Timely Born

Lan Samantha Chang


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.”

Cesarean sections had progressed a great deal since Macbeth. Whereas they had once almost certainly killed the mother, they were now often performed to save her. They had once been only “untimely”—in the case of a failed labor—but in my situation, the delivery would be entirely timely. In deciding upon this method, I was given the opportunity to pick the date of my daughter’s birth. There would be no anticipation, no surprise about when it would happen. No Lamaze classes, no gush of water, no hours of terrible vulnerability, no question of how I would bear it. No envisioning of my own features stretching into that face I’ve seen so many times on so many screens—that animal face. I would be spared the transforming pain of birth.

Instead, I sewed white curtains for the baby’s room. My husband, Rob, and I fussed over her name. I consulted my office about her date of birth: When would be a good time for me to leave work? The secretaries thoughtfully directed me to their copy of a large book that listed not only the luminaries born on every day of the year but a series of qualities a birthday would bestow upon its holder. I pored over the book. Did I really want my child to be “taken up with seeing or being seen in a social context”? Did I want to doom her forever, with a careless choice of her birthday, to being the kind of person who would make “an excellent shopper”? For a brief period, I wanted her birthday to match my good friend Nan’s, but it turned out my obstetrician wouldn’t be working that day. If I chose that day for my delivery, the procedure would have to be performed by a different obstetrician. I balked at this. I wanted as much as possible to proceed according to a plan.

I had begun to realize, however dimly, the absolute lack of control I was about to experience in having a child, in letting a child into my life. Without the experience of birth to be concerned about, I’d nonetheless become as anxious as any woman anticipating childbirth. I had wanted a child, had hoped and longed for a child, but I had no idea what having one would be like. For so many years, I had lived the solitary life of the writer because I felt a solace and pleasure in—and need for—being alone. My husband, a visual artist, understood this. My child could have no knowledge of this need at all; in fact, it would be her essential job to seek my attention, my company and love. She would be mine: and I, her mother, would be no longer alone.

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