I thought leaving the hospital with my first baby would be a pleasant milestone. I'd exited buildings at meaningful moments before, of course, so even though I knew this goodbye might be more emotional than most, I figured I would be okay. If I landed somewhere between waving to the hospital staff like a beauty queen on a victory lap and begging them to let me stay just one more day, that would be fine.
I read up on what the baby homecoming might be like, how I should dress my baby, and what I could do to make the transition easier. Meanwhile, everyone who'd been there before me assured me that they had been nervous, too, anticipating the leap, but things quickly get better.
Then, when the day actually came, it was nothing like I imagined – I didn't realize that deep down I had lots of expectations. Sure, I was scared, but I expected that part. What threw me for a loop was how much it broke my heart. And out poured all these ideas about what emerging into the world with your new baby would look like and how it should go. And I expected everyone around me to somehow know what I wanted without being asked or told.
Later I understood that some of these dreams had started a long time ago, but I know my disappointment was largely shaped by social media: all those perfectly staged photos of hugs, tears, happy mothers cradling their newborns. That's the downside of social media. You go on it looking for something to make you feel normal, but you end up feeling inadequate and defeated. The truth is, all those "perfect" mothers I saw online were probably also sitting on industrial-size maxi pads with aching nipples.
That day, though, for some reason nobody took sweet pictures of my son in my arms as we were wheeled out. All I have to help me remember the event are a few snapshots I took after I dressed him in his coming-home outfit, the one I'd so carefully selected now that he was ready for his close-up. Unfortunately, he clenched his fists and screamed until he turned red – photos only a mother could love!
We packed our bags and signed all the paperwork. I experienced a sense of disbelief that we were allowed to leave the hospital with a newborn, so vulnerable. But I'd been warned of this too, so I was ready. Nevertheless, other unexpected and upsetting factors kept arriving. At my side on our way out, my husband was checked-out, semi-silent, and felt like a stranger. Like me, he was exhausted, of course, but I was hormonal, I thought he was mad at me, and I cried.
We were wheeled downstairs to our car. My husband and I tried to somehow get this tiny, delicate newborn into a car seat that seemed more appropriately sized for a baby elephant than a human. We had what seemed like our 19th argument of the day: Are we buckling him in properly?
With the help of my parents and a nurse, we finally did, and off we went. Driving at five miles per hour through the hospital parking lot with my child strapped in beside me in the back seat felt like being hurled through space at light speed.
We stopped at the pharmacy to pick up my pain medication, and my husband went inside while I stayed in the car with our son. I remember he and I staring at one another while I waited for something to happen. What did I think, that he'd open his mouth and start listing his needs, or reassuring me?
We finally arrived home to a bouquet of "It’s A Boy!" balloons. I began to sob. I flashed on a vivid memory of seeing a similar scene as a child. I had bookmarked it in my heart, hoping one day it would happen to me. I never shared this with anyone, and yet my mother somehow knew, and made that wish come true. Then a week later, I sobbed again when my husband threw the deflated balloons away. I'd hoped to save them in my son's memory box, but of course I'd never mentioned it. I had to learn, no one is a mind reader.
We don't have any pictures capturing my son's first time in the car, or of me, an exhausted and scared new mom, seated beside him. I still wonder, why did no one take any pictures? I have the memories, and they are still vivid in my mind for now. But will that always be the case?
So next time – if there is a next time – I'll be more aware of my hopes and expectations, so I don't set myself up for disappointment, and I will be clearer about what I want and need from others. And maybe I'll write up a shot list of the photos I'd like taken, just in case.
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