Your Birth Story

The author’s two sons

The body is cold to the desires of the heart. The body is a jungle with unfathomable hierarchies both brutal and lethal, order disguised as chaos, incomprehensible even to its own mind. And the body has a way of responding to the tiniest of imperfections; something as small as a raspberry seed lodged in the pit of your molar can feel like an unbearable weight until it is rinsed free and released.

My fourth miscarriage was with twins, conjoined twins. Even after a successful birth, difficult decisions must be made by parents of conjoined twins. Separation surgery poses risks that can be life threatening for one or both infants, depending on where the connection lies.

On the night that I miscarried, I crept to the bathroom alone, sat down, and felt myself spin and relax until my head dovetailed with the floor. Moments later I woke up to my husband Calvin, holding me, calling my name; there was a crime scene of blood covering my body and the white tiles.

Earlier that night we attended a Christmas party in a warm home located in Sugar House, an old Salt Lake City neighbourhood where golden leaves make mountain ranges along autumnal sidewalks and pioneer homes are decked with garlands and lights for Christmas. A fresh pine was gleaming, green boughs draped over the mantle, and a friend was playing carols on the piano and singing. I was sitting on a light grey Scandinavian couch and listening to the nostalgic music when the familiar dull ache set in.

I had known for nearly a week that the pregnancy wasn’t viable. Where there should have been two frantic hearts, racing over 100 beats per minute, there was silence. In an attempt to comfort me, the ultrasound tech explained that the twins I was carrying had a high risk of remaining conjoined, so the fact that their tiny hearts weren’t beating was, “probably a good thing”, she said.

A good thing.

I read that about half of conjoined twins are stillborn, and that a smaller fraction of pairs who are born living come with “abnormalities incompatible with life”. I wondered if maybe I too was incompatible with life.

After a fifth miscarriage, I began seeing a specialist who wanted to monitor my sixth pregnancy as early as possible. In spite of his braggadocio and insensitivity, I accepted his treatment plans.

“Women fly in on private jets from Qatar to consult with me and if they are over 40 and have never been pregnant, I tell them to get a new dream.”

His bluntness was cruel, but I wanted to face the truth that I may not bear children. His arrogance both stung and kindled hope and miraculously, even without any expert intervention, there was nothing wrong with my sixth pregnancy. Laying in a dark ultrasound room on a bed covered in paper, with tears streaming down my cheeks and cold goop on my belly, I heard the best sound I will ever hear; the echoing, booming, urgent, beautiful, frenetic rhythm of an embryo’s galloping heart.

The night before my son was born I tried to sleep off my labour, as it was still two weeks before my due date. But like a crying newborn in the night, contractions woke me, pushing back sleep with intense throbbing. I called my mom in Toronto, to ask for her advice. She told me to get to the hospital. I pictured her getting out of bed, emailing her boss, clients, and colleagues, booking a flight to Salt Lake and getting a ride from her home off Queen East all the way to Mississauga.

Women in our family tend to have precipitous labours; my grandmother gave birth to auntie Lori in her New Westminster bedroom, alone, still wearing gardening gear. Years later my younger sister had an unplanned home birth in her apartment on Broadview and Danforth. Streetcars and taxis, bursting with rush hour passengers, drove by, oblivious to Lindsay’s labour.

While we don’t all reproduce, we are united in that none of us created ourselves. Our humble but heroic beginnings are all the same; we simply existed, and somehow, by some grace, we swam fast enough to settle in the safe zone of a tiny egg sack where we managed to thrive and eventually to surrender to the moments of intense transition that precede creation and birth of all kinds.

Often we think of babies as helpless and incapable in spite of the fact that to be an infant is to be a fighter, a survivor of a lightless, otherworldly land. Our shared origin, the womb, is the Amazon Rain forest; it is a lush cacophony of both life and brutality; while one wrong move can lead to death, new life can also emerge in what appears to be a spontaneous fashion because of how minuscule its origins are. All humans survived that first wet wilderness; and the first minutes of our lives outside the womb are a blinding explosion of light. Intense relief and joy are felt by our mothers while we, their babies, inhale our first gasps of air and struggle to find our way to life, safety, security, a warm breast. And when my child was born, I knew that I had descended below the earth, below faith and deep into fear, perhaps to the very border of life and death itself, and when I emerged once again from the depths, the after birth high pulsed through me, like a choir shouting that existence is ecstasy! And I ached to be a better person, because of how much I loved that small creature who was born at noon, on the first day of Spring, after labouring with fortitude through the long dark night.