Caleb turns five today. In fact, he was born almost exactly five years ago right now: 10:56 pm on August 24. He doesn’t want to be five–or rather, yesterday he didn’t want to be five, but this morning he woke me up (6:43) to say that “today is my birthday and i love you mommy and where are my presents?”
Getting pregnant with Caleb felt a little bit miraculous (after all, I’d had a preemie, a miscarriage, and was pushing forty) and I was hell-bent on the process being as “normal” as possible. I was going natural childbirth, VBAC all the way. I thought about getting myself a varsity letter jacket with those letters across the front, but it was August and too damn hot.
Because of those risk factors, though, when I first got pregnant, I was a mess. I had ongoing nightmares about dead babies and I was sure it meant that Caleb had died in utero: a dream in which a long line of people trolled through shallow waters, looking for a drowned child and then a man came wading towards me, a crumpled boy-body in his arms; a dream in which I had to watch Liam get electrocuted; a dream in which the baby was falling out the window and I couldn’t quite grasp the hem of his little undershirt as he slid through my hands. Those kinds of nightmares: the kind where you have to tiptoe into the room of your sleeping child to make sure he’s breathing. The kind of nightmares that felt so ominous I called the long-suffering, amazing Sylvie, who let me come into her office without an appointment so that I could listen to Caleb’s hummingbird heartbeat and be reassured that he was still alive and thriving.
When I finally went into labor, I didn’t know what it was. I hadn’t gone into labor with Liam, so I thought at first I was just having standard pregnant-lady digestive issues, the details of which I will leave to your imagination. Finally–after a long night on the couch wondering what the hell was wrong with me, I figured it out: oh right….I’m having a baby. So we were very excited and Husband I and went off to the hospital, sure that in a few hours, we’d have our new little baby and all would be right with the world.
Well okay, so you’d think we’d have learned from almost four years of parenting that nothing goes as planned: Caleb didn’t come. He didn’t come and I figured out that the whole natural childbirth thing doesn’t work if, like me, you’re a chickenshit about pain. After an hour or so of contractions, I was all hell yeah, let’s get that epidural! Which I did, and then I spent a lovely five or six hours flipping through magazines, and watching the monitor indicate that I was having a contraction. I even apologized to Husband, who had been prepared for a more active role than that of fetcher-of-Vogue.
And then I don’t know what happened–the epidural wore off, maybe? Or maybe what I experienced–the physical enactment of the sound velcro makes when it’s peeled apart–was birth on epidural, which means that women who give birth with no drugs are heroic, amazing creatures who could probably do sword-swallowing in their free time. Six oclock, seven oclock, eight oclock, no baby. Then somewhere in the depths of all those squishy birthing sounds, I heard a sharp crack, and then, finally, finally, Caleb came into the world.
My early pregnancy nightmares came back to haunt me one more time, that night, after I’d been wheeled into my hospital room and Caleb had been whisked off to the nursery. Drifting into sleep, I heard two nurses walk by, talking about a problem with my baby. I clambered out of bed and staggered to the nurses station like a lunatic, insisting that something was wrong with my baby. The nurses–perhaps used to this sort of insanity–walked me to the nursery and showed me my little burrito, wrapped in his hospital blanket, sound asleep. I’d completely hallucinated the entire conversation.
The hallucinations didn’t return, but it took me a long time to recover from that sharp cracking noise I’d heard during labor: my almost nine-pound child had broken my tailbone in his push to be born, which apparently happens more than you might think. And you know what can be done for a broken tailbone? Absolutely nothing. I now know without a shadow of a doubt that you cannot, in fact, put your ass in a sling.
My tailbone recovered, my nightmares went away, and now here we are, in another hot sweaty August. Caleb doesn’t have much toddler left in him, anymore; he’s gotten longer this summer, lithe and agile. It’s unsettling to look at the set of his shoulders or the curve of his cheek and see glimmers of the man he’s going to be–and when he settles into my lap and puts his head on my neck, I realize how much I miss the warm heft of a baby’s body, the soft curl of fingers around a hand.
Today Caleb didn’t mind that he was turning five–but I did.