Most of us secure the details of the day we were born early on. We hear the story and repeat it enough that we’re pretty confident about the specifics, even though we weren’t taking notes at the time. No shock to my siblings, I always thought my birth was an important one. I was a c-section baby. My mom was on bed-rest for weeks. I was a month early. Someone in the storytelling said that my mom stood up the moment she got the “okay” from the doctor, and that I was born immediately after. I pictured her placing her feet on the ground as the ambulance arrived for the escort. It all ran pretty smoothly in my mind. Paula, Dan, and Matt had unimaginable fun at our neighbor Lucy’s house, staying up late eating green noodles, while Mom and Dad welcomed their new little and lovable bundle on the 1st of April. Paula, the adoring big sister, thought it was a joke and that she really had another brother.
What I have come to understand is that no matter how smoothly things may run, c-sections are uncomfortable. The green of Lucy’s noodles was spinach-inspired, and what so captivated me about them was the pool of butter and parmesan in which they swam. As for Paula, the novelty of having a little sister has long since worn off.
The couch I’m lying on is sprinkled with sliced almonds. The monitor beats and bleeps, practically dancing on the kitchen counter as Lexi voices little interest in sleeping, and the mommy moments continue past the PBS special I was meaning to watch, past the book I’m dying to finish. Dave’s hair is graying but his eyes still laugh as he rolls them at me from the brown chair: “What is up with this kid?” I was up with her, in her room, for much too long, and now all of the parenting books I’ve ever read glare at me from the bookcase: “What were you thinking?” I hear them say.
But, when Lexi was napping earlier that day, Caroline and I curled on the couch, listening to stories on cd. Caroline in her light blue ballerina dress, worn and washed so often, its tulle tutu a lot less puffy than it once was, its sheer overdress shredded with holes. A straw purse fell from her shoulder. Over that, sprung pink fairy wings; and somehow simultaneously over and under the wings, wrapped a practical green cardigan she’s just learned to button. Her hot pink tiara sat low like a visor, its sides secured with masking tape. She wore a sullied pair of pink tights and sparkly shoes having long since lost their luster, one pink and one red. She, my little fairy bag-lady, and I, as far from down-and-out as we could possibly be, resting together.
So tonight I spent equal time with Lexi, resting with her on the bed in her room, when really I should have given her the kiss and the hug and left her to fall asleep on her own. She was telling me all about her pink doggy, and how he can stay with us on the tow-blow (pillow), and she stretched beside me, her blue eyes approving as I closed mine tight then opened them wide. She lifted her head slightly saying “Shtopp, Mommy” but I knew she wanted me to peek-a-boo a bit longer. She left her pillow to share mine, and I thought how beautiful she is and how she and her sister do something to my heart—fill it; I guess it’s that simple. Simple enough to go from empty to full. Simple enough to dampen the sounds of a heart that once echoed and ticked like a motoring clock, with the soft, certainty of love for these busy little girls who’ve taken me over.
As we crossed the walking bridge towards Mom’s hospital room, Dad told me they called me “Baby Grand” after I was born, because c-section babies were not cheap. I loved it—I’m the kid who plays the piano—how perfect. How did I not know this before? And he told me, as the hospital doors opened for us, about the idiot nurse who said something about not hearing the baby’s heartbeat as they were wheeling my mother in for surgery. She came out of the operation convinced I was dead. But my dad told her, no, what must have happened, the doctor said, was they were registering only one heartbeat because my mom’s heart and mine were beating at the same time.
I grabbed that image and tucked it away as we tapped on her hospital door.
Our visits were not long. I don’t remember if that was for her benefit or ours. As Dad and I walked out that day, I told her I loved her, and she said, “I love you both.” Then just as loudly, though in a movie scene I would have imagined this second part as a whisper only she could hear, she said, “You’ll never know how much.”
Dear Mom, I know now.