My husband Tim and I welcomed a healthy baby boy to the world at the end of May in Broken Hill in far west New South Wales. We named him Bryan James Andrew Waite after my husband’s grandfather. We arrived in Broken Hill when I was 30 weeks pregnant and within a week of arriving the first shutdown restrictions began because of COVID-19. Antenatal classes were cancelled and we turned to online options to prepare ourselves for birth. Many people said to me that nothing can prepare you for birth but hearing womens’ birth stories and reading a lot of information was invaluable and helped us achieve our preferred birth.
Even so, it is an experience that I struggle to sum up and explain (what is the nature of knowledge?) I have never felt more alive and human during birth and relied on the help and support from others. From the early stages of birth when I was violently ill and weak and needed an intravenous drip to give me strength, to the absolute pain I felt in my hips and back during contractions, to the fears and anxieties I had after vomiting during transition about how I was ‘going to do this’ and the joy, encouragement and pride I felt as a woman when the midwife said ‘I have never seen someone so determined’ as I pushed him out the birth canal. In that first week after giving birth I was high on adrenaline and I could barely sleep at night. I was so excited. I had a son. I had given birth.
These last few months have been a steep learning curve in nurturing my son. As Natalie Carnes writes in Motherhood: A Confession (Standford University Press, 2020) ‘No longer swimming in my body, you have become a land creature, like me and separate from me. When you were in my womb, my body bore the burden of care without waiting for or requiring my consent…I am being schooled in the irreplaceable school of your separateness. My hunger is no longer your hunger. I learn to tend to you—to know your cries, your expressions, your squirms. Through our separateness, I learn attunement to you.’ (p16-17)
Little B, as I like to call him, is growing and developing from a boy who weighed 3655g at birth to more than 6600g. At the time of writing, he’s about to outgrow his 000 clothes and make the step up to 00. Besides breastfeeding, I have also been learning how to use modern cloth nappies (MCNs as they are commonly referred to) as an effort to do my bit for the environment. Even though Broken Hill has only had two COVID-19 cases in March, regular mothers’ groups have not restarted. Despite this I have managed to meet some other mums in the community who have babies too.
Many people warned me that being a mother can be incredibly lonely. I was prepared for the feeding in the wee hours of the night and early morning and being home most of the time. I am alone but not lonely. I was warned that you will struggle to get out of the house in those first few weeks as I prioritised my baby. I lowered my expectations and have taken it slow. But what I have been wondering of late—after fears and insecurities surfaced—is if in those acts of love and sacrifice I have imaged myself as life-giver for my son? As Carnes reflects, our children are not our creation but God’s gift to us and a source of sweet delight (p24).
Moving to the far west, buying a house, having a baby and my husband starting a new role has been a big change in our lives. Twenty-twenty has been a challenging year for many people but for us it has been an incredible blessing. Motherhood has expanded and revealed the person I am becoming and I suspect it is a journey I will be travelling for a long time.