Waiting for Elijah
By Christine Simokaitis
The night before you were born, there was so much lightning. It wasn’t raining though, just hot – the hottest night of the year. Sitting on the big blue birth ball, rocking from side to side, I’d rest my head on the hospital bed during the in-between. When a contraction came, I’d sit up, open my eyes and watch the jagged stabs of light through the window as they punctuated the clear, distinct pain in my body.
Later, the white haze of high noon would blur the edges of the clouds. By then, nothing would be clear for me. The pain and the urge to push or not push and the exhaustion and the panic would all run into and over each other, a hot, foggy murk, and I would not know when or if or how you were coming, or what my body was doing, or if both or either of us would survive.
Everyone said it would be a snap. A breeze. A walk in the park. There will be nothing to it, they said. They said, he’ll slide right out. Nothing is like the first one, after that, it’s all downhill. Your body is ready, they said. Your body knows what to do. Your body will take over. You’ve been through it all already.
Everything they said should have been true; but nothing could have prepared me for birthing you.
I cannot say your birth tore me open. My body did not literally tear. Somehow, I managed to expand beyond my own capacity to accommodate not only your body, but also the hands and wrists and forearms of the midwife who reached inside to turn you and free your shoulder from the umbilical cord that had wrapped and twisted its way around you.
And yet, later, I needed to mend.
It’s hard to know what happened to me afterwards, where I went. I thought I knew how to have a baby – how to birth a baby and then how to mother an infant back at home. I’d done it before – I knew how.
But I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know how to handle you, the colic. Who could blame you for being so fussy! You had swallowed so much amniotic fluid, having descended into the birth canal, then waiting there for much longer than you should have. The fluid was in your ears and eyes and belly. You needed to recover from your own birth. You needed to be held all the time, and of course I wanted to hold you, but you have a brother too, and he also needed my love and attention.
It’s not like things ever got That Bad, really. I was not incapable of joy, because I did laugh and love with you. I could never not get out of bed. I did not want to harm myself or others. I never fantasized about abandoning you or dropping you out of the upstairs window. I said “no” to many of the criteria on the doctor’s checklist when I finally went, nine months later, to get some medication.
It was hard to describe, other than to say that I didn’t quite feel like myself. But then again, it was hard to know who my “self” was anymore. There was a dark heaviness, an anger and sadness and loneliness. There was a feeling that nothing was wrong, but everything was wrong.
I slept upstairs for months, on the guest futon in my office. I did not know how to be married. I had no space. I felt so empty and hollow and heavy, there was no way anyone could meet me where I was.
It was, and still is, vague and blurry and hard to understand.
Maybe I just needed time to breathe, to mend my overstretched ligaments and allow the holes in my psyche to close back up again, after experiencing what was beyond my comprehension, to replenish the reserves of energy and fortitude that had been used up in birthing you.
Maybe if I had been allowed to stay in the hospital for another day or so I would have been okay. Just some time to collect myself before heading back out into the world where so much would be asked of me.
Maybe it’s because I felt so inept.
Maybe it’s because the only ways I knew to love were suddenly limited by time, attention, and energy.
Maybe it’s because your birth was so difficult, but maybe it’s also because that type of difficulty is not recognized as trauma.
Maybe it’s because I wanted to tell my story – the story of your birth – over and over and over to make sense of it, to find a context, but once everyone knew the basic details – twenty hours of active labor, the cord around your shoulder, no c-section, nine pounds, two ounces, everyone’s fine – they had heard enough.
Maybe I had post-partum depression. Maybe I had a chemical imbalance.
Maybe I just needed help. Everyone had told me – two kids is more like ten kids, the workload increase is exponential, etc., etc. But no one ever said, you will not know how to handle it. You will not know how to love so much, so separately, at the same time, and this not knowing will tear you apart.
Maybe it was simply that I was an almost-forty-year-old woman who spent many long days alone with a toddler and an infant, and I could have used some time to myself.
Maybe it was nothing more than that.
My water broke first. That was a surprise. It hadn’t been that way the first time. Later, I was told that that there is much lore and myth around births where the water breaks before contractions have begun because, contrary to common portrayals on TV, this sequence of events is actually rare.
I had just gotten your brother into the bath and I bent down to kneel beside the tub and there it was, as if the bathwater had overflowed onto the floor. Of course I knew, but I still wanted to be sure. I waited. Soon, there were puddles of amniotic fluid all over the house. We called your grandparents to come for your brother. I stood on the front porch, waving until the car disappeared around the corner into the clear evening light. My heart ached, saying goodbye to an only son, bursting to welcome you.
Back home again when everything was over, I was nostalgic for the hospital. There was a hippie deli down the street, and I missed the tuna sandwich on thick, soft, grainy bread, with tomato and sprouts brought to me on my day of convalescence. I would miss the quiet, the solicitude, and that one night, alone with you, in the bed beside me, swaddled, nursing, as we figured out how to be together with you outside of me.
Afterwards, I wanted to do it again right away, which was crazy, given what I’d just been through. I thought it was the postpartum euphoria, the hormones and dizziness. But the feeling lasted. I wanted a third. A girl. I felt myself clinging to the hope that I would go through it all again. I knew that if I was going to do it, it was going to have to be now, that I could not make the transition in and out of this space again. I needed to keep the momentum going. As the months wore on, though, I knew I could not handle more. This was plenty. We were enough.
But first I had to be sad.
I had to be sad that I am not younger. I had to be sad that I didn’t do this sooner. I had to be sad that I’m someone who needs a lot of solitude in order to feel fully whole. I had to be sad that I will never have a daughter, a Violet or Ruby. I had to be sad that your birth marks an ending for me. I had to mourn the loss of possibility, that while it is still technically possible, it is not actually desirable, given our circumstances, our lives, to have more children. I had to actually say the words to myself, “No, I can’t handle more.” And then I had to be sad that I can’t handle more. I needed to be sad that this will be all, and I had to go through all of that to recognize that this is plenty. That you, I, we are enough.
Last time, I had birthed naturally, as I had wanted, but in a traditional hospital, with an O.B. With you, I was going to have a water birth. We had switched OB practices so that I could employ a midwife and use the Alternative Birthing Center and give birth in the giant bathtub. I could labor in water, which was said to be so relaxing and warm and peaceful. Floating took pressure off the joints and alleviated the affects of gravity and you would not be shocked by the sudden change from water to air and I could catch you myself as you slid out.
But the night you were born was the busiest of the year in the birthing wing. Someone said it was because of the lightning, the way it pierced the atmosphere which induced labor. The tub was not available. It’s rare that so many women are laboring at the same time that those who desire the tub suites cannot have them, but as I breathed through my contractions in the triage room, I was told that there was a chance we might not be able to have a water birth.
There was much confusion then, and conferring with various staff members. But I left that to the trusted others to handle, your father and godmother, who were with me in the hospital. I was busy, breathing, focusing, rocking, turning further and further inward in preparation for the work I would do later.
The lightning began to fade as the first signs of daylight appeared in the sky. There was a shift change for the staff, and once my regular midwife showed up, I knew we would be alright. She was taking charge of the situation and said that yes, we could get into the tub room because I had been there longer than the others. I only had to be dilated 5 cm before I could get into the room but that surely that would not be a problem because I had been there all night.
But when she checked, I was only at 2.5 cm, still. I didn’t know why it was taking so long, what was wrong, what I was doing wrong.
Even at this hospital, with all their alternative methods, there were still rules; they followed the standard hospital procedure which allowed no more than 24 hours to elapse between when one’s water breaks and when the baby is delivered. Without amniotic fluid, the theory goes, the baby has no protection from harmful germs and bacteria and is potentially exposed to danger of all kinds.
5 cm to get into the water, 24 hours without water.
5 cm to get into the water, 24 hours without water.
5 cm to get into the water, 24 hours without water.
Later, somehow, in the space between trying to return to normal and recognizing that my notion of normal had vaporized – during the time when I tried to show your brother how much I still loved him and how much attention I still had for him, how much I could still dance and romp and play and be silly, and how much it was okay for him to be mad at me for having a baby, and how it was okay for him to not want me to sit next to him, or tuck him into bed at night, all while trying to figure out what would make you happy, not the car nor the stroller nor the bassinet, only my arms, my breast – somewhere in there a part of myself became dormant, as if stunned into stillness. It felt as if nothing within me was growing, and I had shed all the life I had.
I was already a mother when I had you, so your birth was not the dramatic transformation into something else that had occurred the first time. One birth revealed to me how much I was capable of, was for me about capacity; the other illuminated my limitations, where branches can bend no further, the point of breakage. Both showed me to myself. Both were necessary for me to be whole. At the time I did not know that. At the time I did not recognize that anything was growing or alive, that deep underground, my roots were stretching, absorbing nutrients from the rich soil of my life, of our lives together.
By now I’m Tired. I’ve been having steady contractions for fourteen hours already. The tub is open. We are moving. We parade down the hall, carrying pillows from home and clothes and bags and cups of coffee and cups of ice. I feel that I’ve earned this and here we are, the large room with the queen sized bed with the flowered spread and oak headboard. The tub. The tub is full of water and waiting for me, for us. Through the window I see the blue sky and white, puffy clouds. Late morning light. I sink into the tub. Getting close to transition now. The contractions are coming quick and hard and I am breathing and the water feels so good, I lay back, rest, so that only my face and the apex of my belly with its protruding navel are not submerged in water. And then I wait. And nothing happens. When a contraction comes, several minutes later, it is weak, and barely a moan escapes my body. I wait some more. It is afternoon now. We’re close to twenty hours now. I’ve gotten to 8 cm and now my contractions have stopped. I’ve reached transition and now I’m going backwards. I am closing back up.
Out of the tub and into the shower. Out of the shower and on to the bed. A walk down the hall. Nipple stimulation to get contractions going. We’ll try a breast pump. This works – the contractions are back and they are quick and hard and we are ready to go and they are in my back now. There is no water inside me and no cushion. I’m having back labor now and I’m on all fours on the bed and I have never had pain so deep and hot that it pushed me to the edge of consciousness. I do not know who I am. I do not know what I am.
Then back in the tub and do I feel pushy now?
I’m not sure; I can try to push but I don’t know how. I don’t know how to push anymore and it’s not time yet. It should be time, but it’s not time yet. We’re not ready yet. Back into the shower and down the hall and back and nipple stimulation and now I feel pushy. I want to push in the tub but that doesn’t work. We’ll try the bed and now the pain the pain the pain. On my back and I am screaming and I can’t take it. I can’t do it any more. I am done. The contractions are too much, it’s too fast now. It’s happening too fast and too slow and it’s not over yet and it should be and out the window is only white haze and my eyes are blurry. The room is flooded with light and I scream into the light it’s too much I’m pushing now. I’m pushing now. My body is on fire and you will be here now.
I am in and out of that place within me that I have never known before, that I will not remember afterwards, that place that allows my body to take over. That place that pushes me out of itself, that is myself. That is fluid. I will need this later. I will want this later. But my moments here are so fleeting I will not know how to come back and this is not a place to return to, only to bring back with me. But there is no time to come back here, like waking from a dream and wanting to remember it before the day begins.
I am pushing now for you to come but you do not come. You move down but then back up and something is wrong. It is not supposed to happen this way. It’s not supposed to be this way. I am to push and you are to emerge but you are not coming out. You have descended. You can’t stay there too long but you stay. Your head is moving now your head is out. Your skull your brain your mouth your eyes are here but now your body is stuck. We’re both stuck. There is nowhere to go because of where you are and where I am and I am done but you’re not out and there is nothing to do but scream and sob and push and breathe and pray and beg to be cut open but they cannot cut because your head is out and the only way out is through me. It’s not supposed to be this way, your body should slide right out now, but there is the cord. The cord is keeping you here, part of my body holding strong to your body, not letting you out and this is when we could die. Like a flash of lightning, I suddenly know, in my bones and skin and fluid and a new kind of scream, that something is very wrong, that you or I or both of us might not survive this. Darkness descends. But now there are the hands and wrists and forearms, reaching in and turning. I don’t know what is happening, only more pain but there you are now you’ve been turned and you’ll slide out now, and I’m pushing and just like that there you are. You’re out. You’re out now and I’m done. My shaking sobbing body is done.
You are quiet. There is no sound from you yet, not yet not yet and I am waiting for you still and I don’t know I don’t know if –
Here you are. You’re on me now, blue and slimy and crying too and mine. You’re here and you’re okay and we both made it we’re both alive and you’re out and both our hearts are beating and you’re fine and you’re here.
Oh my God – you’re here.
Blog Author: Christine Simokaitis. Christine Simokaitis received an MFA in creative writing from Goddard College. Her work is published in Alligator Juniper, Natural Bridge, and in the anthologies Mourning Sickness and Are We Feeling Better Yet? She currently resides in Chicago, Illinois, with her husband and two young sons. She actively writes, teaches, and enjoys life. “Waiting for Elijah” appeared in the Winter 2010 issue of Calyx and is republished here with the author’s permission.