We knew you were on your way to us when my heart was pierced by an unseen bee. A hot, heart-shaped swelling formed over my own and I called Papa in wonder and pain, crying. I asked him what he thought it meant to be stung in the heart by a mysterious stinger. He didn’t hesitate to excitedly say he thought it meant a baby was on the way.
After that I began to be visited daily by a pair of grey and white flirtatious birds that I had never seen and haven’t seen since. They would join me on my hikes, loving one another and flying close to me. Each time they visited, flitting wildly from branch to branch I would know you had arrived, somewhere, very small inside me.
The morning we made you was late August and yellow and bright. We realized later that the date marked our “anniversary” of sorts – the evening we sat on a bench together late into the night and described our quite consuming and undeniable interest in one another.
The first time we heard your heartbeat it was loud and strong and I was shocked at its volume.
Your sisters knew you were coming all along. Before you were even in my belly they were coming up with names for you. Cherry blossom. Alena. Necklace. Girl Possom.
I was sleeping when my water broke and, just for a second, thought I had peed in my sleep. I nudged Papa awake to tell him the news. Our plan for labor was that at the very first sign we would run for the bed and get as much sleep as possible so that we were feeling strong and rested for the more difficult parts. Papa did his part, falling back asleep right away, but I couldn't. I was too excited. I called the midwife and made toast and showered just as she suggested, but mostly I lay in bed, waiting, wondering, and wide awake.
I was surprised by the strength of the contractions. I imagined baking a cake, taking a hike, and making a meal during the early stages, basically passing the time until your arrival, but I realized that wasn't going to happen. The sensations took all of my concentration. Instead I took the opportunity to experiment. As each contraction came I tried something different, holding my breath, wiggling like crazy, or lying perfectly still. I found that relaxing completely, from my eyebrows to the tips of my toenails was best and I employed this strategy to the very end.
By morning the day was bright and sunny. The most yellow day I have seen in my life. I was relieved to not be alone in the dark anymore, that others were awake, that action was happening. Papa showered and put on his most comfortable clothes. I thought he looked beautiful and liked that he was preparing so fastidiously, to honor me, and you, and the day. Aunt Emy returned from her run and started to cry, overcome by it all, by her big bellied sister, by the electricity in the air. Kris came to see us, and while strolling through the amber-hued yard a contraction moved through me and I hung from her waist like a sarong.
But mostly I wanted Papa. I sought him out with each contraction and so he passed on his preparatory duties to Emily so that he wouldn't have to leave me, even for a second. Other things happened, the midwives arrived, the tub was filled, and I was offered a homeopathic remedy to make the contractions stronger and longer. I was hesitant at first, stronger and longer sounded a lot like harder and more painful, but I was acutely aware of the birth process, that my body held within it a tiny gate, usually closed completely, that would have to stretch to ten centimeters before I could push you out, before I could see your little face. Contractions are the key to this gate and therefore I knew I wanted them, lots of them, and for them to be powerful and efficient. I took the remedy.
The contractions became more intense right away and I started to feel them in my back. I lay on the couch, Papa crouched by my head, and worried about back labor, even starting to feel sorry for myself. But our midwife, the very epitome of everything good and soothing, helped me imagine the contraction moving through my body and whisking out through my toes. I continued to practice my fully relaxed, almost-a-comatose-noodle approach with each wave but the pain was catching me off-guard and I was struggling to find my feet in time, struggling to relax fully. Papa said to imagine the contraction like a guest arriving at a barbecue, one you would greet at the door and show them through to the backyard. My stomach turned at the thought of food, so we giggled our way toward a guest-greeting scenario in which food was not involved. It helped. Looking for a contraction on the horizon kept me focused, allowed me to be ready and willing to let it pass through.
Eventually the tub was offered and I couldn't get in there quickly enough. Our house is tiny and the inflatable kiddy pool took up nearly every inch of available space. The two dogs lounged peacefully, the midwives knitted and made up the bed, Emily adjusted the temperature of the tub, but I saw none of this. I made my way to one side of the pool, slumped over the edge, and stared. At Papa's left eye.
I learned later that at one point things were so quiet that, for the folks not in labor, it was too quiet, they became too aware of the sound of their footsteps and the whisper of their conversation, so Emily put on music. And because she knows me well, because she was so a part of the process, her selection was perfect. Gentle, soothing tunes that became part of the fabric of the day, part of your coming.
I did say a few words. After stepping into the water I slowly eked out: Too hot, and Emily carefully added coolness, bowl by bowl, until I felt just right. And a bit later, watching Nathan's soft loving face, I worried he might be too relaxed, that he might leave me by dozing off for teeny bits and managed to whisper: Do. Not. Fall. Asleep. He didn't.
Eventually my breaths couldn't outlast the strength of the contractions and my legs would spasm. Papa's left eye held my gaze, unflinching, as I slowly moaned out the pain. But the pain was great. Later, even though it was probably not a good idea to describe it this way to someone who might yet experience labor, I described the sensation to Emily as being dragged, naked, across really sharp rocks. When this pain arrived, this style and duration, I began to worry. But then I didn't have time to worry because I wanted to push. Really badly.
As my midwife checked to see if I was effaced enough I used all of my manifestational powers to make her lips form the words: Okay, you can push. The sweetest words I have ever heard. And I pushed, using the three-thrust method I had read about, wanting to make headway, wanting to see you. When it started to sting I had the sudden realization that this was my labor, my body, a body I knew well and trusted and loved, which meant that three-thrust pushes might not be necessary, I could work this baby out in my own way. So I wiggled. I wiggled you further and further, until finally I was talking to you in my head, asking if you were ready, if we could make this one the last one, asking if you would help me.
The photos of that day show you, your head poking out from my body, upside down and peacefully facing the world. I was still slumped over that edge, still staring at Papa's loving face and I could feel you when I reached with my hand, but could not yet see. But your serene eyes found a target. My heart swells with the idea that in your first moments, through the haze of warm water, your aunt's smile was waiting for you, tearing up I'm sure, but holding your gaze.
And then, after hours of waiting, after moments that dragged on longer than my usual understanding of time, everything happened at once. You slipped out, I was helped to a seated position, the umbilical cord was somehow unwound from my legs, and I saw you. Passed by strong hands across that pool and into my arms. Your head was pointy and white, like an albino Egyptian queen and I couldn't help but say: Hi little yoda! You made tiny moans and squinted your eyes against the yellow afternoon. We wrapped you in blankets, closed the shades, and murmured sweet nothings.
Later you finally cried a short burst and we kept saying over and over: You made it. Hello. Welcome.