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January 21, 2013
We the Parents
Cookie-Cutter Motherhood
by Melissa Howell

There we were, my husband and I, on the brink of parenthood, settled in for an evening session of our prepared childbirth class. Not that you can ever be totally prepared for such a momentous occasion, but it’s a nice idea.

And then the instructor had the audacity to bring up the topic of Caesarian sections and show a related video.

I protested. Quietly, just to my husband, so as not to be rude. But I refused to watch. Not because I was disgusted or opposed to the institution of C-sections. Just that it was not something that I was going to be doing and so I didn’t want to give it one iota of my time. That confident and self-assured, was I.

Just a couple of short months later, and I was clinging to the precipice of the big event. In the middle of the night I was jolted into a state of wide-awakeness after a loud pop awakened me; turns out it was my water breaking. It sounded just like a water balloon bursting. I can still feel that sound to this day.

One short, frantic, frenzied drive to the hospital later and I was pronounced to be clearly in labor. But not remotely dilated.

“It would be a very long labor,” I was told.

And it was.

But the difficult part was not the hours that rolled by, but the fact that my body did not seem to be programmed to labor and instead produced a veritable snail’s speed of progression.

Sometime the following afternoon I was determined finally to be at a “9.” And then an hour went by. And another. And another. Still at a 9.

Enter some frighteningly dramatic drops in my baby’s heart rate and oxygen levels, some medical conversations that finally culminated in my grudging acquiescence, and we had ourselves a beautiful, bouncing baby boy.

Born, of course, via Caesarian section.

I loved that baby from the first – the first smell, the first sight, the first embrace, the first squeak. I held onto him with a fierce protectiveness such as I never knew I had within me.

I also held onto something else for quite some time following his birth: bitterness in the experience, and feeling like I was a failure because my body didn’t do what it was supposed to.

I felt robbed of the experience of childbirth, like there was this “club” of moms who had pushed out babies the natural way, and I was not going to be given admittance into its circle of members. Whenever a group of moms got together and conversation turned to childbirth – which happens on a regular basis – I never liked sharing the experience that became my first birth story and I spewed it forth in a venomous fashion.

Residing next to the bitterness was a feeling of inadequacy. “What was wrong with my body?” I’d wonder, thinking that I was “supposed” to have a baby in a certain fashion and anything that deviated from that was a failure.

My sister suffered similar feelings when her first-born was a couple of months old, and clearly not gaining necessary weight and nutrition from breastfeeding solely, thus being labeled “failure to thrive.” In order to jump-start her baby boy and return him to thriving, she had to supplement with formula, for she didn’t produce enough milk to sustain him. Like me, she suffered feelings of inadequacy.

Why in the world do mothers do this to themselves? Is not motherhood one of the most challenging jobs one could ever secure, without heaping unnecessary expectations on ourselves? Why are we mothers so hard on ourselves for all of our perceived shortcomings and inadequacies?

Motherhood is one of the most challenging, most important, most amazing roles we can take upon ourselves. Therefore, we should not be surprised that it can come with some of the most challenging, most important, most amazing trials that we can endure in this lifetime.

We need to remember always that there is no cookie-cutter model for mothers. There are so many steps along the path to motherhood that are rife with opportunities for trials, and nitpicking why things didn’t go a certain way accomplishes nothing positive. Some women have difficulties conceiving, or carrying children to term. Others suffer countless miscarriages or difficult pregnancy complications. Some have babies born dangerously early, or with life-threatening complications. Some have challenges with difficult toddlers or older children. Others face the heartache of losing a child they expected to raise into adulthood.

We are not inadequate when any of these circumstances occur. We all simply have our own paths, and unique trials that test us throughout the course of our lives, including in the role of mothers.

And when we let feelings of inadequacy and bitterness take over, it begs another, more important question: When we focus on the things we don’t get, how are we supposed to be grateful for the things we do have?

I was reminded of this principal standing in the grocery check-out line recently. My daughter was visually savoring all of the delectable offerings so conveniently displayed at child-eye level, when suddenly her eyes began to water.

Ever so sadly, she turned to me,

“I wanted some bubble gum tape in my stocking for Christmas, and I remember that I didn’t get it. I really, really wanted it,” Isabel pleaded with me in a practically pathetic manner.

“Are you really going to get upset about one thing you didn’t get, when you consider all of the wonderful things you did get?” I asked her pointedly. And of course, her whining made me want to buy a roll of bubble tape… for just about any other child on this lovely earth except Isabel.

Following my first Caesarian section, I went on to have three more children, all born via C-section, as well as two miscarriages. I have let go of the bitterness from my early mothering days, and have replaced it with reverence and gratitude for the four amazing gifts I received. It matters not how they arrived.

What does matter is that I don’t get upset about the things I don’t get, but rather consider the wonderful things my Heavenly Father does bestow upon me. My experience is my own, and I love all chapters of my motherhood journey, be them exciting, disappointing, scary, exciting or what have you. Together, they make for one unique, incredible story.

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