I had my first daughter when I was 20. At the time, I was in college but had the luck of being local to my family. When the time came, I moved back with my parents and gave birth at the hospital my mother worked at as a nurse. It was hectic and stressful, and somewhat lacking the glow that the “normal” nuclear family births probably have… mine had the sting – the stain – of being out of wedlock. My mother is a devout Catholic so there’s a certain way you do things and this was not it. I wasn’t with the father anymore by the time I found out I was pregnant so in the birthing room, there was only my mom and my best friend. After I gave birth, there was a lot of tearing. For about an hour I was being tended to and stitched… and stitched… and stitched. Back then – she’s turning 17 soon – they whisked your baby away. There were a lot of babies born on the floor that hour so it took them a while to get to her and clean her off. I didn’t see her for hours. My family was taking pictures of her in the nursery and brought them back to me in my room, telling me she was still screaming. It wasn’t until about nine o’clock that night that I was able to hold her. Everyone had left and I remember holding her and looking down at her face, singing Van Morrison ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ to her. I remember thinking "Oh! there you are." So… not ideal.
Five days after having given birth to my first daughter, I had to resume classes. I was trying to make this my last semester so I was taking 22 credits. I remember the registrar telling me it was madness to do 22 credits with a newborn, and I was like "Watch me." So we did it. My mom helped, my sisters helped. It was insane, but we made it happen. I graduated, started working and then… to add injury to insult in all the people who had supported me… Three years later, I got pregnant again. Out of wedlock. It was very hard for a lot of people. It was difficult personally because for 20 weeks they thought I was having a miscarriage. I didn’t feel safe to bond with her emotionally because you feel you’re going to lose her. Every month I would go for my sonogram, waiting to hear the baby wasn’t there anymore, but she was always there. Always. I was still involved with her father when she was born and he asked if he could move in with us after the birth. I don’t think it was for the right reasons, but you know, you’re full of hormones, you want to bond, to be a family… So we moved. But a week after he raised his hand to volunteer to go to Afghanistan. He deployed for 7 months. After he left, it was just my two daughters and me. Again, not ideal. And again, it felt like surviving.
A decade goes by. I fell in love and I got married. I was no longer spring chicken with young eggs and ovaries so I was like if we’re going to have babies, we need to get clicking! So we got pregnant. It was the first time that was like "Hey! I did this on purpose!" When they put him on my chest, he just looked at me for 30 minutes. It was calm and peaceful and there was no crying. It was so calm. So perfect. My husband was there and he was with me. He wasn’t just the father; he was my husband, my partner. Doing it that way was just so different. We brought our son back home and then, as it often does, life interrupted. A work project hit when he was four days old so the paternity leave ended abruptly. My husband, my partner, he was just gone. I think saying that it was disappointing is too light of a word. I felt robbed. Then I had to go back to work after seven weeks, so to daycare my son went. I did not feel ready, but it just wasn’t viable not to work. I was breastfeeding but it wasn’t going terribly well. I was pumping at work but I couldn’t even take 10 minutes for myself in a 10-hour workday because work was so insane. There was a lactation room and I’d asked for a workstation to be put in so it wouldn’t disturb our workflow. It took them four months to put it in. By then, I wasn’t pumping anymore. It’s all very well to have the best intentions, but when you don’t deliver I feel it says something about your priorities, both my husband’s and mine. And it had to change.
I didn’t want our son to be an only child. The age difference is so significant between him and his older siblings that I lobbied pretty hard for a fourth baby. And we got one! With my last daughter, there was a certain amount of …"You’ve had enough babies!" There was a lot less attention towards her from my extended family. But she’s just as special, you know! When she came it was the best birth I’ve ever had. My midwife kept asking how I was going to do this. I had options! It was amazing. Done in three hours. She was little but she was perfect. And breastfeeding went better with her. My husband was also able to take two full weeks from work. I didn’t go back to work after her. We pulled our son out of daycare. We made some sacrifices and I got to fulfill my wish to stay home with the babies. There are days when I feel like my soul is being sucked out of me, but there are also these moments when I’m like, "This is SO the right thing." For everyone. The older girls get to come home from school and talk about their day. Who knew they did this in the first half hour and not at 6pm when we’re all exhausted! And it goes so fast. You’re going to blink and it’ll be over and they’re going to pull out of the driveway in their Jeep to go to Chick Fill 'A because they’ve got a work shift. Their life with us, this is a season. We’re lucky. Even on the days where it’s overwhelming… we’re lucky.