The Lavender Room

Cheryl Strayed

 

Mammals

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.

I howled and moaned and mooed like a cow as I contracted every two/three/four/five minutes. I walked up and down the carpeted stairs of the now-empty nondescript office building that housed the birth center. I did squats and lunges and sat on an inflated ball and languished in the tub and vomited every time I took so much as a sip of water. I laughed with my husband and tried to concentrate on the candles he lit for me and I stared at the framed photograph of my dead mother that he propped next to them, trying to channel her to make me strong.

When I had a contraction my entire body would be instantly flooded with sweat, the heat unbearable. Then, as soon as the contraction ended, I’d be freezing cold, shivering violently until the next round began. My husband and two women friends who’d joined us a few hours after we’d arrived at the birth center were what I came to think of as my contraction pit crew. They were the ones who pulled my robe off and put it back on according to my body temperature. They tried to convince me to sip the water I’d later retch up. Every fifteen minutes a midwife or one of her apprentices would crouch down and listen to the baby’s heartbeat through a stethoscope and assure me that everything was okay, but otherwise the four of us were left alone, doing our circuit of stairs, ball, robe, no robe, bathtub, lunge, howl.

 

The Crow

By morning I was standing near a window in the Lavender Room watching the sun rise and feeling like a survivor, if only of the night. My pit crew was asleep on the bed behind me—they’d taken to dozing off in the brief minutes between my contractions—and so it seemed, in this moment, I was alone. As I gazed out the window, I prayed to be out of this misery, to muster up the courage to do whatever I had to do, for the baby to be born soon. I felt entirely at the mercy of the birth, as if I’d lost any sense of who I was outside of this. As if there was no me outside of this.

As I had these thoughts, a crow flew up and perched on the narrow brick ledge outside the window. He was only a few inches away from me. Startled, we looked at each other. After a few moments, he tapped his beak several times against the glass as if trying to tell me something—tap tap tap. And then he turned and flew away.

I took it as a good omen. My son would be born today.

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