Every child loves their birth story. I loved every aspect of mine. The part where my father took to tears of relief and happiness after some pretty intense and long labouring on my mother’s part and especially the part where I was told again and again how desperately they had wanted a girl. Me.
Never mind that my father’s visions of a sweetness and appropriate sparkiness in a pattupaavada were dashed too soon for his own liking.
I have always struggled with Arvind’s birth story. I have struggled with a way to be honest without passing on the sense of despair, the torment and the bewilderment I felt right after he was born. All I have ever wanted him to know was how much he was loved and wanted from the minute he was a cell lining my womb.
His birth was our birth.
We were flung headlong through this tumultous passage into parenthood and before we could pick ourselves off the floor and focus on nurturing him and loving him, we were sent into the trenches to fight for him and speak his case.
We didn’t have playdates. While other mothers complained about getting through the fogginess of breastfeeding, we were reading articles about brachial plexus avulsion that my grieving father sent me. We started physiotherapy on day 10, there was surgery in the sixth month and life a-twixt it all.
But there is a birth story.
Of a large baby who came as if from a planet rich in iron ore, screaming his protest at his cruel eviction. Nurses marvelled that he suckled so effortlessly. I was so giddy from the experience, so besotted with my new love, so high on every hormone known to man that all I could do was stare at him. His face was never squishy or doughy in the way newborn faces can be. To me, he looked like delicately crafted bone china and every little feature was perfection.
On the first night at the hospital, (the Viking and my mother had to go home) the nurse on duty gently reminded me that I had been awake for almost 48 hours and that I needed rest. I will take good care of him, she said as she wheeled him out into the hallway. I fell into an almost drugged state of sleep only to be rudely awakened by the forceful wailing of a child.
My child. My breasts ached and I sat bolt upright in bed, desperate.
If you haven’t had a third degree tear and a brutal episiotomy, I’m going to spare you that information. But stay away from google is all I will say. And don’t try to walk, because.. well.. you really can’t. At least not without feeling like someone is driving spears through your delicate parts and right through your brain. Nothing pretty here. Move along.
To date, I don’t know how I dragged myself off the bed and hobbled through the room and down the hallway, desperately holding onto something, anything that would take me to my disconsolate son. There was no maternal heroism driving me, only the sheer force of necessity. (There. Motherhood in a nutshell. You asked.) He was bright red from the the fierce effort of his screams, but the minute he heard my voice, the minute I picked him up a held him close, he was completely still.
Like he had been expecting me all along. Like this comfort was the real and only deal.
If there was ever a parental contract, this was the moment I signed on the dotted line and said, “I do.”
The moment I knew I would be up for the whole, complicated deal, no matter what it demanded, no matter what it took.
It wasn’t just love, my darling, I tell him. It was knowing that you and I had come through several lifetimes to this point again. This point we clearly knew so well and recognized instantly.
You were born an old soul, I tell him. Your eyes were filled with knowing then and older people have later marvelled at your dignity, your wisdom beyond your years. Your sense that there is a world of special secrets that you are privy to.
And your father who saw the horror of your birth live, up close and personal and never let on or crumbled? He bounced in the day after, took one look into the crib and said, “Well, if it isn’t the cutest kid EVER!” and after we marvelled over every little part of you for hours, he promptly fell asleep in our hospital bed with you on his chest. Which is pretty much the way he still likes it – you piled on him. Him, drinking it in and loving you with unconditional zeal.
Then there was your grandmother. You were her first grandchild and she will still gloat that she held you before I did. That she knew immediately that you were the most wonderful child in the whole, wide world. You were her birthday present that came two days early and you would grow to be the child closest to her in spirit and heart. On her 51st birthday, she was granted two hours to visit us. I spent a good part of that time pretending to shower and sobbing for everything I could not repair and control. Feeling wretchedly guilty for the crappy birthday my mother was having and all the worry that would now also be a part of her life.
I came out and she was still sitting on the worn hospital sofa, holding you, unable to take her besotted eyes of you and alternately having conversations with you while you slept and sending quiet prayers while holding your tiny arm in her palm.
Turns out that you were the most amazing birthday present she ever received and that it wasn’t as crappy a birthday as I might have thought it was.
If you could have spoken then, you would probably have told me that already.
Happy 8th year, my special little prince. And happy birthday to your Ammamma. Between the two of you, I’ll never be short on lessons in love. Now go listen to one of our favourite songs.
“They never die – that’s how you and I will be”