Sylvia Plath once wrote a poem called ‘Morning Song,’ describing the birth of her first child. It echoes many emotions of new motherhood: shock, tiredness and an all-encompassing fear that so many of us experience.
Plath described motherhood as slow and delicate, her child as a permanent part of nature, like the sun or the stars. It resonated with me after giving birth to my first child. I can recall my birth story with sordid detail; it is ingrained in my psyche as the event I’ve been preparing to remember my entire life—a test I’ve been waiting to take.
Just as the poem concludes, my baby girl has been a perpetual blessing in my life.
Though my daughter’s arrival was so magnified, so eagerly awaited, it’s the odd things that rush to the front of my brain first when I think of my birth story. I recall eating a cheese Ploughman’s sandwich at my forty-one-week check-up, not knowing that I was already in labor; four centimeters to be exact. I remember the blue maxi dress I wore, which I then changed out of when the hospital sent me home as my contractions were irregular. I remember my senses flooding with the smell of lamb cooking on the stove that suddenly made me feel sick. I recall throwing up on a roundabout outside the hospital near the traffic; my husband rubbing my back. Then, my midwife’s blonde dreadlocks, no sleep, the theater lights, the facts the surgeon read quickly and clearly to me before the anesthetic ran cold through my back. My child’s timid cry. How tall she looked.
And through it all, I remember how fragile I felt.
The fragility of your body and mind those first few weeks as a mother can be deeply frightening. After the grueling feat of giving birth, sleep deprivation is no joke—and neither is how quickly you are expected to adapt to life as a new mother.
My birth was traumatic because my daughter was born through an assisted forceps birth. But perhaps all births have an element of trauma. The fog of pregnancy and all the events leading up to giving birth become like a storm you’ve weathered. And though we get through it, there are days where I feel fragilely caught between fear, sensitivity and joy.
I remember the fragility of fear; feeling afraid to carry my precious baby and walk too close to the stairs in our flat because I’d heard a story about a man who held his newborn and tripped down the stairs with her. There were many times that I leaned over my child just to put my finger under her nose, simply to check that she was breathing.
Then came the fragility of sensitivity. I began missing her when she was only in the other room, thinking about her like some long-lost friend when she was right by my side, wondering what she was doing when my sightline wasn’t directly linked to hers. Our eyes would meet, and she would giggle, and I would smile from relief.
But there’s also the fragility of joy. This connection with my baby is one I’ve never known from a love of any other kind. It’s different. It’s attuned and cosmic. But it all makes sense. She is the soulmate that’s been closest to my heart, even before I met her.
I’ve learned that fragility is transcendent as a mother; it follows, curves and grows with you. But from it comes strength: This potent strength allows us to realize that the underlying fragility that we thought was our demise is actually what held us in place.