Sometimes, after a thing has happened, I can look back at it and realize that it worked perfectly. I feel that way about my marriage; all the little moving pieces fit together right at a time when any one of them could have thrown the whole thing off. A birth, two nights ago now, was like this.
Worried about slow fetal development, the doctors scheduled an induction two weeks before her due date. As if to prove that her body knew exactly what it was doing, and that the baby was right where he needed to be, she went into labor two days before it was scheduled. She could barely feel her contractions, though they expected labor to pick up and move quickly at any moment. I arrived at the hospital to find her and her husband chatting calmly. “Oh, you didn’t need to hurry!” they laughed. About a half hour later, the contractions had strengthened and moved into her lower back; she was unable to talk through them. The mood changed, became quieter. Her husband put on The Burda, a beautiful poem in Arabic that gave a rhythm to her swaying. The midwife had a lavender and clary sage massage oil that I used to rub her back, applying counter-pressure during contractions. Very quickly, she started to feel the urge to push.
Time moves differently in a delivery room. I look at the clock and then am startled looking again, an hour having passed. I don’t know how long it took, certainly no more than two hours from when I arrived to the moment the baby did. It happened quickly, but there were places where time stopped.
The baby was small and feisty, all squall, an Apgar score of 9. I cried a little, hearing his first yop. He immediately calmed against his mother’s breast and quietly observed, little eyes blinking and searching. The midwife told us that a mother’s body regulates the baby’s temperature; a woman’s body will spontaneously heat up if it senses the baby’s temperature is too low. Things like this floor me, grip my heart, fill me with awe. He seemed content there, as if this was just a change of scenery, nothing to be afraid of.
I am reminded of how much I love this work.
A very good and old friend of mine, my oldest friend even, told me that she is 12 weeks pregnant. Another friend emailed me the images from her first ultrasound, titled “waving!” I am filled with so much joy at all this life in orbit around me. I’m counting time in trimesters, in birthdays, first steps, first words. I can count on two hands the number of pregnant friends, on one hand the number who have just given birth. I know they’re pregnant the moment before they tell me; the tone of voice they use, the pause before they begin. For the first-time mothers, which make up most of my friends, I am aware of the threshold they are crossing. Pregnancy is that liminal state of knowing/not knowing/unknowing, of remaking. Anthropologist Victor Turner called the threshold, the limen, “a realm of pure possibility where novel configurations of ideas and relations arise.” It can be unbalancing, frightening, unreal, or too-real, but it can come back into balance, it can bring a new center, can be an umbilicus to other worlds. I have been rolling the word alterity around on my tongue; during the birth, the external fetal heart rate monitor kept slipping, such that the screen would regularly display his heartbeat, then hers, then his. Another pregnant friend remarked to me that she has only ever known herself one way, has only ever related to her body as hers, has only ever been her-self. Women cross boundaries so beautifully.