It is super late. It's so late it's not even late anymore. It's just early now. The Hubba is at a scout campout and as usual I have stayed up late watching movies in an attempt to make sure I sleep tonight. I was feeling pretty exhausted just moments ago so I double checked all the locks, turned off lights and tucked myself into bed....
Where suddenly my brain started going into overdrive. I was remembering the childbirth class I taught last week. It was just a childbirth prep class, not a natural class. But during one of the breaks, a few people were asking me about natural childbirth. One woman expressed a sentiment that I've heard many times before. And that is the idea that she'd like to try but she's not sure if she could do it.
It's almost funny, you know? For the entire human history except for the past 100 or so years there was no choice. If you were having a baby, it was going to be a "natural" childbirth. But now it's so much a part of our culture to medicate during birth (my state has a 95% epidural rate), that women actually aren't sure if they can give birth without medication. Choosing not to is one thing. But thinking it can't be done is another.
So take this woman who just said this to me. If she were born at any other time in history, what would she have done? She'd get to a point where maybe she'd say, "I don't think I can do this anymore. I don't want to do this anymore. I'm done." And then the next contraction would come. So go ahead and cry. Throw a temper tantrum. But then you've got to pull yourself together and just get through it. And the temper tantrum? That's not going to help anything. But when you're ready to start coping, there are tools and people who can help you.
As I lay there in the dark, I was trying to think of a story or situation to make the analogy of something that you can't go over, under, or around. Something extremely difficult that you just have to do. Something I could share with a class (probably a natural childbirth class, not a childbirth prep class) that would help them understand what I mean. This is the story that came to mind:
Back in the summer of 1998, the Hubba got a paid summer internship working for an international company in Belgium. It was such a great opportunity! The Hubba was going to pass it up because obviously he couldn't leave his wife and three young children (4,2,1) for a summer. But I was adamant that the should take the opportunity. So much so that when he was about to decline, I snatched the phone away from him and told his employer that he was accepting.
I started crying and missing him weeks before he left.
When he finally did leave, it was awful. Not only did I miss my husband but I was completely and utterly alone with three littlies 24/7. There was no one to come home in the evenings and give me a hand. No help to look forward to. No breaks. Ever. It was extremely difficult. I did that for a month.
After the first month, we were able to join him in Belgium for 4 weeks. We all lived in a studio apartment and I washed our clothes by hand in the bathroom sink because we were never quite sure how much money we had and whether or not we could afford to use a laundromat. And we didn't really know where one was anyway. Despite some of the very real and difficult hardships, it was a wonderful time and unforgettable experience. I've blogged about it before.
And while those things were hard for me, the experience that reminds me of finding within yourself the necessity to cope with the situation was when it was time for us to leave Belgium.
The kids and I needed to go back home but the Hubba was going to stay in Belgium for another month. So I was looking forward to having a washing machine and dryer again (and many other things like phones and TV shows for kids to watch), but it also meant I was going to have those things while I was alone. And I'd be on duty 24/7 without any help, without any relief. I was going to miss my husband again.
It was harder separating the second time because I knew what to expect now.
I was an emotional wreck. I was already so tired and exhausted and missing my husband. And before I had the pleasure of being a single parent for the next month I first had to endure a 14 hour international flight with a preschooler and two toddlers. All. By. Myself. I had done it on the way there and it had actually been pretty easy if you can believe this. But my emotional state was different. The trip was a grand adventure that would end with our family being reunited with my husband. This trip was going to end in the wee hours of the morning with an hour long drive from the airport back to my house where I would begin a month of extreme loneliness.
And we were late. We were going to miss our flight. So we were rushed and hurrying through the airport concerned with making sure we made it on the plane. I don't know that I was actively thinking of it but I assumed that the moment for saying goodbye would happen right before we got on the plane and I was delaying goodbyes until then because there wasn't time and I don't think I could have handled it.
Suddenly we were going through one area to another. I went through first holding JJ. Baboo and Wiyah followed. The Hubba was pulling up the rear. Only, the Hubba didn't have a ticket and this was apparently as far as he could go. So before we knew it, we were separated. We were on one side of a glass partition and he was on the other. We tried to get some understanding soul to please let him through so he could help me get to the gate, but they would not relent.
So there I was. I was about to miss my international 14 hour flight back home. I had JJ on one hip and the largest monstrosity of a carry-on bag you can imagine. It must have weighed 40 pounds easy. I only have one free hand--the hand attached the shoulder carrying the bag and I'm holding Wiyah's hand. Which means that Baboo, my big 4 year old, was kind of floating free in the airport. In a foreign country. And I had to go. I couldn't stand at the glass and tell my husband I loved him. There would be no last hugs or prayers or touches or kisses or anything. I needed to run.
Wiyah, realizing that her daddy was not coming, took that moment to pitch a major fit in full on 2 year old style. And right now she looks like a lean, mean, dancing machine. But back then she was a roly poly toddler who was not only chunky but dense. She had a build similar to Mack's. And he got his nickname after the truck!
So crying, emotional basket case mom, 40 pound carry on, 1 year old on one hip, free-floating 4 year old somewhere and a screaming 2 year old who is refusing to walk when I need to run in order to catch an international flight. By myself. And this awful moment wasn't going to end anytime soon. Because once I caught the plane, I was going to be IN A PLANE with that same 4 year old, 2 year old and 1 year old for fourteen hours. So I started to "run" and I was just dragging Wiyah along and crying while she screamed. And of course poor Baboo was being traumatized by the whole scene. We weren't moving very fast, though, as you can imagine.
That was me not coping. I'm telling you. I was done. I had had it. I wanted to go home. I did not want to and could not face what I had to do. It was over.
Except that I had no option. There was nobody who could help me. I had to do it by myself and I had to do it NOW. I had to get myself together and figure it out quickly.
So I stopped and knelt down and talked to Wiyah and comforted her. I got her to quit tantrumming and get up and walk. And we raced to the plane and barely made it. I nursed JJ so it would be easy for him during take off. But the plane did not take off. It sat there on the runway for 90 minutes or so while he took a nap. (Which just about killed me because if your baby is taking a nap on the plane that you hope that you are at least 90 minutes further along on your 14 hour flight rather than just sitting there at the airport still!) He, of course woke up just as we were finally taking off.
Also, no one slept during the entire flight. Even after we arrived in Chicago and got on a smaller plane to our state, not one child slept at all. Which means I didn't get a break for the entire 14 flight. I was up calming them and playing with them and reading them and entertaining them in this enclosed space with lots of people who probably hated me the entire time. And the flight attendants weren't nice to me either. Imagine what happens when I need to use the bathroom!!
As we were approaching our final destination, all three children finally collapse into comas. I was grateful for the 15 minutes of peace and stillness before we landed. But how, exactly, does one get three dead-to-the-world sleeping children AND a 40 lb carry-on bag off of the airplane? I could not do it. After all of the other passengers had come off the plane, the friends who were meeting me at the airport with my vehicle finally came on the plane looking for me as I was desperately attempting to rouse the girls.
We were headed to pick up our baggage when Baboo woke up and was suddenly frantic to use the restroom. We were being transported in one of those motorized carts and I had to jump off of it without waiting for it to stop and do a headlong sprint to the bathroom and we barely made it in time.
After we got all loaded up in our car, I still had 60 minutes of night time driving ahead of me. I think by that time I had been awake for about 20 hours. I wasn't very familiar with the city that the airport is in. But I knew how to get on the freeway to get home. But of course, the freeway was under construction. And every single ramp on to the freeway was closed. It was the middle of the night and I had no idea how to get from the airport city to my city without the freeway. I did not know how I was going to get my family home. So I just drove on a parallel street to the freeway for mile after mile, checking at every major intersection to see if I could get on the freeway yet.
Finally, I found an entrance and was able to go home. It just took twice as long as it otherwise would have.
So that's my story. It was incredibly hard. I mean just incredibly hard. One or two of those things would have been enough to do me in, but they just kept coming. If I could have gotten out of it, I would have. And yet, there was no way around. I had to go through. I had to cope. I had to figure out a way to do it all because not doing it was not an option.
That's what natural childbirth is like. It's finding the strength and tools to do a big job that needs to be done because you can't go around it. And you can throw a tantrum all you want. Like me and Wiyah there at the airport. Her crying and refusing to move and me crying and dragging her and yelling. But that doesn't remove the mountain you have to climb. And it only makes it harder to climb the mountain. So you take a breath and collect yourself and figure out how to make it easier on yourself. And making it easier doesn't mean it's not still a whole heck of a lot of hard work. It just means it's easier than when you are freaking out about it and NOT coping and NOT pulling yourself together.
And really, that's probably what life is like, too.