As I type this, one child of mine is napping upstairs in her room, another is playing quietly with her cars in the family room, and a third–my third!–is snuggled beside me on the couch, furiously working at his hospital-issued pacifier and staring at the shadows dancing on a throw pillow with the pointed fascination only a tired two-week-old can muster. I’ve been so anxious to write this post for days now, but now that I’m sitting down, staring at the screen, all I can do is think, three. We have three. My God, my life is full.
Cian Xavier (it’s pronounced “Key-yen,” and means ancient, enduring. It’s also the name of an old Celtic hero who got all PO’d at some Irish king and impregnated his daughter in retaliation, but nevermind that, please. Actually, just forget I told you, okay?) has entered our lives as if he’d always been here, sweet and mellow and desperate to be held all the time. He’s a boy. A BOY, which means that I’ve had to figure out how to dodge the vertical stream of pee that inevitably occurs as soon as a warm wipe hits his skin. A boy, which surprisingly meant that I was in tears the day after he was born when the nurse carted him off to be circumcised, because oh my gosh how cruel and barbaric and how could we do such a thing to our perfect precious son we are ANIMALS. He’s a boy, which I never even knew I wanted until his first cries pierced the air after he was born. But you know how it is with children. As much as we think we’re prepared, we never realize how much we’ve wanted this exact person until he or she is placed in our arms. And then it’s like, of course: I knew you all along. I’ve loved you my whole life. It’s nice to meet you.
I had a scheduled repeat c-section, as most of you know, that, unfortunately–or fortunately, I suppose–was not quite routine this time around. My pregnancy got super painful by the end of it–tons of wraparound sciatic pain that would make my legs give out from under me (very attractive, that), and by the end, every time the baby would move around in my belly, especially if he was moving his hands or head, I would have sworn to you he was trying to crawl his way out of me, it hurt so bad. But it was a third pregnancy, I figured. I carry low, I thought. No biggie.
Surgery started as it always does–that is, with me shaking from nerves like someone stuck in an electrical fence, begging the anesthesiologist to please pump me with whatever magical drug would prevent me from barfing all over his very expensive shoes, chitchatting with my OB like I was Lorelai on an old episode of Gilmore Girls (you know, super fast, with lots of sarcasm, attempting numerous jokes that may or may have not fallen flat as soon as they came out of my mouth. I get chatty when I get nervous. But I did find out that my doctor is from Jamaica, her husband and partner in the practice is from Zimbabwe, and she gets her very good eyebrow shape from careful application of powder and pencil. In case you were wondering). But then it seemed like it was taking a really long time for the actual delivery to take place. The painful tugging and pulling I’d come to expect and dread from a major surgery for which you’re forced to stay conscious was worse than I’d experienced even with Saoirse’s birth. It was awful. I kept looking to David to talk to me, keep my mind off of what was going on on the other side of the curtain. And then I heard my OB’s sharp intake of breath.
“Leah!” she said. “I can see your membranes!”
There was silence. I waited. I think I asked her what that meant.
There was more silence, if I remember correctly, and some muttering from the people with their hands in my insides. Then I heard my doctor say something about the membranes being loose, about there being a five-(inch? centimeter?) “window” in my uterine wall so thin that through it she actually see the white vernix coating the baby’s skin. I remember the concern and shock in her voice, and thinking that maybe it was a bad thing to hear concern and shock in your surgeon’s voice. I remember starting to pepper her with questions until the anesthesiologist shushed me and told me to “let her do her job.” And I remember searching David’s face, trying to find an answer in his expression, but all he did was smile at me. Later I found out he was worried about the same thing: was I going to be okay? Was the baby all right? No one could answer me. I was so scared. And the pain. My right shoulder ached for days from pulling at the restraints on my wrists, as if I could help. As if I could see for myself if everything would turn out okay.
But it did. After ages, it seemed, I felt the sudden emptiness in my belly as they pulled our son free, and I heard the scream–the SCREAM–of this baby who was clearly not happy that he was ripped so suddenly from that warm, dark place. And they announced it was a boy and he was huge and beautiful and ours and of course I cried, because you would, too. He was bruised and battered and had a giant black-and-blue lump on his skull from the vacuum they had to use to pull him out, but he was here. And he was okay.
He’s asleep now, with the pacifier half hanging out of his mouth like the beer bottle of a college kid who drank too much and passed out mid-party. But he’ll be up soon, wanting to be fed. And he’ll be awake every couple of hours tonight, wanting meals that only I can give him, wanting to be held until he falls back to sleep again, crying until he hears my voice and smells my smell and knows by our presence that he is safe.
When we talked afterward, my OB said that my uterus was so thin the only thing holding in Cian was the scar tissue on my incision. I’d been contracting, often heavily, in the days leading up to his birth. We had no idea, of course, how risky this was. We had no clue that we’d be told this would have to be the last biological child I ever carry. We never guessed that the baby I was carrying could have been lost before we knew him. But the good doctor told me that if I’d gone into labor on my own my uterus would have ruptured, I would have hemorrhaged, and the results would have been “catastrophic” for Cian. Scary word, that one. I write about it to document it, to remember this strange feeling as I look at him, at this precious dozing son of mine who insists on seeing me every hour or so throughout the night, driving me crazy with exhaustion, making me tear up from lack of sleep, causing me to wonder if life will every resume a normal routine again.
I am exhausted. I am so sleep-deprived it makes me anxious. We’ve had so much help these past few weeks I worry about the transition to life on our own. I’m still not supposed to lift the laundry or push the vacuum or chase after a child, but I’m desperate for life to return to the normal, monotonous-yet-insanely-busy patterns to which we’re accustomed. But at the same time, I love these days of cuddling that small little person on my chest. I’m giddy over the tiny clothes hanging in the closet. I’m in love with the sight of our son in his dad’s arms, or seeing the girls crowded together on the couch, asking if it’s their turn to hold him yet. And I’m still struck by that surreal feeling of looking at my new child and realizing that I was always meant to love him, that it was a given he would become part of me, a part of our family. It’s like, of course you’re here. Where else would you be?
I will remember this, all of this, as I trudge to his room around 2:30 this morning to change yet another poop-filled diaper, to sit with aching muscles in the glider to feed him again, to lie back down in bed only to get up again when his voice reverberates over the monitor. In the quiet of those dark, early morning hours, my tired mind will race, will ping-pong back and forth between bone-tired desperation and a feeling of absolute gratitude. He was meant to be here. And yet, could have not been.
But he is here. He’s looking at me right now. So I’m going to go hold him, and take care of him, and not think about the “what if” anymore. He is my son–my son!–and he’s joined a happy, busy, active family of five fiercely loving people. He is here.