freewrite on this story
What I want for this story is that it tell my truth, my not knowing, still, how to place it, how to say it, how to fix it, because it is still in the un-fixable space that I am in relation to birth. I have so many feelings about my birth, her birth, our birth. Joy, relief, fear, pain, sadness, mourning, deep deep pain, anxiety, elation, calm, strength, pride. This story needs to say it all, and it needs to remain open--it needs to show me and its readers how important it is to me and how I hope next time will be better, but how grateful I am that she is here, safe and sound. That those two things can sit side by side. That gratitude and joy live very close to disappointment and sorrow. That many, many women feel like this, and many who don't might never know the greater joy that could be theirs. And of course, many who know, quite simply, that birth is what it brings us, and not how it is brought.
labor was sucky throughout but a turning point was when i finally said yes to the c-section at the end, because i had to, and because i couldn't do it anymore. the defeat, the letdown, the air out of my balloon, my baby wasn't "tolerating" labor, no progress, i was going to ask for meds anyway, it all came to a head. another turning point was probably being in the room with the stress test, about to be let go, when everything happened and they all came running... not knowing what to do, totally panicked, i found chuck's eyes, which held me up completely. i just knew i had to be still and let them all work. he just knew he had to hold my eyes and keep me focussed. so we locked eyes and souls even though our very insides and cores were overflowing with fear. i was weeping silently, could feel the tears running down my face, but held my head still to look at him. he mouthed "it's ok" over and over and over. after it all passed, and they explained that i would be admitted immediately, there was a brief calm. a turning point. i knew that he would be everything i needed him to be. even though i had wondered before. i let myself turn everything over to him, and i concentrated on sending our baby good feelings. other turning points: breathing through pain, asking questions, finding i could stand up for myself.
TURNING POINT (2nd freewrite)
the crucial turning point for me in a writing project is when I find and can SAY what my central argument is. Usually, I've been gathering notes and observing details and have a general sense of what I'm feeling about the texts I'm studying, but when I can actually SAY it in a sentence or two, the rest is cake. Well, not cake in the sense that it's all easy and fluffy and wonderful, because it isn't, but cake in the sense that the rest of the writing is like the solid substance of cake, the part that gives the icing form and taste in its contrast and support, the part that establishes it as GOOD and delicious and that carries it out in more subtle forms in its body. In labor, in my labor anyway, or rather, in the story of that labor, I haven't been able to crystallize that turning point yet. The labor as an experience is over, and I can't re-visit it until I give birth again, which of course will be a different experience, in part because I will understand it in reference to how my story about this first one develops. The story of the labor, in print 'final' form or in how I think about it, is still being formed. I'm still trying to figure out (FIND and SAY) what it means to me, how I will interpret it. It isn't fixed now, and it doesn't have to be when I write the story, but I'm struggling to find a form for all its many parts, and I now know that I'm searching for my 'thesis' or a way to summarize all those different parts into a concise statement that will describe all its complexities. Somehow I have to get outside of this way of writing and thinking, (or do I?) The story needs to match the experience, but the experience and the meaning it holds is constantly evolving as I create a story about it. I want my story to contain its contradictions and celebrate the amazing places it has brought me, even as it honors the sadness and pain involved in the experience itself--which resulted in part as an effect of other stories that led to my expectations for a certain type of experience! Complicated, yes, but pretty simple too. An unmediated experience of birth wasn't possible for me, (is it for anyone?) and I need to honor that aspect of it as central to my experience of it
the baby race
telling the girls
starting to show
Christmas party nonsense
finding a doctor
the first flutter
my winter coat
finding a changing table
the diabetes test
crying at the doctor's office
finding a bikini
sign on door
the bed pan
not remembering some details, like first holding her
his hand on cart
organizing the room
asking for a chair
tee shirt and pediatrician
magic bed buttons
breastfeeding clinic...being away from free
the story of my baby's birth begins long before the day i spent laboring for her to emerge, long hours of work that birthed only pain and frustration and led to a c-section which brought immediate relief and safety but longterm disappointment and sadness. Her birth begins with our birth as a couple, our dreams of beauty and love and passion and forever, which never took such perfect form as in her, our firstborn. her birth story doesn't end with me on my back, separated from the sight of her perfect face by a curtain. it continues as i sift and shape it, create and recreate it, remember and forget it, tell it and think it and quiet it. somehow the event itself evades me, which is what makes the story not the event itself, but what led up to and followed it. that is the story of her birth, his, and mine.
STORY DRAFT (just basic edited freewrites so far)
I had so many fantasies about how I would tell him we were pregnant. Fantasies that gave me the power of telling, of inviting him in, of sharing or withholding that news until the time was right. Power plays like that all disappear in the moment, because it makes you lose control. When the time came, I felt a strange panic about being the only one who knew--I ran down the hall, pee-stick in hand, shoving it awkwardly into his while studying his face earnestly, carefully, while he looked down. "Oh my God" and we were off, a new world of shock and awe and reality set in against the fantasies, created by them, led by them, but diverging from them already in significant ways. He went to study the stick, opening it and exposing the urine-stained tip. ugh--I reached out quickly to stop him, embarrassed and helpful--not there, it's my pee. So silly considering where that test would bring us.
We told others sooner than we planned. The word spilled from me even as I held my terror close, terror of losing this thing I couldn't yet feel or see or touch. My pregnancy was filled with anticipations of things going horribly wrong--losing the baby, something being wrong with the baby, something happening to me, losing touch with my husband, losing control, changes in me and marriage and the world. Scary stuff, like someone bopping you on the head out of nowhere and you losing vital functions because of it. Anticipating birth is like anticipating the hottest summer day in the middle of a snowstorm--you can't do it with any real knowledge of what the experience will be if it's never happened, and after it's happened, you lose that sort of visceral experiential knowledge--memory has a way of softening and obscuring some edges, heightening others. In fact, anticipating birth is like trying to anticipate a toddler's bumping, chaotic way of striking out around him as he learns to navigate the world--you know there will be great, bubbling joys and discoveries but there is also the potential for deep pools of pain, hurt, trauma. And the thing is, you can't have one without the other. The joy, the pain. Being pregnant, you carry the truth of that with you--your body doesn't just represent that, it feels and is that. Suddenly out of nowhere you are connected to something that has changed you--it carries you, and the weight of the cord that links you to this thing is heavier than worlds, stronger than stars. because if it cuts you loose, or you it, you don't know if you'd survive. and now that you have tasted this fruit of this tree of knowledge, you can't go back. and so you wait, and you grow, and you change. and you fear. and you love.
anticipation of birth is often thought of in fantasy terms, as an escape, as a longing exploration of desires and wishes. But its twin is anticipation of the worst, as a sort of self-protection and rehearsal. I know it won't help me really prepare for bad things should they actually happen. But the myth I tell myself is that they might, so I go on worrying, go on anticipating the bad, right along with the good. The way an infant may learn to cry before she bumps or gets splashed with water, because of a memory--but also an anticipation--of what might come.
what if she disappears in the night, quietly slipping away to dance with fairies, leaving me cold, to discover her body left behind like some shell that got too heavy, too tiresome to carry around?
what if i become paralyzed in the bath and she slowly covers with water, unable to save herself, unable to see the love and shock in my eyes?
what if i drop her, fall down the stairs, have one careless second and slip or don't watch her closely enough?
what if i forget she's asleep in the car and leave her there?
what if i don't love her enough?
what if i love her too much?
what if she doesn't love me back?
what if nothing happens, and i waste tears and worry? what if this fear keeps me from her?
what if i die and leave her motherless?
what if she inherits my depression?
what if she never knows how much i want for her?
what if all her dreams come true?
what happens then?
what happens if, after a sunny day in july, when her dream has flown in like a bird lightly landing on an open window ledge, she's too busy worrying about the clouds in the sky behind him to listen to his song?
what if she's just like me?
a warm, soothing, softly flowing shower. body exploration amid a steamy fog. my soft, large breasts with large, expansive areolas around my dark nipples. my growing belly, stretching wide to welcome my new world. my strong back, achingly sore and covered with unsightly rashy bumps. my bushy undergrowth, bustling like a heathery moss thriving in the shade of that full moon. my legs, also covered by a soft, dark down since efforts to groom gave way to others--the efforts to sooth, accept, embrace. my feet, tired but strong, supporting two bodies, eight limbs--a sturdy stand for my spinning globe. my arms, my hands, traveling across my face and neck. my armpit. all other changes, i will come to love. even the rash, i can happily ignore. i feign distaste and disgust for his sake only, for i do not have to see it. (it baffles my doctor, and resists all treatments and scrubs, persisting until the baby comes, then vanishes overnight.) but this armpit. i have developed an unsightly skin tag, like ugly debris on a pristine and sacred ocean. this was unexpected. my body--inhabited by another, accepting and embracing everywhere but here, where one little eruption sends up a petulant, insistent complaint. i sense it will be soon forgotten. but for now, i study it, giving it its due. i mourn the loss of a perfect armpit, virgin territory from a brazen, virgin youth.
he stayed with me
when my daughter came, i didn't see her head, slick with birthing juice, followed by a curved, trembling little body naked and vulnerable to the light, the eyes, the world that waited for her. not my eyes. mine watched his, which watched her--after she was brought outside the curtain that separated her from her mother's view. he stayed with me. i thought nothing of it until later, when someone told me that was unusual. they noted his loyal care of me--it was noteworthy, i guess, that he stayed by my side. but it never occured to me, or to him i think, that he should make a choice. he naturally stood by me, as he always did, and formed the link between us all. i watched him, as he watched her. he touched me, and reached out to her with welcoming love. i listened, and i watched, waited for some glimpse and sound and sign of her. they flashed her quickly to me--no warning or lingering glance allowed, i didn't see enough to take her in. i don't remember much between that and going to the recovery room. when did i get to hold her? when did she first see my face? does she feel sadness at all about the mess i may have made of her birth? does she hold the memory of it? of my not greeting her? of silence and blinding light in the room? where is her mother? i focus on the joy. on the love. on the link between him, her, and me. he stayed with me, and we reached out to her.
A beautiful little pink, worn onesie. Packed and repacked in my hospital bag. As other things are taken out, replaced with something else, deemed unnecessary, that gets unfolded, held, touched, fondled, refolded and repacked carefully. it is the smallest of the baby clothes i have, handed down from my baby's cousin, washed and worn and shrunk and soft. it seems to breathe love, care, tiny but worn, familiar. it gives me hope that i can do this. not like the other clothes--new, crisp, too clean, tags intact, threatening, like blank canvases waiting to be imprinted with my mistakes. this one, this feels better. like shared mother-knowledge, a gift from others who have come before, learned, loved. they will be with me, but the onesie is mine now to dress the baby in alone. my baby. i am overdue, and everyone says my baby will be big. i am big, heavy, tired with waiting. the onesie looks small, too small, too pink for an unknown gender. my feminist instincts lose courage--will i want to put a little boy in pink? will others laugh, judge, think i am a bad mother? i pack other pieces, soft greens, blues, yellows. but the pink stays. i know i will love it the most. as i love this baby. the most. more than all others come before, lost before, to other mothers. more than myself. more than him. a love that grows and grows, feeding on itself, tossing aside remnants of old lives. this baby will soon outgrow this onesie. and perhaps my love? maybe it will never fit. i pack it anyway. when she comes, i slide her carefully into it. a perfect fit.
alone, not alone
lying on the hospital bed, on one side, unable to move and having to ask for permission to pee. i wait and hold as long as i can just to savor the treat of moving, getting up and walking the few feet to the bathroom, untethered to monitors, allowed to operate my body. back in bed as quick as you can so we can keep tabs. damn. these threads hanging from me like spiderwebs, clinging to me, controlling me, saving me. keeping me in place. sucking the power from me. the power to birth my baby. actively. instead, i wait. alone, not alone. the worst part. i ask to pee. i've waited too long. they bring out the bed pan. now i am really imprisoned. can't even get up to pee. they all watch me. mother, husband, nurse. anytime you're ready. "it's a lot." yep, it's fine. "it's a whole lot." she's not even listening. they're watching. i can't go. i tell them to look away. i can't believe i ever knew how to pee while lying down. i let loose. the rivers flow. and flow. and flow. i feel wet. the nurse comes running. i've overflowed the pan. i'm uncomfortable, embarrassed, but also a bit smug. told you so. later, they break my water. it comes out, dribbles at first and then a second river. i could swim in these waters. my baby has. follow the water, sweet girl. swim to me so that i can swim to you.
one more. contraction, doctor, nurse, hospital round, intervention, injection, disturbance, one more thing and person to fight. one more time to insist on a choice, some power, a fragment of my birth fantasy. breathe deep, focus in, look in his eyes, concentrate, hum, relax, hold yourself together, let yourself go. hours slip by. no progress. pitocin goes in, tears stream out. monitors beep constantly. doctors tell me again. c-section, c-section, c-section. circling in their minds, a foregone conclusion, spinning their web over me as i weaken. one more crisis. heartrate plunges. one more rush of staff to flip me, tickle her head, check me, break my water on the sly. i cry. one more time. will i have nothing that happens on its own? will no-one trust my body? not even me? she was not ready yet. that is all. leave me alone. but wait. tell me you're close. one more time. that nothing will happen. like it did that other time. use your furrowed brow to send me a clear message, even as you reassure me. i know there are no promises you can make. none you will. you know what i want. i know what you want. one more try. to do it my way. until one more doctor comes on duty. no-nonsense. sending sharp edicts to end my torture. to begin your life. i give in. they cut me open. you are perfect. relief floods in. and yet, i am sorry it took a while for you to see my face. to feel my arms. to be with those you belong to. a fantasy slips away. a new life creeps softly in. and now, i think, one more.
i crave the company of other mothers now, but not just other mothers, other mothers who feel and think and worry and care in the same ways or similar ways that i do. i remember sending c out for pickles and ice-cream and honestly not realizing, until he pointed it out, that it was such a pregnancy cliche, and then i just laughed and laughed and thought how absolutely wonderful it is to live out a cliche and discover its original roots, like coming to a myth backwards by experiencing it firsthand as if it never happened to anyone anywhere before. the connection, of course, between this and my opening sentence, which i've just seen, is that i want to be with others and feel connected and share with them, and i also want to be unique and special, but mostly i want to have support in the form of another mother who nods approvingly at every little new thing i discover and acts terribly excited by my discovery, because that's how i feel. like i've just discovered a new moon or somethng. which i have. because my daughter is a new moon. her curves and smells and kisses that slobber and fingers that scrape and eyes that go on and on remind me of my best view of myself but are also so amazingly separate and new that i want to get lost in all of it. and share it. learning her is self-indulgent, like learning myself. like learning a new language, one that you get to help create. i crave her, and i crave that craving. beause, of course, it's not always there in clear or obvious ways. so when it's gone, i miss it and call it back with all that i do, even if it's resistance. i craved her when i was pregnant and i craved affirmation that she was really there, really going to be, with all the worry that that entailed. my cravings for salt and sweet were like twin sides of worry and anticipation--wanting the perfect birth, baby, being, and fearing the worst--loss, sadness, desperation. that fear can act on you like a craving too, sucking out your energy, becoming your focus, creating itself in weaving, spinning coils of wasted tension.
my mother helped relieve that tension. she was and is that perfect support i described. she is selfless enough, and old enough, to not need anything in return. or perhaps, being my mother, seeing me in the role of mother-discoverer continues her own journey of discovery as my mother. at any rate, i am relishing living in the selfishness of celebrating my child and my cravings for her.
so much of our birth story comes before the birth, in the days and nights of dreaming about the moments of transition, where body and soul and mind stretch to open up to this new life. the birth itself pales in comparison to those dreams. disappointing, full of pain and fear and letdown, but also of relief and reality and tender moments. and what is a perfect birth, but one that meets or surpasses our dreams, our expectations? there is no way to anticipate or expect birth, really. it is not known in the moments it happens, but in the thinking of it, before and after. they took her from me, and she was born. but our togetherness was born, is born, repeatedly and infinitely, in the joys, dreams, and fears that bind us.