Thursday, July 30, 2009
The first of three birth stories
Today, twenty-five years ago, I entered my journey of real-time parenting. Never think that parenting begins when your child emerges on their day of birth, you have a complete relationship with a being that shares space with your internal organs for months before you get to meet them face to face. Sometime as the sun was going down on this day 25 years ago I met Paul for the first time.
He missed his due-date by two days, on the early side. I had been planning and was well prepared for his birth at home in our tiny apartment by the beach. I had visited my midwife that afternoon, driving the Mighty XOC 812, which was a Volkswagen bug of cancerous color and she assured me she thought it would be sometime that day. The XOC broke down about a quarter of a mile away from the nearest available phone and I walked, in 95 degree heat (with contractions that demanded that I stop, breathe and get through them) to a small car repair garage to beg use of their phone. I remember being terrified that a police car would stop and demand that I be taken to a hospital since I was so obviously in labor, and there was no hospital in my plans.
When I arrived at the office of this greasy garage there was a character straight from a movie talking on the phone, with his feet up on the desk, smoking a cigar. Think Danny DeVito only taller. I was panting, and puffing, and holding a belly that left a scant inch of space between it's borders and my knees when I was sitting down. He actually gave me the "just a moment" one finger signal that he would be done soon when I told him I needed his phone. Maybe he couldn't see me because he was turned inward mentally and talking about whatever car guys talk about. I actually breathed through two contractions while I stood there and waited, because I thought it was important to be polite. I was 23 and he was an older authority figure. I finally found some birthing-mother resources and out of my mouth came "If you do not let me use your phone right now I am going to have a baby here in your office! You're going to need to clear off this desk!" His feet hit the floor, he looked at me for the first time, slammed down the phone and said "Jesus, let me call an ambulance, we don't want no babies getting born here!" I explained, between little puffy lamaze breaths that I just needed to call my friend for a ride. He eyed me like a crazy woman, like a bomb that was ticking and MacGuiver nowhere in sight to defuse it, and let me make my call.
I made it home with over an hour to spare.
The boys' dad came home from work, and wanted to get straight into the birth-coach role that he and I had gone to the classes to learn. He wanted to tell me when to breathe, and to the light belly effleurage that the teacher had shown us, and I wanted no part of it. I was listening to the boom of the wave sets across the street, and the ocean we call Pacific and the ocean in my belly were communicating and my contractions had started to sync with the wave sets. If you've ever listened to the ocean for any length of time, there will be several small waves, then a big one that booms and thunders, about every seven waves or so if I remember correctly. My well trained birth-partner was reduced to water man, I wanted a drink between contractions from him, nothing more, nothing less.
The whole labor including the push lasted 26 hours, which is far short of my longest labor, and far longer than my shortest. I remember when it was time to push I was really excited and ready for the work. I could feel the results, the slow but sure movement with every push, and though it wasn't comfortable I never yelled, I just worked hard. In three births I have never yelled, I would have made a good pioneer, traveling the country ever westward in a covered wagon, except I'm sure I would have packed too much stuff. By the time his head was fully crowned and out my midwife gave me the toughest assignment any woman will ever get: "The baby's cord is wrapped around his neck, looks like a couple of times, so I need you to stop pushing for me."
For any of you who have delivered a baby naturally, or those of you who are still with me and just imagining it, I will tell you that the urge to push is primordial, it's undeniable, it is a force of nature. Not pushing is like trying not to have an earthquake, to ask thunder to wait just a second. It turns out that his cord was double-looped around his neck and each time I pushed I was strangling him. I popped over to an entirely separate plane of reality, and went idle, stopped existing myself, long enough for her to untangle one loop, clamp and cut the cord in two places and then resume reality. "Ok, go ahead, you can push now." she told me, as if I could have resisted that imperative one more time.
I pushed, mightily, as though I was Atlas and had actually rolled that rock to the top of the hill after all. Paul flew out of me and landed on the bed before anyone could even catch him. One of my friends, who knows him as an adult said "Well, he is a skater and that was just his first trick!" He said "Whaaaah whaaaah!" maybe twice, to clear his lungs, and then was silent. He was born with his eyes open, and for the next four hours he said nothing at all, just looked at us with those sapphire eyes that were so aware; looked back and forth at us, at the world, drank in the outside visually while he was totally calm. We knew him, and he knew us, and he was born very old.
His eyes were a shade of blue that defies description if you don't add electricity in there, and as a baby he was so serious and contemplative that for a long time people would ask "Why is your baby staring at me?" After his newborn phase faded, he became the most beautiful baby that anyone had ever seen. His dad had played guitar just inches from my stomach while I sang for the entire pregnancy, and amnio fluid conducts sound quite well. He was marinated in music, and to this day is an amazing and gifted guitar player himself. He is my child who keeps things to himself, has always seemed to know secrets that he keeps in his eyes, unlike his brother who talks always and makes sure you know that he has been trusted with top secret information that he can't divulge.
I will tell you Andrew's story the day after tomorrow, because that will be his birthday, but today I tell you Paul's.
He was the most unusual baby, and has always remained my beautiful and loving enigma. We connect in ways that I can't explain, only treasure. In a book that Molly wrote when she was around 5, she sums up the Paul page with "I love Paul, everybody loves Paul." and even then that was a truth and a prediction. Everybody does love Paul. That is just a constant in the universe.
So today I wish a very happy birthday to my first-born. My Paul Daniel, the first of my three true soul-mates the Universe has seen fit to bless me with. I love you honey, you set the standard for your brother and sister, you were the first to give me the greatest joy a woman can know, and I thank you. I love you more than words. Happy Birthday!