I have two children, and I chose both of their birthdays. By “chose their birthdays,” I don’t mean that my husband and intentionally tried to conceive nine months in advance of a date that we liked. I mean that on two separate occasions, I stood in the office of my ob/gyn, staring at a huge desk calendar and scheduling a C-section.
Believe me, this is not how I wanted things to turn out. When I found out that the first boy had to delivered via scheduled surgery, for a medical reason that was beyond my control, I went through something that felt a lot like mourning.
Like many women, I had a very detailed vision of what it meant to give birth. It involved the sudden drama of breaking water and the relentless rigors of labor, an experience that I’d fight through like a lioness, awing everyone in the room with my womanly fortitude. And the idea of not knowing when exactly my child would be born was so appealing in its mystery. I loved the idea of being part of a natural process that was larger than my own knowledge or control, something epic and primal. “You know neither the day nor the hour,” says the Bible, a verse that related powerfully to my sense of what it meant to become a mother.
So when I stood awkwardly in front of the nurse’s desk, staring at the little squares that indicated the month of September, it felt all wrong. This isn’t how it’s supposed to go, I thought to myself, as I processed the unwanted responsibility of choosing my baby’s birthday. Two years later, when my second boy also had to be born via scheduled C-section, I went through the same process, and – yes – much of the same mourning.
People are usually surprised to learn that though I’m a mom twice over, I’ve never been in labor. When they talk about their own birth stories, assuming that I can relate, I often have to tell stop and them that I have no idea what a contraction feels like. (I can, however, tell you how it feels to have staples removed from my abdomen.)
What I’ve learned from all this is that the traditional image of labor and delivery is not the reality for lots of moms. In fact, these scheduled C-sections have, in their own way, been a blessing, because they’ve taught me not to make assumptions about the ways in which other mothers have welcomed their children into their lives.
There are lots of moms who have never been in labor, and there are lots of moms who have never been pregnant. In my own circle of friends, I know people who have adopted children locally, and those who have adopted from overseas. I know couples who have become parents through the foster care system. Their labors don’t involve contractions or scheduled surgeries, but they do involve the arduous process of preparing for home studies, of waiting to hear from foreign bureaucracies or to be picked by a birth mother. Their deliveries don’t involve hospital stays and doulas, but they do involve an exciting flight to an orphanage in a distant country, or a thrilling call that the birth mother has just checked into the hospital. It can be easy to forget this, to assume that every birth has unfolded just like our own child’s, but that’s not the case. Every mom has her own unique story, with its own drama and challenges and pain and exhilaration. And yet every narrative ends in the same way: with the beginning of a new life, for the parents as well as the child.
Even though my own birth stories didn’t follow the scenario I’d always envisioned, in the end, I’ve learned that it really doesn’t matter. What really matters are the two little boys, purple and squalling and utterly beautiful, who were pulled out of that incision in my body. And what matters is everything that’s happened since then, all the thousands of little memories that those boys and I have shared, the smiles and laughs and hugs and sweet words that I treasure in my heart.
Not every mom has been in labor, and not every mom has been pregnant. But every mom has opened her heart to welcome a child, in a way that is uniquely her own.
And that’s what matters.
Copyright 2011 Ginny Kubitz Moyer