It was 1am and my niece, La, couldn’t sleep. She had no fever but was intermittently crying and fussing. She’s just over 16 months old and my sister’s kids have never been good sleepers, so she and my BIL weren’t too concerned. But then, after my sister had sat with her for an hour and her husband took over when he got home because he had the next day off and she didn’t, the crying turned to screaming. She’s been prone to ear infections since she had RSV, so they checked her ears. They were fine. She seemed a bit congested, but that was also frequent since the RSV and her voice had a sort of constant nasally quality to it. My sister checked over all the other extremities, all looked fine there too. La seemed to be calming down so my sister went to bed. My BIL and La fell into a fitful sleep as well, then suddenly at 4am the screaming came on full tilt again. And then there was sneezing. And more sneezing. And coughing. And more sneezing. Finally, an enormous sneeze, and my BIL gets wet and sees something shoot across the room. The room fills with an awful smell, and he gags. La immediately falls into a peaceful sleep. My BIL doesn’t want to turn on the light, so he grabs a flashlight. Plugging his nose, he walks over to where he thinks he saw something fly. He finds an enormous green mass. It’s hard and bigger than La’s nose. Gagging, he picks it up and takes it my sister, who, being in pathology, does not gag at all and could not find it more fascinating. She at first thinks La had shoved spinach up her nose, but can’t think of when they last ate spinach. They check in on La, she seems fine, and the other two kids managed to sleep through the whole event. They go to sleep.
She brings it up at work the next morning. She works mostly on obstetric and pediatric pathology — sees a lot of dead baby stuff sadly — so nose excretions are not her specialty. She’s very excited about this thing out of her kid’s nose, just completely in awe of it. She thinks it must be extraordinary. The chief pathologist though, finds it quite mundane. Just a run of the mill sinus fungus. She’s probably had it up there growing for a long time, possibly since the RSV, possibly even since birth. Nothing strange or extraordinary about it at all.
But for La, it was significant. She’d spent months growing it and many painful hours laboring to push it out of her nose – and her parents marveled at how the human body’s orifices, which look so fixed in space, could have finally and for a brief moment, expanded just enough to release it into the world, a wet, stinky, bloody mass.
I intended to write that post a long time ago, as a way of mocking a post Catherine at Everything’s Under Control linked to, called something like “My Body does Cool Things.” I won’t link to it because you all know what it says. Just another banal post about the amazing beauty of pregnancy and birth – and to add miracle upon miracle (also know as insult to injury) her stomach looked flat and gorgeous just 7 weeks later. Those of us who have birthed multiple children know the belly is not so elastic the second (or third) time, and those of us who were forbidden to exercise know it takes quite a bit of fortitude NOT to physically push yourself too when those hips and back start aching and the four walls of your home begin to look interminably dull and you begin to look at your expanding thighs and butt and wonder if your husband really knows of what he speaks when he promises to love your body no matter how glaring those stretch marks remain and however long it takes you to put on a pair of old pants.
A recent post at Glowinthewoods (this one), brought it all back. And makes me think, almost five months out, how am I feeling about birth. For months I read about it constantly. All I wanted was a live baby, of course, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I wanted a “perfect” birth to compete with my last disastrous one. I’d managed to birth Natan after a week of hell during which I took only one Tylenol, and damn it, I was going to do the same for Baby Man. All the doctors and nurses respected my wishes both times so strongly, no one ever pushed anything on me – mentioned it once maybe, let it go. No one ever said c-section and even now only non-doctors ask me if anyone said anything about a c-section when it became clear this was one hell of a big baby trying to make an appearance.
In the midst of labor with Baby Man, sitting on the birthing ball, very very scared and having flashbacks, came a moment of clarity. I was stupid. I should have taken the stronger pain killers they offered me for Natan. What was the point of all that pain? I had spent months skipping my other job and reading & talking only about birth, and I realized I knew I would be fine if I took an epidural. I realized the baby would be fine. All along, I recognized, I had just wanted to prove that I could do it. I could have a perfect birth. I am not so different from the women I roll my eyes at (jealously….) Stupid. I either could have a perfect birth or I couldn’t – I had nothing to do with it. The pain wasn’t going to kill me, and I had already told the doctors that if the moment came where they felt I needed a c-section, just whisk me off and do it.
Back when we first got pregnant, I thought yoga and exercise and breathing would make labor easier, would make for a healthy mom and baby. After losing Natan, I realized that those things were still good, but would only really make birth easier if it was already going to be easy. And after weeks of prodromal contractions, during which my dysfunctional uterus that had been so over eager to cast out my first son suddenly switched gears and decided to hold onto this one forever, it was clear my body wasn’t interested in easy labor. I was in early labor for weeks, full on labor for 12 hours. My body was going to birth the baby clearly, but no one was going to be fooled into thinking I did it easily just because I didn’t take a drug. Just like my not taking any pain medications while suffering over Natan didn’t mean I was any braver or better of a mother to him.
Anyway, how do I remember labor now, 5 months out? Well, the baby is now babbling away in the other room, so I remember it pretty damn fondly. A perfect day. Nature did exactly what it was supposed to, and cast a foreign substance out of my body intact. Slimy, wet, stinky and screaming, but alive.