I started weeping yesterday when I saw pictures from my friend Mike’s wedding on facebook. Technically, we didn’t actually date, so I can’t call him my high school “boyfriend.” There wasn’t enough time for that because he asked me out about a month before I went away to college. But he did kiss me and then proceed to guess rightly that it had been my first kiss when we saw each other again at Fall break. It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about that time in my life, although Mike’s gentleness of spirit and warm honesty has always made those memories some of my best. We went on to have a great friendship precisely because we didn’t date and he even came to my wedding with his fiance – now wife – so I have no sadness in reserve for a lost relationship. It’s that Me I’ve lost: the girl who had the luxury of having nothing on her mind but heartbreak over a boy even though at the time it was very real. It was shocking to find that in a moment I have gone from being an innocent 18 year old getting her first kiss to all of this ordered chaos which in another 20 years will most likely seem again like luxury to my more expansive self. On this side, life looks very much like a series of re-births into a wider world.
A friend reminded me the other day of a scene from “The Last Battle” where all the animals are approaching Aslan’s doorway into the new Narnia. Some of them go joyfully through, propelled by the hope of what they will find on the other side. Some of them get to the very threshold and veer away, suddenly repelled by the very same thing. I can saw, now, from experience that birth – all kinds of bringing forth of new life – is this way: you have the option of saying no, but to say yes is to give up all control of what happens afterward. It feels very much like rushing toward a narrow opening with only the vaguest ideas of what the other side will be like.
I’ve had two weeks full of odd moments to think about all this and every time I sit down to write a journal entry for my own purposes I find that my initial impressions have been added-to by new experience, so it would be very hard for me to re-capture the exact feelings I had on the day Gilead was born. Maybe they weren’t meant to be captured anyway. I kind of think that’s why any language we use to describe physical intimacy or something as elemental as giving birth ultimately falls flat or sounds unbelievably crass when compared to the real feelings we feel when we remember the acts themselves. I couldn’t even rightly describe that first kiss of mine to you. All I can do is reiterate the sweetness of the memory and trust that you can extrapolate all the meaning on your own. I believe this is a bit of what C.S. Lewis means when he tells us about Joy.
Oh, there has been basically endless talk about sleep and poop and nipple pain and weight gain, so I don’t want you to think I’ve had this totally philosophical existence since January 3rd. On the contrary…there’s so much I wouldn’t know about God right now if I hadn’t been spending many, many of my waking moments taking care of someone else’s basic bodily functions while trying to ignore my own aches and pains. It’s dirty and exhausting and also the most exhilarating thing I’ve ever done. I still look at his little face and can’t believe he’s mine. I drive so much more carefully now and make sure I don’t fall on the ice and hurt myself simply because I know I am responsible for this little person’s life. And he’s such a creature! It immediately puts in perspective some of the things God says about how He feels about us. Gilead is totally wrapped up in his needs and most of them have to be satisfied right away. He has absolutely no perspective on the wider world around him…but do I resent him for this? Do I sit there and say to myself that he really should grow up? Not at all…I have this kind of wrenching pity for him. It doesn’t matter at all to me that he can’t even smile at me properly yet or doesn’t have a concept of loving me back. All I care about is that I love him and that for at least a moment at a time he trusts me to take care of him. Again, this is something I will never be able to adequately describe to you, but even if you don’t have kids you probably have felt it. Remember that – it’s how God feels about you. We shouldn’t feel indignant that He pities us – although we often do – because we are just such small, helpless creatures to him whom He loves with all the ferocity of a Father.
I’ll quote a bit from my journal entry 2 days after Gilead’s birth:
“What I also wanted to say was that saying it’s worth the pain is almost making an irrelevant statement. I don’t connect the two because his existence swallows it all up. That’s why I hardly remember it. After the moment he came into the room I was a different person. It’s taken me a few days to know it, but reliving the birth story is almost like telling something that happened to someone else. I remember those deep throbs of pain that felt like they would never end and never stop getting deeper so that my voice found a whole new register – think Mordor – as I strove to somehow accommodate it. I was not ready – although I am proud of how well I did and thankful my body knew its way. There was no way to be prepared for that pain. Thank God it works its way up to being as deep as it gets. But more…I wasn’t ready to have a baby. (Imagine that. Even at the very end.) Thank God that happens in the end no matter how prepared you feel. Not that I wanted to prolong it, but when my body started to push I almost resisted. It defied both my expectations of how long labor would last based on how far we thought I was and also any physical sensation or experience I thought I’d ever encounter and say to myself “yes, I will willingly go there.” I was, for the whole measly 30 minutes I was pushing, afraid to open my legs, unwilling to change positions had someone asked, unwilling to let go of someone’s hands in order to feel his head or to pull back on my knees and unprepared to find that he was coming very quickly. It was a force like a tornado. And then it was over; completely over. I came to myself and he was there – this tiny little stranger who looked like no one I’d ever seen – and we’ve been falling more deeply in love with him ever since.”
More than once since that moment I’ve just stared at him and started to cry. It’s almost impossible to process the immensity of feeling I have for this boy. Like I said, I was a different person than I am now. It might be imperceptible, but the moment he came into the room, I did feel my soul become a little bit heavier with the weight of glory.
However, I can retell my birth story here briefly for posterity. I can’t believe it was only two weeks ago. It feels like I’ve lived a lifetime since then.
We went to a friend’s wedding on Jan. 1, which was my due date. I was so huge and swollen that night that I got asked if I was carrying twins. Always a great thing to hear. Henry’s friends were in town for the wedding, so we set up a breakfast date the next morning and were up bright and early to reserve a table. That morning marked my last full night of sleep for awhile. 🙂 We had a few people over to hang out that afternoon and Ray came by so the three of us watched Dr. Horrible, which I hadn’t yet seen. When Ray left I watched HGTV on Hulu and felt sorry for myself. Then I lied down in bed and read my Stephen King novel until about 1:30 a.m. I had just turned off my lamp and started dozing while Henry was in the bathroom when I felt a contraction unlike those ridiculous Braxton Hicks I’d been having for a couple of weeks (each time making me think I was in early labor…which I guess if you think about it, maybe I was). At the time I remember thinking it was like a diaper of pain – better yet, a loincloth of pain – stretching from my abdomen up to my lower back. It made me hop out of bed and hustle Henry out of the bathroom (because with it came the instant urge to go #2 – a fact of life you may as well get used to if you want to read a birth story). By the time I came back, he was half asleep and I thought I felt a little trickle. I ignored it because I was NOT going to cry wolf again and lied down through another 1/2 hr of the same type of contractions. When I stood up again I got a big gush that I knew was my water having broken. That was about 2:30 a.m. and I called my midwife, who told me to try to sleep if I could.
It was so strange – I had been wanting to go into labor for weeks, but at that moment all I wanted was for Henry to hold me and to take a break for a bit. I got into bed and he did hold me but there was no real break. I succeeded in dozing between contractions for the next 4 hours; first in bed with Henry and then on the couch when I kept having to get up to go to the toilet every 5 contractions or so. I just kept telling myself to look forward to the dawn and at 6:30 when I knew I was going to start throwing up I woke up Henry because I knew we were going to need some help. After that, the last coherent thing I remember was calling Sarah and Bethany and then chatting with Sarah very briefly as I sat in the rocking chair in the nursery and Henry started filling the tub. Then it was snippets of memories. Karen (the assistant) got here around 8:30 and I was 4 cm dilated and fully effaced. His head had been sitting very low on my cervix for a couple of weeks, so there was no problem with that. After about 7:00 I had added throwing up to my every 5-10 contraction pattern and was shaking fairly visibly with hormones. It felt good to throw up, but not to labor on the toilet. Karen wanted me to try having a few contractions on my feet or squatting, so Henry helped psych me up for that and we did several that way; standing in between and squatting when the contraction came. I remember my mom and Bethany getting here and that they took turns holding my other hand or being with me when Henry had to leave. I remember him drinking coffee right next to me and not having the energy or heart to tell him it made me sick. I remember trying to eat things and how everything tasted awful. Mostly I just remember how my voice became this conduit for the pain. I don’t know when I started moaning with the contractions, but once I did I couldn’t stop. If I hadn’t been able to moan I wouldn’t have gotten through it.
Karen checked me again at 10:30, I think, and I was still only 4 1/2 or 5 cm. She told me I should probably wait an hour to get in the tub so I could try to get at least to 5 cm. So I just stayed put on that bed right where she’d checked me. At one point Henry looked at his watch and remarked sarcastically that that was only 52 more contractions (at that point they were about 1 minute apart). I had no energy to say it, but that was not a great thing to say around me at that point. We laughed about it later. They told me I could get in the tub finally at about 11:15 and I remember bolting for it the minute a contraction passed and not getting in the water in time for the next one to hit so I was doubled over, standing in the water and waiting for it to pass. When I got in the tub I had 5 blissed-out minutes of what felt like complete relief. I remember thinking I could handle a few more hours if it was going to feel this good. Then the serious contractions started. This is where none of us are sure what was truly going on. The last we knew I’d been at 4 cm and was likely at 5 at that point, so when I felt the “serious” contractions I thought maybe I was in transition although it seemed like it should be way too soon for that. It felt like several long waves of deep, deep pain – lasting for a couple of minutes – with only a brief break in between. I remember saying frantically, “help me stay calm!” because I couldn’t imagine how I was going to get through an hour or more of those. Honestly, I don’t know how I could have. As it was, I just did. I had no choice. Toward the end of one of those I felt my body pushing and I remember laughing internally when I heard the midwives both come quickly walking back from the kitchen where they’d been eating and chatting. They both thought it was still going to be awhile. It really is true that one’s body pushes without your active consent. I remember being afraid that I was actually pushing against a remaining lip of cervix and it wasn’t truly time. I asked if it was okay and Christina said I should just go ahead and do some small pushes if I felt like it. But the next few contractions weren’t small pushes at all – it was all-out, sweaty battle. I kept asking if it was okay and Christina kept offering to check me to see if I was dilated. I didn’t want her to do that, being totally freaked out that I was pushing so soon but not wanting to be told that I shouldn’t be pushing either, so I just kept pushing. After 3 or 4 pushes she said, “oh yeah…you’re ready.” I asked her why and she said, “because I can see his head.”
This was when the whole thing took on a sense of total unreality. They got on their gowns and gloves and all my friends and family gathered around. I kept thinking…this happened so quickly. Pushing is great because your contractions slow down again and they don’t feel so intense because your main sensation is one of downward motion. Pushing is not great because you can feel your hips being pressed apart and your, well, vagina being stretched and held open. It’s scary. As it happened, the largest amount of time spent in the pushing phase was when he was crowning. My body just held him there for the exact right amount of time needed to keep me from tearing. I got SO hot and sweaty. I remember demanding ice chips and water between each push. When his head was out and I could see it, it got even weirder. I couldn’t even process that there was a person down there, halfway into the world. I’ll never forget the relief of getting his shoulders out of me. It felt so great that they had to remind me to push just a little more so that his legs would come free. Come free they did and Henry pulled him up and onto my chest. He was pink and perfect and he did all the things any self-respecting baby should do right away. And really…the rest is history. Like I said, it all feels really distant compared with his actual, beautiful self.
I’m sure there will be more thoughts on God and birth as we figure out how life looks now. I know now more than ever that I wasn’t ready to have a baby. My instincts on that one were right. But I think it’s in the same way that none of us, except for a few really exceptional and devoted people, will ever truly be ready for heaven. I think the whole point – well, I HOPE the whole point – is in us running toward the door even though we don’t know what lies on the other side. It’s in that one reckless moment abandoning all control and taking one step forward into the unimaginable.