This commentary will air a day after my son and eldest child, Jack, turns ten. The past few weeks I've been reflecting a great deal on what that means.
By the time you listen to my piece, I’ll have been a Mother for a decade. I really can’t believe it has been that long. Lately, both my children have become interested in looking at old pictures of themselves as babies and toddlers. They laugh at what they used to look like and what their father and I used to look like. They want to know their birthing stories. They want to hear funny stories about what they used to do, how they used to talk, and who they used to be.
Most people look at pictures of their children when they were first born and talk about how cute they are and how excited they are to see them. When I look at those pictures, I cry. But I don’t cry because I’m happy. I cry because it’s hard to look at them. It’s hard to see how sick my child was when he was first born. Just like it is hard for me to look at the scars on his body from needles and surgeries and tubes. It is hard for me to imagine what being a mother meant 10 years ago and how much my idea of what it means to be a mother has changed.
I’ve learned a great deal about myself over these past 10 years. I’ve learned a great deal about what it means to be a mother and what it means to advocate for your children. I could tell you lots of stories about Jack, but today I want to share what I learned during my birthing experience.
The first thing I learned is that we all have different stories of coming to motherhood and we need to honor and respect those stories of what it means to be a mother. I’ve never had a baby shower. I’ve never gone into labor. Jack was born on a warm February day when I was 31 weeks pregnant. I went into the hospital for some tests and was told I was having a baby in two hours because my son was in distress.
My birthing story consists of me calling my mom in fear, hoping Chris would get to the hospital soon since I told him he didn’t need to be there that morning, not being able to answer most of the questions asked by the operating room staff, and constant reminders that I was not ready for motherhood which I thought was going to happen on Opening Day and not two months before.
My first introduction to Jack was seeing a 2 pound 1-ounce baby wrapped in blankets with a tiny head peeking out, ready to be whisked to the NICU (Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit). My first thought was, “I gave birth to a doll.”
55 days later, three blood transfusions, avoidance of open heart surgery, and the promise that there would be surgeries to come and a long road ahead, Chris and I brought home our almost 5-pound baby to a life very different from that of most new parents.
I learned early on that we don’t all have the same new parenting stories. I wasn’t able to leave the hospital with my baby. I wasn’t able to see and hold my baby until I wasn’t sick anymore. For the first year of his life Jack wasn’t allowed to ride an airplane because of the cabin pressure on his lungs. We could only have two people around him at a time, so he didn’t get sick. We couldn’t run to the store with him—there were too many germs. We couldn’t decide not to have him vaccinated; catching a cold could potentially make him extremely ill. I learned what it meant to be a mother in a way that wasn’t in any of the books I read or movies I saw. It wasn’t the way everyone told me it should be.
I learned that children will always give you what you least expect and that your time is no longer your own.
I learned that you can’t plan for motherhood, because whatever you plan, that baby will do whatever he wants. He is in control and sometimes you just need to accept the changes he makes in your life.
I learned to advocate for myself, to advocate for my child, to ask for a second opinion and to fight for what I believe.
I learned that even though I respect and admire doctors, it is okay to push back and ask for all the options and to try new things.
I learned to love nurses, who were the real saviors of my experience. It was the nurses who bought clothes for Jack when I was too sick to come down to the NICU and we didn’t have any baby clothes. It was the nurses who told the doctors we were ready to bring Jack home. It was the nurses who helped us hold Jack whenever we could, taught us how to bathe an extremely tiny baby, taught us how to take care of our little one, and advocated for him with the doctors.
I learned that no matter what, your baby is perfect. That I never loved someone like I loved that child, and that I would instantly do anything to make sure my child was safe and comfortable.
And, over these past years I’ve watched that tiny little human grow into a bigger little human who is hilarious and smart and always surprising me. When Jack was in the NICU, he was the tiniest baby there, and also the loudest. He would scream and cry and would pull off all his cords. He was a fighter and he still is. He’s taught us all to fight.
As I reflect on motherhood and the start of my journey, every day I appreciate just how much Jack teaches me as we go through this journey together. I know sometimes I screw up and sometimes my kids drive me crazy, but I also know I wouldn’t trade in any day with them and know that my entrance into motherhood has made me stronger in all aspects of my life.
Rebekah Buchanan is an Assistant Professor of English at Western Illinois University.
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio. Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.