Preparing for Motherhood in the Heart

The first-time expectant mother may find pregnancy an enormous challenge. Hormone levels fluctuate, breasts become tender; she is nauseous, tired, happy, sad and apprehensive all at the same time. There are doctor's appointments to keep, tests to worry over, and a new baby's needs to consider. Every part of her life, from what she eats to conversations with friends, changes. Her normal propensity to nurture is heightened. The spare bedroom becomes a nursery. She glows with anticipation.

The expectant father paces on the sideline, a part of this wonderful journey, yet only when allowed in the game. His life has somehow changed as well; however, his experiences come mostly as sympathy pains. He doesn't have the overwhelming preoccupation of his partner. His body didn't come equipped to house a baby for nine months. Nevertheless, he finds himself in the parenting section of the local bookstore scanning titles, attending pre-natal visits, and becoming increasingly excited about his new position as delivery room coach.

Pregnancy, on a surface level, seems to give parents nine months to prepare themselves for their new roles. However, this time is fraught with complexities and the soon-to-be-parents may find they rarely think about how the baby will affect them emotionally. Daycare or stay-at-home, nurse or bottle-feed, cloth or disposable diapers are issues that have to be addressed, but these are comparative problems that can be decided upon in a logical fashion.

The whammy that takes place in a new parent's heart isnít as easily compartmentalized. In fact, a new parent may find the love for the new baby unlike anything ever experienced. For the first time the new parents know the kind of love they would lay their own lives down to protect.

Peggy Vincent, author of "BABY CATCHER: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife" to be released May 2002, has this to say about her feelings after giving birth to her first child. "I was completely unprepared for the primitive nature of the love I felt for my first child. It reeked of the jungle, the den, the cave. I always called it 'mother tiger love,' because I was sure I would have been capable of ripping out the throat of anyone who dared to threaten my baby."

According to Deborah Issokson, a Psy.D., specializing in prenatal and postpartum mental health issues, "giving birth and witnessing the birth of your child is a rite of passage which opens you to vulnerabilities of love and loss. Past issues of love and loss will be in the forefront as will a whole new set of emotions, which cannot be named until that moment. Birth is an opening of the body, the soul and the psyche. It is a spiritual and developmental transformation that cannot be prepared for in material ways. It is a stretching of not only the body but of the boundaries of the heart."

New father, Jeff DuBois, recalls the delivery process as surreal. "As the head started to crown, I started to shake. And when she delivered the head, I started to cry. Although eight days have gone by, the whole experience still doesn't feel like reality."

The totality of surrender to parenthood begins innocently with the results of the pregnancy test. Mom-and-dad-to-be are comforted and enchanted upon hearing their baby's heartbeat for the first time. They call everyone in the family to announce the baby moved. Hours of labor end and the new parents gaze upon a helpless unique mingling of their gene pools.

Writer and mother of five, Sheri McGregor admits, "Nothing prepared me for that utterly helpless sense of love and complete adoration that overwhelmed me with the birth of my first child. Although I'd heard the statement, then the baby's born and the pain is forgotten... But I was saying, 'Can we have another baby?' ...right in the delivery room..."

No poem's been rendered, sage advice given or formula baby book written that captures the intensity of nurturing a growing fetus that will, through a mother's suffering, become a new life. A teary-eyed exhausted smile, upon hearing her child's voice for the first time leaves the delivery room personnel in awe no matter how many babies they've delivered in their careers. The father, who up until now has been standing on the periphery attending to his wife's needs, watching her body and emotions change with certain regularity, has witnessed something he can't find the words to express. Tears stream down his face as he counts fingers and toes and can't believe there has ever been anything so perfect in such a tiny form. He stands a bit taller knowing instinctively his life will never be the same. He is now a father, a provider, and a role model.

Administrative Assistant and mother of three, Vicki Ely, remembers being part of a mission back in the late 80s. Two bank employees and one dignified customer in her late seventies crawled around desks and filing cabinets on panty-hosed knees in search of a tiny misplaced vial. The vial contained urine for a pregnancy test.

About an hour into the search the venerable customer handed the vial over to the anxious young banker. The pregnancy test was positive. Nine months later a healthy little boy took his first breath. The child is now eleven years old. His mother muses that three businesswomen, reduced to crawling around on their knees searching for the elusive, was an appropriate introduction to parenthood.

Preparing for parenthood involves checklists and enlists the help of one's brain. Birth is a miracle. Only hearts recognize and embrace the elusive quality of the miraculous.