There's a head sticking out of my best friend. This is insane. Anybody who says this moment is the most precious wonderful thing in the world is delusional. This isn't a miracle, it's assault. I'd call 911 but we're already in a hospital.
I didn't know it would be like this, not even the day before. After Elise's water broke in the morning we went for a walk. Elise's belly was poking out from her small body like a melon. We hiked up in the hills and looked out at the San Francisco Bay shimmering in the distance. In the afternoon we drove to the hospital and were given a room with a view of the Oakland hills, and backless gowns. This was nice, I thought.
We walked the halls kicking a ball of tinfoil in an improvised game of soccer. As Elise's contractions increased we stopped playing soccer and just did laps, my arm on her waist. We'd pass the door with the male doctor inside reading O, The Magazine and Elise would not say much and a minute later when we passed the same door (the doctor a few pages further along in O) another contraction would hit, right on time.
Evening became night and night became that time that is neither night nor morning. Elise's contractions got big and painful and the nurse didn't like the baby's heartbeat. She made hushed calls to the attending physician and Elise was hooked to an IV and given oxygen and painkillers. The mood in the room became desperate. Or, I felt desperate. As Elise curled on her side and closed her eyes I felt her slipping from me. My favorite person in the world lay there humming to herself and I could not reach her. I could only hold her hand and be alone with my worry in the dim light of an anonymous hospital room with the tail lights of the early morning traffic on the highway outside slowly blinking past.
It got light. Elise got an epidural, I got a coffee. Our ageless Chinese midwife showed up looking rested and cheerful. I like her, but didn't then. After an hour of checking Elise's dilation she said, "Okay, feel like pushing?" Elise, opening her eyes, said, "Yes, please."
Elise pushed and turned red. She pushed more and turned burgundy. I held one of her legs and mopped her brow and tried to give her water out of a bottle whose straw kept popping out and onto the floor. And though I had gone to birthing class and done all the correct things to prepare for this exact moment, I couldn't have felt less competent had I been handed three lively cats and told to juggle them. Elise was muttering and I was saying things like "You're doing great" and "You call that a push?" Well, no, but it crossed my mind. Everything that shouldn't have been crossing my mind was: how the traffic on the highway outside looked bad today, how soft and pillowy the clouds were, how juggling cats would be difficult, how Elise now was the color of a beet.
Maybe I was trying to distract myself from what was happening. Our ageless Chinese midwife was doing the same, bouncing on the big purple birthing ball across the room between pushes in an attempt to distract Elise who wanted to push all the time.
Time got tight, focused. Elise was yelling like a wounded animal. I saw the head and thought about calling Emergency. Elise was yelling louder and I was holding her leg and saying God knows what and nurses were circling and hands were reaching in and out and twisting this being that seemed to want to stay right where it was, not ready to join us yet. Then out it came, a gangly thing covered in blood. The thing was turned to me and it looked into my eyes with the hugest most startled eyes I have ever seen and our eyes locked. I thought I know you.
And in that instant, in the moment when the baby was wrapped and swaddled and brought to Elise's chest, there was a sense that all the pain that had been in that room was already being repaired, the night of tension disappearing in a soothing wash of forgetfulness, memory stitched together so that we could inaccurately look back on this experience with fondness. Indeed, a miracle.
Elise was beaming. I rested my face against hers and we looked into the baby's eyes. Neither of us said anything for a long time. We were too stunned to remember to check the gender. But as the baby was carried across the room, Elise asked, "What is it?" and I can still hear a voice saying, almost as an afterthought, "It's a girl."
The girl is lying three feet to my right now. She's in her bassinet, taking a nap next to my desk. Her hair is dark with light highlights. It waves in places, curling at the back of her neck. She has a round belly, a dimple on her chin like me. She just took a bath and is wrapped in a white blanket. She's making small noises. Her name is Zo?.
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