october 19. there is a heaviness to the day, carried over. i labored for 3 days. a wild full moon broke my water. 90% of women give birth within 24 hours of their water breaking. i was of the 10 percent. it was 3 days. 3 days of short gushes of amniotic fluid, infection scares, ticking clocks, and false starts. october 19. this was the day, we all decided. two gulps of castor oil and an explosive morning brought me back to the room. the room with the deep tub and the thick canvas blinds that turned dark amber as the sun slid past them and the big red clock on the wall that informed me, minute by minute, that i had outstayed my welcome. along with the nurses changing shifts and the woman with the big trash can that wheeled in to empty the bags filled with sterile pads and discarded cups. the one that never let her eyes go above a certain level. this was the day that my dreams of a “birth experience” slipped into the steady drip of the iv. those fastidious those presumptuous dreams. i would give birth like a supermodel with jacuzzi jets and polished toenails and perfect hair. i would become one with the water and watch my baby flow out of me. but the water just stung in the worst places and made me generally uncomfortable. all i wanted to do was disappear into the amber glow of the fentanyl. i laid back and watched the sun slip further and further down, burning hotter and hotter as it passed by the window. i laid back and watched my carefully constructed birth plan disappear into the lateness and the hours. october 19. october 19 was lost. lost in the thunder and fevers, the tightness and gripping, the clenched fists and jaws and the endless pressure. until i gave up. gave in. rendered unconscious and stark raving, with vomit in my hair. it was the worst pain i never felt.
the morning came, october 20. the morning came and so did you. blue and heavy lidded and not yet mine. your father pulled you from me and your big eyes met mine, then rolled back into the darkness. you were whisked away and i listened for you but heard only a frantic beeping and indecipherable code words punctuated with “crash cart crash cart” and there was only your dad saying, “look at me, don’t look over there, just look at me.” 4 days i would slither down the hallway, wheeling the iv bag beside me to the room where they kept you, you and all the other babies who were not ready for this world. i would lift you from the plastic container and try not to tangle your chords with mine and hold you to my breast and sing, “you are my sunshine my only sunshine” and try to swallow the tears as i whispered the rest. the sadness of the lyrics that had somehow always escaped me getting caught in my throat. and then finally home. home and a matter of days before the crying would begin. the endless crying. the screaming and flailing, the blur of the inconsolable mornings and afternoons and evenings that made up the first 4 months of your life. 25% of new babies develop colic. you were of the 25 percent.
october 19. we sit in a large room together and two women present you with toy after toy. they say your name and point and gesture and push and prod and make notes on their charts. i use a ballpoint pen to color in bubbles. regularly. sometimes. never. don’t know. you squirm and bury your head and grunt at their advances. they say look. they say can you show me. they say point to this one pat that one they say which one is that. you look around blankly and then turn those big eyes to me. and at last, a smile. my only sunshine. they ask you questions to which your reply is always no. sometimes no means yes, i explain. how do you know they say. how do you know when no means no and when no means yes. i just know, i say. i’m his mother, i say. they have us leave so that they can prepare their report. when we return the toys are gone and there is a box of kleenex on the table. they start by telling me there are strengths. they say this more than once. they start by telling me what a good job i have done. the box of kleenex inching closer. the verdict is handed down and although not a surprise, still the tears come. the relief of a diagnosis, the relief of acknowledgement, the relief of naming the nameless is quickly replaced by the vastness of the unknown. the range of possibilities as large as the range of emotions that come along. a valley so wide they call it “the spectrum.” 1 in 68 children develop autism. you are one.
you are restless and cry out in your sleep. i stumble down the hallway to your room and see your face changing, the quiver of your lip and the way your brow turns down as your begin to sob. i rub your back and whisper to stop the cries. you wrap your fingers around mine and let out a sigh. i pull the pillow off of the chair and lay down on the floor next to the crib. your breathing is heavy. i wonder if you are still in the big room with all of the questions to which your answer is always no.
in the morning i sing happy birthday to you. you babble along and the air is filled with your chirps and tweets, whistles and trills. in the morning you turn your big eyes to me and we smile. october 20. october 20 and i finally realize it. october 20 and you are mine.
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photo by Emma E. Tillman