opinions about life, work, and spirituality

Calla’s Birth Story

May 30th, 2009

Wednesday, May 6th. Two days after the first anniversary of my beloved Grandmother’s death.

James and I drive to the hospital. There is no huffy breathing, groaning, or swearing and no overwhelming waves of contractions, however. Just me, my husband and luggage calmly packed with tiny baby clothes. Our little one is breech, and though we’ve tried everything to lift her “bum out of my bucket” (her bottom is wedged firmly in my pelvis), she will be born by surgery.

I lay in a hospital cot, and wait to be called into the operating room. I tell myself over and over that I am about to meet my child; the little one that’s been actively wiggling around inside me for the past months like a seahorse on steroids. My heart patters in rhythm quickly inside my chest: Baby-baby-baby.

One hour until surgery and a bow-legged Irish research student steps into the room and asks me if I want to be a part of a study that compares the use of morphine with something called a TAP procedure. The research student hands me a brochure. Another student hands me a full length paper on the research study. 45 minutes. I read the brochure. How am I supposed to concentrate when I meet my child in – oh boy – 40 minutes!? What do I know about pain medication? Why has this decision been thrust upon me in the hour of my disconbobulation? Ack, 35 minutes. Concentrate! Right. I press my hands to my head. Focus: Mooooorrrrpphhhiiiinnnnee, or aaaa TAAAAAAAPPPPPP ppppprrrooocceeeeduuuurrree. 30 minutes. One half of one hour before my life changes inextricably. A student pops her head into the room. Made a decision about the research study? Oh goodness! Why won’t these students leave me alone? “I don’t know!”, I want to scream. I read the full length paper. 15 minutes.The charming bowlegged Irishman is back. Great. Do I want to try the research study? 10 minutes, and the
Irishman is shifting his weight from one foot to the next, waiting for my answer…5 minutes. The Irishman lifts his charming Irish eyebrow. Yes, good God, yes, I’ll do the study. Now leave me alone so I meet my child!

I am wheeled into the operating room, away from my husband who is barred from watching the insertion of a giant needle into my spine. “I can’t do this without him! I need him!”, I think. Elizabeth Ryan, a mid-wife from the South Community Birth Program meets me in the room. She smiles. I grab hold of her hand because I am drowning and she is driftwood bobbing atop the ocean. My turbulent ocean looks like this: walls fixed with strange, metallic medical instrumentation, lights that bear down white-bright from each wall and ceiling, and a cot-like thing in the middle of the room in the shape of a cruxifix. I am wheeled onto it. There are platters of metal instruments all around me. Every sound is laced with tin and steel and metal. The room smells of cold surfaces and harsh light. I am about to be cut open. The pull of the ocean’s undertow is relentless. I shake with fright. I try to tap out the rhythm, “baby-baby…”, but my heart climbs up my neck in fear, like a shipwrecked man clings ever higher up a mast. Elizabeth Ryan, my midwife, speaks to me calmly about her travels. Her every word is a buoy in huge waves of fear. I latch onto her sentences. Yes, tell me about Israel, I say, tell me about India, and I grasp at each image of far away places.

My back stings, my legs feel swollen. It is imperative that I lay down immediately on my cruxifix-cot. I will only have mobility in my upper back for the next few seconds, the doctors and nurses say. I lay down. Baby-baby-baby, the rhythm plays out. Suddenly, my husband’s voice. He sits by my side, and I reach for his hand, which shakes. A curtain goes up in front of my chest. My husband’s hand is sweaty. Or maybe it’s my hand. It’s hard to know – our hands are tightly clenched together. If we drown, we go down together. The doctors and nurses begin their work. Baby-baby-baby, the rhythm patters on.

Elizabeth Ryan, the midwife, turns to my husband, tells him to stand. He is cautious, unsure, his hand is still trembling, but eventually he lets go of my own, stands. He appears unsteady, as a man on a ship in strong wind. The doctors tell me I will feel some tugging, and I know my child is seconds away from exiting her watery home.

Suddenly, she is. Angel or alien, she floats above me, suspended in the air. (The doctor holds her there.) Blood drips down from her, splatters onto my face and neck. She screams lustily, and through her wide open red lips, I can see the fleshy inside of her cheeks, her pink tongue. I want to reach out and touch, squeeze her, but my arms are attached to all sorts of tubes and instrumentation. Just as suddenly, she floats away, and I can barely stand it. I want my alien-angel-child.

Then she is beside me, her smooth and ruddy vernixed skin pressed against my husband’s pale chest and stomach. I want to eat her with my eyes, but I can only turn and see so much, attached as I am to medical apparel, strapped down onto my cruxifix-cot. My husband looks like a man suprised to be washed ashore after a fierce storm. Like slanted streams of sunshine liberate a previously cloud-darkened sea, waves of relief and joy play across his face. But I am still at storm, at sea. Who is that person? I want to know her. Please. Give. Her. To. Me.

And just as soon, I am ashore. She, my alien-angel-child, is placed on my chest. Intense heat, sunshine on skin at the beach in July, courses through my neck and head. My girl is no angel or alien but pure flesh, my very own human child. Immediately, she presses her crimson face next to mine, her tiny fingers fiercely pull my hair. She smells of life. Her mouth is on my cheek, a wet kiss from my slippery child. Now she latches on. Suckling at my cheek, she tries so hard to sustain herself in these first few moments of life. I look at my husband, who joins me in laughter at our misguided little one. So new and foreign to this brutal and beautiful kaleidoscope of life, yet such incredible hope and ferocious determination. She is our baby-baby-baby; the rhythm, like ocean waves that beat against a sandy shore, plays on.

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