Expectations vs. Reality

Monday, August 19, 2019

After you have a baby, so many people ask you how you are feeling. The nurses have to, in order to help you manage your pain. Loving family members and friends ask because they care about you and know you have been through a lot.

The thing is, physically I have been feeling really good. I had some post-birth cramping and soreness and things like that, but overall I do feel really good.

Physically, I mean.

It took me a few days to realize that physical healing is not going to be the main focus of my postpartum life. For me, emotional and mental recovery is what will take the most time and work. Specifically, I am in the process of grieving what I hoped and thought would happen while trying to come to terms with accepting what actually did happen.

Post-birth glucose gel and formula because of low blood sugar.

Having never had a baby before, I didn't actually know what the first few days of having a baby would be like. But I think what I thought would happen is we would have Bert, we'd spend a couple days in the hospital, and then we'd go home on a sunny afternoon with people taking pictures and I'd be wearing this cute (maternity) dress I had packed. People would drop in and visit Bert in the hospital, people would say how cute and perfect he was, and we'd push his bassinet through the hospital hallways like other proud parents. Joe and I would have plenty of time to do the recommended skin-to-skin and just sit and hold our baby and look at him and talk about how we couldn't believe we made him and he was here.

If you read the previous two posts then you know that those things did not happen.

We did spend a couple days in the hospital, but they were anything but normal or routine. And then, after being home for less than 48 hours, we had to go back to the hospital.

We went home, but we went home around 9 p.m. in the darkness, almost as though we were sneaking away. I wasn't wearing what I had planned and packed either, just pants and a nursing tank.

Almost around-the-clock jaundice light therapy.

My parents and sisters did come to visit Bert, and we were lucky to have them. But I really don't have friends here, and my closest friends are 500 miles away.

Of course people told us he was so cute, but "perfect" was never really used because much time was taken to update people on his many health concerns.

We never pushed Bert through the hospital hallways because he was hooked up to a light machine and it wasn't possible.

The only time I did skin-to-skin with Bert was during Golden Hour, and Joe never got to do it. Bert was either wrapped up in multiple layers due to his low body temperature or hooked up to lights to help him with his jaundice.

Joe and Bert at the hospital lab for one of Bert's many blood draws.

Although we did hold our baby, of course, once again there were always so many obstacles between us and him. We couldn't gaze into his eyes because he was wearing sunglasses to protect his eyes from the jaundice lights. Even the simple act of talking to him was tainted with us seeing if our voices would cause him to turn his head so we could check his hearing and repeating to each other, "I think he can hear us. Can he hear us? You know, I'm honestly not sure if he can hear us."

Joe and I did talk about how happy we were he was here and how we couldn't believe we made him, but the majority of our conversations were filled with worry and fear about Bert's many health issues and wondering how they all happened and how we were going to help him.

I cried so much during those first days. I feel like delivering a baby and being a first-time mom is overwhelming enough, but with Bert, the hits just kept on coming. The tears were like a waterfall that I just could not stop no matter how hard I tried. The only thing we knew to do was talk to each other about how we were doing and also keep repeating to Bert how much we loved him and how brave he was and how none of this was his fault. We kept saying to each other, "There are people who just have their babies with no troubles and take them home, right?" What is that like?

Bert in the Scottish Rite emergency room.

Bert never even got a first bath at the hospital because he had so many other concerns that one just fell completely off the radar.

I've always had a hard time with missed opportunities. There are just certain things in life that once the moment is over, it's over. You don't get a do-over no matter how much you might want one. Bert's birth and subsequent few days is one of those things. There were so many things I wanted for him and for us, and none of those things happened.

I want to pause here to say the following: first, I understand that there are people who go through FAR worse than we did. We know some of those people. Second, I know that how I feel about my expectations of what I wanted to happen is nothing compared to the pain Bert went through. I know that nothing in life is perfect. I know that things rarely go exactly how we plan. So if you have something to say along those lines, please keep it to yourself. My goal in writing this is to be completely transparent and honest about how I am really feeling, and if there's one thing I believe it's that it's completely okay to feel however you are feeling. Because those are your feelings. So, although I know there are people who have had it far worse than we did, I am still really sad about the reality of how things happened for us and for Bert. Because there are no do-overs.

Bert in Scottish Rite hospital. You can't see his foot IV.

Of all the things that happened -- and there were many -- there was one thing that pushed me over the edge. It's something that still makes me cry to think about, and it's something you probably wouldn't expect. Joe and I never got to have Bert's picture taken at the hospital. I know how stupid that sounds. Our hospital, like many I imagine, offer a complimentary photography service for your newborn, and you can choose later to purchase all, some, or none of the photos. Joe and I hadn't really talked about it in advance, and it was nothing that we even had our hearts set on. But on Tuesday afternoon, two days after Bert's birth, I was standing by his bassinet in our room looking at him as he was lying in between the jaundice lights with his sunglasses on. I believe we had just found out he failed another hearing test. Suddenly, the photographer popped in and said she heard we were checking out that day and did we want to schedule photos for Bert? I just looked at him, then looked at her and told her that our son had some health concerns and it just wouldn't be possible for him to do it. So she said she'd just cross us off her list and get to the other babies who were also scheduled to be discharged that day.

The normal babies, you know.

That interaction, having that choice of having his photo taken taken away from us, completely broke me. I started bawling then, and I am crying now as I type this. I know it makes no sense at all, but not having his picture taken just completely tore me apart. Maybe we wouldn't have even wanted his photos, you know? But the fact that the other babies had their photos taken, and Bert was lying there hooked up to jaundice lights he wasn't allowed to take off just completely broke me. I know it's completely irrational, but I don't want Bert to think we thought he wasn't good enough to have nice photos. Like he wasn't worth it. A couple days after I had Bert, one of my cousins also had a baby boy, and one of my aunts forwarded me some photos. While a few were iPhone photos of my cousin, his wife, my uncle, and the baby, several of the photos that were forwarded to me were proofs of the baby's in-hospital photo shoot. The minute I saw them I just started crying again because they were just so cute and, once again, we had nothing like that of Bert. I know there is more than one photographer in the world and we can still get pictures of him. And I know how silly this sounds, my mind is telling me that, but again, I am writing this to be honest about how I really felt and feel. I still bawl when I think about those stupid pictures.

It was also really hard for me to take photos of Bert at the children's hospital. Seeing him there in the emergency room was so hard, and at first I just didn't want to take any pictures of him in that hospital at all. But after encouragement from my friend Sarah, Joe and I decided that we had to take pictures of Bert in the hospital. Because that was his real life. We didn't want to have no photos of him from days 4-7 of his life simply because he was hooked up to wires in this sad place and we were so worried and sad. New parents take photos of their kid every day, and we didn't want this gaping hole in his history just because we were sad. So we took them, even though it was hard.

There is a photo of Joe, Bert, and me in his hospital room the evening we were scheduled to leave his birth hospital. When I look at it, it's hard for me because it's just not what I pictured at all. I pictured a certain outfit, a certain time of day, certain weather, a certain expression on my face. But instead, my face looks puffy and my eyes look tired, and it's because I had been crying all day. But I'm posting that photo here because that photo is the reality of the situation that we were in.

About to go home from his birth hospital. Only one thing in this photo was how I planned: Bert was wearing his WVU t-shirt and his Michigan hat. 

There's so much more I could probably say about all of this, and maybe I'll have to write more in the future if more things come to mind. But for now, this is where I am: working on my emotional and mental recovery, grieving what I hoped would happen, and trying to come to terms with the reality of what actually happened. Right now I am just allowing myself to sit in all of this. Just sit in the pain of it, with the end goal that one day I will actually not just come to terms with it but be able to embrace it.


  1. Unfortunately, i could write a book on expectations and reality. In my mind, all three of my girls would be well adjusted and flourish in school. None of my children would not need any therapy at all. We wouldn’t be the smartest, the fastest, the strongest. But we would be fine. With each year, Ava Kate has new struggles and worry envelopes every day of me dropping her off to her teachers. It’s okay to grieve the life you thought you’d have. Hell, I hope it is because i do when things get very quiet and everyone is asleep. I grieve that I am not the person I was 5 years ago. I’m not the wife I wanted to be. I’m not the mother I thought I’d be. This isn’t the family I imagined in my head. But, I know this is the family chose for me. I am the mother he chose for all of my girls. Each one are here to teach me what God knows I need. Unfortunately, we learn these lessons in the trenches of despair and grief. We learn these while on our knees broken and empty of any emotion that could be left.

    1. Hey Jess! I am so sorry I am just now seeing this comment. I must have turned off some setting that alerted me to comments. But I am glad I am seeing it now because I could really use your words today. I am so sorry you are facing challenges with sweet Ava Kate, and I can just so empathize and feel your feelings about not being the mother/wife you thought you'd be or this being the life you thought you'd have. I wish I had better things to say, but I know it really helps me when other people are honest about their struggles. Feeling alone just makes everything worse. Praying for all of you guys.


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