I learned the difference between a maze and a labyrinth when I was seven months pregnant.
“A lot of people think labyrinths and mazes are the same, but they’re not,” our doula explained. “A maze is meant to trick you. It’s a puzzle. A labyrinth, on the other hand, takes you on a journey into the center…and then back out to the same place you started.” She guided my husband and me in creating our own labyrinth. Using my pointer finger, I slowly traced a path to the center, took a few deep breaths, and then meandered back out. “You can’t predict what will happen during the birthing process,” our doula said. “Be open to the journey.”
Our journey into parenthood started soon after that session with our doula, well before we were due to depart.
At our 34 week antenatal testing appointment, the nurse pointed to a screen that showed the peaks and valleys of my son’s heart rate. “See that,” she said, pointing to a dip that fell a bit below the other points. “His heart rate is dropping every time you have a contraction.” We stared at the screen, waiting for something else to happen, waiting for the nurse to say she was mistaken. “Why don’t you head on over to triage,” she said. “They’ll monitor you for about a half an hour and then you can go home. Always a good idea to play it safe.” It was a Friday afternoon and we were eager to begin the weekend (i.e., change into sweats and watch TV), but a half an hour would be no big deal, and so we made our way across the hospital to triage.
A nurse strapped a fetal monitor around my belly. We watched the landscape of my son’s heart rate fill the screen above my bed. I closed my eyes and tried to relax. But then a half an hour turned into an hour, which turned into several hours, which turned into a room in the antepartum unit. “Do you think we’ll be able to leave before midnight?” I asked the nurse who was taking my vitals. I was worried about my dog, who was home alone. She looked at my husband. And then she looked at me. And then she said, “Oh honey, it might not be for a few more days, but you’re not leaving here without a baby in your arms.”
The shock of her words shook me.
We were still six weeks away from our due date. And having a premature birth wasn’t a part of our not-yet-printed birth plan. And our dog needed to be fed and walked. And I hadn’t had my baby shower yet. And our birthing class, which we had paid for, was still a week away. There were so many reasons why we couldn’t have a baby right then. I had prepared for a labyrinth, but suddenly I was in a maze.
After the nurse left our room, we sat in silence. I eventually called my parents and told them the news. “It sounds like I might have the baby soon,” I told them. It still didn’t seem real. I hung up the phone and turned the television on. Minutes passed. Hours passed. Eventually my husband went home to let the dog out. “Come back soon,” I said as he was leaving.
Twenty minutes later, a team of doctors stormed into my room. My son’s heart rate had plummeted. As the doctors hurled medical jargon across the room at each other, my body trembled uncontrollably.
One of the doctors called my husband and told him to get back as quickly as possible. Terrible thoughts flooded through me: my baby was going to die, I was going to die. I’d never been so scared. As they were preparing to wheel me to the OR, my husband ran into the room, red-faced and out of breath. And then, just like that…my baby’s heart stabilized. Everyone stopped and the chaos quieted. This was just the first of several scares that night.
The next morning, despite feeling shell-shocked, we made phone calls and delegated baby-related tasks to local family members—my sister-in-law would put the crib together and my cousin agreed to walk the dog. My hospital room became a command center. We were getting things done. But then, around noon, we had our final scare. The doctors, again, rushed into my room, but this time they grabbed my bed and raced me to the OR. On a metal table, surrounded by white, sterile walls, I thought about the journey. I closed my eyes and took deep breaths and told myself—over and over again—that there was a way in, and there was a way out. I wasn’t in a maze. I was on a well-lit path lined with very qualified doctors who wouldn’t let me fall through any trap doors.
I gave birth to my son via c-section at 34 weeks and one day. He was 4 pounds and 1 ounce, 17 inches long, and perfect. When the doctor lifted him over the curtain for me to see, I gasped at his living, breathing, beautiful form; I had spent the previous 12 hours terrified he wouldn’t make it out of me alive.
The unknown has always been my nemesis.
Throughout my pregnancy, I spent a lot of time imagining the birthing process—what would it feel like when my water broke? Where would I be? How long would I be in labor? Could I handle the pain I’d feel as I pushed my son from my body? I imagined my husband hovering over me as we looked lovingly at our newborn, still covered in vernix, umbilical cord still attached. But his birth didn’t happen the way I thought it would, so I didn’t get to experience any of those things.
The moment I became a mama, though, none of that mattered anymore. Holding my (tiny) baby, I was ready for the journey ahead.