All week, people have been dropping in at work, with ideas and needs and so much school board talk. A stranger dropped in yesterday and mentioned she expected to become a grandmother that day, possibly the next. Candlemas, the ancient festival, forty days after Christmas and its official end. February 3 marks my own holy day, the day my oldest joined us in the world and I crossed over into motherhood.

In labor, I walked outside in Birkenstocks and stared at the melting snow that was running in sunny trickles. Just days after she was born, a fierce cold sunk in to stay. The neighbors brought a blueberry pie. As a toddler, I called this child a wildcat. Now, all grown up, she’s still a cat, with a cat’s complexities — half-feral and blissfully domestic, fierce-clawed and loving.

With worry edging her voice, the stranger told me she expected her family’s birth to be healthy. These usually go well, she noted. I agreed, and we walked out together. The wind carried dry snow over the parking lot. She disappeared in her car, but I stood for a moment longer, remembering my daughter was born shortly before midnight. My long labor ended with a surgeon who held my vernix-smeared baby in his gloved hands so I could see her. Her eyes were wide open, and she looked directly at me.

you a wonder.
you a city
of a woman.
you got a geography
of your own.

— Lucille Clifton

Birthing Day

Twenty years ago, I labored to bring my daughter into this world.

Childbirth parts the scrim over our mundane lives, parts the clouds of our everydayness. Childbirth is just so much. The day descended into darkness, and yet I labored, the one work I absolutely had to do. The end of that labor carried me into darkness, into shivering cold, into fear, ferrying me beyond language.

A roomful of strangers in the middle of night saved my baby’s life, and likely saved my own. I was given—gratis, not a single string attached—utter joy when countless women in other times and places met agony.

The everyday world washed back into my life—as it must for all of us. The stuff of our working lives is made of mother’s milk, chopping leeks for soup, tending our hearths. But each day is imbued with the holiness of a birthing day for mothers. Our lives may tarnish this radiance in our lives, but it’s there yet, unbreakable by human hands.

All human life on the planet is born of woman. The one unifying, incontrovertible experience shared by all women and men is that months-long period we spent unfolding inside a woman’s body.

— Adrienne Rich


Before the Birth

13 years and a day ago, I walked down to our sugarhouse and closed the double front doors. Rain had fallen every day in that May, but that morning promised to be sunny.

After prolonged medical discussions, I had agreed to a caesarian for this second child. That morning, I leaned against the rough boards of our sugarhouse, with my enormous belly, looking at the wild red trilliums.

My six-year-old was eating breakfast with her father in the kitchen. I knew we would leave soon, that my two friends would be meeting us. But I kept leaning against the door, in one of those moments where time drifts away. I was so ready to meet this little child, to know who this new person in the world might be — and far above all — to know this baby was born well and whole.

I didn’t know then the natural sweetness of this child. I didn’t know, either, that her easygoing temperament would evolve as she grew into a wordless strength, that by the time this child was ten, her family would had shrunk to just a few of us. But I did know what an incredible piece of good fortune I had to be a mother to a second child. If anything, I know this more deeply now.

When she was born, this tiny girl could lie in my left arm, her head in my elbow, her miniature toes in my palm. She would lie there, blinking her little eyes, as though wondering, What now?

….may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back…

— Lucille Clifton


Turning 19 or 20? Whatever

Birthing a baby through Caesarian may not be the low-light, mystical ideal, but it suffices. My daughter turns 19 today, although she’s decided she wants to be 20, so we’re going with 20 this year, with plans to do 20 again next year.

After a prolonged labor, a surgeon very quickly delivered her. In the dreamlike world of the OR, where the adults rustled in gowns and masks, the surgeon held up this tiny baby in his hands for me to see. In that room filled with sterile white light, the baby was vernix-greasy, pink and wet, intently alive. Unwittingly or not, in that crowded room she looked directly at me. Suffused with joy and drugs, I had the keenest sense of familiarity: I knew this baby.

A few years later, when my father was laughing so hard he took off his glasses, I realized the shape of her eyes mirror his.

the world… was not enough for (my mother) without me in it,
not the moon, the stars, Orion
cartwheeling easily across the dark, not the
earth, the sea, none of it was
enough for her, without me.

— Sharon Olds, “The Planned Child”