Bucket lists are crap: Time to stop dreaming and start living

It was about four days after my c-section that I realized bucket lists are crap.

If you haven’t had a c-section, you might, like I did approximately 10 months ago, think that they can’t be that big of a deal, since women have them all the time.

What I hadn’t realized before my unsuccessful attempt to push a baby out the conventional way is that c-sections are pretty dramatic. Turns out they require major abdominal surgery, severely limiting you for weeks afterward. And if you happen to be a first-time mom who has literally no idea what she is doing, few opportunities to sleep, and severe pain every time you sneeze, it’s definitely no walk in the park (side note: took a few weeks before I could go for a walk in the park).

Basically, getting a c-section is pretty much the antithesis of a bucket list item.

I’ve travelled. I’ve been incredibly privileged to experience some incredible things: sunrises in Kaua’i, photo ops on the Great Wall of China, paella on the Spanish shore of the Mediterranean. I loved all these things. I don’t regret them; they’ve made my life richer.

But it was when I found myself convalescing on the couch, trying not to cough or laugh, that I had a sneaking suspicion that I was living the moments that would shape my future self. That I was experiencing more life than usual.

Better than the Grand Canyon

In that week, I learned what it meant to be dependent on others. To be completely stripped down emotionally, unable to care for myself or fulfill my primary task, taking care of my new baby. As many new mothers know, I had to let go of my dignity, letting strangers and family members alike check things I never thought I would need checked.

There was an unexpected richness through it all, especially as I experienced the hardship alongside one of life’s great joys: a new baby. I also experienced a depth of understanding and intimacy with my husband. A letting go of pretense. The absurd joy that comes from doing something hard, even impossible.

I couldn’t shake the feeling as I lay in the dark — despite the endless nights, the anxiety, the immobility, and the pain — that this is where I was experiencing the fullness of life

I would never wish an emergency c-section anyone. And, ok, bucket lists aren’t total crap. Life is also joy, beauty and wonder, and I’m all for taking that helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon if you can afford it. But I’m only just starting to learn that life is rarely defined in those fleeting moments of grandness. They’re mainly forged in the small moments of struggle, of sacrifice, of need.

I would never advocate staying in a terrible situation just to squeeze some lesson out of it. But if we only give ourselves to dreaming, to thinking “I’ll start living life when I can check off this or that on my bucket list,” we’ll be missing out on the one thing that’s been given to us: the life we have right now.