As I look back on my 2013, it was a year filled with a number of twists and turns–some expected, most not. I was 41 years old, a first-time mom, and a divorcee. Yes, you read that correctly–a divorcee. Talk about being able to check several demographic boxes that do not at all go together. It was never my intention to begin the journey into middle-agedom as a single-mom to an infant son, but sometimes life has a way of giving you what you want, just not how you wanted.
Like any other girl, my family-life vision always included a strong handsome gainfully employed husband, who would love, protect, and provide for me and our two children (girls since I never ever could imagine having a boy). We would live in a beautiful house in the suburbs of New York, and have a couple of sleek late-model luxury somethings sitting in the driveway. I would have a fabulously fabulous career, and life would unfold year after year in a similarly grand fashion.
I got the handsome husband. As for everything else on the list? Like I said, I’m now divorced. Although my ex was not marriage material in several respects, I also have to take responsibility for the outcome of our relationship. I was so obsessed with building a family of my own that I disregarded who would be in it. Lesson learned. And no, I still have not made it to the big house in the suburbs. Nevertheless, I am abundantly grateful for what I have and what is to come.
None of my life’s challenges were any match for the one that I wrestled with for the better part of my 30s, and finally emerged as the victor in my early 40s–getting and staying pregnant. These are my stats: 1) a baby girl who passed away after a preterm delivery at 20 weeks; 2) two years of fertility treatments after I suddenly and mysteriously could not get pregnant (my fertility doctor later diagnosed that at the ripe old age of 38, my eggs were fried); 3) a pregnancy that ended after an 8-week miscarriage of twin girls; 4) and finally, another pregnancy with twins (via natural conception) that ended in the “spontaneous abortion” of one, and the other (my son) fighting every step of the way to be born.
Now back to 2013.
By the second week of the new year, I was beyond exhausted. Twenty-two weeks on bedrest had left my entire body achy with bones stiffened to the point of feeling paralyzed. My cerclage, that was stitched in at 12 weeks, had almost completely disintegrated, leaving my cervix literally hanging on by a thread. So when my doctor told me that she was seeing patients at the hospital that week and that my check-up would have to be there instead of at her office, I packed my hospital bag and put it in the trunk of my car. My mind was made up. I was not leaving that hospital unless my baby was in tow.
When I arrived at the labor and delivery floor at 8:30 a.m., my doctor waved to me as she whisked through the nurses’s station tending to patients. I’m sure that I looked as exhausted as I felt. Sympathizing with the long stressful journey that this pregnancy had been for me, she walked over and whispered in my ear, “Do you want to have this baby today?”
“Yes!” I immediately answered.
“Okay, so when the nurse asks how are you feeling, you’re going to say that you have had cramps since last night and that you feel pressure. Got it?”
Within an hour, I had a bed and was in my hospital gown underneath a blanket reading an In Style magazine and watching Maury. Throughout the morning and early afternoon, I had some minor cramping, but nothing serious. I thought, “If this is labor, I am ready.” I leaned back into my pillows and just knew that I would be one of the lucky ones who would sail through her delivery and tell everyone how he just shot right out.
Then came 4:00 p.m.
Waves of mind-numbing pain swept across my back about every 15 to 20 minutes. When I could no longer concentrate on Judge Judy because of the pain, I rang for the nurse and told her to let the doctor know that I was ready for my epidural. The words of my Yorkie’s vet, who had shared his wife’s labor experience with me a few days prior, rang in my head, “Don’t be a hero. Get the epidural immediately. Don’t wait until the pain becomes unbearable. You have nothing to prove to anyone. Get as comfortable as possible. Quickly. You will need your strength for when it is time to push.”
How right he was.
I writhed around in pain in my bed for about an hour before the anesthesiologist arrived and hit me with what I thought would be the magic juice. Wrong again. The epidural made the pain bearable for about an hour and a half. And then as my mother says, “It [was] on like Donkey Kong.” The epidural and all of its splendor had abandoned me. I was on my own for the rest of the labor and delivery, which lasted about another four hours.
Sorry, but at this point, you will not read any flowery, motherly, tear-jerking anecdotes about my delivery being the most amazingly beautiful moment of my life. The truth is that my delivery was an excruciatingly painful, messy, and terrifying time. I repeatedly pooped in my poor doctor’s face while trying to push my son out (side bar: many moms told me that I would be in too much pain to care about all of the shitting that I may do during delivery. Wrong. I cared and was mortified). I pushed, and pushed, and pushed almost to the point of passing out. The umbilical cord wrapped around my baby’s neck causing his heart rate to take intermittent dips. I tore and had to be stitched up. If all of that was not enough, at 9:49 p.m., when my son finally arrived, you could hear a pin drop. That welcome-to-the-world wail that every mother listens for after giving birth was not there. My heart raced. Through watery blood-shot eyes, I quickly searched the faces of everyone in the room. My mother and doctor tried to mask their fear, but I could see it. Something was wrong.
Because my son was not crying, the doctors rushed him to a tiny open crib that awaited him in the corner of my room. My doctor, along with another doctor, and the two nurses who assisted with the delivery worked on my baby. After the longest and scariest few moments of my life, a shrill high-pitched cry filled the room. I let out a sigh of relief. He made it. My son was here. I did not know how well he was, or whether he had ten fingers and toes, but he was here and he was alive. I thanked God for that. After cleaning him up, the doctors brought him over to my bedside so that I could see him before they took him to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). In those few seconds, my heart opened more than it ever had. This was true love. Before I would let anyone take me to my room, I had to see my son. Shortly after they took him to the NICU, I was following right behind him in my wheelchair.
Now this IS where the flowery, motherly, tear-jerking anecdotes come in. Even while lying in an incubator with tubes attached to his teeny nose, chest, arms, and ankle, he was the most beautiful baby that I had ever seen: (a) because he was mine and (b) because he just was. Every time I laid eyes on him, I fell in love all over again.
My son’s week-long stay in the NICU was the start of our journey together. Weighing in at five pounds and eight ounces, he was the smallest baby in the NICU. He was born with an infection and had jaundice. He needed me, and I was there. Every two hours, I hobbled along (because of my stitches) making my way to the NICU to breastfeed, cuddle, and talk to my baby. The maternity floor had many vacancies that week, so the hospital was kind enough to allow me to stay four days past my discharge date as a courtesy because I was breast-feeding and my son had to stay behind.
Countless times, while nursing and looking down at his perfect little face, my thoughts raced in a million different directions. I put in my early request with God to spare my life so that I could guide my boy through his. Wondered about things like whether I would be a good mother; would he love me as much as I already loved him; would he blame me for not staying with his father; would he understand how much he changed my life for the better; would he know that I could never imagine this world without him in it.
So on January 21, 2013, we left the hospital to begin our lives. Over the course of this first year, I:
~passed Breastfeeding 101;
~endured the wrong formula fiasco (three times);
~thanked God for sparing permanent injury to my son after he rolled off of my bed (twice);
~survived explosive teething diapers that runneth over and over and over; and
~traveled planes, trains, and automobiles while balancing strollers, car seats, bags, and bottles.
And I treasured those monumental “firsts” when my son:
~ flashed a gummy smile at me from his heart and not from gas;
~ rested his head on my chest just because;
~ said “ma” the day before my 42nd birthday;
~ grabbed my face to give me “muah” (our word for kiss);
~ kicked and squealed in delight at the sight of our smiling faces staring back at us in the mirror;
~ speed-crawled to greet me at the door when I came home from work;
~ dared a wobbly step into my arms; and
~ demolished his carrot birthday cake, messy icing-face and all.
My first year as a single-mom has left me both dazed and crazed, yet completely amazed. Amazed at how, even with all of its challenges, there is no experience more fulfilling or beautiful than motherhood. My son was conceived out of love. I am grateful for that, and one day he will know that. But as the old saying goes, sometimes love just isn’t enough. When the doctor told me that I was pregnant, I was hopeful that maybe, just maybe, the three of us could make it as a family. But that wasn’t our destiny. This story begins with just the two of us–mother and son–taking life one day at a time, learning as we go, doing the very best we can, never looking back because there’s always tomorrow to try again, and loving each other every step of the way.