As I pack my hospital bag for the delivery of my fourth child, I can’t help but chuckle. I’m picturing the big red hard-shell suitcase I jammed full when I was an imminent first-time mom. That was six years go. Back then, I had read all the baby books I could get my hands on and printed a long list of hospital essentials. I was prepared—for the birth of my first child and to be a parent. Or so I thought.
My packing list in 2009 had many important items on it. It included my birth plan, a pair of slippers and a housecoat, a nursing bra, clothes for baby, and my journal and camera. Unfortunately for my husband’s back, he also had to lug around all the other belongings I felt I couldn’t labour without.
Here are a few of those things:
1. A giant hot-pink yoga ball
The ball was deflated, of course, as it had to fit inside my suitcase; hence the hand pump I also included. In all my visualizations of delivery, I didn’t actually consider when that ball would be inflated, or by whom. What I did see was myself, bouncing in calming, Zen-like rhythm as contractions passed through my body. The ball was never inflated. I had an epidural 10 minutes after being admitted.
2. An art book by Christian Riese Lassen
Lassen is an extremely talented Maui painter who creates the most magical seascapes with sunsets that seem to part the skies, revealing the whole solar system beyond. Dolphins arc above the water, frozen mid-jump. The paintings may sound corny, but they depict my happy place: the ocean. When I lowered this five-pound tome delicately into my suitcase, I did so with the intention of turning its pages when I felt weak in labour and needed to be centered. Looking back, I had the right idea, but the fact that the Lassen book remained in the suitcase taught me I could find my happy place without it.
3. My toiletries bag
I packed far too much make-up and too many hair products. I must have thought delivery would be like going to the gym: have a great sweaty workout, push through the pain, then shower off. I was too vain back then, determined to “put my face on” as my mom calls it, before my family and friends came to the hospital to meet my baby. After my daughter was born, however, I couldn’t have cared less about how I looked. I have since come to believe that there is no greater beauty than a mom holding her new child in her arms.
4. Skinny clothes
I packed jeans and a nice shirt. Okay, that’s a lie. I packed a few pairs of pants and a couple options for tops. I wasn’t sure what would fit. In the end, most of it didn’t—I went home in my pajama pants. If only I had done the math beforehand. The average baby weighs 7.3 pounds at birth. Add 1.5 pounds for the placenta. Tack on another 1.8 pounds of amniotic fluid. If I had realized I’d only drop about 10 pounds at the hospital, I could have left the weekend wardrobe in my closet.
5. Huge expectations about delivery and parenthood
Of all the ridiculous items on my list, I would recommend NOT bringing these last invisible (yet heavy) items to the hospital. After all those books, I thought I knew what parenthood would be like and what kind of mom I would be. These expectations were beautiful and empowering, but I wish I had packed an open heart and a flexible spirit instead. These would have been particularly handy for breastfeeding, which was a disaster right from the start. Bleeding nipples and a screaming, poorly latching newborn were stressful enough without also being weighed down by the frustration and guilt I felt when reality didn’t quite match up to how I thought everything should be.
Compared to this first birth, my packing for my fourth child looks very different (I still have the slippers and I’ve also made sure to pack sensible button-up PJs for easy-access breastfeeding and earplugs to drown out hospital noise). That’s the advantage of experience. So while I remember my younger self with humour, I also have to admit that I learned a great deal from her. She thought through every item on her packing list, believing wholeheartedly in celebrating the deeper meaning in the birth experience. Thankfully, that’s something I still carry with me.