image via Robot-Heart and Mary Ruffle

It was just like on TV. Between each swell in pressure, each overwhelming urge to bring my daughter into this world that very moment, I contemplated my situation with the detached fascination of a spectator. Laboring mother barricades herself in the bathroom until harried father drags her into the front seat of a blue Buick. We have time, he insists. She shrieks in protest. The grandmother pops up in the backseat and the three begin a sensible debate about speed limit laws, punctuated by an occasional wail from the mother. Cue the laugh track.

I had just made a wisecrack about police officers when another contraction jolted me back to reality, back to the baby who was determined to make her entrance. I can’t fight it anymore. She’s coming. She’s coming. The world faded away as I reached down to cradle her head emerging from my body. Beside me, my husband was careening through the streets. I could hear my mother talking to him, perhaps asking me a question — I wasn’t sure. Come to me, my child. Her body slipped into my hands, and I brought her into my embrace. Why hello, my daughter. My beautiful, perfect daughter. This moment is for us.

We were five minutes away from the hospital.

When I tell others that my second child was born in the car, they never know quite how to respond. Oops, they joke, or else they pat my arm pityingly. I am not sure what to say either. Should I tell them it was one of the proudest moments of my life? That I would not have had her any other way? Am I allowed to admit this?

My first labor was the complete opposite experience. My husband and I had planned a tranquil, intimate homebirth and had hugged each other in excitement when my water broke with a gush in the middle of the night. But the contractions fizzled out too quickly; and after days of prayer, anguish, and fervent discussion with our midwives, we transferred to the hospital. By the time I entered my laboring room, I felt defeated: my body had given up on this birth story, and so had I. I lay there, numb both physically and emotionally, and waited for my firstborn to make her appearance.

My hemorrhage shortly after her birth was a woefully apt finale to the 72-hour labor. I was grateful to be in the capable hands of doctors; and yet even as they reached inside me, scrubbing me out, working frantically to save my life, I could not help but think: My body is no longer my own. I have no dignity left. I have nothing. I felt foolish for ever thinking I was capable.

In time, however, I realized that this birth story was every bit a worthy initiation into motherhood as the one I had envisioned. Whatever patience, whatever sacrifice, whatever loss of body and dignity I endured during labor were merely my first badges among many, and I proudly added more: sleepless nights, endless hours spent simply staring into my child’s eyes, countless kisses and hugs and tears. Becoming a mother, I discovered, demanded more love, pain, joy, and tenacity than I’d even fathomed possible. And so when I learned I was pregnant again, I resolved to treasure every moment of this child’s birth no matter what the circumstances.

True, I hadn’t expected those circumstances to be quite so unusual — and yet somehow, they were exactly right. As the car pulled into the hospital parking lot, I brought my new daughter to my breast, marveling that I had been given yet another tale to pass down to my children. My first child was borne out of my weakness, my second out of my strength, and both experiences are equally precious in my eyes. I can no longer tell one story without also telling the other, for together they answer my deepest questions about motherhood. What can I expect from becoming a mother? Disappointment. Frustration. Surprise. Joy. Love. Love. Love. Do I have what it takes? Sometimes yes, so much so that you will astound yourself. And sometimes no, this job will ask for more than you can give. What does it cost? All of you. And you will never regret it.

From Kristen Frantz.

PS — I love this writeup from Jennifer Torres Siders. And this pregnancy survival guide by Go Go Abigail (submitted by Jill Skousen).

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Note from Design Mom: throughout my pregnancy, I’ve been posting advice, memories and stories about pregnancy, childbirth, adoption and growing a family on Wednesdays. I just had my baby and am taking a blogging break for a week or so. I’ve received so many wonderful stories and thought it would be great to post as many as I can during this little “maternity leave.” You can find all the stories in this series by clicking here.