Laboring for light

It’s after 5 o’clock on a Wednesday morning and the first hints of morning twilight are opening the edges of darkness. I’m falling in and out of sleep, a roomful of people around me. The lamps on the corners of the building leak in a small amount of dismal orange light.

I’ve been awake for so long it’s hard to tell when I’m asleep, or if I could be dreaming that I’m awake.

The residue of arguments and tension in the room clings like a film, like the old, sweat-through-and-dried clothes that have left their own residue on my skin. I’m anxious, the excitement of a few days past has faded as the sense of urgency has built up. And that urgency, that need for progress seems to have stalled everything.

It’s got nothing to do with what’s going on, but I can’t get the song Weightless Again by The Handsome Family out of my head.

We stopped for coffee in the Redwood forest
Giant dripping leaves, spoons of powdered cream

I didn’t know it at the time, but a couple of hours later, the melodica-intro to the song still wheeling through my head, I’d wonder if we’d ever get to see the Redwood forest together, if our child would be holding both our hands as we tried fruitlessly to span the width of one of the giant trees.

Our midwife suddenly springs up, she’s stuck it out with us through most of this. She calls to everyone in the room and says, “it’s time, we need to talk about a C-section.” You start crying and I hold your hand. In spite of being in the hospital, there are surprisingly few things attached to you. It was worse in September when you had your appendix removed. There’s the epidural and the line they put in for the pitocin, neither of which we wanted a few days ago, when we were hoping for a home birth.

I say a few encouraging words to you when asked what my thoughts are, I say that if the midwife is recommending it, at this point, it’s probably the best thing.

Then everything blurs into motion, the doctor comes in and agrees that it’s time, preparations are made. You’re tough, and by the time they’re wheeling you out of the room on your bed, you’re already the image of resolve. I feel queasy, stirred up like I’ve been drinking coffee on an empty stomach. I can’t remember, maybe I have been?

I’m holding your hand as we go down the hallway. We’ve always been able to read each other’s emotions and over the years, it’s been honed to a near-psychic level.

“It’s going to be okay. The baby’s going to be okay,” you say.

“I want you to be okay, too,” I reply.

The operating room is just down the hall. Double doors open up and the smell of an industrial garage wafts out. My throat catches and I try to swallow my emotion. Concrete floors and concrete block walls, a scattering of beds over in one corner.

You hand me your ring that I got you for our tenth anniversary and the Mercury’s head medallion that I gave you prior to you going into labor.

You ask me to wear them for you, since you can’t.

Then they take you into the operating room to prepare you.

Someone hands me a surgical suit, a mask and something to cover my hair. I’m annoyed by a woman who keeps calling me dad.

“Just wait here, dad, we’ll call you in.”

I put the ring on the necklace with the medallion and wear it so I can feel it on my skin.

I hear the duty nurse around the corner, the one that we’ve taken to calling Nurse Ratchett, bitching about the long list of requests we have.

“They want to save the placenta, wait for the umbilical cord to stop pulsing, there’s eight pages of this stuff, good luck remembering it all,” she says.

I shout out, “if you need help remembering, I’ll be in the room.”

She quickly falls silent and I hear the door to the OR open and shut.

With a few minutes alone, I sit and make pleas to the Goddess and God to protect you and watch over you.

It’s taking a long time for them to prep you, I can see into the operating room and there are about eight people there. I keep my head in the window, afraid that they’ll forget to call me in and ready to rush into the room the moment I see them making any incisions.

It’s a false alarm though, your doctor walks into the area I’m standing in and starts suiting up. I look him in the eye and tell him to take good care of you. He’s sort of caught off guard and says ‘of course’ before heading into the room.

It’s another five minutes before they finally call me in.

When I enter, your face is all I can see, your eyes look calm and I can tell they’ve got you on a sedative.

The surgery is happening quicker than I realize, and I start seeing plastic bottles in the corner starting to be filled with the blood they’re siphoning away. I squeeze your hand and try to hold it together, trying to put on a strong face for you but you can see right through me.

They drop the little curtain and I see our child’s face for the first time as they pull him out of your belly. It’s beet red and all wrinkly and the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. I start weeping and hugging you as much as I can.

“It’s a boy,” you say, as they lift him away and I realized that I had completely forgotten to check.

I watch them clean the baby, he breathes and starts crying, he’s in some sort of nuclear bassinet, a heat lamp glowing orange. One of the nurses calls me over and I realize I’m still crying as she puts him in my arms. She cautions me to “always support the head,” and then we take him over and put him on your chest for a few minutes. They’ve started sewing you up by the time the nurse takes the baby back to the warmer. You say, “I’m really tired, is that okay?”

The anesthesiologist says yes, it’s normal.

Then we’re pushing the baby back to the room. Someone tells me that you’ll be in shortly.

Your sister is waiting, she’s on the phone with your mom. As soon as she sees us, as soon as she sees the baby, she starts crying.

For a moment, she and I are hugging one another and crying.

Then she and I are both looking over the baby, she asks how you’re doing and I said I think you’re okay.

Our son is strong, in my arms he’s already lifting his head. I’m so proud to be a dad but I’m worried about you, I just want you here.

A few minutes later, they roll you into the room. You’re still sedated but you’re excited to see the baby. I roll the warming bed contraption next to the bed so you can see him and put the Mercury’s head necklace and ring back on you. One of the doctors asks me to roll it back so they can check your vitals.

I lean against the wall, the baby is holding my finger.

Something’s wrong, your blood pressure is dropping fast.

You say again how tired you are.

Your sister comes over to hold your hand, I’ve still got the baby’s.

Suddenly there are a lot of people in the room. They start compressing your belly and you’re yelling out when they do it.

Blood is just pouring out of you.

The anesthesiologist is looking a little panicked, they’re putting you back on pitocin because your uterus isn’t contracting.

Your blood pressure is 50 over 30. Your lips are grey, your skin is grey.

Someone is calling out for a blood transfusion.

Your pulse is racing. There are about 15 people in the room right now. I note absently that Nurse Ratchett seems to be more in the way than helpful. The other nurses seem exasperated with her.

Our baby is glowing orange under the light. He seems comfortable and he’s not fussing.

I’m looking across him to you.

You and I meet eyes and I wonder if we’ll ever be together again.

Fifteen minutes later, it’s over. They’ve stabilized you and you’re receiving several units of blood.

The doctor visits a little later and says, we nearly lost you. Then he points to one of the little flags our friends have sewn for you that are hanging in the room.

“This bitch is strong as hell,” he reads.

He looks back at you and says, “now I know what they meant.”

On this day, our son turned five weeks old and it’s Imbolc. In my spiritual path, it’s the awakening of the Goddess, the first light begins to emerge and it’s a time of child blessing. Our son’s name, Lucien, meaning light or illumination, was in honor of his original due date, the winter solstice, when the light begins to return. Today, the light has emerged and we know that the darkness is retreating.

We’ve had a hard few months, but the Wheel still turns and with it, the promise that the light brings.

2 Comments

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  1. This is so beautiful, Nathan. My eyes are a little wet now, but I am so happy that you and your wife and Lucien are here together, safe and well. Congratulations to you. And every blessing to your family hereafter.

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