The Elegant but Lopsided Dance of Motherhood.

By: Jen Shoop

Even now, a year and two months after the fact, I struggle to speak directly about minimagpie’s birth.  I struggle because I found–and still find–the c-section traumatic.  I hate to use that word, trauma, as my very uncomplicated and straight-forward delivery of mini does not qualify for such freighted language, but words fail me, and I can’t find a better way to express the experience.  It was more than intense.  It was more than uncomfortable.  It was seminal, enormous, unprocessable for me.  In the weeks following minimagpie’s birth, I routinely refused to nap when my mother or Mr. Magpie would quietly remove mini from my arms and tiptoe out of the room — “shh, just take a little nap,” my mom would whisper over her shoulder.

“No, no — stay here,” I would protest.  I’m sure she thought it was because I was too attached to mini, too full of new-mom-ness.  But the truth was that I was afraid to be left to my own thoughts.  I knew that — given a stretch of time devoid of attending to mini’s diapers or gurgles or uncoordinated movements — my mind would inevitably return to the c-section, and I was petrified of its memory.  My eyes still fill with tears when I think about laying on that table, my arm’s stretched out into a t shape, connected to IVs and monitors, before Mr. Magpie was permitted into the operating room.  I felt horribly alone despite the fact that the room was crowded with nurses and anesthesiologists and doctors.  I stared up at the ceiling and tears streamed down my cheeks.

“Oh no — what’s going on, Jen?” asked the doctor, who wasn’t my doctor.  You see, I had a scheduled c-section for 9 a.m. that morning with my doctor — one I knew well and implicitly trusted — but my water broke at 3 a.m., and they’d decided to perform the c-section earlier than expected, as I was having regular contractions.  But my doctor, who lived in the Chicago suburbs, couldn’t make it in on time.  I blinked at the ceiling and — though I knew it was rude — did not reply to not-my-doctor’s inquiry.  I couldn’t.  I didn’t know what was going on.

“Did everything just become…real?” she prodded.  Her voice was soothing but I felt a bit like she was performing a routine speech she delivered to all of her new moms-to-be.  I nodded, but that wasn’t it at all.  I started saying Hail Marys.  My mother had given me a finger rosary she’d worn during the births of all five of her children, but the doctor had told me I wasn’t permitted to hold it during the procedure, as they use some sort of electricity and I wasn’t to wear anything that could conduct a current.  Instead, I began, shakily, to recite the prayer in my mind, for the first of about twenty million times that morning.

When Mr. Magpie entered, decked out in scrubs, I could see the concern, the fear on his face.  He was trying — with difficulty — to keep it together, but there I was, strapped to a table, my arms sticking straight out, tears streaming down my cheeks.  My body had started to convulse violently.  They later told me this was normal, common — but it felt as though my body was enduring some sort of emotional paroxysm, wildly shuddering in spite of my efforts to keep still.  Mr. Magpie sat on a stool by my head and stroked my hair.  I couldn’t hold his hand because mine were shaking so intensely.  I could see the tenderness in his eyes, the gentleness, the love.  In that moment, my fear subsided and my anxieties instead attended to Mr. Magpie–how horrifying it must have been to sit there, helpless, while your wife underwent such a bizarre and inhuman experience.  I say inhuman with care, with delicacy — women who have c-sections are just as natural as those who deliver vaginally — but it felt so implausible, so disturbing to be lying awake while my body was cut open.  I was oddly thankful for the excuse of fretting over someone else’s anxieties as I projected myself into Mr. Magpie’s perspective, emoting around how he must have been feeling — completely beside himself, helpless.

Only a few minutes after they’d begun, I heard the doctor say, in a coaxing voice, “Come on, sweetie.  Come on,” as she tugged.  I knew mini was close.  And then she and the attending doctor pulled and yanked with such force that I thought my body was going to fly off the table.  Mr. Magpie looked on in disbelief; I could see shock written all over his face, and I knew it must have looked as weird as it felt.  I had been warned by my sister in law about this — that they really need to get in there to get the baby out.  But when I heard the doctor grunt with effort — grunt! — I just about lost my mind.  I remember looking at Mr. Magpie in desperation, thinking, “Can this just end.  Can.this.just.end.”  But instead, I stared back up at the ceiling and returned to my mish-mash of Hail Marys.

At 7:01 a.m., we first heard her cry.  Mr. Magpie and I looked at each other.  We didn’t burst into tears, because we were already crying, but — there was something different.  A sense of awe, wonderment.  I had waited for this moment with such intensity, such angsty anticipation.  I had prepared for a feeling of fierce connection to that cry.  I had heard it described as though the cry was coming from inside you — that, instantly, you were bound to that cry, to that voice.  I didn’t feel that way, though.  I was in awe, but I was, frankly, distressed.  I was anxious to get out of that operating room, and the bulk of the surgery still lay ahead — it took them another thirty minutes to stitch and clean everything up, and that thirty minutes was agony.  I didn’t feel pain, but I was uncomfortable, exhausted, terrified at the thought of my body open on the table in front of me.  Prior to the c-section, I had asked my doctor if I could do skin-to-skin just after mini was born.  In the room, I had no idea how that was remotely possible.  My body was still shaking uncontrollably, and my arms spread out to the sides.  I craned around to look at minimagpie in Mr. Magpie’s arms, my neck sore from the awkward angle.  I strained to feel motherly, but I just wanted the operation to be over.

Finally — finally — they finished up and prepared to wheel me out of the room.  They put mini in my arms, and I looked down at her for the first time.  I had expected a huge surge of love to come pouring out of my soul, had prepared for some sort of fierce I-am-mother-hear-me-roar sentiment — but that wasn’t quite it for me.  I looked down, and I wept.  I wept with relief.  Relief that the wait was over.  Relief at the sight of her.  Relief that I was out of the operating room.  Relief that I could now focus on recovery, and that the most horrifying unknowns were behind me.  Relief that nothing had gone sideways.  Relief that she was here, and she was perfect.  Relief was the predominant emotion.  I was embarrassed to admit that to myself.  I kept searching around for that huge feeling of motherhood I’d been planning for.  I kept prodding myself — “Come on, Jen.  You can do better than this.  Where’s that huge rush of motherliness?”  But relief washed over me and hung around, subduing all else.  I didn’t feel like a mom in that moment–whatever that meant.  I felt like me.  I felt like a battered, exhausted, terrified version of me, with a cool sensation of relief slowing taking over.

It would take a few days, or maybe weeks, really, for me to feel like a mother.  And sometimes, still, when I am solo, traipsing down Columbus from the 67 Street Wine shop or popping into the Wells Fargo at 72nd and Broadway, and I see a mom with her daughter, I pause — “Am I a mom?  I’m a mom?!  Me?!”  And I wonder whether those women see me and dismiss me as a non-mom, or sense the motherliness in me.

I had expected — wanted — to feel like a mother immediately, at her first cry.  And I know that it happens that way for some women.  But it took time for me, this process of matrescence.  It was a gradual and unobtrusive evolution.  I was me, and now I am a mother me, and there was nothing immediate about it.  I can’t quite mark when things shifted, but I do know this: it’s always in the private, unseen moments of caring for mini that I feel most like her mother.  The lingering moments in the bath tub, when mini is clean and I draw the wash cloth one more time behind her ears, under her chin, making sure I’ve not missed any spots.  The tiptoe-ing into her nursery, risking havoc thanks to a thunderous pocket door, just to peer over the crib rail at her for a second before I retire to bed myself.  The swiping of her too-long bangs out of her eyes with my palm, a gesture of love I have observed in other mothers for decades — but now, that is me, and that small act of preening, of care, is my own.  The shedding or adding of layers of clothing according to the weather.  The packing of an extra cardigan, just in case.  The biting in half of a too-large blueberry to prevent a choking hazard.  The quick, wrist-y extension of the sunshade on her stroller when we’ve turned toward the sun.  The reading of Dear Zoo for the fourth time in a row because she continues to open all the flaps on each page, smiling until the last one, when she slams the cover shut and holds it out toward me, with a provocative: “Thith?  Thith?”  (Again!  Again!)  The slathering of sunscreen.  The wielding of the digital thermometer when she’s too squirmy for a diaper-change, as I know it will distract her for a couple of minutes.

These unremarkable details are the fabric of my motherhood.  Nothing dramatic or over-the-top about them–they are, simply, the silent devotions of a mother to her child, the self-same ones practiced by women in rural India and northern Ireland and the southernmost tip of Argentina.  But just beyond these quiet minutaie lies a hot, fierce love, which occasionally bubbles up into elbows-out protectiveness, or sentimental sobs, or an outburst of kisses that leaves mini writhing out of my reach.

And so I sit here, on the eve of Mother’s Day, thinking about being a mother me.  Thinking about the gradual but blink-an-eye-and-you’ll-miss it trip from the trauma — yes, I’ll call it trauma — of her delivery to the twenty-two minutes I spent yesterday watching her feed her babydoll with a spoon, making her own motherly sounds as she did so (“nnnnuuu nnnuu nnuuu, ohhhhh” she said, in a high-pitched falsetto, aping sounds I must make myself when doting on her).   And the bigness and depth of my love for my daughter versus the slightness and inconsequence of my day-to-day maternal attentions — they together form the elegant but lopsided dance of motherhood, a pattern of crescendo and diminuendo, of surge and sweep, of rush and stop.

Happy mother’s day.



Great mother’s day gifts (it’s not too late!).

Perfect outfit for the weekend: this jumpsuit with these bow-topped slides (under $25!) — pattern on pattern FTW!

Revision: any of these are actually the perfect outfits for this weekend!

This nude dress is divine.  (And under $120!)

Now on my lust-list: these tortoise shades.

Does anyone use a mascara base?  I’m intrigued after Caitlin raved about it on Instastory.

I need this monogrammed weekender.  LOVE the monogram style!

Now this is an elegant solution for outdoor dining/picnicking!  (More picnic gear here.)

This cutlery would also be darling for your next al fresco dining adventure!

I can’t stop ogling at this playsuit.  I’d feel like the Queen of Sheba in it.

More on mini’s arrival, although this is probably my favorite post I’ve ever written on motherhood.


Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.

24 thoughts on “The Elegant but Lopsided Dance of Motherhood.

  1. I’m a little late but thank you so much for this post, Jen. I wrote to you in February as I prepared for a c-section due to my mini being breech. I ended up checking into the hospital the afternoon of my 38 week appointment because of high blood pressure. Although the surgery and my recovery went as smoothly as possible, I have struggled over the past three months because I have not felt the expected overwhelming feelings of love and happiness. Reading through your post and the comments, it’s such a relief to hear that others feel the same. Happy (belated) Mother’s Day. <3

    1. Hi Sarah – So glad that I wrote this little piece, then; sounds like a lot of us had similar discrepancies between expectation and reality. Hang in there, mama! For me, at least, things started clicking into place with time. You’re doing great! xoxo

  2. Beautifully written, as always. I think it might help to split the C-section from the delayed feeling of being a mom. I had the same experience and delivered my first as an unmedicated vaginal birth. I expected to be over the moon. I had wanted to be a mom for so long and had loved babies but it didn’t happen that way. I cared for my ‘mini’ and was in awe of her and loved watching her do anything but that gut-wrenching, overwhelming, intoxicating love? Nope. It took a couple months before I felt that. I worried so much about it, that I had failed or that she would know, but in retrospect I can see that I had to become a mother, slowly. It was precisely in the mental and physical load that she occupied that I evolved and changed and became a mom. I think this may stem from the lofty version of ‘mom’ that I had to look up to. Single, three kids, working, and ALWAYS THERE for me. Given how you described your mom in an earlier post, I would imagine it would be hard to feel like that in an instant. xo

    1. Hi Jessica — Such astute observations, as always. I think you’re spot on with regards to hoping to transform instantly into my incredible mother — and also, the concept of separating the c-section from the feeling of motherhood. I hadn’t quite thought about the latter — I certainly anticipated that the medical event of her birth would equal the psychological/emotional event of becoming a mother, and it’s not until writing this and hearing your comment that I realized that’s not so much the case for many of us. (Though, for some, it is!) Thanks for writing this! xoxo

  3. Such a beautiful post, Jen — had me in tears thinking at my own mom going through 4 C-sections to have me and my three siblings! I hope I will have the chance at a birth story of my own one day. Happy Mother’s Day!

    1. Wow – your mom is such a trooper! Big hug to her for mother’s day (a day late now). xoxo

  4. Again, your way of putting things into words is amazing; your writing portrays your delivery story so vividly. I too had an emergency c-section after having to be induced due to pre-eclampsia that suddenly came on. (Had a marvelous pregnancy and felt great the entire time – even took the train up to NY for work a couple of days before they discovered the high blood pressure – it DOES come on suddenly!) We joke now about how I drove myself to the hospital to check myself in while it was my husband who got a ride there (called him at work to tell him we were having the baby sooner than anticipated, and since my car was already there, it would make more sense for him to be dropped off). I’ll bypass the grisly details, but I cannot be more thankful for the excellent staff at the hospital who took care of me during my 6 day (yes, 6 ugh – my daughter, who had to be admitted to the NICU for a couple of days, got her discharge paperwork before I did) stay there. I’ve been reading the NPR/ProPublica series on maternal deaths in the US, and it makes me even more thankful for the amazing care I had. And when I look at this funny, very opinionated, and absolutely darling daughter we now have (who is, knock on wood, in very good health, thank goodness), it makes me all teary with happiness.

    All that to say, a happy mother’s day! I agree w a previous comment about how this feels like my first real mother’s day as I was still in a daze during last year’s.

    1. Oh man – Jen! That sounds incredibly intense. I share your feeling of relieved gratitude, too, even a year later, and I didn’t have any of the complications to which you allude. You are A Tough Cookie (all caps). Happiest mother’s day to you, my pen pal friend! xo

  5. I absolutely love that picture of the mom kissing the little daughter I have had that in my photos for ages!

  6. This is so beautifully written, as expected from you. I have been reading your blog for months and read and reread your posts about Minimagpie while preparing to have my first child in February. I will admit I either skipped over or read your c-section post with a grain of salt because that was not ‘my plan’. Being a new Mother I am getting the greatest lesson that ‘my plan’ is not THE plan anymore ; ) After laboring through the night, having my water broken, letting an anesthesiologist who swore she could give me some pain relief – very unsuccessfully (since I was unable to have an epidural) I underwent an emergency c-section. I had to be put to sleep for the c-section and was scared to death but at 90% effaced and 9 cm dilated I could not take the pain of another ‘natural birth’ contraction. I felt defeated to say the least. My husband was not allowed in the delivery room with me and had to wait outside as I was hooked up to above said monitors and strapped down. This was a traumatizing experience for both of us. I awoke to my husband and baby, the nurse would say rather quickly. Not unlike you I did not ‘feel like a Mama’ immediately. I wonder what it is about the c-section or Mama’s that have natural births may feel the same and I am unsure.

    Here nor there I am so happy to read your experiences/thoughts/recommendations on a daily basis and thank you kindly for sharing them.

    1. Hi Callie! Thank you so much for taking the time to write in. That’s so true about motherhood — “my plan is not THE plan anymore.” Well put! I’m so sorry to hear about your stressful birth experience, nonetheless; I completely relate to how you felt and still feel, and I had a far less exhausting and complicated delivery! I have enjoyed reading the comments and emails in response to this post because it’s made me feel less judgmental about myself! Thank you for reading and for writing in. xoxox

  7. What an emotional and well written post. Thank you for being so brave to share your story, you are truly stronger than you ever would have known having endured that. I suppose in that sense it was a blessing how everything turned out, that’s the trick to life, learning just how strong you are from every situation and circumstance. Happy Mother’s Day to you xo.

    1. Thank you so much, and you’re so right about how the tough times in life show us our strength. I like the way you framed that. Thank you, Nicole! xoxo

  8. I appreciate this story so much. I think the complicated emotions surrounding birth are often glossed over, leading to guilt for some us (e.g., I should be experiencing only pure joy…what is wrong with me?). My first was an emergency forceps delivery, and I couldn’t talk about it without crying for weeks, and couldn’t think about it without developing a cold pit in my stomach for months (a year?). I wondered why I couldn’t just drop it – everything worked out and we are both safe and healthy. But in hindsight, I realize the experience deserves it’s own reflections and feelings, just as the result does. Time and a second, much easier, delivery/postpartum experience has softened my reaction to the memory, but I will never forget how I felt. Thanks for another great post.

    1. Hi Mary — Wow, thank you so much for sharing this. (It also was soothing to hear that, eventually, the pit goes away — and that subsequent births can be completely different! Part of my reticence in sharing this experience was worrying that other women who had a much more positive experience would find me “weak” or something? But it gives me peace of mind to think that you have been through TWO births and that they were quite different, and it has nothing to do with my “strength” or “weakness.” Every birth experience is different, as someone else noted below.)

      You are also SO right in saying that the complicated emotions of childbirth are often “glossed over.” I think in part its unintentional — I feel myself “softening” already, and I can’t even remember the physical pain of the c-section, though I know I said to myself: “I’ll NEVER FORGET how horrible this feels!” God’s way of making sure some kids get siblings, huh? Haha. But I also think women often downplay or push aside the complicated feelings because of a certain conditioning we’ve been through — “it’s all joy! it’s all happy and grace and blessings!” — when the truth can be a bit more complex.

      Anyway, this was a lovely response and I spent a lot of time thinking about it on my walk with Tilly just now! xoxo

  9. Beautifully put and so so true. It’s actually not uncommon to have some PTSD after an emergency c section (which technically yours was due to unforeseen timing). Please don’t ever be ashamed of that experience, the feelings, and yes the trauma. Remember that “natural childbirth” used to be the #1 cause of death for women. And those who say “oh people make a trauma over everything, there’s too much over-diagnosis” are usually horrible! I would never claim to be a mental health professional, and so I would never downplay someone else’s pain or experience. Maybe that’s the gift of our generation- we take other people’s feeling seriously.

    As for my experience— I was in a half-state of awareness last mother’s day (Our first!), I wonder if everyone is? I’m increasingly viewing this one as my first experienced Mother’s Day.

    1. Hi Bunny — Thank you so much for the generous note. I love the way you and so many of the other commenters helped me make a big space for myself. It is what it is, right?! I don’t know why I felt this sense of “what I should feel.” Anyway, thank you! Happy Mother’s Day! xoxo

  10. Simply Beautiful! Trauma is the best way to describe childbirth. I, too, experienced the same sense of relief that it was over. In fact, when I spoke to my own mother my first words were, “I am alive”! No one can prepare you for this.

    Happy Mother’s Day to you! Enjoy those precious moments with mini. You are an amazing Mother.

    1. Colleen! OMG, I felt like I was going to cry when I read this — “I am alive!” I kept saying “I did it!” to my mom and Mr. Magpie in the hours following the c-section. I was in such shock and disbelief that I’d made it through, too. What a complicated and intense experience.

      Happy mother’s day! Thanks for saying I’m an amazing mom — I am smiling ear to ear 🙂


  11. I had a different L&D experience, but I think what’s important to remember is that no two experiences are exactly the same and by definition, there is no right or wrong; we give life! What’s more amazing than that? Whole heartedly agree with using a mascara base! I love Diorshow maximizer.

    1. You are so right, Diana. Reading through these comments and reflecting a bit more on what I’ve written, I realized just that — no two experiences are the same, and there’s nothing embarrassing or wrong or unmotherly or unwomanly about any experience of childbirth. It is what it is! Let it be! (And other hippie statements, ha!)

      Can’t wait to try my new mascara base!!


  12. Very well written. I also experienced a c-section, and no one tells you how this can affect you! To this day I’ve never really shared my experience with anyone—the uncontrollable shaking, the tugging—I feel like they gave me so many meds to numb the pain that I literally could not keep my eyes open after my son had been taken from the room and they were stitching me up. (Perhaps it was also bc I had been awake for 24+ hours, who knows)I had just seen my own little miracle and could not keep my eyes open?! What a bizarre thing to type, yet very true. And what a beautiful thing that all of the motherly moments now make this trauma so very worth it ❤️.

    1. Lee! I completely relate to this, as I had the exact same feeling as I wrote this entire post: “what a bizarre thing to type.” I mean, I gave life to a healthy baby whom I LOVE AND ADORE MORE THAN LIFE ITSELF, and yet the experience was…not so awesome. I actually hated the experience. Butsomething so beautiful came out of it that I feel guilty writing it as it happened. Anyway, thanks for writing in to commiserate/share. xoxo

Previous Article

Next Article