Birth Story; Part 2

My mother gave birth to me on The Farm, the commune in Tennessee from which come Ina May’s teachings. My mother never lived there, but ever since she’d read Ina May’s book she’d known she didn’t want to give birth in a hospital. She bought Spiritual Midwifery from a bookstore in Hardwick, Vermont on July 13, 1978. The place and date are written in black pen on the inside of the worn paperback cover. She was on a road trip with her boyfriend, Paul. Paul is not my father though the ending of their relationship is what set in motion the events that led to my conception on October 8, 1980, on another commune, this one in Pennsylvania.

When she was in her second trimester, she and her mother drove from New York to Tennessee to check out The Farm. They drove the Blue Ridge but it was too foggy for views. In St. Louis (why were they in St. Louis?) they saw an eagle swoop down and grab a squirrel from the path right in front of them and eat it in the tree above them.

When she was eight months pregnant she again made the trip from New York, this time in a greyhound to Nashville. She packed vodka in case she needed to slow down any early contractions. In Nashville, a man tried to pick her up as she was walking to the church mission where she’d spend the night. The next day a woman in a pickup came for her and drove her to The Farm. My father arrived a few days later. He had been in Mexico getting his affairs in order which I believe included selling film equipment in order to buy us a big yellow van. However we got the van, he built a bed in the back of it so that in the coming months we’d be able to sleep in it as we traveled from The Farm up to Connecticut where my mother’s mother was waiting, and then back through Texas and into Mexico where we would live for the next few years.

I was two weeks late. The contractions began, kind of, the night before. They made love. Went to bed. By 9 the next morning the labor had truly begun. She remembers not knowing what to do when it came time to push. She couldn’t understand where/what she was supposed to push into. The midwife manually broke her waters which she wishes she hadn’t done since who knows, maybe I could have been born in the caul, an intact amniotic sac, a significant omen. Dali Lamas must be born in the caul. Near the end of her labor she went to stand and push by the window. She heard a hammering and spotted a huge red, white and black woodpecker in the trees. That is your bird, she tells me. Around 5 pm (a 9-5 labor she says) she pushed me out and my father danced in celebration.

She says the first time she looked at me she felt like she was looking at her own self.

I was born on July 13; three  years to the day after she first bought her copy of Spiritual Midwifery. When I was younger I only looked occasionally at the photos of the women in labor. The dark heads emerging from vaginas suddenly huge with effort both drew and repelled. Later, I’ve noticed that many of them look as if they are cumming; mouths open as if in the peak of an orgasm.

Three months and one day.

8 AM.

The boy slept last night but I didn’t. Some summer nights this happens. I fell asleep early, while nursing him in my lap on the couch and then dozed with him on me. Eventually B. took him and got him into bed and I thought I would go too but wanted to stay in the wife space of the living room verses the mother space of our bedroom. I lay on the couch under the fan while B. meandered the internet and then he read aloud to us from The Alchemist, which we have both read. This time though the book is causing him some stress and that’s what had him up in the middle of the night. Me, it was the summer heat and the odd chill that comes from too many hours under a fan and also when I fall asleep early and don’t actually get into bed, it’s often like this, a chance for deep sleep that passes and then doesn’t return for many hours. Sleep can be like this for me; a bit jealous, a bit vindictive.

An insomnia night is much more high stakes with a babe but I repeated my old mantra, passed to me from my grandmother, “Even if you can’t sleep, just try to rest.” I tried to rest, though from some weird shifting in my vagina I always feel like I have to pee at night.  I’m trying to remember to do a set of kegels every time I nurse but for some reason I only remember to do this during the barely conscious, middle of the night, sessions.

After an interlude of smiling, wiggling wakefulness (which is his typical morning way) the boy fell back asleep on my chest this morning, while I was standing and swaying on the top of the stoop. While standing there I imagined my father walking up and looking at me from the bottom of the stairs. I smile and put a quieting finger to my lips and then invite him in with a tilt of my head. We climb all the way up because B. is still sleeping and then I ease the boy into the rocker.

“Are you hungry?” I ask my dad. “I can make you some eggs.”

I put on the coffee, and we sit down under the fan.

“Why did you name the boy Rafael?”, he asks. (It was his father’s name first and in my mind he is currently mad at me for using it. I have no idea if this is true or not. I haven’t heard from him though, since the boy, since Rafael, was born.)

“Because that was his name,” I tell him, and it’s the kind of answer my father likes and he smiles.

I got no further in the scene because a garbage truck was coming down the streets and the squeal of the air brakes tends to wake the boy up. I went back inside the house, and then to the bathroom mirror to take a peak at the cuteness of him asleep on me. He was stunning of course, but then I looked at my own face too and held my own gaze. I saw there a tired and beautiful woman.

32 days old.

I really don’t like it when people stand over me while I nurse. It’s the bride phenomenon all over again. Did I write about this already? At my wedding it was as if I was moving in a force field. Everyone stood a few feet back from me, staring and grinning, and I felt their love and excitement, but also wanted to remind them, “You can still talk to me.” The force field is back, and stronger. Sometimes it’s because people don’t want to come too near the open boob. This I can respect even though it’s still irritating. But I think it’s something else too.

I feel like I’m being nudged to the periphery. I know I’m still loved, but am I now also inconvenient? Perhaps it’s a speed thing. I don’t have any. We are a slow moving unit, the boy and I. We can’t keep appointments. We can’t work the crowd at the picnic. It’s creature comforts now. Eating. Sleeping. Staring at the leaves on trees. He, and thus we, don’t go anywhere if he’s tired or grumpy or upset. The feelings must be dealt with, can’t be shunted aside for the sake of a schedule. He, and thus we, don’t conform to the world at all. We move at the pace of need. It is indeed the great simplification. And yes, it’s freeing, but it can also be lonely.

At that picnic gathering I noticed the re-grouping; the mothers and children in one area and everyone else simply someplace else. This is what people talk about with this country; we segregate our mamas and children. We just don’t seem to be good at multi-generation living and I always preached about how it would be different with me when I had a kid but now I’m seeing that it’s not only up to me.

In the first two weeks everyone wanted to come and we wanted very few because in those days the color of the green leaves were electric against the blue sky and set me buzzing with joy, but also everything was charged and everything saturated and in that state of being a simple conversation could use an entire day’s worth of energy. And so we nestled into our cocoon of three and put off visits. But now I’m and craving that company and B. says just ask for it and I’m trying but am surprised by this feeling of distance.

My friend said that when I’m nursing it can be intimidating. In part because it appears so intimate. I suppose it is. (I don’t think I’ll ever forget one moonlit night in the first week when I was in the rocking chair by the window just looking at his face and weeping.) But it’s also been made mundane by the sheer number of hours, and I spend enough time doing it alone to want the company. As i’m writing this I know that I did this too, with the first round of friends to have kids. Saw them settle with their babes, and then shifted away because I didn’t know where to place myself in relation to them.

But now that it’s me I don’t want to be moated off from the world. I suppose it’s time to get a lot more vocal, and begin to send out invitations into this new land of ours.

I don’t know what day it is.

Ok, so maybe I’m not going to call him The Traveler. That might have been a sun cresting dramatically over the roof tops after a sleepless night kind of moment.

But everything is like that right now. Heightened. Colors are popping. Smells. Thoughts. Feelings. And this expanding of all things is happening in exact relation to what is technically the shrinking of a day’s radius. Or rather, that would be how I used to think about it–a shrinking. What I see now is more like an intense magnification. We have zoomed all the way in. B. and I care for the babe, and we care for each other, and that saturates the frame and fills the days. I can see every pore on our boy’s nose and I am transfixed.

There is an intensely traditional pattern to our days right now.  My boobs are the source, just as my body was the source. My body needs tending, and my boobs need to give, and in order for all that to happen, I need B. to cook and to lift things and to fill my water when I’m pinned beneath the babe for hours of a day. Sometimes I envy him his freedom of movement. He had a work meeting this morning. Outside the house. He went grocery shopping. I haven’t carried cash or keys for days. And sometimes he envies me my milk; the power to soothe and calm our boy.

But biology is creating specific roles for us. I feel intensely the woman here, and he the man. The past few evenings we sat down to dinner late. Or late for us. The house was quiet. (Now that we’re playing the radio less, I notice how truly quiet our block can be.) And he’s been there without a shirt, and I’m there in some bra/shirt array, and the boy is asleep beside us in the rocker, and our conversation has turned to the work B. is going to begin looking for now that he’s on the verge of graduation. And I’m nodding going, “And then what did he say?”, and suddenly we are characters in a play set a half century ago in Brooklyn.

I don’t mind it though. Before the babe, I used to have trouble calling us adults, and certainly calling myself a woman. That is gone now. I am grown. And it feels like everything I thought it wouldn’t: powerful, sexy and exciting. There is nothing middle of the road about this. I didn’t have to fear some sitcom version of our lives. This is something else entirely.

Week 33

So what’s it like to have a baby? To birth it, I mean. What will that be?

My mother is worried. This has caught me by surprise. The story of my birth, the story of my conception even, has been told me my whole life, and in the telling, it was mythic and powerful. Surges, Ina May’s rushes, while she stood by a window staring at the Tennessee trees. In the trees, she saw a red, white and black woodpecker–huge, two feet tall, more; a rare bird; no one else but she saw it. In her telling, it was power and force and not pain exactly but something else–sensations of great intensity. I was a summer baby born near Summer town, Tennessee. I was two weeks late. I was huge. Almost ten pounds. Though I did not know that was huge. Like most things in my life, I thought my way was the norm and everything else not. Thus, I thought all women were short compared to my mother’s five feet ten inches. I also assumed I would be five feet and ten inches tall too. And I thought my breasts would be the same size as hers. I remember distinctly the day that I realized they were not growing anymore. I was sixteen. I looked down at my little boobs, and went, Huh. I guess this is all I get. Until that moment I’d just been biding my time; sure there was more to come.

Six weeks ago my mother said, “I’m mad at your baby.”

“Why?” I asked, instantly at the babe’s defense.

“Because it’s going to hurt when you give birth.”

I laughed. “But I thought labor was surges of power.”

“Well…it might hurt a little.”

And then we both laughed.

“That’s the first time you’ve ever admitted it.”

Her laugh is more commanding, but when we get going together, we do take over a restaurant.

My mother and I were a team for most hours of most days of most years of my childhood. Before I could even imagine falling all the way in for B., before I had the capacity to contemplate what sharing a life could be; as in way back when I was a teenager, I only ever imagined myself as a single mother. My mother and I used to ride the train twice a year to Illinois to visit family. She always gave me the window seat. At night, they dimmed the lights in the car, and even if they were awake (and we were all awake) everyone got hushed. This was my absolutely favorite time. I’d put my forehead against the cold glass, watching the blurring, on lucky nights there’d be a moon, and I’d watch for the one orange light, the one window lit in the one house in the clump of trees gathered from the wide and flat spaces of the farms.  I’d tuck my feet into and under her hips while she shifted and tried to sleep. Sometimes we leaned into each other back to back, the counter pressure keeping us propped and curled, coming as close we could to actual rest. In the mornings, we went to the Women’s Lounge to “freshen up”. My mother stretched and groaned and her silver bangles clinked. Once properly ready, we headed to the dining car for breakfast. While we waited for food, she sipped coffee and I ate strawberry jam out of the packets with the tip of my butter knife. Everything outside would still be flat, but sunny now, sharp and shining, the houses white.

“Do you want to play cards after breakfast?”

“Uh huh.”

Everyone keeps saying, “Your mother must be so excited.” And I’m sure she is, and I’m sure she will be, and i know she’s going to be an epic grandmother, but she’s not a grandmother yet. For now, she’s only a mother and I’m her only daughter.