Pregnancy lasts so long that by the 9th month, I was convinced that actually giving birth wasn’t for me. Pregnancy seemed interminable. So when my water broke, 10 days after my due date, I was convinced I had just wet my pants. For the first time since I was a little kid. But, the thought that I was actually going into labor was not the first thing I thought of.
“Tanya, I just peed my pants. Is that normal?”, I asked my midwife, a fairy of a woman with copper hair, freckles, and a distinguished look. A good decade older than me, she was. I was 20 and, she told me, my water had just broken.
“I think your water broke”, she told me. “Call me back if it happens again.”
On the phone with her 5 minutes later, with the same mortifying tale. She was sure of it. I was officially in labor.
It was about 10 or 11 am. All of the usual suspects were still over from the night before, sprawled around my tapestry-covered living room like diapers soon would be. Henry Street was a house where pot was plentiful, the smell mixd with constant community-style stir-fries and body odor. There were some professional dumpster-divers in my clan. Trader Joe’s had just opened in Hadley, and they had not taken measures to protect their “not the best but still good but still thrown away” food from the hippies, the vegans, the anarchists.
We took a hike, cutting up past the power lines behind Henry Street that I prayed would not give me a brain tumor each day, and into a steep woods trail, where I also hoped I would not be mistaken for a deer. This was Amherst. My good girl friend hung back with me, while a few boys walked ahead with my partner. No doubt smoking a very last bowl before being shoed out once we returned home.
I had heard walking and hiking was good for labor so, with that off my list, I did what else I had heard was good for labor. I rested, watched a movie and napped. Then a new mama came by with some food, and her very own 4 month old dark-haired baby girl. Was the baby there? I can’t really say I recall. The food I recall well. It was “chinese rice”, likely some leftover rice with an egg stirred into it along with some soy sauce. Scratch that, it must have been Bragg’s. You know we are talking about Amherst counterculture when Bragg’s enters a birth story.
It was now getting dark, and all the visitors but my partner’s best friend had gone, to the great stir-fry beyond. Or to Northampton. Same thing.
Finally, things started getting pacey. To the bathroom, to the bed. To the yoga ball, to the bed. To the yoga ball on the bed.
My midwife finally came at 8pm. She had called to check on things and was confident that I was able to get to this point on my own. I called her back, asking, “Are you sure?”, more than once.
Was she there, my midwife, when I threw up every bite of food my friend had prepared for me? I don’t recall. I just recall the heaving. By 9pm I was in the zone. Perhaps that euphemism has been used by too many sports figures to be applicable here without corruption. I was beyond help and beyond words. I recall the color yellow vividly. The feeling of being molested, assaulted or sexually tortured casted shadows in my mind. As if I could just say “No” and this shattering pain would stop, this pain that so clearly was not caused by me. It was an hour I spent enveloped inside every dark thing that has ever happened to me.
My partner had long since become useless. I asked his best friend, a de facto good friend of mine, to leave. He did leave, although an eternity later, he would be back, saying goodbye as I left henry Street on a stretcher, bleeding to death in the way that women do when they have given all they can, and the device that gave all, the placenta, refuses to come out. As if to say, “I am not done giving. I am not done being connected to my child. Bring her back to primortality where I have everything she needs.”
Did I know that my baby was a “she” when the 7 minute mark, the 10 minute mark, the 20 minute mark passed by post-birth, and I lay bleeding and attached, umbilically, to her, and fiercely to my inside, with my placenta? I did wait, wait, and just until I couldn’t bear it, did I richly hands tentatively to the newborn’s privates, to determine what they were. I waited so long under the advice of that friend, who had given my the fried rice that had been my gastronomical undoing hours earlier, but this advice rang deeply in my soul:
“Wait. Wait to find out ‘what’ your baby is. Wait until you have had a moment, the only moment you’ll ever know, of loving the child you have just had. The one that all too soon will be admired as a boy or girl…”
When I had waited long enough, and I felt around down there, I announced that it was a boy. My first error as a parent. It was, indeed, a girl! My girl. Raven-haired and fiercely nursing, attached again to me, like only the most insignificant of changes had occurred.
Her father did get to hold her next. I should mention that this postpartum nest in which I was bleeding out profusely was my bed. I had the baby in the bathroom and she and I were carried, processionally, to the bedroom, still attached, me hanging like Jesus on a cross, the cross being the shoulders of midwives.
Maybe her father had his turn to hold her at the 25 minute mark, when it was clear to everyone but me that I was dying, hemmoragging, in dark, hot weeping blood. I remember he tried to walk away with her, the stoner forgetting that she and I were still attached.
I remember the midwife telling me to keep my eyes open, as her midwife associate called the ambulance that saved my life.
“Keep your eyes open. Talk to us. Talk to us. Stay with us,” she ordered from far away, from far below. I remember floating to the top of the ceiling, my whole body levitating above the bed, and my mind bumping into the paved concrete lines in the ceiling.
I stayed. It was so peaceful up there, and it was only for a few minutes, or seconds, but I had the feeling that I was simply not in my body, the voices were heard as if being spoken to someone else, perhaps that blueish corpse on the blood-soaked bed. That feeling lasted only as long as I did, and then, my consciousness shifted again and I was no longer bumping into the ceiling with my whole face, but there in bed, feeling again-the bite of a small mouth latching to my nipple. And there I stayed, long enough to get to the hospital, and receive the lifesaving surgery and subsequent blood transfusions-multiple- that separated me, and my birth experience, from the ghosts of…the dead,
from the past,
who never got up from the childbearing bed again.