Essay: Elizabeth Charlotte Grant
An explosion in my flesh. I writhe in pain, splashing in an inflatable tub in my living room. “Shit!” My husband ducks to avoid flying elbows, arms, my scratching fingers. Midwife eyes — six in all — look over the edge of the tub, cheering, but I cannot hear their words. I do not care what they are saying. Is it over yet? I push with all my might and split in two, and then blood and a cough: my husband holds in his hands a naked, slippery, breathing child.
A moment of silence, otherworldly. Then she wails like she longs for what she left. I understand her pain. We speak consolation to her. “Hello, baby. We’re here. You’re okay. You’re okay, baby,” we say. She stills. Her large eyes find us, and she looks back and forth, back and forth at our two faces. I smile a full grin: my daughter is here. Her chest heaves as my husband and I hold her head above the water. Life in slow-motion; life eternal.
And then the world restarts, a fall-out like none other. I feel I am mov- ing behind the speed of the others. “How do I get out?” I say, my words slurring on my tongue. I see the others rushing, preparing our bed for
us, laying a path of towels on the wooden floors, spreading peanut butter on toast, pouring a glass of orange Gatorade cold from the fridge. I can hardly stand. I am shaking. The water has turned cold. I hand the baby to a woman at the edge of the tub — which one? — and she and my husband lift one of my legs over the inflatable edge and onto a chair, and then they lift the other.
While I am sprawled between, an organ, red and round, falls out of my body. I cringe and look away: my insides are so ugly. Someone catch- es it, and soon, it is double-bagged in plastic sacks like a watermelon at the grocery store. They hook my arm through the handles so that, once I reach the bed, I can hold my baby close — after all, she is still attached to the pulsing organ inside.
They grasp my underarms as I walk precarious to the bed, where I collapse onto pillows. They hand me my child. She is naked against my naked chest, and they drape a fleece blanket over her. Then they wrap
us both in a pink fitted sheet just out of the dryer. The elastic clings to
my feet. My husband lies beside us. My baby wriggles on my chest and searches. I give her my breast, and my husband and I stare at this creature. He is crying, and so am I.
Then I feel, smell, see blood pour out of me.
I say too slowly, “I’m bleeding again.” A midwife’s face tightens, my
midwife, Emily. And then my ears begin to ring, and another midwife rests a straw on my lip.
“Drink,” I hear Emily say. I suck Gatorade down my throat.
Another midwife hands me a piece of toast. “Eat,” my midwife says. I open, and she brings the toast to my mouth. I bite, chew. The peanut butter sticks to my cheeks.
Then, “Swallow,” my midwife says, and I grasp the pill from her hand, rest it on my tongue and swallow it down, the straw back between my lips.
My husband holds the baby now, watching me, frowning. He reaches for my hand and squeezes it hard.
“Can I sleep yet?” I say.
“Nope,” someone says, “Stay awake. Keep talking to us. How do you feel?”
“Tired,” I say.
“You have a baby!” they say.
“I need sleep,” I say.
“Not yet,” they say.
“What time is it?” I ask. The midwives do not answer.
“Three in the morning,” my husband says.
“We’re going to give baby her exam now. Can I take her from you,
dad?” A midwife says, extending her arms. My husband lifts the baby into a pair of gloved hands.
My lids are heavy, but I want to watch her. Her umbilical cord has stopped pulsing, and my midwife pinches it with a white plastic clip – like the ones that seal an opened bag of potato chips – and then she hands my husband a pair of scissors. He snips the chord. My baby is on her own.
Then they wrap her in a piece of fabric and dangle her in the home- made hammock, a fish scale clipped to the top. “I was right!” a midwife says.
“Over eight and a half pounds. Wow! Good job, baby,” midwife Emily says and tickles my baby’s belly. My baby stares transfixed at Emily’s face and kicks her wobbling legs.
My husband looks at me and smiles. He says, “You were so amazing.”
“Thanks,” I say, and he brings his face close and presses his lips to mine. When he pulls away, I smile.
The midwives hand my baby back to me. My husband says, awed, “We made her.” I nod. My throat is tight.
I hold her in the crook of my arm, and bend my neck toward her face. Her eyes find mine. “Hello, sweetheart,” I say. “I’m your mom.” She blinks.
I lose myself again between sleep and waking until I hear Emily asking me a question. “No, I don’t want to go to the bathroom,” I say.
“Come with me and try,” Emily says.
I sigh, and everyone helps me sit up, swing my legs over the side of the bed, slowly stand, and then they walk me to the toilet, where I sit. But I cannot go. “This is normal,” Emily says, “But I cannot leave the house until you can urinate on your own.”
“I’m trying,” I say, but I feel nothing. I have lost control. They fill the bathtub with warm water as I continue to balance on the toilet, trying
to clench and unclench my pelvic muscles, willing myself to pee. I stand with the support of many arms, and then step into the tub and sit. Blood billows in the water. I worry that the white porcelain will stain. I re- member how much we paid to refinish this clawfoot. I consider crying, screaming. So tired, so sore. Then I concentrate again, tightening every muscle I can, then releasing. “I can’t,” I say. “I know I went while I was pushing.” Tears run down my cheeks.
“Liz, I don’t want to take you to the hospital, but you will need a cath- eter if you cannot pee on your own by morning,” she says. My husband nods his consent. He is standing in the doorway with the baby. They escort me back to bed. I almost fall forward on the white bathroom tile, but they hold me and nearly carry me back to my warm sheets.
“Can I sleep?” I say. I want them to leave. I want to turn off the lights and bury my face in pillows. I want my husband to hold me.
“Not yet,” they say.
Then I feel another gush. “I’m bleeding,” I say.
Emily blinks, then raises the sheet to examine the pad beneath my
swollen perineum. Then she walks into the living room; the other mid- wives follow. I hear whispers. I look at my husband. I close my eyes and wonder if I’ll make it.
Then my midwife reenters the bedroom.
“You need a shot of Pitocin in your thigh,” she says to me. “Are you okay with this?” my midwife asks my husband, glancing also at me.
I nod, and he says, “Whatever you think she needs.”
The needle pricks and I feel contractions. Emily checks on me after a few minutes. “The bleeding has stopped,” she says and smiles. My hus- band smiles. I exhale, unaware I’d been holding my breath.
“We don’t have to go to the hospital?” I ask.
“Well, I don’t know yet,” Emily says. “I want to be certain you’re okay. I’m going to sleep on your couch – I’ll see you in the morning.” I nod. Then like I’ve won the lottery, she turns off the lights and shuts the
door. I lie still, breathing. My husband rolls to face me and rests the baby on my chest. I look at him. “I love you,” I say.
My husband kisses me my forehead and says, “You are so strong.” I
smile and close my eyes.
I wake three hours later. The room is light. I stare at the baby on my
chest — her wrinkled face, her chicken legs. I smile. Then I place her onto the mattress between my husband and I and, slowly, I turn over. I sit up, and swing my legs over the edge of the bed. I can feel blood leave my body; then it stops. I breathe. I put weight on my feet and stand. Then ten halting steps to the toilet. I sit, concentrate, breathe. Then I release. The tender skin burns, and then it’s over.
“I did it!” I whisper to my sleeping husband through the open door. “Great,” he says. “I’m relieved.” Then he rolls over. I chuckle to myself. I get into bed and stretch onto my back. I roll over and pick up my
sleeping baby. I feel a sharp pain and my abdomen begins to ache. I real- ize I can do nothing on my own — not even relieve myself.
I waken to cries. My baby wails. “How does that big sound come out of that small mouth?” I ask her.
I sit up, leaning against the pillows piled behind me. I cradle my baby and press my nipple into her mouth. It takes a few tries, but soon, we are both drenched in milk. “Are you getting any of this?” I ask her. But she has stopped crying, and instead she is busy sucking, swallowing.
Minutes pass, then my husband brings me eggs and toast. “Hungry?” he says. I smile.
“Always,” I say.
We do this on repeat for days, then a month. My husband makes us food. I feed the baby. We all sleep. Then we eat again. We sleep, we eat. Sleep, eat. We forget what day it is. We cannot remember having lived in daylight. All I see and know is our house from the turn of the century with its arched ceilings and wooden floors and leather armchairs. I live in these chairs, vacating my spot for only a few hours each day to sleep in my bed or visit the toilet. I leave crumbs in the cushions from stacks of toast, and stray milk dries crusty on the leather.
A month after my daughter’s birth, my insides are still wrecked.
“Things down there should go back to normal soon,” my midwife tells me at a follow-up appointment.
“It hurts so much,” I say.
“Be patient,” she says.
And so we continue our cycle: we spoon soup into our mouths. We
read Harry Potter aloud. We go to the bathroom. We lie naked under the sheets. We sometimes sleep. We pray. We weep.
A month and a half passes, and I begin to expect, when I look out
the windows each morning, to find that the world has ended, to see fires burning in all directions and ashes coating these desert mountains that I
love: the end of all I know.
What I see instead when I look outside is the sun. I decide go for a
walk with slow steps and a stroller. My baby naps beneath the green sunshade as I shuffle down the sidewalk. In the sunshine, I come back to myself. I remember my daughter asleep against my breasts, her chest ris- ing and falling like the ocean. I remember her gaze, seeming to recognize me as the woman who grew her. I remember her fist grasping my finger with a strength that surprised me. And I wonder at the name we gave her at her birth. How could I have forgotten? Her name is Hope.
This article first appeared in Mothers Always Write mothersalwayswrite.com