“Babies need our help.”
—Yo Gabba Gabba, Season 3, episode 5
I felt that pain. It lived in me. It was my daughter.
The woman cutting my hair was also pregnant. “I’m so afraid I’m going to have a C-section,” she said. “Me, too,” I said, and knew that I would.
Contractions are an unreal, seismic pain, like a giant picked you up for a hug that won’t end. At times I thought I was in a dream. That’s how much they hurt, how the pain filled me up. I didn’t think it could be real.
My first car was a ’97 Chevy Cavalier. When I got the license plates, I set about finding the tools I would need. I set each one down on the kitchen table like I was prepping myself for surgery, enjoying the silent ease of organization. When my mother walked in, she saw my row of tools. “Your father will do that for you,” she said.
At home we filled the bath tub with warm water. I turned on my side so Todd could use the shower head to spray the small of my back. At that point I thought I was trying so hard.
Mae plays Yo Gabba Gabba videos on my phone. She can find the exact one she wants even though she’s 18 months old. She likes the one where they sing Babies Need Our Help and watches it so often I find myself singing it as soon as I am pulled from sleep in the middle of the night, walking down the dark hall to where she cries in her room. Babies need our help, babies need our help.
The nurses tied a towel to the metal bar that hung above my bed and told me to pull on it. I did. I pulled so hard I thought that bar would crack, but nothing happened. Then they turned me over, got me on my hands and knees, and made me push like that, a woman in a cave, but that didn’t work either.
In the song, baby Gogo is surrounded by his family. His mother has a cool, patient tone that she uses to welcome everyone.
I grew up on a farm, but I wasn’t A Farm Girl. I had tendencies, but I would have done better in a city, reading poetry in a subway, which is what I imagined one did in cities. My mother tried, but I didn’t understand how seeds in the dirt sprang into plants, the direction of the wind, seasons for birth, market prices, worthless fields full of corn, the black trash bags stuffed with wool, all of it was a mystery. I just wanted be inside, listening to music. With my red hair and flashbulb-white skin, I wilted in the sun. She knew that, and she loved me.
So you want to see how we take care of Baby Gogo? Well, we have to help him to do every-thing.
Our last shot was the vacuum. “This is going to hurt,” my doctor said quietly when he put it in. In a room full of earnest people, two in the morning, I felt love for him in the instant that we stared at each other. I was so covered in sweat you would have thought I had gone out for a quick swim. Soaked and delirious, I barely noticed what amounted to a bugle being pushed up into me. For months I would have nightmares about a faceless man knocking on my vagina with a hammer, like he was trying to break it open.
We even have to help him move around.
When my doctor asked me how I would handle “pain management” during a natural birth, I stared back at him, unsure what he meant. “I’ll just get through it,” I said. I wanted a natural birth because I wanted the pain.
Let me explain.
My mother had natural births with all five of her children. My best friend did with both of her kids, and, because she wanted to be the first person in the world to touch them, she reached down and pulled them out.
Babies need our help. Babies need our help.
At my first pre-natal appointment, I overheard my doctor say to the nurse, “You don’t have to worry about her. She’s smart.” Every appointment after barely felt like a doctor’s visit. He was so cool, so calm, the Joe Montana of OB-GYNs, I looked forward each time to him telling me how good I was at being pregnant. My girl, from what I could tell when I stared at the black and white screen in the darkened room and listened to her wild heartbeat, was fine, but this was an illusion.
They are still learning and we can teach them everything.
I add an uninteresting scar to my collection. A white line so low on my stomach it gets covered in pubic hair if I forget to trim it, which I do, always.
Babies can’t do things for themselves. Babies need our special help.
We were shopping in a busy store. I turned my head, looked back, and she was gone. Like that, she cut under the racks of clothes and was running down the aisle next to me, but for three se-conds, I didn’t know that. I couldn’t find her. I stood in one spot, motionless, trying to draw her back to me. Help. That pain was worse.
For instance, babies cannot walk so they need our help to show them the way.
Sometimes the only pride I feel about Mae’s birth is in how low the scar is. I tell myself that’s how far down she got. She almost got there. So close.
Like this. Ok, Gogo. Come on, Gogo.
I labored for 36 drugless hours. Contractions every five minutes that gradually increased from a hum to a freight train roar. When it was obvious the vacuum wasn’t working, my doctor looked at me again.
Babies can’t talk so they need our special help to show them and teach them, like this.
I turned to my husband.
The C-section is regarded as a failure. Women who get them failed. Their bodies failed.
The word he used was semi-breech.
Be very gentle. Nice and easy now.
I got headaches a lot when I was a kid. Dull and pressing. I told my mother about them, how I couldn’t get them to go away. In a warm, slow voice she rarely used that made me think of cake batter being poured into a pan, she told me I should do some hard work. “Go outside,” she said. “Get a good sweat going. That always makes me feel better.”
Let me explain.
The United States has the highest rate of C-sections in the world, but I couldn’t say it. I couldn’t ask for one, though I should have, hours ago, when it was obvious. I looked at Todd and whis-pered, “I don’t know what to do.”
Megan needs our help, Megan needs our help. She is still learning and we can teach her every-thing.
I’m a mom, but I’m not A Mom. I’m a good mom. I put my daughter’s needs before mine, every time, without question. I give her everything. I will worry about her until I am dead, and if there is an afterlife, I will worry about her there. I sacrifice everything so that she is happy, which is what my mother did. I would die for her. And yet, I don’t like being a mom. I don’t like talking to other moms and doing mom things. I don’t like reading about children and their developmental pro-gress. I don’t like looking at pictures of other children on the phone screens of other moms. I don’t like talking about milestones or tracking them. I don’t know when my daughter first pulled herself up, started crawling, or walking. I didn’t save her hair from her first haircut. It didn’t even occur to me that I should until my mom asked me if I did, and I realized that she must have saved mine.
Megan can’t do things for herself. Megan needs our special help.
I only got to hear her after they pulled her out, not see her. She started crying behind the blue sheet that, in my memory, ran the length of the ceiling, like a theater curtain, making me feel as though I gave birth in the ocean.
Megan cannot walk so she needs our help to show her the way.
I didn’t want an epidural because of the way it turned you into a numb pile of flesh, but after a C-section, you are even worse off. Your abdomen was sawed open. You are two breasts in a bed, told not to move, while the nurse hands you your child.
Like this. Ok, Mae. Come on, Mae.
I suffered through my periods when I was a girl, unaware how to handle the pain of menstrual cramps. I didn’t take Tylenol until I was in college. In our childhood home, we didn’t have any-thing like that.
Megan can’t talk so she needs our special help to show her and teach her, like this.
The doctor was the one who had to say, “Spinal and a C-Section.” And I laid down while they called the anesthesiologist. I turned to the nurse, asked for ice chips.
If all I wanted was pain, I got that.