Birth Story, Version One: Stargazing on the River

In commemoration of my daughter’s birth month, I’d like to share my first of many versions of her birth story. This one is inspired by the literary genre of Magical Realism, in which meaning is snuggled into improbable connections or impossible details rather than just said outright, and this makes it a good way to put words to things that can’t be said.

Nothing in this story is fabricated, not even the details are fudged. What makes it magical realism is that I tell it like it’s not a coincidence. And maybe it’s not. Who knows?

Magical Realism is “what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe.” ~ Matthew Strecher
The Earth began as a piece of the sun that broke off in the times when the star was young and volatile. Nearly all of the matter that is currently on the planet – including us – came with it when it was expelled from the sun so long ago. Modern science agrees with the ancient religions: we are the descendants of the sun. The stars are our ancestors. 

I learned that I was pregnant while on a road trip with my mom and sister to Taos, New Mexico. They had had torrential rains a week or so before we arrived, the kind of rains that overflow rivers and clog canyon roads with mud. The dusty mesas of the Southwest desert were transformed into something resembling the rolling green hills of the Midwest: you never knew the desert had that in it. But we saw trees slip down the eroded river banks and crash into the swollen currents to be born away to some distant place where they would never again take root, and it reminded us that the sudden abundance of life that surrounded us was just one side of the coin. No blessing comes without sacrifice, in the desert. 

My painful breasts were filling out like the water-rich rabbit brush, swelling against my bra: that was the first sign. Then my period was two days late, then three, then five. On day seven I drank two gallons of water, and when my bladder was so full I could hardly walk, we stopped at a Walmart for a three-pack of pregnancy tests. I did the first one right there in the Walmart bathroom, in a stall that I had to hold closed with my foot. I walked back out of the store on legs even shakier than when I had gone in, and fell to pieces in my mother and sister’s arms.

Nine months later my mother drove me to the birth center in a snowstorm, and I didn’t bother to lace my heavy boots. I rode the rushes of the contractions again and again. I loved the yoga of it – the close inhabitance of my body – but I was tired and growing discouraged by the shortening rest periods in-between. My mother, step-mother, father, and midwives were shadows in the room, and their touches were shadow-touches. I recognized transition when it came, and was disappointed that it wasn’t unbearable. I had wanted to mount something insurmountable and so learn my strength, but that didn’t happen. I just became more and more sleepy. I didn’t recognize the urge to push that they always say is so unmistakable, though. It wasn’t until the midwife said she thought I might be pushing that I realized what the sensation was. And then the pushing lasted too long. All I could think about was sleep. I couldn’t remember the baby that I had been talking to and singing to and fantasizing about and falling in love with, and that still makes me sad. She finally came back into view when I felt the burn of my tearing perineum, and then I could finally push like I needed to.

My daughter was born into the world face-up on a river of blood, just a few minutes into the new day. When the hemorrhage had been stemmed by the skilled hands of the midwives and the adrenalin shakes had finally stopped, I tottered into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. Blood vessels had burst all across my face and shoulders, looking for all the world like the stars had fallen from the sky to adorn the face of this new mother. It reminded me of bridal henna, and I imagined my ancestors, all of my mothers, drawing their designs on my skin, singing and laughing with me in celebration of my new family. Looking in the mirror, I remembered that the midwives had called my baby girl a stargazer because of her posterior position, and I felt loved. 

An incredible abundance of water followed my daughter into the world, just as it had ushered her into the womb nine months earlier in New Mexico. My milk came in so hard and fast that I leaked through six nursing pads in one day. On that first engorged day, the kitchen faucet sprang a leak and would spray water all over the counter when you tried to wash the dishes or fill the kettle. The snow outside began to melt in great drips and little streams that grew into eddying rivulets, and it scared me to navigate them with my newborn in my arms. Even the faucets in both the clinic room and the bathroom at the birth center began to dribble out the side when you turned them on. All the while, the freezer in the garage was filling up with bags of milk. In a week it was so full that it began to tilt forward so that the door wouldn’t stay closed. 

Breastfeeding became easier when I had Naomi’s tongue tie repaired a week later, and around that time I saw my dad fixing the kitchen faucet. At my next checkup with the midwives I noticed that their faucets were no longer leaking, either. We adjusted the feet of the freezer to tilt it back a little, and I started donating my milk to the bank. Little by little the world dried up and my family settled into our new life.

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