I’m bad at birthdays. They sneak up on me, though I don’t know how, considering that my new nine year old has been counting down since Christmas til this day. The past month I’ve fielded daily questions about it – how much longer, who would come to his party, what gifts he would like – and which ones he would NEED, why he couldn’t just go buy the gifts he asked for in the week prior….
This morning I woke up, as I do on all birthdays, to the realization that instead of wrapping gifts and making a card the night before, I instead curled up in a ball on the couch and drifted off, giggling, to our new favorite comedian, Hari Kondabolu who was ranting ridiculously about health care and flamboyant heterosexuals.
So, now I’m holed in a room upstairs, writing, coloring, and wrapping. It’s fun, but frantic. A little overwhelming. Sometimes (I don’t think this time), I collect gifts way ahead of time, then forget that I’ve done so. And much later remember that I’ve done so. It’s what happens when birthdays take you off guard, like they do me.
His birth was like this. I knew it was coming. I was ready. The birth kit sat in a box; his clothes and diapers, folded and washed; our team of support was on deck. But then he decided to be born and it was game on. I was anticipating a fast labor, considering his older brother’s birth was a mere 4 ½ hours. But my midwife kept insisting that a second birth was as virgin as the first. That there was no pattern established yet. I later determined she was lying so I wouldn’t panic. You simply can’t prepare someone for a two-hour labor.
After he was born, nearly everyone responded to his fast labor with, “*GASP* You’re SO lucky!” And I wanted to punch them in the throat. Unless you’ve experienced a seven pound fetus barreling through you while you lie, sideways on the bathroom floor, gripping the cabinet doors as through they are the roller coaster handlebars and yell (not moan, yell) with all your heart, you just have no idea. There’s a reason these things are supposed to take time.
“AAAHHHHHHH!!! TELL HER TO GET HERE NOW!!”
“I’M NOT PUSHING!!”
That last one one was a sort-of truth. It wasn’t voluntary, anyway. But I could feel him inching his way down with each contraction as I yelled away. I will never forget the details of those sensations as long as I live. I didn’t rationally fear that I was going to die, yet I felt on a plane of otherly existence. Powerless and taken over; consumed by an electrical current that pulsed through my entire body. It was hard to breathe; it took all of my solitary concentration and effort as the contractions subsided (though they never went fully away) to force myself to regroup and center and position myself for the next.
She arrived as he began to emerge. She squeezed through the crack in the bathroom door, the one my family sat on the other side of, biting their knuckles and holding their breath. As she stepped over me, she soothingly cooed, “Thank you for waiting for me.” I breathed my first deep sigh.
Moments later he was handed up, purple and squishy onto my chest. I flopped back and mindlessly caressed his back as I felt myself swirling through space, like the moments in the dentist chair when you’ve breathed in deeply through the mask on your face. His first scream hurled me back into the present plane. That kiddo screamed and cried for hours, a mirror to my rant in the previous two. Everything hurt. The placenta birth was as intense as his labor.
My uterus ached; my vagina pulsed and swelled. But I walked, easily and gladly, to my bed across the hall. I guzzled orange juice and nibbled at cereal. I snuggled my new baby; investigated him, sat with the midwife, cross-legged, on my bed as my family stood by in the room. We laughed and marveled at his impatient debut. My family was stunned, amazed that such a frightening experience could be normal; that birth could be safe even when it was scary.
That day we slept a lot together. No one came in to take him from me; no one weighed him, or warmed him, or poked him, or insisted I not sleep with him, or charted his feedings. It was just us. I was trusted, I was competent. I was inching my way toward healing.