mr. literal

We're at the park, and Burton spreads his feet and cajoles Henry into running under the bridge of his body. Mindful of the height limits of the crotchial overpass, Burton says, "You have to duck because you're getting tall."

"Quack quack," Henry replies.


one year later

Tomorrow, amazingly to some of us, is Henry’s first birthday. What better occasion to revisit his arrival on this here earth on this here blog; it is, after all, the reason for my silence here. Please be advised, gentle reader, that the long-winded account that follows includes both blood and juices, drama and melodrama. Birth is an amazing event, and ok, sure, it can be beautiful. But that doesn’t make it pretty.

Monday afternoon. It is snot-freezing cold out. I have my second and final acupuncture appointment in a hopeful attempt to get my do-nothing labor started. “Do you want to have this baby tonight?” Lipai asks me as I’m beached on her table, looking like a life-sized orca pincushion.

“Actually,” I reply, “my husband will be out at a ski race tonight. Logistically, you know, tomorrow would be more convenient, heh . . . " I say, not sure which if either of us is joking.

I spend the remainder of the afternoon walking—okay, waddling—with Steph, hoping that the baby would indeed fall out, as he seems to be threatening. No such luck.

6:30 PM. I am scheduled to meet Melissa at a church parking lot so the two of us, both pregnant to the hilt, can drive out to Nashoba Valley ski area together. Burton is already there, having earlier hitched a ride with Melissa’s husband. I arrive at the church early, proving that there is a first time for everything. Plus, those extra few minutes gave my amniotic fluids the chance to rupture (Who ordered the fluids?).

Having your water break, by the way, is the strangest of experiences. Very much like peeing, which you know you shouldn’t do while wearing pants and enjoying the leathery upholstery of your Swedish automobile. But you can’t possibly stop. For. All. The. Kegels. In. The. World.

Anyway. The next scene involves two VERY pregnant women, one leaking fluids into her boots, racing across an icy parking lot and into the church, in an I-Love-Lucy-like search for a bathroom. The church basement is, of course, filled with women. They appear to be sorting piles of clothing. Don’t mind us and our amniotic puddles! Free stem cells for the taking—you’re welcome!

I’ll spare you the rest of the bathroom details, except to offer this piece of advice to the knocked-up among you: Toward the end of the pregnancy, ladies, carry one or two diapers with you everywhere you go. It’s not for the baby—they’ll have those at the hospital.

Moving along. Melissa follows me home. Burton is reached on a cell phone while riding the lift. He does his two runs anyway, then borrows a car to get home. (Ladies, notice how I glossed right over the part where he continued to ski after learning that his wife was in labor? That's what you call an investment; I’ll cash that puppy in at some later date.) We meet up at the house, where I am still leaking. Burton is freaking.

By 11:00 PM, we arrive at the hospital (Brigham and Women’s, for those keeping tabs). We get through admitting and triage, trying not to stare in horror at the poor women struggling through their contractions in the waiting area. As we settle into our very own labor-and-delivery room, my doctor shows up and checks out the scene. Which is to say he does an internal exam. Then he utters the words every woman hopes to hear upon having some relative stranger lose a whole hand up there: “Oh no.”

“WTF???” I say.

No more than two minutes later, an ultrasound confirms that the baby has wedged his head under my ribs (Hi!) and is poised to come out foot-first: my footling breach. The anesthesiologist is brought into the room immediately and starts peppering me with questions about allergies before I even put it all together. I am having a cesarean section. Right now.

My feelings at this point take a dive into the deeply personal and painfully complicated. There should be support groups for women who prepared for unmedicated childbirth but wind up with sections. It’s a combination of loss and failure and guilt I could never have imagined, but there it is, and others are out there nodding their heads in agreement. Right, girls?

Within moments, I am wheeled out of my labor-and-delivery room and into an operating room. It’s cold and bright. Doctors and nurses are whirling around. I remember thinking, “This is what it’d be like inside a beehive if they could get floodlights that small.” Someone sticks a long, thin needle in my spine to paralyze my body from the chest down. Someone tests its effectiveness by stabbing me with a red plastic cocktail sword. “Can you feel this? What about this?”

I lose track of events, because my body is shaking uncontrollably. It’s the drugs. Someone—the anesthesiologist? the attending?—tries to make small talk about what I do for a living, while my doctor cuts my belly open. Burton is led in, wearing head-to-toe scrubs, a mask, and a camera around his neck, like some sort of operating-room tourist. He stations himself near my head, where he can monitor both me and my innards.

There’s intense pulling. I can see my doctor putting his heft into the effort. And then, at 12:58 AM, there’s the sound of a baby: “WAH. WAH. WAH. WAH. . . .” like a metronome. Someone holds the child up for me to see, but the sheet in front of my face blocks the view. I see nothing. The baby is taken to a scale to be weighed and de-gunked. People keep standing between me and the scale, so it’s like taking in a game at Fenway from seats with an impeded view. Burton is so excited he fidgets, forgets to take pictures. He turns to tell me something, but I can’t read his lips, owing to the surgical mask he forgot he was wearing.

Whoah. And then. Finally. Burton brings the bundled baby over. And this part I really can’t put into words. Too powerful and private. And one year later, it still smarts from the intensity. Happy birthday, Henry C!


neighborhood watch

I used to spy with my little eye an older gentleman, walking up and down my street on his way to and from the market. His gait was painfully slow and difficult to watch. If I was outside as he passed, Blain would say hello, offer a pleasantry, and generally be neighborly in what now seems like an old-fashioned way. He once told me he was 77, but his body always seemed much more worn down than that. Often, when I saw him turning the corner on his way home, I would join him for the last hilly stretch of his trip, carrying his bags and offering an arm to lean on for the occasional breather. We would talk about the neighborhood, about how the students drive far too fast over the crest of the hill, and, naturally, about the nature of New England weather.

I didn't see him last winter. I kept hoping he would take up his walks again over the summer, but maybe I missed him. Now, the leaves are almost all down, and the weatherman is talking about snow squalls and flurries again. It's been almost a year, and I haven't seen my old friend.


minute revelations

On a patch of dirt at the end of a bed of Swiss chard, Henry and his nine-month-old colleague, Mori, occupy themselves on a blanket while Mori's mom and I work to save the chard from the weeds. The two boys look one another in the eye, reach for each other's toys, and try to grab a handful of someone else's ear. They are incredibly busy noticing everything. The feeling of a fistful of grass, poking between fat fingers. Sun in the eyes. Dirt in your mouth. Every day, something new.

Because everything is new to them--it's such a basic fact, but I can hardly imagine what that must be like. Sometimes the realization stops me in my tracks. When a hawk screeches across the sky, right overhead, its wings stretch tip to tip. Both boys stop what they're doing and look up. Mouths hanging open, their heads follow the bird as it floats from west to east. So this is how the world works, they must be thinking.