I ate porridge in the hours before you were born. I will tell you that the porridge was warm and sweet and I ate it sitting on the ledge of our home fireplace. I won’t tell you that giving birth is easy for me: it seems to require a kind of surrender that I have not yet mastered. Still, I felt lucky to labor on such a cold night and don’t you worry, it was not all hard. I woke up to contractions in the earliest hours of January the 18th and I let my household sleep. I wanted solitude. I wanted to clean my home to my satisfaction, no matter how dark the hour. I sung and hummed through those first contractions. I scented the new white washcloths, rolling them in warm water, wringing them and placing them in a large ceramic bowl. I may not have as many pictures of your birth, Rosa Maeve, but I have the memory of being alone with you in this way, fearlessly alone, before I knew you would be a girl or what your name would be. With you tightening in my belly, I moved the couch by myself back to its proper place against the living room wall (I had been sleeping on it next to the fireplace to keep warm), I lit the candles on the mantle and the ones on my birth altar in the bedroom, I added a solid log to the fire. I didn’t need anyone but you in the first hours of my labor. I felt entirely self-reliant, entirely capable: surely that is the gift of having done this once before.
At some point, my humming woke Celeste, who woke your dad, who called the midwife. As often happens when the midwife arrives, my labor stopped. I tried kissing my husband and I tried some nonsense with my nipples because folks always say that makes the contractions pick up. “Sometimes your body gives you a little break so you can sleep,” my midwife assured me. So she left and we slept with the candles burning and the house smelling of wood smoke and warm wax. Tim fell asleep first as he does and always will and I was alone with you again. I was six centimeters dilated and I sincerely wondered if I was actually in labor.
I ate the porridge sometime around 8:00am. Your grandmother took Celeste in the middle of the night because she started vomiting in what was certainly an attempt to upstage me at my own birth. With our toddler gone, it was remarkably quiet. This simple moment with my porridge and my husband and my stalled labor was what I would have called a date, the last one we would have for a very long time.
Rosa, on the day before you were born I sat in our old Pontiac that smells like rain in the grocery store parking lot and willed you to come. I need a smaller baby and a smoother labor this time, I prayed. You are invited. Your crazy father had already stopped going to work as if he simply knew that you were coming, even though your due date was still a week away and he knew full well that my first child was born almost two weeks late.
My water broke not long after I finished my bowl of porridge and the work began. My memories of what happened next are not so clear. I was in the birth tub and I was out of it. I watched the fire, I complained, the midwife’s assistant lovingly braided my hair. I complained more and worked more. It hurt. But I was surviving the hurt, I was still making jokes. I talked to you: I asked you to help, to come down, to stop floating in my belly like a cork. I knew somehow that you weren’t quite ready; the lanugo on your arms would later prove this. I also knew at this point that you were coming anyway, that you had answered my desperate parking lot call in your brave and likable way.
No, I do not have as many pictures of your birth, my Rosa. There wasn’t an artist there to photograph the rolled washcloths in that bowl, the melting candles, my belly like a cartoon moon. Most of the pictures I do have are too private to share. You were born in our bedroom into your father’s hands. Three women assisted in your arrival: a midwife, an almost-midwife, and your own aunt. Mostly it was the two of us, girl. We felt safe in the care of our midwives, safe in the unconditional love from your young daddy and his sister, safe in the simple knowing that there were so many skillful, careful hands in the room.
You were here and a girl, a slight little girl, a small girl, a second little girl, a sister, a slimy sweet crying black-haired lips-like-a-pink-bow little sister girl. Your placenta was born and the cord was cut. I put you to my breast and the midwives fed me cubed papaya on the edge of sharp silver fork. Demanding as ever, I quickly wanted to wash the blood and the shit and the everything from my body: the midwives got me showered, smoothed clean sheets onto our family bed and tucked us all in together. These are small things in writing; I assure you that they are very great to a mother who has just pushed a child from her body.
There is more to this story- the pushing screams, the scent of cloves, the moment that your older sister came to put your hat on your wet head, the red, yellow, orange roses that flooded our home in the days that came after.
But although I passionately believe in giving the goodness of birth to anyone who will hear it, some things I will save to whisper just to you, my Rosa Maeve. I have watched your older sister go from a swollen newborn to a leggy and imaginative creature that corrects my grammar and barely fits in my arms. Your first year has already slipped away from me in much the same way. My heart aches to hold you in the first hour all over again. If I tell myself that it will be a long time before you are old enough to ask for this story, if I promise myself it will be an eternity before you need the knowledge of carrying a child or giving birth, I am surely telling myself a lie.
My brown-eyed daughter, you are one year old today. We celebrated you all day long. I took you to Rising Tide Spiritual Center, where you grinned and clapped and danced as the other children and their grown-ups whirled to the songs and chants of the world’s religions. I took you to Mable Ringling’s rose garden to see your pals, where you practiced standing and did your best to eat petals and mulch and shells. I love to see you so at home in your babyness, so delighted just by being. The dark mole you have on your left forearm matches mine: I treasure it as deeply as I treasure any quality that we might share. More so, I treasure whatever sparkles within you that is all yours. I could watch you become you forever and never be bored by it, my littlest love.