Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Becoming Flesh

Some days I think it's preposterous to call myself a writer any more, as the one thing I'm not doing is writing. I compose all the time -- snippets of posts, sentences that I polish up and down, descriptions, analysis, repartee, little lapidary phrases. I arrange my days in words. But those words live in my head. They gestate and are never born. No one interacts with them, interprets them, lets them come to fruition in their own minds. 

This is the opposite of the Rhapsodic Theater championed by Karol Wojytła, later to be Pope John Paul II. In the rhapsodic style, a problem is posed through the spoken word, and that spoken word takes root in the hearer's heart and starts him or her meditating on a solution along with the actors. It's a theatrical version of God's own creative powers: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."

None of my words are becoming flesh, but I've been co-creating in other ways, of course. Writing may be comparable to labor, but it's not actually anything like; giving birth is sui generis for pain and reward. It also consumes all other forms of creativity. At first I was sustaining life in my body. Now I'm sustaining life with my body, dispensing milk every hour or two to a grunting, squishy infant. 

(Here I pause to nurse.)

 I wrote about William's birth three days afterwards, because I needed to put it into words to process it. I haven't written about Paul's birth three weeks afterwards, because I haven't needed to. If art is born from suffering, this was a lot less artistic than last time.

For twenty-four hours before birth, I'd been having mild contractions on and off, nothing strong enough or close enough to count on. I was definitely miserable. At one point on Saturday afternoon, I laid my head on the table and told my older daughters, "Girls, if you're ever tempted to have sex before marriage, remember this day." They nodded solemnly, though I can't say whether that was because they were impressed or because Mom was just being weird and needed to be humored. 

At 3:15, I thought I'd try to lay down during a contraction. Then I thought I wouldn't lay down. Then, as I was struggling painfully to sit up, or change position, or something, my water broke. "That's it for the water," I said somewhat incoherently to Darwin, who was reading a book in bed. Ten minutes later we were out the door, headed for the hospital. When my water breaks, I'm on the clock -- 90 minutes left.

And may I never ride in a car in labor again. Amen.

We'd never actually been in the hospital before, so we had to ask the lady at the desk where Labor and Delivery was. 

"Is she in labor?" the lady asked.

Understand that I was bent over, gasping, twisting, clutching Darwin's arm. I was in about the same state at the check-in desk up in L&D, except by now I was crying. The lady at that desk was unfazed after she'd ascertained that I didn't have to push.

Fortunately the nurses, who are not worried about the prospect of catching a sudden baby, were all attention and kindness. I was admitted at 4:00 at 6 cm. ("Only 6?" I groaned.) 

"Will you want an epidural?" the nurse asked.

"I don't know," I said. "Probably not. Maybe. I don't know."

"Okay, we'll just see," she said. 

There were plenty of distractions with the monitoring and the IV -- how I hate an IV! But the contractions were getting worse, and I was running out of strategies. I'd gone from my timing stand-by of an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and Glory Be to simply talking myself through them. Somewhere I'd read that a laboring mother should tell herself that she is strong, so I tried it. "I'm strong," I whispered. "I'm strong, I'm strong, I'M STRONG." That lasted for two contractions. I tried piety. "I am weak, but he is strong." That too was discarded. Finally I was reduced to, "I'm okay, I'm okay, I'm okay, I'm okay..."

And then, as I was up on my tiptoes riding it out, the pressure changed, and it was time to push. I looked at the clock -- 4:40 -- and told myself, "Done by 5. Done by 5." At this point, you don't just say a thing and be done with it. You go on saying it and saying it until you're knocked out of the groove and have to say something else instead.

I hate pushing. You can't ever tell where you are. You think that the baby must surely be out, because how can it get any worse, and they tell you, "Oh, look, there's his head! Just one more push!" And how can he not be out? My coping strategy here, on my hands and knees in a hospital bed, was sheer protest. "I don't want to have a baby!" I insisted. "I don't want to have a baby!"

These are the strange things one says under extreme duress, even as one knows how ridiculous it sounds. I mean, I wanted the baby. I just didn't want to have the baby. And I knew it was silly as I was saying it, and I said it anyway because it was the only thing I had any power over at the moment. Darwin tells me that I threw up on him, but I don't remember that. All I remember is stupidly protesting against this labor, and then the door opened and the doctor and everyone finally arrived at the very moment I pushed the baby out. 4:47.

And then it was done! That's what I said: "I'm done!" And "I'm not pregnant anymore!" And someone maneuvered me off the drenched pad and put a dry one underneath, and someone helped me lay down without pulling the cord (the feeling of the cord between your legs is the weirdest thing), and someone handed me a warm, wet, slithery, purple baby. And I was done! And there was a baby boy! And I wasn't pregnant anymore!

The nurses were very sweet and said I'd been so strong, so I guess people say odder things in labor, and they got us all set up in a room, and Darwin brought me tacos. Overall, the hospital experience was a good one, and I have to give lots of credit to all the nurses and doctors. You guys are great! Keep being awesome! Sure, even in the hospital I was fashioning a narrative, this eventual post, but by and by I left off, content to lay in bed with baby and watch the second hand of the clock tick by. 

I spent the next week in bed feeling pretty good, and the next week not in bed feeling not so good, but young Paul is pretty fine. We've been feeling around for the right nickname for him, since Paul doesn't sound like a baby name to me -- probably because it's my dear father's name. So baby has been Polliwog, and Wog, and Pog, and sometimes Podge (P. Hodge, you know), but mostly we've called him William. He doesn't seem to mind. He is loved, and held, and warm and safe unless the real William tries to squeeze his head. He nurses on one side until he falls off, and then he can't latch on again, so he must be burped and fed on the other side. He's not of those babies who saves up his poop for a week -- after almost every feeding thar he blows, and sometimes while he's on the changing table all opened up, too. His hair is dark and velvety, and his cheeks are filling out. He grunts most amiably. His gaze is vague and milky, but he turns his head to hear Daddy. He is only fussy when he wants to eat, which is much of the time.

I've gone from feeling like a supermodel because I have ankles again, to sighing because my stomach sits on my lap -- no, really! My stomach can actually sit on my lap if it's not held in. The human body is odder than advertised, and the shape of a three-week-postpartum woman has nothing to do with anything you've ever seen in a movie or photo. Sometimes I wish we had more honest images of people, but to be honest, I don't even want to see my own stomach sitting on my lap, nor my soft upper arms, nor my developing double chin. I hope all these things will eventually be ameliorated as I lose baby weight. Am I contributing to the problematic public image of the mostly glossy human body? I want to be real, but I want to leave the house in something other than the black sweatpants I've worn for three weeks. 

I also want to write, but a new baby demands all the time, even when you have a house full of people to love him and squeeze him and call him William. At night I'm tired and want to lay down. During the day I'm distracted and slow, and when I have free time I have to think about things like schoolwork and vacations and the confirmation class I'm teaching this year and what is that on the floor and who's going to unload this dishwasher and can we not leave the fridge open? When I sit down to write the words come slowly, as if I've forgotten how this works. When I stand up, my hips move slowly, as if they've forgotten how they work. Every part of me is learning a new way of moving. For now I'm listening to the sounds of my rusty gears turning, and his brand new bottom rumbling. We're quite the symphony.


Finicky Cat said...

We're heroes, you know? This having-babies thing is epic. Experiencing my first birth left me stunned and shaken. As I staggered from the birthing pool to the bed, helped by a midwife holding one arm and my husband holding the other, my mother sat in a chair nearby holding the baby. I looked at her with new eyes, completely gobsmacked, and gasped: "I can't believe you did this SIX TIMES!"

Now I've done it six times myself, and you've done it SEVEN, and I still can hardly believe any of it.

Congratulations, hero.

MrsDarwin said...

After I had my first, I turned to the nurse and said, "I can't believe my grandmother did this eleven times!" Of course, then I had no idea that I myself would do it six more times. Good thing, too; I probably would have rolled over and died.

I think that this time I didn't say, "I'm never doing that again" (though please God, make that be the case), because by this time it would just be courting trouble.

Heroing is great, but I do wish I could pass the laurels off to other people! Sigh.

Betsy said...

My newest (#6) is 10 days old, and I too, as soon as she was out, said "I'm done! I'm not pregnant, anymore!" It was my easiest labor so far, but even just those 90 minutes of real contractions and few minutes of pushing were enough to elicit the euphoria of it being over!

You're definitely on to something about the importance of processing a birth. This birth was so joyful and easy and unique (up until the typical last 90 minutes) that I'm afraid I would have enemies if I wrote it up, but the need to process is very real, and I found myself in those early days, telling my story to anyone who would listen (sorry everyone!)

Thank you for sharing your story! As much as I feel the need to share my birth stories, for my own sake, I also love to listen to others - both because I'm a nurse and fascinated by birth, and because I know that it's good and healthy for women to talk through it themselves.

MrsDarwin said...

Betsy, one of my labors was contractionless and painless. I wouldn't have believed it if it hadn't happened to me, and I'd be scared to tell anyone about it if I couldn't point to my six other far more arduous labors to keep people from beating me.

Emily said...

The part I enjoyed the most is your reflections on what you said when pushing. When I was pushing out my sixth (it took about 3 minutes total), I howled "Oh God, I'm probably going to DIE!" and I knew how silly it sounded even as I spoke the words. I remember my husband's sympathetic (or so I imagine) chuckle and knowing I'd laugh later too, but ruefully, but I had verbalize somehow what I was feeling at that moment, and that was what came out. Of course I did not die, and was happily cuddling my daughter minutes later. No one seems to care what I think about that birth, but I will say again as I've said to many people: what made it hard was lack of food. I had eaten dinner the night before-half a PBJ-at 6pm. I still hadn't eaten when she was born at 11am the next day, but I had vomited. I was so weak and shaky from lack of food, it made what was otherwise a fairly quick and easy labor almost to much to bear. I do not recommend this approach to anyone else.

It's cliche, yes, but you really did do a great job birthing that baby. :-) From the size of his cheeks, it looks like you're feeding him well, too.