The first year of the decade we’re supposed to want to forget, years that beg to be remembered for war, depression, Recession, terror, fear, torture. . . and, for me, Motherhood.
Born two weeks past his due date, eleven days after the inauguration of George W. Bush, today is my baby’s birthday. January 31. Wait–my baby is 9?
I know, I know. I hear my mother’s voice in my head, “My baby is 40.” And my grandmother’s: “So? mine is 66!” I hope I’ll be around to say that, too. But we each dwell in our own life. Nine is the biggest I have known.
At this moment nine years ago, I was in neverland, aka Labor. Labor sounds like a word of punishment, a penalty of “hard labor” handed down by an angry court. Time should pass slowly in Labor as you contemplate the bad things you’ve done to land you there.
For me, time passed neither slowly, nor quickly. Time had an Einsteinian quality. It didn’t move forward or backward. I occupied all of it at the same time. Each minute of rest, each struggle to push, each waking and drowsing. One moment I saw the clock and wondered where the past three hours had gone, the next I thought a minute of waiting to push would never pass.
Then again, it might have been the drugs.
Listen, I’m chicken. I’m also sensible. I resigned myself to what seemed the easiest choice: The Lovely Epidural. I’m not as chicken as my friend, who asked her doctor if she could have hers before she was induced. Me, I was curious. I waited a few hours. I wanted to know what the commotion was about. As long as I had the opportunity to join the class of “women who have given birth,” (it’s hard now to remember a time in my life that I felt so other from that group), or I suppose I could say, as long as my seams were bursting with a huge kid pushing on my lungs and bladder and making it impossible to sleep at night, I was at the doorstep of the experience, and I wanted to know what it would feel like to move a child out of my body.
It was, for me, pretty pleasant. (Thank you Russian anesthesiologist who told me he was “strong like bull,” who had come in despite just being hit by a taxi in the crosswalk on his way to the 5th Floor maternity ward.) Labor was napping, with music playing, with my husband in the room to help me (and mother and sister in the room to help him).
It was the superstar nurses running the show, reassuring me that all was well. It was my doctor checking on me, then leaving to do a circumscision when I was 10 cm dilated, telling me to try some “practice pushes” and that she’d be back in an hour. It was the nurses calling her back immediately when my first “practice” push yielded a baby’s head. It was being told to wait while the doctor came back and scrubbed her hands for fifteen minutes, though my body was moving the baby out without me telling it to. It was the moment of clarity when the baby came out at 1:16 p.m. that fixed my eyes on the clock. It was the nurse’s calm while she said, “he’s a bit floppy, let’s give him a bit of oxygen,” when the baby didn’t cry. It was the exhaustion, exertion, and let me suggest again, the drugs, that kept me from understanding the horror of those words, that prevented me from pulsing with fear as my husband, mother and sister must have been. It was the cry, one minute later, that brought the oxygen back to everyone in the room, and which caused the doctor to record the official time of birth as 1:17 p.m., the moment he first drew air, breathed for himself. The first moment of independence.
There have been more steps toward independence lately. Last week he rode his bike to school, almost all by himself (I trailed behind a couple blocks, grateful for the presence of crossing guards.) There have been more times when I couldn’t breathe. His first bloody lip, on his first birthday. The first time he climbed on top of his dresser, age two. I stood in the backyard and he waved to me from his perch in front of his open second story window. The 30 seconds it took me to decide whether I should stay there to catch him in case he fell until someone came home, or to yell “Don’t MOVE!!” and run up to his room.
But mostly there have been moments on the normal spectrum, running the complete span from irritation to adoration. On this day, it is easy to say: He is a wonderful child. I am the luckiest woman in the world. It was the best decade ever. Happy birthday.