For me, having my first baby was a question of my changing identity.
I was pregnant with Noah when we bumped away from our hometown in the small U-haul that held the few belongings and the gifts from our wedding less than a year before. We’d just found out he was a boy the day before, and I delighted in seeing his kicks on screen while my husband dropped heavy tears at the news of a son. We scheduled the ultrasound a bit on the early side, so we could surprise our family with the gender in person…rather than over the phone from an apartment they’d never seen. Finding out that my expanding belly housed a growing boy (already complete with fingerprints! and sweat glands!) was my first great pleasure as a mother.
We moved to North Carolina when I was 5 months pregnant, and it didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to get a job only to quit before the holiday season. So, I got to spend 4 or 5 months getting to know my boy, getting to know our new town, and throwing myself into getting to know me. I was pregnant on my 21st birthday and ordered my husband a beer from the bar. It felt anti-American not to try to get carded even if I was full of baby. Being married and pregnant on the younger side, I had a lot of learning about myself to do.
I had very strong Braxton Hicks contractions from 20 weeks on, and being a first time mom, I was terrified Noah would be born before he was viable. It was a fear that ultimately was unfounded, but it was the first taste of being afraid to lose something I loved without knowing.
Because of those months of Braxton Hicks and prodromal labor, I was making progress at my 37 week doctors appointment. Our family, being warned by the doctor to come if they wanted to be there when he was born, had driven from Indiana to North Carolina…and then, they promptly sat there and stared at me for a week. It was a fun to spend time with family, but I felt like a watch pot failing to boil. The day before they left to head home without a new grandbaby, Mike and his dad played golf. I felt off all day, but did lunch with my mom and mother in law. I laid down to take a nap while they fiddled around in our apartment, recleaning and reorganizing the same few rooms. I didn’t sleep, but instead noticed that my Braxton Hicks were different…and by the end of an hour of Oprah, I had experienced at least 10.
I came out of our room, grimaced, and the moms summoned Mike and his dad home. Thank goodness I waited during Oprah so Mike could finish his round of golf. He asked if he could stop to get pizza on the way home. The moms didn’t like that. Four hours later, Noah was here.
My labor with him was scary to me. It was intensely painful and I didn’t get the epidural until just before pushing (darn anesthesiologist was in an emergency c-section!). Like a lot of first time moms, I had some recovering to do…and it took a lot longer than I anticipated. I remember crying to Mike, “As if labor and delivery weren’t bad enough…we don’t even get any dignity postpartum!”. He had to help me to the bathroom for a week. Nobody warned me recovering from delivery was going to be so physically intense. Interestingly, I always hesitate to fill first time pregnant moms in on that bit, either. No one wants to drop that bit of news on a glowing expecting mom.
Equally intense was the emotional gloppiness that descended upon me. All of the sudden, hormones were flooding every edge of my being–causing me to cry. about. everything.
One night about ten days after Noah was born. It was stormy, one of those pitch black nights, and it was raining buckets outside. We had a little balcony off our apartment, and Mike and I took Noah outside in the oddly warm fall air. I cried so hard, just at the bigness of it all. Life was so BIG all of the sudden. It scared me how much I loved Noah, and it scared me how tiny I felt in comparison to such an overwhelming love. It flat out terrified me how fragile it all seemed.
The next months were like that. Having a baby brought to the forefront of mind a lot of my own childhood. I had to sort out a lot of my own experiences with my parents, because every new thing Noah did brought my childhood to mind. I think I had a touch of postpartum depression, and saw a counselor frequently during Noah’s early months. It was more to sort through these BIG feelings and my own childhood/family than it was due to depression, though.
Growing into my skin as a mom took time. It shocked me how swiftly my life was not solely my own.
Luckily, the months before Noah was born, I had invested my time heavily in getting involved in the women’s ministry at our church in Charlotte. I had little else to do but eat, sleep, clean our small 600 sq feet, and nest. So, I spent a lot of time going to women’s events and our weekly Bible study. It was a super sweet time for me, being loved on by women who were just ahead of me in years and experience. In those early days as a mother, I looked to them as an example and just soaked up their wisdom. I felt pretty confident in my logistical and tactical mothering (getting baby to sleep! getting baby to eat! diaper rash! etc.), but all of the sudden felt unsure about myself as a woman. It helped immensely just having women to walk beside.
Looking back, having my first baby was the hardest transition for me. Being a new mother brought to light a lot of underlying bits of my own family story I was still wrestling with. It changed the way I felt as a woman. Having a son changed the way I looked at my husband. Having my first baby changed the very fabric of my being in a way you can’t undo. It wasn’t the decision making required of me, or the learning how to juggle life and a baby. But, it was the hard heart work that had to be done for the sake of my family and myself as a woman.
If you’re a mom, I’d love to know what your experience was like having your first baby. Share in the comments–because I’m dying to know. And, tomorrow I’ll be back with how with Cooper, our second baby, I wondered how I could ever love another baby as much as Noah.