In Which I Think Deep Thoughts About Birth

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I've been having feelings about Jacob's birth that I can't resolve.  There is something about that day that I can't figure out, that I keep coming back to.  Something that feels a lot more like the day that my daughter was born dead than I like to admit.

Here's how it went:

On Friday, September 28, I woke up around 5:00 AM to contractions that felt different from the ones I'd been having for weeks.  These were painful, made me stop and breathe deep.  I got up, timed the contractions, and two hours later called the hospital with a report that the contractions were coming every five to seven minutes, and hurt quite a bit more.  A half an hour later my husband and I traipsed into Labor and Delivery for what felt like the millionth (and we hoped would be the last) time of this pregnancy.

The nurses hooked me up to the monitors and watched for a couple of hours.  I think they might have sent me home, except Jacob's heart rate kept decelerating with the contractions (due to, we discovered later, the cord being wrapped around his neck). So instead they admitted me and my doctor broke my water around noon and labor picked up fast.  I chose to get an epidural to save my broken arm stress.  As sitting up to receive the epidural put me into transition and pain that left me no recourse but to sob brokenly on my husband's chest, I was so grateful when the medication began to take effect. 

Within a couple of hours it was time to push.  This was the part that had me most scared.  I don't know why -- I suppose I was afraid that he might get stuck there.  It didn't seem possible that a baby could leave my body still living.

As I began to push it quickly became apparent that the epidural was not going to cover the pain.  I felt every inch of him coming out, and he was only 6 pounds 14 ounces.  I screamed and cried my way through it -- and I'm still not sure if it was all due to the physical pain.  It was as if the pain created a window in my soul to let out the unearthly howling of grief that I have so been longing to release this past year but couldn't quite figure out how.  As I labored, I was both there and not, partially living out past suffering.

When Jacob was born at 4:45 PM after about forty-five minutes of pushing, he was beautifully, impossibly alive. When they put him on my chest and our skin met for the first time and I shouted my gratitude and I drank and drank and drank the beautiful sight of him in, I think a part of me died.  I left a part of my very self behind when he arrived, a big part -- just like when his sister was born.

Is that always how it is, when babies are born?  I thought it was only reserved for the agony of stillbirth, to have the person who you were so brutally ripped away, but now I'm not so sure.  Do we as mothers always emerge from birth with the selves we thought we knew rent and resewn into something new?

This, I think, is what I can't stop thinking about, four and a half weeks later.  I didn't know it was happening at the time, but when I look back to the day of our rainbow son's birth, I can see a very clear delineation of before and after.  I am not the woman I was before that day.

It feels a lot like grief.

Let me be clear -- I am not complaining.  I would give up whatever I lost to have him here again and again, just as I would never undo Eve's life even if it meant being saved the pain of her death.  The cost to my person was worth the births of my children, a thousand thousand thousand times over.

Still, I can't stop my mind from going back, from comparing her birthday to his and wondering how they could feel so similar even while being drastically different in the result.

I don't want to call his birth traumatic, but I can't think of a better word.

But maybe that is just how birth always is?  The meeting of hope and pain and effort and grace, and in the end you trade part of who you were to have this precious, tiny person come through you?  And really, it's not just a baby that's born into the world, is it, but a new you as well?

These are the things I am thinking about, chewing at, and, really, marveling over.

It is 3:30 in the morning as I write this, needing to let the words out.  I look over at the little boy that so recently entered our lives but feels like he has been here for always, so tiny and beautiful, with feet like his sister's and eyes like his daddy's, and know that this is all holy mystery. 

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