In elementary school, I made a diorama of a girl going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. A Reebok shoe box was utilized (my own sneakers, black high top Freestyles w. light pink shoelaces later added). The waterfalls were made of blue and clear cellophane. The barrel was a mass of Mod Podge and brown paper.
Earlier that year, I had dreamed about taking such a trip on my own, waking just as the barrel coasted over the edge and began the long freefall. The longest portion of the dream was a seemingly interminable drift along the quiet river, tortured by the knowledge that I could come to the terrifying end of the ride at any moment. Would it be five minutes or five seconds?
That dream came back to me more than 15 years later as I paced up and down the hallway of the maternity ward. I had already been there for 12 hours, waiting for something to happen. The pain was intensifying with each passing hour. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast the day before. I felt as if I was losing my mind. Just a few hours ago, I had put on my shoes and announced to my mother, “Well, this is just ridiculous. I’m going home. I’ve gotten really accustomed to being pregnant, so why not just stick with it for a few more days, months, years?”
I’m not going to bore you with the “Miracle of Life” details. I won’t tell you about the medications I received or the various doctors I saw. Nor the large number of those little plastic cups of hospital orange juice that I consumed. I won’t even mention being high on morphine at one point and laughing SO hard at an Elton John performance, that my disturbed grandmother pleaded with me to try to go to sleep or something.
Instead I will tell you this: I was fucking terrified. I had spent the last few months, hiding in my mother’s house, reading long dreary Russian novels and listening to early-nineties gangsta rap. I emerged only to go to a drawing studio at the nearby college. And there was the crying. Hours and hours every night while wearing my dead boyfriend’s clothes, after my mom went to bed. Usually around midnight, my mom would emerge from her bedroom to make me herbal tea and watch some sort of cheery old movie with me. I could not/would not speak to any of my Chicago friends. This left only two people in my life: my mom (my new best friend) and my life long best friend, Laura (Dylan’s godmother). And this was just fine, as I had very little to say. I was killing time, coasting along in my little grief-filled barrel, waiting to take the plunge.
I eschewed birthing classes, because the thought of being surrounded by happy couples (read: both parents are alive and well-ish) made me sick. Instead, my mom and I read lots of books. We knew what we were doing. So I wasn’t afraid of the actual process. And I was pretty certain (well, mostly) that I was not going to die in childbirth. Then again, I was well aware that I seemed to be in the midst of a losing streak, so it was always possible.
The pain was a non-issue. I mean, yeah, labor hurts. But I knew that there would be drugs and numb legs for the worst part.
I was afraid of being someone’s mother. What if we hated one another? What if she (because by then, I knew that a girl was in my future) blamed me for her father’s death? What if I was just a really bad parent? What if I became one of those women crazed with post-partum depression who drowns her kids in the lake before running off with a married man? And so on. Those of you than know me in real, non-internet life–and even those of you that have been reading my blog for quite a while–know that I am an anxious weirdo, spending a lot of time worrying about every possible bad outcome to any situation…even if it’s something minor like, “What if I bought too many bananas at the grocery store and then they get brown and then I get fruit flies in the kitchen?” This is not a new affliction. With no job, no social life, and an inability to watch films/read books with any romantic or tragic (read: death) content, I had a lot of time on my hands to ponder the long list of potential problems.
Dylan was stubborn about being born. I couldn’t sleep or eat or really walk around after a certain point. Things got hazy. My blood pressure inexplicably dropped and suddenly I was receiving drugs to keep me alive. A day later, I was still waiting. Relatives dropped by. I played a game of gin rummy with my grandma. The phone next to my bed rang non-stop with callers requesting status updates.
I was watching The Simpsons on the tiny TV above my hospital bed when without warning–keep in mind, my grasp of time and reality was tenuous at best after days without sleep and food–it was time for the main event.
Nurses were scurrying around, transforming the space into a sterile delivery room. Walls disappeared. My bed was pushed across the room.
Just as bright lights appeared and my doctor was putting on gloves and my best friend was pulling out her camera…the full weight of it all hit me.
This was it.
The end of the river.
The start of the fall.
And nothing was at all as I had planned it. No beaming partner/father-to-be. Instead, just my mom, grandma, and best friend. No XY chromosomes in this room. I had no job. I was living with my mom in rural Pennsylvania. My artist boyfriend and our bohemian lifestyle were part of some long lost dream. Now I had only Medicaid and the love of my mother.
After hours of numbness and confusion, I was brought back to earth with an agonizing thud. I found myself throwing up orange juice and salty tears. I couldn’t do this. I could not survive more disappointment. If just then, someone had offered me the use of a time machine, I would have traveled back to that April Fool’s Day when I had met Ryan. And I would have gone to a movie instead.
I turned to my mom. “I just can’t do this. I’m sorry.” She pulled a photo of Ryan from her purse and put it under my pillow. “I know you say you don’t believe in anything, but I know that Ryan is here in some way. For five minutes, or ten…however long this takes, just let yourself believe that he is part of this.”
And with that–and a few minutes of encouragement and breathing and pushing and all of the other stuff involved–Dylan was born.
I didn’t see her for five minutes, as she was being cleaned, poked, and prodded, all in the name of healthcare. I could hear her screaming just five feet away. I craned for a view, but I saw nothing.
When she was finally handed to me, she was wrinkly, peely, and not at all lovely. And she was voicing her displeasure with her newly begun life.
“Hi, Dylan,” I said almost shyly. And she immediately stopped crying. I know babies can’t see very well, but I swear she looked right into my eyes. And with that, I was in love. I knew that somehow, some way, everything would be okay…even if nothing had gone as planned.
I finally understood the word “bittersweet.”
On October 24, 1901, 63-year-old Michigan school teacher Annie Edson Taylor was the first person to go over the Falls in a barrel as a publicity stunt; she survived, bleeding, but virtually unharmed. Soon after exiting the barrel, she said, “No one should ever try that again.”
The newborn D. R. M-S. weighed almost ten pounds, despite my doctor’s forecast of 6-7 lbs. Now seven years old, she enjoys kittens, trampy plastic dolls, and reading aloud. She thinks vegetarianism is “stupid.”