Birthing Day

14 years ago I walked down to our sugarhouse in the early morning and leaned against the doors, a piece of me longing to remain there, static, still, until eternity. We never locked anything in those days. I was there to simply close the doors with an eyehook as we expected to be gone for a few days.

Unlike my first pregnancy, I knew at a certain point in my second pregnancy that this child would be born by caesarian. While I was leaning against the rough boards of those doors, my husband and 6-year-old daughter were breakfasting on oatmeal in the kitchen.

I was utterly unprepared to become a mother again. I hadn’t even begun to imagine names for this child — girl or boy, that morning we still didn’t know. But all pregnancies end, one way or another, as everything does in this world. On this 14thanniversary of my second birthing day, I’m always reminded of being on that extremely ancient and utterly contemporary world journey of motherhood, of bringing babes into this world, tending them, raising them, all the while gradually letting go. An infinity of mothers have passed through this earthly realm, and yet, what sacred largesse.


Living the Dream—With Pie

Twenty years ago, I was about to cross over into motherhood. I was incredibly curious to see my baby’s face, to meet this brand-new person who had been growing and swimming within me for nine months. Eventually, she was born via an emergency caesarian. On the table, my first flooding impulse, when the surgeon held up my baby in his gloved hands for me to see—even before the flooding relief that she was born healthy and well— was I know you. Her eyes were wide open. Across that cold and noisy operating room, she stared directly at me.

Twenty years later, so much living has gone down between us. Playdough and Charlotte’s Web, a million meals, diapers to driving, broken hearts and happiness: the stuff of life.


Journeys, More Journeys

Near the end of the last century — which really wasn’t all that long ago — my then-boyfriend and I spent a lot of time driving around the country. We were so young, and time seemed like an endless well we might draw from forever.

The other night, driving to the airport in the descending dusk, I remembered blood-red sunsets as we made our way across the midwest.

I think of the decades of my pre-children life as two-dimensional, although I know that’s not true. But when I became a mother, my own life grew, too, in ways I had never imagined.

In Burlington, I looked for a cup of coffee, but in that end of the city nothing was open but a Shell station where I saw a man bent over, mopping the floor. I stood in the new spring warmth and didn’t go in.

At the airport, two taxi drivers were laughing outside, talking in an accent I couldn’t recognize. Inside, it was just myself for a while, leaning against a wall and reading, and then slowly the airport filled up. Neighbors unexpectedly met each other, and I heard the update about a maple tree, blown over in a recent thunderstorm.

Then from that infinite night sky, my two daughters appeared, one tanned and one sunburnt, bursting with stories of their journey.

The only journey is the one within.

— Rilke


Frijoles Canyon, New Mexico

The Great Wide World

Early this morning, on what promised to be an incredibly balmy Vermont day, I read with intense fascination a few pages my father had emailed me. The pages were from Sherwin Nuland’s How We Die, about a horrific and bizarre murder of a young girl. Having two daughters myself, I read with agony. In this excerpt, Nuland clips in a lengthy written piece by the child’s mother. She described her own sensation of warmth at the murder scene, and a calmness in her dying child’s eyes, as though the actual event of dying had been cosseted – or eased–  in some inexplicable way for the child and the mother present at her violent death.

While I have been fortunate beyond measure never to experience that kind of trauma or grief, three times in my life I have had a wholly mystical experience at pivotal junctures.

At the caesarian birth of my second child, lying prone on the table, I had a forceful urge to rise up and leave the room, that I would suffocate imminently if I did not move. With the anesthesia, of course, I couldn’t do more than raise my arms and head, and then abruptly I was external to my body. With a clear understanding that I was drifting towards the ceiling, as if I were a helium balloon, the voices of the operating room lessened, words receding into murmurs. I had a profound sense of calm, and I had no regrets about slipping away. Then I heard an infant crying, a thin, plaintive wail, and I thought (this seems quite odd now), Whose baby is that, crying and alone? I thought how cold it was in that room for a baby. Later, I thought I had pity for that baby, but perhaps, more accurately, it was empathy. Abruptly, I realized that crying baby was mine, and instantaneously I was back in my body in the OR, begging to hold my newborn.

I first met this daughter through sound, not through the flesh of a vaginal birth or a wet and squirming infant laid against my bare breast. Yet the bond between the two of us is impermeable. My impulse to nourish and protect this child – to mother her – is as mighty as any universal law, consistent as gravity pulling falling apples to earth. Repeatedly over the years, I’ve thought of that Shakespearian line There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,/Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Those wonders, certainly, are far more faceted than simple pleasure, in our world filled with such joy and such incredible grief. And yet, reading this morning, again I realized how wide is our universe, infinitely wiser than its players.

As a confirmed skeptic, I am bound by the conviction that we imust not only question all things but be willing to believe that all ithings are possible.

– Sherwin B. Nuland, How We Die


Photo by Molly S./Burlington Airport, Vermont