The Stirrup Chair
So it was decided in there, bring her in the stirrup chair, let 'er rip, the baby won't come out. It won't come out all the way. Just the crown of his head would show (for we later learned he was a he), and then he'd go right back up. Just the crown of his head, and then back again. Again and again, no matter what pushing the mother did, she later said. It was like the umbilical cord up inside was like a bungee, she said, a bungee cord that was too short, and it kept letting him down and it kept pulling him back again, which was exactly the right analogy, we were later told by the midwife.
The two midwives were the best we could have found. We interviewed them, met with them regularly, checked out their knowledge and backgrounds. They worked as a team, and they were amazing. As events unfolded, I came to trust them more than I would trust any MD, that's for sure. To this day, I would go to war with those two women. I would trust their hands to have my back, though the one of them dropped my son. In time of crisis, I would trust any and all intel they had to offer to me. Their expertise was golden and rare, and they cared. And how they labored on our behalf. All through the complications.
It was decided by the mother that she would use "the stirrup chair" after all. She just couldn't take it, not anymore. That day, or at least for a few brief moments, it was the only time my narcissistic-personality-disordered ex-wife ever appeared even slightly feminine--I can be exactingly sure of that--and for a nanosecond that day she could even feign an artificial form of pseudo-vulnerability and artificial intimacy on a day and an hour such as that. The bringing forth of Life and the stalking so near of Death made even her closer to what we normal folk think of when we think of humanity, real, normal, human-being-esque humanity. So it was a rare time, a window when I could pretend that I was a husband to her. I could be fooled into thinking that I was more than just an animated object in her world, more than just the codependent puppet I really was. So I went with that. I was all in with her at last. My codependency had paid off. She'd seen at last what kind of man I was. I was a man and a husband and a father that day to her--at last, I was--especially at that moment. That moment he came and was with us, with us and was breathing beside us on that bed.
My baby was in trouble, that was beginning to become clear, increasingly apparent as the long day wore on. It was so long an ordeal for his mother, and I was so proud of her in there. The Lamaze teacher had said that every birthing mother is different: some mothers scream, some cuss like sailors, some howl or cry out in other ways, some are even quiet unto themselves in their ordeal, somehow. My children's mother turned out to be a puffer. She huffed and puffed with the inordinate pain. Every breath, incoming, outgoing, was a huff, then a puff, and her lips went in, and then came out, and they beat together on the coming out of the air and they made the sound of a soft but incessant, rhythmically pleasing kazoo. I was so proud of her. So codependent and proud.
That it would be a "he" would be a surprise to us. We had wanted it that way, we had wanted to wait. The first time around, with our daughter, we had had the ultrasound and had found out early that we were having a daughter. This time around, we had opted to go "old school." So old school that we had opted for the midwives this time, and the home birth, the C-back. My narc and I could even agree sometimes. Yes, it was possible, occasionally, provided it aligned with her controlling solipsism. I had to be orbiting around her in a way she was already going, that was key to any of our agreements.
The midwife had been hesitant about using the stirrup chair, but at last she acquiesced. She had said that it often made the mother tear down there. Stitches would be needed; stitches in delicate places, count on it. But my child's mother finally said, ENOUGH already, tearing or no tearing, get me on the stirrup chair, this baby has to come, this is not working. The huffing and the puffing and the pacing around the room and the little home whirlpool we'd set up were not enough on their own, something more was needed, this baby would not come out.
The stirrup chair was metal bars formed into an austere, cruel-looking toilet seat apparatus; the mother, who would surely be a mother in agony by the time she would choose THAT, would sit down and sag bare-assedly on top of the wide-open, bare-metal hoop seat, with all of her parts, all her inner folds hanging down, her bare feet wedged into the metal stirrups at the bottom ring of the cruel stool, and then a stuck baby ought to be hanging down too, hopefully, prayerfully, with more pushing now it would soon be protruding beyond the hanging-out inner unmentionables of the desperate mother, the crown of the baby's head leading the way, let's go, let's do it. Let it be done, oh Lord. Oh please, Lord, let him come out.
I had been praying in the other room when my child's mother opted for the stirrup seat. I had been making my deals with God. I would stop doing this, I would start doing that, I promise, if He would only let my baby come out and see the world and be okay--and for his mother to be okay (for I was still then under the delusion that she was ever okay).
And then I heard the call of the midwife. The baby. The baby was coming at last.
I saw the bare metal stirrup apparatus and my baby's mother perched atop, heaving and blowing, huffing and puffing as ever, as she had been all day long. But she was giving agonizing commands now to the midwives. So unlike her. She has to be liked by everyone. By everyone but me. The main midwife was on her knees between the birthing mother's legs, on the floor at the bottom of the stirrup chair; her partner, judicious, sagacious, taciturn, holding onto the seething, grimacing birthing mother, and my gut picked up on it--yes, indeed the it was more serious than we would like--more than these experienced midwives would like. But then the one on her knees had her hands out, like a football player ready to catch a punt, ready to catch my son at last. But there was multitasking to be done, things to move aside, things to reach for and get ready--medical things--and the timing was off between push of the mother and catch of the midwife, and out of the pressing, burgeoning intensity down here, down here between my wife's naked legs, our homebirth was going wrong gut rolled over and sank, though my head was beyond the clouds still, it was either lost or flying, I don't know, and my fleshly hull, it's what crouched down there with the midwife, as they had told me that they needed, but that had been a ruse, it was just to humor me, they had wanted me here as a mascot. A witness. A helpless bystander.
And then the thing happened. A squish of baby shot down and out, and my head went with my gut down into an abyss, and the ecstasy that was in my head went blank and void as I witnessed it, an oblong, lopsided water balloon, the baby, my baby, multicolored and wobbly, slipped and flopped right onto and off of the midwife's hands, a jellied stain of formless flesh and goo, fallen with a splat on the stainproof floormat they'd laid down in our bedroom, and I died for time number one right then. I heard the squish and saw the gloop, I saw it bend how bodies shouldn't bend as my baby hit that vinyl floor, and I died for number one, the first time that I died that day.
The kneeling midwife scooped up what she'd dropped, what I thought would be a baby. In helplessness, I think--or else I was directed--I stood up to help her partner instead, the other, more businesslike midwife, to lift and ease and hoist the mother of my baby onto our bed, our bed we seldom shared save for when we'd conceived this second kid; I gently pushed and pulled her, carefully, lovingly, up onto her back to the pillow at the top of the bed so that her legs would fit.
Down at the foot of the bed the activity of the midwife was hurried but measured. Her hands were making up for the fumbling of our baby before; her hands worked with alacrity now, working at getting our baby to breathe, to breathe its first breath. I lay upon the bare chest of this woman that I loved who was incapable of loving me or anyone, but who was a virtuoso at fakery, as I later learned with a horror so surreal; I lay there with the greatest of care upon her, supporting my own weight carefully, but skin to skin nevertheless upon her, feeling a most acute and profound and vast love for her, still thinking, not knowing, that I was but an object even then to her, had always been an object to her, would always be an object in her solipsistic universe. Never was I more deluded than that day, when I loved that woman to that refined degree, as I lay there with her, on her, in my wishful, longing, ecstatic, other-worldly delusion that I was a husband to her, a man, an equal, and not a gaslit, lied-to toy.
But then, as more seconds passed, my soaring and flying love and admiration for this woman who had just accomplished this astounding thing for us--for so went my thinking--my attention was pulled to the bottom of the bed, demanded to the bottom of the bed. It was required by the absence, the continued absence of our baby, the awkward growing absence. I was drawn to look to the midwife and her hands with their dexterity and expertise; she was working with precision, fixity, and haste. A grave double-time to her movements, doing these things to our baby. Medical things.
Then I heard the one, then the other back, hushed, firm, serious. I got the why of the current action, the what was going on. The umbilical cord had snapped. Before breathing, they first had to stanch the bleeding, which they did with skillful hands. Hands that had dropped him but had rebounded. Redeemed themselves. I too have made mistakes. I cheered for the redemption of those hands.
Still, I became aware of the presence of Death trying to enter right into that very room. I became aware of it when the midwife demanded the oxygen tank from the other midwife. There was another quickening of pace, another ratcheting up of her tone, and the phrase "give me the oxygen," it killed me again for the second time. She fumbled at first with the valve of the tank, a just barely perceptible mishandling of it, and that was time number three that I died, over that one second and half of missed oxygen flow to our baby. We were right at the perimeter of the midwives extensive range of capability, I could see and sense it. Those sickening 30 seconds. Those times I died and soared and died and died, and finally would fly away and soar that day.
That moment when my boy was lifted to us, when entering Death had been kicked from this room, when they told us it was a boy and she laid him up there with us, upon this woman, and with this man, right there next to me, this new and tiny, pink-souled being, flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone, fruit of my loins; next to me, his tiny breathing, he's breathing, up and down in the blanket, I watched it rise and fall in the little blanket and I fly up to the stars of heaven, I did so in my flesh and I stayed there for an hour, maybe two.
That day was Death thrown back that tried to enter; but it had made itself known, intimately introduced itself of its reality; and more than ever I knew it would be back again someday.
But not then, not that instant, not that day; that day Death was thrown back by Life.
It was thrown back by my God and his mercy.
And now I have these things that I promised Him I would do, and to stop doing those other ones. To this very day, though I continue to fail Him.
Forgive me, Father. And thank you for your mercy. And thank you for those midwives, thank you for their skill.
Thank you for my children. Though I barely get to see them now. Thank you for their wholeness, their health. Perhaps my barely seeing them will change someday, though I'm all out of promises that I can't keep, and you knew that I never would keep them, you knew that I never could, and yet you were merciful still.