I became a mother this week on a day much like today, but I don’t remember getting wet. What I do remember is my acute embarrassment.
“Please don’t use the sirens,” I said. (Doctor’s daughters don’t do emergencies.)
I don’t remember if Casey rode up front, but I do remember asking if Mary could join me in back. It turns out they were relieved to have a midwife on board.
I watched as the farmhouse and the barn and the Deerfield River feathered from view as we approached the town where I’d moved to teach school two years earlier; but I don’t remember much else except for the mountaintop.
As we bounced over Hogback, I looked out at the three-state view, while the young EMT, fearing a delivery, attempted an IV into my hand. But she needn’t have worried. I had already told the baby to wait, and although my contractions had been steady and strong since my water broke at dawn, I hadn’t experienced a single one inside the ambulance.
“How far along are you,” my sister asked when I called that morning to apologize. She’d sent her 9-year-old on a plane to visit us and I had promised not to go into labor during his stay. “First babies always come late,” I reminded her, so eager was I to see my nephew.
“Well, it must be early labor,” she said, “You’re too calm.”
When Mary arrived shortly after that call, I asked if she’d would wait to examine me, so consumed was I by contractions.
When she finally did check, there were three surprises.
“You’re 8 centimeters already,” she said. “And something else.”
The something else was what resulted in several phone calls to area hospitals and then the ambulance ride.
“I am not going out on that stretcher,” I told the EMTs when they arrived in my kitchen. “I don’t want to upset the neighbors.”
Casey had just come in from hanging the diapers on the line, and before heading out the back door, I pointed to the doughs on the counter. “Will you put those back in the freezer,” I asked, feeling a pang for the meal we would never share with our birthing team.
“I bet this is a boy,” I’d joked to Mary in the ambulance, given that I had been told by more than one intuitive that this baby would arrive “after” my due date and would be a girl.
She later told me of the third surprise, that instead of a head, she’d felt testicles.
And although I hadn’t experienced any contractions on the ambulance ride, she later told me that my labor had indeed progressed. I was fully dilated by the time we arrived in the emergency room.
“She’s in labor?” the front desk nurses said, as I was wheeled past them.
“She’s still in her street clothes,” two others said, as they looked into the examining room where I had been deposited.
I looked these women up and down too and had thought them ordelies, but one would turn out to be the surgeon, who did her own examination.
“Small,” she pronounced.
“Adequate,” Mary countered.
“Unproven,” she said.
They stood at the foot of my stretcher disputing the capacity of my pelvis.
“Calm,” Mary offered, of my demeanor.
“I’ll give it two hours,” the doctor said. “But the results could be tragic.”
They looked from each other toward me.
“Can I have a minute?” I said.
I motioned to Casey to join me in the bathroom. I closed the door. I kept the lights off.
I had miscarried twice before. Bled through the early months of this pregnancy too. Had Braxton-Hicks beginning at 5 months. Had planned a home birth because I’d fallen in love with a midwife named Mary who told me that she took my little baby home with her each night in her third eye.
I had felt so peaceful there in our little farmhouse beside the mountain. The morning’s cloud cover created a cocoon as I labored at the edge of our bed, the skylight overhead where we watched the stars at night, the door to the balcony over the brook open to the air, and this blissful feeling between contractions that my mother told me I’d find if I paid attention to the spaces in between.
“Remember, you and the baby want the same thing,” my mother said, having birthed 9 children without a single miscarriage or epidural.
She was a Christmas baby like my great aunt, while I followed on the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and her grandchild was apparently arriving on the Assumption of Mary, two weeks before he was due.
I opened the bathroom door to bright lights and urgent faces, remembering my bare feet on the soft pine floors, Mary kneeling in front of me, pressing her thumbs into my shin, lending exquisite relief during a contraction.
“I’ll take the c-section,” I said.
And then I remember the very last contraction I experienced.
“This will sting,” said the anesthesiologist who arrived in the operating room with a nurse and his long needle while the surgical team scrubbed like I had once done with my father and to whom I had just recently said, just as he had said to me: I never want surgery. (We would each have surgery this week within 48 hours of the other.)
“Can you wait a minute,” I said to the anesthesiologist, laughing at the absurdity of his warning about the epidural. “I’m having a contraction.”
In the end, they had to yank the baby out of the birth canal so ready was he to be born through me instead of removed surgically.
Protocol would not let me view the delivery, but they did let me see him for a flash before they whisked him to the examining table under the bright lights where they pronounced him healthy.
Protocol also prevented me from holding the baby until the anesthesia wore off.
I’d only had anesthesia once before. Wisdom teeth. I had barely come to at the end of the day when the same day surgery room was set to close. A friend arrived to drive me home while I continued to doze, and she nursed me through the night, ice on, ice off, so unable was I to rebound from the drugs.
Casey called the next day. I was furious. The restaurant had given him my home number. He was calling for a job.
Now Casey accompanied our baby to the nursery while I was sewn up on the table and wheeled over to recovery where just like before my rebound was slow.
I woke this morning feeling similarly drugged, to the sound of rain and a heavy cover of clouds, and although I wanted to rise and write before walking up to Sunday scones at Whetstone Ledges Farm, the absence of light made it difficult to stay afloat, and so I slipped back down under the surface of consciousness again and again.
“Do you feel your legs yet,” the nurse asked, as she covered my shivering body with more blankets. (To this day the last two toes on my left foot are numb.)
When I finally did meet Lloyd, he was wrapped tightly in a blanket with a knit cap on his head. I put up my hand as the midwife approached. I wanted to see Casey first.
We had become parents, apart from one another, instead of at home in on our own bed. Casey held our baby first, for more than an hour, after I had carried him inside for 8 months.
I don’t remember if the rain lifted that afternoon when I held my son.
I remember feeling that this was Everything.
I remember knowing that nothing would be the same.
When I fell back to sleep this morning, I dreamt that most of the tomatoes on the vine in our garden had ripened, just in time for Lloyd’s return to celebrate his twenty-third.
His name was meant to be Lila, after my grandmother, who died tragically at the age I am now.
I don’t know when it occurred to me that Lila and Lloyd share two L’s.
Twenty-three years old.
The twenty-third psalm was read at her graveside. I think of it every time I walk the road past the silent repose of the Whetstone.
I like the version Bobby McFerrin sings.
“Beside the still waters, She will lead.”
Lloyd has surprised us lately, wanting to be home for his birthday.
It’s unfathomable that he doesn’t live with us anymore. That the flesh of my flesh is not mine forever. That neither of us would want it to be so.
He was here last Christmas too, for an extended stay, during which we joined with old friends around a fire as the sun set over the waters of the Retreat Meadows.
We were deep in conversation when I felt a swoosh past our circle of chairs, and my eyes followed a woman who, with a flourish, removed a dark cloak.
I lifted phone and zoomed in to capture the beautiful blues and creamy whites of her wimple and habit but I couldn’t make out what hung from her neck and around her waist.
Her presence seemed to rivet me alone, and I could no longer focus, despite the company of my son and my oldest, dearest friend.
I stood up and crossed the space from the fire to her table beside the waters.
“The Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa,” she said, pointing to the medallion that hung from her neck.
“My sword,” she said, of the beaded rosary that dangled from her hip down her left side, “To fight Evil.”
I shared my family’s Mary connection with her, including Casey’s birth on the Feast Day of the Mother, and my mother’s death on the same day.
“You are a Marian family,” she pronounced, and I smiled, thinking how some people enjoy certainty and others the questions.
I returned to the fire, taking a seat across from from my friend with whom I attended the same Catholic Highschool. She had recently given me a nightlight that had belonged to her dear mother, and I almost thought to discard this plastic statue of Mary when after plugging it in, the bulb sparked and went black.
But upon removing the plug from the statue, I saw three small words under its base:
House of Lloyd.
Later, as the light faded in the sky over the water, the woman in the dark cloak stopped by our circle, asking: Is this the one born on Assumption of Mary?
She looked directly at Lloyd saying:
“You are consecrated to Our Lady.”
It was he who saw the Blue Lady shimmering on the land alongside the Whetstone Brook upon which we would later build our home.
“The Blue Lady is here to help you,” my therapist said, years earlier, after the birth of my second son, when I arrived in her chair riddled with grief over my mother’s early death from cancer.
“It’s blue like the light over Uncle Lenny’s bar in the barn,” Lloyd said, of the place where he was almost born and where he watched his little brother come into the world.
He hadn’t known the word: fluorescent.
I hadn’t been sure about the purchase of the land upon which we stood together, until I was told to whom the land just across the pond belonged.
The Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.