty much the whole of it. Having kids is insane. The other morning I started my day with my 4-year-old letting me know she had wet the bed (AGAIN). As I helped her take her jammies off, eyes still barely open, she sneezed in my face twice. Now that I think about it, maybe it was a good thing my eyes were barely open. I wipe a lot of poopy bottoms, clean up a lot of crumbs off the floor, spend a lot of time cutting food up into small, chewable pieces. I have no "me" time. Even when I am showering, I am fighting my 1-year-old off trying to keep the curtain closed as she repeatedly opens it to play peek-a-boo. I am most often covered in someone else's bodily fluids. It's not exactly a glamorous life. But it is my life. And man, these girls really do fill my heart. The reward that you get from putting so much into a person is simply incomprehensible. There isn't a way to measure the joy of hearing them make up their own songs, learn something new, laugh uncontrollably, or pronounce things all wrong. I think I'll probably shed some tears the day that napkin is no longer pronounced pakin in our house.

I'll be honest and tell you there are days, or moments, when I stare off the back porch and think about the freedom I once had to do...well, anything. And there are times that I still feel nostalgic for the days when it seemed so much easier with one. There are moments in my day when my 1-year-old has been following me around for an hour, crying as I make dinner, grabbing at my leg with tiny nails that should have been cut 3 days ago, and I have that same overwhelming feeling I did at the beginning of all this...I love her, but I don't want to do this anymore. But I can also honestly tell you that I know there is nothing else in this whole world I would rather spend my life doing. I don't just feel like I have kids and am waiting for them to grow up and sort of get out of the way so I can get my life back. I feel compelled to spend my life loving and caring for them. Whether that means putting a band aid on a boo boo that doesn't really exist, getting out of bed at 2AM to fix a blanket that there seemed to be nothing wrong with in the first place, or playing dinosaurs or lions or any other number of pretend games for the umpteenth time...this is my calling. To raise these babies in truth and in love and to send them off to change the world. A holy calling indeed. An often overwhelming responsibility, but a blessed one.

With that, I am happy to announce that we are expecting our fourth baby in July 2015. I already have fears about how I will manage another little one. How will I give any more of myself? But I know that God is the creator of life, and he creates with purpose. And so it is with purpose that I will carry this baby. And with purpose that I will love and care for her (or him!).