There are many things in life that I remember with definition: the sweet smell of my dad’s pipe; the opera performance my mom took me to at age 8 when I dropped my tin of hard candies down the stairs, each one echoing with a resounding plink through the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco, just as the lead character died; clutching my dad’s hand as he walked me down the aisle on my wedding day; the moment my husband and I walked into the ; my grandmother’s final sputtering breaths before she passed away.
But there is nothing, nothing in life that I remember with as much distinction as giving birth. I think most women would agree that this is the one moment in life that you anticipate more than anything else, viewing it with a mixed bag of emotions, from fear to loathing to joy, regardless of the number of times you do it.
I hadn’t reached back into my cerebral archive to recall my daughter’s birth until we took a tour of the in Burlingame several weeks ago in preparation of our son’s impending birth. As we walked through the expansive, swanky hallways of the new facility that seems more hotel than hospital (the flat screens in the “birthing suites” are larger than my TV at home), I started to rewind to that day in September when we welcomed a 5 pound, 10 ounce baby girl.
I smell the cookie my sister offered me as I waited for my induction to begin the night before. I remember the monotonously disturbing beep of the baby’s heart rate monitor that gives you both peace (baby is still doing OK) and worry (I’m keeping a life alive right now). I recall the 24th time the nurses had to come in and unhook me from said monitor so that I could pee, earning me this birthing title from nurse Angela: “We’ve never had someone pee this much.” I feel the shot they gave me to reverse my labor when I couldn’t take it anymore and then 10 minutes later my water breaking as my germophobe sister sat on the side of the bed to comfort me. With distinct clarity, I see clouds passing outside my window as I lay curled into the fetal position, clutching the bed’s side rail, hearing only the sound of my breathing and unaware of people in the room or the wet cloths on my forehead.
I will never forget the first tingles of the epidural numbing my pain and then the spotlights turning on, the bed breaking down and my doctor, whom I trust with my life, sitting at the end of the bed and catching a wailing baby girl smaller than a doll and with lips redder than a strawberry.
She was the tiniest human being I’d ever seen, so small that my sister and I actually put doll clothes on her. Andrew and I ventured to Target every other day to get preemie diapers, a size so rare you could only get sacks of 30 at a time. We were constantly competing with other couples harboring similarly petite babies.
Fast-forward nearly four years and our baby is a grown-up kid who yesterday announced that she had found enough pennies in the sofa cushions and by raiding Andrew’s coin stash to own something from Target.
Although I’ve been through birth before, again I look at it with the same dread, fear and excitement that I viewed my daughter’s. I fear the pain and the unknown. As any woman who has birthed multiple children will tell you, every experience is different.
The other day my daughter and I were unloading the baby’s new clothing and blankets into the drawers of his changing table and I started to cry as I watched her pull out the blankets and onesies, smell them and then tuck them into the drawers.
“Mommy, what’s wrong?” she said.
“Nothing, honey, I’m just excited,” I said.
“Why?” she said.
“I just love you so much and I can’t wait to meet your baby brother,” I said.
This was a very simplified way of saying I can’t wait for those moments in the hospital just before he’s born where everything goes still and it’s just me and a child journeying into new territory. I can’t wait to feel his warm sleeping body against my chest, mouth agape, completely trusting in my ability to care for him. I can’t wait to see his pink lips squeeze into a goofy smile, revealing his puffy gums. I can’t wait to see him discover that sand is rough and flower petals are soft. I can’t wait for him to tell me a dog says “moo” and a chicken says “woof.”
I look forward to the day he can tell me, “Mommy, broccoli stinks.” I want him to ask me, “Mommy, why do trees grow?” and, after I break it down for him, to ask me, “Why?” again and again, 100 times.
And then I look forward to, and dread, the day my baby looks up at me and tells me that he’s earned (or found) enough money to buy something at Target, because he’s a big boy now.