01 Jun To the Mothers
By: Dylan Boyle
In June of last year I became a father for the first time. My wife and I welcomed a beautiful baby boy into our lives and since then, I am more aware of the joys and pains that come with being a parent. While we are lucky to have a son that is happy and healthy, the first few months after his birth were some of the most stressful times of our lives. Our son wasn’t the most adept breast feeder and unfortunately didn’t take to the bottle well either. This was coupled with an apparent allergic sensitivity to something in my wife’s diet that we were never able to clearly discern. The first night home from the hospital was probably one of the worst experiences of my life, ending up with us in the ER at two in the morning (I’ll speak more about that a little later). But this post isn’t just about my son or how my life has changed as a father. This is for the mothers.
The mothers in my life have shown immeasurable strength and perseverance that cannot be adequately described, acknowledged, or appreciated. I know mothers who have struggled to get pregnant, have managed difficult pregnancies, and several who suffered lost pregnancies. I know mothers who, after suffering loss, braved pregnancy again and were able to find their rainbow babies. I know mothers who had somewhat textbook births and others that were anything but. And once the babies are born, the real work has just begun. I know mothers who have cared for infants with allergies, developmental delays, physical limitations, and everything in between. Even healthy babies can present their own challenges when you are a stay-at-home mom, effectively raising a child by yourself for the vast majority of the day. Add to the mix other toddler age children or even a twin and good luck finding time to breathe. All this is to say that becoming a mother starts before you are even pregnant, and for foster or adoptive mothers, pregnancy isn’t even a requirement. But once you are a mother, the work is never done and likely never truly acknowledged by many of us fathers.
I’d imagine most people would say that getting pregnant is the easy part (likely the most fun as well). Pregnancy does come easy to some people, sometimes a little too easy. I know more than a few women who, at some point in their lives, found themselves in the middle of an unplanned pregnancy. To be young and in a situation where you have to make possibly the most important decision of your life is something I think most people cannot truly comprehend. While I haven’t been in this situation myself, I know of people who have braved that decision with maturity and strength.
As the pregnancy continues, the less fun stuff begins. I’m sure each partner of a pregnant woman is aware of the more tangible side effects: morning sickness, afternoon sickness, evening sickness, and so on. But other medical complications that hover around every corner aren’t as easy for some men to spot. For women with pre-existing conditions (e.g. Type 1 diabetes) or older mothers, pregnancy is mine-field of potential disaster. Several additional medical conditions can arise during pregnancy, such as gestational diabetes or anemia, further complicating things. And in some situations, many of which are never fully resolved, the pregnancy is lost.
It was a long time before I was aware of how unfortunately common miscarriages can be. I lost a potential sibling when I was 11 or 12 years old and don’t think I even remotely understood what my mother went through until over a decade later. Working with Stefanie, I was able to learn more about the mental and emotional experience of a mother during this horrible time. It’s a loss that is often felt privately and perpetually. How these women can persevere and continue to be present for their children and spouse shows an immeasurable amount of strength. And to brave pregnancy again shows something just as inspiring: hope.
My wife felt her first contraction on a Friday morning and we finally met our son the following Saturday evening. Throughout the labor, the only true discomfort I personally experienced was that I didn’t get any sleep Friday night and the delivery room was a little too cold. My wife, on the other hand, went through the ringer. Suffice to say that our son was 9 pounds, 5 ounces when he was born and I would imagine many women might have an idea of the kind of pain she experienced. While she was able to give birth vaginally, there was a period of the labor where an emergency C-section was a distinct possibility. The flood of emotions we felt at the time, likely aided by lack of sleep, was almost too much to handle.
I know several women who have given birth via C-section, in some cases multiple times. I have heard that it is sometimes considered an “easy way out” and that C-section mothers can be seen as “less than.” I understand I don’t have any direct expertise but knowing these women and some of the experiences they’ve been through, I feel confident enough saying that they are every bit as strong as anyone else. C-section’s are not an easy thing to go through. It is major surgery and it can take several weeks to even remotely recover. They aren’t necessarily done by choice either. And knowing my fair share of women who have given birth to large babies, they shouldn’t even be considered a last resort.
Apart from the birth of my son, I cannot help but think of the stories of two other women I know and their experience with labor and delivery. I am only aware of these stories third-hand so I’ll forgo the fine detail and just stick with basics. One woman gave birth to a baby who was nearly 11 pounds. In hindsight, a C-section should have been performed but was not. Whether this was incompetence on the part of the medical staff or some other detail of which I am not aware, the resulting trauma still causes the mother problems to this day. The other story involved a seemingly normal birth followed by a major problem when the doctor was subsequently tending to the mother. The mother developed internal bleeding and nearly died as a result. Both these stories will forever stick with me, constant reminders of how much my wife risked to bring us our son. Even today, maternal mortality isn’t just a remote possibility and the sacrifice that some women inevitably make is heart-wrenching. That my wife and the many mothers I know have gone through this so many times deserves to be recognized as often as possible.
After experiencing labor and delivery, I think my wife would’ve enjoyed sleeping for at least 24 hours, possibly more. Unfortunately, as is often the case, there is no rest for the weary. Feeding the baby is a non-stop demand on the mother’s time, patience, and body. Breastfeeding, at least at the outset, is done every couple of hours and can take around a half-hour per feeding. If you do the math that means that somewhere around 25% of the mother’s time goes just to feeding the baby. In that remaining 75%, the mother is free to fit in everything else including changing the baby, clothing the baby, bathing the baby, and so on. Oh, and somewhere in that schedule she also has to find the time to eat, drink, bathe, and sleep. I feel like I should also clarify that this is a hypothetical schedule for a mother of a single, full-term child without any medical complications or special requirements. If your child was born with a pre-existing condition, born premature, or you are the mother of multiples, then that whole plan is out the window. This brings me back to the first few months my wife and I spent with our newborn son. While the complications we faced are relatively minor compared to those of many other families, they proved to me how much new parents, and especially the mothers, have to dedicate of themselves to raising their children.
As I mentioned before, the first night home from the hospital with our newborn son ended with us in the ER around two in the morning. While still in the hospital recovering from the birth, we had early glimpses of how fickle my son would be at breastfeeding. After being home for barely 12 hours, that fickleness turned into an outright inability to breastfeed. And all of our attempts with the bottle also proved unsuccessful, meaning we saw no way in which to get him fed. After another sleepless night in the fluorescent lighting of a hospital room, we had a somewhat gimmicky new strategy to feed him via syringe and an appointment with a lactation consultant. The next several weeks were filled with frustrating feedings, conflicting advice from multiple lactation consultants, late-night phone calls to Stefanie (our family expert and labor/delivery nurse extraordinaire), and appointments with a pediatric gastroenterologist. The initial prognosis was that our son may be allergic to something in my wife’s diet, leading him to develop reflux which affected his feeding ability. After another several weeks of my wife subjecting herself to an extremely limited diet, we made a final determination that my son may just be allergic to breastmilk. After transitioning to hypo-allergenic formula and continued work with a bottle, my son was able to feed somewhat normally.
Throughout this process, my wife was subjected to countless emotional ups and downs that left her struggling to enjoy many of the moments that come with motherhood. While I was initially able to stay home and help her through some of these obstacles, I soon found myself back at work and she had to somehow manage them on her own. Her commitment to our son and the effort she puts in to making sure he would thrive in the way that he deserves is inspiring. Knowing how hard she fought through this period helped me to understand what it takes to be a mother.
Being a father for the past year has helped me refocus on the things most important to me: my family. I loved my wife even before we had a son but since he was born, she has shown me a whole new side of her strength and capacity for love and sacrifice. The many other mothers in my life, whether they are family or friends, have shown the same capacity for their families. Fighting through loss, struggling with post-partum depression, or just raising children with all the potential complications included therein is work fit for a superhero (or heroine). I cannot stress enough how important it is for us (children, husbands, and fathers) to have empathy for all mothers. I will never have a direct experience with which I could understand what it is like to be pregnant, give birth, or raise a child as a mother. My understanding of what my wife or what my own mother have experienced comes from listening to them and observing them in action. I would encourage others to do the same. Share their joy and their pain. I realize this may have been more timely if I had planned to release this on Mother’s Day but why limit our appreciation to just one day a year. Same goes for us fathers. There is never a bad time to tell someone that they inspire you and make you proud. I’m happy to say that I have an abundance of women in my life who inspire me, and I am the better for it.
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