This past Sunday was my seventh Mother’s Day since I first procreated.
While the act of said procreation was not our finest moment and - correct me if I’m wrong, babe - was half-heartedly executed while nursing an Irish flu after a particularly enthusiastic housewarming party - the birth of our first son was, indeed, extraordinary.
Because I was still a wide-eyed 20-something (I was 30), I devoured Rikki Lake’s documentary, The Business of Being Born, like it was everything-but-salad at a reasonably-priced buffet. The documentary, it seemed, aimed to promote midwifery, deny the presumed necessity of medical intervention for all births and praise Rikki’s own homebirth.
“Heather, this is YOUR birth and YOUR story. Ain’t nobody telling you how it’s going down,” Rikki told me. I’m paraphrasing, but that was the general message.
I asked hubby his thoughts on midwifery. He pleaded ignorance; we both did. We would be lying to say we didn’t initially picture a self-taught, pious, early-20th-century woman who can darn socks like nobody’s business.
But, I was intrigued. I quickly learned midwives are highly educated, extremely qualified and well-equipped. If my pregnancy and labour were without hiccups, I could have a peaceful and safe delivery at home.
My weekly midwife visits were to alternate between three possible midwives, either of whom might be there on that fateful day. Inadvertently, up until 38 weeks, I had only met two of them: one, a Scottish woman who was likely the lovechild of Mother Earth and an actual angel; I just wanted to be rocked in her arms each time she spoke. The other was a mid-30s ray of sunshine who was hilarious and laid-back and real and I may have asked her more than once to be my best friend while she listened to my distended gut. At my second-last visit, I mentioned to them both that I had not, in fact, met the third midwife. They were aghast and made it an immediate priority to book me in with their colleague, “Lana.”
As I sat in the waiting room of the adorable clinic staring at canvas photos of babies and pondering how much cuter mine would be, I noticed a young girl returning to the waiting room. She couldn’t have been more than 20. Poor girl, I thought, so young and innocent and without anyone accompanying her to her appointment.
“Heather,” she called out (to a waiting room populated by me alone). She looked at me and smiled knowingly. Suddenly, I was on to her: she was the actor who played Topanga from Boy Meets World (season 1, the pre-pubescent years).
“Is it impolite to ask for an autograph when she’s just trying to anonymously get her hooch checked?,” I wondered.
“Heather?” she repeated, approaching me with her hand extended. “I’m Lana, I’ll be seeing you today.”
I wasn’t about to embarrass anyone, certainly not this darling child who has clearly accompanied a parent to take-your-daughter-to-work day. So, I played along, following her to one of the private rooms.
She was lovely and polite but I was sold on the other two - Scottish Mrs. Claus and 30-something Tina Fey - whom I’d gotten to know so well.
One week later, 1:30 a.m., lying on the couch, watching Californication and waning in and out of consciousness, I dreamed of peeing in my pants. What a strange dream, I thought, slowly coming to. Yet, despite my burgeoning wakefulness and half-hearted Kegels, I was continuing to pee. This was no dream. Nor was it, ya know, pee.
“My water broke!” I yelled at my husband, asleep at the other end of our sectional.
Now, I had done courses (a course) in natural childbirth (*half-smirk with one eyebrow raised while unnecessarily re-buttoning single button on blazer*). And one of the first things they told us was that adrenaline - our “fight or flight” hormone that surges during imminent polar bear attacks or any time I’m asked, “can we talk?” - directly opposes Oxytocin, the feelin’ groovy hormone that allows labour and childbirth to progress.
But as I lay back down with a queen-sized mattress strapped to my fullest-butt drawers, I was pure adrenaline. With shaky, Oxytocin-void hands, I dialed the midwives.
“Hello, Lana speaking.”
You’ve got to be kidding me. There must be some mistake. Does she even have her driver’s license? Who let her answer the phone this late?
Twenty minutes later, Topanga from Boy Meets World (season one) was sitting in our living room.
I quickly learned that I am a textbook “Judgey McArsepants,” when growing humans, and will readily judge a book by its taut, nulliparous cover.
Lana, it turned out, was steadfast, brilliant and possessed a warm, maternal, old soul. And she let me crush her hand and howl like a banshee into her face for hours. Even when things went a little awry (look up “lip of cervix” for some light reading with your morning coffee) and I projectile vomited, Exorcist style, she remained composed and confident. She and hubby were crucial in keeping me above water (literally; I laboured mostly in the bath and would have stayed there for the birth had someone not pooped in it. Rude.). At 6:07 p.m., 17 hours since I dreamed of David Duchovny and peeing myself, I became a mom.
Exactly three-and-a-half years later, I became a mom a second (and final) time. This one was in a good ol’-fashioned hospital, with a brilliant OB/GYN. She also gave me free reign to give birth my way, even if that meant prolonging her shift as I laboured in the bathtub and flailed about the room like an unsettled nudist (much to the shock of passerby dads-to-be in the hallway, nursing their double-doubles).
And just like that, everything changed. And I don’t mean “changed” like the way I thought the world was turned upside down when Mom insisted on switching from Heinz to Aylmer ketchup in the 80s. I mean changed in that every fiber of my being had been permanently altered. It’s been a tumultuous, uncertain, exhilarating, tear-stained, love-fuelled, exhausting and hilarious seven years. To be lucky enough for many, many more...
Motherhood is a gift not for the faint of heart.
Happy belated Mother’s Day to all of those who have survived, struggle with and/or continue to embrace the great change of motherhood. And to those who long to do so.
Heather Huybregts is a mother, physiotherapist, blogger, YouTuber and puffin whisperer from Corner Brook, N.L. Her column appears biweekly.