This Mother's Day

Memoir

By Dana Webster

My son, Meacham, was born on April 1 but it wasn’t until April 2 that I fell into mad mother love. Three days of labour, twice being sent home from the hospital because my cervix hadn’t yet dilated to the magic 8cm, walking the streets of Toronto in hopes of encouraging more frequent labour contractions, doubling over in the middle of an intersection while I waited one contraction out, my mother and my husband holding me up at the elbows so I wouldn’t fall completely to my knees, imagining that I resembled a bird of prey, wings cocked ready to carry me up, up and away.


One and a half hours of squinty-eyed, breath-holding bearing down, the epidural wearing off just as the head was crowning. No episiotomy, I had insisted. Would that have helped? The pain of labour previously unknowable. Having, finally, to stop resisting it, stop wishing it were otherwise. Waves of profound clenching and letting go, clenching and letting go, each swell bringing me further and further inward. In my mind’s eye, a tunnel dark, tight and miles long that the baby had to inchworm its way through. Afterward, when I had returned to the here and now, I was puzzled by the reality of my body harbouring no tunnel at all. How in god’s name did the journey to birth take so long for such a short distance?


An enormous, squished head, one shoulder, the other shoulder, all slipped through in their own time, my body making way for its exodus. I was never really sure if my efforts of pushing and huffing and crying and swearing had any effect on the process. It felt like the baby was doing its own thing, resisting the journey, biding its time until it was ready and not before. It would be our first battle of wills: I wanted it out; it wanted to stay put.


When the tips of its tiny toes finally emerged, when it was fully born to this world, the baby refused to breathe. Held on to what it knew, to where it felt safe for as long as it could. All the breaths I had in me were expended on the journey of its birth. I held my last breath in. Until it let its first one out.


I awoke a few hours later in a bed of crisp white sheets, a relief to my battle-fatigued and bruised body, my hyper-sensitive skin. My mind basked in the soft place of not quite awake. When my eyes drifted open, I was startled to find the baby lying in a small crib of its own. I’d forgotten where I was. I gazed at it, sleeping and swaddled like a grub in a blue blanket and wondered what happens now? The bundle of blue was hot to the touch. The dark hair on its head soft and dry.


I patted the baby’s bottom, stroked its forehead, and gazed at the long lashes over sleeping eyes. And this wasn’t enough. I felt a sudden longing, a deep calling, an urgency. I wanted all of it, now, next to me. I picked him up and held him under the covers with me. It was his smell that intoxicated me, a scent of which I had no previous experience but was, at the same time, instantly recognizable to me as the scent of love. I was a mother. Nothing would ever be the same again.