Birth Story part 1

Twelve years ago, today I was barely 27 years old, very pregnant in the sweltering monsoon season in Tucson, AZ. I had been on forced bed rest for two weeks as pre-eclampsia had made it too dangerous for me to even move without risking seizures that could lead to a coma. So I laid in bed, with the humidity from the rain almost shutting down the swamp cooler, with feet so swollen I could barely walk, with a nervous system so tapped out that I jerked when anyone touched me. I was 38 weeks pregnant, with my first and only child.

I took a cab to the birthing center I had picked out, the one where I would birth my child like a goddess and he would transition sweetly from amniotic fluid into the warm water and make his way up to my arms and to his first breath out of liquid. This had been my plan. The hope was that the bedrest could keep my blood pressure low enough that I wouldn’t be considered high risk and have to deliver at the hospital. I was by myself for this appointment. The Dr. checked my reflexes and I almost kicked her in the face. They checked my weight, I was still gaining the approximate 90 lbs my small frame adjusted to. 90 lbs in a bit over 9 months. I was told very casually, “today is the day you are going to have your baby, today we induce labor, we have to get him out, it’s the only cure for pre-eclampsia and your blood pressure is too high.” I started crying, out of complete fear. I wasn’t ready, it was still too early, I didn’t want to deliver my baby in a hospital, I didn’t have my bag to bring to the hospital with me, I wasn’t dilated, not even a millimeter, and I knew I was about to be pumped with drugs I definitely did not want in my system. They let me go home, the midwives and collect my things, and my son’s father (air quotes).

3:00 pm: August 11th, 2004 was the day I was going to have my son. I got hooked up to monitors and IV’s, alarms would beep anytime I moved, I felt like an alien lifeform. They assured me that the Pitocin would kick in quickly and my labor would begin rapidly, 1 cm dilated. One scared young woman and an equally terrified young man. This was not my plan. This was not how my son was supposed to be born, I could feel it. I could feel the potions creating contractions and chemically trying to create labor, they were one right after another, no build up, just full on labor. But there were problems, my water wasn’t breaking, my cervix wasn’t dilating further, and the contractions kept coming. There were papers being shoved in my face about emergency C-sections and windows of time before they had to cut me open. I refused, I refused to sign and said that as long as my baby’s heartbeat and vital signs were fine, my body could take it and that clearly he wasn’t ready to be artificially forced out. Wednesday turned to Thursday. Thursday turned to Friday. Friday I was in a state of some type of euphoria combined with lack of sleep, constant contractions and drifting 2 minute dreams and phone calls coming in begging me to sign the papers and asking me why I would put my body through this. The only thing I kept saying was, “he’s not ready yet, you’re trying to force him out and it isn’t his day, so I will wait.”

All the nurses and doctors and his father thought I was insane. Everyone kept trying to convince me I didn’t need to be a hero, that there was no shame in having a C-section, and there isn’t – it wasn’t about shame. I didn’t know what it was, other than the strongest feeling I had ever had in my life that I was determined to wait. I kept thinking about how women birthed babies in fields and caves and dirt floors or kitchen tables or in the back seats of cars and that I was no different. My body, his body, our bodies rebelled against the chemicals and the doctors had never seen a women sit through labor this long – willingly, neither had the nurses or midwives, but I was convinced that my son knew the day he was supposed to be born.

Friday turned to Saturday and during the night I was given an epidural, I had no choice any longer they said. It was time to break my water and they were nervous I wouldn’t even have enough energy left to push him out. Hours went by, the pitocin kept dripping, I finally was reaching a point where everything in me was screaming, “PUSH!” but he wasn’t effaced yet, I wasn’t allowed to push. I’m not sure how much time finally went by before I simply could not control my body’s force to push. After 4 days of waiting, he was ready. It took me an hour and a half to push him into the world and then I fell back on the bed and collapsed as they handed me my baby and I said in a whisper, “Avery, it’s so nice to finally meet you.”

He was born on August 14th and that number is significant because I was also born in a summer month on the 14th. He waited for our number, he wasn’t meant to be born on the 11th, or 12th, or Friday the 13th, he was born during a thunderstorm in the hottest month of the desert and he chose the 14th. I knew I had made the right choice by listening to my body, by ignoring medical advice, by refusing to sign papers so they could get me in and out like a baby factory.

I knew I heard my son telling me, just wait…

Just wait for me.

(part 2 comes on the 14th)

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An Interpretation of Pain, Joy, Want and Love.

I’m not fond of the word; I don’t enjoy saying it
I don’t enjoy living with it
It haunts me.
It disrupts me.

Pain:
It lives in the hollows
The temporary recesses between breaths
Traveling by way of map
Of neural pathways
Of circuitry following systems sending messages to each other
One speaks.
The other can’t hear.
Doesn’t respond.
Can’t.
Quite.
Communicate.
The way they should.

It stores itself in my spinal column
Cervical vertebrae (C4-C7)
Stenosis.
Bone spurs.
Degenerative discs.

Dystonia.
It lives in my cerebellum
Screaming to muscles in my neck and shoulders
“Tighten! Hold Her! Don’t let her go! She is our prisoner of war!”
And I am.
Handful of medicine each morning
Shots of botox every three months to keep zombie muscles
from involuntary movement
Like a marionette on a string
One string to pull my neck to the left,
To violently grab it
To shake it, contort it
Like a car accident
Like whiplash
A spasm here and there
A twitch

The pain lives in my muscles so deeply it tricks me into thinking it’s embedded in bone.
The accompanying depression,
the insomnia,
the ever present knowledge that there are far worse things
Far worse things…
Still I ache every day
There is no cure
This is not cancer
This will not kill me
And still there is no cure

It lives in a room of skin next to me,
Some may say within me
Some may say my body.
We are roommates here
Imprisoned
Life without parole.

Joy:
She lives quietly.
She lives quietly and neatly and she is guarded cautiously
Kept in a carved wooden box lined with silk,
tucked behind my rib cage
Squeezed between blood and breath.
She sees through my eyes and drinks in words like water
She longs to fix and create
To birth and rebuild.
Sometimes I watch her drowning…
She tires so quickly.

Want:
Wanted.
Wanting.
All these things
Gypsies.
They come and go as they please
Some sort of an open door policy where my body is used
as more of a vessel than a conduit
I want.
They want.
We want things together.

Material things like red lipstick and black leather boots, a garden full of flowers, a new couch, money for rent in my bank account.

Then I want the things that I can’t buy or ask for or even truly receive as mine.

I want the forest, and the sunsets I miss so much from Tucson, I want my son the age he is now and the age he was as an infant and a toddler simultaneously. I want the songbirds to still sing to me in the middle of winter. I want grass between my toes all year round, except I live in, and love this little state that refuses to conform to my wishes. I want a partner who wants me, but then knows exactly when to give me space and the right things to say when I’m anxious, and who can leave before I say, “Go…” I want a partner who sees the ugly and doesn’t run but dives right in and digs deep, past the bedrock to find the beauty and truth…and the love.
The love lies deep.

Love:
Molten core, primordial soup, deep. Once you have it, it’s yours. A fierce, unwavering loyalty. It is boundless and foolish and whimsical. It makes a thousand mistakes and has been bruised and battered and keeps getting-no jumping back up for more. Love knows it walks with all of us. Love is elusive, but ever present.

Unfair and unjust?
Yes.
Cruel and blind?
Yes.

Loves flows in my blood and its opposite is not hate, it’s indifference, ignorance and apathy. Love lives in my son’s smile and his laughter and the sound of him breathing while he sleeps. It lives in my arms and has given life through my breasts and shed tears of joy and sorrow, like silent tributaries down my face.
Love is a necessity.
Love is a verb.
Love is an element.

Chambers

If you press your ear against my chest you will hear a clock ticking, a slow and heavy pendulum dangling.

An aorta feeding organs blood, the sound of rushing rivers and waterfalls in suspended silence, then crashing on rocks below. Inside four chambers lie four very different worlds. One gray and black with a murmur, a flutter. A beat. A murmuration of birds, flying together as one shape changing trapeze act. Shifting with wind, with movement of an arm or the brush of fingers through hair. My body conducts them, endlessly swirling, colliding like chemical flakes in a snowglobe.

Second chamber is a field of grass where I would run naked as a child and pick daisies that were as tall as my head. Remembering the feeling of grass touching my skin and coloring my legs like a paintbrush. How the world was seen from inside that field and it stretched for as far as my eyes could see. A quiet crawlspace of a chamber where one could crawl beneath the grass and hide with crickets and ladybugs-poke your head out to be touched by butterflies.

Third chamber is for my sorrow. It is deep scarlet red, with chocolate undertones. This chamber is cold and hollow, yet full of voices and words that bounce off walls. Words like sex and love and ache. Words that mean betrayal and feel like sharpened knives. This chamber is for storage, full of drawers and old letters filed next to lessons learned and categorized by relevance. It is cluttered and often gusts of wind come in and scatter everything. Your patterns become clear stretched out before you and you promise you won’t make that mistake again-but you do, you just do it differently this time. You disguise it, but underneath it’s still the same. You cannot truly grow in this chamber. You come here to learn, to remember, to grieve.

The fourth chamber is for my son. A safe space beneath my breast where he still cradles his head and listens to the rhythm of my breath. Of my beat. Of the first sound he knew, before my voice, before a song or a story read. My pulse was his music, his soundtrack to dance to. He knows the sound of it racing or panicked, the sound when it sleeps or is alarmed, the sound it makes when I’m relaxed or contemplating or when I’m giving birth or when I was breastfeeding.

If you pressed your ear to my heart beat you would hear whispers of birch bark and beds of ferns by the edge of a bog, you would hear owls calling in the night, a galaxy being born and another dying.

You would hear the words, “Don’t leave me alone here.” You would hear fear and the voice of a little girl who just wanted to please. You would hear the words, “I just can’t let it go” and they would be a lie, because I can let it go, I choose not to. I choose not to because sometimes it’s easier to hold onto something that has hurt you when that pain has become so familiar that you know it like reading braille with your fingertips. Hurt is intimate. So instead of letting it go, you let it stay. It may be one of the only memories you have left of him. You may have thrown many of the good ones away. And sometimes we need reminders. You would hear the words, “Sometimes we need reminders, that even though love is painful, we accept and choose that pain. Sometimes pain is more familiar than pleasure.”

You might hear the sound of a smile, or my heart swelling, you might hear it burst or set itself aflame with anger if someone it loves is being mistreated. It may tell you to go. It may not say a word. It’s a powerful, yet fickle living machine.

If I stretch my limbs out I can feel it pumping, pushing blood to my fingertips and circulating. If I listen carefully I can hear it flow through my head, the murmur, the beat, the memories.

Murmuration
Beat.
Childhood
Beat.
Sorrow.
Beat.
Son
Beat.
Heart
Beat.
Write
Beat.
Now
Beat.

Anchored

Anchored, I am tethered
Marionette strings,
I dangle
Abyss below
Eyes close
I am air
I am breath
Breathe.

Anchored, I am suspended,
weightless
The world rolling off my shoulders
The phantom planet tumbling
As heavy gusts lift me
Where memories fall soft upon your skin like snowflakes
Like warm rain.

Anchored, I am free
to roam and wander
to hold hands with spontaneity
I am exploration
Unmarked territory
Open space.

Anchored, I am
Silent.
I am lights off and shapes of shadow
I am arms wrapped tight around thoughts
I am a reminder
I am resurfacing and adaptation.

Anchored, I am
Safe in my skin
I am black and white
wooden frame on a wall
Circa 1983
Head falling back
Party dress
Feet almost touching the sky
I swing
Soft wind in my hair
Sailing through time on a tire swing…

Anchored, I am
That moment
That minute where gravity escapes me
and gently brings me down again
A slow, determined pull.
That kind of freedom,
Pine trees and blue sky.

Anchored, I am
limber,
arms and legs swaying
I am alive in these spaces
These random pauses
Between the love and the lonely
Between chaos and sleep
The flashes your brain captures
Snapshots.
Filmstrips.
A glass jar of stories mingling
Whispering eternally.

Anchored, I am
bone and flesh
heartbeat and fingertips
molecules and ribs
synapses,
muscle memory
I am tooth and nail
Involuntary electricity.

**(inspired by writing prompts from http://jenaschwartz.com/writing-groups/ )