when he was born

About twelve hours into a thirteen-hour labor, it was 2:30 in the afternoon and raining outside. There was a woman sitting in the corner of the room wearing a matching lavender sweatshirt and sweatpants, and a small, elven-like woman with dreadlocks. There was no sound except for me moaning and growling and swearing and yelling. Scott was with me which I was glad for, but I couldn't feel the comfort of his arms, maybe because he couldn't muster up that comforting energy while we were being watched. There could be no intimacy between us then, which I regret. He was a helper only. Putting pressure on my back, lifting me when the woman in purple sweats said to.

When I became by turns especially loud and dead silent, the woman in purple sweats said the baby was coming. She told Scott to watch my back, watch the bones move. There are sensitive sacral nerves there, and a long-ago back injury and congenital hip abnormality. It hurt so badly for the baby to move such a small distance, just to clear my sacrum. The other pains were comparatively insignificant. We waited, as we had agreed, for my body to move the baby down according to its own perfectly timed hormonal choreography so that my tissues would be fully softened and stretched, so there would be no trauma. There was no counting, no voluntary bearing down, no exhortations to breathe or to not breathe or to push against someone's hand or to not push or to pretend I was having a bowel movement or to feel my baby's head. Stay out of it, I had informed the midwife during the prenatals. Now I groaned, Help, help me, and then in a moment of lucidity fixed her in the eye and said, stern-voiced, NOT YOU. We laughed about that later.

I was on my knees in the water, I could feel the hardness of the tub making my knees raw, but I was locked into place, I could not move. The baby was coming. I could feel with my fingertips the hardness of his skull still inside me. And then it was as if something lurched inside of me and all the energy of my flesh became totally directional, downward. A "throwing down" sensation, very much like throwing up but coming from my uterus instead of my stomach.

The feeling of him coming through me was sensational. I loved it so much that I tried to hang on to the visceral memory of it for months, becoming sad as it faded. People don't like it when I talk about that. It sounds dirty to them, inappropriate. Birth is supposed to hurt. Not because women deserve it, no, we are too evolved to believe that any longer, but still for it to feel good is perverse somehow. If birth wasn't inherently painful, people say, wouldn't we hear more about it? I don't think we would. The shame we surround it with is too pervasive.

But for me it was healing. It had been denied me, violently, in my first birth. Unfortunately I wasn't allowed to just be with him afterwards. He wasn't taken away from me, no, we knew enough at least not to do that. But the talking, the inspecting, the directing, the worrying. Nobody wants the mother to hemorrhage, so all that has to be done, or so we thought. Ironically, all that was being done was increasing the risk of hemorrhage: I later learned that there are unobtrusive ways to monitor the mother's status, and that intruding stimulates her neocortex, suppressing the function of the old mammalian brain that is responsible for regulating the hormone release that is in turn responsible for a normal separation and expulsion of the placenta as well as chemical bonding.

Instinctively salvaging what I could, I retreated into myself, yet another woman out of necessity reinforcing the cultural belief that women are too weak and "out of it" to tend to their own newborns. Women have help, so women need help. Circular reasoning as truth.

And in withdrawing, I forgot my baby. Wait, what is this in my arms? This lump of living flesh? Do I know you? Never mind that for now, the placenta is still not here. Let me touch you, what do you feel? Knead, pull, discuss. Gravity?, oh yes, gravity. We forgot about that. Here, father, hold the baby. Move there, mother, no here, like this. There it is. Relief.

It took me a long time to find him again. A long, long time. Somewhere in the time between when he emerged and the midwives deemed me done and safe, the thread connecting us was broken. It's not just in hospitals that this happens. It's also not just the way it is. It isn't just the way it is that it is emotionally hard to become a mother, to have to care for an excrement-producing noise-making constantly-needy entity, to deal with such intensive responsibility so suddenly, to have your life no longer be your own. It isn't. This is a rite of passage that isn't meant to be a trial. I'm angry about it still. No blame, nobody knew better at the time. But I learned.

And I found my way back to him. The human spirit is resilient. And as long as it is up to me, I am not going to allow that thread to be broken again.