Welcome, baby!

The phone rings at supper and so it must be one of two things: a telemarketer or a juicy piece of news. Because you don't call at supper. You just don't, unless you've got something to sell or something to report.

"Oooh!" I jump from the table. "Baby!"

It's my mother, reporting, and I was right. I ask about a name and she says, "Not yet. But he had a 64-inch head."

Okay, so fine. It might have been a thirty-three inch head or a twenty-nine inch head. Or something. Doesn't matter. The point is that at this point in his life, measured in hours, he is known for his arrival and the size of his skull and nothing else, not yet.

+++

"A sitz bath."

She'd stared blankly at me, and he did too, like how Frodo stares blankly at Aragorn when Aragorn offers to accompany him to the fires of Mount Doom. THEY ARE AT THE VERY BRINK OF THE FELLOWSHIP AND THEY HAVE NO IDEA and OH MY GOD THEY'RE SO CUTE IN ALL THEIR UNKNOWINGNESS. We smiled in that terribly condescending way but the universe self-balances and so they'll smile just like that at someone else, someday. They'd said We think we have everything we need but we're not sure and there was that inquiring sort of silence, or at least I read it as inquiring, because I was going to tell them what I thought they needed and I'd wanted to remember it as the moment they asked.

And so I said You'll need a sitz bath. It's plastic and it might be blue, or maybe green, and you get one at those pharmacies that sells motorized chairs and big black shoes and diabetic blood testers and it sits on your toilet and sploshes over into the toilet. And you put epsom salts in it. Lots and lots of epsom salts.

They'd stared blankly.

"It's for your beef."

They still stared blankly and at that moment, I wondered what would have happened to Frodo's consent if Aragorn had told him, beforehand, about the orcs of Sauron and the gate of Mordor and that enchanted pond that swallows the souls of dead elves and stuff.

They still stared blankly and I thought about the truth and the point of sharing it.

THE TRUTH: You might vivisect yourself except it won't be nearly as fun as being a lobster because when you're a vivisected lobster, they scrape out all your guts and then they mix your guts with mayonnaise and freshly-squeezed lemon juice and then they squish it all back inside your shell with a side salad and a cloud biscuit and then, when they bring you to the table, everybody goes OOOOH and AAAAH.

THE POINT OF SHARING IT: You won't know you're vivisecting yourself. It's just all metaphorical and literal pressure and it doesn't matter the setting: fluorescent bulbs and masked figures or bongos and candlelight, you can't feel a thing beyond the need to cross this damn bridge. To get over it to the other side. Somebody whisks in between your legs and you're crying, because there's a squishy purple creature who's crying too, and kicking, at least generally speaking. And at some point you wonder What are they doing down there? And you say those words and the masked figure between your legs, without looking up, responds from behind blue paper in an overly cheerful falsetto. Everything's wonderful! Good job! Good job! Good job! Just a little stitch and oh! Look over there! It's A BABY! Someday, that squishy purple creature is going to piss on your floor and then point at the piss, and then point at you, and then giggle. And you'll giggle back.

Vivisection will be ancient history, even that soon.

THE TRUTH, SUMMED UP: For a little while, you'll feel weird.

THE POINT OF SHARING IT, SUMMED UP: Then you won't.

+++

"Mommy, you a-kiss me on my eye. How come you a-kiss me on my eye?"

"Because I love every little bit of you. Even your eye."

Ben thinks about this. Then through the dark I can his teeth, beaming, and I realize: stitches can't reverse this kind of tearing-open, beef or belly. Doesn't matter. Every day they make me shout and they make me whisper and they make me claustrophobic and they make me whine for snuggles and they shove elbows into soft spots and they make me dance in the kitchen when I don't feel like dancing in the kitchen. Every day they pry the wound open again because they don't care about pretty. They want better. Better! More! Like That! Now!

Being better stings. Better means being more than yourself. So make being better, better. Wash it down with a peach-banana Yop and a bendy straw. Don't think about it too much. And don't forget to soak your butt.

And that's all you need to know.

one day in a life

Your birth is the most important event in shaping your life as a mother.

Is it? Really?

Your birth is the most important event in shaping your life as a mother.

You call it my birth. But it’s not. It’s my kid’s birth. Sometimes, motherhood is destined, and yet the experience of birth is not. Are those women lesser mothers? Are women who are indifferent to method lesser mothers? Lesser feminists? Or just unenlightened and pitiable, even if they’re content with their experience?

There are birth advocates in my life. It took me too long to figure out I wasn’t supposed to say with such coarseness isn’t it more about having a baby than having a birth? Which is pretty much the same thing as walking into a tabernacle wanting to know, genuinely, why any of us should mind if someone else's bum isn’t just an out-door.

These friends and I have pretty much agreed to talk about other things like high heels and muffintops, because for a while there, I was an unintentional cannonball. But today I saw this declaration and it broke my heart.

Then it made me cranky. Which makes me unfashionable. But I have to stand up and raise my hand, even if it means I risk looking like I stand against them, which I don’t. It's the discourse—the language used and what lies implicit in it.

Your birth is the most important event in shaping your life as a mother. So you’d better make it beautiful and serene and victorious and on your terms. Because if it gets screwed upside-down and sideways, you will be forever marked as having been robbed—and your baby, too, who will never forgive you for not being more like a goddess and less, you know, unconscious.

+++

Birth is absolutely not the most important event that shapes my life as a mother. It’s just not. Allow me to elaborate.

IMPORTANT EVENTS THAT SHAPED MY LIFE AS A MOTHER

  1. The day I let down and my toes curled and I went YEEEEEEOWCH and Evan started to drink and his eyes rolled into the back of his head, and I transformed into an eminently useful mutant.
  2. The day I found those little sneakers with the flames on the sides.
  3. The day Liam died and I snuck a look behind the curtain of the universe.
  4. The day Ben realized that cupcakes were actually EDIBLE.
  5. The day after Evan was born and I had my first shower, and my crotch was ground beef, and all that blood ran down my legs and I felt clean but strange, and I realized I couldn’t go back to bed and sleep, as much as I needed to, because Evan would be hungry soon. That was the first time I couldn’t rest of my own free will. And lo! I couldn’t wait for him to wake up and need me.

I don’t mean to scorn the birthwork-inclined. They want to keep birth as serene and as natural as possible, and they do it passionately, and uphill. This is important. This counters a history of c-sections prompted by imminent tee-offs. The problem is the flip side.

Birth cannot be controlled. Or promised. Or unfailingly protected, or made reliably miraculous and beautiful. It can be nudged, and sheparded, and prepared-for, and supported, and informed. But sometimes, birth is just a gong show. When that happens, we owe it to ourselves to shrug at the mechanics and hope for better luck next time.

Because I can’t carry any more guilt. I don’t need a rugby team of birth idealists piling themselves upon my buggered psyche, calling me or any other woman a warrior in the spirit of either sorority or consolation prize.

They’ve got the best of intentions, but the wildly overstated significance some people heap onto birth in order to steer more women towards self-actualization is just too heavy a weight. This weight doesn’t make everyone feel empowered and guttural. It makes some people feel anxious and pressured and damaged and unfulfilled.

I was not a warrior in the operating room. I was a warrior in the pumping room. My motherhood was not written off or lost or compromised by the trauma of one day. My motherhood is defined by love and honour and one-winged butterflies. My motherhood is defined by how I live my life in an effort to balance the woman and the writer and the nurturer I want to be. All that and the quality of my whoopie pies.

My motherhood is no more misshapen than anyone else’s, except for how it’s been touched by death. And so that declaration makes me want to say Come with me, right this way, into the NICU. Then look at my kin and how fierce and how brave and how wounded they are. Tell them that the mechanics of birth will be the most important thing that shapes them as mothers. Tell them the catastrophic births of their children—their loss of control—forever marks them and renders their babies (if their babies survive) poorly-bonded basketcases.

Does our experience of birth matter that much? Does it, really, given everything that may or may not follow that makes us into mothers? Is birth the everything? Or just one thing?

+++

My edits, below.

Birth is one of countless important events and encounters that all mash up together to shape your perception of your life as a mother. Birth is one day in a life that will give you all kinds of chances to become much more than a birther. It can heal and inspire and give cause for delight and awe. It can be medicalized or marginalized. What determines one or the other is not your skill, nor the divinity of your preparation, your stamina, your faith, but random fortune or misfortune. In the case of the latter you’ll have to let it go and trust that your kid won’t remember it. Because she won’t. Or if she does, she’ll only remember it in an unconscious kind of way such that her innermost self, which is more worldly and less delicate than we all know, shrugs and says Yikes! That was a friggin’ startle.

+++

A friend has an anonymous confessions board and I read it and swear not to read it and read it and swear not to read it. It’s where people say stuff like My husband wants to have kinky sex and I pretend to like dogs but I can't stand them and I used to know a really spooky girl who had a twin sister who died at birth. The girl said she could communicate with her sisters spirit. All us kids were terrified of her and we wouldn't ever sit with her at lunch.

and so I said this: I used to know a really spooky boy who had a twin brother who died at birth. The boy said he could communicate with his brother's spirit. All us kids thought he was a goddamned superhero. He was swamped with admirers at lunch.

I feel the same way about birth as I do about death. I need perspective, and adaptability, and beauty in chaos. So I choose it.

 

Birth buoyancy

I wish I was something. Collected, resolute, strong-like-bear. Or uncollected, shaken, scared shitless. Either would point me towards a course of action. But I'm neither. I am blank. No matter what the mechanics, birth will be decided for me, on my behalf: because there are two.

I pause, wait to feel a sense of fight or flight.

But it is plain, ordinary quiet. Not peace, but quiet.

Birth mentors summon the spirits of goddess, eagle, owl: I summon Plastic Man from the Fantastic Four. Bendy brain, bendy belly, bendy heart. Able to twist and stretch, too slippery for the grip of panic, to the point where it is done and I am a mother of two babies. Two babies that bring me twice as far from birth being subject to what I’d prefer.

I'll do whatever you need me to do to keep you whole, to keep you nourished. Inside or outside, waited for or early-lifted. I'll stay light no matter what the flotsam and jetsam: tubes or boxes or surgical masks or machines that beep. Or perhaps nothing out of the ordinary but two.

I'll be light above it all, strong enough so that you feel the warmth of it and know that we’ll be alright.

You are two! I have to be fierce for you, but not fighting-fierce. Plastic Man fierce. Nonplussed. Is stubbornly calm a contradiction in terms? I want to define it. I want to be buoyant, not merely joyous-buoyant but literally, unsinkably buoyant. So that all I need do is go limp, kick a little, before currents and physics pull us up to the air, for you.

a c-section would be:

pulling and tugging

flat

restraints

straps

cut

immobile

I would be a subject, object, case

It is unnatural

(the body is not supposed to open there)

At least I am still pristine, unopened

I thought, having narrowly escaped.

…but did I? Evan’s birth was:

pulling and tugging

flat

restraints

straps

cut

immobile

I was a subject, object, case

It was under duress

(it wasn’t supposed to be that way)

but on the same day there was also

relief

laughter

unconditional love

surrender

lime popsicles

kindness

strawberries

the sensation of a hot shower and reams of blood, strangely pleasing to watch it swirl down the drain, washing away the spectacle, to be me again. Heaven to be standing on shaky, phantom legs in steam and wet heat and half-darkness.

and it was over

and a baby-burrito stirred

and onto other things.

where did all that come from?

me.

Thanks to Brooke, Leigh, Jeanette and Marybeth, that strange new breed of never-met but intimately known friends. You've prompted and inspired me to contemplate the upcoming gong show with respect and spirit and pride and possibility. Lord, how these women glow. They make me want to bring something bigger than 'just one day' to this birth, no matter how it happens. They've got me lit. Thank you, fantastic four.

Read More

7 pounds, 9 ounces of wonder

Evan Alexander Inglis is now snoring on his dad's chest after a couple of very interesting and tiring days. We're all happy and healthy, so proud and blessed. Thanks so much to everyone for the good wishes! We're filled with fascination and awe, and can't wait to introduce him properly to everyone.

We'll add more pictures and details on the birth as soon as we can, so stay tuned here for updates. In the meantime, pictures are in the new album at left, and following are some short videos.

Download weight.MOV

Download hard_work.MOV

Download 3_hours_old.MOV

Download waking_up.MOV

We're going to tuck in now for a few days and get to know each other, and we'll make our way back into the world once we've had a chance to get our sea legs. Love to all.

Read More