Carter Hsu-Bin Bradshaw was born at 12:38 am weighing 4 pounds 5 ounces and measuring 19 inches long. While I was recuperating in the recovery unit, Andy was skipping through the halls glowing with uncontainable joy announcing to anyone and everyone who would listen that he was the father of a beautiful son.
Dr. Mason told me later that on her first examination, she had intended to try delivering the baby vaginally but a nagging impression throughout the evening pressed her to reconsider. I am so glad she followed her impressions. The pulling motion I glimpsed during the operation occurred as she tried to pull out the baby only to discover that the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck, ensnaring him in a tangle that dragged him back to the womb. She quickly unwrapped the cord and pulled him free. Had she attempted a vaginal delivery, the baby would have gotten stuck in the canal and strangled on the cord. If she had not rushed me into the operating room, the baby might have dropped too low to operate and the evening could have ended in terrible tragedy.
To the people who asked me disapprovingly, “Why did you have a c-section? My midwife would have tried to flip the baby and deliver him naturally,” I say, lovely for you. It would not have been so lovely for me. Had my doctor tried to do so, I would have died with my baby stuck and strangled inside my body. I used to wish I had given birth under different circumstances. I wished I could have held my baby after he came into the world, wished I could have experienced a full labor or felt that connection to women throughout time in the process of giving birth. But now, I realize motherhood didn’t start when the baby left my body, it started long before then. It is not defined by the process of birth. Given the choice between a more socially-approved natural delivery and death and a less socially-lauded c-section and life, I choose life every time. I am grateful for the miracles of inspiration and modern medicine that allowed us to continue in life. And this, ultimately, is all that matters.
It took me a few hours to recover before the nurses brought me to my room. As soon as I was coherent, I made Andy wheel me up to see the baby in the Intermediate Care Nursery.
Carter was a tiny bundle of blankets, tubes, tags, sensors and an oversized beanie that kept falling off his head. He had a plastic brace taped to his hand to keep all the IVs secure; we called it his club because it was too heavy for him to control and he sometimes swatted himself in the face when he tried to move it around. When he was swaddled, he looked like a super burrito with a little cap. He was being warmed in an isolette incubator because his body was not yet able to maintain sufficient body heat. He struggled to keep up his blood sugar levels and the nurses had to prick his heel for blood to measure his sugar every few hours. Even they became heartsore at sight of his cut and bruised heels. Carter also had jaundice which was cured by light treatments that he hated. We called his jaundice eye protectors his Batman goggles and the phototherapy treatment his disco lights.
Andy and I sat with him everyday, holding him as often as we could and hovering over him when we could not. We build little forts around his isolette in attempts to gain some privacy while holding him or nursing. After a week, Andy had to return to work and I stayed with the baby everyday from 9 am to 10:30 or 11 pm. It was difficult to leave his side.
We feel incredibly grateful for the eleven days we spent in the hospital with Carter. In what should have been a time of great distress, we felt like we were living in a little bubble of happiness. The doctors and nurses took great care of me as my body began to heal and do some crazy things. The doctors and nurses in the Intermediate Care Nursery took incredible care of the baby and taught us how to care for him as well. Though he was too small and weak to nurse for extended periods of time, I learned to nurse and pump (this will most definitely be the subject of another post sometime soon!). Andy and I learned how to bathe Carter, change his diapers, swaddle him, clean his belly button, take his temperature and measure his blood sugar. We skin-to-skinned with him every chance we had. Close friends and family visited. Andy and I played with the wheelchair and went on dates. Once, at midnight, we went hunting for the full “mega-moon” and got locked out of the hospital. We had to call security to let us back in. Another time, we charmed a security guard into letting us take the wheelchair out of the hospital so Andy could wheel me around the shopping center nearby. Our worry was balanced by an other-worldly happiness.
I did not realize the depth or distinct quality of love I felt for Carter immediately. It did not come in an overpowering wave when I saw him for the first, or even second and third times and I worried I was flawed. But, one day in the hospital, he slept nestled in my chest as I stared at his face and stroked his tiny old-man head. I looked up at the clock and realized with great surprise that three hours had flown by and I had been absolutely mesmerized. Another time, I was singing along to some sappy country song (okay, I admit it, it was “Amazed” by Lonestar) as I nursed and inexplicably burst into tears of love that seemed to pour out of my body; I started to laugh while I was sing-crying at the hilarious absurdity of it all.
I have discovered that it is true what they say, that you never knew you could love this much until you have a child. I used to think that this referred to the overpowering feeling of love that one was supposed to feel after giving birth. But, I have realized – and believe that I will spend a lifetime realizing – that though I do have these strong waves of feeling, love this deep encompasses more than a temporary emotion, no matter how powerful. I love Carter in a way that has altered my entire outlook on life. I used to worry that I would wrestle with prioritizing my children over the passion I feel for my work, but as soon as Carter came into the world, there was absolutely no question in my mind or in my heart who or what mattered more. It is not that I care less about changing the education system or about my students; it is just that love planted Carter and my family lightyears above anything else that mattered before.
There was no conscious decision that made this so – though I make conscious decisions every day to ensure that I am living in a way that shows my priorities – it just happened. I let things go that I thought I’d never change and I started doing things I never thought I’d try. And most of these things happen without a first thought, let alone a second one. I will do whatever seems to be best for the baby. I don’t exercise as often and when I do, I have started doing things I hate (like running…blah) just so that I can be with him more. When he can eat solid foods, I have a sneaking feeling that I will even share my chocolate chip cookies and desserts with him and this is huge, just ask Andy. I don’t share desserts with anyone. I cart around a medieval torture device that they call a breast pump and willingly attach its suction cups to my boobs multiple times a day, sometimes in meetings, to make sure Carter has enough milk. If this isn’t love, I don’t know what is.
I used to stay at work until seven, sometimes eight at night and then work nights and weekends too, but now I give myself a hard stop so I can come home and spend time with Carter; I lose credibility, efficiency, mobility and effectiveness professionally, but I’m willing to sacrifice these things if I can be a better mom. My entire identity is changing. And perhaps this is pure love. Perhaps the purest love is transformational.
My Bao Bao, my little Booger is the greatest gift and blessing in my life. I am learning to understand love and joy, and this comes from becoming better acquainted with fear and anguish along this journey. I love more purely than I ever thought possible and I only hope that as I continue to learn and grow in motherhood, I will also transform and expand in love.