- Erika Barr
Part 2: My Journey to Conscious Parenting
Updated: Nov 22, 2019
Remember in Part 1 when I talked about expectations and control? Evidently the lessons I was given the opportunity to learn in pregnancy weren’t enough for me...
We all assume we are going to have healthy children. We know that birth defects can happen, but they won’t happen to our babies. They happen to other peoples’ babies. In some ways I think this is a healthy assumption. What good would it do us to worry about that stuff during pregnancy anyway? We already waste so much energy stressing about prenatal care, dealing with our morphing bodies, imagining how much our lives are going to change, and more.
I have always been a worrier by nature. I think it’s a combination of living in a chaotic and unpredictable home as a child, far too many ACE's (adverse childhood experiences), and a generational pattern that was passed down to me. I have done so much healing and have many practices in my life now that combat the worrier in me, but the baseline-more-easily-triggered-anxiety might always be something I have to work at…*or it might not*…that remains to be seen.
In Part 1 I told you that I had CVS around 11 weeks into my pregnancy. After we found out the results I remember Sean saying to me, “At least we know the baby is going to be born healthy.” Well let me tell you, a worrier is going to find something to worry about! I then started to think about all the things that would be impossible to test for. What if my baby was blind? What if my baby had a giant birthmark that covered his entire face? What if my my baby got stuck in the birth canal and lost oxygen for too long? What if my baby ended up with autism?
Fast forward 6 months…
C shot into the world like a rocket (much like he shoots out of bed every morning) right on his due date. He was ready to be here and he made that known. He was beautiful and strong and I instantly felt tremendously protective of him.
The first couple of weeks were like nothing I can describe with words. I was in total awe of this creature Sean and I had created. His fingernails, his hair, his smell. A real human being came from my body. My own little perfect person that I was keeping alive with my body. His life depended on me, but I wasn’t scared. I felt empowered.
I felt superhuman. I had that high some women get after giving birth (before they crash from lack of sleep!). He was nursing well and gaining weight right away. I knew this was a blessing, it’s not always that easy.
But as is life, nothing lasts forever.
I am going to spare the details of this next part for privacy, but you’ll get the picture anyway. When my baby was 8 months old he had to have an MRI done to see if something was going on inside. When a baby has an MRI, they have to be put under. They cannot eat anything after 10pm, and have to arrive hours before the sedation. This is NOT easy when you have a baby who wakes up throughout the night and wants to nurse!
The night before putting my baby under anesthesia was agonizing. What if he was starving? What if he was scared when they took him out of my arms? What if something went wrong?
Nobody can really imagine this sort of thing unless they have been through it (and why would you want to!).
He was hungry that morning. He cried a lot and he felt my anxiety. They never actually took him from me. I got to go into the room where they did the MRI and they let me hold him while they gave him gas. I watched my baby fall asleep. I didn’t know what would be better, watching my baby go under, or watching a nurse walk away with him. I’d soon find out…
Everything went fine with the MRI process and we were relieved to have it behind us. Before we left that day, the nurse said they had an appointment scheduled for us to discuss the results the following day.
The following day we were told by the doctor that C did indeed have what they were looking for and that he would need surgery. If he didn’t have surgery there would be the possibility that he’d never be able to walk (and other unfortunate symptoms). We had to do it.
His surgery was scheduled for 4 months later, which gave me plenty of time to distress myself to practical death. Those 4 months left me so much time to wonder why this was happening to us. I went into pity mode. I told myself how unfair it was that everyone else got to have a healthy baby while ours had this huge issue. We’d go to Gymboree and I’d watch all the babies crawling all over the floor and I’d come home and cry to Sean about how our boy couldn’t crawl yet while everyone else was getting around just fine. It was heartbreaking to see how frustrated our baby would get because he wanted to MOVE. Not only was it heartbreaking for him, but it also meant that he was dealing with something that we couldn’t control. There was nothing we could do to help him until his surgery date.
The Universe was once again trying to hand me two lessons in one with this situation. Lesson number one: I GUESS WE HAVE TO REMIND YOU, LET GO OF ALL EXPECTATIONS. A healthy baby is an absolute miracle. It is not something to be expected. Until I let go of expectations, life would be filled with disappointments and resentments. Had I had zero expectations around who this little person would be, then whomever came to me would have been just right. No resistance, no pity, no victimhood—just LOVE. Lesson number 2: YOU CANNOT CONTROL ANYTHING. I couldn’t control the sex or gender of my baby, I couldn’t control his mobility, I couldn’t control his pain, and cannot control what will happen in the future. This is the big one. This is the one that I will probably always struggle with to some degree. I am light years ahead of where I was during pregnancy, but the need to control still seeps into my actions if I don’t practice DAILY (sometimes hourly!) reflection on where my actions and words are coming from. And boy oh boy there are NOTHING like kids to teach you that you have no control. Letting go of the need to control is the ULTIMATE freedom.
Finally the surgery day came. The night before was nothing short of excruciating. I remember giving C a bath and taking pictures of him thinking, “These could be the last pictures I EVER take of my baby.” Let that sink in. I’d have thoughts of how much I trusted the doctors that were doing the surgery, they were some of the best in the world, but then another thought would creep in…But what if there’s an earthquake? What if their hand slips? What if he never wakes up?
The following morning I got the opportunity to find out what it was like to watch the nurse walk away with my baby. For those of you who are wondering, it was much easier this way. Watching your baby go lifeless is awful.
Waiting during surgery was as you can imagine it would be. Minutes crawled by. There were no distractions that were distracting enough. Nothing can prepare you for this kind of thing. Sean and I just sat there for hours trying to read and praying that everything was going to be fine.
After around 5 hours the doctors came in and told us that the surgery was successful. It was the biggest relief of my life up to that point.
We spent the next 3 nights in the hospital and then he was released.
C started crawling the day we got home. The actual DAY we got home. We were thrilled! Finally our baby could move and explore the way he wanted to. The doctors told us that once he had this surgery we’d never have to think about it again. He wouldn’t have any residual effects of the medical issue he had because he was so young when they corrected it. Unfortunately they were wrong, but we wouldn’t realize that until much later…
So here’s the thing, going through the traumatic experience of having a baby with a congenital defect and having a major surgery might be enough to wake some people up, right? I mean this was big stuff. But my unconsciousness ran too deep. I was just as unconscious after that experience as I had been before, only now more traumatized. Sure, I learned a lot about being grateful for our health, and that my husband and I could handle really hard things, but I still related to the world and to my baby in the same way I had previously.
The waking up didn’t begin until 2014. C had surgery in March of 2013. A little over a year later we got pregnant with our second child. This time I waited for the ultrasound. In August 2014 we found out we were having another boy. My reaction to the results was just as ugly as it had been 2 years prior. Only this time I was hit with the most intense grief I had ever experienced.
Let’s talk about grief. I know this may be hard for some to read. Maybe you have lost a child. Maybe you’ve had a miscarriage. I can not pretend to know what that is like. The pain of losing a child is immeasurable. Absolutely the hardest thing a person would ever have to go through. What I do know is that I too, had to go through a grieving process of sorts. I had to grieve the loss of my daughter. Even though I never carried a daughter physically, in my mind she was just as real. Twice. This was it, I knew we were never planning on having another child so this was my last chance to have my baby girl. She didn’t come and she never would. She was there in my belly and then she was gone. I was struck with crippling grief. I lashed out at friends who tried to tell me how wonderful having a boy was, I cried myself to sleep many nights, and I laid in bed for 4 days. I had to call in help to take care of C. I was unable to care for him during that time.
And then my dog died. My soul dog. The love of my life. Allegra. The most beautiful creature that has ever walked this planet. My very first foster dog. She was the heart of our home. C’s first word was “Allegra”. Her death was so sudden and so shocking, it ripped me apart. She died way too young. I was deep in the throes of grief over my baby girl and then I lose my beloved, darling, real life daughter/best friend/healer/everything.
This was my bathroom floor moment. This was the moment in time where grief would take me under and destroy me, or it would force a shift in me so profound that life would never be the same again. As Rumi says, “The wound is where the light enters.”
*Part 3 coming soon. I promise I’ll get to the Conscious Parenting part…It’s been a long journey!