Think motherhood is hard? Try doing it flat on your back.
I had just drifted off into a groggy half-sleep in my hospital bed when the phone jolted me back into consciousness. It was my husband, calling on his way back from picking our three-year-old son Luke up from preschool.
“The teacher says Luke’s pants are too tight – he can’t close them.” Dave reported. “So – where do I buy new pants?”
At the other end of the phone, hospital-bound on pregnancy bed rest, I had relinquished control of just about every parenting responsibility. But given how much I love shopping for little clothes, this one really hurt. I had been stuck in the hospital long enough for Luke to have grown up a full size, and now it was abundantly clear that I was no longer buying – and certainly not wearing – the pants in the family.
My sigh was audible over the phone. “Just run over to Target and buy something in 4T. “
Luke was our first child, and I loved every minute of being a hands-on mom for him. But when I got pregnant a second time, things quickly got complicated. I was on and off “restricted activity” for the first few weeks. Then, after only six months, my water broke and I earned a one-way ticket to the hospital on complete bed rest.
Overnight, my life changed from making sandwiches, playing games, chasing monsters, and defusing tantrums… to being horizontal. I was like a giant pot-bellied bug stuck on its back, watching life pass me by from a hospital bed.
“Think of it as a chance to get in some quiet time and reading,” said some of my friends.
But the reality of life in a hospital room was far more complicated. First and foremost were my ongoing fears about the health of our baby-to-be, and how long I could hold on to the pregnancy.
I also had the physical discomfort of being hooked up to an array of monitors and surrounded by labor and delivery equipment. Plus there was the heart-breaking sadness of spending so much time away from Dave and Luke.
And while I felt guilty about not being able to help with anything, I was desperate to be needed. I would try so hard to keep Luke happy that I’d let him watch hours of TV or eat unlimited dessert during his visits. My role in his life seemed to slipping from “involved mom” to “indulgent outsider.”
Thankfully, Dave held things together as well as possible. He’d give me pep talks about how I was doing the most important job by helping our new baby grow stronger. He’d tell me about all of the family members, friends, and preschool teachers who were taking special care of Luke.
But sometimes even Dave’s cheery façade would start to peel away. “I have an early meeting tomorrow morning, and I don’t know how I’m going to get Luke to preschool,” he told me one day, his voice sounding strained and weary. “And I don’t even have time to find anyone to help.”
Finally – a way for me to be useful. I got on the phone and worked down a list of mom-friends. I must have sounded pathetic enough calling from my hospital bed that within minutes I had a volunteer and a backup ready to go. It was a small task, but a meaningful victory nonetheless.
As it turned out, we were extremely fortunate. After just shy of eight weeks in the hospital, I delivered a healthy 6-pound baby boy. But those days in the hospital made me realize: I had never stopped being a mom, and my role as a mother was not defined by my physical capabilities. Even if I was stuck in bed, I could still talk, listen, and kiss scraped knees. I could still cheer for accomplishments, appreciate crayon art, and share a good joke. Heck, I could even pull together a carpool schedule.
For me, motherhood is more than simply crossing jobs off a to-do list. And although I’m happy to be “vertical” once again, it’s the intangible things only I can do that make me most proud.