Baby William is three days old now, and as sweet and round and suspicious as can be. His popularity is off the charts with his siblings, whom I've had to beat away from him on several occasions as they try to lavish him with love and kisses and stuffed animals and fresh blankies. He's even a neighborhood celebrity, having arrived at home on Christmas, and several times I've looked up blearily to find the kids and their friends standing in the door of the bedroom, asking if they can look at William now.
William is also a literalist, and I'm going to have to be careful in how I make requests of him. I always had the vague desire to have a Christmas baby; he showed up precisely then, five days late. I looked at the clock while I was in labor and determined that I would have the baby by 9:30; he refused to budge before that time although I could feel that he was down there, just about ready. I wanted a healthy child; here he is tipping the scales at a good pound heavier than any of the others. On the other hand, I hoped he would have dark hair, and so he does, a good head of sweet soft fluff that's perfect for nuzzling.
His birth was a little different from the others in that my water started leaking at 9:30 am on Christmas Eve, 24 hours before he was born. This was something new for me, and it had us all on tenterhooks all day. I didn't go to Christmas Mass for the first time in my life. I gushed and dripped all day and all night, until contractions started at 4:10 am Christmas Day.
Labor and birth was uneventful, unexceptional, uncomplicated, and relatively fast at less than six hours. I had warning to call the midwives, and they arrived in good time. It was also completely horrible. This was not the amazing contractionless labor of last time. It was brutal and grinding, worse than any of the others. The contractions were almost pleasantly mild at first -- I could tell they were about to start by the moment of complete blissful peace right before the muscles began to tighten, and I could work myself through them by rationalizing that this was just how it felt to dilate and get ready for birth. That worked, for a time. But you can't talk yourself out of intensifying pain forever. Eventually I was just surviving it, using my lifeline of one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and one Glory Be, said slowly to gauge the time. And after a while even that wasn't working, as the contractions grew longer and had multiple peaks and no seeming end, and I clutched Darwin and rocked on my toes and breathed as best I could through the clenching, gut-rending pain. I did remember that I'd promised to pray for people, and I did, by name or by intention or just in flashes of images.
The pushing was pure vicious agony, the worst thing I've ever done. I can write about it now without shaking, but I wonder if I won't have post-traumatic stress flashbacks to wailing, "Jesus, please!" for two minutes straight of sheer excruciating torment, without having the mental strength to complete the thought: Jesus please make it stop, Jesus please take this away, make it end. Time is a funny thing. Right before I had to push, I kept thinking, "It's almost over, but it's not over yet. It's still coming." And once it had come, the last bitter moments, I wished I could have stayed indefinitely in that antepenultimate instant of waiting, putting off the worst forever. And once it was over and baby was out, there was no relief or triumph. I heard him cry, but mainly I heard myself cry, unable to move or look at the baby (though I was cognizant enough to hope that the kids, down watching a movie in the living room, couldn't hear me). When the baby was handed me, I still couldn't move, and I had to be put in bed by others because no part of me worked. And for the rest of the day, if I needed to shift position or go to the bathroom, someone had to come and roll me carefully or lift my legs because I couldn't do it. Someone put a plate of Christmas dinner on the table next to my bed, and although I was hungry it was better to be hungry than to reach out for it. I told Darwin, "I never want to do this again," just as I've said five times before, but with the difference that this time I really really meant it. Never again.
What's the point of writing all this up? I have my sweet perfect little baby (well, he's a bit tongue-tied, but that's not inconveniencing anyone but me), and he is precious and loveable. And of course, there's no point in saying, "I'd do it all again for him!" because I don't have to. Time is a funny thing. There are no do-overs. I've given birth to him, and it's in the past now. That exact experience will never happen again. Good has come from it, and that particular pain is now just a memory, fading faster than it should in the continued presence of William's soft newborn smell. So why dwell on it at all at the risk of scaring newly expectant mothers or women thinking about conceiving?
Because it happened. It was real. The cruel pain happened, and it meant something that it happened. This labor existed, and it can't be undone. It matters -- it must matter -- that for this particular William to be born, this particular experience had to be endured, and I was the one who had to endure it, the only one who could have endured it. And now it's fixed in time, and time is a funny thing for those of us who live through it -- this sacrifice doesn't have to be re-presented. It's real, but small and temporal. Through some pain, perhaps contraction, perhaps afterpain, I thought of Julian of Norwich saying that although the pain of Christ was greater than the pain of all who ever lived, it was infinitesimal compared to his joy in suffering it for us, because the pain was for a time but the joy was eternal, without beginning or end. And I tried to find the joy in my suffering, and I couldn't, but I did offer it for someone. And now the pain is fixed and frozen in time, but the offering, because it was tied to Christ's eternal offering, goes on and on. Here I am in the present, with my sweet one next to me, and whenever this will be over, it's not over yet.