On Birth

Moving forward is difficult. Especially when it’s moving away from something beautiful. Whether a relationship, a perfect feeling, or a singular moment. 

That’s what birth has meant to me. It’s mourning the nine months I spent feeling the life build and move and become alive inside of me while giving thanks for the little red body currently nestled in the crook of my arm. It’s feeling the stretched skin over my belly, suddenly so empty and alone while celebrating the lightness and freedom of no longer playing host. It’s the exhale of doing and experiencing after months of waiting and preparation. Only to miss that anticipation now that the reward is here. 

I think that’s probably why so many mothers write down their birth stories. Birth is such an epic collection of moments we’ll never get back again. A bound book of feelings no one else can fully understand.

Even though it’s so intensely personal — or maybe because it is — we still want someone to witness the bigness of what we’ve experienced. On more than one occasion during Evie’s first week earth-side I had the urge while entering everywhere from my local vegan smoothie shop to Target to drop my belongings and yell to anyone who would listen, “I had a baby five days ago!” as if anyone else present would be amazed I’d done such a meaningful but pretty ordinary thing. 

For me, that’s one of the reasons why it’s so hard to let time pass during these first few days and weeks. I become more separate from the beauty of those profound moments. Days after arriving home with Evie I said goodbye to a wilted bouquet of peonies that lived on the windowsill of my hospital room. I gathered up the fallen petals in my palms, carried them to the trash, and kissed them before releasing the still-soft husks to an ending that seemed altogether too undignified for the joy they’d brought me. 

Even the act of slowly, day by day, picking the leftover tape from my skin — remnants of IVs, gauze, and blood draws — becomes a ritual. Each strand removed means I’m further from the moment I felt the pressure of the blade on my belly, felt her being pushed and finally pulled from my insides, waited to hear that first perfect scream rage from her lungs, and heard my own voice let out one final gasping sob that contained so much ending and so much beginning. And so much disappointment that Phil Collins, “In the Air Tonight,” was streaming through the scratchy speaker in the corner.

And then, quite simply, you’re cared for. You have an endless rotation of nurses and doctors who hold your broken body, swaddle your crying babe, help you wash, walk, and ease pain. As adults, even with the most supporting, loving spouses or family members, we’re rarely taken care of so completely at the moments we need that care the most. It feels so safe in a world that feels so unsafe.

And here we are. Evie is eight weeks old. We are home. We are healthy. And somehow, we are moving one. I am ordering new water shoes for Jude. JD is fixing a broken gate outside. We are waking up in the middle of the night for feedings. We are living. And I think that’s Evie’s birth story. 

One last note. I’m able to write these thoughts down because both my husband and I have paid parental leave. I had this wonderful care because I have good health insurance through my work. I had a healthy and happy pregnancy because I have access to birth control, choice, and privilege. I’ve had a safe and well-monitored post-pregnancy because I have access to therapy, support, and postpartum antidepressants.

The choice to have a child is deeply personal, extremely situational, and systemically more dangerous and difficult for people who don’t look like me. We must protect that choice. Here are a few ways to do that.