I finally packed my hospital bag last night. If you can call throwing four very mismatched outfits, three pairs of panties, and some old PJ’s on top of a duffel bag “packing”. I am 37 weeks pregnant today. Asking me to pack for a trip to The Hospital Inn and Suites is like putting someone on an airplane while they are wearing a blindfold and earplugs.
I’m holding a ticket to a land called “A Better Birth Experience”, but I’ve never been there before. My last trip to Birthing Land wasn’t anything like the guidebooks said it would be. This time, I don’t know how many nights I’ll be staying. It could be a blissful 48 hour rest after a VBAC journey, or the four night/five day Priceline package after an unexpected C-Section. The kind of trip where you’re stuck with a very tight budget, and you gamble it in hopes that you will be rewarded with a nicer hotel. Perhaps one that has free breakfast. I may have a passport, and a local airport with many departing flights, but no one has told me if my seat is reserved. 3 cm dilated, 10 cm dilated, failure to progress, sunny-side up baby. The tiny creature who is my ultimate pilot, well….he hasn’t filed his flight itinerary yet. I barely speak the language of the area that I’m traveling to, though I’m vaguely versed in what the dialect sounds like. I have a doula who will translate for me, and friends who have shared “Best Of” pictures from their own trips. I’ve been studying up with books and tutors, watching videos about the culture that awaits me, but let’s be honest….none of those are a substitute for waking up in a new place and listening to the natives yourself. And let’s be honest. Isn’t part of the adventure of traveling, being open to all that is unknown and unexpected?
So cut me some slack in the preparation department if every few days I carelessly toss a few hair ties onto the duffel bag pile, or tuck a chapstick into the side pocket. I’m new here, and I’m terrified about this trip.
When my first son Max was born, I did everything right. I sat (and took notes!) in a breastfeeding class, pushed two fingers into a tiny doll’s chest at an Infant CPR class, and had our car seat checked by the local police department. I remembered to pack my favorite sweater for the hospital, and my sweet-smelling shampoo. I had cute pink-rimmed glasses to wear in case my contacts felt scratchy, and a floral notepad so that I could keep track of important questions and feeding times. But when I look back on my first 48 hours with my sweet, tiny, 6 lb 2 oz boy…..I remember very little of it. It was not the inaugural trip to motherhood that I had so painstakingly planned for.
I remember that I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t pee. Someone came in to change the dressing on my c-section incision and told me that they had closed me up with staples. Staples?! I’ve been known to get queasy during a minor blood draw! I remember my husband holding Max next to my bed, my mom holding Max in the chair across the room, and my own arms holding Max while my eyes glazed over and the pain medication transported me somewhere else. I never wrote in my floral notebook. In fact, my questions for the doctors were whispered into a lonely space where no one ever answered. “Can I have a breastpump to use?” As the lactation consultant was walking out the door. “I’m really hurting, can I have another dose of….” as the pediatrician laughed and said “Sorry, I’m not your doctor, but I’ll let the nurses know.” I wore my pink glasses and my cozy sweater on the first day that I was able to shower. I felt like a new person, with my wet hair pulled back in a ponytail, and two days of sweat and tears scrubbed from my face. Our best friends came to visit, and I did everything in my power to act like the happy tourist. When really, I wasn’t even sure what day it was. The only thing that mattered was the tiny boy who was finally in my arms. I had no idea where our flight had landed, but I knew that our family was on the journey together.
I cherish that picture, because it’s one of the first things that I remember about birthing Max in the hospital. And as I held him against my chest, the chest that finally smelled like me again, I can remember how blissful it felt that we had a new beginning together, my boy and I.
I want to feel that with Ben, without being afraid. I want to skip those first few days of culture shock that left me shivering in a hospital bed alone. I want to fast-forward to the photographs that I remember, the scenes that I understand. I want so badly to be present and lucid after this birth. To not feel trapped in my own body, paralyzed by medication and fear.
To welcome Ben, I must let go.
I will breathe away my anxiety like I am blowing through a contraction. Each breath pushing the swollen fluff of a dandelion farther and farther across the cool grass. Each dandelion seed a piece of the anger and frustration that creep in when I am lying awake at night, trying to prepare for this unknown trip. Each empty flower stem is a chance to recreate a garden of hope for a different kind of birth experience.
I will prepare my heart by preparing my home.
I will allow myself to enjoy making a space for Ben, carefully folding tiny onesies and stacking diapers in neat rows. I will admit that putting every decal up on the nursery wall feels like I am inching closer to mothering another child. I will laugh openly at myself when I realize that sorting outfits by size and washing everything in Dreft means that I am nesting. I will allow myself to buy things like burp cloths and binkies and diaper wipes. Allow myself to realize that dreaming of my second son for the last nine months is not a betrayal of my first son. Forgive myself for hoping that we will not need 30,000 clean burp rags and 2 different kinds of Gripe Water, and an exercise ball to bounce on at all hours of the night….because maybe this child will not be as sick as the first one was. I will release the guilt that I have for even hoping, in the quiet spaces, that this baby isn’t as hard as my first was.
I will whisper words of endless love to my sweet four year old. I will fill up his tank with the inner strength and resilience that I hope he’ll hear in the middle of the night, if he wakes to the face of a friend because we are in the hospital. I will fill his heart with paragraphs of unconditional devotion. “You are Mommy’s best. You are my sweet. You are my boy. You are so kind and so special to me. You are my helper. You are my love. You are my first.”
To welcome change, I must let go. Let go of the fear, let go of the unknown, let go of the doubt. I already know how to mother. There is nothing that can jump out and scare me this time. Parenthood changes everything, but they are changes that we’ve already embraced. I will hand my passport and my ticket over without hesitation. You can blindfold me, put me on the plane, and forget to announce our destination. It doesn’t matter. I already know where I’m going.
I’ve even packed my bag.