THE PARENT: Kayla Blackburn, 23, of Logan
THE CHILD: Kamila Skye, born May 24, 2019
WHAT SHE WISHES SHE’D KNOWN ABOUT PARENTHOOD: That breast-feeding is harder than it looks; the first month of nursing was painful, but Kayla was determined to persist.
Kayla figured she could endure anything for 90 seconds. And that perspective, along with the steady encouragement of her mother, her aunt, her great-grandmother and her doula, powered her through 19 long hours of labor.
The doula had taught her to breathe through each contraction and to reassure herself with mantras. “I trust my body,” Kayla would repeat inside her head. “My body knows what it’s doing.”
She imagined standing in the ocean. “If a wave is coming, and it pulls you, tensing up doesn’t do anything. Breathing through it and going with it really helped,” she says.
Kayla tried to picture her daughter—not the 2-year-old who occasionally made an appearance in her dreams, but the newborn she was about to meet, the one she’d been waiting for, the one whose conception was a surprise.
She’d been in a relationship, a casual, monogamous one, and she didn’t recognize her morning queasiness for what it was. “But I was getting crampy, and I never cramp.” A drugstore pregnancy test was negative, but a blood test at the doctor’s office showed the opposite.
Kayla told her boyfriend, who said the next step was her call. She told her mother, who reminded her that babies cry a lot and said, “I don’t think you’re ready.” She considered ending the pregnancy. “I even got as far as going to the clinic. They showed me the ultrasound. She was five weeks, just a peanut, and I knew I couldn’t do it.”
Before then, Kayla wasn’t sure she wanted kids—or at least, wasn’t sure she wanted to give birth to any. She enjoyed caring for people, like the adults she tended during clinicals in her LPN program, taking their blood pressures and administering insulin.
“But I felt [conception] was selfish in a way; there are so many kids who need homes, and I could help another child in the system. If I did have kids, I thought I’d want to adopt.”
That ultrasound changed her mind. It also altered her relationship with her boyfriend. “Telling him wasn’t the scary part,” she says. “But having a child lets you know some things about a person that you didn’t know before.”
Her boyfriend, she says, balked at buying a single diaper or box of wipes before the baby was born, and Kayla realized she’d be leaning on her longtime support system—her mother, her three younger brothers, her aunt and her great-grandmother—during and after her pregnancy. She went to most pre-natal appointments alone.
CenteringPregnancy, the group pre-natal care program at Einstein Medical Center, helped her find kinship with other women who were due around the same time; the group’s leaders even connected her with a doula.
The first trimester was rough; she couldn’t keep down her iron pills and felt sick every morning. She’d hoped to keep the baby’s sex a secret from herself—her mother and other relatives knew—until a friend blurted the truth at around eight months.
“I wasn’t overjoyed,” Kayla says. “I had a fear of the world not being too kind on women. I felt like people have an unwritten consensus that boys are easier.” People said other things, like “Get your sleep now,” and “Savor the small moments,” and “It all goes so fast.” Kayla’s mom insisted that, where baby items are concerned, less is more.
“If you type ‘baby must-have list’ [into a search engine], you’ll get 50 products. My mom would say, ‘Give the baby a bath in the sink.’”
As her due date drew closer, Kayla felt eager to meet the baby she’d already named Kamila, a nod to the heroine of a children’s book she’d loved, A Bad Case of Stripes. “I still have it; the cover is all mangled up,” she says. “I wanted to give her a name from what was a happy time for me.”
She hoped for an unmedicated birth. But contractions began at 2 a.m. on a Friday and lasted all that day, into the evening. The lavender essential oil helped, as did the reminders to breathe. But once she reached 8 centimeters, “I wasn’t able to out-breathe my contractions any more. I did end up getting an epidural. The pushing was the easiest part—five minutes.”
And then, Kamila was there. “It was like seeing somebody that you’ve been waiting on for a long time. It was a very magical moment.”
So was bringing her home to the cozy space Kayla had created in the house where she lives with her mother and brothers. For two weeks, her mother doted on her, sending paper menus upstairs so Kayla could indicate her favorite foods for dinner—grilled cheese and applesauce, miniature burger sliders, fettuccine alfredo. Her brothers would bring dinner on a tray.
Breast-feeding was harder than she expected. The sleep deprivation felt like a brutal test. “There were times when I thought: I can’t do this; I can’t do this.” Then there would be a glimmer of respite—Kamila asleep, finally, just as the sun was rising outside their bedroom window. “She’d be so peaceful and I’d think: As much as you drive me crazy, I love you.”
Kayla wants to emulate her mother’s steadiness, frankness and playfulness as a parent: If the family had plans when Kayla was a child, and the weather turned gloomy, her mother would whisk them back into the house for swim shoes and let them play in the rain. There were ritual Sunday dinners and games of Monopoly, Scrabble and Jenga. There were moments when her mother asked, “How was your day?” and really listened.
Parenthood, Kayla says, has made her more patient, more selfless, more eager to nourish and preserve those small moments. She figures she and her daughter will teach each other. “I feel like I’m still learning, and I can pass that on.”