Driver’s Side Airbag #43

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The Miracle Of Childbirth
by Eve Rings

For Peter Bagge, and of course, H.

What my mother said about the pain was right. And also wrong. The physical intensity of seven hours of labor ended with me laying in a pile of blood and sweat-shivering exhaustion, no longer in so much agony I was thinking of ways to escape my own skin, but I also hadn't forgotten the pain entirely, as she promised. This is how she ended up with three children, each time after being handed a small, screaming, pink bundle of baby she immediately wanted to have another, the ravages her body experienced now calmed by the weight of six pounds of infant nestled beside her thin hospital gown. I still remembered the pain, and no amount of watered-down orange juice or talcum powder was going to make me forget it. It was, however, love at first sight, even though he was snatched from my shaking hands immediately and passed from family member to family member like a tray of creme puffs at a Weight Watcher's meeting. At that moment, all my hard work was forgotten. I had not birthed this child, I had not suffered nine months of swollen ankles and swollen breasts and swollen belly and swollen skin, and according to my family, he wasn't even mine, or his father's at all. His features were inventoried and handed out; a nose like my nephew's, hair like my sister's, eyes like my father's. I was forgotten, exhausted and pale on a hard metal bed; the only time attention paid to me was when a nurse asked me what I wanted to do with the placenta, as if I was one of those people who wanted to save it and bury it under a tree in my back yard, or worse yet, if I wanted to eat it. Then my family was ushered from the room so I could feed my son, or more accurately, so he could howl ceaselessly as he gummed my nipples, my milk still refusing to come in even after being beckoned by his tiny cries. It was supposed to be easy. I was supposed to be glowing and surrounded by dozens of roses, cooed at by nurses as they watched me gracefully slip a pale, pink nipple behind my child's tongue, my milk warm and flowing as he happily gulped at my chest. I was not supposed to be glared at and manipulated by some woman with a clipboard and name tag that read "Lactation Specialist." She grabbed one breast and then the other, clicking her tongue and making notes, vowing to check on me tomorrow and demanding I keep attempting to nurse my son. All we wanted to do was sleep, which we did, me lifting him from his clear, plastic cradle and tucking him in beside me, his tiny fist clenched around my finger.

No amount of reading can prepare you to have a baby. No matter how many times you read the sentence, "You will be tired after giving birth," does it really register in your mind. The so-called specialists who penned the widely read "What To Expect When You're Expecting" should be forced to edit "You will be tired after giving birth" to "You will be so nerve-shattering exhausted after giving birth, the painful effort of lifting your child will at times be so tiring you become dizzy from the effort, the same as you will when you explore the terrifyingly strenuous task of chewing a spoonful of mashed potatoes." You aren't tired after giving birth. You're dead. And it isn't only because you've been lugging around the equivalent of two huge suitcases (Full of baby, water, blood, placenta, and "What To Expect When You're Expecting," "What To Expect The First Year", the "What To Expect When You're Expecting Pregnancy Organizer" and the "What To Expect When You're Expecting" audio cassettes) for nine months, but also because infants are programmed to wake only during the first five minutes one of their parents falls asleep. When babies are born, they are programmed through the miracle of nature to sleep through photographs being taken, relatives flying in from out-of-state to visit them, their first bath, and their first introduction to any "Toy" they have received as a gift. Infants have no interest in toys. The people at FAO Schwartz and Babies-R-Us could make a killing if they invented "An Infant's First Plaything," which would consist of a set of very realistic nipples. I'm not talking about rubbery, yellow silicone pacifiers, but truly human-looking fake nipples. If the porn industry can make a vaginal replica of Juli Ashton for lonely men why can't they make a pair of faux breasts for screaming infants? All babies care about is eating and sleeping. They will usually combine these activities so when you finally do get them into a nursing position, they pass out, milk leaking from their tiny pink mouths. My son was an expert at the suck and snooze routine, and the only way I could wake him was by falling asleep myself, so five minutes later he would wake crying so we could go through the entire mock-feeding routine again. This was the first six months. Combined with starving my son, I also developed the paranoid idea that "Everything Is Evil." Well, everything that didn't involve me sleeping with or feeding my baby. I once listened to punk rock music, watched punk rock movies, and read punk rock publications, but after having him I decided I could only exist in his fuzzy, neonatal world if I shunned anything I was into before him. Now I listened to Brahms. Now I read books by smug British doctors who claimed I had to redecorate my world in black and white because that's what infants responded to. Now I watched way too many movies with the word "Baby" in the title. And embarrassing as this is, I liked it. This was the next six months.

None of the "What To Expect" books would prepare me for worry. None of them could explain the sheer terror of caring for a three year old who is running a 102 degree fever with an ear infection. None of them could explain the doubt and insecurity and the utter fear that I was at one time or another doing everything wrong and unintentionally scarring my son for life by what sort of breakfast cereal I chose for him. None of the things I read could prepare me for how often I would feel my heart lurch everytime he rode his bike, or fell off the swings, or tripped on the sidewalk. None of the books could explain love to me. I had heard from my mother and from what I had read about the intense rush of maternal attraction I would feel after giving birth. No one explained to me that this was one of the truly most painful moments. I can remember, and I still often feel this way, looking at my son, and feeling the slow creep of love; a warm, sticky ache spreading through my body, almost nauseating in its fierceness. I can remember studying him in the cold, fluorescent-lit hospital room, counting his fingers, his toes, marveling at the soft spot on his forehead, and deciding it was impossible. His birth was impossible. Feeling him reach his tiny arms around me is impossible. Hearing him call me from another room, watching him run to catch a ball, looking into his huge blue eyes. None of it can be happening. None of it can be mine. How could he have come from me? How could I have possibly birthed something this perfect? I keep expecting to one day answer the door to a frowning woman with a clipboard. She will carefully check her documents and take my son from me, trading him for my real child, a sullen, horrible boy, clad in black with a permanent scowl who speaks backwards and tortures animals. The child who I run baths for and who I read to at night, the one who calls me "Mommy," this one is far too beautiful to have come from me.

It's only in another ten years when I catch him smoking while blaring music in his room that I will truly believe he's mine.

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