1. I am nearing forty when I give birth to my third baby; She arrives three years late, and cries before her body is born. When I bring her up through my standing legs and to my chest, I am awed by the slippery weight of her. She is here, finally, born over the pink tiles of our bathroom floor, and all is right in the world. Her birth ends months of fearful living: I no longer fear losing her; I no longer fear losing myself. I am awake most of the night, the thrill of her running through me. And when they come upstairs the next morning-big brother and big sister-their meeting gives my life defined borders, a completeness after years of living with ghosts.
2. I have been pregnant eight times. The first two times, innocently and accidentally pregnant, led to healthy babies. Then another happy accident and my first miscarriage. I took several months to let my mind and body heal but soon I was pregnant again, and again my body carried this pregnancy until nearly 12 weeks, and again I miscarried naturally at home.
After the second miscarriage I told my husband I was a baby killer. “You’re a baby ICU,” he replied, “your body just keeps holding on to pregnancies, trying to make them work.” His words comforted me, but I still felt like something was wrong, in fact, I wanted something to be wrong. If something was wrong I might understand it; if something was wrong I could fix it.
My doctor called it “bad luck.” Still, I sought answers. I had blood drawn again and again for tests that revealed nothing but my good health. I scrutinized the numbers, researched on the Internet, sought specialists. I had procedures: a hysterosalpingogram, all clear. A hysteroscopy, nothing. For years I had trouble getting pregnant at all. And the next two pregnancies were over days after they began. Finally, when I thought I could not be so unlucky to have another miscarriage, I got pregnant and made it to eleven weeks before bleeding again.
The miscarriages brought me to my knees. I buried the first two sacs and placentas in our garden on Morelos, the third placenta I buried under a fig tree at our house on 8th street. As my bad fortune piled up I kept it a secret; I was distant and sad, my life ruled by a sense of maternal inadequacies I was too ashamed of to share.
Yet my stubborn drive kept on. As I neared the three-year anniversary of my first miscarriage something shifted. It was time to give up, give in. I thought, maybe this person I feel missing from my family will always be missing? Maybe I am not so good. Maybe I am not so lucky. I had trouble trusting my body; I could not dismiss what I saw as a wide and perilous unknown that lay beneath my skin.
3.What dangers are ahead, behind? Within? How do we live, knowing the way of death?
4. I want to tell you: the third child is the same! It is easier! But nothing is the same after five miscarriages. When life is tipping towards forty, and you find yourself mercifully, miraculously pregnant, you do not celebrate a life too soon. The real story went something like this: I held myself very still for twenty weeks, breathing a little when I saw the heartbeat at 6, a little more when I saw the heartbeat at nine weeks and the tiniest bud of leg kicking on the inside. I sighed deep and big, and cried happy tears at twenty weeks when I saw a perfect body on the ultrasound and felt daily kicks. But I was also afraid nearly every day, and occasionally that fear strangled the life from my body until, rigid and heart pounding I would run upstairs to my bedroom closet, hiding this from my kids and sometimes my husband.
Was I ashamed to lose another? Or ashamed that I was ruled by fear? In the closet I would close the door, and laying flat on my back squeeze the gel on my round belly where I knew the baby would be and I then would use the Doppler to find the heartbeat. Only then did the breath, held back, burst through and I would tell myself that this wouldn’t happen again.
I was trying to trust my body, but I also knew deep in my bones that terrible things happen, and they might happen to me.
5. There are parts of this story I am ashamed to share, other parts that I won’t share. How nearly each month before this final pregnancy I felt the familiar sensations of new life attaching to my womb, and yet each month I bled. How I bought my weight in pregnancy tests, and took them with something akin to addiction. How each holiday I imagined the child that wasn’t there. How I began to wonder if I could even call myself mother when I had only two children who were growing and someday wouldn’t need me. I was failing all the time: each month, each year another way to measure my inadequacies.
When I reached six weeks with my eighth pregnancy, I went to see my doctor. I had begun to feel sick. I had food aversions and fatigue. But I had strong symptoms with my other pregnancies that ended in miscarriages so there was nothing I could hold onto, nothing telling me this might have a happy ending. The nurse took my blood pressure and it was so high that she smiled at me and I smiled back. “I won’t write that one down,” she said, kindly. Then it was time. My doctor came in with a buoyancy and hope that I lacked and I waited, gripping my husband’s hand. When she pointed to the flicker, a heartbeat, I cried with disbelief. You see I had come to expect the worst. Good news was harder to grasp.
6. Time is my teacher. This pregnancy is long and short, as time is. It is harder to wait; I want proof of life. At the end of October, when I reach 37 weeks, I start to feel more Braxton hicks. Some are stronger like real contractions. I think: this baby is coming soon. But time is my teacher.
The election comes. I take a picture of a white bodysuit that says, “the future is female” and put it on my instagram feed. I feel a thrill that my daughter will be born with the first female president. Instead, that night, I cry as if mourning the death of the world I thought I knew. I wonder how I can bring my daughter into the world at all. And so my body stops. I am in mourning for weeks. My body waits. I wonder if she will ever be born.
Then one night in late November I bring my third living child into the world. A labor that comes on suddenly and with force; I pace, buck and push through contractions, howl at the night, and howl at the love. I transform myself; make space, move organs, rearrange bowel and gut and tissue to accommodate this baby who came from where? And what? After birth she latches on, sucking and making small sounds. My hair falls down around this total surrender, around the pinkness of skin and the relief that holds me softly like hands against the softness of the mattress.
7. Does time heal all wounds? Or do we just learn to surrender, accepting imperfection more easily? Would I be telling this story if things had turned out differently? I would like to say that she healed me; maybe in some part she did. But aren’t we all in some way on the same path, trying to reconcile light with dark? Life with death?
8. The day after her birth a friend texts me about the rainbow she saw; another comes to visit and describes many rainbows stretching over the hills and valleys on her drive.
There is a rush to stillness that characterizes birth: from inside to outside, from darkness to light. She is born as winter dims the light on our world and we are marooned in the upstairs bedroom as rain pours outside.
Some nights the dark lasts forever. Each time she voices an honest desire to be held, I take her newness into my arms and wait as she latches on to begin nursing. As if in a dream, I am lulled by the steady satisfaction of her drinking, and then she is done, and I am left with the task of putting her down again. I am not a person who prays, yet this is what I begin to do after I set her down: Please, please, I think, just two hours. I check the clock too often. Soon I have scooted my body closer to the man who tethers me with his own warmth and sleep, and I am drifting again.
When giants tuck into my bed before sunrise, I celebrate the interrupted dark. The end of night! It’s finally over! I am exuberant to begin again; to feel the skin of my elder babes who I miss with an ache I didn’t expect three kids in; to rise and drink my fill of warm tea. I pull them close and kiss their cheeks. Only five and eight years old, they are exponential since their little sister was born: eyes are as big as lakes, their faces as tall and wide as the faces cut from Mount Rushmore. The eight year old doesn’t last long in my arms; she comes to me less and less these days. I can imagine all the ways it will feel I am losing her. Nothing lasts forever.
9. I am a mother and a gatekeeper: with the capacity to carry life and also death. I do not know why I miscarried so many times, and after five miscarriages in a row, I do not know why this eighth pregnancy brought me my Adelaide.
Years ago, my brother, an artist, painted a series he called ‘A Welcome End to Knowing.’ Something about this sentiment, that knowing could be the opposite of peace, that one might welcome its end, struck me as true, but it was not until I held Adelaide in my arms that I understood.
I may never know why things happened the way they did, but for now peace: a welcome end to knowing.