I was born ready.
I have always known what I liked and what I wanted. And I’m pretty set on getting it, most of the time. And I don’t like to wait.
My entire childhood, my dad would sing to me, “How do you solve a problem like Caroline Maria?” To the point where my brothers were adults before they learned that my middle name is not actually “Maria”.
“How do you keep a wave upon the sand?”
A tiny girl with big opinions and an even bigger appetite did not fit in my rather Southern family from Memphis, Tennessee, where I learned to love BBQ, and wore matching bows and dresses to the Baptist church every Sunday. My mama would take me to the bow shop to pick out all of my bows to coordinate with my church dresses. She loves to tell and retell the story of how flabbergasted she was when I marched into the shop, grabbed the bow I wanted, and immediately wanted to leave. But the matching! The dresses! The color coordination! The seasons! Do you know that colors have seasons? And if I came out of my room in pastels anytime other than in March, April, or May, my mama would cluck disapprovingly, “you look like a spring chicken!”
How could I instantly know what I wanted the moment that I walked into a store? And then immediately leave?
“You’re so decisive.” My mama sighed. She sighed a lot when I was growing up. And then I got married. And my husband took over the sighing.
When it came to having children, aside from short lived stents in early childhood when I wanted 6 and 10 children (but always, always, even numbers), I knew I wanted four kids. 2 boys, and 2 girls. I grew up in a family of 3 and I hated it. It seemed like having 4 kids was the obvious fix to my difficult family life. And babies were born close together. Because honestly, I just didn’t know other options existed.
So after having three children in less than four years, I knew I wanted just one more. It was my plan. Even if a lot of my timing was very off. (Yeah, no, being a teen parent was not my plan).
But something weird happened.
Suddenly, I was terrified of having a fourth baby. I did not want to have a last baby. Ever. I have loved having babies, watching them grow (too quickly) and grasping onto their babyhood just a little bit longer with taking photos. So many photos. And I did not want that to end.
I began to think strange thoughts that hardly seemed like my own.
‘Maybe I won’t have all of my kids close together,’ I thought. I would change my plan, and drag it out forever- always waiting on that fourth child to complete our family, and never having to face the lasts.’
‘I’m too young to be done having kids’.
‘I’ll just wait.’
‘I’m just not ready.’
But like dejavu, a day before Eleanor’s first birthday, I peed on a stick just to be sure I wasn’t, after my dad asked if I were pregnant. I don’t recommend asking someone that, by the way.
As I stared with my mouth gaping in complete disbelief, two pink lines stared back at me, and I said aloud, “I’m not doing this today.” I chucked the First Response into a basket up on a shelf, and went about my plans. Later that day, my sister-in-law, Deborah, asked when we were going to have our fourth. I did not have to respond, because my lack of response was enough. She congratulated me with a, “wow, that’s so perfect!” And I responded half-heartedly, “yes, almost too perfect.” Because, I wasn’t ready.
When I found out I was pregnant with Dmitri, I was terrified. But I had hope, and a naive sense of adventure and excitement. With Damon, I was surprised I got pregnant so quickly, but I was happy. With Eleanor, I was quite ecstatic. We had been trying for a few months and my hormones were wonky and it was a longed-for moment. But this time, I was just sad.
I did pregnancy all over again. The nausea, vomiting, food aversions, exhaustion, debilitating migraines, pubic symphysis- all of the “my body hates being pregnant” things. (If it’s a pregnancy symptom, I have had it. Things I have never heard of or could have ever imagined. It’s all happened. My body is quite literally allergic to being pregnant). All of that misery and discomfort just watered my sadness, allowing it to grow- because I definitely did not want to be pregnant again. Ever. At least there was that last.
And so that last baby grew and grew and grew. And I found myself incredibly pregnant, and miserable, and still completely unready.
Christmas came and went. It was a new year.
I kept living my life, ignoring the watermelon that was permanently attached to my body as best as I could. I did all the things. Trips to Atlanta, museums, parks, play dates, nothing stopped, because I wasn’t ready for anything to stop. I just kept going. At 39.5 weeks I went to Fernbank alone with all three kids. If I just pretended like nothing was happening, it would never happen, right?
January 22nd came, I was over 40 weeks pregnant, and we spent a beautiful Georgia winter day at the park. After 6 hours and a sunburn, we came home to make some dinner. And I felt absolutely terrible, which was nothing new at all. I laid my head on the kitchen counter, trying to do anything to relieve the back pain that was radiating through my body.
“Are you in labor? Should I call Debi?” David said, as I glared at him.
“NO. My back just hurts.” I snapped as we ate dinner.
I laid down with Dmitri and Damon to put them to bed, while David took Eleanor for a walk.
And as I laid there, I had a contraction.
I laid completely still. Maybe if I were still enough, it wouldn’t happen again. But a few minutes later, there was another.
And I wasn’t ready.
I called David. Panicked. And he didn’t pick up. Which made me even more panicky.
I knew I wasn’t ready.
And so I called my midwife. “I’m having contractions. Get here fast.”
But what I meant was, “Somebody save me. I’m not ready for this.”
David came home, and I was pissed that he hadn’t picked up the phone. And he laughed at me, “I knew you were in labor.”
I baked muffins.
And my contractions went from every few minutes to constant, unsubsiding, intense pain. And I got on my hands and knees, praying, gasping, and so very not ready for any of this. As long as I stayed on my hands and knees, I could somehow make it through each contraction. But if I stood up, the contractions were inseparable. They were constant.
David and Jessica, the midwife’s assistant bustled around, preparing the bed and the birth tub, and I labored on the sofa, alone, in the dark, and out of control, as my body took over. I grasped onto the arm of the sofa, holding on as if for dear life.
At some point, I had to use the bathroom. I was terrified to stand up, knowing how intense it was. I crawled on my hands and knees across the entire house, and doing all that I could to slow this freight train down. Because that’s what this labor felt like- being hit by a freight train. There was no ebbing or flowing or waves or calm or strength or grace. There was no breathing or meditation or low sounds or “ommms”. There was nothing but an uncontainable wildness. An intensity that I’ve never felt before, or witnessed since.
I eventually was able to get into the birth tub, which is a giant inflatable tub with a cushy bottom and handles. Oh the handles. They are my favorite part of birth tubs. But for this wild ride, they were all that kept me literally hanging on. I was barely in the tub before I felt like pushing. With my other three I had labored in a tub, and then gotten out before they were born. David turned to the midwife and said, “isn’t she going to get out?” And she responded “if she wants to.”
I’m not sure whether I responded with words or just with a look. But, there was no getting me out of that tub. I wasn’t ready.
I started wildly screaming like a banshee, and I woke up Damon, who was 3. In between screams and pushing, I tried to reassure him that mama was ok. He looked on with rapt curiosity. And then, suddenly, as if I didn’t know what was coming at the end of all this, as if I hadn’t done this three times before- there was a baby.
I sat back against the side of the pool and lifted up the tiny body cradled in my arms. I turned to my midwife and asked, “what is it?!” She said, “I don’t know! Look and see!” I looked down and burst into sobs as I held her body against mine. David turned again to the midwife and said, “what does that mean?!” And she said, “I’m pretty sure that means it’s a girl.” As I held her there, she lay perfectly peacefully and sound asleep, completely undisturbed by her entrance into the world or my sound effects. She didn’t cry or blink or whimper. It was an eerily beautiful and quiet ending to completely batshit labor.
Emmanuelle Blanche was born at 9:46 pm, and I still wasn’t ready.
She has taught me that life doesn’t wait for us to be ready. And no amount of ignoring ever makes something go away. She’s taught me to live in the present moment because it’s the only one that exists. And she’s shown me that life is a wild ride.
All of my other kids got birth stories within a few weeks of their births. But I’m finishing composing Emmanuelle’s on the eve of her fourth birthday.
Emmanuelle, I’m finally ready.