Two years ago, Opal was born late on a Friday night–pizza night in our house. After supper we walked across the street to the park. I recall sitting on the bench, breathing through easy contractions, and watching the boys run around the playground. I knew then, and I looked over at John, saying, “Time we said goodbye to this family of four. This baby will be here soon.” It’s a bittersweet moment. No matter how much anticipation and joy a baby brings, there is also the letting go of what has been and will never be again. We do it everyday, in tiny moments, but when the threshold is so great we cannot help but feel the loss as acutely as the joy.
I told her birthday story that night for the first time, after a week long story about waiting for the spring flowers to wake up. I could tell by their wide eyes that the boys deeply sensed the world shifting around them. They went to bed late that night, about 8 o’clock. Afterwards, we took the last few belly pictures and I took a shower.
Now, mind you, I had called my poor midwife around 6 that evening to tell her that I thought I might be in early labor that maybe my water had broken, but yes, of course she could keep a social engagement an hour from our house. We had plenty of time. (Lucien, the shorter of my two previous births, made his way into the world in about 15 hours.) By 9 I was uncomfortable, and to be honest, unsettled by the sudden increase of strong, close together contractions. By 9:30 the midwife was on her way, and while we joke that she nearly missed the birth, that is an exaggeration for narrative brilliance, of course. She arrived well in time to do what midwives do so well, remind us that we are stronger than we ever realized.
I don’t remember too much about the birth except that it was fast and hard. I recall John doing a lot in the background, and asking myself when birthing had become something of a habit for both of us. I recall the apprentice midwife had mismatched socks. I spent a good chunk of time watching them while hanging over the side of the birth tub. I think I said, “I can’t do this for very much longer,” and someone responded, “I don’t think you’re going to have to.” Just before my body gave way to involuntary pushes, I said to myself “I am never doing this again,” and then I remembered that I had said that twice before.
Then, out of me and into the world, with the euphoria and relief that can only be present in birth, Opal arrived just after 11pm. Passed from my body to John’s hands, to my hands, she stared quietly up at us–the complete stillness that follows a vernal thunderstorm.
She hasn’t changed much since that first day. She’s still in a hurry and refuses to be left out of anything, nor be helped with much these days, “Opal do it myself!” She’s careful in her own way, never moving so quickly that she can’t keep up with herself. We’re seeing that storm more and more as we enter the era of temper tantrums. She stamps her foot and pouts and yells “no” with a red face when life doesn’t go her way. But, when it does, her joy does not stop with her. It spills out around her and pulls everyone in. If her joy does not grab you, her laugh will. And when we are sad, she sees into the darkest corners of our hearts and blesses them with her own special balm, “You feelin’ sad, Mama? Opal hug you. Now feel better.”
Yes, Opal, we do.