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(Not so) great expectations: a birth(day) story

September 10, 2008

Late August, 2000.
I remember the way the light looked on the living room curtains, and how the portable fan wheezed across its trajectory. I recall sinking, by degrees, into an overstuffed chair, my legs like two weights propped up on the coffee table. The heat strove to slay me — my sole comfort was the regular misting from a squirt bottle of water I held. I spritzed my legs, my face and my arms, feeling fleeting relief as the fan blew otherwise hot air across my skin.
There was no simple relief for my frustration, however, and no tidy answer to allay my confusion. The fact of that summer day was that I felt eternally pregnant, infinitely swollen, lost to myself.
My due date had come and gone, and I was forced to let go of my smug assumption that my baby would arrive early. Indeed, I was mentally prepared to give birth two weeks before my due date. Plus, considering the duration of my previous labors — seven hours the first time, maybe two hours the second — I expected that this one would be even shorter. And easier.
I recalled the scene from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life, in which a mother with hordes of children is doing housework when a baby drops from between her legs. She looks down and calmly says to one of her older children, “Oh, would you get that?”
But the baby who’d made me into a planet unto myself wasn’t budging. My belly preceded me around corners, inspiring comments from strangers. One beer-gut-toting man outside the grocery store laughed when he saw me, and told me I looked like I was about to pop.
Ha ha, I said, we appear to have that in common.
When my labor finally started — 11 days after my due date — it was painfully, dreadfully slow. I rode through the first contractions on my knees leaning over the end of the futon couch in the living room. I ate nachos, slept in bursts and delighted in the attention 6-year-old Soren offered. Just back from blackberry picking with our neighbor and 4-year-old Mirabai, Soren knelt down beside me and rubbed my back with his chapped, berry-stained hands. When I opened my eyes his smiling face would loom into view.
“You know, Mommy,” he told me at one point, “if it gets rough you can always stop your labor and go to sleep for awhile.”
I smiled and thanked him, recalling that wisdom from the Spiritual Midwifery birth video we had recently watched.
But inside, all the wisdom I’d gained during my previous homebirths had vanished. I felt bereft of direction, and the pain was unlike anything I remembered.
This went on through the deep sinking light of dusk, the lingering minutes of evening, the descent of night … and well into the silence that follows in the dark early morning hours.
There was nothing precipitous about any of it. Nothing that smacked of Python-esque hilarity.
There was just me, face buried in a pillow, swept up in the tide of a labor that offered no reprieve from pain, or confusion. I thought at one point that I might even die, and that sounded just fine to me.
It wasn’t until after the sun came up that I finally found what had so eluded me: complete surrender. It hurt so much I just, finally … let go. When I did this my expectations, like self-righteous voices screaming at me through the pain, suddenly lifted away ….
The baby descended.
In the corner of the room, like two little fairies, Soren and Mirabai watched with wide eyes as their sister, Chiara, tucked her little chin, twisted her shoulders and tumbled into the world.
They stood next to me seconds later, looking down into Chiara’s face which was all screwed up in a scream.
“Sing to her,” I said, and they did.Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, in their lilting, off-key voices.
And Chiara stopped fussing. Instantly. She opened her eyes and looked up in newborn wonder at them.
We marked the time: 8:32 am. August 29. Chiara Soleil Nicole.
Nine pounds … 10 ounces.
And perfect.
Happy 8th birthday to my sweet little girl who found her own way into this world, and continues to find her own way through it, too.

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