I was afraid to give birth.
For months before my due date, I would wake up in the middle of the night in terror, full of anxiety that soon--six months, three months, six weeks--I would have to go through labor. There was no getting out of it. What had we done? The thought of pain of childbirth terrified me. Even the reassurance that I could get an epidural and block out all that pain terrified me because I was, if possible, even more afraid of the epidural than the pain of contractions.
My son was very much wanted, but what I wanted most in those months and weeks leading up to his birth in the summer of 2003 was to keep him inside of me. Keeping him inside would protect me from the inevitable pain of birthing him. And it would protect him from the terrible world outside. We had just invaded Iraq, the SARS virus was a thing, and there were reports of monkeypox infecting humans in Chicago, which is where we lived at the time. The world was a terrible place, how could I bring an innocent life into this mess?
Maybe I could be the first woman to gestate indefinitely? My husband was anxious to meet our baby, but I already knew our son. He was in constant motion inside of me, and I felt we shared our own private language in his kicks and flips. He was active all the time, but I knew he was most active during the afternoons when I was at work and in the middle of the night when I was trying to sleep. He seemed to become more animated during my drive home from work, when I would play the Rolling Stones or U2, although that was probably wishful thinking. All day and night he communicated in Morse Code-like taps and bumps, and every one seemed like a direct message to me.
I'll see you soon.
I love you.
I loved my son but I didn't want to see him soon. I wanted to protect him from the terrible world outside. And I wanted to protect him from my special brand of crazy, the kind that for years caused my parents and husband and friends to roll their eyes in exasperation and tell me to settle down.
The night I found out I was pregnant I couldn't sleep, anxious and terrified that something would go wrong. I had just run a marathon, not knowing I was pregnant. What if my core temperature had gotten too high and damaged the baby? What about that Aleve I had taken for soreness the day after my marathon? Was the nagging pain I felt really normal or a sign of an ectopic pregnancy? As my due date drew near, I grew more anxious and obsessive. I showed my boss my ultrasound pictures, asking him if he thought a shadow was a hole in the baby's head. I exercised regularly because I had heard higher levels of physical fitness correlated with easier deliveries. I cut all caffeine out of my diet, even though I was told one cup of coffee a day was fine. I researched natural childbirth methods. I Googled things like, "How much does an epidural really hurt?" and "Cases of epidurals not working." I bought a book on "hypnobirthing," which promised to teach me to control pain with my mind. I practiced the self-hypnosis relaxation techniques and guided meditations every night.
And then, I went into labor. After nine-months of build-up, it was over in a few hours. I was allowed to be an active participant in my son's delivery; although I have absolutely no memory of my doctor asking me if I wanted to deliver him and then reaching down and helping to pull him out, I'm told I did that.
I had always known I wanted to have kids, but I never actually wanted to have kids physically come out of my body. I forgot about that when I held my son to my chest for the first time. I could not believe that I had ever selfishly wanted him to stay inside of me. He was so much more awesome on the outside. He had a dimple, and dark, slate-blue eyes we knew would not stay blue. I realized that as much as I loved him before, I would find new and unexpected things to love about him every day of his life.
I loved my son when he was just an idea, a mass of cells growing and shaping themselves into a person inside of me. I didn't think I would be able to love him any other way. But then he was here, and the love I felt was so much more.
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