Tuesday, April 4, 2006

And Then There Were Three

And Then There Were Three (A Letter to My Firstborn)
Abigail Dotson

Dear Ruby,

I thought I would write this letter so long ago, before you smiled and stood and learned to look up and utter “mama”; before you took off running, or at least fast-walking; before you pointed at kitties and picked up sticks to shove in the neighbor’s dog’s mouth, hoping for a game of fetch. This was a story I held in my thoughts before you ever found your sense of humor and learned to joke with me, playing peek-a-boo behind the telephone pole at the park or draping necklaces around my nipples then laughing at your own silliness; before I heard your boisterous “HA-HA” or coy “tee-hee,” your foreboding “Hot. Hot,” or your sing-songy “Hereeeee, Kitty,” (pronounced “heeeeeeeehhhh, kllllthsscchhhheeeee”). I thought I would tell you this story while you were still a jellybean in my arms, poking your nose into my breast as if to say “mama, I wanna nipple.” It is a story of an evening that faded into night, and then a night that dawned to a day that so many people will never forget. It is the story of how you came into my arms.

You were due to arrive on a Saturday. Six days later I was still waiting. It was a Friday morning, your father had gone off to work and I was madly baking cookies and trying not to think about how much I wanted this belly full of baby to turn into an armful of baby. Around 11am your daddy called to see how everything was going. I’m not sure what it was, but something in the waiting and the wanting broke me, and as I burst into tears I told him that I just couldn’t do it anymore. I wept my exhaustion on the phone, felt desperate with wonting and a mile past ready. He heard my cries and decided to leave work, come home and be with us. And as I hung up the phone I had a thought: in birthing class, I learned that when a woman finally says “I can’t do this anymore,” during her labor, she usually doesn’t have to. It is at that very point, when her body has stretched itself to the absolute maximum limits, beyond anything she ever thought possible, that it reels itself back in and the baby begins to emerge. And upon remembering this, I thought that maybe this was it. Maybe just when I became so desperate I honestly felt I could no longer carry this load, the load would magically be lifted.

Your papa came home and we went to the movies. We saw “A Beautiful Mind.” The whole time you kicked and danced inside me. We came home and soon after I fell asleep.

I heard your papa collapse into bed at around 1:30 in the morning. I heard him because a pain in my stomach had woken me up. After about half an hour of feeling them every so often, too strong to close me eyes anymore and yet not strong enough to be convinced, I decided to open my eyes and time them by the alarm clock on the nightstand next to the bed. The nightstand was a hand-me-down from the home where your Grandpa John, for whom you are named, grew up in. They were coming every 10 minutes or so. And while they were nothing I couldn’t handle, they certainly had a new air of strength to them. At 2am I woke your papa up. He hadn’t really been to sleep yet, and in his utter exhaustion he rolled over, eyes still closed, and told me to try to get some sleep. Clearly, he had never been in labor before. Neither had all those folks in our getting-ready-for-baby class who suggested this as a rational possibility in early labor. Realizing that it was he who was actually the delirious one with that comment, I collected myself and with a deep breath woke him once again in the sweetest “about-to-go-through-the-most-painful-experience-of-my-life” voice and told him it was time. And then he was up.

We counted through contractions, timed the spaces in-between and wondered if this was it. An hour later we decided that indeed it was, and prepared ourselves for what we expected to be a grueling day or two. Not too long later I began bleeding; this prompted a call to our midwife, Alice, who confirmed that labor had begun, told us we were in for a long haul and gave me permission to soak in the bathtub. I hobbled into our little bathroom and watched the water fill the tub, then as gingerly as one 9 ½ months pregnant could possibly be, I stepped in and was lost to hot water. Your father sat on the edge of the tub with a stopwatch and waited for my signal each time a contraction began. We struggled through a meager attempt at breathing exercises, for it wasn’t until I was comfortably (?) situated in the bathtub and well into active labor that we chose to learn the techniques. So I sat with a belly full of baby and he sat perched on the edge of a very small tub in a very small bathroom and, when my uterus relaxed, read aloud from a book about how to breathe. He would pant, quickly or slowly depending on what the book suggested, and I would open my mouth, stick out my tongue and copy him. It wasn’t the most opportune time to decide to be a student, though, and we quickly abandoned the idea and relied on instinct. Which seemed to work just fine, by the way.

The contractions came harder and closer together, and I wriggled and waggled between the porcelain walls of my container. It was a tight squeeze, but each attempt at waterless positions failed miserably and always I ended up back where I started. It was around this time that your father realized he probably should have read the directions on how to erect the birthing tub we had sitting in pieces on our bedroom floor.

My memory becomes a little fuzzy at this point, but imagine this: I am naked and immersed in water (at least all of me that fits). The labor has progressed considerably, and your father is running between the living room and the bathroom frantically attempting to piece together a small Jacuzzi sized tub in a room not much bigger than a Jacuzzi and listening for me to calmly yell “Riiiiichhhh” thus signaling the beginning of the next contraction. With each one he comes running back to sit with me through it, then anxious not to waste another second, runs out until he hears my call.

I am surprisingly calm through the entire ordeal thus far. The night is quickly becoming morning, and as the weekend dawns something significant changes. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is, but it is more than just a harder, longer moan from within my body. Your song had hit a high note, and the music we were making suddenly was making us. In the hustle and bustle of the next few hours I can only tell you that your uncles arrived to hold together the water that I so needed, your daddy held my balance, your bubi held me in her stare and Alice held down the house. And at 11:03 in the morning, I held you, wrapped in the flannel of your Grandpa John’s favorite shirt.

I had done all the things laboring women do; I huffed and I puffed and as I lie nearly naked in a tub full of warm water I felt you move in me. Through my body like a tidal wave and though there must have been a part so sad to see you leave, the pieces obliged and let you through. I felt my own construction change and it wasn’t until the earthquake moved me that I even recognized where each piece was to begin with. A little over eight hours after I first woke up your daddy, lying on my back against him in a pool of warm water magically constructed in our very little living room, you slithered out from between my legs and into your bubi’s waiting arms. And in a room where I am sure there were a thousand voices laughing and crying at the wonder which was you, I can only remember your wet body on my breast as my nose pressed into your little bald head and smelled you for the very first time. In that moment, there was only me and you.

That was a night that woke up to a whole new world. We did good work, you and I. I moaned and I groaned and I sang out a baby; you danced a harmony and together we led the choir around us into the most beautiful crescendo. I am so happy you are here.

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