Saturday 26 September 2015

Motherhood & Me (or Life Is What Happens Whilst You're Busy Writing a Birth Plan)

Over ten months ago, just after eleven o' clock at night, my husband and I walked hand in hand towards the hospital which is a few blocks down the road from where we live. That night I could not sleep. I mean, I could not sit up in bed next to my husband for I had not been able to sleep properly for a few weeks already by then.

Inside me, our son kicked restlessly. After nearly 41 weeks of pregnancy, I knew him well enough to be sure he has had enough of being inside. He still kicks like this to this day when he is excited, as if with a fever - a raw and pure sort of energy inherent to those who have joined us on Planet Earth.

 "He was brought to me wrapped up on a blanket, like a letter whose tip of the envelope was left open."

In hospital, once his heartbeat was monitored for quite a while, I was asked to stay the night. Then at 6 a.m. the next morning I was induced. I was in labour throughout that day with nothing more than 1 cm dilatation to show for at the end of it.

Suddenly everything changed later that evening when we our boy was getting very distressed by the whole thing. I was then wheeled into the theatre for an emergency c-section. I remember signing the form as they wheeled me out and telling the doctors to get our son out safely.

He was born at 4:44 the next morning - nearly 24 hours after I was initially induced. The birth itself felt like 5 minutes. My husband - who was next to me the whole time through ever single contraction - said it was more like 15. As the amazing surgeon patched me back on, our son was cleaned and checked up.

He was brought to me wrapped up on a blanket, like a letter whose tip of the envelope was left open. All I could look at were his eyes, dark and deep. I gently touched the little I could see of his forehead and said "welcome to the world". They took him away again as they finished making me whole again. Then I was wheeled onto another room where I was not sure what exactly for. I suddenly asked: "Can I feed my son?" To which the lovely midwife replied, "of course". "I need to throw up first" I said - and I remember thinking how funny that was. He was finally brought to me and I put him on my right breast. He fed like he was just as thirsty as me.

The time in hospital was, believe me, idyllic, compared to the overwhelming emotions of being left to care for him at home when my husband finally went back to work. I was fed and given painkillers. I was on a bed on a ward full of women - patients midwives and doctors - at different stages of this incredible time: mothers to be, others like me, holding their little babies in their arms. Some trying to walk and venture beyond the confine of the blue curtains and metal frames of the beds.

I was asked to try and walk to encourage better circulation on my legs. They were so swollen with all the liquid I was injected with for the operation that they did not feel like my own. They were also a bit numb which made it all even more alien from my body. During that time. I was living in my head and in my heart. I was already without sleep for about three nights and I could not stop staring at my son - that little man dressed in a bodysuit with a print of an astronaut coming out of his pocket right where his heart is. He was asleep all the time. When he was awake, I fed him. I remember how blatantly smug I felt having a plate of pasta in the middle of all hubbub and activity of the ward as he slept. The two of us, islands in the middle of an euphoric sea.

I was inside that bubble of care - with the exception of one 'funny' nurse who left me bruised after one of my daily injection to keep my blood from clotting, the general experience felt very caring and welcoming. However, I could not wait to go home. I obviously did not have a clue as to how much I would miss the round-the-clock attention from those early days.

When it was time to leave the hospital I could barely fit into my maternity clothes, let alone any of the clothes I took with me. I was bigger when I left the hospital than when I went in due to the surgery. I do not mention this out of vanity. I honestly could not care less how I looked. My body went though so much with the sole purpose of bringing this new person into the world. I feel nothing but deep gratitude and respect for its strength.

 "What fascinates me the most about you is not what I recognize but what I do not yet know"

It is such a huge change on so many levels. We are not fully able to comprehend the magnitude of it. I do not think we are supposed to rationalize maternity. It is all about instinct and conscientious decisions - the best decision you can make at each particular moment a decision is needed.

It would take me a while (in hindsight I am quite thankful for this) to realize how much had happened - physically, emotionally and mentally. I guess it was my very own survival mode set up to the maximum: 'I am responsible for a little boy now'. It did not matter how frail I was myself.

For those who never had a c-section, when you walk for the first time it feels like you are walking underwater, with your thighs are clipped or tied up together.

As the taxi parked outside our house. My husband carried our son out of the car and into the house. My mother in law carried my suitcase.  I dragged my feet out of the car, on the pavement, there was a light  drizzle falling down. I went up the stairs. The house did not seem fit for the jewel we brought in. The sofa was old and torn. I came to realize that sofa looked how I felt. Torn and tattered, right when I needed my joviality and strength the most. In hospital, I was fed and given painkillers and every so often checked by a caring nurse or doctor. At home I had to be the one in charge. I left the house in a whirl of subtle determination, concern and hope. I came back with a little boy in need of my full care and attention. I am a mother.

Months later, I finally cleared the contents of the bag I brought along to hospital - a night gown and robe, dry shampoo and body butter, a book, brand new slippers for me and apart from my son's first outfits and blankets, all unused.

I also eventually found tucked inside a pocket a few prints of my birth plan. They were meant to be given to the midwives and doctors at hospital. They were like soft fossils from another time; the pages were creased and crumpled - in the urgency and emergency of two lives to be saved they haven't been of any use.

Those pages showed how simple I wanted it to be: No gas and air, no epidural. I wanted to assist my little boy out into the world by enabling him to thrust himself outwards. All the boxes ticked; all the wishes and instructions kept to a very straightforward minimum. But paraphrasing John Lennon, 'life is what happens whilst you're busy writing a birth plan'.

Recovery has been slow but life does not wait. As I heal I also grow muscles in my body from holding him up and down the stairs or rocking him to sleep. The pull of the tear, the strength that comes from wanting to be a stronger and better person, all for him - like a ballet dancer using all the strength in her body to showcase a seemingly effortless grace. My son does not need to know all of this. All I want is for him to feel safe and welcomed by the world.

Months go by and so much happens. Days, hours, minutes intermingle with euphoria, exhaustion, wonder,  chaos and glory. My body no longer carries you, but it feeds you. My arms hold you and sooth you. You. An other.

What fascinates me the most about you is not what I recognize but what I do not yet know; what unfolds daily as you open new petals of self expression. A grin, laughter, a coo, a cry, a caress. It's all you, being, alive. Hungry, content, sleepy, assailed by the world outside and then gently taking over by reaching out, rolling back and forth, casting your eager gaze, placing your feet on the ground, holding our hands and walking.

It's all ahead of you. And yet the future comes slowly. Days are giant mountains to climb and then enjoy the view, out of breath, inside the welcoming and exhausted arms of Unconditional Love.

Luciana Francis
- London, September 26th 2015.
Last edited on October 31st 2015.


In this blog I intend to do some historical justice to the many, many women who have contributed with their genius, creativity, adventurous spirit, nurturing - amongst other qualities - to the apparent linear and male dominated prescribed notion of History. This is just the beggining.