- dangerously high or steep
- (of a change to a worse situation or condition) sudden or dramatic
- (of an action) done suddenly and without careful consideration
This time, I had the language to advocate for myself. At the check-in desk, I grimaced through another contraction and forced the words out. “My last labor was precipitous. The baby came quick.”
This time, it seemed like every medical professional within shouting distance listened, took me seriously, ushered us in. I heard someone mutter that they didn’t want another baby born in the hallway.
This time, like last time, doubt stalked me through every moment. I doubted my early contractions were actually contractions. The tail end of pregnancy has been so hard on my body that I wasn’t positive that this wasn’t just one additional pain to endure at 39 weeks. I doubted myself as I declined the epidural, no longer certain of my choice. I was so tired, even though it was thankfully early morning, my optimal time window. I doubted the progress my body was making, even though it was steady and rapid.
This entire pregnancy had felt precipitous, like I was walking too close to a steep cliff. How dare I ask for any more than I already had? How dare I stumble blindly back down this path? How dare I expect that it could ever be as simple as one conception leading to one healthy baby girl?
And yes, this labor was also precipitous, coming on sudden and strong, leaving me and her with the physical residue of trauma. She was born with facial bruising and burst blood vessels in both eyes. I felt like I needed to teach myself to walk all over again.
In many ways, becoming a family of four has felt precipitous, simply because nine months isn’t a very long time compared to the years of yearning that preceded Penny’s birth. As Harper was placed into my arms, it felt like I was just beginning my journey to know and and love her as something more than an abstraction. I was overwhelmed with what an incredible privilege it was that I’d have the chance to do just that.
It’s been almost three weeks, and already I can’t help but marvel at how different it all is. There’s a calm contentment in my heart, and a comfort with slowing down and doing not much at all that I couldn’t feign back in December of 2015. I’m happy to hold this baby, to feed this baby, to change this baby, and let that be all I do in an entire day.
It’s clear now that in addition to the cocktail of grief and depression I had swallowed, I was dealing with some intense postpartum anxiety the first time around. I was so worried that I’d mess something up and show the world that those prior losses hadn’t been senseless, that I clearly wasn’t meant to be anyone’s mother after all. I was so worried that the world would find some way to take back the gift I could scarcely believe it had given me.
The big feelings I have this time around are much smaller, and more logical. They can cripple me momentarily, but they are nothing like the inescapable fog from before. I feel limited as one person who wants to care optimally for two little people. I grieve the simplicity of just being Penny’s mom because most of the time I could drop everything to meet her needs. I feel disappointed in myself when I’m low on patience because I’m low on sleep, but deep down I do believe that tomorrow I’ll get another chance to be better and that all should be okay.
The thing about becoming a mother is when it’s different than what you expected, it’s difficult to ascertain in the moment why that is. Is it because every sitcom you ever saw showed babies as giggly accessories rather than infinity loops of dependence and need? Is it because your dad died the day before you became a mom and it’s hard for you to be fully present and slow down because you’re just not ready to deal with what’s lurking in your heart and thirty three years of life have shown you that productivity is the best way to avoid big unpleasant feelings? Is it because you’ve got a chemical imbalance in your brain that’s making your synapses misfire and creating a maelstrom of irrational fears that you can only fend off by making sure you worry about every possible thing that could go wrong, as if your anxiety is somehow protective, as if only perpetual panic will ward off further misfortune?
Now I see my resilient, emphatic toddler and wish I had been able to glimpse all she’d become in those early days when she never stopped screaming. It would have allowed me to know in my heart that she would be okay, and that I wouldn’t irrevocably fuck it all up, and then maybe I could have savored her start in life a little more.
But it’s entirely possible that wouldn’t have been enough – that my brain was just hell bent on making a hard situation harder.
And only now, as I hold Harper, who looks so much like Penny did at this age, without panic running through my veins and tears running down my face, can I understand that it need not always be that way. That babies can scream without terror slicing through you heart. That days with a newborn can be mostly placid and peaceful. That this experience need not echo my last time here, and that being thankful for that is okay.
I desperately don’t want to typecast my daughters into roles based on the circumstances of their births. What I’m beginning to see is that their origin stories say more about me than about either of them. Penny was born during a hard time to a broken person, but from the very first instant, she was worthy of nothing but love. Yes, Harper’s mom knows more from day one. She’s a little bit more gentle with herself. She’s trying to make sure that these realities wind up benefiting both girls, as preschoolers can require just as much patience and presence as newborns. She’s traded her fearful heart for one full of hope, knowing fully this swap doesn’t dictate what’s to come, it merely makes the present moment a lot more hospitable. It encourages lingering in these long days that will inevitably turn into years that flew by all too fast.