“Ok, with each contraction, I want three good pushes,” the midwife said, her eyes focused on the top of my baby’s head as it peered out.
I braced as I felt the arms of the next wave begin to wrap themselves around my belly. Deep breath, hold it. Push one. Push two. Push three. Still, the contraction was cresting.
“Give me just one more big push,” she said, sensing the opportunity. I grew furious as she reached into me. There hadn’t been time for an epidural - not exactly my plan. I was feeling the fullness of all the pain. I had been told only three pushes were required. One more would be four. I could not do four, and so, red faced and exhausted I shouted back, letting loose the four letter word I’d only ever really let myself whisper before:
“I am not f***ing pushing ANYMORE!”
My husband, while trying not to laugh and holding my leg, lifted his head and his brave eyes to mine. “You need to push!” he commanded.
I resented being told what to do, and roared back as my body gave itself over to the pushes that I could no longer contain, working jointly with the hands of the midwife. In an instant I was stretched to the breaking point, and in a flood out came the head, shoulders, torso, tiny limbs, fingers and toes of a baby.
I breathed out my tears, my relief, and my anger as I watched the medical team cut the cord and move the tiny body quickly to the examination table. The meconium had been dark green when they broke my waters, so I was expecting this: probably not serious, but erring on the side of caution. A time to be alert, but not panic.
It was hard for me not to panic.
There wouldn’t be time for immediate skin-to-skin, there wouldn’t be time to stare at eyes, face, fingers, or toes right away as I had with my firstborn, my daughter.
“Is it ok?” I asked, simultaneously realizing I was lacking a certain key piece of information. “Boy or girl? Boy or girl? Is it a boy or a girl?!” I asked my husband on repeat. He squeezed my hand and then left my side to find out.
If I couldn’t hold or see my baby right away, I needed some piece of tangible information to hold onto. We had chosen not to find out the sex the first time around, and this time was no different. One surprise element about our baby to get me through the labor.
“It’s a boy!” my husband called out to me from the other end of the expanse that separated me from the baby that was supposed to be in my arms.
My heart startled a little bit.
I hadn’t been expecting a boy.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want a boy. I wanted a baby. I wanted this baby. I knew I would want this boy. I just wasn’t sure how I felt at this very second.
For months, when we had told people we weren’t going to find out, the inevitable question would follow: but what are you hoping to have? A boy or a girl? I never felt completely comfortable answering that question. It felt a bit rude. The party line, of course, was “It doesn’t matter to me. I’m just glad we get to have another baby!” because, well, isn’t that what you’re supposed to say?
But in my heart, when I let myself go deep, oh, how I was hoping for another little girl. I was a girl. I knew girls. I knew how to handle girls. And most of all, I wanted so much to have daughters who could know the kind of sisterhood I had with my own sister, and to have the kind of close mother-daughter relationship I had with my own mom. I didn’t know how to do that with a boy. And going even deeper, there were the thoughts that stretched too far into the future: a boy would leave our family someday for another woman. A girl might stay close or at least come back to me when she needed help mothering her own little ones.
But, I couldn’t say those things out loud. Never. And there was always the possibility that the story of my children would work out quite differently.
“He looks great, mama! No complications - and he’s a big boy - eight pounds ten ounces! Good work!” I heard the medical student as he walked toward me, a bundle of blanket-wrapped baby boy in his arms. I held my arms out, instinctively but with mental reserve. I was already feeling guilty about the hopes I’d had - this poor little frail baby had spent the last nine months inside of me, not knowing I had let feelings and hopes become pictures and dreams in my head about who he would become. He probably deserved a better mother, I thought, a mother who actually didn’t care whether he was a boy or a girl.
I can’t truthfully say that as soon as I saw my son’s face that all of my dreams of having a girl disappeared. It took a little while to reconcile pictures of what I had imagined another girl would mean with the beautiful boy I held in my arms. I still feel guilty about that sometimes - about how long it took. But the truth is, the moment I did see his face, I started to fall in love all over again. Immediately, in all of the mess of post-labor haze and lack of confidence in knowing how to be a mother to a son, I knew that, just as with my daughter, this baby was mine. I would give my life for this baby. I would hold this baby, snuggle this baby, let this baby fall asleep on my chest to the beating rhythm of my heart, sing to this baby, rock this baby, keep this baby as close to me as I could for as long as I could.
Staring at him in my arms as I was wheeled from the delivery room to the recovery room, I leaned in and kissed his cheek. “Hello, son,” I whispered, letting that unexpected word escape my mouth. And as those words were born out of my mouth, so too were born new pictures and new dreams.
Written by Catherine Gordon. Cat is a wife to a wonderful husband and mom to two imaginative and hilarious kids, all of whom she loves beyond measure. A Spanish teacher on long term leave from a traditional classroom, she thinks parents of young children should get stickers for doing things like remembering to move clothes from the washer to the dryer. A born & raised Michigan gal trying to make sense of an unexpected life in So Cal (she actually does miss the snow), you can find her blogging at The Cathartic Blend, on Instagram and on Twitter.
*This essay was crafted in our Known Workshop based on the prompt to write a secret confession. Sign up here to get advance warning and early access next time we host a writing workshop.
Photo by Kelli Seeley.