When I was pregnant with my daughter, Lily, I thought I had this whole labor and delivery thing all figured out. My first child, Jack, had been delivered via c-section, and the army hospital had lost the records from his birth, so my doctor and I had decided it was best to do a scheduled c-section for Lily, just to be safe. Since I’m a safety girl, I was delighted. I could make checklists…I could plan. I wouldn’t have to worry about which day she would be born, having my water break while I was in the line at Target, or some such public place, whether there would be child care available for Jack or if my husband would be off flying somewhere…..I would be able to put everything in place to assure a smooth birth. It looked like a perfect plan. I had my bags all packed, my parents arrived to care for Jack, Lily’s birth-day was circled on the calendar…everything was set. Since it was my second c-section, I knew what to expect and what my recovery would be like. I was ON TOP of things for once.
Then came Lily. The epidural that was supposed to feel like a slight prick caused me to let out a small scream after my anesthesiologist missed his target for the SECOND time. The c-section that was to last about 20 minutes lasted much, much longer due to unforeseen scar tissue. After the delivery, I was supposed to get up and walk to help with the recovery….but I couldn’t! I was in such terrible, terrible, terrible pain, I couldn’t even walk. The pain radiated from my back and hips down my right leg and I was in agony day and night. I couldn’t even focus on my beautiful new daughter because it was so encompassing. I could barely hold her. I had a hard time breast feeding her, and then I had to resort to pumping and dumping my milk, and bottle feeding her; something I was not thrilled about.
The days following the c-section that I thought would be filled with happiness and celebration were not at all what I expected. None of this had been figured into my perfect plan. There had been no room for surprises. And this was a big surprise. The ruptured disc in my back would require immediate back surgery, the recovery would be much longer and more involved than I expected, and I would need far more help. I wouldn’t be able to carry Lily, or care for Jack, or drive, or do much else at first, other than sit in a LazyBoy and yell directions to whichever poor sap volunteered for the job. This was not what I expected.
And yet, here I found myself five days after giving birth, at a staggering weight (I enjoy the “eating for two” rule during my pregnancies), propped up on all fours, bandaged on the front from my recent c-section, while a neurologist and his intern (who just happened to be a former classmate of my husband’s…oh the humiliation continues) operated on my back, wondering, “What happened to my plan?”
I have discovered that many times, my experiences with motherhood have been very much like my birth experience with Lily. It has been so unpredictable. One minute I am so on top of things, and the next I’m laying there wondering how things could have turned so crazy so fast. In a heartbeat, things can go from smooth to choppy. Suddenly, someone is throwing up or someone lost one shoe or someone just pooped their pants, and we were running late to start with. Or the child I know so well suddenly throws me for a loop and I’m knocked off my feet. The great eater turns picky. The obedient child becomes rebellious. I’m only twelve years into this mothering thing, and I’m still figuring it out, every day, wondering what is going to happen next. It is a surprise each day.
Thankfully for me, the surprises have for the most part, been small bumps or twists and turns as we’ve journeyed along this road. We haven’t had to endure the accidents and tragedies that others have been hit with. But when I’m in the moment…when the unexpected occurs…when my plans for the day are suddenly topsy-turvy…I tend not to see the big picture. I start to boil up and frustration overflows. Too often, I let the surprises get me down…and that’s not good. I’ve had to consider better responses to motherhood’s small surprises.
For me, this entails letting go of the ordered life that I crave, and learning to live each day, moment by moment, appreciating the small victories. Instead of sulking over how my plan is falling apart, I have to focus on the positive. Because when I get all wrapped up in my agenda and my expectations, things go downhill very quickly. I start yelling, rushing my kids, and pretty soon everyone is miserable. I don’t know why it keeps coming back to me, over and over again…why I can’t learn this lesson and move on…but I have to learn to be more flexible and build margin into my life for the surprises and the curveballs. I have to remind myself of it daily. Without it, I’m rigid and angry and disappointed and that’s no fun for anyone. But when I can let go, it gives everyone so much more room to grow and explore and adapt and thrive. Of course, letting go carries with it a big helping of mortification every once in a while…sometimes I’m going to be late. Sometimes, I’m going to screw up. Sometimes, I’m not going to look like the perfect mom with the perfect child living the perfect life and everyone is going to notice. And I have to be okay with that.
In addition, I’ve had to realize that I need help. I’ve had to let go of my pride and welcome loved ones into my life that can guide and counsel me in parenting. I’ve had to be willing to accept my husband’s constructive criticism and be honest enough to admit to my weaknesses in mothering. I’ve had to be able to laugh at myself and at the sheer chaos around here sometimes. I’ve leaned on my faith to keep my chin up and my spirit too. And though the recovery time is unpredictable and sometimes much longer than expected, hopefully each time I’ll be quicker to get back on my feet, and tuck another experience in my back pocket which may help me in the future.
You know, when the intern closed me up from my back surgery, he left me a little surprise. I didn’t know it at the time, but when I woke up from the surgery and was able to get up and walk, my hospital gown separated, giving those around me a peek at my glorious backside. My husband John said, “Hey…wait a second….something is on your back.” There, written in blue sharpie, were the words, “USAFA, ‘90”. He busted up laughing….”He left a spirit mission on your back!” Spirit missions were covert shenanigans that the cadets used to take part in at the Air Force Academy to buoy their class spirit. We got a good chuckle out of that, and it did buoy our spirit. I guess that’s also the very best prescription for dealing with the little surprises of motherhood. Because in my latter days, when the children are gone and my house is quiet and orderly, I want to remember a home filled not with neat agenda books, checklists and picture perfect children, but one filled with laughter and with spirit….and happy surprises.