"Transition," the childbirth instructor coos, "is generally the most difficult part.
The part every woman, even the most staunch natural childbirth advocate, looks to with trepidation."*
At the front of the room, the motherly figure with a sweetest voice and most calm demeanor isn't trying to scare us. No, her belief is that pain in childbirth is often exacerbated by fear which leads to tension which ratchets up pain. She believes that knowledge of the situation is a remedy to fear and that by knowing what's happening you are in a situation which you are better prepared to handle. It's because of this that she is trying to convey the reality of last past of the first stage of labor. (In case it's been a while since 10th grade biology, check out this link to see what I'm referring to.) True to her belief that knowledge is fear's greatest opponent, she doesn't hold back when preparing us with how this stage is not just painful, but painful without a break.
"That's the hard part," she explains, "the fact that you don't have any time to recover from the latest contraction before the next one comes."
I really appreciated my childbirth class experience.
I found that it was a time to bond with my husband, learn about my unborn child, and take away some of (okay- lots of) my own fear and doubt; all without the anxiety that comes with a pregnancy related Google search (which always always always leads to a message board with a mom talking about a worst case scenario). And now I've had some time to reflect.
Currently I am six weeks on the other side of childbirth class and three weeks before my due date. I have one more day to work a job that, like every job, has had its ups and downs, but unlike every job, has allowed me to grow in ways I didn't know to ever expect. I am two days away from spending the weekend with my mother, who would definitely be in the running for "world's most excited grandmother" if such a title existed. I am three days away from my first day of "retirement", which is what my husband and I are calling the period of time between my last day at work and my first (and ongoing) day/s of motherhood.
And maybe others wouldn't see it that way. Maybe they would see this time as the calm before the "storm" that is new motherhood - with all the diaper changes and 2am feedings and constant temperature taking. But this is a big mental shift for me, one that has taken up a lot more brain space in the recent months than that of both "labor and delivery" and "brand new motherhood".
Similar to an impending hurricane that has it's own Weather Channel update every 30 minutes, I fully respect the power of the forces directly in front of me. And while I understand the activity that surrounds these "main" events, I also innately trust the people who promise that my body "was made for this" and that I will "instinctively know what to do when that baby cries, no matter how many diapers you have previously changed."
Its the before and after that I am currently more concerned about. Though I have never personally experienced a hurricane I imagine the questions are the same: What do I take with me from my current life? What do I sacrifice? Which personal levies will hold strong and which will be washed away? What happens when I am left to face a part of myself that I may not recognize?
Specifically, I wonder how I will deal with my own expectations of personal productivity. Will I choose for these next three weeks to resemble vacation or do I stuff them to the gills will tasks and to-dos? How will my encounters with other friends and colleagues change once they realize that I no longer have a "real job"? How and when will I choose to express my creativity? How will I choose to work? How do I prevent myself from being so cocooned in motherhood that I can no longer carry on a conversation of any worth? How do I stay involved in a community that I love that enriches me?
For now, when things start to back up and threaten to overwhelm
I give myself permission to stop and step back.
I remind myself of the fear-tension-pain cycle and take comfort in the fact that knowledge and practice and outside support, all things that I hope to take advantage of, are the things that prevent the cycle from getting out of hand.
I remind myself to breathe... that's what everyone on television says to do during childbirth. Who am I to fight with popular culture?
But mostly, I remind myself that transition may be the hardest part but is it only a single part of a process that has the potential to change my life for the better.
*I am greatly paraphrasing the wonderful childbirth educator and doula Kay. While I don't pretend to remember everything word for word, I feel like my recollection is in the spirit of her vast knowledge and experience.
Image Credit: Fre Sonneveld via Unsplash