Monday, February 21, 2005

Our Baby's Birth

It was just as I had pictured it, just as I had hoped - a bright sunny afternoon, despite how unusual for the Pacific Northwest. I gave birth to our first child at 3:42p.m., January 5, 2005. “It’s a boy,” my husband said smiling, restraining his excitement so as not to sound as if he had a “told-you-so” tone.

Towards the end of my contractions, I had been whimpering. “I just can’t take anymore paaain,” I kept saying. “I won’t be able to push it out if it hurts anymooore.” We had insisted upon being surprised about the gender. Somehow throughout the nine months, the baby had gone from being a “she” to “he” back to “she,” and in the last weeks of baited breath, finally: “it.”

Suddenly, fire was burning. I began screaming. Our baby’s head was crowning. “I can’t do it anymore! I can’t do it anymore!" I screamed. "I just want my mahhhm! I just want to go home now," I cried. "I just wanna go ho-o-me."

No one was letting me leave though.

“You’re doing so well, Grace! You’re doing so well!” my husband said in his sincerely impressed tone. I practically thought I saw that with the arm that wasn’t pushing against my right foot for me as I pushed the baby out, he had his left fist raised, arm outstretched as if UCLA had just scored three touch-downs simultaneously. But the fire was still there, and I had no idea how many more hours it might persist.

But then, before I even know it: “You’re doing so well!” Pause. Then, “It’s a-" (restrain the joy a bit) “boy.” The nurses and doctor begin saying in a round, “He’s beautiful.” "He's beautiful," I'm hearing, "He's beautiful." Who's beautiful? What just happened?

One minute I’m screaming in agony, next, everyone is smiling saying happy things rather than “Push!” “You can do it!” or “You’re doing great!” He's beautiful? But newborns aren't supposed to be beautiful. The one on the video in our birthing class came out grey and looked like an alien.

They placed the baby on my chest. I pulled my neck back as he squirmed on me still covered with wet gunk. I held his hot body on his ribs so he wouldn’t slide off me. A nurse quickly wiped his back. “This is so unreal.” I said. “This is so unreal.” I wanted someone to remove him from me before he wriggled off me or his delicate, little ribs cracked under my grip.

Finally, they took him and placed him under the heat lamp on his shallow, square "bassinet" a few feet away. Its sides were transparent so that I could still see him. I watched, still shocked, not only that he wasn’t a girl, but that he was a real baby and he actually came out of me. How in the world did that even fit inside me?

“It’s like getting married,” I said as if bestowing some new insight upon the other women, though they probably were all mothers themselves, in the room. I was remembering when I was walking down the aisle with a smile on my face, while the yellow church lights shone down on me like the lights on a movie set or a stage. I felt dazed and unsure if it was really me walking down it and not someone else in a movie. It was only one year before that I had walked down that aisle.  In fact, our one year anniversary was coming up in five days.  The nurse paused in the midst of her scurrying through her duties, her gaze turning into one of confusion, unsure of how there could be any correlation between giving birth to a baby and getting married. I, of course, was not paying enough attention to stop talking and continued in my soliloquizing.

“Wow,” I said staring at the baby under the lamp. “This is so much better than anything else a human could make. And it only took nine months!”

I hated being pregnant. By the time the severe fatigue returned my third trimester, I had practically been traumatized by the first four months of pregnancy. Despite constant sleep deprivation in college, I realized I had no concept of fatigue until pregnancy. Plus, there was the ceaseless nausea for three months straight. And even with the incredible lethargy – and the depression that seems to accompany it – I could not sleep at night due to (we eventually found out after not listening to the first opinion of it just being pregnancy) being allergic to every green thing in the green state of Washington. As my belly grew and became visible nearing my third trimester, though, it made real to me the fact that there really was a real, live human baby growing inside me. In my excitement, I learned to become content barely functioning at 5% of my optimum level. After all, I decided, though I may not get many things done on my daily to-do list, what could be more productive than making a human being? And what could be more “efficient” than making an additional person to you to accomplish things and impact the world?

A few moments later, they gave my baby back to me, all clean now and swaddled in a blue receiving blanket. He was surprisingly more alert than I expected a newborn to be. He looked at me with wide open eyes and I stared back as we appraised each other. I was confused. I did not recognize my (?) baby. He had my husband’s large, almond eyes, my husband’s sister’s cheeks, the flat nose that the ultrasound reviewed as: “could not see a nasal bone,” my husband’s father’s chin, and finally a mouth that their whole family shared. When he closed his eyes they became slits. And with his full set of black hair on his egg-shaped head, he looked like any of Andrew’s Chinese uncles. Yes. This was a Chinese little man. Does he bear any resemblance to me? I know he never left the room, but are you sure he’s mine? Could my husband have made him purely of himself?

Within the hour, they brought the baby to me to nurse for the first time. With each nursing period, we bonded more and more as I stared into his little face and held him against me. By the time we drove home Friday afternoon, I was full-on in love with this little man.