Saturday, December 10, 2011

First Birthday

Three hundred and sixty six days ago,
We'd been sleeping in snatches between contractions
For three consecutive nights already.

Our midwife was growing increasingly restive
About a well past-term delivery
An hour through mountains and snow to a hospital.

So we gave in, loaded the truck and went
Away from our nest, down to the damn hospital 
Timing each interval along the way,

Barely looking out at the Silvery Slocan
As we rounded Cape Horn under the Lid,
Skies like cold blankets soaked in Slocan's black water,

Narrow Route 6 walled by old snow and pines,
Winter-dark farms trailing woodsmoke, towns of few lights,
All the landmarks we loved in summer, dimmed.

We reached downtown Nelson under a light noon rain,
Pulled into the hospital parking lot
And jockeyed for a spot, not being urgent yet.

We had an appointment for a stress test,
But we weren't Canadians and had no health cards.
Our own crappy insurance meant nothing,

And before we could check in for the test,
We were separated, one doing paperwork,
Making various guarantees to pay,

Via credit cards and blood oaths, all coming bills,
While the other was stranded in a hall
Being torn up for renovations, unheated,

In labor on a plastic chair, alone.
By the time we were reunited and upstairs
Things were too far along to go back north.

The home-birth in the cabin by the lake was out.
We made peace with the little hospital,
Dowdy, underfunded, expensive, but friendly,

Kind to anxious first-time parents on edge
And in pain. They settled us in a soft-lit room
Down a hall where loud screams would be okay.

They took the usual measurements, ultrasound,
Signatures, due note of our birth requests--
No painkillers, minimal monitoring, time,

Especially time. And then the push
Began in earnest, hour after hour after hour,
Each featuring its own turn of events,

Our doula arrived, then departed to get soup.
The soup was tasty and soothing until
During one contraction it came back up and out.

The dim day turned into a foggy night
By the middle of the afternoon, and the room
Was shuttered, the lamps and machines muted.

The nurses changed shifts, the midwife and doula stayed,
The one quiet except for instructions,
The other encouraging, crooning, holding tight.

The scene shifted from bed to birthing tub.
A calmer, chanting, almost tranquil phase began.
For a few hours it was almost blissful.

We joked, we sang, we said sweet and endearing things,
Between the contractions and the pushing,
And we thought you would emerge soon, but you didn't.

The midwife was concerned things had plateaued.
Around late mid-evening the tub was abandoned.
Now we paced the room between contractions.

The pain lost its mystic, spiritual distance
And became a beast with teeth and hot breath
Capable of ripping out howls, curses, and real screams.

The nurses changed shifts again. The date changed.
The doula comforted us. The midwife took notes
And shook her head, pursed her lips, and advised

One more hard push, and if the water didn't break,
She would open the amniotic sac
To free you for the hard swim toward your own life.

And then the scene returned to bed for good.
The next four hours knotted themselves into a rose
Of blood, pain, deep-throated howls from shared throats

Mother, father, doula head to head together,
Midwife at the foot of the bed, by turns
Looking pleased, concerned or bored, nurses here and there,

The fetal heartbeat monitor our guide,
Our steady beacon through the small hours of the night,
Your confident reassurance to us

That you were still there, you were all right, you were calm,
Even as you and your mother entered,
Father following, the heart of the labyrinth

From which we must emerge transformed, as three,
When at last a wiser nurse suggested a change
In the rhythm of breathing and pushing

And finally, just after four in the morning,
From the wet coil of exhaustion and pain
You began to rotate your way out to the world.

In the necessary gush of dark blood,
After all those days and nights and hours you arrived
In a rush so quick you were hard to catch.

You glistened in the red dark, your eyes wide open,
And we placed you on your mother's soft breast. 
We were glad, spent, and stunned. And you were here.

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