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How We Define Ourselves

A college classmate and I had a disagreement a few years ago when I was planning my wedding. As my soon-to-be-husband and I compiled our guest list, tough decisions had to be made – ah, the tired old adage of wedding planning, what else is new – and in order to invite all of our beloved (and numerous) families and friends to attend our nuptials, classmates turned informal pals sadly weren’t in our budget to invite. After realizing that she hadn’t “made the list,” so to speak, this friend became unfortunately accusatory, saying things that I’m sure she didn’t mean, but were uttered as evidence of the hurt that she felt in not being invited to our wedding. Here’s what this friend had to say:

“All you ever do or say or think about is this wedding. When it’s all over, you aren’t going to have anything left in your life.”

Our-Wedding-Ceremony

And I rationalized, self-justified, and became defensive. Of course I’m thinking about and talking about my upcoming wedding. It’s a big deal! It’s what’s going on in my life right now! Sure, I am working full time, and I am thinking about going to graduate school, but I’M GETTING MARRIED. What does she expect me to think about – world peace?

But the more that I think about it, she was right.

How do I know that “bride-to-be” became all I was? Because when the wedding was over, when my beautiful ivory lace gown was slung over the easy chair in our gorgeous two-story hotel room, when all of the bobby pins had been plucked from my hair and stowed on the sink in our hotel room’s massive bathroom vanity, I didn’t know who to be anymore. All of a sudden, I wasn’t a bride-to-be; I wasn’t even a bride. I was a wife. But what did that mean?

Our-Wedding-Ceremony

I soon figured out what it meant, to me, to be a wife. It meant loving my husband deeply and truly. It meant forcing myself to communicate with him, even when I was cranky, even when I was upset, especially during those times. It meant having a partner to share my joy over ‘A’ papers with. It meant having a partner to hold my hand when my perfectionist tendencies drove me to my breaking point. It meant having someone to take care of me when we saw the word “Pregnant” on a little purple test last October.

Maternity-Photo

For the past two years, I’ve allowed myself to be defined by the word “wife.” I’ve taken on that role proudly, seriously, and with gratitude for the man that my husband is. Sure, I was – and am – other things, too, like a daughter, a sister, a friend, a student. But I most identified with my role as a wife; it was how I described myself.

All this to say, when our son was born in June, I became something new; I became a mother. And now, if a person were to ask me to describe myself, mother would be the first word that would escape my lips, followed quickly by a smile stretching across my face.

L-Pumpkin-Patch-2012

I know that I’m only {nearly} four months into my role as a mother, but at this point, I couldn’t be more pleased to be defined by my role as mother, as Mama to my little man. How lucky am I to be defined by something so precious, so sweet, so innocent?

Lionel-Smiles-Drool

And yet, I can’t help but wonder if the way in which we define ourselves matters, especially when it comes to a role, like motherhood, that has no end, only a beginning. Should the future have in store for me some tragic occurrence in which my beloved son is taken from me, I feel firm in my belief that I will remain a mother, no matter what life brings about. While terms like “bride” and “student” are fleeting and transitory, the role of “mother” is earned, and not simply in the way that one can study or strive to be something, to achieve a new title for themselves. No, when a woman becomes a Mama, she earns that title, from the very first bout of morning sickness to the very first stretch mark to the kissing of the owies and scrapes that cover her children’s knees to the scoldings and the doling out of advice and the punishments and the celebrations and the accomplishments, all the way to when they, her grown children, hold her hand as she, an elderly woman, takes her final breath. To become a Mama is to permanently be a Mama – to forever have a piece of your heart beating outside of your chest, beating inside the chest of your children. And I can’t think of any better way to define myself.

{Top three photos by Creative Kindling; bottom two photos by me}

Nights and Mornings

Last night, I squeezed your little toesies into your red, white and blue Fourth of July pajamas for the last time. As I zipped up your footie pajamas to your adorable chin, I told your Daddy so, and he said to me, “You’re retiring these pajamas?” And I responded, “Yes, his feet don’t fit well in them anymore.”

But, the real truth is, baby boy…

…all of you doesn’t fit too well in these little pajamas anymore.

**

You’ll be four months old next week, and it’s like someone whispered that fact to you in the middle of the night, when our house is quiet, when all that can be heard from our little corner of life here are sighs and deep breaths and rustling covers and, a few times during the night, tiny, barely-audible baby gulps as you nurse. But at nightime, when the dream fairies dance in our heads and create magical dreams of milk and Mama (for you), of soccer and competition (for your Daddy), of doggie bones and never-ending games of fetch (for Wyatt the Dog), and of Barney Stinson from “How I Met Your Mother” (for Mama), I’m convinced that one little fairy sneaks her way into our bedroom each night and whispers in your ear. Grow, little boy, she says. Don’t you know that you’re almost four months old? It’s time to retire those little baby clothes. Just keep growing big and strong. And when we all wake up in the morning, we look into your deep green-hazel-brown-blue-we-aren’t-sure-yet pools for eyes, and we swear that you grew two inches overnight. We swear that you grow when we look away, for seconds at at time.

**

When you were born, we let you teach us what it meant to be parents, to be your parents. And what you taught me first, L, is how a snuggle can change a cranky moment into a time of sweet curiosity. When I hold you close, a day of gloomy clouds or too-hot temperatures morphs into the perfect hour for open windows, feeling the breeze, taking in the wonder of the weather here on the plains, from its expansive beauty and repetitive corn fields to our town’s temperatures – slightly-cool-but-with-warm-undertones.

But what I’ve learned the most from you in these past {almost} four months with you, sweet boy? You come alive in the morning. It’s like the world signals to you that the sun has piloted its way from the sky’s depths, said hello to the moon as it passes by, and is slowly creeping into position to light the day. But, dear boy, the most beautiful thing about you in the morning is what I learned from you about myself in those first few emotion-filled days of your life: a snuggle can change the tide, not just for you, but for me as well.

L-Mama-Cosleeping

You and I spend our mornings, after Daddy leaves for work, snuggled up together, your chest making friends with my belly, where you used to reside not so long ago. My arms wrap around you and pull you close enough to smell that blissful baby smell (which, in our house, smells like California Baby lotion and something else, something so fleeting, so precious that I’m convinced that the fairies must sprinkle you with sweet-smelling blessings as you dream). You take your breaths in measure to mine, two or three for every one that I take in. And when you start to fuss, I pull you to my chest so that you can hear my heartbeat, the noise that you heard for so many months before you joined our world.

It’s in this little cocoon that we exist, you and I together, for many hours in the morning. Without fail, each morning, the day’s light begins to peek through the curtains, alerting me of the advent of day. Yet that signals to me only to pull you closer, no matter if it’s nearing noon, no matter if my tummy rumbles or my throat is dry – for no one knows how many more mornings you will long for the comfort of your Mama.

Nights and mornings – and everything in between – are so sweet with you, dear child.

The Same Song, Over Again

Baby-Toes

I miss it sometimes – the raw, new, just-had-a-baby feeling that swept over my entire being just a little more than three months ago. I remember the feeling well, but it’s faded now…faded like sunshine leaving its mark upon the plains as it sets each night, leaving pink-streaked goodness in the sky as it falls.

I remember meeting him for the first time, ever, and feeling like I had no idea who he was. But, somehow, deep down, I recognized him, I saw that we knew each other, once upon a time, and that we were meeting again, this time for real, this time in the real world.

I remember watching my husband as he handed our baby to me, his eyes revealing a tender wetness, and feeling the realization that the time had finally come: we were finally parents. Our son was finally here.

I remember looking up as my parents and my brother came into our hospital room to meet him for the first time, ever. I remember feeling so full of pride and accomplishment as I announced his name to them, to the world, to my world.

I remember how food tasted so different those first few days – yummier, almost. I remember the pizza – oh, the pizza. A revelation.

I remember when my milk came, the most unbelievable feeling that stirred within me an unspeakable gratitude for the amazing workings of a woman’s body. It felt like finally feeling the fruits of much-prayed-for rain, sprung directly from God.

I remember the sweet, sweet nurse Hannah who patiently helped me figure out how to work my breast pump. Hannah, who reassured me when our son had jaundice that if I just focused on pumping milk for a little while, that once the jaundice subsided, that he and I would be able to have the breastfeeding relationship that I always wanted, that he and I would experience the everlasting bond between mother and child that is fostered through nursing. And she was right.

I remember the whirring blades of the hospital’s helicopter landing just outside our window, waking him up on our last night in the hospital. I remember being struck with the realization that the only thing that would settle his anxious cries was the sound of my heartbeat, his Mama’s heartbeat, as he cuddled up to me, all night long.

I remember bringing him home, showing him the nursery, clutching him ever so tightly to my chest, afraid of what it meant to love someone so immensely and completely.

L-Changing-Table

I remember being an emotionally-charged, hormonal mess of a wife-turned-mother, and sometimes, I lament that I’ve lost touch with that rawness, that newness.

I often think, Am I squeezing every last bit of goodness, of wonder, of memory out of this amazing life that I’m living right now? Am I remembering enough, savoring enough, loving him enough?

I’m a dreamer. I wish and I dream and I long for things that I don’t have. Silly things, like new couches and a home of our own with walls to paint and room for playhouses and swing sets and deck furniture. Fun things, like return trips to Seattle and going out for a beer on a whim one evening with my husband. And big things, like (eventually) having more children. Because it’s worth it – it’s worth all of the sickness, all of the worry, all of the pain, all of the sacrifice, to feel that rawness, that newness all over again.

But does dreaming for the silly things, the fun things, the big thingsam I too busy dreaming that I forget to savor the goodness in front of me? Because it’s good – it’s oh so goodHe is so, so good.

I find myself wanting to be, dreaming of being that girl who listens to the same beautiful song over and over and over again, just to memorize the words and the chords and the lull of the music a little bit more, a little better. The song that marks the biggest shift, the most monumental change in her life. The song of a boy, the boy, saying those three little words for the very first time. The ting of the telephone ringing, with blissful, welcomed news on the other side. Or, for me, the sweet sound of a baby’s coos, babbles, breaths and sighs.

I don’t want to look back on these blessed months of our son’s life and worry that I took it all for granted, that I forgot to cherish the days (literally, now) that he spends babbling, the way his little eyes crinkle half-shut when he smiles big and wide at me, the way that he knows my voice and follows it as I move about the room.

I don’t want to ever forget this song, his song. Because it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard.

{Photos by Creative Kindling}

Lionel Conner {A Birth Story}

Lionel (LYE-a-nel): A form of Leonard and Leonora; a male derivative of Helen. Our son’s first name was chosen to honor Sara’s grandmother and Jord’s great-grandmothers, all of whom share the name Helen. (Latin): Like a lion, young lion.

Conner (KAH-ner): A favorite name of Sara’s since elementary school. (Irish): lover of hounds (especially his doggie brother, Wyatt).

* *

It was a Tuesday morning, and Jord and I were seated in the waiting room of our hospital’s clinic, waiting to be seen. I was 38.5 weeks pregnant. The night before, we had visited the emergency room because I hadn’t felt our son move very much that day. Even though everything was determined to be fine (the baby and I were monitored for an hour, and the baby’s movements were normal), our doctor wanted to see us in the morning to check my cervix, since the nursing staff in the ER surmised that the baby had lowered into my pelvis in preparation for birth, which is why I couldn’t feel his movements as much as usual. So, that morning, I called the clinic and was told to come in at 10AM.

As Jord and I sat in the waiting room of the clinic, I began to feel my belly tighten in a way that was unfamiliar. It felt like the round ligament pain that I had been experiencing intermittently since Christmas, but the tightening was happening more regularly that morning. I told Jord that I thought that I was having contractions, and he responded that it was a good thing that we were at the clinic, so that we could know for sure.

Our doctor’s nurse eventually called us back and asked me the usual questions (had I noticed any bleeding, was I in any pain, etc.). I mentioned that I thought that I was having contractions that seemed semi-regular, which she notated in my chart. It was a few minutes before Dr. Olson came in to check on me, and when I mentioned my belief that I was having contractions, she checked my cervix. I was dilated to a two, and my cervix was beginning to efface, so Dr. Olson decided to send me over to labor and delivery to be monitored. Jord and I looked at each other, absolutely surprised; we had been guessing all morning that we would be sent home after our appointment and would be told to just keep an eye on things as they progressed. Instead, we proceeded to a labor and delivery room, where the nursing staff had me change into a gown to be monitored.

I was hooked up to a fetal monitor to check the baby’s heart rate and my contractions. My heart rate was monitored as well. Dr. Olson came back to check on us at noon, and she told us what we never thought that we would hear, at least not for another nine days or so: I was in labor, and I was being admitted to labor and delivery. We were having our baby.

* *

After being admitted, things with my labor progressed normally. As soon as the baby and I were monitored for a short period of time, Jord and I were encouraged to walk around the hospital in order to ensure that labor continued to progress. We took the nursing staff’s advice and made our way to the hospital’s healing garden, which was especially warm on this June afternoon. Every few paces or so, I would feel a contraction coming on, and I would lean on Jord and sway back and forth to ease the tension of the contraction. At this point, I was still in a relatively happy mood – the contractions were rather tolerable at this point. In addition, I think that Jord and I were still in a state of disbelief that we were really here, that we were actually going to meet our son in a matter of hours; the disbelief helped, I think, to delay the onset of the pain of the contractions.

When we arrived back to our labor and delivery room after our walk, the baby and I had to be monitored again for a short period of time; we were still doing very well. Dr. Olson checked my cervix again, and she told me that I had not dilated any further. Needless to say, I was rather frustrated, but I resolved to do my best to help the labor to progress. Dr. Olson suggested breaking my bag of waters to hopefully stimulate dilation, and I agreed. The breaking of my water was a rather uncomfortable and annoying occurrence; the only way that I can describe it is to compare what I felt to a persistent leaky faucet that, at times, would gush and gush water, and then, at other times, would only drip and drop into the metal of the sink at an intermittent pace.

After Dr. Olson broke my bag of waters, I requested the birthing ball to help to ease the contractions, which were beginning to grow in intensity. By that time, my mother had arrived at the hospital (in shock and disbelief that she was to meet her grandson, her first grandchild, in a matter of time), and she took up post in a corner of the labor and delivery room to offer comfort and help, should I be in need.

Jord was my primary source of support and strength during the labor process; from the moment that we learned that I was in labor, that my contractions were “for real,” that we were actually going to meet our baby boy in just a matter of hours, Jord was ready, he was committed to supporting me, no matter how long it took. He was outstanding. He diligently watched the fetal monitor (when I was being monitored) to tell me when a contraction was coming on and when the pain should subside. He rubbed my back as I bounced on the birthing ball. He tended to our family’s inquiries via cell phone regarding how things were progressing, and he did so without making me ever feel alone, not even for a moment. He was, in a word, fantastic.

Eventually, the pain of the contractions began to worsen, so the nurses suggested that I labor in the whirlpool tub that was available in our labor and delivery room. At this point, I still attempted to maintain some semblance of modesty in dress, though as the tension in my belly grew more unbearable with each contraction, I quickly discovered the futility of such an attempt. The whirlpool tub was outfitted with jets that surged water over my belly in powerful ripples, which helped to distract me from the discomfort that I was feeling with each contraction. While I was in the tub, I felt at ease enough to send Jord away to find something for himself to eat – it was nearing dinnertime, and I knew that he needed nourishment in order to keep up his strength for the journey ahead, especially since we had no idea how long we had before we would be meeting our son. My mom kept me company while I labored in the tub.

I was feeling rather hungry myself, since I hadn’t had much of anything to eat prior to our arrival at the clinic (and the subsequent and unexpected onset of my contractions). However, despite my desire for food, since I was in labor, the hospital only permitted me water and other types of liquid-based products, such as popsicles. While the popsicles that I consumed during labor tasted outstandingly refreshing at the time, I quickly grew quite desperate for more substantial nourishment. That, combined with the painful tension that continuously was rippling through my belly, quickly weakened my resolve to continue laboring without some semblance of pain relief.

* *

Our birth plan largely left the door open in terms of pain medication; it was important to me that I not set unrealistic expectations for myself and for the birth of our first child. Furthermore, prior to giving birth, I had only a limited experience with pain, and truthfully, I had no idea regarding my ability to withstand physical pain. In preparing to give birth, it comforted me to have options. Jord’s support of our birth plan helped me immensely, especially during the labor and delivery process itself. When Jord returned to the hospital, I was still laboring in the whirlpool tub, and I expressed to Jordan my desire to ask the nursing staff and my doctor about getting an epidural, despite my unspeakable fear of needles. By that time, I had been in labor for eight hours or so on very little food, and the contractions were growing more and more painful by the minute. To this day, I still wonder whether or not it would have made a difference in my ability to handle the pain if I had been given the opportunity to eat; I feel strongly that not only was I weakened by the pain of the contractions, but I was also weakened by a lack of nourishment, and I wonder if I would have been able to stave off getting the epidural, at least for another few hours, if I had eaten a proper breakfast that morning, or if I had been permitted a snack or two, apart from popsicles.

As Dr. Olson entered my room to discuss the epidural and to check my cervix, I learned that I had only progressed to 3 centimeters after eight hours of labor. The frustration that I felt upon hearing that my body again was failing to progress (or, at least, to progress at a rate that was expected or, I thought, was even respectable) was, and is, difficult to put into words – in that moment, my tears spoke for me, conveying my utter desperation for relief from the hours of pain that I had endured thus far. Soon enough, I exited the whirlpool tub in preparation to receive my epidural.

The entire process of getting the epidural terrified me; from signing the consent forms to listening to the anesthesiologist describe the procedure, I was horribly nervous and, of course, extremely grateful for my husband’s supportive grasp of my hands. I don’t remember many details of getting the epidural – I’m sure that Jordan saw the sheer terror that gripped me as he looked in my eyes. I remember feeling what seemed like a pin prick and then a surge of burning tension in my back. I remember being told not to move, a prospect that seemed more difficult than it actually was, even though my body was still contracting. And then, as vividly as I remember the moment that I saw Jord for the first time on our wedding day, such a blissful memory, I remember the antithesis of that moment, the utter shock and pain that I felt as the anesthesiologist ripped away from my back the plastic sheeting and tape that he had attached to ensure a sanitary field upon which to insert the epidural. In that moment, as I felt the skin of my back tingle and writhe in pain and in surprise, tears fell from my eyelids in floods, and I sobbed uncontrollably. I remember thinking that it was a miracle that the nurses had told me, just moments before, that I could move again, that the time and the need to remain still had passed, because as I sobbed, my chest heaving, I can recall only the look of helplessness in Jord’s eyes, and the feeling of his hands clutching my shoulders in an attempt to comfort me. In looking back on it now, with one month of clarity, the ripping away of the tape on my back after the epidural was among the worst pain that I felt that day, probably because I didn’t expect it, because I wasn’t warned that it was coming, not at all.

My fit of sobs decrescendoed into mere tears as I began to feel the cooling sensation of the pain medication dripping into my back. My feet and legs slowly became numb, and at long last, I felt relief from the persistent tension that rippled through my abdomen, and relief that the process of getting that reprieve from pain, that feeling that I so desperately desired, had finally ended.

I don’t remember much of the next few hours, apart from being in good spirits after the epidural took affect. I do remember seeing my brother and my father, who had, by then, arrived at the hospital to keep my mother company. Since it appeared as though my labor would continue into the night and, foreseeably, into Wednesday’s early morning hours, my family stayed the night at our apartment in Vermillion while Jord and I got some much-needed rest after the day’s events. Jord’s family had decided to remain in Sioux Falls until our son was born, and at that time of night, it made sense for us all to rest as much as we could.

I recall being awoken in the midst of the night later by the nursing staff and by Dr. Olson to check my cervix. Before I knew it, my body had fully dilated to ten centimeters. I remember Jord waking up on the tiny couch in our hospital room in a state of disbelief – we had finally reached the culmination of all of the day’s work. It was time to push!

Although the exact timing of when the pushing process began escapes me, I remember watching Dr. Olson and our nurses ready themselves and the room for delivery. As soon as the room was ready and the warming bassinet was wheeled in, everything that was about to happen became all the more real. The excited nervousness that I felt prior to pushing, I also saw in Jord’s eyes – it was exhilarating to think about soon meeting our baby son.

* *

This is where our story grows difficult for me to tell, precisely because I never imagined that I would be telling this story, with this ending. Isn’t that always what it comes down to? How our minds imagine the way in which a monumental life experience will take place, and how it will shape us, versus the actuality, the reality of the event itself? For me, my imagination told quite a different birth story than the tale I’ve relayed to you here. But the story must go on, for the birth of our son was, and is, a miraculous and beautiful occurrence.

Pushing was intimidating at first because I had no feeling in the lower half of my body (due to the epidural). While pushing, I tried to visualize my body opening up and the baby moving down in order for our son to slip through the birth canal and enter our world. The pushing process was among the most vivid of the memories that I have of giving birth. After only a little while, I recall the numbness in my legs and my abdomen slowly beginning to wear off, despite the fact that I had requested another dosage or two of pain medication by pushing a button that was connected to a machine that was monitoring my epidural. Soon after I reported to my doctor that the epidural seemed to be wearing off, I began to endure the most intense and terrible pain of my entire life for what seemed like forever. Despite the fact that I was lying in the hospital bed with my feet in stirrups, I could not remain in a pushing position; as each contraction gripped my body, it was all I could do to simply remain on the bed. I jerked my body from side to side, thrashing about like a mad person in the bed, all in an attempt to ease the pain. Jord held my hand, held my face, held my gaze as I did everything, anything that I could to attempt to ease the pain. He spoke to me softly, calmly at first, but slowly, his desperation for me to find some relief from my pain came through in his voice. He reminded me of the strength of the women who had given birth before me, such as my grandmother, who birthed nine children in her lifetime. He pleaded with me to realize that this pain, too, shall pass, despite the fact that it felt endless. He reminded me that we were pushing now, that we were so close to meeting our son.

It was during the pushing process that I began to reflect on my preparation for childbirth. In readying myself to give birth, I thought about my mother, and my grandmother. I thought about their childbirth experiences, their birthing experiences that didn’t require surgery or extensive medical intervention. I thought about watching my sister-in-law give birth nearly three years ago, and watching my pink and beautiful niece slip from a hidden world into our world in one outstanding moment. And I thought about my own baby, my little boy, my baby son. I thought about how he was to make his way into this world by my force, my effort, my energy, my work. And in preparing myself to continue to push, I felt empowered, I felt beautiful, and I felt determined – I wanted to bring my child into this world on my own.

However, empowerment and beauty and determination can only take a person so far – and these entities did not take me or my son far enough on that Wednesday. Despite the fact that my entire pregnancy proceeded normally, despite the fact that the labor process, the epidural and the dilation of my cervix were all by the book, and despite the fact that our baby boy was never in distress throughout the labor or pushing process, the birth of our son came about not by my own power, my own energy, but instead occurred via c-section. Yet, that is not the most difficult part of my son’s birth story – not only was a c-section deemed necessary by my doctor, but because of an unforeseen (and highly unlikely) complication with my epidural, I needed to be placed under general anesthesia during the c-section. What this means, in simple language, is this: I was not able to be awake for my son’s birth.

My doctor explained the reasoning for the c-section to me as two-fold: A) I had pushed for four hours, and despite doing so with all of my might, the baby was positioned head down, but was in the “sunny side up” or “face up” position inside the birth canal, which not only made it extremely painful for me to attempt to give birth, but also was far from the ideal position for the baby to be in when attempting a vaginal birth.

The second reason, B), was that in a rather strange and highly unlikely complication, the nursing staff determined, after my repeated insistence that my epidural was not providing me with any pain relief, that the epidural had fallen out of my back during the pushing process. This meant that I felt every single (excruciating) attempt that I made to push our son out into the world. After such a long labor process and four hours of pushing, my doctor, Jord and I determined together that I was too exhausted (and too hungry – I hadn’t been permitted to eat anything more than popsicles in the past 20-some hours) to continue pushing for any longer.

Despite the fact that I was writhing in pain, the ultimate blessing was that throughout the entire labor and pushing process, our baby son was never in distress. His heartbeat remained strong and steady, and he (unlike his Mama) was handling the contractions like a champion. While this certainly was (and still is) a blessing, it was also a curse of sorts: because the baby was not in distress, my need for a c-section was determined to be not emergent, which meant that Jord and I were told that we needed to wait ninety pain-filled minutes for the c-section procedure to take place – another surgery, a tonsillectomy, was scheduled to occur first.

The ninety minutes in between the time in which I was told to stop pushing and the time when I was wheeled into the operating room felt like nine hundred. My desperation for relief from the pain had pushed me to the limits of my ability to cope. I wailed and screamed in pain for all ninety of those minutes; in looking back, I am confident that I sounded like one of those women in the movies who is in an inconceivable amount of pain while giving birth, and who isn’t afraid to let the world know it. I remember hoping that I was the only woman in the labor and delivery unit that morning, so that my shouts didn’t alarm any other mothers who were anticipating their own birth experience.

I recall a nurse tossing Jord some scrubs to change into, which was the signal that I was waiting for: I knew now that the c-section was happening soon; it was finally our turn in the operating room. I could finally see the darkness that I felt clouding me dissipate – I could finally anticipate the relief that I would feel, soon, from the pain.

I was wheeled into the operating room, and Jord came to sit by my side. Yet, as the anesthesiologist began his attempt to reactivate my epidural, I could hear unmistakable tension and frustration in his voice. I soon learned that because the epidural had fallen out of place during the pushing process and thus needed to be replaced, I was no longer numb enough to complete the c-section using my epidural. Further complicating the delivery process, the anesthesiologist explained to me that replacing the epidural and beginning the numbing process again was a time-consuming endeavor, which meant that there was not enough time to replace the epidural prior to beginning the c-section, since I was already on the operating table and the surgical team was already in place to operate.

I then remember hearing the anesthesiologist utter the words “general anesthesia.” My eyes immediately filled with tears, and I began to sob. I felt Jord’s grip on my hand tighten, and I recall a nurse coming into my line of sight and promising that everything would be allright. The nurse assured me that they would place the baby on Jord’s chest, skin-to-skin, to ensure that our son felt that bond as soon as possible after the birth; I had wanted that skin-to-skin moment as soon as possible with my son, so hearing that Jord would be able to experience that with our little boy, instead of me, felt like the next best thing. I was comforted by that image. Jord squeezed my hand and assured me that he would be by my side during the surgery and that he wouldn’t leave me or our son, and that’s the last thing I remember before I awoke in the recovery room.

* *

As I opened my eyes in recovery after my c-section, I instantly thought of Jord. My eyes began to scan the room for a nurse or a doctor, and as soon as I found my nurse, I asked her how my husband was doing. She told me that he was doing well, and that our baby boy was doing well, too. I think it’s so funny (and kind of sad) that I asked about Jord’s well-being, and not about our son; I think that I felt so disconnected from the birthing process that by the time that I woke up in recovery, my mind was rather foggy about the reasoning for me undergoing the surgery in the first place.

However, soon after I awoke, my nurse wheeled me back into our labor and delivery room. When the nurse opened the door and began to wheel me through, I saw my husband, bare-chested, clutching our little baby, swaddled in a blanket. And in that moment, I truly began to understand what it means to be married, to have a husband who treasures you so much. I saw Jord’s relieved smile in seeing me, awake and allright, and that sight made me feel so blessed. His proud grin when he handed me our baby son melted away, at least for the moment, any frustration or anger that I harbored about my birth experience. Our son was here, he was born, he was healthy, he was perfect. He was our boy.

In those first moments of being reunited, this time as a family of three people, Jord whispered to me that he hadn’t shared the baby’s name with anyone. Because I missed out on the first moments of our son’s life, he said, he wanted me to be able to announce the baby’s name to everyone.

And with joy, I kissed my husband, I kissed my baby son, who by then was lying on my chest, skin-to-skin, and I announced to the world our little boy’s name.

“This is Lionel Conner,” I said. And our lives as parents began.

On Marriage: Defining My Role as Wife

Our-Wedding-Reception

Before Jord and I were married in 2010, I had a major conflict of identity that came from a rather unexpected source: a rubber stamp.

For our wedding, Jord and I had a wishing tree, which was basically a few manzanita branches (from here) arranged in a flower pot. Jord and I asked guests to write down their wishes for our marriage on cardstock and then hang the wishes on the branches of the tree. It ended up being a creative way for our guests to wish us well. However, when I was conceptualizing how the wishing tree would come together, I never imagined that it would be the source of a name-change-related breakdown for me.

In order to decorate the cardstock, I commissioned a local stamp shop to make a custom rubber stamp for me, which said the following phrase: “Wishes for the Mr. and Mrs.” Cute, right? That’s what I thought, too; I saw the phrase somewhere in the blogosphere, and I promptly ordered the stamp. I then purchased the manzanita branches, the flower pot, the cardstock and the ink for the stamp, and I didn’t think anything of it until the stamp came in a week or two later.

It was around that time that I read this post (and then this post) on A Practical Wedding. And truthfully, these posts (together with a post that I can’t seem to track down on Project Subrosa on name-changing and the Ms. vs. Mrs. debate – this post is similar, though with decidedly less sass – which is a bummer, because I love me some sass)…well, they threw me big time. I had never thought about changing my name before…I had never thought about the fact that I had a choice of whether or not to take my husband’s last name. What’s more is that I had thought much less about which choice was right for me; I always thought that I would take my husband’s name, because that is what women do in my family, and in my state (South Dakota). And now, because I ordered a stupid six-dollar stamp that said “Mrs.” on it, I felt like my choice between Ms. and Mrs., and my birth name, was being made for me.

So I cried. A lot. I cried to my mother, to my guy (now my husband), and I cried even more when re-reading the posts and the comments on APW and Project Subrosa. I felt like I had failed my cultural position as a woman by rejecting the rights available to my beloved-yet-too-often-marginalized womanhood. [Big stuff.] So, I hemmed and hawed over whether or not to use the stamp, because gosh darnit, I paid for it, and I wasn’t about to throw money out the window, but then again, it was only six dollars, and was six dollars worth chucking my oh-my-gosh-I-guess-I-am-a-feminist-wow-this-is-strange-I-didn’t-notice-this-before-now self out the window? Was six dollars worth me compromising my identity as a woman, my identity as me, as Sara?

In the end, it was my mother who helped me the most. She said that my identity as a wife, my identity as a woman, didn’t have to be determined by a stamp. She rationalized that while the majority of our wedding guests would call me “Mrs.” on our wedding day, as a cutesy ode to my newly married status, that after the wedding, I was able to stipulate whatever name I wanted for myself, and that people would either abide by my wishes, or they wouldn’t. She cautioned that in our area of the United States, it isn’t common for women to keep their birth name [which is true], so I had to brace myself for many a mailing/solicitation/family Christmas letter/invitation error. I had to be okay with mistakes.

Fast-forward to a few weeks before our wedding day. The scene: The Clerk of Courts office in our home state of South Dakota. The action: Jord and I, standing, awkwardly, nervously, in front of a window, applying for our marriage license. As I shuffled my feet back and forth while waiting to fill out the necessary forms, I seriously considered what I wanted for myself when it came to being a woman, being a partner, being a wife. And I thought about the women who came before me in my family, who didn’t seem to know (or, rather, to care in the same way that I did) that even though they were married, they still had the right to keep their birth names.

I thought about my grandmother, my father’s mother, who is one of the best women I know, and one of my most favorite people. She’s a sassy, faithful, family-oriented, inspirational go-getter at 81 years old. But in the 44 years that she was married to my farmer-tractor-driving-grandfather (who sadly passed away before they reached 45 years of marriage), she loved nothing more than to cook and care for him and for their nine children. Yet even so, my grandmother, who took my grandfather’s name, which is my father’s name, and which is my birth name – she never lost herself. She never let go of her role as a woman to take on her role as a wife, and her name certainly had no impact on her wifehood, on her womanhood.

I thought about my grandmother, my mother’s mother, who died when I was in high school. I thought about how she would respond to my internal debate regarding whether to take on Mrs., or to keep my birth name. And then I smiled in knowing that she would support me no matter what choice I made, because that’s the woman she always was. She was a supporter to her core.

And I thought about my mother, who took my father’s name when they married, and who never seemed the slightest bit inhibited by her choice to take on a different moniker.

In thinking back to all of the women that have come before me in my family, I made my choice. I took my husband’s last name, but I remained a Ms. It was a compromise that I was willing, no, that I was overjoyed, to make. My choice was an acknowledgment of my identity as Sara, and my new identity as the partner of Jord. And for me, I also made another compromise, a symbolic one, to honor myself as I’ve always been, and the new self that I was about to become, as a partner, a wife: I hyphenated my name professionally. To me, my career was (and still is) my own, and by symbolically hyphenating my name professionally, I was able to ensure that I entered into marriage with my feminist womanhood in tact.

In looking back on our first year of marriage, I have no regrets regarding my decision to take my husband’s name. I’m especially proud of my decision to remain a Ms., and I’m reminded of that every single day, when my students call me Ms. XXXX-XXXX. But as I reflect on the choices I’ve made, I think back to that silly little stamp, and I feel blessed to have had compelling blogs to read in that moment and in many more, precisely because blogging continually forces me to make choices with intention. And I know that I did just that.