I was duped. Having so proudly eschewed the trap brides face in focusing solely on preparing for the wedding day and not the marriage to follow, I fell deep and headlong into a similar pothole: preparing for the birth of my first child, but not what came afterward.
Of course, I had diapers and a crib, clothes washed and folded; I even carefully picked out going-home outfits for baby and me. But I was not at all prepared for my baby to be admitted to the NICU at 16 hours old and for me to be sent home a day later, carseat empty. Blessedly, he followed after five days, with a clean bill of health.
After a pregnancy that could not have been more textbook and a similarly straightforward labor, I was lulled into comfort; the hard part was over, now just for the baby snuggles. I’d dreamed for months of the tiny package napping on my chest, the gentle baby-weight moving up and down slightly as I breathed. In the darkness of our first night together, I scooped him onto my chest and relished his little sighs.
Then in the glare of morning, the nurse was concerned his breathing was too fast. I’d just taken my first post-partum shower, and even put on a little eyeliner, when the pediatrician came in and recommended he be quickly transferred to the NICU (conveniently located at the opposite end of the hospital). The eyeliner ran, my breathing got too fast; this wasn’t the plan. I’d “surrendered” myself to the possibility of a C-section, to medical problems that might accompany a pre-term birth, but we were in the clear now: four days “overdue,” fine Apgar scores; we’d even avoided any fear of Zika, despite gestating in South Carolina and Texas.
A detour to the NICU was not part of the deal.
Preparing for childbirth has become a choose-your-own-adventure exercise; are you a devotee of Lamaze? Perhaps Hypnobabies is more your speed. The Bradley Method provides another option, complete with dietary requirements, and there’s always the popular Dallas alternative: scheduled induction with immediate epidural. I was so proud to have avoided the cultish adherence to any particular method, considering openness to the moment’s demands as the ultimate virtue.
But I realized as we navigated the bumpy path through the NICU and finally home that I wasn’t as open as I’d supposed. I’d been prepared for surprising switchbacks in the path to Charles’s birth, but not for closed roads afterward. The sleepless nights and need for feeding practice, sure, those were given obstacles to overcome, but I hadn’t counted on wires and IVs hampering my holding of my baby in his first week, or his screaming as the nurses sought to find a vein big enough to deliver the medicine.
Ours was the mildest of setbacks on the path home as a family of three, but it gave me pause, and an acute lesson in those early days, in the fragility of life and the grief of expectation. Just as newlyweds can feel broadsided when the reality of marriage sets in on the morning after, this jarring experience revealed to me how much I’d pinned expectations on the first days of Charles’s life outside the womb. Expecting that you’re in the clear once you’ve made it through the reception’s last dance is just as foolhardy as my assumption that we’d have smooth sailing the moment he was placed, wailing and wet, in my arms.
I am sure I’m in for many more buffets in my little ship of parenthood, and even a few (or many!) squalls. May I have the humility to remember both the danger of expectation and the only true hope — plodding through with Jesus.