As we rapidly approach Oscar’s first birthday, I find myself thinking often about his birth. We had planned a natural birth at a local birthing center, but then, well, life happened. More on that later. Over the next few weeks, you’ll probably be hearing a lot about that time. Bear with me (har har har). Rather than stitching together a birth story narrative for this post, I opted instead to write about the most vivid moments I recall from Oscar’s birth.
The morning of our scheduled cesarean birth, I was so scared—my hands and feet were freezing as I waited in my flimsy cotton gown and went through all the awkward preparations. I kept trying to compensate by making bad jokes with the nursing staff, but each smile seemed serrated, each laugh a little too loud in my ears. My gentle, irreplaceable doula Sara rubbed my swollen feet and ankles with oil and lavender essence. Damon’s big, warm hands were wrapped around my pale, cold ones. He kept telling me to look at him, telling me everything would be okay. He knew—he was—exactly what I needed.
I was taken into the OR. The anesthesiologist seemed very stern until we found out that his name was Oscar and his son’s name as well. Then suddenly he was all smiles. I found that change so reassuring and distracting that I was surprised as a wash of cold filled my legs like ice water into a balloon, and then everything below my chest just seemed to disappear.
I could see nothing of the surgery, and all I could feel from the other side of the curtain was a lot of tugging—my body was actually rocked to and fro with it. I remember commenting that someone was tugging pretty hard on me, imagining they were just testing whether I could feel anything. The doctor and staff laughed, and she said, “Anna, we’re doing a lot more than tugging.” My mouth made an “oh,” and I giggled nervously. Breath.
Damon and Sara came in, apparently with the surgery already in progress, and Damon cupped his hands around my hands and shoulders, big and warm and reassuring. Dressed in snowy white sterile gown and mask, he watched over the curtain, and I watched him, trying to somehow see what he was seeing.
At some point during the procedure, the doctor actually complimented me on my abs. It was so weirdly unexpected that I laughed out loud.
More pulls and tugs, and my body rocked back and forth. Damon was telling me that they were pulling Oscar out, and then that he was free—I wish I could remember the exact words he said…
I heard Oscar’s foghorn squall, busting its way out of his lungs and declaring his place in the world, and everything else vanished. All the fear melted in the blink of an eye, in our baby’s cry. I told Damon (ordered him, really) to go be with Oscar while they cleaned him and checked him over. I wanted Oscar to have one of us with him as fast as possible. In the midst of such huge change, I wanted him to hear a voice he would recognize.
Within a minute or three, Damon brought our baby boy to me. He tried to give him to me, but my arms were so cold and weak that I was scared I would drop him, so instead Damon just held him as close to me as possible, against my chest and neck, against my face, so I could touch his hair, smell him, feel him, hear the breath come in and out, see how his tiny hands stretched and closed, seeking, his long limbs jerky and unaccustomed to their new freedom. His eyes were wide open from the start, an undeniable blue. He was (and still is) the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
I don’t know how much time passed. The rest of the hospital stay was a blur, minutes seeming hours, days seeming minutes. I moved into recovery and Oscar was put in my arms. Our parents were with us (I don’t remember them coming in, just that they were suddenly there), and Oscar nuzzled and bobbed, lifting and rolling his head, kneading my skin with his hands—already so strong!—until he found my breast. That was the first time that I felt the unparalleled relief, the rightness, of feeding him. (Thereafter, every time I breastfed him, I would just exhale, feel like everything in the world was suddenly right as rain. After an extended time away from him – first running errands, then after I returned to work—that first moment of reunion with him and sitting down to feed him actually brought a choking sob of relief up from my chest where it had lay tangled, unknown, around my heart during the day.)
We moved to our own room for the rest of our stay. Damon slept on a couch by the window. I dozed occasionally, but I was so mesmerized by this incredible little being that sleep seemed out of the question. When I was able to get my legs under me again, I would push Oscar in his little hospital cart along the corridors while everyone else slept. Two in the morning, four, we would wander the halls together.
I sang him a patchwork of songs: “Mori Sej”, “Hush Little Baby”, the lullaby from Cotton Patch Gospel, not to mention any other song that popped into my head. A verse of this, the refrain from that, filling in with hums the words I couldn’t remember. Oscar would watch my face or sleep against my chest, his little bow-shaped mouth hanging open, so trusting and achingly vulnerable.
Damon was our guardian, our papa bear. He did whatever was needed, was constantly reassuring to me, checking my incision, helping me to and from the bathroom, in and out of bed, patiently explaining to the nursing staff for the umpteenth time that I could not eat food containing gluten, that medications had to be gluten free as well, that yes, we do want this, no, we don’t want that, yes we understand that a lot of babies go to the nursery at night, but we’re happy keeping Oscar in the room with us. He took care of all of that; he took care of us. He was so beautiful.
Hardly any sleep, difficulty moving, blood and stiffness and gas pain you wouldn’t believe, and when I looked at our baby boy, my only thoughts were, “I wish this would never end. I wish every day could be like this. I am so blessed.”