Published in The Ferndale Record-Journal, September 9, 2009
It might have been sunny that Saturday morning in September of 1980 but I don’t remember for sure.
All I know is that I wanted to get to the hospital so the baby wouldn’t be born on the bathroom floor, like the last one almost was.
This was my third child and the pregnancy had been close to perfect. But I was almost two weeks overdue and was afraid that maybe this baby was never going to come out.
I could picture myself on the front of the National Enquirer under the banner headline, “Terminally Pregnant Woman Discovered in Washington State.”
So when contractions began that morning, I was thrilled. Especially since I was afraid this would be the year I would discover the true meaning of Labor Day. Nope. It was two days before the Monday holiday. My baby would be born on Saturday.
Happiness at the onset of labor can be short-lived. For me, the initial excitement soon gave way to the hard work of birthing—1980s style. It hurts to have a baby. It hurts bad. And this was back in the day when women were compelled to earn a natural childbirth merit badge. No drugs, no epidurals—just the unfettered joy of pushing that baby out into the world. Uh-huh.
Well, this approach had worked fairly well with the two preceding babies. But during this pregnancy, I could tell this little guy was bigger than the others. On top of which, during labor it was discovered he was turned the wrong way. No, this was not going to be easy or joyful. In fact, I remember thinking, “So, this is what it feels like to die during childbirth.”
If someone had offered to hit me over the head with a baseball bat and get that baby out of me, I would have agreed. But instead, I had a kind doctor, a good husband, and nurses who were literal angels of mercy.
People say you forget about the pain and remember only the happiness of having a new baby. I say they’re wrong. I can recreate that overwhelming, impossible feeling in my mind anytime I want, which is almost never, by the way. And I had two more children after him. So, I suppose the sentiment is true.
But what I remember most about that day, of course, is the baby. He was a whopping 10 pounds, with the chubbiest cheeks ever. He was, in my mind, perfection personified.
Last night, on his 29th birthday, I told him over the phone I’d do it all again, that he’d always been a joy, a bright spot in my life. And despite the hardest labor and delivery I can imagine, this is the truth.
In St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bellingham, that day in 1980, another mother had a baby. He was born sick and sometime in the middle of that first night, despite doctors working over him in his little crib, he died. That mother’s sobs will always be carved in my heart. I had my baby and she didn’t.
It’s common for holidays to come with emotion. Sometimes it’s sorrow for those not here anymore, or maybe it’s because we get to share the day with loved ones.
I’m thinking that for most people Labor Day isn’t one of those pivotal days. But this time of year, when the air turns crisp, the spiders come out, and children go back to school, I glaze over a bit.
That day all those years ago, the relentlessness of childbirth, his first squeal, my aching body, the grief of that other young mother, my heart on fire with mommy-love—it all comes flooding back on this day.
And yes, I’d do it all over again. A million times.