When is hard work worth it?
Tomorrow, my son is going to turn twelve. A dozen. He was born in the last millennium, a different century, many, many moons ago. All of these begin to represent what he is, an old soul in a body that is on the cusp of puberty, although the signs are still awfully subtle.
He’ll celebrate with a day off from school, thanks to the happy circumstance of the teachers’ collaboration calendar, a family breakfast complete with a pile of presents, and a sleepover with his best friend. Together we’ll bake a bunny-shaped cake, white with chocolate frosting to celebrate his Chinese zodiac sign, the year of the rabbit. He’ll write his thank you notes before he opens and plays with a single Lego set. I’m not spoiling any surprises here—far-flung relatives know what he likes.
He was born just after a full moon in 1999, two weeks late. I didn’t know he was a boy, although I suspected, and the sonogram tech who did my ultrasounds at 41 and then nearly 42 weeks laughed when I told her I didn’t want her to reveal the baby’s gender: when babies are that mature, the pictures show the curve of a thigh or the bend in an elbow, little more. She did estimate that my baby was big, really big, and then she scared me: that’s going to be a C-section for sure.
Her comment sent me in a tizzy to the Maternity Center where a practice of caring midwives had overseen my pregnancy in an unobtrusive and loving way. The midwife on call that morning soothed. We’d step into each new part of the birth story as it happened, together. Go home and rest. You never know, tomorrow could be the day.
But tomorrow wasn’t the day, nor the next, nor the one after that. In the end, arriving at Labor Day meant there was no unexpected breaking of my water nor waking in the middle of the night doubled over. Labor Day started with checking into the hospital. Together with my mother and my husband I waiting four hours past my 1 p.m. appointment time because a full moon meant the hospital was overloaded with laboring women. The pitocin drip started a marathon labor that took 22 hours. It wasn’t easy to give up my notion that this would be a drug-free childbirth, as I made choice after choice, opting, ultimately for an epidural administered in the wee hours by an anesthesiologist roused from sleep. An obstetrician came straight from delivering a breech baby in the next suite to assist in the end. The forceps, or salad tongs as we lovingly tease my son, helped an exhausted me deliver all nine pounds seven ounces of him into the world. And then he was here, the start of something new.
In mommy and baby yoga a few months later, my baby and I met a woman and a little red-haired girl baby who had been the breech birth one suite over. The woman’s first question to me, when we realized the connection: were you the screamer? I shook my head, no. As crazy as it sounds, I smiled through the whole thing—the pain, the drugs, the disappointment of not having a birth that followed my plan. My new friend pressed, but I assured her that I didn’t scream and I found I couldn’t remember anyone else screaming, either. There was a lot I didn’t remember, even then.
Three years later we were playing with the trains in the children’s section at Barnes & Noble. I met a woman whose son towered over mine—my son, that big baby who leapt to twenty pounds at six months and then slid down the growth chart to slightly larger than tiny. We talked, surprised to find our sons were the same age, exactly the same age. This huge boy and my petite son shared a birthday, it turned out, and a place of birth. And then she said: “I screamed so much when he was delivered that my husband told me we couldn’t have any more.” So here she was, the screamer.
A wise friend told me, “There are lots of ways to have a baby.” I held on to what she said all the way through my labor and delivery. I told the red-haired baby’s momma that, too, as we became such good friends she accompanied me when I delivered my daughter. And that day at Barnes & Noble, I told the screamer, too. It is some of the hardest work we do, followed by the infinite, unfolding challenges of parenthood. And though I had a friend whose mother insisted that he call her on his birthday, a measure of respect for her work, I love the fact that my son’s birthday is the day after the day I think of as Labor Day. A holiday for me—a nod in recognition to some of the hardest and best work I’ll ever do—capped by a holiday for him, wrapped up with all the joys and demands of turning twelve.
Many Happy Returns, Rxo
The birthday boy (in white) with his Seventh Grade Knowledge Bowl team, their teacher, and their first place trophy (4/27/11)!