Expectant mothers, please don't forget that lose beautiful terrible labors pains are a miracle to cherish
My sister-in-law Bobbie lies there in the hospital bed with a pained look on her beautiful face. At certain intervals, she grips the opposite side of the hospital bed bar. There is moaning, a bit like that of a new-born pup who wants its mother’s milk but has to fight fiercely to wedge his way in between the fray of other puppies.
Then, suddenly, a release, a pause in the beautiful and brutal throes of the birthing process. Her facial muscles relax a bit, still lined with a hint of tension at the thought that in minutes, the whole agonizing process will start again. And so it does. I am there with a few select family members. The room is silent, occasional conversation only in whispered tones, in gentle respect for the struggle this sweet young woman endures. The ironic thing is that, at this almost spiritual moment, there are so many things I want to say to her.
I want to tell her to shake it off, almost in an ugly, angry tone. I want to tell her to listen, listen, listen to the rebellious thud of her soon-to-be son’s heartbeat, a sound she will never hear so intensely for the rest of her life. I want to tell her to feel, feel, really feel the pulsing and painful sensations shooting through her body. Remind her to memorize the jabbing kick of her child’s untouched foot, to relish the huge and cumbersome belly that pulses with life.
In a matter of hours, this excruciating miracle will be over, done with, her uterus an empty shell forevermore. I sneak a glance at her again, still, that angelic face slightly twisted in suffering. Her pain at this point is bearable; in a few hours it will erupt like a red-hot volcano, and she will wish and pray for the end of this pregnancy, like a man dying of thirst for one small drink of water. This is her last, she told me earlier. They already have a precious baby girl; in a few hours, a son will make their family complete. A new beginning as a family of four. A new beginning, I thought, but also an ending.
As I sit there, I am transported to the births of my own two children. I can remember the pain, but mostly the beauty, of that end and that beginning. I remember it the way a person remembers a special day from years ago-the emotions, a glimpse here and there of a face, a moment, but more like a mental conjuring of the image of a dead loved one. The whole recollection painted in a sort of ghost tone white-cloudy, hazy, hindered by a storm of mist. I envy her present, the undeniable crisp clarity of this miracle. She, of course, focuses only on the pain and how to overcome the crescendos of agony that grab her in a rhythmic symphony.
There is something lost when a woman gives birth for the last time. Something to be mourned when a baby sucks at the breast for a final feeding. Something to be grieved for each and every “last” of motherhood. The tragic thing is, we never relish the “lasts;” we are so eager to move on, to get to bed, to see the first teeth, the first words, the first steps. Sitting there, watching this wonderful woman’s last moments of carrying life, is torture. Torture, I realize quite selfishly, that is about my own pain, not hers.
It is the nature of life to constantly look forward, to deny the present the respect and glory that it deserves. So I sit there, still in a flood of my own emotions, wondering where the time went. Can I rewind? Can I stop the clock? I would give eternity for virtual reality- a revisiting of the moments I carelessly let slip away in the flood of time. Now, my children are not children. They are young adults, wandering through their own existence and working each day to step farther and farther away from the mother that grew them, that loved them into being.
I cry for them to stop-to hold on, to wait one more moment before they dive into the pool of independence. It is too late; they are poised for the swim, ready to immerse themselves into waters where I am a secondary character.
I scream a silent scream. Stop time, stop! Let me go back! Let me be present-really present! Give me one more chance to feel the glorious, painful beauty of being a mother, of being the most important presence in a new life. Give me 2 am feedings! Give me midnight rendezvous, with a crying child and a full born moon. Give me the pain! Give me the exhaustion! Give me the moment — one more time! This time I will honor it! This time I will be thankful. This time I will honor those minutes, hours, days with all the worship they deserved.
I am torn from my useless pleadings by another moan. Another ugly, beautiful contraction I want to steal from her for just a moment. They are getting closer, more painful, Breathe, I say. This is the most beautiful thing you will ever experience.
Yes, painful, but beautiful.
Today you will give birth. Today you are a god, holding a universe in your hands. Tomorrow, the world changes. You lose this moment forever. Yes, you can retrieve it with the power of memory, but then it will be lukewarm, not searing, muddy, not three-dimensional. Embrace the moment, dear Bobbie, those last tides of pain. Then say hello to your beautiful baby-and goodbye to one of the most beautiful moments you will ever know.