While others spend today remembering the towers of my childhood (yes, I'm a New Yorker), I'd like instead to be celebrating the life that emerged on this day. For today is our babes birthday, and he is one whole year old.
Looking at him, I see my nursling, whose earnest face is belied by his happily kicking feet as he latches on. The stubborn little body, walking comfortably holding on to one of my hands, but refusing to let go until he feels secure in this new mode of locomotion. The bursts of babble, dying down to murmurs or gurgles, a skill that pops up just when I begin to wonder if he has it at all. The independant spirit that lets him wander off, calmly, and play for five, ten, fifteen minutes before he turns to look for me. And oh, the allergies, which feel much like the babes did in utero, when he'd stretch while lying in my pelvis. Oh, no, I'd think, I can't - I don't do that - that's bone, ya silly weeble...and then the bone would somehow stretch with him, in an indescribable sensation. So too have we stretched, shaping ourselves around him even as we reshaped ourselves around the Eldest.
Welcome, baby love.
baby love, a year old today, up with the sun and ready to play
But as I have this opportunity, let me tell you also what I saw, a year ago today.
I should start by telling you that I had a c-section with the Eldest, and that the first obstetrician I saw gave me no more than a 10% chance of having a VBAC*. I was hoping to avoid another c-section, remembering how hard it was to recover from that first one. And I had a sneaking suspicion that mothers of two get even less downtime than mothers of one, albeit a rather complex one, making recovery time rather scarce. And so I went hunting.
I found the teacher of a VBAC class, an ob/gyn who was either crazy or wonderful and possibly secretly female, who pointed us to a doula who persuaded my partner that doulas are useful people at a labor and delivery. While assembling our team, I turned down offers from the hematologists to do risky tests on the baby, to do counseling that would guide me in my choices (carry or abort), and finally agreed to one thing: we'd find out the baby's sex. If a girl, then I wanted a birthing center with a minimum of people to bug me during labor and delivery. If a boy, then we'd treat him as if he did have hemophilia during labor and delivery...and I produced medical journal articles showing that the best way to manage a newborn with hemophilia is to deliver them vaginally, after a normal labor. heh.
(the VBAC class teacher, incidentally, found this amusing. You're going to have a medically indicated VBAC, she hooted. I nodded, smugly. I was certainly going to try...but we both knew I'd do so under a medical microscope, with everybody terrified that the baby would bleed internally from the labor, the delivery, that we'd sue... And we knew what that meant for my chances.)
9/11/2005. 5.45ish a.m., we walk into triage and are asked to wait. I'm having back labor, and can't get a respite between contractions. Desperate for a comfortable position, and to try and shift the baby away from my spine, I somehow end up on the floor, where an irate nurse asks what I'm doing, decorating her carpet. 'She's in labor,' the partner says, as if she was missing the point. Silently, I cheer.
In triage, I'm asked repeatedly if I want an epidural. Frankly, I wouldn't mind one, but I know that statistics argue that she who has an epidural is far more likely to have a c-section, and it's frankly pissing me off to repeat myself to this junior varsity person. I like her even less when she tells me I'm only 2 cm dilated. However, she tells me grudgingly, this is my second baby, so we can stay. Hooray for the unpredictability of second babies, I think, and stagger out of triage, where I find our doula waiting.
Somehow, the doula and the partner shed most of the medical paraphernalia and hangers-on, to get us to our room. There, one irritating check-up later, I'm left alone with my chosen pair. Blessedly alone...but the back labor won't stop, and I can feel the pain engulfing me. It is bigger than I am, it is a wave and I cannot dive beneath it, I can't breathe, can't can't can't
a cool hand strokes my lower back, circling. Relax, a voice tells me. Go soft, let it happen.
I do not know why I listened. I even listened to my partner, knowing that he was afraid of seeing me in pain, afraid that his urge to protect would overwhelm his commitment to support, and me afraid that I'd laugh bitterly when he told me I could do this. Instead, I let go of thought and I did indeed go soft, I did relax, draping my arms and shoulders over a mattress, letting the pain ripple over me in a timeless moment. I heard voices telling me that I could do this, that this was good pain and I should let it come.
At one point, I ended up sitting on the floor, thinking rebelliously that yes, I probably could do this. But I really don't want to. And yet. But then I returned to my timeless moment, with its waves of pain - not riding them, not pushing them away, but letting them break over me, floating.
The shift changed, it grew light outside, and my waters had not broken. A nurse came in to introduce herself, but I could not look up. Something feels different, I said musingly. Something is - ah. And water ran out of me. I turned, wanting to share this with my partner, the doula, when I felt something else. I, I need to - and I flung myself at the nearest body. The doula looked at me, hanging on her shoulders and turned to the nurse. She's bearing down, she said urgently.
push push push push - no, you must stop pushing, I need you to be here like this, I need the baby's heartbeat - I growled viciously - push push must push.
Nurses scuttled around me, one trying to focus, to tame my need to push. Another trying to find the baby's heartbeat. She presses painfully hard into me with a monitor. The obstetrician (not mine, who cares push push push) comes into my field of vision. We can't find the baby's heartbeat. I cannot guarantee 100% that the baby is fine. The partner and I stare at him. I know ass-covering when I see it. Fine, we tell him. Let us know if you are actually worried. Push push push push.
The head is coming down, but it slips back when she stops pushing.
deep in my rhythm, I spare an irked moment to blame the idiot keeping me flat on my back.
Focus your energy here, can you feel this? (a wet heat - yes! push push) Push to this spot.
I growl at this last and rise to the bait. This is mine push push I will do this push push mine push push push! Something burns, slips. I have the head. Next to me, my partner gasps. Shoulders, back, legs follow. The thrumming in my bones, the need to push having faded, I flail, becoming aware again. I see the nurses, I see the partner on the other side of the room by a bassinet. I look up to the doula.
There's a baby? the baby is here? The doula gives me a melting look, and simply tells me, yes.
And there he is. Red headed, dark eyed, nuzzling me, looking for the breast - ah, got it. Red?
The rest blurred, as the ob had to remove the placenta, stuck to my old c-section scar. I didn't begrudge it, and woke up to a room with a nurse, sitting calmly next to me. As it turns out, this was the nurse who walked in just as my waters broke. I never got the chance to introduce myself, she laughed. I grinned. Me, neither.
I lay there, trading parenting stories with her until the phone rang. It was the partner, and oh yes the baby can clot. 89% factor VIII levels. I lay there and cried. That's good news? the nurse asked anxiously. Oh yes, I told her, still crying. But I wasn't quite sure.
The next day, my ob walked in the door. He chatted, reviewed the labor and delivery. Before leaving, he looked at me. I wasn't sure if you could do it, he told me, honestly. Usually, I know if my VBAC patients are going to make it or not. But you - he shrugged. I remembered the tidal wave and shrieking crash of my first labor and delivery, considered the viciousness and odd peace of the second. I wouldn't have laid odds on me, either.
And here he is. Unexpectedly redheaded, the product of an entry both brutal and empowering. His arrival, his self all warned me not to make assumptions. But of course I did anyway.
How not? He offered enormous temptation to assume we could guess, or even just knew him...it was the patterning. Both of my boys were born at the same time, the first in the p.m. and the second in the a.m. That time is, as it happens, the same as my birthdate. These are my sons, I think, and am seduced by this into believing that I know them, I can predict them. Hah. More fool me.
Happy birthday, little boy. My gift to you is that I promise to try, even when the weight of parenting feels impossibly heavy. I promise to remember that I am learning as I go, and you are one of my teachers. Even if you are occasionally a teacher marinating in his own diaper.
*VBAC: vaginal birth after cesarean