My best friend introduced me to a phrase a few years back while we were discussing relationship maintenance: "managing expectations." It's simple, really. Identify what you or those around you expect to happen and reframe it into an expectation you can live up to. It's not meant to lower one's standards or take the wind of out anyone's sails. Think of it as redefining goals that all parties find attainable and comfortable.
I use this phrase a lot. I encourage others to find the peace in it I'm sure "Serenity Now!" was meant to impart. I think it makes so much sense.
I talk the talk. Walking the walk: now that's the rub.
Before I got pregnant, I had my pre-natal plan all mapped out. My diet both before and during pregnancy would be clean and organic. My exercise regimen would remain steady and yoga-centric. I'd sit back in silk pajamas, reading Bringing Up Bebe, sipping on fresh-pressed juice while I tracked my baby's fetal development along the produce equivalency chart.
What really happened: I subsisted off of Carr's water crackers for the first trimester. I had kitchen crackers, car crackers, night stand crackers...if they were beyond an arm's length, I went into panic mode. Once I got an appetite back, I craved...Arby's. Never in Mike and I's entire relationship had I ever suggested we eat at Arby's. Now I wanted a plain roast beef sandwich, fries, and a Pepsi (a Pepsi, for crying out loud) several times a week. In went the fast food, out came the guilt.
By the third trimester, I had processed and condensed my experience into a firm belief that every stage, every step on the path towards motherhood prepares you for the next. Preparing to have a baby, feeling disappointment when the pee stick's negative, then finally getting a positive, then morning sickness, then health scares, then...there's always a 'then.' One phase leads to the next, dishing out hefty portions of forced patience, self-doubt, and most likely a serving or two of good ol' fashioned crow. You thought you knew. You knew nothing at all.
Lucky for me, a substantial number of women shared their birth stories with me, and unsurprisingly, they were as variant as winter snowflakes. One thing resonated with me: go in with your wish list, then check it at the door. Now having been through child birth, it's laughable to think that the list of demands one writes on a piece of paper and packs in a hospital bag has any bearing on what actually happens during labor and delivery.
For one, there's my story. I went in thinking I was going to be induced. They administered the Cervidil and said 'see ya in the morning.' Ehhh, wrong! Turns out I fell into the paltry five percent of women whose labor is jump started via the Cervidil. So I never went to sleep that night, I labored painfully for eight hours before being cleared for the epidural, then waited another fourteen hours before Harlow was born. I had a plan and it blew up in my face.
That's kinda how it goes for most moms, as far as I can tell. I know plenty of moms who preached one method or another for nine months then had to shift gears when shit started going down. Pretty much every birth story conversation in which I've been a participant contains the element of surprise. Ladies all in on the Bradley Method? Junior wouldn't come out for 20+ hours and their bodies gave out. Epidural time. Women who felt strongly about vaginal births had to have emergency C-sections. For some, getting to full term wasn't even in the cards.
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not advocating against all-natural childbirth or for epidurals. No one experience is more authentic than another. My point is this: as mothers, we are the vessels, the molders, the caretakers and nurturers.
But we are not in control. Not really.
Plans to breastfeed, plans to return to an unrestricted diet, plans to get baby on a schedule. Intention to get the baby weight off, intention to limit or eliminate screen time, intention to not compare your baby to others of the same age. Plan, intend, formulate, calculate. Block out, blueprint, build your proud castle of conviction.
Then watch it wash away.
We thought we bought cement; we bought sand. What we wrote in Sharpie we actually penned in invisible ink. Our oak tree full of wishes and expectations turned into a dandelion, blown to bits before the big bad wolf even huffed his puff. We mold, we shape, we do everything we know to be good and true. We bring our best game. But sometimes we can't out-nurture nature. Sometimes, we have to let a life live on its own terms.
We're expert expecters, us moms. Real pros. But, we're even better adapters.
We adjust, accommodate, acclimate. Conform, comply, modify. Roll with the punches, call an audible, and just effing wing it. We're all Destiny's Child and we are surVIvors, and no, we won't give up. We get up.
Everyone always says there's no greater feat, no harder task than giving birth (take that, spartans and ninja warriors). For me, the miracle of motherhood is taking a constant physical, mental, and emotional beating...but always getting back up. Our infant Apollos wear us down to our very core, but we summon our inner Rockys and wipe the tears from our eyes, the blood from our boobs, and we GET BACK UP. With the strength of the Lord, the power of caffeine, and the promise of Pinot Grigio, dammit we get back up.
The nature of our children - of life itself - may wage war on our best-laid plans but we'll never surrender. We'll build our castles, enjoy them, photograph them for posterity, then prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Once in a while, a grain of sand turns into a pearl after all.
Though our expectations may crumble in the sea of life, we're the Gibraltar, steady and strong, rising out of the chaotic churn. Come at me, ocean. I'm motherloving Poseidon.