(written Friday 1 May 2009; posted late owing to illness)
Tomorrow’s Kolya’s birthday, the anniversary of his birth.
The run-up to a birth is always about the mother; never have I felt so much concern radiating from friends, family, strangers even, about my wellbeing as I did when I was pregnant. And the run-up to a birthday is always about the child. Cakes, gifts, surprises, celebrations. I’ve had 34 birthdays so far, and never once has it occured to me that, if a birthday is an anniversary of anything, it’s as much an anniversary of the extraordinary moment of childbirth as it is a record of the child’s advancing age.
Perhaps it’s just the dramatic way the last year has unfolded that’s pinned my memory so vividly to the magical moment of Kolya’s birth a year ago. Or perhaps it’s just the long-abiding journal keeper in me that has – for as long as I can remember – left markers and signs on calendars, in diaries, in boxes, taped to mirrors, drawn on hidden walls. One thing I’ve noticed is that I never fail to be surprised, when I turn to look back at my sticks in the sand, my tide markers, at how things turned out.
On the surface of it, there is almost nothing about the logistics of my life that resembles what I’d planned or pictured a year ago. I didn’t know we’d be on the warm, familiar (in both senses of the word) shores of Cape Town. I didn’t ever picture I’d be raising my child as a single mom. I didn’t imagine I would be back living within the comforting (though, yes, sometimes frustrating) embrace of my own family. And yet, here we are.
I recall Kolya’s father once muttering in annoyance after a particularly late and tedious antenatal class: “Birth is mundane. Millions of women do it all the time.” I beg to differ. Nothing about the experience was mundane. I think back on the experience of giving birth, and it still fills me with awe. When I hear a friend or family member is pregnant, I feel shivery and full at the mysterious, powerful thing that awaits.
I could liken it to a gruelling endurance hike or swim, or a shamanistic drug trip. Once you’ve started, you’re in it for the long haul; it takes you to your tiredest, your scaredest, your bravest, your innermost pain threshold. It calls on your last reserves, drains them, and calls for more. As a reward, you get the biggest load of endorphins you’ll ever know. (The unadulterated high I felt after the experience did not, I swear, wear off for at least three weeks.) And in amongst all that, there’s the mystery of having brought forth new life. There is nothing to equal it.
Not everyone will agree; for some the journey is torrid, horrific. And there are many that insulate themselves against the roughness, the danger, the fear. There are plenty ways you can almost have birth done for you – and I am mindful that, for many reasons, many do not have the privilege of seeing through a natural delivery even if they wanted to.
Nonetheless, I would like here to congratulate every and any woman that has done, or is doing, this strange selfless act of carrying a child, and giving birth. Every time your child celebrates the anniversary of his or her birth, light an inward candle for yourself, I say, and celebrate a marvelous thing. It’s your birth day too.