November 28, 2011
I do not feel sad or overwhelmed.
I do not feel “over the moon.”
My vagina feels like it has been mugged, beaten, and left for dead.
This is Ilihia. Four syllables, emphasis on the 3rd. Pronounce every letter, just like in Italian. Just like in Hawaiian.
Much of her Hawaiian family will call her Ilihia. But this is Minnesota. Minnesotans like their language quick, functional, and flavorless, just like their food, and if we didn’t pick a nickname for her, someone else would.
We chose “Lily”.
When, after 72 hours, she was finally born, I did not weep tears of joy like the moms on TLC.
Lily was born face-up and forehead first, requiring use of outside mechanical force.
“It’s bad” the doctor said to the midwife, referring to my shredded crotch.
The midwife declined to stitch me up, leaving it to the surgeon she’d called in to suction the baby out of me.
My temperature was 103 degrees.
Lily had a fever, too.
A rabble of NICU nurses and technicians hustled her off to pump her full of antibiotics, but I didn’t freak out. I didn’t cry out dramatically. There was no “Where’s my baby??? Where are they taking her???” like they do in the movies.
I sighed and said something like, “Thank God all that stuff is out of me.”
I said my baby looked like a unicorn.
I told my husband my vagina was smuggling hamburger.
“Oh! I get to see the baby yet tonight? I’m so tired.”
I started sobbing uncontrollably. “I miss my puppy! I wish she was here. Do you think she’s okay?”
I kept saying it. “I miss my puppy. I wish she was here,” then I’d sob some more. I said it just like that. “Was here.” Because that is how I talk when I have better things to do than try to impress people with the subjunctive.
I was talking about Sydney, our 10 month-old Blue Heeler mix, to whom I’ve developed a pathological attachment.
Since I have the emotional intelligence of a four year-old and was delirious on top of it all, I’d been pining for her, unexpectedly, off and on throughout my days-long labor. Heaving, whole-body sobs. Like a toddler sobs for her woobie.
At one point, I was overcome with violent chills. They don’t tell you about that part. I was refused warm blankets because they would “just make it worse.” My husband was advised to stop trying to warm me up with his body.
No puppies, no warm blankets, no hugs.
Just a needle in my spine and a puke bag to my mouth as the most terrible pain of my life threatened to turn me inside out and an unseen surgeon droned “It’s very important that you don’t. move.”
The things that happen to the body during labor and delivery would, under any other circumstances, be fodder for horror films and tortuous psychological thrillers.
Stephen King wishes he’d invented childbirth.
Though I have experienced it and lived through it, I still don’t quite believe it is possible or that I would go through it voluntarily, let alone survive it–especially psychologically.
Maybe I didn’t.
In fact, I marvel at the seeming unlikelihood that any sane woman hearing stories like mine would ever become pregnant on purpose, combined with the fact that, undoubtedly, something like 80% or more will, just like I did.
Folk wisdom (and some science) holds that women develop selective amnesia, forgetting the discomfort of pregnancy and the pain of delivery. It’s supposed to be an evolutionary mechanism–a childbirth-specific dissociative disorder that sets in over a few months–designed to make women willing to reproduce more than once, a must for the preservation of the species.
I share the sad tale of my lady parts also because if anyone out there (especially me) has any lingering sense of me as a sexy young person, I want to make sure I remove this notion.
It’s important to confront this sort of thing head-on.
I’m somebody’s mother now, and we all know that being someone’s mother means large panties, floppy breasts, and a gnarled, cavernous vagina. I must come to grips with this. That my sexiness now lies in the abstract. The Madonna, not the whore. Something like Oedipal vs. Edible.
I was a good whore. A good-n-drunk, chain-smoking, foul-mouthed whore.
I feel like there’s some macabre mob, leering & smug, hoping to witness the precise moment of the whore’s demise.
The people who said “It will be good for you,” doing a piss-poor job of hiding how far from good enough they deemed me to be.
Staring like they think the Madonna might burst out of my chest, her pierced heart shining, showering down compassion on everything, leaving a shell of the old, broken, whorish me–my rotten attitude, my ill will, my malicious mischief, my offensive, tactless observations and hulking pride–in a pile on the ground. Like procreation is somehow the salve to my own pathetic dysfunction and the pathetic dysfunction I react to all around me.
As if all one needs, in fact, is love.
Waiting on a miracle.
Don’t hold your breath.
I’m going to try to keep one foot in the shit.
I’m not totally sure what that means.
So I imagine myself shuffling around the house, trying not to trip over my labia. Or losing my whole husband to the Carlsbad Cooter. Some of these physical realities, I cannot change. But I refuse to imagine becoming sentimental or soft or easily managed.
I also refuse to imagine buying size 11 pants forever.
Leaping up four clothing sizes in the seeming blink of an eye–regardless of where one starts or finishes–is a major trauma to any woman in Western Civilization. Pregnancy is like going away on the world’s most dreadful vacation and returning to find that someone remodeled your house. Blindfolded.
Say whatever gassy things you like about rising above social expectations of body image and fighting the patriarchy and so on; I don’t fit in to my favorite jeans. Politics doesn’t even touch it.
My body is not my body anymore. My body was martyred and now there is this body. I am going to do whatever it takes to locate the voodoo that will bring my body back from the dead.
As for my lady parts, the nurses and midwives at the hospital had their own ideas about getting back into shape. They kept telling me to “start doing those kegels!”
They’d wink and smirk in the vilest way, leading me to believe that, somewhere out there, there were women, 12 hours postpartum, worrying about their cavernous vaginas and sexual capabilities.
I had better things to worry about, like fending off Nurse Helga and her posse of grizzled battle axes as they clawed at my breasts and my baby in an attempt to show me how to feed a newborn.
I met a LOT of nurses. All of them had different ideas about the best ways to nurse and what my problem was. It was not the equipment, which I’m proud to say was deemed “perfect”.
So the only problem was my incompetence.
To be fair, the baby’s incompetence was also an issue, but no one barked at her.
I’d rather have subpar or even disastrous (Dreadful? Calamitous? Tragic?) nipples than be bad at something.
(“The Calamitous Nipples”–potential band name? Post-punk.)
They didn’t let me figure it out. They just started reaching in there, grabbing at my boobs and shoving my baby’s head into my chest. I yelled at them to stop pressing on the back of my baby’s head and making her scream bloody murder into my tit.
“Please don’t. SHE DOESN’T LIKE THAT!!”
“She doesn’t know what she likes.”
I can’t stand strangers touching me. Where doesn’t even matter. For five days, people had done nothing but touch me. Somewhere, in my mind or in my chest or someplace, a rage or a panic–it’s tough to tell which–was flailing, straining, and beet-red, squashed under the weight of impossible exhaustion and a vague sense of other people’s expectations.
I don’t know how anyone manages to have a life-altering spiritual/emotional/parental awakening in this kind of environment. Maybe men. The dads. My husband did not struggle to be joyful.
Also, his ‘taint wasn’t obliterated.
I have to believe that women who say they were too overjoyed to care about the nightmarish childbearing experience are either lying in order to seem acceptably nurturing or have had their memories corrupted by the retroactive maternal fugue state that is alleged to dupe us into doing this to our minds and bodies over and over again.
Ultimately, my daughter’s birth story bears striking resemblances to my own. The external mechanical force, the infant’s touch-and-go health status, the impossibly long labor.
But my mother never warned me. Not really. She probably forgot.
My father likes to tell how, upon my birth, my mother looked up at him sweetly, cradling me in her arms after I was wrestled from death’s clutches by Doctor Joe and a pair of forceps:
“Oh, Honey…” she said.
“Yes, Dear?” my dad replied, leaning in to share an intimate bonding moment with his wife and new daughter.
“Let’s never, EVER do this again.”