There were three birth rooms in Andaluz, each with a peaceful-sounding name, a name that suggested that things like massage or Reiki might be going on inside. I chose the one called Lavender. There was a queen-size bed covered in a pretty quilt and throw pillows in pastel colors, and a door that opened up into a bathroom with a birthing tub at its center. I insisted on getting into the tub immediately, though the warm water only fleetingly blunted my pain. Every time I had a contraction I thought, You have got to be fucking kidding me! It seemed preposterous that this was the way birth got done. I felt solidly and profoundly connected to all the female mammals of the world. Not just the women who’d birthed, but the cats and the bears and the lemurs, too. (more…)
My first child was born in a sparsely populated Maine county, where the nearest hospital is considered more hindrance than help in matters of mortality prevention. Many of the doctors who work at this hospital give birth at home. So do many of my friends. Despite compelling evidence against the hospital, however, my husband wanted to go to the hospital. “If something happens to you or the baby, everyone will blame me,” he said. This might sound paranoid, but it’s actually just true, and a fine-enough reason to choose a bad hospital over a good home. Birth makes people blame other people. Even when nobody dies, there is blame galore. You should have waited to go to the hospital. You should have gone earlier. You should have said no to this and yes to that. I hope you’re happy with your healthy baby, but you fucked up, you seriously fucked up! (more…)
My baby grew at the center of me, his cells splitting into flesh, hardening into bone. As he grew, so did his imaginary twin, a baby made not of flesh, but of sadness.
Before I even began to show, I was filled with wild pulses of anxiety. At night, I would roam the house in my bathrobe, checking the doors and windows for the twelfth time, the thirteenth, the fourteenth. During the day, unable to concentrate on my work, I would stay in bed, willing my eyes open to the sky outside the window. When I closed them, the nightmares would arrive. My imagination in my normal life runs to the exuberantly surreal, but these nightmares were far too real, the world as I knew it, but suddenly curdled. There were pandemics in these nightmares, people lying down one by one in the streets to die. There were droughts, the green places I love crisped brown, the lakes drying up, the fish beginning to stink. There were hurricanes, my Florida house smashed as if by an enormous fist. There was hunger. (more…)
I sat on the edge of the bed, preparing for the oddly intimate embrace with a stranger that getting an epidural entails. That’s when I mentioned the pressure. The actually rather intense pressure. Intensely, urgently extreme pressure.
“Where?” asked the anesthesiologist.
Under less strenuous circumstances, I might have said, “In my left elbow, knucklehead.” I whispered, “Where the baby is planning to come out. I hope.”
Vera shouldered the doctor aside and asked me to lie down. The shock on her face, framed by my tented legs, was almost funny. (more…)
It was six years after my uterine surgery when I married and another two years, when I was forty-one, before my daughter was conceived. I asked the doctors if it might be possible that my uterus had healed over time, making possible a natural birth. But the medical records of the procedure, if they still existed, were buried in microfiche archives somewhere in California. The doctors could not know for certain where the incision had been and if there was still risk of rupturing the uterine wall. My obstetrician in Iowa thought it best to go through with the planned C-section.
I went through my nine months of uneventful pregnancy without doing any research on the surgery I was to undergo. I felt curiously unafraid. I knew only what I’d learned from my tenth grade English class: that my baby, like Macduff, would be “none of woman born.” Macduff, the Thane of Fife, the hero of Macbeth, is able to slay Macbeth because he fulfills the witches’ prophecy: Instead of having a natural birth, he was “from his mother’s womb / Untimely ripped.” (more…)
10. I should mention that during my pregnancy, my anxiety vanished so completely that I couldn’t recall what it had felt like all the years I had been consumed by it. Perhaps it was the hormones. I was a happy pregnant woman. Peaceful, even. If my anxiety had its origins in a need to control every aspect of my destiny—hell, of the entire universe’s destiny—that control-freak aspect of my nature had subsided. I had always been one of those passengers, on airplanes, who felt they had to spend every single moment of the flight telepathically communicating with the pilot in order to keep the plane aloft. Now I understood myself to be a passenger on the flight of my life, a passenger in the Boeing 767 of my own body.
11. The hospital, the paper gown, the monitors. They were all ready for me, but I, apparently, wasn’t ready for them. According to the nurse on duty, I was dilated zero centimeters. Zero. How could that be? (more…)
Every lesbian who has the mama bug wants healthy sperm, but I wanted articulate sperm. I didn’t need a picture. I found a sperm bank that required donors to compose essays that expressed their opinions about families. And the donor we chose wrote about helping lesbians who couldn’t have babies, providing them with a chance to move from sorrow to joy. My life before motherhood wasn’t a constant place of sadness, but I had wanted to be pregnant since I was a teenager. To create someone inside my body seemed like the ultimate high, and the easiest way to repair what had always been broken. It would be like playing God, but without the hot mess of the cross. Or it would seal me closer to the divine. But in my early twenties, I believed I needed an actual man to make and raise a child. That wacky philosophy dressed up in Christianity knotted me to a lie of heterosexuality. Years later, falling in love with both poetry and a pastry chef named Tammy, the myth of the indispensable man cracked. Love between two women has the power to unravel all kinds of lies. (more…)
The cesarean was wild: the blood pressure cuffs; the way I lay prone, arms out like Jesus; the masked doctors and nurses, buzzing about; how I imagined what they were doing to my body even though all I felt was strange, rough pressure. Patrick arrived in his surgery moon suit, whispering to me and rubbing my face, and I was so happy we were together. When I heard our baby cry for the first time, relief flooded through me. They held him up, and I could not stop crying. He looked just like Patrick! He was red and wailing, and a few minutes later, I heard Patrick tell him, “I have a face, too, like yours; it just has a mask on it.”
When they brought my baby to me, he stopped crying. We were like old friends. Patrick and I hadn’t told anyone what we’d call Bean once he was born; we’d kept his name a secret for months. Now, though, he would be called Dixon. But he’d always be my Bean. (more…)
Grief. Long October days of eating blueberry muffins and reading trashy magazines and crying. My stomach shrank to its previous size. I had been told how to handle lactation if it occurred, but fortunately, it never did. I missed my boy. I saw him everywhere still, in the faces of small boys on the street, in the few items of clothing we had received as early gifts, in the ultrasound photos of him that we had been given while he was alive. Friends and family visited, and probably because of their generous sympathy and love, I let myself fall apart.
But I was thirty-six and this had been my first pregnancy. I knew I wanted more than one child—and time did not stop. We had to start to try again soon. I was not emotionally ready, nor was my husband. Still, according to the laws of biology and the advice of my doctor, we really had to try. During the autopsy, tiny blood clots had been found in our baby—this may or may not have been the cause of death, but I was assigned a high-risk doctor for future pregnancies. He suggested if and when I did conceive again, I take shots of Lovenox, a blood thinner, each day as a precaution. “It couldn’t hurt,” the doctor said. (more…)
Throughout the pregnancy, I’d wondered what labor would feel like, whether I would manage to endure it, how I would hold up. Would I make a fool of myself or prove myself weak? The presence of the anesthesiologist’s equipment was both a comfort and a terror for this reason. This is a test, it said. Are you passing or failing?
When I closed my eyes, I envisioned a red, glowing cup. In my mind, I endeavored not to drop the cup as the heat around it grew. I realize in retrospect that this visualization was likely a result of my sense that I wasn’t ready to deliver this baby. As it turns out, the desire to withhold is precisely the opposite of the desire to release required of the birthing process. By four in the afternoon, I was wavering. I didn’t know if I could maintain the suspension. I knew the IV and epidural were stationed somewhere nearby. (more…)