Today, my first turns four.
It’s been a mild winter in Iowa, with temps near or above freezing, and not much snow. Folks aren’t enjoying this: seems like everyone’s afraid that this will mean a scorching summer or a corn apocalpyse. But I’ve been loving it; every day I don’t have to wrestle my kids into their coats or worry about my husband driving home at the end of the day is a good one in my book. And, every day I look outside and see clear sidewalks, I say a thank you on behalf of all the enormously pregnant women making their way through the world in winter. Every day they don’t have to strain to pull on their winter boots, shuffle through a slick parking lot, or obsess about how they’d survive and where they’d pee if they became snowbound in the car is a gift.
My daughters were born in January and February, so I’ve lived this life. In fact, my pregnancy with Robin coincided with one of Iowa’s worst winters. February 2008 saw 15 inches of snow, the 3rd snowiest February in over a hundred years; and temps were among the top 25 most frigid winters in the state’s history. I am a petite woman, so 30 lbs of fluid, belly, and baby had nowhere to go but out. The result was alarming lopsidedness: my tummy had its own gravitational pull and I’m probably responsible for some kind of lunar shift that led to all that damn snow. I fell three times late in my pregnancy, and it wasn’t so much the falling that was painful as the muscle strains I got as I used every muscle in my body to try and NOT fall.
Two days before Robin was born, we freaked out and decided we had to buy a second car. We’d been sharing our Camry, a wedding gift from Brian’s parents, which meant I was dropping him off at his co-op clerking job at 5:45 am. I’d leave him at work, then drive to the bagel store, grade papers and eat Everything bagels and drink hazelnut coffee. Robin loved those bagels. I was also taking a cab to campus on Monday afternoons, a surprisingly expensive habit. It had been working, but as my Leap Year due date neared, the notion of taking a newborn on the twenty-minute roundtrip in the frigid pre-dawn was less appealing.
I’ll never forget the expressions on the faces of every salesman at the Toyota dealership. Their desire for our commission competed with the fear that I might slip or fall or, you know, explode and sue them for life. One guy speed-skated his way across the lot to grip my elbow as I climbed ice-coated steps. It was kind, and unnecessary.
Robin came in the night, after a brilliantly sunny and snowy day, about a week earlier than we expected her.
I remember only flashes of my long labor. I remember my doulas getting Sonic for the birth team and oh, the onion breath. I was so deeply resentful that they got to eat tater tots and I got to do all the hard work. I remember when it was dark, and I tried to get some rest upstairs. My doula massaged my feet and led me through a visualization. My husband spooned my back and everything got quiet, even my belly, even my baby. Then a sudden contraction so fierce I believed, I really believed, I’d been ripped in half. I sprang to my feet and tried to run, from the bedroom, the house, the pain. Everyone who’d gone downstairs came back in, murmuring quietly, while I raged and waved my arms a lot. I went to the bathroom and my water broke explosively into the toilet.
The same CD played over and over again; first a romantic early labor choice; then something we were too busy to worry about or change. Later, I burned the CD for my whole birth team. I can’t listen to it anymore; the memories are so intense.
When it flows from the fingers
And turns to stone
It shatters with the touch
Feel the air, breathe it in
Turn the corner, take the bend
Give or take the bend
It’s a spiralling cork-screw path towards you
It’s a sinking, twisted path from me to you
(“When It Flows” by Great Lake Swimmers)
Within a few hours, she was born, quiet and exquisitely beautiful, way more gorgeous and perfect than I ever believed was possible. I sorta thought I’d have a little troll baby, you know, the baby with a face only a mother could love. But Robin was no little troll.
We named her Robin for many reasons, but also because those bright-eyed birdies are harbingers of spring and sure enough, within a few weeks, snow melted and rosy robins were sucking worms from the cracks of our driveway. Pregnancy in deep, midwestern winter was difficult, but I love the joy of birthdays in these dark times. At Christmas, I smile knowing we have celebrations lined up all the way to the vernal equinox. I think of those burrowing little babies who curled in my belly then burst forth with intense light and joy to conquer the darkest of dark times in the year.