His birth was so quiet. I had come prepared for battle, knowing what an induction feels like, knowing what contractions feel like, knowing what it means to bury my face in a pillow and moan with fear that the pain won’t end; I had come to do fierce business with my body and give birth to my son. But his birth was so quiet. The pain didn’t land in my back like Clara’s delivery, an insistent grip that tore me to pieces. These contractions didn’t push me outward, wild with need and strength. Instead I wandered away, far inside my own self, paddling deep waters but also, guided by a current. My sisters were there, my husband stood close, but the roar of the waters kept me isolated, aware but away.
The induction started before sunrise, early on January 7th, a slight push of pitocin through my blood and then my body said yes, yes, yes. Labor came easy, no waiting for things to get going or start happening; my son wanted to come that day, despite my hesitations. I didn’t want to be induced. He wasn’t quite 38 weeks along yet, so who were we to say come out, little boy? But he was so small and we were worried, so we asked him to come out. We wanted to press our waiting ears to his cricket ribs and breathe with his heartbeat, the rat-a-tat-tat of newborn life ticking through the air. We wanted to know he was alright. We wanted his cries to wash over us, reassure us.
The winter skies stayed dark with clouds all morning, my hospital room all lamplight and shadows. I hardly spoke a word, surprised again and again at the steady way labor moved through my body. I hadn’t realized what a storm Clara’s back labor was until I did it another way, my body contracting and releasing in a rhythm that breathed instead of roared. I sipped water. I held onto Sam, inhaling the familiar clean smell of his t-shirt and deodorant. I labored in good company, but isolation was a thick wall around me.
At 10 a.m. I started to panic. My nurse told me to relax, that I was breathing too loud and pushing myself too hard. I followed her instructions and let the air glide out of my lungs, through the tunnel of my rounded mouth. I fell silent again. My body slowed. The baby moved further down.
By noon I was sweating. My bangs bunched up on the side of my face as I swam the currents, okay okay okay okay deep breaths in, deep breaths out. The doctor checked and said 7, you’re getting there. Everyone scattered for a moment, out the door for a bowl of soup or a bathroom break or to nurse a baby in the waiting room. Sam left too, calling family with an update, and then it was me and the water inside my bones, rushing rushing rushing okay okay okay.
I sat on the edge of the bed with my eyes closed. A new kind of current crashed and threatened to drown me with powerful pressure all over my body. I felt soft hands on my legs. I was losing my way through the river and losing my breath too, but I felt those hands hold my knees and I heard my dear friend Leanne, having just arrived as everyone else stepped out, telling me exactly what to do. Her accent lilted it’s way into my far away space, my name a new word on her Australian tongue.
“This is a big one, Jess. You’ve got to surrender. Ride it all the way up and all the way down. Don’t fight- follow. Okay, okay, okay… go all the way in. Breathe, Jess.”
I clung to Leanne and lost myself in three minutes, three contractions, up up up and down down down, following her voice and groaning into her shoulder,
and then it was time.
“He’s coming,” I whimpered, and then
“He’s coming now!” I shouted, my eyes open for the first time in hours. The nurse kneeled to check and said, yes, wow, he is coming now! And the room scrambled. Get her husband! I heard someone say, and the room filled back up with my people. A NICU team stood quietly in the corner, ready to weigh our baby and decide if we could keep him with us. My doctor grinned and said, “Guess we can all have lunch later, mama. That was amazing.” My stomach tensed and I pushed, once, twice,
and there he was.
Not an ounce of fat, just bones and more bones curled beneath his slippery skin. He gasped for air. I gasped too. You did it, Jess, all of my people said, but I didn’t say anything. I reached for my son and held him to my chest, I closed my eyes and opened them again, the world still far away from me and my baby. I kissed his dark hair. I fumbled his sharp elbows, unfurled his tight fists. I cried because he was mine.
He cried and crawled up my stomach, still learning to breathe, now looking for milk. Let him catch his breath before you feed him, they said, so I blew on his face and sang over him. Hello, little love. Hi, darling. Was that hard? Are you ok? Mommy loves you, Mommy loves you, Mommy loves you.
Sam cut the umbilical cord and then the ladies in the corner with the scale asked to check him over. Because he was two weeks early and because we knew he was small, the NICU was waiting to see if he would need extra help. He had to weigh 2 Kg to stay with us. Anything less and hospital policy was to take him down to the intensive care nursery. They laid him gently on the scale, and I held my breath.
4 pounds, 7 ounces. The tiniest miracle, our boy, 38 weeks and too small to describe, but we could keep him in our arms. Everyone cheered and laughed, 2.1! He did it! He barely did it. I cradled him again, both of us disoriented, finally waking up and watching the world come into focus.
He has been my quiet ever since. He ended up in the NICU that night, too small to regulate his blood sugars and temperature, and stayed there the rest of the week. My recovery from his birth was a battle ground covered in smoke; I struggled to find balance with a 16 month old and a newborn, I struggled to nurse his tiny mouth, I struggled to stay home so he wouldn’t get sick, I struggled with my weight, I struggled with sleep, I struggled with depression. It was a long winter.
But always, always, he has been my quiet, my lamplight in the shadows. All through those dark months, he was a light. As spring came, and then summer, as the sun tanned his skin and his life expanded into ours, I found myself again. He has loved me fiercely, undyingly, all of his two years. He has a sweetness in his spirit that makes our family happier, more gentle to each other. He climbs in our bed and lays face to face with me every morning, holding my hand and kissing my hair until 7:00, waiting until he’s allowed to get up and play. He worships his older sister, waiting to enter a new room or greet a new person until she does, until she tells him it’s ok. He sprints to his dad yelling “Watch, Daddy! Watch!” 100 times a day, never afraid to make mistakes, never afraid to get hurt. He is our bundle of love and unbridled ideas, he is tan and handsome, he is still small, but sturdy, and he has made me a mother I never imagined I could be- or wanted to be.
I wasn’t sure about a son.
But I am so sure about him. I am so sure about our Samuel.
Happy Birthday to our boy. We still sing over you, and laugh to the beat of your rat-a-tat-tat. We love you, Sammy! We love you so.