Parenthood requires an honest reframing of one’s spiritual beliefs. Nirvana is reached in that brief moment when the dirty clothes hamper and clean clothes laundry basket are both empty. Nirvana is short-lived, if not unattainable.
Recently, a friend of my mother’s asked (for probably the second or third time in two years) for a copy of my birth story. Apparently, I’d shared it once before, and she’d inadvertently misplaced it. I managed to avoid her request a number of times insisting that my own computer files were so jumbled and confusing after so many data transfers that I’d never be able to find it. A week ago, I decided to find it. Having read it (for the first time in nearly three years), I am so glad I chose to record that brief moment in my life and my daughter’s. Thank you, Julie, for pushing me to open a time capsule I wouldn’t have otherwise opened, at least not for a while longer. Thank you, D, for making me a mama. So very glad to be yours.
Um I guess I could save this for a more timely time like, ya know, Mother’s Day or my daughter’s actual birthday (both on the horizon), but my timing — unlike my daughter’s — isn’t always very good.
June 13, 2009
I want to tell you the story of how you were born. Right now, you are ten days old, and as I type you are nuzzling your head against my shoulder and hiccupping. I already love you more than I imagined possible.
When I was about thirty-four weeks pregnant with you, our midwife told us you were sitting head up in my belly. We spent about a month doing all kinds of silly things to get you to put your head down. I went to a chiropractor and an acupuncturist. The acupuncturist gave us special moxibustion sticks that we lit like incense and your daddy held by the pinky toe on each of my feet for fifteen minutes on each side twice a day. As I type, I still have the remains of a blister on my right pinky toe from when I tried to do it myself.
I also went to a yoga class where the teacher yelled a lot and had his apprentices help put me in all sorts of positions with my head below my feet. They even held me against the wall in a headstand. I went to the pool at the gym and did handstands and somersaults there – I think I must have looked like the dancing hippos in the movie Fantasia. Your daddy even bought a cover for our pool at home to make it nice and warm, and I went in there and did more somersaults and handstands.
When we began to realize that these methods were not working, we went to the hospital twice to have the doctors try and push on my abdomen to turn you head down. Even after they gave me a spinal to release the muscles the second time, you stayed with your head up.
We had planned to have you at home, My Love. We had hired a midwife and doula so that we could create a safe, relaxed environment into which you could enter the world. I even planned to rent a birth tub so that you could be born in the water if you wanted to. I had not planned to have you at a hospital.
When it became clear that you would need to be born at a hospital, either vaginally with your bum coming out first, or by cesarean birth, we researched our options. I realized that I didn’t feel safe trying to deliver you bum first – breech birth. We decided that the safest way to bring you into the world was with a cesarean birth. We found the best doctor we could, Dr. Norrell, and the best hospital available, Saint Luke’s, and made plans to deliver you there.
Most often when cesarean sections are planned, they are scheduled for the thirty-ninth week of pregnancy. In keeping with that, you were originally scheduled to come on May 26th. It was a Tuesday. We saw Dr. Norrell for the first time the Friday before that. She told us we could have the weekend to decide whether or not we wanted to come in on Tuesday or risk waiting and going into labor naturally. If we did that, she couldn’t promise that she would deliver you, and we really wanted her to be there.
After our visit with Dr. Norrell, we went and saw the part of the hospital where you were to be born. We were given a tour by some very nice nurses, and I sobbed as we walked from room to room. Your daddy tried to hold me together. I realized that I was not ready to have you. I wanted to give you at least one more week to “cook” in my belly. It felt like it was too early to pluck you out. I felt relieved when we emailed Dr. Norrell to tell her we wanted to wait until the following week to have you.
All during the second half of my pregnancy with you, when people would ask me when you were due, I’d tell them May 31st, but add that you and I were in negotiations for June 3rd. Your daddy and I had so much to do to prepare for your arrival and get moved into our new house, that I always hoped you’d be a little bit late. When it came time to schedule the cesarean section, June 3rd seemed like a fitting day. Dr. Norrell said she would be available.
On the morning of June 3rd, your daddy and I got up early to drive to the hospital in San Francisco. We were scheduled to arrive at 9am. The night before we had a celebration to mark the last night that we would be a two-person family. We also tried to bring about labor for we hoped that, even though your birth was scheduled, we might give you the benefit of some natural labor. We went on a long walk, and I sweat more than I had in weeks. We made pizza and put lots of spicy red pepper flakes on it. We took a bath in the big bathtub and loved each other lots.
Around the time I was eight months pregnant, buds began to emerge on the lavender plants that line the walk out front. Even before they flowered, they smelled wonderful, and I imagined that their flowering would coincide with your arrival. When we walked out the front door on June 3rd, the flowers weren’t quite in full bloom, but I picked three stalks anyway – one for you, one for me, and one for your daddy. We took pictures of them on my belly at the hospital, and I held them to my nose as I’d heard the scent was supposed to be relaxing.
I was nervous when we got to the hospital, but not so sad as I had been when we visited previously. I was getting excited to meet you. I couldn’t quite imagine that I would get to meet you in just a few short hours. We went to the nurses’ station to check in, and I saw right away on their white board that it said, “Laren: planned C-Section.” I pointed and said, “That’s us,” and we were ushered by a friendly nurse into a small room.
They had me change into a hospital gown, and I was thankful when they noticed the large tear in the shoulder and replaced the original gown with a new one; I had been concerned about looking like a miserable creature with a torn gown. Silly thing to be worried about, but I felt much better in the new gown. They hooked me up to an IV on my left hand (near the wrist) and drew blood from the back of my right hand. Cool saline began to drip into my blood stream, and I was hooked up to a fetal heart rate monitor and a machine that monitored my contractions. It turns out I was actually having good sized contractions at regular intervals – every three to five minutes. When Beah, our midwife, arrived, she said it was likely I was in early labor. Yippee. I didn’t feel the contractions, but I was glad to have this sign that you were feeling ready to join us.
I listened to a relaxation track on my ipod, and tried to remain as calm as possible. The nurses did an ultrasound to confirm that you were still head-up, and when Dr. Norrell arrived, she did a second one just because she said she didn’t want to slice into me if she didn’t have to. Sure enough, between her witty remarks to your daddy she told us that your head was still nestled by my heart.
After the anesthesiologist explained to me the drugs he would administer to me so I wouldn’t feel anything from the waist down, and your dad explained to Beah how to use the cameras, the nurses walked me into the operating room. It was small, and seemed more “homey” than the operating room I had been in at UCSF when they tried to flip you the second time. I wanted your daddy in there with me, but they told him and Beah to wait outside while I got the Novocain shot and the spinal. I wished your daddy had been able to hold me while I got the shots instead of the nurse who had been blabbering away to us all morning about how her daughter tried to tell her how to take care of her grandkids.
Once I got the pokes in my spine, my legs started to lose feeling, and the nurse and the anesthesiologist helped me to lie down on the table. I could see half my reflection in a mirror on the ceiling. I looked at it as I began to feel woozily. Consciousness fading, I told the anesthesiologist that I didn’t feel so good. “Mmm-hmm,” he said. He kept saying this, almost like a nervous tick. I think it was his attempt at bedside manners. I threw up. I wish I had worked harder on aiming for him, but since I wasn’t fully present, I hit the bowl he held up instead.
Maybe they adjusted my meds, maybe they didn’t, but my head started to stop spinning, and the gag reflex started to stop being so reflexive. Looking up at the mirror I could see that it looked like the grandma nurse was shaving my pubic hair with an electric razor – I hadn’t thought they would do that, and I was upset that they didn’t tell me that’s what they were doing. I heard the buzz of the razor drone away.
I think Dr. Norrell came in slightly before your dad and Beah. Seeing her smiling eyes over her mask made me feel like someone was on my team. The anesthesiologist put my arms out perpendicular to my body and draped towels over them. “Should we strap her arms down?” a nurse asked. “No way,” I said. The anesthesiologist said he would just leave the towels there as a reminder for me not to move. He then proceeded to tape the towels down and around the armrests. I don’t have fond memories of the anesthesiologist.
A curtain was placed between my face and my abdomen so I could not see what was happening. Your dad held my hand and tried to explain things to me, but it all seemed very blurry, even then and even more so now. I remember Dr. Norrell explaining things to the nurse who was assisting her. I remember feeling things moving without feeling pain. I remember sobbing and that it took a lot of energy to explain that my tears were happy tears. I remember Dr. Norrell expressing relief that the tears were happy, and I remember her asking someone to lower the curtain so I could meet you.
The next thing I remember was everyone laughing. “She’s trying to crawl back in,” said Dr. Norrell, “Lemme get a better grip on her.” Laughter from everyone. You were making people laugh before you were even all the way out. As the curtain came down, I saw your face coming towards me for the first time. Dr. Norrell rubbed your head against my cheek and held your body on my chest. You felt so good! The feeling of your skin against mine for the first time is one of the most satisfying sensations I have ever known. Your skin against mine is still one of my favorite feelings. Well before I had my fill of your flesh against mine, you were whisked away. “Nooo!” I called out, “I want to hold her. I want my baby.” The emotional pain of having you taken off my chest was far greater than the physical pain of you being taken out of my body.
It is now nearly a year after your birth – May 18, 2010. As I look out the kitchen window, the lavender is about to bloom again. Each bud is full with the promise of vibrant color about to burst forth. I can’t help but be transported back in time to last May everytime I walk up or down our front path. Last year at this time, the stroller was neatly assembled and sitting in the corner of the living room. Your diapers and clothes were all washed and neatly waiting for you in your unused drawers. I felt I knew you so well and yet I’d never seen your face just felt your wiggles and squirms, your kicks and bounces.
After you were born, we spent three days with you at the hospital. Most moms and dads put their babies in the rolling plastic bassinets much of the time. Your dad and I could not put you down. We both wanted to be holding you all of the time. We did our best to take turns. You were a champion nurser from the get-go. In fact, Beah, our midwife (with 30+ years experience) told us she’d never seen a baby crawl up to the breast and latch on the way you did just minutes after your birth. The whole time we were in the hospital, either your dad or I was with you all of the time. Your dad went with you to take your first tests which confirmed for us what we already knew; you were brave and alert. In fact, when you still had no name but “Fig” on our third day at the hospital, we were inspired by your lack of tears upon receiving your first shot to name you Devlyn. It means fierce and brave.
A year later you are still mighty fierce and brave, and yet you seem to be a completely different human being. Ever since we met you we have watched in awe your verve and fierce joy as you swallow up life. It is hard to believe that just one year ago you could barely move your head. I still remember the vision of you with a giant cloth diaper bulging all the way down to your knees, your “0-12 month” socks still baggy on your tiny feet.
You wear shoes now. Your stroller is well worn-in, and the clothes that sat in your unused drawers at the time of your birth are neatly folded and packed away in boxes for some other new baby; they are much too small for you. You stand up all by yourself, and today at the park, you went down the slide on your own. When we turn our backs for a minute, you climb up and down the stairs. You love to play chase on your bed; you giggle and face plant as we creep our hands behind you. You also love to dance. When you hear music with a good beat you bounce up and down and shake your head. Sometimes, you even wave your arm back and forth. I don’t even know where you learned this. You wave goodbye and miss your dad all day while he’s at work. Our all night nursing sessions punctuated by swaddling and ball bouncing, have melted away into nights where you sleep upwards of ten hours at a time. You are even starting to take longer naps on your own in your bed and use the potty. You are such a big girl. So big and wonderful already. I can only imagine what the years to come will bring.
You warm my heart, my little Fig. I am so glad to know you. I love you madly. Happy birthday.
It is wise to sort out major career, parenting, and mortality issues early on:
Me: What do you think you’ll be when you grow up?
Child (nearly four years old): A ballerina and a mama.
Me: How many children will you have?
Me: Boys and girls, or just girls.
Child: Just girls. [long pause] I will die before my children.
Child: I think I will just be a ballerina and not a mama.
Child: Mom, I painted this rock for you!
Me: Thank you! It’s beautiful!
Child: Let’s pretend it’s a sham rock.
Never overlook an opportunity for learning about shapes in your environment:
“Mama! I saw my poop, and it’s the shape of a wine opener!”