During my pregnancy, there was a diaper commercial that always made me cry. Let’s be honest, most things made me cry, but this one really got the tears flowing. In this commercial, the doctor places the screaming newborn on his mother’s chest just seconds after she gives birth and the look on her face is pure joy. I could not wait for that magical moment of meeting my baby for the first time. I daydreamed about feeling the weight of his little body on my chest. I imagined the relief I would feel that my child was safely in my arms.

With this in mind, I really only had one thing that was important to me about my birth experience: “the golden hour,” an uninterrupted hour of skin-to-skin contact right after the baby is born. It was the commercial moment intensified.

My pregnancy was mostly uneventful and as I approached my due date, I woke up every day a little disappointed that I hadn’t gone into labor. As that date came and went, I became more and more anxious. I wasn’t excited about being induced but, at 41 weeks, I decided to do it.

Introduction to Cesarean births class

First step to giving birth: My induction

On Monday afternoon, I had a Foley balloon placed with the hopes of increasing dilation. It was an outpatient procedure and I went home to rest before returning at midnight on Tuesday to begin the Pitocin. Of course, I couldn’t sleep so I took a bath and was so excited when the balloon fell out—I took this as a sign that things were going to go well.

We drove to the hospital and got settled in the room. The doctors started with cervical medication to help soften my cervix and at 6 am they started me on Pitocin. At noon, I got up to go to the bathroom and my water broke. Labor started to intensify at this point. I knew I wanted an epidural but was trying to wait until I was really in pain. I didn’t, however, factor in waiting for the anesthesiologist. By the time he got to me, 45 minutes later, I was in pain, throwing up and still leaking from my water breaking.

Once the epidural kicked in it was pure relief. I was able to sleep and they were able to turn up the Pitocin, which made my labor progress faster. By 8:15 pm I was 10 cm and started pushing. This is where things went wrong.

How we ended up having an unplanned C-section

After almost 2 hours of pushing, the baby had not progressed past my pubic bone. My epidural was wearing off and I was exhausted. The doctor came in and suggested that a C-section might be the best option. It wasn’t an emergency at this point but it could become one if we didn’t start to move. My husband and I looked at each other and agreed. We just wanted the baby to come safely.

They prepped me and took my husband to a different room to prep him. I was alone on the operating table, full of drugs and also starving since I hadn’t eaten all day. Loopy from all the medication, I begged the nurses to eat and they laughingly said I couldn’t—instead, they asked if I wanted my husband, but I said no, all I wanted was to eat.

My husband joined me and within what felt like minutes they were holding up my baby boy.

I had requested to do skin-to-skin in the operating room and when they laid my little boy on my chest, I felt…nothing. I literally couldn’t feel or move my arms and I was so tired. The nurse and my husband had to hold my son on my chest and I was just concentrating on not falling asleep, trying not to miss the moment I had been dreaming about since I found out I was pregnant.

After a few minutes, my husband left with the baby to the recovery room while they finished stitching me up. My husband later told me that the nurse asked if he wanted to do skin-to-skin and he whipped his shirt off and put the baby to his chest. He wanted to do it for me because he knew how important it was to me.

After that was a whirlwind as my son had low blood sugar and had to be taken to the nursery and have an IV placed. In a haze, we went down to the nursery to feed him every three hours for the first 48 hours until the IV was removed and he could room with us.

We finally went home

When I finally was home and no longer on pain meds, the disappointment started to hit me.

I remember crying and crying (thank you hormones) about not having that “moment” I had dreamed about. But as I started sharing my story with others as I embarked on my C-section recovery, I realized that those TV worthy first meetings are few and far between. In fact, my friends had many birth stories that hadn’t gone to plan. I heard about emergency C-sections, labor that lasted for days and bleeding too much after giving birth . I heard stories of NICU stays and bedridden mamas.

Looking back, I see now that my love and attachment for my son wasn’t contingent on having a “golden hour.” It was built in the small quiet moments at home. Like how he used to reach his arms out for me, eyes still closed, after I put him down in his bassinet. Or the way he would play with his tongue or the first time I saw his smile. I had plenty of time to experience skin-to-skin and create my own “golden hour” in the days that followed in the comfort of my own home.

Reflecting on my unplanned C-section

Now, a year and a half later, I think the chaos of giving birth is the perfect start to motherhood. It’s messy (both literally and figuratively), scary and often doesn’t go the way you think, but it is also beautiful in its own way.

When I look back now my C-section experience, I can see the story more clearly, not just the fear and disappointment—but the joy. I see it in the doctor’s comforting hand on my knee while they were prepping me for surgery. The way my husband shouted “Hi, Levi!” when the doctor held him up over the curtain and all the nurses laughed. It was in the confidence I had that I was making the best choice for my child when I decided to have the C-section and the sheer instinctual drive that sent me down to the nursery to fed my son when all I wanted to do was sleep.

These are the moments that I want to hold onto.

I have found that motherhood is the same way: the happiness is found in the small and surprising moments and not necessarily in the ones you expect. Just like my birth, being a parent isn’t often commercial worthy. It is difficult but also delightful and most importantly, it is real.

A version of this story was published November 19, 2020. It has been updated.