When I was pregnant I got a kick out of the fanciful way the pregnancy books likened the size of the baby to various foods: a peppercorn at five weeks, a papaya at twenty-two weeks, a watermelon at forty weeks (although, I do take issue with likening the baby to a watermelon, at any point.)
I lost my first pregnancy at seventeen weeks, lost a little pear. It was a missed miscarriage, that’s the term the nurse used. No clues to the loss, only the discovery of a silent heartbeat, where once, there had been a steady one.
A DNC was performed to remove the fetus. I lost too much blood during the procedure, and had to stay in the hospital for three days to receive a number of transfusions. The hospital was in Hollywood, and the rooms had views. In my memory it was always dusk or twilight, I can’t recall any sunshine, only three dim and endless days. I remember staring out the windows at the deep lavender mountains, while a long river of blood flowed out of the bag and into my arm. Out-of-work-actor blood, I had joked. A thin joke, as I wondered if my body would ever carry anything but grief. But, then, four months later I was pregnant again.
It was a pregnancy filled with worry, as I waited for my body to deceive me. Even at 41 weeks, with a full watermelon in there, I worried. The last days of being pregnant, two weeks late, I wrote in my journal; I feel overwhelmed with the force and the heat of this baby, it’s too intense to carry inside me. I fell like my skin will split open and light will spill out the seams.
In the end, after fifty hours of labor I had a C-section, so my skin did split to bear him. Jack was born weighing in at 9.7 lbs. The first thing I noticed when they placed him on my chest were his pale red eyebrows, furrowed, over eyes the color of sea-glass. Through my haze of love I heard the doctor say to the interns in the room, “Now, I am going to put her organs back in.” It was alarming–I hadn’t realized they were out. I imagined them lounging haphazardly around the room– my spleen on a chair in the corner, curled like a cat, my lower intestine hanging off a surgical light, a misshaped garland. The medical community needs to develop a good code for that, “The chickens are out of the coop, time to round them up!” I’m not sure what the interns learned that day, but I learned to hate hospitals.
My third pregnancy I tried to deliver at home, but after twenty-five hours I transferred to the hospital, to a doctor who worked with my midwives. Together, after six more hours of labor, my amazing team delivered Heathcliff. He came through parted bones, after two hours of pushing, a VBAC, at 9.14 lbs. As soon as he was born, they had to take him to the side to clean his lungs. I was sobbing and shaking, I felt untethered, as if my bones had pulled too far apart and I was no longer connected to the earth but revolving with the planets. It was only when they placed him on my chest that I felt returned to solid ground.
“Does he have red hair?” The nurse asked. I smiled as I kissed the newness of his tawny head. He has hair like his brother, but his eyes are his own. They are the rich brown of earth–things can grow there.
My doctor was a tiny, soft-spoken man in his eighties. When he checked in on me after the birth, he pressed his strong fingers into mine, “Your son is the biggest baby I that I’ve ever delivered by VBAC, and I just posted it on Facebook.” Then he smiled, “You are a warrior,” he said, “like Joan of Arc.”
The details of my pregnancies and births have become hazier with time– memories less vividly painted. All three experiences are like jewels buried inside my bones, I don’t think about them everyday, but when they are unearthed they dazzle me with their strength and intensity. And no mater how much they fade, the body will always remember.
Image by Paolo Roversi