The last picture of me taken before Grace was born. 39+ weeks. October 22, 2002.
The day before Grace was born was crystal clear, the blueness of the sky matched only by the brilliance of the leaves that seemed to surround us as we walked slowly up and down the streets of our neighborhood.
Matt’s father was in the hospital and very ill. We did not know he was a month away from a life-saving heart transplant.
We had just – literally just – finished renovating the third floor of our house into a nursery and a family room. The nursery stood ready and empty, with freshly-painted yellow walls and a white crib and a giant stuffed yellow duck from Matt’s parents. The drawers of an old bureau that I had painted yellow were full of Dreft-scented size 0-3 month clothes. I had chosen a yellow velour outfit to bring our baby home from the hospital in.
We still called our unborn baby Finbar. Finnie, for short. A friend’s husband had named him or her when we saw him over the summer. I was so attached to the name Finnie I didn’t think I could ever call my baby anything else.
I had just turned 28 years old, at the end of a summer filled with the joyous, love- and celebration-filled weddings of some of my closest friends. I was the designated driver a lot.
I could feel tiny feet kicking my ribs. My back ached. A devoted lifetime stomach sleeper, I was having a lot of trouble getting rest. I was ready to not be pregnant anymore. But I could never have imagined how entirely unready I was for what came next. I went into labor on Thursday night the 24th. I sat in my father-in-law’s hospital room sensing the very first stirrings of a pain whose rhythmic and intermittent nature made me suspect that This Was It. But I wasn’t sure. My due date was in 2 days and I had thoroughly internalized the warning that I would go 2 weeks late.
I didn’t sleep that night, and by Friday morning we were walking around the neighborhood trying to pass the time and manage the pain. Our doula arrived. We walked and walked, and I moaned and rocked. I drank apple juice. The day was one of the most beautiful I can remember, drenched in glorious, glossy, elegaic late-fall light. I was on the brink of a change so large I could not fathom it, of the darkest season of my life, but then, also, of the most beautiful.
The births of my two babies, in all their violence and glory, are two of my most cherished life experiences. They are not only moments of my life that I recall with stunning, crystalline detail. They were also passages from one world to another, and somehow in the passage I was able to glimpse through the seam of this reality to something bigger and more breathtaking. What I saw and sensed changed me forever.
Grace’s birth was the story of resistance. It was about my gritting my teeth and stubbornly laying in for the stay. Part of the resistance was that she was posterior, but it was also about my own fears, anxieties, and utter lack of preparation to be a mother. I was in battle against myself, I know that now: I was holding on, not ready to embrace a new life (mine, not hers) and identity. I was not ready to face the end of a phase of my life, the multiple deaths that are contained in birth. The inexorable force of a baby descending the birth canal went to war against my own quite powerful subconscious, and I was in active labor for over 36 hours, and at 9+ centimeters for 3 hours.
I cried and I screamed and I begged to be put out of my misery: I distinctly recall telling my midwife, completely seriously, that I’d like her to put a bullet in my head and just cut the baby out. The pain was both incendiary and incandescent. It was a crucible through which I had to pass, the heat so extreme that I was rendered molten. It was an animal experience, a raw, passionate, and terrifying introduction to a ferocity I had never imagined I possessed.
I delivered Grace myself. At my midwife’s instruction, I reached down and put my thumbs under her armpits when she was half born and pulled her onto my own chest. I am more grateful than I can express for photographs of this moment. Little did I know I had months of darkness ahead of me before the grace that I had just brought into my life would be made manifest.
She came home from the hospital two days later in the outfit I had chosen. We arrived home the day the clocks turned back, and commenced months of crying, darkness, and difficulty. Labor had been just the beginning of a long process of being utterly changed. Talk about a crucible! That fall and winter, 2002-2003, remains the most difficult time of my life. But how outrageously beautiful is the view on the other side. I would never do it differently.
And ten years ago today that all lay in the hours ahead of me.
Parts of this post were originally written in December, 2009.
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