The day you were born

Tomorrow you turn two, my daughter, and it seems more important than picking up toys or finishing the dishes or figuring out what we will have for dinner tomorrow that I write down the story of how you came into this world.

It started the same as it had with your brothers – with work. The day before your oldest brother was born, I sat down at my desk, and typed my transition memo. The next day, unable to stand the pain of pregnancy one moment longer, I walked, I bounced, I ate spicy food until he was born to an utterly exhausted mother.

With your second brother, I wrapped up meetings at work, told my boss that, despite being a month away from my due date, there was a solid chance she would not see me the next week. I came home to finish his baby blanket, pull weeds, clean the house. He was born the next morning, early but not entirely unexpected.

And for you, my daughter. I was never able to hold on to any of you until your due dates, but you stayed content the longest. I had other opinions on the matter, and spent the afternoon before you were born on my hands and knees scrubbing my bathroom floor, in hopes that you might become slightly less content in there.

That night, as I cooked dinner, my body ached. I chalked it up to the exhaustion of caring for two young boys, to scrubbing the floor, to carrying another human on my hips. When I sat down to eat, I felt fine again, but as soon as I stood to do the dishes, the pain came back.

My mother-in-law had joined us for dinner, and my husband gently suggested she might want to stay the night.

After boys were kissed good night and the dish towels hung to dry, I bolted downstairs to finish a pile of work. You wiggled contentedly as I typed away, and when I dotted the last i and crossed the last t, I went to bed.

That night, I slept fitfully. My body writhed, pulled between exhaustion and adrenaline. I awoke once, twice, a dozen times.

I was not having contractions, I thought. Or perhaps I told myself. I was only feeling vaguely uncomfortable, maybe quite uncomfortable, no, I would say pained. But then I was fine and able to stumble back to sleep.

At 3:15 I woke up, significantly less fine than before. At 3:30 I woke my husband.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “I just don’t feel right. I don’t know if it’s anything though.”

At 3:35, I said, “But maybe we should go to the hospital.”

At 3:40, my husband asked if he had time to hop in the shower. “No,” I replied. “We need to go now.”

The pace continued to accelerate, although I seemed unable to admit that today was the day I would become a mother of three. “Maybe they’ll just send us home,” I told my husband as he got our bags into the car. “It’s probably nothing,” I said to my mother-in-law after my husband woke her to tell her we were off.

At 4:15 we left, making it the three blocks to the hospital without a contraction (a feat that ended while attempting to get out of the car).

At 4:30, the nurse informed me that we were definitely, definitely not going home that morning.

What followed was a mountain of intake paper work. (I was recovering from a cold, and my hoarse voice made the nurse raise an eyebrow when I promised that I was not a smoker). After she finished her litany of questions, she suggested that it was time to check me again.

“Oh no,” I said. “The other nurse just did that right before you came in twenty minutes ago.”

She looked at me. She had been listening to my voice as I answered questions, and she thought things might be happening quicker than expected.

What followed was a blur. I got into the bath, and immediately got out. I screamed that I needed to use the bathroom, igniting panic in the nurses eyes who insisted I very, very much needed to not use the bathroom and get on the bed immediately.

And soon (whether I was carried or stumbled under my own accord on to the bed, I have no idea), I was laying on the bed.

I screamed where the hell was the doctor.

The nurse called him once again. “I’m in the building. Two minutes.” I heard him. I realized, at this point, he was superfluous to the whole situation anyway.

I screamed for the epidural.

Or at least, in my head I planned to before the rational part of my brain realized you were not going to wait for my pain to evaporate. You had waited long enough, and it was time.

And at last, I screamed that I really, really just wanted to go home.

You see, there’s a point in every birth where you reach the end. It is not the moment of birth itself, but a few minutes before, when you realize that you would be doing absolutely anything else in the world. You are convinced that you cannot, under your own accord, actually survive the next minute. It is a feeling of despair, fear, and pain so powerful that it is best left mostly forgotten, and mostly untouched, until future moments of despair require you to draw on the experience of your past.

But then, all I wanted to do was to stop. Just to stop. They hooked an oxygen mask to my face and I breathed in gratitude that someone had realized how difficult this was and had offered me a modicum of relief. Later, I realized that you had begun to struggle, but at the time, I gratefully gulped in the air.

My brain cleared. I realized this could all be over in a moment.

And then, you were born.

The doctor walked in, drying his hands and lifting you up. I moved the cord out of the way. A girl. The sun had yet to peek over the hills.

At 6:15 my mother-in-law texted to ask what the iPad password was – your brothers were awake and wanting to watch a show. My husband told her, along with the news you were born two minutes before.

I spent the next several hours in shock, the image of a train barreling down a track and straight over me playing on repeat in my head. Eventually the sun rose and the world landed right side up. I pulled myself up over the horizon, and entered a new life with you.

After breakfast, your brothers came to meet you, their faces beaming. Never have two boys been so delighted at the arrival of a sister. We marveled at your perfection together.

And when it was quiet again, I held you, and tried to catch my breath.

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