There has been a recent flurry of birth stories in the media. The mothering magazine Brain, Child published two essays about What Defines a Good Birth, and earlier this month Randi Hutter Epstein wrote a piece called The Lore of Labor for the New York Times. I started thinking about what constitutes a good birth.
Every mother on earth wishes for a happy and healthy baby. But what happens if the baby you birth isn’t healthy? Does that mean you’ve failed as a mother in your very first task of motherhood: giving birth?
Babies are born early. Babies are born with medical conditions. Babies are born needing surgery. Babies are born with disabilities. These outcomes are rarely discussed in the world of expectant mothers.
Sometimes the baby who pops out is not the baby we expected. This is our first early lesson in motherhood. As all children grow up, they surprise us, they shock us, they sadden us. We generally learn these hard lessons gradually, when they are teenagers. But for some of us, this is taught very early, as we blink back tears in the delivery room. This is difficult to process so early on in our journeys, as we grapple with raging hormones, sleep deprivation and shock. But process it we must. We have not failed; we’ve been turbo-boosted into the imperfect world of motherhood. We must now get to the work of loving our child.
We have no choice but to begin serious mothering when we have just freshly given birth. For we all love our children, no matter what. Your 3 month old won’t sleep? Your toddler is screaming in the grocery store? Your 11 year old is failing math? You do not stop loving your child. Your 9 year old acquires a brain injury in a car accident? Your teenage daughter has an eating disorder? Your 23 year old struggles with addiction problems? You do not stop loving these children either.
Parenting is hard work, and that’s how it should be. We have not failed in birthing our sweet, soft babies. We are thrust onto the bumpy road of mothering when we are least ready for it. We are inexperienced and fragile. We find out early that there’s no such thing as perfect or normal. While most mothers bask in the innocence of their healthy children, we know different.
The skills we acquire in those dark early days serve us well as mothers. We understand that stuff happens, and that things do not always go according plan. We carry that resiliency and flexibility forward into motherhood. We are ordinary parents doing extraordinary parenting. And that doesn’t seem like a failure to me.