“Ouch, Mama. I hurt. Kiss it?”
My thoughts are interrupted by glassy tearful eyes and pouting lips. For the past week, each time my two-year-old bumps into something or gets a scrape or a bruise, he immediately, in total desperation, requests a kiss. Each time I kiss his boo-boo, he smiles up at me and says “All better now, thank you, Mama”.
He shows me his latest injury, pointing to a spot on his knee.
“Are you hurt? I’m so sorry, Elliot. I’m right here. You’re okay.”
Another kiss. Another smile. “All better, Mama.”
“You’re so brave. You’re so strong.” I tell him.
He believes me.
I used to think it was silly when kids wanted their boo-boos kissed. Now, I understand.
There’s something healing about having our wounds acknowledged.
There’s something healing about another person getting up close to our pain and touching it.
There’s something healing about having our hurt seen and validated.
I feel my cheeks fill with heat as I blink back the tears. I know that if I speak, my voice will crack. We will both have to stop pretending I’m not crying. I stay silent. For a moment, we stay quiet together. My friend, Mia, breaks the silence: “What you’re feeling is totally valid.” A sense of relief washes over me. I breathe in deeply. I exhale slowly.
I first met Mia months earlier, while our boys were playing together in the nursery at church. My husband and I had just moved across the country, a thousand miles away from our friends and family, a thousand miles away from our support system, our village. I had just found out I was pregnant. I was thrilled to have another baby, but also absolutely terrified.
Amidst our first surface level conversation, my friend and I talked about our birth stories. As she listened and asked questions, she noticed my feelings and validated them.
Over the next few months, Mia and I met for several playdates. We got to know each other through interrupted conversations over lukewarm lattes. We developed a deep friendship amidst toddler tantrums and dirty dishes. I learned that she was kind, thoughtful, and empathetic. I learned that she was logical and passionate, peaceful and bold. I learned that she was a birth doula.
I knew I wanted her there with me for my birth.
Now we are meeting to go over my birth plan. It is just a few weeks before my due date and she is sitting across the table from me, listening and validating and encouraging just like she has been for months. The tears are rolling down my cheeks. I tell her the truth.
The truth is, I had a difficult first birth experience. I labored long and hard. I pushed with all my might – nothing was working. A cesarean was suggested. The beautiful birth I had envisioned for months suddenly slipped through my fingers as my husband put on scrubs and I was wheeled away to the operating room. After the surgery, I laid shivering on the cold table listening to the doctors and nurses discuss an episode of Breaking Bad. I wondered where my baby was. I longed to hold him in my arms, longed to breathe him in. I remember feeling so afraid. Yes, my birth experience gave me the most beautiful baby boy. Yes, it made me a mother. But it was difficult.
Experiencing childbirth again absolutely terrifies me.
The truth is I believe I am incapable – of birth, of mothering. I believe there is something wrong with me.
The truth is I imagine the worst-case scenarios. I imagine my baby limp and lifeless, cold and blue. I’m imagine too much blood loss, my own life cut short. I imagine chaos and my inability to cope with it. I feel out of control. I feel alone. I feel afraid.
Once again, my scattered rushing thoughts are interrupted by her voice: “What you went through was difficult – it was trauma. It’s totally valid to feel the way that you’re feeling.”
I swallow the tears. I feel my body begin to relax. I feel seen, understood. A weight is lifted off my shoulders, the burden I carried alone is now shared with another person.
“You are capable. You were made to do this. Your voice matters, and I will be right there with you.”
There’s something healing about having your hurt acknowledged.
We decide together to imagine something different. We imagine me holding my fresh new baby, naked and screaming on my chest. We imagine he is healthy. We imagine a beautiful birth.
Three weeks later.
“I can’t do this!” I scream in a voice that doesn’t sound like my own. I live in the space between contractions, between pushes, between my traumatic first birth experience and the unknown that lies ahead.
Mia is there with every contraction, noticing them by the tightening of my jaw, the quickening of my breath. She is there applying counter pressure and aromatherapy. She is there to reassure my husband that he’s supporting me perfectly, that I’m going to be okay. She is there speaking words of life, as if she can read the thoughts replaying in my mind.
“You are doing this.”
“This is not Elliot’s birth.”
“This is completely normal.”
“You are strong. You are capable.”
I believe her.
I summon the strength within me that I never knew was there. I push with all that I am. I feel the strength rush out of me and suddenly he is there on my chest, crying, beautiful.
She was right.
Selena May lives just outside of Portland, Oregon with her husband Andrew and their adorable sons Elliot and Jude. She enjoys reading overdramatic teen novels, knitting cozy infinity scarfs, and drinking massive amounts of coffee. Her writing has been featured on Coffee + Crumbs, Parent Co, The Mighty, and Upwrite Magazine. Selena writes about motherhood, healing, and hope at selenamay.weebly.com.