“Usually we give the baby three strikes, then we move on to other ways to get her out.”
The midwife sat on the edge of my hospital bed, choosing her words carefully. “If you want to keep laboring, you can make that choice. She recovered this time. But she’s not tolerating labor well and I can’t promise she’ll make similar recoveries if we give her two more strikes.”
I nodded, trying to clear my head. Minutes before, I’d been in a very deep sleep (courtesy of 30 hours of labor followed by an epidural) when four nurses practically knocked down my door and began frantically dancing around the delivery room. Their smiles were too cheerful as they encouraged me to change positions so the baby’s heart rate would stabilize. I was confused and disoriented, but it was clear something was quite wrong.
“So you mean we should do a c-section?” I asked.
“It’s up to you. I don’t want you to feel pressured into it, but I also don’t know how many more times baby can recover as well as she just did,” the midwife explained.
I looked to my husband. “Your thoughts?”
He shrugged. “It’s your body.”
I shook my head. “Not anymore.”
The ease with which the response came to my lips and the peace it brought me left me surprised at myself.
It’s not that becoming a mother made me less autonomous or less of an individual, but nine months of diet and lifestyle changes to protect and nurture the tiny soul tucked safely under my heart brought home the first lesson of motherhood: my life just isn’t mine anymore. My decisions directly impacted the wellbeing of one totally dependent on me. My body directly serves another. Everything that was mine is also hers.
My body had become eucharistic.
Throughout pregnancy and especially as I lay cruciform on the operating table, my mind repeated a familiar mantra, taking on new meaning every day: “This is my body, given up for you.”
As I lay next to the toilet fighting morning sickness.
As I turned down champagne at New Year’s.
As I craved the sushi my friends were enjoying.
As the heartburn stole precious hours of sleep.
As the contractions crashed over me.
As the doctors made incisions that could never be undone.
As I held my daughter for the first time.
As I winced in pain at unsuccessful latches.
As I forced myself awake at 3:00 a.m. to pump yet another meal.
This is my body, given up for you.
The body makes visible what is invisible. My body now expresses a fundamental change within me. Or rather, not a change — for I am not now foreign to what I was before — but a maturation. I’ve become more completely what I was always meant to be. As I empty myself for this tiny, demanding stranger, I become full than I’ve ever been before. It’s no longer my body and that recognition gives me an agency and a freedom to be more completely myself. The more I stay self-possessed, the more I’m not my own. I never really existed for my own sake — none of us do — but to be given to others.