Elated And Terrified: Birth And The First Postpartum Moments

by Marielle Petkoff
Originally Published: 
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My second child came fast and furiously. Just a couple hours after the first inkling of a contraction, my husband had already rushed me to the hospital. I was pacing in the hallway, per my nurse’s orders. She said she wanted me to walk for an hour or two before she checked me again.

To my dismay, I was only dilated to 2 centimeters when I first arrived, and she wanted to see progress before confirming whether or not she’d let me stay or send me home. Apparently, she didn’t believe me when I told her that on a scale of 1 to 10, my pain was a solid 9. She told me my contractions were still six minutes apart, but I swear her machine was broken. I was feeling intense and almost unbearable pain every minute or two.

I couldn’t walk. I made my husband help me back to my room almost immediately. It wasn’t until my nurse heard me screaming out in pain from down the hallway that she came rushing in. I wasn’t just a wimp. She saw the blood on the floor and immediately called in backup as she checked my progress again. I was dilated to 9 centimeters and already feeling the urge to push.

It all happened so fast. By the time the doctor showed up, it was only a matter of minutes before my baby was in my arms. He was healthy and thriving and real.

They laid him on my chest, and I felt the heaviness. I felt the heaviness of this new life, a responsibility now eternally mine. I felt the heaviness of my empty belly, now sagging below the babe on my chest. I felt the heaviness of the love I felt for my child, who I already knew so well and yet was meeting for the very first time.

I cried. I was emotional and exhausted. It felt like I had just run a marathon, the adrenaline from crossing the finish line still surging through a body I didn’t recognize.

By the time they wheeled me into our new room, my legs too weak and heavy to stand on, the adrenaline had given way to exhaustion. The sun was rising. It was a new day and I had given birth to new life. My old life was gone, my new life staring me in the face through the eyes of this tiny baby.

They took him from my arms, wrapped him up, and started to measure and prod and poke him. My intense feelings of possession at his absence were overwhelming. I could hardly bear to have him taken away, let alone hear his cries. I knew right then, I would protect him until the day I died.

My nurse helped me use the bathroom. I felt so disconnected from my body. It was raw and strange. My stretched bulging belly, now glaringly vacant, was still plagued by phantom kicks during those few moments of rest. My eyes were bloodshot, and I was leaking from both sides. It was like watching myself from somewhere else, this stranger in front of me.

As I nursed my child for the first time, I felt the sharp ache of the lingering contractions, reminding me of the pain I had survived only hours earlier. I hadn’t yet forgotten. Instead, I was amazed at what I had endured. I was amazed that this baby was now in my arms after all these months of waiting. I was amazed that I had survived childbirth. I was relieved it was over but acutely aware of the challenges ahead of me. I was elated and terrified.

There is no other experience in life that I can compare to this time. The first few days and even weeks postpartum are unlike any other. They are scary and beautiful. They are empowering and paralyzing. They are overwhelming and so very simple. It feels like your world is falling apart when it’s really just falling into place.

Each day gets a little easier. Each day, I take a deep breath and I take the next step, forging onward into this painfully beautiful new life.

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