I didn’t count her toes.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.
I didn’t count her toes, or run my finger against each perfectly smooth miniature nail. I was about to. I was about to breathe her in, to smile down at her and envelope those tiny feet in my trembling new-mama hands.
But then it all went white.
My baby girl, just a few minutes old, was taken from my arms. Faces hovered above me and needles pierced through skin, into my veins. I remember pain. Hot, pulsing pain, as the man who would save my life worked to stop the bleed.
I remember turning my head, only slightly, as my oxygen mask tugged against my cheek. I remember gloved hands repositioning it so that my view became only ceiling once more. But I sneaked a peak. I caught a glimpse of my little girl, held tightly in her daddy’s arms as his ashen-white face stared at the scene before him. But nobody was looking at her.
Nobody was counting her toes.
In those moments, color left my world and only white remained...detail and shading were redundant and sounds were muffled as time slowed down. Sleep invited me, but I clung to the white, to the brightness, because subconsciously I knew that I had some counting to do.
In my head, I must admit that I was thinking about myself. This is a hard sentence to write. My baby was minutes old and I was thinking about myself. About my pain, my dizziness, my confusion, my life. But I understand now, all of these months on, that my heart was bound to my daughter; I realize now that it was my heart holding on...holding onto the hope that I would live to count those perfect toes.
You see, I lost more than blood at half past six on that summer’s evening. I lost what I assumed was my right to claim those first hours of my daughter’s life outside of the womb. I lost what I assumed was my right to enjoy her 10-minute old self, her 11-minute old self, her 12-minute old self and so on. What if she had rooted for milk at minute 14, as the doctors set up yet another IV drip for me across the room? What if she had looked up in search of her mama’s face at minute 16, as the nurses told me to stay with them? What if she was counting on me to count her toes?
It’s taken a while, but I am at peace with the questions above. I have a steady ache that those moments were lost for us, that I didn’t get to live out my fairytale birth, but I am at peace.
Because, in truth, the moments that I am talking about are just that: they are moments. And as life thunders on and as my daughter grows bigger and bigger, those initial moments become surrounded by other moments in our vast fabric of existence. Never superseded or overlaid, because a woman’s birth experience cannot be brushed aside or forgotten, no matter how uplifting or crushing it may have been. No, these ‘lost’ moments are threaded between others, interwoven between first words and knitted against happy gurglings.
You see, these ‘lost’ moments are paid homage to every time that I crouch down and take off her shoes, every time that I catch a wiggle of a big toe beneath grubby socks. These ‘lost’ moments are saluted every time a little foot smacks me square in the nose during a gymnurstics session...or square in the ribs during our sleep dance.
In truth, these moments are with me at every new turn, at every junction of motherhood. They remind me of the gift that I was given: I am still here.
I get to be mama to my wonderful little girl, and for that, I am ever thankful. I don’t know how long it took me to actually count baby bean’s toes; in honesty, I cannot remember much through the overwhelming fog of love and fear and awe that engulfed me in those early weeks. But it simply doesn’t matter, as there was more for us; more time, more life, more chances. And there will be more again tomorrow.
Because it’s never too late to count toes.
This post originally appeared on Mama Bean Parenting.
Everyone talks about that moment when you first see your baby, about a huge rush of love and harps sounding from the heavens. When I was pregnant for the first time, among the many “you’ll sees” or “you just waits” were predictions about the monumental love I would feel for my son the moment he was born. I just wouldn’t understand until I experienced it, they would say. Well, after 37 weeks of pregnancy, 12 hours of labor and 15 minutes of pushing, there he was. This pink, gooey, blonde-haired baby boy was earth-side and he was mine. They placed him on my chest, and I waited for the choir of angels to start singing…but they never did. I was exhausted, in pain, and about to deliver my placenta. I tried to will myself to feel the rush of love that I was supposed to, but everything else going on seemed to trump love at that moment.
Once the doctor was finished stitching me up and the delivery room had calmed down, my doula asked me how I was feeling. Was I exhilarated? Was I amazed? Was I in love? My memory is a little foggy, but I believe my response to her was that I didn't feel much and that I was tired. Everything was still sinking in. The surprise induction, the difficult labor, and my son being brought to the NICU…I was so scared and overwhelmed, I don’t think I had space for falling in love. So a few hours after giving birth, I still waited for that magical moment of love between my new baby and me.
I felt a bit like a terrible mother (yep, mommy guilt already rearing its ugly head). Why didn’t I fall in love with my baby? I certainly cared for him and wanted what was best, but I still didn’t feel that amazing rush that so many moms described to me while I was pregnant. What was wrong with me? Maybe it was the Pitocin I had during labor? Maybe it was that I was unprepared for the earlier than expected delivery? Maybe it was all of it or maybe it was none of it? Perhaps some moms just need time to take on their new role as a mother? After talking about it, I found out that what I experienced was completely normal! It was such a relief to find out that not all moms experience love at first sight, and that I wasn't a terrible person for not bonding right away. I wish I known that I wasn’t alone in this because it would have saved me a tremendous amount of self-doubt in my first weeks as a new mom!
After some time I did finally get my "OMG I love him so much" moment, and it was amazing. My love has grown with my son every day since. I so enjoyed the journey of getting to know my little man and falling in love. I am not trying to convince anyone that love at first sight is impossible, because that’s not true. You might fall in love with your baby the moment your eyes connect. But you might not and that’s okay, too. We should celebrate the uniqueness of every mother-child relationship because each mama and baby have their own journey to love. Some journeys simply take longer than others.
A friend of mine was a business tycoon before becoming the victim of a terrible fire. One night while sleeping in his motorhome, propane gas leaked and filled the vehicle. Once ignited, his body was burned and forcefully ejected. Upon arriving to the scene, rescue workers found him dead. Against all odds, they revived him.
My friend remembers watching the ensuing drama from a calm vantage point above his body. He remembers an all-enveloping peace surround him. This peace extended beyond words or comprehension. This peace transformed his very being. We spoke at length about his near-death experience and the profound changes it inspired. Today, material gain is no longer his primary goal in life. Relationships, connection, and service stand as center points of focus.
“It all boils down to choosing between love and fear,” he told me.
This choice is particularly stark when we stand at the doorways of birth and death.
There is no love like a mother’s love. While the hard work of labor can evoke fear, love sustains. Love encourages. As a doula, I know that love is stronger than fear. I watch women bravely move through the challenges of labor when they focus on the love felt for their precious little ones. Particularly while working with laboring women who have survived sexual abuse, I stand in awe at the transformative power of love. We can choose to focus on love. Through this choice, fear is transformed. Through this choice, healing comes.
While we can’t change the scars we carry from the accidents and traumas of life, we can change our perception. We can choose to live with a love that brings healing to wounded places
Consider the work of Dr. Joan Borysenko, well known for her contributions to the field of mind-body studies. In a weekend workshop at The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, Borysenko describes her own healing from the chronic headaches, backaches, and panic attacks she experienced while on “the rat race of overachieving”. She mentions how integrative practices like yoga and Tai Chi helped her see the vital connection between the negative movies she was running through her mind and her physical stress.
Borysenko draws a Vin Diagram showing three interconnecting circles to symbolize a person’s state of ease or disease. One circle represents biology/genetics. Another circle stands for a person’s environment. The third circle symbolizes the power of a person’s will and the impact of chosen behavior. These three circles interlock and interact. For Borysenko, all three rest in “a sacred mystery.”
My friend profoundly encountered sacred mystery. His life was out of balance before his accident and deeply transformed because of it. “Even though my body was burned, love revived and healed me,” he told me. A peaceful calm took the sting out of his fear of death. Today, he chooses to focus on the memory of this peace when fear arises. He chooses to remember this event as he moves through this life.
As a doula, I’ve worked with birthing women who have suffered sexual abuse. While they face challenging obstacles in childbirth, love can guide them in their journey to motherhood. I’ve witnessed first hand the transforming energy of love as a woman faces her fear and chooses to embrace the new life emerging from her body. These examples remind me of the power found in Borysenko’s third circle symbolizing our ability to choose.
No matter what one is given, agency sets a person free to experience the transformative power of love.
Austrian psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor Victor Frankl’s wrote, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”
It all boils down to choosing between love and fear.
At 27 weeks into my pregnancy, I started my letter to him.
I didn’t yet know I was carrying a boy. My husband and I had picked out names, but we decided to wait until the birth to know the sex of our baby. So, I addressed my letter to “Dearest Baby Glenn” and the words poured forth.
I’ve always loved to write. I love the romance between pen and paper, dreams and words. Ideas and letters mingle and merge in me. At my Mormon baptismal celebration, my beloved Aunt Kris presented me with a journal and encouraged my eight-year-old self to write. I’ve filled over fifty books since. I find writing a deeply spiritual path.
Writing to my son added a profound dimension to this practice. I try to imagine how time will bend on an unbeknownst future day when he will read my words. What will it be like for him to see into his early years and into his mother’s heart?
I’ll always remember where I was when I began writing his letter.
Before I knew I was pregnant, I had accepted a teaching job at a private, bilingual school in Bogota, Colombia. My husband and I decided to stay the course of the adventure even as our first child grew inside of me.
I remember the sunlight pouring through my floor-to-ceiling classroom windows. I gazed at the Andes Mountains. My round belly inspired me. I placed my hands on my body and imagined the growing being within. The call to begin writing to this child came from a fiercely impatient muse. My heart was expanding with a love that my mind could not fathom. I closed my work inbox, opened up a blank Word document, and I began to type.
“Dearest Baby Glenn,
Soon I will know if I should address these reflections to Maline or to Taber. However, on the most fundamental level it doesn´t matter. You matter. My love for you matters. Your development, health, strength, inner spirit, beauty, and wonder matter.
I can´t express how much I love you. You are now a permanent part of my heart. I think of you each day and night. I feel you kick and dance and move with joy. I love you dear baby. You are my child and I promise to always give you my best efforts and energy as I move into motherhood….”
I continue to add to this growing 85-page letter.
I detail milestones, magical moments, and the struggles and hopes of our little family. I share with my son Taber my vision for the world. I explain why we choose to spend time outside rather than in front of a television. I write about the day he drew a circle with a crayon proudly saying “Moon!”
Composing this letter helps me mother with a deeper sense of wonder, grace, and gratitude. Putting into words the prayers and hopes I have for this child, reminds me of what matters most in life. I want Taber to love this world and her people. I want him to grow up to be courageous, kind, and strong. Most importantly, I want him to know he is loved. Deeply. Truly. Fiercely. Freely.
In Roman mythology, Theseus volunteers to kill the evil Minotaur responsible for the deaths of many brave Athenian youth. The hero enters a dangerous labyrinth to accomplish this task. His beloved Ariadne gives him a sacred thread so he can find his way out of the confusing maze. May our words as parents be revivifying and inspiring to our children. May they carry sacred power and become like Ariadne’s thread offering guidance when our children navigate life’s challenging labyrinths.
Theseus emerges victorious. May our children do the same.
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