Accouchement

by Jennifer Wai-Lan Strodl
It begins with a touch. My husband comes up behind me, cupping my small breasts.
“Antonia,” he says, gently squeezing each breast. “You’re pregnant.”

“Stop joking around,” I laugh, squirming from his grasp.

“I’m not.” He turns me around in his arms. I can tell he sees something that I am not ready to see. How our life is about to change.

***

I pee on the plastic stick and hand it to Rosco without looking. I don’t know why I’m so nervous. His hunch is probably unfounded. I tell myself that I’ll probably get my period by the weekend.

“I see two lines,” he says immediately.

I read the box. “You have to wait for three minutes.”

“Well, the lines aren’t disappearing.”

I take the test from him and look at it closely. Two bold lines stare back at me like a litmus fortune-teller. I look up at Rosco’s face. The world around us suddenly feels lighter.

***

At seven in the morning I chew on a dry oatcake, the only remedy for nausea during the first few weeks, and think. We’re unprepared for a baby. We have no money. I feel like I’m floating in an invisible liquid, suspended upside down. I gag.

***

We want a child but the timing is not right. We live from hand to mouth off my insignificant salary writing for a college down the road. Gathering sticks and straw to build our nest on the banks of the Hudson River. Never thinking of the seasons.

***

My parents were meticulous about family planning. Each of my siblings is exactly a year and a half apart. Three girls and a boy. When I asked my mother how they decided on four children, she told me that my father wanted eight and she wanted none, so they compromised.

***

I remember seeing the spot of blood when the egg implanted. At the time, I thought it was my period coming. But I guess the egg stuck. Conceiving seems almost like a coincidence. One imperceptible shift in timing changes everything. Baby. No baby. Different baby. Boy. Girl. Healthy. Miscarriage. My mother had five pregnancies but only four children. There was an ectopic pregnancy between my sister and me. The egg’s timing was off, implanting in her fallopian tube instead of the uterus. As a child, I often wondered about that lost sibling. When I felt alone, I longed for her.

***

I feel like I’ve been drugged. I lounge on our green sofa in the evenings and can barely keep my eyes open. Thoughts of money or security have temporarily evaporated. I’m babbling incoherently about the various goodies I would love to consume, pancakes, pork sausages, French fries, chocolate. Adrift on a sea of hormones, I’ve never been sleepier.

***

We go to the ob-gyn clinic and get our first check-up. The nurse draws about a pint of blood from my arm to send out for what seems an obscene number of diagnostic labs. She swabs and collects to test me for every STD known to man.

“Well, shall we take a listen?” She rubs a glob of cold green gel onto my stomach and turns on the fetal Doppler. I flinch. “It’s just sound waves,” she says. “We probably won’t be able to hear anything yet but I just like to check for fun.” She moves the end of the Doppler down near my pelvis, swirling it around, and pressing into the flesh. I can hear the hollow sound of fluids swooshing around and the loud thump of my pulse. Then, out of nowhere, we hear the baby’s heart beat. It sounds like a thousand galloping hooves pounding at twice the speed of my own heart.

I suck my breath. “It’s so strong,” I whisper and squeeze Rosco’s hand. He is crying.

***

I’ve given up coffee and liquor; two things I never imagined I could live without.

***

Nothing’s different on the outside but inside, cells are dividing, multiplying. Everything is roaring ahead at full speed. The blood in my veins will double in volume over the next nine months. A friend tells me that my body is burning as much energy as someone who is trying to climb Everest. I have a lentil-sized embryo—with eyes, ears, a nose and mouth, and its own beating heart—in my womb.

***

On the drive to work, I listen to a pregnancy podcast. It’s a British call-in show. The women talk about their daily “ups and downs” and invite experts to speak on various topics. One health practitioner insists that the single most important exercise to do in preparation for childbirth is the Kegel. She describes how to properly flex your vaginal muscles. “Imagine you have an elevator in there and you want to pull it up three floors, holding it at each new level for fifteen seconds.” I concentrate on this British woman’s voice and faithfully, secretly, begin to condition myself.

***

Sex is funny while pregnant. You’re always aware that there’s somebody else with you. The doctors assure us it is safe. Still, during the act, the baby right there inside.

***

Baby wakes when I’m asleep. Rosco plays a game with it through my belly, tracing his finger in circles on my taut skin. Little feet or hands chase his swirling lines. The two of them do this together all night.

***

When I was born, the hospital photo shows my mother in bed wearing her own nightgown and my father standing next to her in street clothes. On the other side of the bed is a Canadian nurse standing awkwardly and set a bit apart. The nurse is holding me stiffly in hospital swaddle blankets. My mother looks despondent. I was her third girl.

***

I am six months pregnant, working full time, and overtired. Rosco has gotten his first solo show and is working nonstop in his studio. I feel abandoned. My Friday nights are spent watching movies alone on TV. I stare at our home and all I see is clutter, dirt, neglect. It is winter and the mice have moved in. This is no place to raise a baby, I think. Suddenly, I am filled with anger. I hate Rosco for not having a job. I hate him for smoking pot. I hate him for letting piles of old clothes gather in our bedroom, expecting me to do the laundry. I cry in our bed. He comes in to invite me into his studio. The studio lights are hot. I’m helping him mix colors. Work is meditative. I am in love with this man, for better or worse.

***

My mother visits for a week. She barely talks to me or to Rosco. She wakes up early and shuffles around the rooms, dusting, rearranging things, cleaning. Her eyes are cast to the floor and she mutters to herself in Cantonese. I try to make conversation but only get one-word answers. She is not interested in company or connection. She wants to work. But her work will only be undone when she leaves. She does not put things where I can find them. The dishes she washes still have remnants of food on them; the pots hold their film of grease; I see our lip marks on the rims of the glasses.

***

In the night, I hear my mother’s Chinese slippers gently flop against our wood floors downstairs. She has suffered from insomnia for as long as I can remember. With her in my home, I feel like a little girl again—listening to her haunting the house each night, moving from room to room, turning on and off lights, fussing in the kitchen, fluffing sofa pillows, straightening drapes—never, never going to her children.

***

Our family doctor asks us if we have a birth plan yet. I have no idea. She gives us two pieces of advice:

Feel good about the person who will deliver your child.
Hospitals are great places for a lot of things but giving birth is not necessarily one of them.
***

I continue my prenatal care at an ob-gyn health clinic in town. When I tell them I am considering a homebirth they say they do not support homebirths. When I say I might want to change providers, they ask why, wasn’t I happy with my first delivery with them? I remind them this is my first pregnancy. They apologize. I look around the clinic with its large waiting room, hundreds of client files, and exam rooms full of antiseptic cleansers. I ask the obstetrician what are the dangers of homebirth in her opinion.

“Postpartum maternal bleeding,” she answers unequivocally.

“How is that treated?”

“With Pitocin injections.” She pauses. “Homebirth midwives carry Pitocin and administer it. But it’s a question of judgment. I’ve seen too many wait too long. Hemorrhaging can become life threatening. Someone has to make the decision to medicate or transfer.”

“What about the baby?”

“If the heart rate goes down, you should transfer.”

“What if the umbilical cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck?” I ask.

“I wouldn’t be worried about that,” she answers. “You’d be surprised how many babies that happens to. You just unravel it during delivery. I’d be more concerned for the mother than the baby during a homebirth.” Her words are unexpectedly comforting to me.

***

I was a skinny, colicky baby. I cried all night long and refused to eat. Six weeks after I was born my mother went back to work as an accountant in the Ontario government. I was left in the care of a live-in Chinese amah, whose sole job until then was to take care of my second-born sister. The amah absolutely adored my chubby, cheerful sister and resented me. She left me in a crib all day, wailing. At night, the only person who would come to soothe me was my father. He sang lullabies and rocked me back to sleep. For this, I was shamed. Keeping my father awake in the night when he had to work early the next morning. My father, whose attention everyone in the family coveted.

***

My mother’s obstetrician had a golfing holiday in Florida near my due date, so he induced my birth for convenience’s sake. Then, a Canadian nurse administered an injection to stop her breast milk from coming in. This prevented painful engorgement. Back then formula was touted as the best nutrition.

***

The more I read, the more I dream of a homebirth. I think long and hard about my baby’s passage into this world. I want it to be gentle, loving and sacred. No intrusions. No bright lights. No pressure. No interventions. At seven months, we begin to look for midwives. The first midwife cries when I tell her I was induced. She is sweating profusely because she is going through menopause. We mention a Russian documentary we watched about women giving birth in the sea. She tells us that she hates that Russian doctor because he is a misogynist who forces birthing mothers into the Caspian Sea. But the births themselves looked beautiful, we say. Another midwife has long, flowing white hair. She speaks mostly about the “energy of birth” and makes veiled references to God. Her vague faith makes us uneasy. I tell her I want a water birth. She gets excited and mentions that she provides a birth pool with her services. When we leave we see the birth pool leaning up against a shed among other household debris. It’s an old Rubbermaid feeding trough. “You’re not giving birth in that,” Rosco says.

We finally find a midwifery practice across the river. The office has an examining table, a scale, and all the proper equipment. It’s professional but not clinical. The two midwives, both named Susan, are warm, funny, and matter-of-fact. As they examine me, I like their touch. They show us the medical kits they carry to every birth; Pitocin, heart monitor, stethoscopes, suture equipment, oxygen, and an arsenal of homeopathic remedies. They explain that they work as a team, always try natural choices first, and aren’t afraid of medical interventions when necessary. We settle on the Susans.

***

After my mother gave birth to my sister, her firstborn, she suffered from a kind of postpartum psychosis. No one had a word for it back then. The nurses came in, strapped her arms to the hospital bed, and gave her a Dixie cupful of downers. When she had calmed down a few hours later, they discharged her.

***

My mother and father had sex every night. They never made any noise. There was no lock on their bedroom door so my father would push a chair up against the doorknob. I remember pushing on the door as a child and finding the chair blocking my way in. Of course, that didn’t make me give up. I’d just push harder. Luckily, the chair wouldn’t give.

***

When my parents finally divorced, I was in college. My father had been having an affair with a young Russian woman. Once caught, instead of ending the affair, he decided to leave the family. Devastated, my mother cried almost constantly for a year. “He says his love for me is dead. But I know it is the sex. Your father needs sex,” she mourned. “Can I confess something? I never liked sex. I only did it to please him.”

***

The first time I ever heard a female orgasm was in Paris. I was thirteen and visiting my eldest sister who was studying at La Sorbonne. She had a shoebox sublet on Rue de la Sorbonne. There was no bedroom or closets, only space enough for a desk and a pullout couch. The kitchen consisted of a drop-down counter and a mini-fridge. We would buy baguettes and Boursin at the grocer and eat that for dinner. The windows opened onto a courtyard, surrounded on four sides by apartment buildings. Every afternoon, we used to hear a concert pianist practicing from a small apartment across the courtyard. One sweaty night, we opened all the windows while we slept. I woke to the sounds of a low moaning coming from that apartment. I leaned out the window and stared at the billowing curtains across the courtyard. The moans got louder. At first I thought it was a cat or some kind of animal. I woke up my sister, and she told me what I was listening to. We sat in silence, letting the aching sounds of a stranger’s pleasure wash over us in waves. The woman climaxed in wild cries. The sound of her screams has never left me.

***

My nipples are getting darker. The areolas are a deep brown in color and look much bigger than before. I read in my new bible, Your Pregnancy: Week By Week, that it helps the newborn, whose vision is still blurry, find its mother’s nipple. Imagine a neonate wriggling out of one’s body, half-blind, yearning for survival.

***

Our midwives ask me if I’m still working. I tell them I’m planning to work up to my due date or until I go into labor, whichever comes first. Susan shakes her head, “I think you should begin your leave.”

“When?” I ask.

She looks at my bulge. “Yesterday.”

***

The vision of my mother naked made such an impression on me as a child. Her pointed breasts and large dark nipples. The soft skin over her stomach like an emptied sac. Her body was intimate to me. A place I knew. A place I had been inside of. I used to stare at her belly button, saggy and stretched out of shape from all her pregnancies. She had a deep burgundy scar. A single curving railroad track running down into the wild hair of her pubis. It was the mark of the emergency surgery, not quite a c-section, which had removed the embryo from her fallopian tube at the end of her ectopic pregnancy.

***

I notice three small stretch marks beginning to appear on the left side of my belly button. I show Rosco in dismay. I have made it through eight months of pregnancy without any so far. I rub half a bottle of almond oil into my skin. The next day I wake up, and the stretch marks have spread like wildfire across my entire belly. Red, angry lines fan out from my navel like flames devouring a dry plain.

***

My skin is so itchy I feel like tearing it off my body. I look down at my distended belly and wish I could just peel off my skin, like a suit, and put it back on after I give birth.

***

Sex is impossible now except from behind. It’s a position I usually don’t mind at all. My vagina is always wet and swollen these days too. The midwives encourage as much sex as possible, claiming it is the best natural means to induce labor. But feeling so enormous and fatigued, I’m never in the mood.

***

Lately, I’ve been having panic attacks about the idea of passing a baby through my vagina. I bring it up with our midwives at my next visit. They explain that during labor, the very architecture of my body will change so what was my uterus, cervix, and vagina, open up to become the “birth canal,” a passage big enough to push out a full-term baby. Your mother survived it, and odds are so will you, I tell myself. Still, when I start to think about the size of the baby inside of me, and the size of my vagina, my breath gets short.

***

I bake a cake for Rosco’s birthday, and we go out to our favorite osteria. The restaurant is beautifully lit. We sit at our table in a corner by the window. A candle on the rough wooden table casts a dancing light on our faces. “You look so beautiful,” Rosco says. “I wish you could stay pregnant for longer.” We both order spaghetti carbonara. He drinks beer and I order a large bottle of sparkling water. I feel the baby stirring rhythmically in my belly.

“It feels different tonight,” I say. “It’s a new kind of movement.”

“Well, either the baby knows something we don’t, or it really likes jazz.”

“I think it likes the jazz. Let’s play it some more jazz then,” I say.

***

Suddenly in the car, I really have to pee. We pull in, and I run upstairs without waiting for Rosco. I empty my bladder. It is such a relief. Relaxed again, I come back downstairs. As I’m turning the cake out of its pan, I feel a trickle of water run down my leg. I run back up to the bathroom thinking that I am peeing myself. When I get to the toilet, I realize that I don’t have to pee at all. I wipe the trickle with a piece of toilet paper. It’s tinged with pink. Fluid leaks then stops as I walk back down the stairs. “Rosco,” I say, “I think my water has broken.” He looks at me half in joy and half in shock. “Happy birthday.”

***

Our house snaps into a flurry of action. I call the midwives who tell me that I will likely go into labor within the next 24 to 48 hours and the best thing I can do for myself now is to get some sleep. “If you can’t fall asleep, have a glass of red wine to relax. You’re going to need a full night’s sleep behind you going into labor,” they say. It’s ten o’clock at night. We have not prepared anything yet. Rosco starts sweeping and vacuuming, setting up a place for the birth pool, which arrived that night by FedEx as we were leaving for dinner. I put the cake, still in its pan, into the fridge. I grab all of the baby clothes, blankets, towels, bibs, burp cloths, socks, hats, and tear off the tags to throw them in the laundry. I also wash fresh sheets and underwear and comfy clothes for us. By midnight, we go to bed. I’m so excited I can’t sleep. I drink a glass of red wine, a cup of chamomile tea, warm milk with honey. I count sheep. Nothing works. I lie in bed awake, waiting for it to begin.

***

As the contractions start to get stronger, I realize I haven’t read any of my natural childbirth books yet. I open up a book on the Bradley method and skip straight to the diagrams of good positions for women in labor. I set up the pillows as the picture illustrates and lie on my side, breathing deeply. I close my eyes and visualize myself as an ocean, the tides coming in and out, with every contraction.

***

We ask the midwives when they will come over. The Susan I call says they’ll come over whenever I want them there but that this early on, there is nothing they can do to help.

“When the contractions get really intense and last about sixty seconds each,” she says. “Call me. My phone is on. The car is packed and I’m ready to hit the road once you make the call.”

I call her three more times, twice after midnight, and describe what I’m going through. She listens and says everything is progressing normally but that it’s not time yet.

“How will I know when it’s time?” I ask.

“Trust me, we won’t be having a civil conversation like this, Antonia,” she says.

***

The contractions have driven me out of the bedroom and into the bathroom. I am moaning with each one. Now I stand, my legs wide apart, facing the open window, and clutching the window frame. My head is resting on the windowsill between contractions. My moans have gotten louder and stranger. They are more like howling now. I am a wild animal. Rosco wakes up and comes to me in the bathroom.

“Are you okay?” he asks. “Should I call the midwives?”

I see him and know he is trying to talk to me but he is like a foreign creature. I am in another world. I howl back as another contraction rushes through me.

***

Rosco calls the midwives in the middle of the night. Susan hears me in the background. He doesn’t need to say anything. She is on her way.

***

The midwife arrives just before four a.m. It is still dark. I hear the night insects singing. It’s cold out. She is wearing a wool sweater. I greet her in moans. She asks Rosco to get the birth pool ready. He fills it with warm water.

***

The pain is so different from what I expected. It is not cramps. It feels like I am opening. Like I am experiencing some kind of internal metamorphosis.

***

I am losing all control of my bodily functions. I am squatting, standing, sitting, rolling, lying down, on all fours, pulling on Rosco’s shoulders. “How much longer?” I ask the midwife, who cannot answer this for me. I’m scared. I don’t know how long I can go on feeling like this.

***

The midwife suggests I get into the birth pool. The warm water is like a drug. I immediately feel relaxed. I float around in the water, getting on my knees when a contraction comes. I feel like I’m in heaven. I can see Rosco and the midwife in the living room choosing the baby’s first outfit; a gown and hat and socks. They are folding receiving blankets and towels. She calls the other Susan to come now. I know we are near. Suddenly, my contractions slow down and get weaker. The midwife tells me to get out of the water so that my labor does not stall. “This was a little vacation. Now you have to get back to work,” she says.

***

I can’t pee but I have to. My bladder is distended. I can see it bulge. I squat on our porch. Rosco is holding me up. I watch the river. It is raining, cold wet cutting rain. The wind is picking up. I focus on relieving myself. A little pee comes out but I am not relieved.

***

I labor for another full day. My contractions never pick up again. The memory of last night, when we were all expecting to meet the baby, feels like a faraway dream. By the afternoon, the midwives tell Rosco that I’ve been too long in labor and we need my contractions to get closer together and stronger. This is no longer normal. He grabs a stopwatch and takes me outside. The sun is bright. We go for a long walk together. He is my coach. I lift my knees high into the air with every step, grunting and dancing and marching like some tribal native. I get my contractions going again. We return to the midwives victorious.

***

I am exhausted. The midwives are scribbling medical notes down. They ask me if I can sleep. I can. They give me two hours to rest and go out to get some food. I doze off, with Rosco beside me, and am woken by a huge contraction. It’s almost six o’clock at night.

***

When the midwives come back, they do an internal examination. I am fully dilated. They ask if I feel the urge to push. I don’t. They ask if I feel like I have a watermelon in my ass. I tell them no. One Susan says she thinks I should just start practice pushing. Maybe that will encourage baby to come.

***

We’ve given up on the water birth. I need too much hands-on intervention to make it feasible. Now I am lying on our old futons on the living room floor. The midwives are holding me open as I bear down. It is excruciating to be flayed out like this. My contractions are almost nonexistent. The midwives count me down with every push. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, hold it, hold it, breathe. Everyone is cheering me on. They can see the crown with a full head of hair. But the baby is not descending. With every push, it is two steps forward and one step back. I’m not making enough progress.

“What would they do to me in the hospital?” I ask.

“They would give you an IV of Pitocin and you would push your baby out,” one Susan answers.

“Can’t you give it to me now?”

They look at each other and pause. “We could,” Susan says.

“But it would be illegal. It’s so frustrating, midwives carry Pitocin but we are only licensed to administer it in a postpartum emergency.”

“Can I just look at it?” I ask. They hand me the vial. I squeeze it in my hand, hoping that they’ll change their minds and just inject me with it. They don’t. I place it on my chest and focus on the glass, staring at the tiny printed label and clear liquid, as I continue to push without drugs, only sheer will.

***

I am spent but still determined. The midwives check the baby’s heart rate. It is strong and steady. Hearing it gives me courage. “Nothing fazes this baby!” the midwife says. We all laugh in relief.

***

It’s dark again, in the middle of the night. I have been pushing for more than nine hours. The midwives have given up on holding me open. They too are exhausted. Rosco is exhausted. I am done. I can’t push anymore. My energy has evaporated. I try walking around the room, circumambulating the birth pool, desperate to get my contractions going again. The water looks so inviting. I imagine it is my tropical island getaway, an escape from the terror of labor.

***

It is sometime past midnight. No one says anything. There is an elephant in the room. I know the midwives want to take me to the hospital.

“I have to pee,” I say.

“Okay, go upstairs to the bathroom with Rosco and try to pee. You might want to see if you’d like a shower too. Take as long as you need,” Susan says.

I go to the bathroom where I feel comfortable laboring. I try to pee in the toilet but can’t. I get into the shower. Rosco turns on the water and sprays it over me. “If we go to the hospital, can I check in to the birth center?” I ask.

“No,” he answers. “We’d have to go through the emergency room.”

I’m crushed. I know once the doctors find out I’ve been in labor for 53 hours they will order an emergency c-section. But I can’t do this anymore. Rosco looks at me and holds both my hands.

“Antonia,” he says. “You have been amazing and I know you’ve given it your all. But I also know you too well to give up on how strong you are. I know you can do this. I believe you have something more inside of you. So if there is anything left, anything left at all, it’s now or never.”

“Okay,” I say. “I’ll try.”

“Maybe some blood sugar will help.” He goes downstairs to get me some fruit bars. The midwives are napping on the sofas, trying to get some rest so that they can best advocate for me at the hospital. I talk to the baby. I need your help now. I can’t do this alone, I tell it. It’s time. It’s time now to come out baby. I feel a sudden stirring in my pelvis. I bear down in the shower. I feel more pressure building between my legs. It’s the watermelon the midwives have been describing. I walk gingerly down the hall and start down the stairs. I stop halfway down to bear down again. The baby is finally dropping. I don’t say anything to anyone.

“Did you pee?” Susan asks from the sofa.

“No,” I answer. “Can I get into the birth pool one last time and try to pee there?” If I have to go to the hospital, I want my last memory to be my little slice of paradise.

“Okay,” she says. “Take twenty minutes.”

***

I lie in the birth pool, half floating, with my arms over the inflated edge. Rosco is sitting on a chair pulled up next to me, making sure I don’t fall asleep and drown. I do fall asleep. A contraction wakes me up. I push as hard as I can with each contraction, then fall asleep between them. The midwife hears me push and reaches into the water to check the baby’s heartbeat. It has not fluctuated since the beginning of labor. She goes back to sleep on the sofa.

***

I’m pushing now in the water. I can feel the baby moving down. I need more energy. I tell Rosco to feed me the fruit bars. He holds them as I bite, stuffing two whole ones into my mouth. I push harder with every contraction. Then, I reach down between my legs and feel my baby crowning.
“OH MY GOD!” I shout.

The midwives jump up and rush over. One Susan checks me, and the other Susan, wary, asks her if it’s true. She smiles. Yes, yes it’s really happening. They tell Rosco to get into the pool. He does. I am pushing now on all fours. Then the midwives ask me to turn over. I sit with my knees apart, massaging my belly. I can feel my stomach getting flatter. I find the baby’s feet through my belly and massage them, tickle them. The baby is helping me. When I touch its feet, I get another contraction. I tell the midwives I don’t care if I tear in half. I’m going to push this baby out now, here.

***

Rosco is behind me. I am pushing. In one big push, I feel the head slide out. There’s no going back. I’m scared I’ll lose my contractions again, and the baby will be stuck, halfway in halfway out. I try to push again. “Wait for the next contraction,” Susan says. “Slow down for the baby’s sake.”
My baby’s face has emerged. Its eyes are still closed; its nose and mouth are submerged, still breathing through the umbilical cord. Its hand is up, caressing its temple, its fingers poking out. The midwife is holding its hand so she can maneuver it out of the way to deliver the shoulders. This abnormal positioning explains the whole stalled labor. My baby’s arm and elbow were obstructing its passage. I wait and when I feel another contraction coming, the midwife rolls the arms out of the way, and I push the shoulders and body out.

***

I’m in a daze, flooded with relief, joy, love. Susan places my baby on my chest. Rosco is crying.

“It’s a girl,” he blurts out.

After everything I’ve gone through, I deserve a girl. The thought races through my mind without control. I surprise even myself. I never let myself believe how much I really wanted a daughter until now. I look into her eyes. Deep black saucers. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” I hear myself saying to the midwives. I ask them five times if my baby is all right, if she is breathing.

“She’s perfect,” they say. “She’s fine.” They take her Apgar score. She’s a ten out of ten. Her chubby body is covered in white, waxy vernix. She is still attached to me through the umbilical cord, which looks like a beautiful translucent, blue rope.

***

It’s dawn. Rosco cuts the cord and I deliver the placenta in the living room. Finally, I feel light again. My baby murmurs, her lips purse in the primal seeking of my breast. I push my nipple into her small mouth.

***

I moved to Manhattan when I was twenty-four. It took a year of therapy at the Karen Horney Clinic to realize that I had no childhood memories of ever looking into my mother’s eyes. I realize now that this innocent being could care less about our jobs or threadbare rugs. Money has no meaning to her. The most important thing to her is the consistency of love, attention, protection, guidance. We can give her that.

***

After one week, I name my daughter Alvina. “Beloved by all the people.” I go to bed beside her. Her tiny hand reaches out for me in slumber and I hold it. I stare at her sleeping face and watch her smile as she dreams. I wonder what she is dreaming of. Rays of dusty sunshine through the windows, the feel of our cat’s tail, the taste of mother’s milk, the color of grass.


 

Accouchment_JenniferWai-LanStrodl_Photo_smlJennifer Wai-Lan Strodl was born in Toronto. She is a graduate of Princeton University, where she studied English literature and creative writing. She has been an editor at The Sheep Meadow Press, a comic book editor at Marvel Enterprises, and is currently a staff writer for Bard College. She has lived and taught in China and in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where she met her husband. They now live with their beloved daughter, two dogs, three cats, 10 chickens, one Guinea hen, and a rooster in Ghent, New York

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