pregnancy stuff

six years ago today was a Monday, just like today.

i lived halfway around the world then, in a little dot on the South Korean map that housed a million people. the end of November is crisp, there, too, though it was not snowy. the andoul – the in-floor heat that races under the linoleum to warm toes and keep life closer to the ground – was pumping. i think i wore Dave’s coat when i slipped out that morning, around the corner, but i cannot for the life of me remember which coat it might have been.

i woke up early, which was memorable in and of itself back then. my years in Korea were far more bohemian than the almost-year Dave and i eked out in Eastern Europe. we lived a life of poetry readings and ashtrays and 3ams in the Hermit Kingdom, punctuated by twenty-hour work weeks and vacations in Thailand. it was mundane and decadent, both. yet i had been keening for two years for roots, for belonging. we were six weeks away from a plane ticket home for good.

i slid out from under the quilt, off the two-inch thick mat that was our bed. i padded across the warm floor into the kitchen, then into the tiled box – replete with toilet and a shower head – of our bathroom. i slipped on yesterday’s jeans and Dave’s coat and closed the door gently behind me.

we lived on the third floor. when i emerged onto the street, a fruit truck, laden with persimmons and blaring a prerecorded barrage of fruit salesmanship and tinny organ music, inched its way loudly past. i smiled at it. i smiled at everything. i was brimming.

the yak was only next door, on the corner. it was a spartan place, nothing like the drugstores here, with their soaps and hair products and trashy magazines. the yak was more like an apothecary shop of old, particularly for an illiterate like me. a thousand products lined against the walls, in minimalist packaging. no aisles, only open space. i played mime with the girl behind the counter, then waited, patiently, while she fetched the mysterious box. i took it home, hoping it came with picture instructions.

i remember noting that it was the 29th of November, my father’s birthday.

i chewed my lip, feeling silly for even making a production out of what my rational mind told me was ridiculous. it was our first month trying. i was only a few days late…a week at most. i was usually a few days late. and yet…i woke Dave up, shyly wielding a freshly dipped pregnancy test.

you haven’t lived until you’ve waved a plastic stick soaked with your urine in front of your partner’s face. i figured he was the one who took up with a thirty-something worried about her aging eggs.

pregnancy tests in Korea turn blue, not pink. we waited the full requisite two minutes before turning it over.

two bright stripes, unmistakable. i blinked and beamed.

the ancient Greeks and Romans valued memory. for most of human history, ideas and knowledge and experience could only be catalogued through painstaking hand-work, and only by the rare and privileged literate. the information overload in which we swim, we citizens of Google and Wikipedia, is so new in human history that the fact we navigate it at all is a marvel.

the ancients constructed memory palaces to hold what they needed to know. a system called method of loci saw the best of them able to file hundreds of items in detailed order in their minds, using familar locations and detailed visualization. they could then traipse through the halls of memory and the wisdom of the ages would pop right out at them like the scary bits on a haunted spook ride.

i grew up before Facebook kindly took over the task of remembering people’s birthdays for me. and as an only child with a family divided, it fell on me, largely, to remember and honour the special days of the people i loved. i accidentally developed a memory palace built on the calendar.

on any given morning, if i happen across the date, a mechanism in the back of my brain will churn and suddenly blam! out pops a visual reminder of the numerical date, and with it, the useful realization that the girl who sat behind me in eighth grade math is, say, 40 today. handy, no? well, increasingly, erm, no. but there they are, the numbers, the dates. a giant 13; an italic 22; today, 29. and then, trailing along like mittens on string, the birthday list and its addenda, all those events of my own life that have fallen, mostly unrelatedly, on the birthdays of people i know.

my cerebrum is a wonderland.

i don’t know that it serves any purpose to remember, today, that this is the anniversary of the day i first found out i was pregnant. it feels strange to memorialize something so embodied as peeing on a stick. i do not remember the date i got my first period…or my last, for that matter, and may god bless vasectomies for that delightful peace of mind.

but pregnancy is far more than a physical thing. it is also a watershed, an identity experience. whether wanted or not, a positive pregnancy test forces you to look in the mirror, to confront who you are and want to be.

i wanted to be. oh, how i wanted. i couldn’t believe my luck, that morning halfway around the world, on a Monday with the same date six years ago today. it was the easiness of it all that blew me away.

you know how the story ends, and that it was not easy. five months later to the day, at 26 weeks and a little wee bit, i delivered Finn. and eleven hours later, i held him as he died. and it has taken a long time in the interim for anything to seem easy again.

but here’s the thing. the memory palace is a gift in its compartmentalization. because in the moment this morning, when i thought, the 29th of November and i remembered my father’s birthday and then that other morning in what seems like another life and yesterday all at once, there i was in that yellow room with the warm floor under me and that magic plastic stick in my hand. and it was the sheer surprise that flooded back, the metallic tang of hope, the quiet joy. i know the rest. but the memory palace does not, and i am glad for the way it plucks each day out, vivid and unto itself.

i looked in the mirror that day, and saw in myself, for the first time, someone’s mother.

for all that happened, i started this journey far more easily than many. for all that happened, i did not begin broken. i began early on a Monday morning, shy and eager and brimming, full of grace.

i can’t not remember. method of loci remembers for me, and i just hold on to the ride and nod at the ghosts.

the plane guts and dips, sailing in through the headwinds like a drunk girl in unfamiliar heels.

i am in the twelfth row, the hind end of a glorified sardine can. out the rounded rectangle of my window, the earth lurches toward us at strange angles. my stomach tries to grab hold of something solid. my seat vibrates. i note the world carved into patchwork squares below and remember the flight path is over my house.

it is only the gunning roar of the engines that frightens me.

three feet over the runway, we coast like a glider, suspended. an engine sounds its barbaric yawp and i believe for a moment that we will rise again, a phoenix tracing loop-dee-loops against the gray sky. then a wobble, and my eyes wait for the spark and explosion of wing against asphalt.

the perfect metaphor for coming home.

after flying, landing is hard.

i spoke at Blissdom Canada: our panel was a big, glorious Kleenex ad. we told stories, and then so did the audience, and they took over in a groundswell. there’s good going on out here in real, individual lives. there was weeping and rejoicing and really, it was better than Christmas. less cleanup.

i watched half my Twitter stream come to life: words made flesh. i sat with people. i touched my hands to your faces, some of you. i heard you laugh. i watched you walk and take up space. i watched your eyes dart about for somewhere to hide.

and i realize now, the story i should have told: everyone is made of secrets.

i heard more secrets in two days in person than i’ve been privy to in years online.

i keep reading that we bloggers spill our guts for breakfast, that we are narcissists, attention whores.  the cruellest volley ever fired in the war between objective truth and pluralism was not that stories don’t count, but that those who tell them must be pathological.

they’re wrong.

we are all soft in the middle, somewhere. yeh, even you with the abs. but you know that. we all have broken places, hurts. we’ve all done terrible or wonderful things in the dark, at least once. we’re too old now to deny it. most of us have had things happen that we didn’t deserve. there’s no point in shame, but it’s damn hard to unlearn.

we hold our closest stories to our vests until we see the whites of your eyes. we only tell in the flesh.

maybe we’re making a mistake.

we give our secrets too much power. especially when we live our lives in the glare of the internet: we release 98% of ourselves into the wild and hold back the lumpy bumpy 2% as if it were the Real Thing and we risk making it the Real Thing by treating it like a royal flush to be played when the stakes are highest.

i landed back in my own living room like Dorothy catapulted from a sleepless tornado of polyester and blond wigs, and the grind of housework and deadlines and two children who can’t seem to share the same space without talking at once landed on me like landfill. and i stared at Dave across the expanse of our couch wondering if there was anything about me he didn’t already know and if my real secret is that i’m dull and mundane and a stress monkey who’s actually 98% lumpy bumpy bits. and then i ranted for awhile.

a little bit of freedom is a dangerous weapon.

the truth about secrets, of course, is there are only so many. we live in bodies. they are vulnerable and beautiful. and we are petty and kind, clannish and magnanimous. we are not our secrets, nor just the sum of the parts we share. i knew this when i sat with you. i need to remember, when i sit with myself.

me. not me. mileage may vary.

Kate took more pictures of me in Toronto than i’ve been in since i had kids. to the self sitting here on my couch in dirty jeans, they are the secret, the hidden life. they are also only a story, a thin veneer. they are a promise of next time, and a nod that says, i see you, in your jeans and crumbs and deadlines and pretend secrets.

i wobble like the plane, landing, then coast back into my life.

she’s been out now longer than she was ever in.

yesterday marked sixteen months since the day i found out i was pregnant with Posey. it was an eight-month pregnancy that felt like eighty. and eight and a half months later, i think i’m finally recovered-ish. send flowers.

they say we humans have a fourth trimester to pregnancy, the final one spent outside the womb thanks to the engineering clusterfuck of large brains and tender perinea.  i say four-schmore.

i’m more of a six-trimester mammal, myself.

both times i’ve come home from the hospital with a baby, it’s taken an entire pregnancy-length again for me and the offspring to begin to show signs of being human. the colicky infant and the feeding machine who doesn’t sleep more than three hours in a row are not functioning people, people.  they are still gestating, albeit perhaps in separate beds. they are creatures of the body, days dictated by routines of demanding bellies and sheer exhaustion and a lot of mindless wiping.  of everything.

the taller of the pair may occasionally engage in conversation and give the impression of being a thinking adult, but do not be fooled.  that is not thinking. that is just the habit of talking in complete sentences, which is hard to break even when one actually has nothing to say other than “i wiped vomit off my shirt seven times today.”

it gets easier after that fourth trimester, sure. but only after the full mirror pregnancy has been ticked off the calendar do i actually feel as if my body or my life are in any way my own.  slowly, my self creep back, at first distorted, hard to recognize. slowly, between six and eight months after the baby arrives, my sense of being utterly consumed, of being with child in a way even more total than during pregnancy itself, trails off…not with the bang of birth, but with a whimper.

one morning i wake up and notice that i’ve actually slept. all week. ’til an almost-civilized hour. and i go in to find my little baby laughing at her brother, who’s peering into her crib, and she’s watching him knowingly as if she’s more than cognisant of exactly what’s going to come next and i realize that our rhythms have shifted from pure bodily function to social patterns – that i no longer have an infant, but a very small, very sweet, watchful, fierce little girl.  in a baby body, but a baby body that rocks and crawls and explores and feeds itself whatever it finds on the floor, indiscriminately, and gets closer to independence every day.  she loves the cat. she has a sense of humour. she high-fives, and dislikes lentils.  her lip quivers when i tell her “no.”

and i congratulate myself and say, “hey! you! you had a baby!” and then i look around and know that it is done, survived, that long, brain-numbing road of extended gestation that seems to be my lazy, elderly arse’s response to infancy and colic and sleep-deprivation and nursing.  it is done, except for the nursing, and even that begins to wane, takes less precedence, demands little except a happy cuddle.

we are two now, almost fully. semi-civilized both, my baby girl and i each brought safely to ourselves.

the whimper that escapes comes from me.  and i do not know if it is relief or longing, for that strange half-life for two that will never come again.


Posey eating shoe. she's worth 16 months.

i know not everyone seems to have these pitifully long elephantine gestations, in the sense that some of you bounce back into your jeans and your actual senses of self miraculous weeks after birth. i consider you robots amazing specimens. ;)

did you have that sense of being still utterly baby-consumed after birth? what was your mirror gestation length? and how did you feel coming out the other side?

today is Posey’s due date. it’s also my mom’s 60th birthday.

in my first pregnancy, with Finn, my due date was a source of excitement and mystery. the 4th of August, proclaimed the calendar – or maybe the 3rd, but the 4th was Dave’s mom’s birthday and so we went with that, thinking how fortuitous, how cool – and it never so much as occurred to me that i might deliver anytime before August rolled around in all its grand and bloated swelter.

but when August did roll in that year, we were three months bereaved…shell-shocked still, hurting, trying to put together some semblance of a life. i don’t remember if we ever managed to send Dave’s mom a card for her birthday that year.

when i got pregnant with Oscar a short while later, i barely noted his due date. instead i counted the weeks until viability, the days until we passed the points at which leaking had begun or the airlift had happened…and the 26+1 mark at which Finn had been born. i burned into my brain the date at which we’d clear the 28w hurdle, after which so much goes so much better. that was all i was bold enough to ask for.

but then time had her sweet, merciful dulling way with me and when i got pregnant again last fall, due at the end of June, i was fool enough to imagine a baby born on my grandmother’s birthday, the 20th…a full-term, 39ish-week baby. instead, on a Friday in late November, the day Dave turned 33, the u/s technician turned her face away from us as she spun the empty screen in our direction.

so on the morning of my 36th birthday this past January, when i woke up jet-lagged and bleary and faintly nauseous at a bizarre and ungodly hour in a hotel in England, and quietly and with hammering hopeful, fearful heart peed on a plastic stick i’d brought with me because i am at all times prepared, i didn’t dare shout out to the sleeping Dave dude! i’m pregnant! due on my mom’s birthday! i didn’t want to think too much about due dates, then…just wanted to get through that day, and the next, without blood. i only casually mentioned the congruence of dates to my mother much later, but with the caveat we’re really just trying to get safely to August. and she nodded. she knew.

but today my mom is sixty and her granddaughter is 23 days old and a whopping 7 pounds, 2 ounces and there will be cake and i am grateful, humbled by this happy ending, this coda to my pregnancy and to the whole journey of pregnancy in general, for me. we end with cake, not tears. and my mom is celebrating her seventh decade by getting her first computer so i’m bringing the blog out of the closet as a way of introducing her to this fascinating network that is teh internets (note to mom: intentional spelling mistake) so…wish her a happy birthday if you have a minute.

and tell me…all of you, whether your pregnancies were full-term or cut short, whether you’ve lost or gone over and delivered beautiful, healthy babies…did you note your due dates as they passed? do you think of them? what’s your relationship to this semi-arbitrary spot on the calendar?

um, i am heading to the hospital.  nine hours before scheduled cerclage removal.

my water broke.

thanks for all the love that has brought us safe thus far…will keep you posted.

no matter how grateful one is, the end of pregnancy gets long.  especially when one kinda thought it would all be well over by now, had mentally groomed oneself to be ready for the shitshow of the NICU.

being spared one endurance test usually means you’re trading for another.  cynics’ handbook 101, friends.

maybe the end stage gets especially harsh when one runs in online circles where a disproportionate number of friends have lost term babies without warning…to stillbirth, to unforeseen genetic anomalies, to all kinds of tragedies that caught them by surprise even in these late, last, seemingly certain days of expectation.  i fret a little, chafe at the bit, try to jiggle and coerce the baby into moving, into reassuring me as best she can that all is well in there in her little fluid cocoon.  i tell myself to be patient, remind myself that i will likely be willing to kill small fluffy animals for this much time on my hands in just a few weeks.  i rub my belly and marvel at it, knowing that it will never be this big  – or this taut and firm, oh glory – ever again. i try to tell myself that all will likely unfold just fine, and that i do not need to be in control of this event or when or how it occurs. i tell myself chances are everything will be just fine.  i bought an AIDSwalk keychain the other day with the word “trust” on it.  it’s in my bag.

but my brain isn’t listening to me or to much of what i tell it.  it’s not that it’s consumed with worry about worst-case scenarios, either…more just that it’s fixated so soundly on the physical realities of this pregnancy that it flits through the worries like it flits through everything else, like a bad hostess drunk on sherry.  my mind runs on spin-cycle these days, a lather-rinse-repeat refrain of hourly pre-labour twinges that leave me caught in the undertow of ow, hmmm, that one hurt, could this be it?

promptly followed by nothing.  dead air of the uterus, not a cervical cramp in the land.  this child is going to go to prom still inside me.

just as my brain recovers some of its dignity and capacity for self-determination, another vicious little surge sneaks up and stabs me in the stitch, still mightily holding strong despite the complete lack of cervix around it.

i have been in low-grade labour for three weeks now.  it is gradually eroding my ability to form coherent thoughts, especially coherent thoughts not related to this beloved baby and whether or not i will actually deliver her sometime soon.  my brain is all bump, all the time.  and i am weary of it, and weary of myself and the monotony of this refrain.  i wanted to write about something else, desperately…if not upcoming elections – American, Canadian, take your pick – or abstinence-only education or Oscar’s wretched little cold, at least something thoughtful about the whole balancing act of planning to welcome a child once you know that all can go wrong, and how weird it is to wash little onesies and pack them in a drawer with cotton-mouthed fear that the other shoe is about to drop and slam home that the universe really is into bad jokes…

but then i cramped up and tightened, and that was all she wrote.

and hell, at least it keeps me from fixating on the bogeymen.

when i wake up tomorrow morning – barring any drastic excitement before then – i will be further along than i have ever been before, more pregnant than my body has ever managed.

i am 36 weeks today, the threshold of what some – few, but some – definitions are willing to call term.  Oscar was born in the wee hours of the morning at 36 weeks, 1 day.  if i’m honest with myself, i feel overdue…a hundred months pregnant, long past the expected point of delivery…not because this baby couldn’t use another month inside, my rational mind cautions, but because this pregnancy has been so tentative and fraught with what-ifs from the beginning that the bar was set low; 24 weeks prayed for, 28 hoped for, 32 seeming bounty beyond all wildest expectations.  i have been on high-alert for months, as ready as i can be, prepared to drop everything and run to the hospital at the least sign of labour.

well, labour came, Wednesday, but not to me…my half-brother and his partner welcomed a daughter, their firstborn.  and i had to give my head a shake and remind myself, severely, that it was her turn, not mine…that i am in no rush.  i am weary, but i am in no rush.  i figure if i keep saying it, i’ll start believing it.

the baby’s name is Bronwyn Elise.  i love it, but i grieved a little hearing it…because if you check the comments on last week’s name post, you’ll see Bronwen was a top choice for us for a middle name.  what are the chances?  Bronwen was what i was almost called, before my father’s objections convinced my mother to go with the cutesy Bonnie instead – oh, my mother laughed yesterday when she heard he was finally stuck with it – and it has long been Dave’s favourite female name.  we couldn’t quite come up with a short form that worked well enough for us to use it as a first name: having a Bon and a Bron in the same house didn’t do much for us, and Wendy, as the name of Dave’s we-shall-never-speak-of-this-again first wife, was out.  but i wanted Bronwen in the mix.  my father remarried another Bonnie when i was less than two.  i’ve shared my name with my stepmother my entire life.  i nearly changed my name to Bronwen when i was in my teens…and in some secret part of me, have always considered it mine.  using it on a daughter would have been, in a way, my only chance to name her in some sense after me, me alone…because my real name has never been mine alone.  now Bronwen, even if we used it, could never be for me alone…it is hers, now, the little eight-pound beauty.  and that same small part of me is sad, wistful.

but it also narrows our choices, which probably will make the overall naming circus easier in the long run. :)

in any case she is here and wonderful and new and so i wander the maternity ward these days cooing at this lovely little niece creature, looking like i’ve swallowed a basketball, like i’m loitering just in case.  i think i make the nurses nervous.  perhaps it’s the licorice cigar and the manic Groucho Marx imitation.

Bon & Bronwyn

if i thought my bambina had a womb with a view, i’d understand her staying safely put.  that look on my face scares me too.

we went out to the market this morning.

upon return, in amongst the weekend flyers dragged in from the porch advertising marvellous Walmart specials and bizarre lawn ornaments i can’t imagine anyone wanting to buy, i found a book.  an apparently new book, with price tag still attached.  not the sort of book that usually comes with the sales ads…there’s not a single Huggies coupon in the thing.

it is titled What NOT To Name Your Baby.

how this mysterious tome came to grace my kitchen table, i do not know.  i do know that the book is quite entertaining, despite the fact that Oscar is among the more than one thousand names it sardonically prohibits…i’ve come to expect the world to take a bit of a piss on that front.  we’re fair game.  in North America, having a kid named Oscar perpetuates a rather thick skin in a parent.  yep, like the Grouch.  he’s our favourite muppet. or, yes, we LOVE Academy Award season.  (insert sarcasm as necessary).  my favourite…oh yes, we call his penis the Oscar Meyer weiner…we picked the name for that very reason! (that last is a fictional response to a real question posed to me by an elderly woman on the street one day.  charming.)

i have vague suspicions that the anonymous book donor may actually be a worried grandparent, afraid that we’ll either call the baby Elmo or Miss Piggie this time round (my father’s family are vastly tickled by their oft-repeated and immensely clever jokes on this front) or that we do, in fact, actually plan to continue calling her Hughloise after her arrival.  we don’t…we just like telling my mom that.  her middle name’s Louise, so we say it’s for her.  then she turns this gorgeous, flustered red.  very fun.

(if in the colossally unlikely case that five separate ultrasounds were wrong and she is actually a he, i’m betting that Dave will cave and actually let me call him Hugh, but that’s as close as we’ll really get to Hughloise.  his half of the creation – Heloise, for the twelfth-century errant abbess – never quite made it onto my lists.  i like old names and all, but not ones that call to mind those Hints from Heloise newspaper columns of my childhood.  i never liked her mayonnaise recipes one bit.)

if we’re casting our thanks/aspersions in the wrong direction, though, and anyone out there would like to take credit for the kind and mysterious gift of What Not to Name Your Baby, please speak now.  i think you’ve already said your piece. :)

and if anyone has any naming suggestions – preferably in the realm of “austere yet dowdy”, no cute Kaylees or eltra-femme Larissas or neologic McBritneylyns need apply, fine names though those may be (or not, ahem) for other people’s children – bring ’em on.  right now, we’re kinda taken by Hortense, inexplicably NOT an entry in the book…think of the nicknaming possibilities!!***

i wonder if we should start locking our door when we go out?

***uh, kidding on Hortense.

we left Korea for good that winter.

the fall beforehand was golden and rushed, one of those queerly vivid transition epochs where the body and mind are open and receptive, future utterly unknown and thus all changes possible answers in masquerade.  it is heady, that hurtle towards the break, and for me it was a productive time -i started writing professionally for the first time in years, took up jogging for the first time ever.  looking ahead, i tried to lay ground. looking around me, with eyes that knew i was leaving, i tried to store all that i could of the city and culture, the small apartment with its sliding glass doors, the autumn light pouring in, the sweet-sour tang of mokkoli and cheom-chi kimbap, the hectic market across the street, laden with strange fruit that had become familiar.

in casting ourselves upon the fates that fall, we went whole hog.  i threw out the birth control pills, had my cystic ovaries checked at Our Lady of Mercy Virgin Mary Obstetrics and Gynecology – the head OB had learned his English at a Catholic college in the United States, he informed me proudly – and one Monday morning in November, watched two clear blue lines materialize on a pregnancy test i’d had to play charades to acquire from the apothecary’s on the corner.  there is a lot of vocabulary that a life spent in classrooms and bars does not necessarily teach.

every season of life has its soundtracks.  this one was a single CD, a nothing-else-quite-like it literate and intimate collection of folky imagery-laden songs that a friend who lived in another city had brought one weekend in October, that we played all through that fall and early winter as we planned and packed and i threw up.  those songs, with their quirky rhythm and their haunting, non-linear stories, were burned on me in those months just as Korea was.  i was wax, taking everything in.  and all my hopes and anticipation sang in me to those tunes and words, lullabies to the little life inside around whom all the changes centred.

we brought the CD back to Canada, though the light was harsher here.  the last time i played it was in the hospital after my water broke too too early, headphones stretched across my belly.  i was still hopeful, the laws of inertia internalized to such an extent that continuing to hope was not so hard as it has been ever since.  i chose, the first night after my airlift, in the 3 am quiet of the hospital room, to tune in to the baby inside, to spend what time we had left together present to him or her.  i sang to him, spoke to her – we had been told girl, then boy, then girl again, that time ’round – played him music.  for that three weeks, i was tender and more in-the-moment than i have ever been in my life, connected and maternal in ways i hadn’t imagined i had in me.  until he died in my arms.  all those months of hoping and planning, all we’d tried to build toward, all the light and song packed into that period, dissipated into ash.

last night, Dave and i were watching back episodes of a tv show on the computer.  in the climactic moments, a song started up, a song neither of us had heard.  but he recognized the voice…the same singer whom, as if by unspoken, accidental agreement, we have not listened to in over three years.  my ears perked up, and just the familiarity of a single word, characteristically pronounced at the end of a line, assured me he was right.  the scene unfolded on the screen in front of us.  but i didn’t see it anymore.

i saw a small apartment with muted light falling over a sleeping mat, a huge desk rescued from the side of the street one evening.  i saw the campus-issue furniture and the pillows brought back as bounty from Thailand, the coffee grinder propped up against the yogurt maker and the funny little packets of bacteria bought at the same apothecary’s as the pregnancy test.  i saw ashtrays and ESL books, plastic tables set outside the neighbourhood corner store for drinking at, neon signs advertising singing rooms, internet cafes, chicken.  i saw rows and rows of persimmons, ripe to bursting, and crisp pears that look like apples, and packets of salty seaweed for snacking on.  i saw, though i had not known i remembered.  and i felt it all again, the hope and the shattering that followed, as if the episode we were watching were one from our own lives.

and i wept, because i knew the ending to all that risk and hope and openness.  because it was like watching a replay of my own personal train wreck, and i could not shout out a warning, could not do anything but sit and let the brokenheartedness of it all wash over me.  and because it was beautiful, too, to have it all come flooding back, to remember what it felt like to be in that skin and that mind, faithful for the last time to the belief that all will ultimately be right.

i like to think i’ve healed.  but not once in this pregnancy, or with Oscar, have i stretched headphones over my belly, unselfconscious, and sung to my child.  not like that.

i don’t even know if i should try.  i don’t know if i can.  i wish i could, though.  i realized last night that i wish i could.

your comments shine through my screen like benedictions.  the overflow of truth and thoughtfulness and humour, raw and warm, calms me, strengthens.  i bask.  i eat up ideas, cross-referencing, googling hungrily.  call answered.

i sit humbled, grateful.  you took me by surprise.  i did not know, not like this, that the well ran so deep and generous, that the collective wisdom of a mythological sisterhood could be tapped like this.  i feel as if i’ve wandered into a Little House on the Prairie stageset, into a quilting bee community of yore where i am mothered, friended, surrounded and held up.   my birth coaches, sixty strong.  your stories widen my horizons, my sense of the possible.  your stories make me less afraid.

i have never known how to ask for help, before.

Mad wrote a powerful post the other night about fear and walking at night and the Take Back the Night phenomenon that swept college campuses in the late 80s and early 90s.  that was my coming of age, that era, and i sang that song for years.

my mother’s spent her life more than usually mistrustful of the unknown, and she tried desperately to inculcate in me caution, wariness of all that the newspapers said i should fear as a young and vulnerable woman in a predatory age.  but, like so many, it was not the unknown that hurt me, that damaged my sense of my own worth and my right to inviolate status.  i did not even have words, at eighteen, for what happened.  but i had anger, at the misdirected fear that smothered without protecting, and shame, in buckets.  the shame kept me tongue-tied, unable to ask for help or support.  the anger made me defiant.  and in the mess of my fumbling attempts to find healing, i began to walk, at night, alone, alert…head high, keys spiked.  i walked and walked, for nearly two years, compulsively.  it was a way of refusing to wrap myself in the shroud of victimization and dependence that society held out as a false promise of safety.  it was a way of taking back my own body, as well as the night.  but mostly it was a way to quiet the deep, crippling sense of vulnerability and fear that ate away at me in those years, the panic that threatened each time someone came close.

it took, in the end, years and years and ultimately a conscious letting go.  but i walked my way out of that trauma, that damage…literally walked away from it, each step a blind, grasping effort to surmount fear.

i think i have been trying to do the same with the trauma of my children’s births.  except a waddle is not a confidence-inducing stride, and i have been unable to outpace myself, my fear, my history.  so i have had to face my shame this time, own it and voice it and say aloud, “i have been hurt.  i am frightened.  i do not know how to go forward by myself.”

the warmth of response has taken so much of the power from the shame and the fear that i wonder, sadly, what might have happened had i been brave enough to try this tack half a lifetime ago.

i waited two hours to see my OB today, because half the practice is on summer vacation.  my fear and shame sat with me through the wait, despite all your words…i felt like a kid waiting to be called into the principal’s office, dreading humiliation and misunderstanding.  it’s not being my own medical advocate that intimidates me, but admitting my vulnerability, admitting how badly Oscar’s birth shook me despite his survival.  being supplicant and helpless is not my strong suit.  i was afraid i’d find myself tongue-tied, once again, unable to stand up for my need for agency and dignity with this impending birth…unable to admit how much i fear the panic that swallowed me last time, the panic i failed utterly to master.

i really like my OB.  she’s been with me through all four pregnancies, though never – by circumstance – for delivery or d&c.  i trust her.  she has looked me in the eye and said, “i’m sorry.  i made a mistake.”  she has always treated me like a human being.

and still i could barely meet her eyes as i unfurled the litany of facts and complications that have left me so afraid.  i hunched on the crinkly paper of the exam table, picked at the flannel blanket.  i didn’t want to overstate, be dramatic, have her write me off.  i trailed to a halt, handed over the list of questions i’d posted here the other night with all their what-ifs and maybes and stretches of what’s commonly done.  i looked at her and choked the obvious out.  i’m just…so scared.

she didn’t patronize me, or pat me on the arm and tell me not to worry my pretty little head.  she listened, and looked at me, and said, “i will come in with you, if i can.  i’ll put that on your file, right here.  i’d like to be with you through this birth, if that might help?”

they don’t do that here.  my mum has worked at the hospital for years, and i know they don’t.  there’s an agreement between the OBs that on-call status is respected, because the on-call docs have to be on site, away from their kids or their sick spouses or their beer or what have you, so having subs come in is frowned upon.  i looked at her warily, said “i’d feel guilty.”

she said, “don’t.”

and then tears welled up and streamed down my face and she handed me Kleenex and i felt six years old and like i’d just been rescued from the Kmart Lost and Found desk.

we talked.  plans for induction or c-section are tabled until i reach 37 weeks still pregnant.  we will try the delayed cord clamping, and a few other things both from her repetoire and your suggestions to try to minimize the likelihood of retained placenta and surgery.  we will aim for skin-to-skin and nursing right after birth.  she will work with Dave and the delivery nurses to try to do as much perineal support, lubrication, and stretching as possible.  we may try to break up any cervical adhesions upon cerclage removal at 36 weeks…or wait until labour depending on how imminent that appears at that point.  she’s checking on anti-anxiety options, and depending on how things present we may try an early epidural if that’s possible instead.  slowing things down a little, for me, might not be bad.  she approved of the advice i’d been given here to try to minimize prolapse.

and most important, she’s going to talk with the entire OB team about me, in case she can’t be there when i ultimately land at L&D.  and if at any point, with her or another doc, i panic and feel i just can’t confront another possible gong show, it’ll be on my file that i can ask for a c-section without any argument from the medical team.  not my first choice, but a choice i’m grateful to know is there.  i see her again next week, and we’ll talk some more.

tears are still close to the surface, tonight.  relief, gratitude, astonishment.  i haven’t given birth yet, obviously…the actual event is still ahead of us.  but the birth i feared, the panic i could not walk away from…i think its spectre has been largely deflated, weakened.  by you, with all your stories and your virtual hands in mine.  by one doctor stepping up to my side.

trust.  antidote to fear.

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