Some experiences are a shock to the system, a kick in the butt.
My butt was kicked hard, unexpectedly, and decisively on Wednesday, January 13, 1994, at 5:38 pm. That’s the date and time I gave birth to my first son Diego. (I would have an equivalent yet different shock to the system one more time in my life when my second son Andres was born.)
I say “unexpectedly” because I had a lovely no-risk pregnancy and assumed motherhood would be just as lovely. Except for a stomach bug (amoebiasis) during the first trimester, my pregnancy was textbook perfect.
I actually enjoyed being pregnant.
You know those obnoxious women who gain just the right amount of weight and whose hormones give a boost of radiance to hair and skin? That was me. I basked in the positive attention as if I were special and deserved it.
I would pay for it all come delivery day.
A Visit to the Aquarium
January 13, 1994 was a luminous Monterey, California day, with the weather in the 60s and clear skies once the morning fog lifted. After a lazy morning (we were on break from grad school), we headed to the Monterey Bay Aquarium with my parents, who’d flown in from Venezuela just a few days before.
Some would say it’s the autism, but I’m convinced the ocean theme surrounding Diego’s arrival is the reason for his predilection for seafood and interest in all manner of marine creatures, from the cute puffin to the alien-looking squid (which he loves to “devour”).
Diego was born the year grey whales were removed from the endangered species list. Also, January’s a prime month for sightings in Monterey as the whales migrate from the Bering Sea, where they feed, to Baja California, where their focus turns to breeding.
Us humans sometimes fit feeding and breeding into a single hour. Grey whales, I reckon, prefer to devote proper amounts of time and attention to each of these major life functions.
At any rate, whales are my favorite animal so I could go on and on and on and on, but let’s get back to the extraordinary event that took place on that January day.
The contractions started when we returned home after a two-hour stroll in the aquarium. My due date was a few days away and walking, we’d been advised, was an excellent way to get the ball rolling.
The whole thing, from those first contractions to delivery, lasted about as long as two trips to Costco, which, according to my grocery delivery service (which keeps adding up the hours I’ve saved by ordering online instead of going to the store) take three hours.
There was no time for anesthetics, and the obstetrician showed his face for all of four minutes and twenty-seven seconds or so, the crucial interval between my last push and the sewing of the small tear down there. The walking had worked.
We’d done the Lamaze class where they teach you about how to handle labor and delivery, which helped as much as the macroeconomics class I took my junior year in college. The pain was excruciating, and women who’ve gone through it should come up with a new word for that level of pain.
The breathing they’d had us practice was a cruel joke. I cursed and hollered like my nails were being savagely pulled with pliers. I was furious with Cesar (my husband) and the staff for being so calm, and still suspect the latter thought I was exaggerating.
“I want my goddamned epidural!” I politely requested, only to be told it was ill-advised at that point. “You’re fully dilated, and you need to push the baby out now,” they said.
First Day of Motherhood
And yet, as one hears is the case with “uneventful” vaginal deliveries, the untold pain and burning anger dissipated once the baby came out. In my case, they gave way to relief, awe, fear, and, in time, a kind of love I hadn’t known before – the most unconditional kind of love and the most intimately tied to suffering.
Diego and I were discharged from the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula the next day. Less than 24 hours had passed from the moment I stepped into the hospital to the instant we were wheeled out.
Holding Diego for the first time in the vast world outside the hospital, I felt like a person who’d just won (or lost) a 5-billion-dollar lawsuit. That is to say, like a person for whom a crowd has gathered outside the building to get a statement or a picture as she leaves.
Everything had changed. I looked around me: How could everyone be going about their business as if nothing had happened?