Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Never Make Plans

I had this great plan to come in here on this day and write some ...thing. I don't even know what, exactly, just some ..thing. But now it's today and I only have one thing, one tale, one story. And so I will tell it.

The first day of spring was March 21 that year. I didn't actually know this that morning when I got out of bed at 5:30 or 6, after announcing that I was in labor. I was to learn it in the form of a card of congratulations that came much later in the day. My labor was, at first, not to be believed by most, and in retrospect I can't really blame the people involved...they had reason to assume otherwise.

This was nothing like the first time. The first time the intensity of "real" contractions had taken me by surprise in spite of my endless readings of Spiritual Midwifery and Childbirth Without Fear, my relentless breathing practice and my harping to those around me that birth was PERFECTLY NATURAL and women had been doing it for THOUSANDS OF YEARS. I had become very emotional very quickly, right down to calling my mother to sob "...it hurts!" into her ear at 2am...she was the person on duty at the answering service that early morning, and although I wanted to be big and brave and know-it-all, I knew nothing, and I sobbed that into the phone. But I learned. And for some reason the second time around everything fell into place. It's not that it didn't hurt. I think it did. But it was manageable. Just relax, breathe; everything has an end point. You will not be in labor forever. This is the last time you will have that contraction. It will not come again. Be in it, then let it go. Metaphor for life, really.

Making my way downstairs quietly so as not to wake the sleeping toddler in the next room, I began my day as I always did. I started laundry. I considered that I could be away for a day at least, and so began making a quiche which could serve as breakfast, lunch and dinner for the people I was leaving on their own. I called my sister. I called my mother. I called my midwife. To all of them I calmly related that I was in labor and that my contractions were about 3 minutes apart. I am not sure any of them believed, but they mobilized anyway.

It was amazing, that labor. This, I knew, was what it was meant to be. Alone and peaceful, folding laundry and grating cheese between contractions, rolling out pastry...taking a small (and later regrettable) bite of bacon, sipping some water; I was like some other-worldly earth mother. Peaceful and graceful, I walked from room to room, taking one contraction at a time, enjoying the solitude with this little person inside me, knowing that this was to be our last few hours as one entity. A boy, they had said, based on heart rate. Most likely a boy. I wanted a girl. But a boy would save a fortune on clothes. And I had a name either way. It no longer mattered to me what you were. The who, on the other hand, was crucial. And that I wanted very much to learn.

It had not been a picture perfect pregnancy. We had moved early on, and I had done my usual moving in "thing" - attacked the house and the boxes and the appliances with bleach and vigor. I had moved the fridge, mopped the whole house, put the fridge back, and unpacked any number of boxes. Somewhere between the fridge and the hardwood floors I felt a twinge, and then another. Suddenly it dawned on me that pregnancy isn't a guarantee, and I became terrified for the little life inside me. A visit to the midwife showed that I had reason to be - I was 2 cm dilated and partially effaced. Bedrest. With a toddler.

I've never been good at sitting still. I think I lasted three days. I began to move cautiously - no heavy lifting, no pushing of appliances. I sat in Daniel's high chair to prepare meals at the kitchen counter. Not a lot of heavy cleaning got done. I carried grocery bags one at a time instead of losing myself up like a pack mule. The baby stuck with me; forgiveness offered for my ingratitude and heavy lifting. And I became a territorial, primal monster on the inside. When my grandmother "helpfully" and callously remarked that miscarriage was nature's way of fixing a mistake, I almost killed her. I am sure we did not speak for some time. And for the record, she doted on the eventual baby with greater zeal than I usually witnessed in her, so I sense she spoke with forked tongue - but then she's an Avery and they have that habit. Cruel to be kind was generally the order of their day. But not in my world, not on that topic. No. Not that baby. The mistake wasn't the baby. The mistake was the obsessive mother scrubbing a house from top to bottom in the first trimester. Why should the kid pay?

So here we were, all those threats of danger, and exactly one day before the calculated due date, right on schedule and with no more fuss than a walk to the park that baby was about to appear.

I remember the moment things changed in labor and my contractions moved to a minute or so apart. I would have been more than happy to stay right where I was, have the baby, get back to the quiche with it tied to my chest like the good primal animal I was. But midwives at home are not covered by insurance, and midwives in the hospital are. So we went.

I had no contractions from home to the hospital, about a 5 minute drive. On arrival, a gust of ice-cold -15F air rushed up to meet me when I opened the car door, rectifying that situation in a hurry. That was a "bad one", and I walked into the hospital more acutely aware than ever that I despise the cold.

Back then the hospital was in disarray for renovation, and the entrance door for all patients had changed to the ER side of the building. Not knowing where to go I signed in as directed and joined a host of others waiting for admission for various things - the ER, surgery, labs and radiology all in one giant space with temporary cubicles set up. Pre-HIPPA, you just wrote your name on a sheet of paper and waited to be called. Not the best triage system. People around me suggested that I tell "them" I was in labor...but "they" were busy and I didn't want to "make a fuss". Finally a woman near us walked up and said, pointing, "She's in labor...and her contractions are almost a minute apart. You should take her ahead of us." My name was taken, a call was made "upstairs", and a nurse in pink scrubs pushing a wheelchair appeared as if by magic. She introduced herself and asked me to get in the chair. I declined. No. No wheels. Pregnancy, labor, delivery - it isn't a handicap. It's a stage of life. It's bringing a new life. Thousands of years women have done this job. And the vast majority of those have been women laboring in a field somewhere, or out gathering firewood or berries, delivering a baby, tying the cord with whatever came to hand, cutting it with an unsterile object, and going back to work with the newborn tied to their chest. And we survive. It is what we are made to do.

When I stepped off the elevator my midwife was there to greet me. I was so happy to see her face. Midwives rotate. My least favorite had just gone off call. My most favorite had just come on. It could not have been more perfect. We walked down the hall and into my favorite room - The Big One With The Double Bed. No sterile hospital space, no bed that breaks down into something other, like a creepy medicalized Transformer. Just a regular bed.

A brief check showed that I was not just in labor, I was past transition and heading for home. My contractions, which had slowed during all the fuss of moving from home to hospital, and the weirdness of sitting in a crowded admissions area trying not to breathe "too loudly", bounced back to a minute or so apart. I still had my earth mother face...each contraction coming on, being acknowledged and ridden out, and then let go. Textbook. Exactly like I knew it could be. Exactly like I knew it SHOULD be. Not quite an hour later I watched in fascination as my belly lifted with a contraction and seemed to bear down, pushing without any help from me.

"Did that feel push-y?" asked Anne from her comfortable rocking chair opposite me. "Yes, a little" I responded. Endorphins are a wonderful thing.

She came to my side and checked - yes. 10cm. Time to let this baby out. Time to see that face. Time to meet that person. Let the bonding begin.

Left lateral Sims position, a brief series of controlled, perfect, panting pushes and I heard a voice say "Do you want to feel your babies head?"

"Yes."

One more push and the head was born. A brief moment to catch my breath, and shoulders next - big shoulders, too - that was memorable, although the pain immediately forgotten.

"It's a bouncing baby....GIRL!?"

Reaching down, I lifted the blueish squirming animal up to my face. Slowly, giant brown eyes opened in the little round face, covered in vernix and creased from a lifetime spent in water, and blinked up at me. And down I fell into them. Hello. Where have you been all my life? I'm your mother. And that won't ever change.

Lots would come after - both immediately and not - and more will come, some good, some bad, some indifferent. Some passionate, some angry, some cold and hurtful, some gentle and warm.

I have thought a lot in the last couple of years about whether or not, all things taken into account, I would do it again - either time. In my lower moments I question my sanity in choosing motherhood. I mean, really, you could smash your head on brick walls until you are bloody and the pain wouldn't come close. But neither would the joy.

In the final analysis here is where I stand: a thing, once done, cannot be undone. It can, however, be accepted for what it is, and, like contractions, moved past and forgotten - retaining the good, releasing the less than good. Hold onto the good, let go of everything that isn't. Hold onto the love, let go of everything that isn't.

And so... Happy Birthday, Girl. Whatever you are to yourself you remain one of the best things I have ever done in my life.

4 comments:

Mary Alice said...

💞💖💞💔

Kimberly Napier said...

I have just left a review of your book on my podcast. It is so great
https://youtu.be/oT3svC7Rn1U

sally said...

what a wonderful birthday card!

Goodtime said...

Wow! It's a Wonderful birthday card.

Gclub