“Only one thing for it, I said to myself, thinking of you, and I slipped out of the wrecked ship of my body into the black ocean. I swam upwards towards the daylight with all my strength. Not a mile deep after all. Because I was suddenly in a white room, brightly gleaming, smelling pungently of antiseptic. I heard voices and my name.”
– From Afterwards, by Rosamund Lupton
“Jennifer. Stop. Look at me. Look at me. You must stop pushing right now.”
My brain and body scrambled to focus on her blue eyes. Something wasn’t right. This wasn’t happening the way the book said it would. What is she saying?
I had watched all the movies, attended the birthing class, packed my bag, bought the diapers, and laid out your little white sleeper, recently laundered in Burt’s Bees baby soap, ready to bring you home.
“Stop,” her voice repeated. “This is important.” My midwife’s normally calm demeanor was punctuated with urgency.
I couldn’t pry my eyes open. The pain was overwhelming; no time for medication, this was happening old-school style. My breath came in gasps, my fear in waves.
I searched for my husband, his hands on my legs. Finally he came into view, his blue eyes holding it all in.
“Her cord. It’s wrapped around her neck. You need to stop so I can flip her out. You must not push-do you hear me? “ I snapped into focus. I inhaled and for a moment, granted her request.
My body and brain were operating with broken connections, like a static dead space. I gave up control out of sheer and utter terror that my baby would be born dead.
This wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen.
No one says that first babies come early. Tales of endless labor, walks around the hospital and enduring hours and hours of waiting for her to come were all I’d been told. Nothing-nothing at all had prepared me for these 30 minutes of laying in the hospital bed, feeling her force her way into the world.
The seconds felt like hours. I naively tried to regain control; not realizing that from this point on, you would shape every thought, every action, and every moment of my life.
“Jennifer, when I say so, you need to push harder than ever before. Go deep inside. Growl like a mama bear, and do it with all your power. Do you understand?”
Obediently, I complied.
One. Two. Three.
But wait – this isn’t how it is supposed to be. I haven’t even gotten into the birthing chair. The nursery-the laundry hasn’t been put away into your little dresser. We haven’t even decided on your name yet… I don’t know where you are, or what to do. The only thing I do know is that I’m not ready for this. Am I really going to be somebody’s mom?
But there you were, somersaulting into the world, slightly violet, but breathing. And alive.
And absolutely perfect.
The struggle was over. We made it. Nothing in life could ever be harder than that, I imagined. I held you to my chest and breathed you in, feeling your warm stickiness. I clasped your tiny fingers.
“What is it?” I heard my mother hesitantly, yet pleadingly, call from behind the closed door.
“It’s a girl,” I panted in reply.
And forever afterwards, life as I knew it ended and began at precisely the same instant.
This post was inspired by the novel Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton. After witnessing her children’s school set ablaze, Grace attempts to find the arson as her teenage daughter lies in a coma in Lupton’s suspense thriller. Join From Left to Write on April 11 as we discuss Afterwards. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.
Have you read Afterwards, or other books by Rosamund Lupton? I absolutely loved it, even though it made me cry.