I gave birth to my first child at the age of thirty-four. Many of my friends had teenagers by then and some were even grandparents. But not me. I had been far too busy skipping the light fandango and livin’ la vida loca to concern myself with such familial undertakings.
Not to mention, I was far too self-centered, immature, and still needed the occasional parenting myself. I suppose then, that God, in his infinite wisdom and mercy, kept watch over the door of my womb until cosmically (and perhaps with a dose of karma as well) everything unfolded at just the right time.
In the weeks preceding the birth, I kept with my mildly obsessive-compulsive nature and read every book on pregnancy and childbirth I could get my hands on. Provided, of course, they explained in excruciating detail what was going to happen to my body, with the development of the child, and most importantly during labor and delivery. Up until this time, I must confess, I knew nothing about pregnancy and childbirth and had only occasionally queried my own mother about it when growing up.
“Does it hurt to have a baby, momma?” I would ask, innocently, actually believing that she would— get this—tell me the truth.
In a voice laced with a quiet, surreptitious tone and a strange, nervous tension in the air, she would always answer, “Yes, sweetheart, it hurts. But you can handle it.”
Now, I’m not sure if it was the avoidance of eye contact or the furtive glances she shot my way, but I always had the nagging feeling my mother was leaving something out. I would reassure myself with the fact that I was the eldest of four and that both my father and mother had come from even larger families. Clearly, women had been giving birth for generations before me and living to tell about it. So, shrugging off the ominous tension, I would run out the door in search of the nearest tree.
Now, completely naïve, entirely pregnant, and armed with my books and exactly one piece of sage, ancestral advice, one foreboding issue captured my imagination: Exactly how is this baby going to make its way into this world? Or more specifically, how does an orifice that is barely large enough to allow for the passage of a small piece of fruit, like, I don’t know, say, a banana, allow for the passage of a piece of biological fruit which weighs on average, seven to ten pounds, and also has legs, arms, a torso and a head?
I mean, I was no genius, but it didn’t take an Einstein to figure out that something the size of a bowling ball may have just a wee bit of trouble exiting a hole that was approximately the diameter of a Kennedy silver dollar. As one might expect, this held my attention for quite some time.
In hindsight, I realize now, that my fascination with mirrors and the physics of something too large to come out of a tiny hole had distracted me. I had, at best, only given a cursory consideration to the fact that, in a few short months, I would be the mother of a real live baby.
I knew nothing about pregnancy and childbirth and I knew even less about nursing, bottles, feeding schedules, naps, diapers, burping, swaddling, and just the general maintenance and upkeep of a baby. But, no worries, I relied heavily on television commercials for that. Especially the one on Downy fabric softener. You know, the one with the soft camera lens focused on the serenely contented mother in her beautiful, white, lacy gown, rocking and cooing tenderly over her blissfully happy newborn? So, lucky for me, the advent of television and commercial advertising allowed me to focus on far more important issues—like that small hole.
I remember the day of reckoning well. It was Sunday, June 16, 1991—approximately two weeks before my due date. It was a typical, balmy, summer day in Louisiana. Soaking humidity and sweltering heat hung in the air. I was swollen and full to capacity with child. Under normal circumstances, such heat and humidity would have rendered me completely incapable of doing much more than waddling from air-conditioned room to air-conditioned room, with little energy to spare. So, it seemed peculiar that I would wake with an overwhelming and compelling urge to clean every square inch of my house. But I did.
I had heard of this phenomenon called nesting. Supposedly, it’s Mother Nature’s way of signaling an impending birth. I can’t vouch for its validity or truth one way or the other; I just know that when I rolled out of bed that day I was searching for a toothbrush, knee pads, and a fine-tooth comb.
Every dust mite must be found. Every picture on every wall must be perfectly aligned with the gravitational pull of the planets. Every corner, nook, and cranny must be meticulously swept, vacuumed, and polished. And every single drawer must be emptied and reorganized. Even those in the far recesses of the house that no one ever opened unless they were looking for a piece of string or a spare button or something, because, you never know; I might actually need a piece of string or spare button in the coming days.
So, I called upon one very loyal friend, who by the way, had also never given birth, to come over and help me prepare for the impending arrival of the fruit of my womb—which had a head. Not that I was thinking about it or anything. She kindly obliged and we commenced to crawling, scrubbing, wiping, and polishing with great gusto. Or at least, she did. I was busy running back and forth to the bathroom.
During one of my frequent trips, I happened to hear a curious popping sound, which gave way to a sudden and unexpected gush of water. Wondering if the weight of this fetus had finally ruptured my bladder and my death was imminent, I peered anxiously into the toilet.
Huh. It didn’t look like urine. It didn’t have the unique olfactory elements of urine. And it didn’t exactly feel like it had come from the little urine place either. No, this had come from that other place—the place where the seven to ten-pound fruit of the womb would be arriving from very soon. Like it or not.
A swell of anxiety and fear washed over me like a tsunami. Dizzy with the realization I was about to have a bonafide “Come to Jesus” moment, I clutched the counter to steady myself. Once composed, I waddled back into the room where my loyal friend was furiously scrubbing the floors, leaving a dribbling trail of water behind me.
“I think my water broke,” I said to my friend, who looked up with beads of sweat gathering on her upper lip and her round eyes widening into saucers.
“Okay,” she said, with a discernible hint of panic in her voice. “What do we do?”
“I don’t know,” I answered as I turned on my heels and waddled back to the bathroom, visions of silver dollars and seven to ten-pound pieces of fruit fogging my thinking.
Much of the memory of what happened in the subsequent hours of that day has long since faded. It’s been seventeen years and two more kids later. But I do remember enough to know that the orifice I was so obsessed with was actually a musical instrument and a canal—all at the same time. Yes, it’s true.
The inside of that place had all these little folds that expanded and stretched, much like an accordion, the doctor said, which made the passage of my little seven-to-ten-pound biological fruit with legs, arms, torso, and head, not as difficult as I had imagined. Or perhaps it was just the Demerol.
I also remember the doctor saying something about the “birth canal.” Funny, I had always associated canals with Venetian gondolas and singing gondoliers. But I guess if you think about it, it makes sense. I mean there was water in there.
It took approximately two and a half hours for my little gondolier to sing his way right out of that canal—to the accompaniment of an accordion, no doubt. All of those weeks and months of anticipation had finally reached the pinnacle—I had given birth. Was it everything I had imagined? No. Did it occur in the fashion that I had prepared myself for? No. In fact, as I lay on that table while the doctor and nurses hummed around in a postpartum flurry of activity, I felt betrayed, misled, and lied to.
It had hurt like hell, first of all. Whoever said that labor and delivery felt like pressure needed to have their head examined. And they sure didn’t need to be writing any books. The only “P” word that comes to mind with labor and deliver is p-a-i-n. And this notion that I was going to be an active participant in the birth of this child? Pure and utter nonsense. Anyone who preached this half-baked piece of hooey had clearly never seen a uterus in action. Rising and falling in perfect rhythm with the 100-ton force of a pile driver, it was clear that no help was needed from me. My body was in charge and the baby was going to be born. I was just along for the ride.
But when they lay that little guy in my arms and our eyes met for the first time, there was one truth that was undeniable. God had brought us together, perfectly, at the right place, at the right moment, at the right time. I was his and he was mine. A miracle had occurred that only the deepest wisdom of the universe could comprehend. Two hearts had been inexplicably woven together—forever.