“What’s inside an eye?”
My daughter turns three today and this was her question that started our day. Then, as we walked to nursery school, she asked, “When Halloween goes, where does it go?” I’m still working on an explanation for the spiraling movement of time and the effort is helping me understand why my daughter talks so often about what she will do when she is a baby again. If Halloween will return next year, why not her babyhood?
When I think back to her babyhood, what returns for me is the sweet pleasure of first meeting my little girl on the outside. The moment was poignantly unhurried. I had the space to see and the time to discover my just-born child; it was a slow meeting, slow enough for me to be present for the arrival of this brand new person. What was different from my other children’s births was that my midwife, Valeriana Pasqua-Masback, did not hand me my baby, as the midwives had done at the births of my sons. Instead, she simply guided my daughter onto the bed below me. Valeriana left the moment of meeting to my daughter and me. The experience was joyful beyond what I had imagined. The labor that got me to that point, however, was not so joyful.
My boys’ labors had been exquisite. Raw and intense, the boys’ labors had blasted from beginning to end, and surrender was every bit as spiritual as it was physical. Sarah Buckley, in her book Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering, reports on her yoga teacher’s belief that giving birth is equivalent to seven years of meditation. The idea had the ring of truth for me. With each of my son’s labors, I felt I had traveled to the fiery core of life itself and returned with a strong, centered part of myself I hadn’t known was missing. I still feel it in my bones to this day. My daughter’s labor, however, was more “seven years” than “meditation.”
For Silas Wendell – Born at home on November 18th, 9 lbs, 10 oz
The four days following your due date were long days. I wanted you to come, to be birthed into my arms. I was anxious to see you and hold you. I wondered, as the days wore on, if there was something holding me back from your birth. Kristen, our midwife, asked directly if I was afraid of labor or if there was something that was inhibiting me from going into labor. We talked through what might be in the way. On Saturday, the day before you were born, I was anxious to clear a space for you. I decided that I wasn’t going to work the following week. Your dad, brother and I went to Central Park to try to “walk you out.” We walked fast and hard and nothing happened. I was discouraged.
I first observed this pause at a home birth in the Bronx, where I helped Laura and Neil work through a rather zippy labor. Neil’s eight brothers and sisters had all been born at home in Ireland, and home birth had made immediate sense to Laura when I raised it as a possibility months earlier as she mapped out elaborate plans to arrive at the hospital as late as humanly possible.
On November 4th, 2010, I met my third child in what I can only describe as the most ecstatic of ways. After an unexpectedly long first stage and a shockingly speedy second stage, I birthed my baby on my bed in the all fours position. As my midwife guided my baby down below me, I was thrilled to finish a labor that had seemed to last an eternity. But it is the next moments that are forever seared in my memory. As I saw my daughter below me… as I touched her meaty little arms and legs, took in her strawberry hair, watched her first breaths, felt her cord pulsing with the life force we had shared for so long, and finally – when I had really SEEN her- picked her up, the experience was nothing less than euphoric. I knew from watching others that not hurrying a baby onto its mother’s chest left the moment open to be what it needed to be. But I had no idea that being upright for this precious first meeting … with my daughter below me… no one hurrying her or me … would feel so powerful. I don’t think I have ever looked so hard at another human. I feel that I now understand in a visceral way what we mean when we talk about the imprinting that takes place at birth. It was an extraordinary gift to be able to truly see and take in this brand new person in the moments in which she arrived.