Exhilaration and Exhaustion

Exhilaration and Exhaustion

My son Matthew and I started a special way of swinging when he was around two.  It was late spring; I remember the leaves in the big maples had almost completely returned.  The canopy created by a large gum tree offered much needed shade from the hot afternoon sun.  We often retreated to the back yard during this time of the day.  Refreshed from his afternoon nap, Matthew was always ready to get outside and play.

After a few trips down the slide, Matthew pointed to the swing and asked me sit down.  I knew he was ready for our special swing.  I settled into the curved plastic seat and held out my arms to him.  He climbed up, facing me, and placed his little legs on each side of my hips.  Grasping the blue, plastic- covered chains, he happily said, “Ready Mama!”  With that, I walked backwards a few paces and began the count down.  Three, two, one, blast off!  We soared forward, and Matthew’s happy squeals joined the loud chirping sounds of the birds around us.  I stretched my legs forward, pumping us higher and higher.  As I did, Matthew was lifted up into the air, hovering over me for a few seconds before the swing moved back again, lifting me into the air.  His hands squeezed tighter as he shifted down and back a little, looking up at me.  Back and forth, up and down, our own little version of a teeter-totter.

The special swing was a mixture of exhilaration and exhaustion.  The speed of the swing, the heights we reached were exhilarating.  The sight of his happy face, the sound of his bubbling laughter, they were exhilarating. Holding on as the swing dipped down and maintaining the back-and-forth movement were exhausting.  My arms burned.  My hands ached. After a few minutes, Matthew became tired too and let go of the chains.  He collapsed against me.  Placing his little head on my chest, wrapping his arms tightly around my sides, he rested for a bit while I let the swing slow to a gentle sway.

I often think the ups and downs of the swing, the exhilaration and the exhaustion which accompany this childhood past time, mirror our journeys as mommies.  Those first days and weeks after finding out you’re pregnant are exhilarating.  Knowing a new little life is beginning to grow is unlike anything else.  It’s miraculous; it’s momentous; it’s mind-blowing.  We long for the little bump, the first sign of the baby’s growth.  We anxiously await the first ripples of movement.  We cry with an abundance of joy as we listen to the first heartbeat and see the first peanut-shaped images of our baby on the sonogram.  It’s the exhilaration that moves us forward through the next few months.

But as we near the end, as we tick off those last days before our due date, exhaustion begins to set in.  It’s impossible to find a comfortable way to sleep, so we toss and turn, moving our huge bellies from one uncomfortable position to another.  Our walk becomes a waddle.  Our breathing is labored because our lungs have been shoved up and squished to allow for the baby’s final growth spurt.  We huff and puff after a short walk to the milk case at the back of the store.  We’re exhausted!

And then we go into labor.  For some, the water breaks. For others, contractions begin.  For a few, an induction is scheduled.  Regardless of the path which gets each of us there, those first moments in the delivery room bring back the exhilaration.  We’re on the upswing. The baby we’ve grown to love, the little person we’ve seen a thousand times in our dreams is almost a reality.  We’re pumped.  We’re ready.  We’re running on a mixture of adrenaline and fear.  Following every instruction, we feel empowered.  We’re ready to get it done.

Ten hours pass, then eleven, then thirteen.  And the exhaustion begins to set in.  We’re dipping low on the swing, holding on as tightly as we can.  Every body part hurts. We push and breath and push and breath.  As we work to bring this baby out of our bodies and into the world, we begin to feel like it’s an impossible feat.  Just as we’re about to give in to the fatigue, the doctor asks for one more big push.  We summon all of our energy and PUSH.  There’s a release, and we collapse back against the pillows, giving in to the exhaustion.

But the exhaustion only lasts for a moment.  The upswing begins again.  The baby’s first cry pierces the air, clearing the fatigued fog.  We grasp our babies as they’re placed against us, all gooey and slimy.  We could care less.  As our tears fall, as we whisper those first I love you’s, we forget the exhaustion.  Our joy erupts and sends us sailing effortlessly back to the heights of exhilaration.

And the special swinging continues.

Exhausting, sleepless nights.  Exhilarating first smiles.

Exhausting schedules.  Exhilarating first steps.

Exhausting terrible-twos.  Exhilarating cuddles.

Exhausting games of chase.  Exhilarating feelings of love as we watch them sleeping peacefully.

Yes, mamas, our arms will ache.  Our hands will hurt.  But we’ll keep on pumping because we know the exhaustion is momentary.  We know the upswing is coming, and we’re ready to soar.

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