Monday, April 15, 2013

Sometimes strength means holding on and sometimes it means letting go

I love that on my FB page I can find things like the above quote.

I rarely think of myself as strong. I might use other words like resilient and adaptable or understanding. I'm a visual person so I know it seems ridiculous but strong conjures up firefighters and athletes. I look at my body, chuckle about the President's Challenge Fitness test (remember those?), and lament the huffing and puffing I do when I climb stairs. 'Me' does not equal strong.

After being pregnant and certainly after giving birth, I need to update my "strong" definition. Strength isn't just about physical fitness (although, even though they don't have an Olympic sport called "Motherhood" they should seriously consider it and then I will enter). It has become something completely invisible but ever-present. When I don't know what other people do in my circumstances, I think I carry on longer than I should.

When I had hyperemesis gravidarum (HG)  for nine months (some people call this morning sickness, but in reality, it's basically constant nausea, which usually needs medication and mediation), I did a lot of "sucking it up" and actually a bunch of holding on, literally. I had never seen the intensity of HG before, so I didn't know that my herculean efforts were anything noteworthy. I just did what I could. I kept going to work (insanely difficult), I kept trying different foods (to no avail, none would stay down), I drank gatorade, coke, water, smoothies, anything that ANYONE would recommend and it all came back up. I craved water like Luis, in the Sesame Street episode barely whispering "agua" and crawling across the desert. I was desperately trying to stay natural and drug free (although I was seriously considering recreational help as well) because I didn't want to harm the baby with any unnecessary chemicals (and actually, the harm was the severe dehydration and lack of food, not so much the drugs). I incorrectly thought that a stronger person would be able to endure this. A stronger person wouldn't have gotten sick in the first place. A stronger person would have prepared better, eaten better, conceived better, endured better...

But it turns out that a strong person also needs to know when to ask for help, when to listen to their gut, when to let go. And so my letting go Masters program went into full effect. When my midwife strongly recommended going to the ER because of my 3-4 week stretch of not being able to drink or eat, I felt so defeated and so relieved. The paradox was incredible. I wanted help because I felt insanely weak and irritable (I was carrying around plastic bags in cars, in my bags, to appointments, etc. because I would "let go" any place, any time, with anything). But I also didn't want people to think I wasn't able to handle pregnancy. I didn't want to whine or complain too much (after all, I WANTED this!)

But letting go, and accepting that HG is not simply "morning sickness," was the beginning of realizing that strength can also mean letting go. Asking for help, letting others support me, looking at what's actually happening to me (rather than constantly comparing myself to other pregnant people) and dealing with my actual circumstances meant letting go of what I wanted it (and me) to look like.

I wanted to be the graceful, glowing, vibrant mama that I'd be dreaming about (sometimes, literally, my dreams would depict this amazing woman, enjoying, relishing, and basking in pregnancy!). And throwing up, hating food, not being able to open the fridge or deal with dishes was a far cry from my image of myself. In addition to not being the poster child for amazing pregnancy, I also *felt* beautiful in a way that goes beyond physicality and it was again paradoxical to feel shame for throwing up while at the same time loving the idea of carrying a little baby was enough to make me crazy.

People would ask me "How's pregnancy?" and I wanted to 1) puke on their shoes (nothing personal) 2) strangle them 3) fall apart in hysterics 4) offer to trade places with them and 5) sit them down very gently and patiently and let them know that asking a pregnant woman how pregnancy is, is like asking how it is to be in prison (sure, it keeps you safe, you sober up, you have time to read and think, BUT YOU'RE IN PRISON!!!).

All this is to say that I started to talk to K about what he was showing me of myself. He was showing me that I was able to take this (ALL this), and still show love, feel warmth, connect with people (HG, at the very worse can cause women to feel so depressed that they commit suicide...which is so horrible, but I can totally understand that now). And through the entire experience, including a labor that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy (to be written about later), he was FINE. He was thriving. He was loving life, keeping his Heart Rate the SAME, and growing to be quite big and strong. K showed me that despite his lack of time in this physical manifestation in the world, that he had a plan all his own, and that included helping me see how letting go (and allowing him to lead in many respects) wouldn't kill me or him. That not knowing how to do something didn't mean I would never learn or that I needed to know at all.

I didn't have a birth plan (gasp!) because I had learned that K would ultimately dictate how it would all go down. I made some requests and offered suggestions, but really, he did what he needed and wanted to do. I couldn't see him as willful. I needed to see us as collaborators and not opponents. When it was time for the c-section, the decision wasn't really made by me, or the hospital, or the midwives, or hubby. K, in all his spirit-ful glory, just had a few quick words to *tell* me. This of course is all "in my head" or really, "in my heart." But it felt something like this:

"Mama, you've done all the things, tried all the ways, listened to all the people. I know you have more "energy" in you to keep going and keep pushing, and I know that having a c-section *means* something (bad, wrong, incomplete), like you didn't do it right, but really, everyone has said that you've done all you can do. And I'm just not coming out the way you planned/wanted. I'm ready to meet you and I know you're ready to meet me, and a c-section is just a c-section. It's not about us, or you, or me, or right or wrong. It's just a way for us to meet."

Okay, so the conversation was shorter back then, and involved me asking a lot of questions "Did I do everything in power to push this baby out? Am I giving up? Is there ANYTHING else I can do?" To which EVERYONE (I think I polled the guy taking out the garbage in the hospital room, too) responded, "You've done it all, this is the last thing we can do." I also recall that I wanted to lock a doctor out of the room in case I just needed more time, but that wasn't it either.
And the point is that IT TOOK STRENGTH to surrender. It took strength to let go of what it looked like, the judgments I had, my expectations, all of it. And K showed me I had that strength.

I finally told the doctor, "I am at peace with a c-section"

And that peace came with letting go. There was no fan fare, no sobbing in failure...just prepping to meet my person. My little K. Who was really my big K. What made it magical is the peace, the letting go, and finally the meeting of my son. I felt instant relief, threw up one last time for good measure, and heard the cry of my baby boy. It wasn't the end of letting go...(ha! I wish!), but that moment showed me that I knew nothing about strength before this...and that if anything was going to transpire between K and I, it would be this lesson, over and over and over (and over) again.

With all the sincerity and enthusiasm I can muster for a thing I think I really don't enjoy, I say, "Bring. It. On." I am strong enough to let go. As many times as it takes.

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