A Beginner’s Guide to Letting Go

Do we, as moms, know the enormity of our choice to have a child? I felt I did. I read books and talked to friends with children. I’d been a teacher and a school librarian; it wasn’t as if children were a novelty in my life.

But, I was in for a surprise. My unborn son decided to test my resolve.

In the weeks before my oldest son’s birth, he made a big decision for me: he was breech. An external cephalic version, in which a doctor attempts to turn the baby, seemed scary and dangerous. Some may have chosen a different path, but I knew my anxiety would jeopardize the procedure. I needed a cesarean section.

I had to learn to let go. And that’s how motherhood began for me.  

Countdown to Birth

In the weeks before my scheduled surgery, I prepared myself. But, I knew my plans would not go as I expected. I called and talked to a few friends who also underwent a cesarean. I had to know as much as I could because the unknown terrified me. In an operating room, there’s no room for a panic attack. Ironically, many of them told me it was better not to know every detail. Even they, in their own ways, were telling me to let go. 

Hiding my anxiety a couple days before the birth of my oldest son.

Day of Birth

I was so naive to think everything would be fine after the surgery. It was just the beginning. The evening before the birth, I was so nervous. Actually, I was terrified. The fact that I wouldn’t be in labor for twenty plus hours may be the only redeeming factor about a cesarean birth. I didn’t sleep much that evening.  

As we drove out of our neighborhood, I looked at our house. It was as if I was trying to hold onto the peaceful moment for one last time. Soon, our life would be so different.  

At the hospital, the nurses prepared me for the surgery. I was so cold that I was shaking, maybe from fear or maybe from the fluids pumping into my body. I really don’t know. And unbeknownst to me, early contractions had started. My obstetrician arrived. Knowing I’m an anxious person, he joked about watching a video before completing my surgery. My nervous laugh mixed with the sounds of the beeping monitors. It was truly funny and did manage to calm me for a moment. As I entered the surgical room I wondered if I could turn around and run. But, common sense kicked in…the baby had to be delivered. I couldn’t carry him forever. I knew I had to calm myself. I didn’t want to have a panic attack while having major surgery. When the anesthesiologist arrived, she explained the spinal block procedure. I was concerned about the pain but that was minor, especially since I was so cold. Then, I felt like I stepped into a warm bath.

Breathe deeply, I kept telling myself. Breathe deeply. Let go…

To keep my mind occupied, I passed the time watching the ceiling (yes…really), listening to the medical team, and talking (or maybe babbling) to the anesthesiologist. I honestly don’t think I paid attention to my husband until I realized one thing: I worried he would watch the surgery and pass out!

About midway through the procedure, my obstetrician said, “You’re going to feel some pressure.” And as if on cue, I felt pressure on my chest and in my abdomen. Wow! That little guy was determined to stay in my womb. Next thing I knew, there was this precious little boy all bundled in his blanket.

So, I made it through my first test, but there were (and will be) many more to come.

After Birth

I was actually happy spending the next few days in the hospital. Who better to care for you than trained nurses? But, I eventually had to go home. Oblivious to the fact that milk was already pulsating in my breasts, we left the hospital. (I mean, really, I was clueless.) Maybe from years of dance, the sore muscles, the painful blisters, the bruises, I ignored the pain of birth. After all, I just had a baby; I’m going to feel crummy.

My husband was so proud. As we pulled into our neighborhood, he stopped to talk with every neighbor (or at least it seemed that way). I felt a tremendous rush of pain and anxiety. I didn’t want anyone to touch or even breathe on our new son. I kept thinking, “I’m a new mom. I should be happy, laughing. Right?” Oh…the pain was everywhere. I thought I was in shock. I was shaking, pale, and felt awful. (Note to future moms: take the pain medication before the pain.)

Meanwhile, my husband wanted his family to see the baby. I honestly thought I was dying or had developed mastitis. I don’t even remember entering the house; I just remember looking for cabbage leaves which supposedly helped with engorged breasts. Yes, you read that right…cabbage leaves. So, as I sat on the lounger with cabbage leaves attached to my chest, my husband said, “my parents are here.” They pulled into our driveway not long after we arrived at the house. “What?” I said. By now, my body felt like an inferno of heat; the pain engulfed my body. Maybe a shower would help since I was shivering, too. No one seemed to notice the paleness of my skin, except for the nurse. But, that was before we left the hospital. Plus, my son was not latching correctly. So he was basically starving. 

Breathe deeply, I kept telling myself. Breathe deeply. Let go…

Note: I love the idea of living a natural life. But, many natural remedies (including breastfeeding, which is another whole story) didn’t work for me. For those who feel a lesser being by using the advantages of modern medicine…let me just say, DON’T. You are not a lesser being.

Once my son arrived home, it was harder to breathe, especially for an anxious mom, like me. But, I find comfort in other mothers who feel as I do, who understand the fear and anxiety that comes with being a mom. Sandra Steingraber, an American biologist and author sums up motherhood by saying, “I’m beginning to perceive motherhood as a long, slow letting go, of which birth is just the first step.”

So, as I finally remembered to breathe on that first day home with my newborn son, I decided this time to give in. I took the pain meds, got someone to buy formula, shut my bedroom door and let the in-laws feed the baby.

Motherhood teaches patience, resilience, but most of all, it teaches me to try my best at letting go. Breathe…

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