Nights once silent, punctuated only by a hooting owl, a distant train honk and the soft whirr of an overhead flight path, are now filled with screeches and snuffles. The sounds I’ve long envied from the little ones of other parents are now our own bedtime burden and blessing. Lilith Iris, nearly 8 pounds of new human, whose pink, pudgy robust body I first grasped with weak arms of overwhelmed disbelief, as her cobalt blue eyes unveiled from behind those mysterious folds of flesh that remained forever shut on her brother Evan’s beautiful tragic face two winters before.
On the very first day I discovered I was pregnant with Lilith, a slither of rainbow appeared in the sky and felt like a signal to us. At full term, just a few weeks away from birth, we watched a whole rainbow appear triumphantly in the same spot heralding the new arrival just round the corner. And now we have turned that corner. Our ‘pot of gold’ is splayed on my chest as I type this, knowing it will only get more difficult the longer I take to post the story of her birth, as so many new thoughts and experiences flood in daily. Babymoon has been such a rollercoaster that several times I deferred from writing this, feeling a more complex array of postpartum emotions than I expected.
Joy of being me, free, again; light-waisted and nimble, is compounded with a curious sadness only mothers can feel, as every day I get further away from the birth of Lilith. It is a surprising wistfulness when most of pregnancy is spent in anticipation of the safe delivery of birth, but the only rational answer is the irrationality of motherhood. Glad for labour having come when it did, releasing me from late pregnancy’s ailments in the 40th week as I’d hoped, with all my homebirth ‘supplies’ having been safely gathered in time. My hips started filling with that tell-tale hum the same night I spilt too much madras powder into a homemade curry. My body shivered with unwanted adrenalin as I clung onto Matthew to try sleep through the pelvic rumbles that the night did not swallow up. I awoke to a beautiful spring day, and the realisation something was happening, with the only two people I wanted nearby. My partner, who cleans the house in preparation, and my midwife, in whose arms I shed some tears for Evan, before I continue pacing the house like a cat whilst the appointed two relax with chit-chat, web-surfing and raspberry roulade.
The thoughtfulness of diffusing the bright sun so I could labour outside, and putting on day-long soft music without me even having to ask, Matthew becomes like a Swiss army knife of an imaginary ‘sisterhood tribe’ I always wished I could have at birth in some other life, in some other culture. A small bowl of lasagne and fresh strawberries from him helps placate my empty stomach. Still in the irregular ripples of early labour, a multitude of birds busily chirp in the huge tree that stands like nature’s sentry over our house. I could make out the squealing of chicks within its nodding branches, as I contemplated, was my own chick on her way for real, today? Cocooned comfortingly in my hooded dressing gown, I felt I had to lure out the oxytocin, that shy lioness, by bouncing vigorously on my ball till a resultant wave turned my slow exhalation up to the cloudless sky. Would and could we birth her outside, here in the peaceful secluded garden? That idea waned with the sun’s rays, as the hours drew us back into the indoors and I now sofa-rode the throes like a difficult horse, knowing it was for real now.
Holding Virginia’s hand and Matthew’s on the other side like a child going to the park, every few minutes the power of a surreal playground ride sucked my lower body down into my seat, some softly and some intensely. Filled with gratitude for physiological normality, I melted unabated into each surge’s purpose with drugs of nature’s own, my pain relief being simply the love and understanding from my midwife and partner, their constant demand-fulfilling and massage of my sacrum on every intermittent motion of baby’s descent. Baby, now low and heavy, brings me to the floor; right next to my bookshelf filled with the words of many writers who’d helped me to this moment through pregnancy, loss, love, art. There I was, kneeling naked, putting all those hundreds of pages of confabulated theory into the blunt simplicity of the moment. The moment I’d envisioned for years now, with all the triumph yet banality of reality, recorded with the grainy video pixels of a darkened room. Clothing falling away with every suck of water and sip of lemonade, face deep in the clary-sage scented pillow I’d long cradled and favoured over entonox, here is where a familiar sound started. The sound of my own primal self, that same sound I remembered from last time. ‘She’ was here, the animal – whether I liked her or not – she would take over now, like handing over to her like in a relay race.
Even for the introverted who consider themselves the least vocal, there is no underestimating the importance of sounds and words, and the right environment and the freedom to release them. Birth can bring the tiger out from the coyest mouse, yet that mouse can live on happily coy, treasuring the memory of the night they roared. Calm, calm, calm, yes, yes, yes, and whatever sounds came to my tongue, whilst I barked for the massage to continue without fail. Virginia, can I do this? I didn’t want to, but there was no choice, I was a skydiver readying to jump, but with no luxury to back out, this jump had two lives dependent on it. Still almost in denial that my huge torso was shedding a real human body, heartbeat monitored with another ‘perfect’, I announced defiantly that I want baby now, baby is coming now. Two births have determined I yell, long, loud, not from pain but more like determination in the face of the fear of pain, and just before midnight she emerged… in that most phenomenal alien sensation, an undeniably intimidating but curiously painless ejection as my whole body became her portal of exit and entry, tumbling through a secret door that magically reverts like the solid oak of the wardrobe wall to Narnia, flinging her safely Earthward followed promptly and effortlessly by the organ that fuelled her exquisite formation. Her first cries fill the silence we long endured since losing Evan, cries that gurgle with the life-sustaining liquid that projected to signal her descent moments prior, her arms waving in the confusion of the cold, wide open space, but caught quickly and lovingly by that same royal red towel her brother landed on.
I stare at Matthew, our exclamations ring on repeat, as time stands still, and we gaze more, more at her loveliness, in sheer thrilled confidence of her vitality.
Virginia carries Lilith and Matthew carries me to the fresh sheets of the bedroom, on the first night as three in a bed and a forever-transformed routine.
A blissful and bewildering babymoon began, my eyes going no further than her face whilst we retreat from the world in our own red tent of recuperation. It is both a bonding and a parting. On her belly, her cord stump dries and dies; on my belly, the mast of skin that proudly sailed on high tide shrinks back weathered and peacefully into its harbour. I pick the last of my blood from her hair as our separation becomes complete. She is now her own self: ten toes that curl and fork all together like a graceful sea creature, fingers softly turning over and back like a magician mid-spell. Lips in a raspberry pout from which comes a wrestler’s grunts and groans, but motioning like a fretful woodpecker for the breast, suckling with an expression of shy scepticism that slows into sleepy-eyed satisfaction. The power of my milk turns all the noises of the zoo into the softest snores like a harmony of tiny zippers, a wind blowing through a very distant tree in a faraway magical land. Snoozes, stretches and the sweet feminine chimes of her sighs gradually devolve into the jerks of an unfathomably flustered, angry gnome; the red flag of the mid-brow crease as she bares her top gum to the world with an astounding display of offence designed to hit the new parent hard in the heart. But in between those screw-faced newborn rages I can see glimpses already of her mature, serene-faced woman to be; the same confidence that I first felt seeing her ‘wave’ at 16 weeks in-utero. Bathing her sturdy back and her rotund middle, she is not tiny to me, but huge, since that first tiny seed at conception. A strong, wiry little human who sleeps inches from my face, safe with my maternal awareness that nature honed in me during pregnancy, training me for broken nights long before she arrived.
Joyful but tiring and confusing, the loss of Evan was never going to make me a superhuman mother. I remind myself that the most important thing for parenthood is an open mind and a patient willingness to discover and learn. The orchard we’ve walked for so many months is now grandly festooned high in bright, yellow rapeseed, saluting us either side of the path as we walk as a family with Evan’s sling-slung sister. It has been a journey to get here to our rainbow, but our bigger journey is just beginning.
Below: in chrono order, links to all my posts starting from the birth of Evan, through to becoming pregnant again: