Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My Daughter, My Spirit-Self

Before your birth, I thought of you
As my spirit-self.
First on MRI images
I saw you acrobatic
Below the soul-searching amniotic seas,
Dancing in the dark with stubby limbs like fins
Side-stroking and butterflying,
Yet I could not feel even a flutter.

Then when your first kicks
Surprised me with life-lightening leaps,
They reminded me of those jumps
I made as a child
In descending elevators as they landed,
Giving me the thrill and feel of flying.
For days after I waited
And prayed to know again
That quiver of awe and ardor
Believers tremble with
As they stand before God
Shaken with joy.
But by the time it was all done,
Your movements were like hiccups
(Can it just be over already?)  

So at home inside me,
Your due date passed.
And still you clung to the comfort of darkness,
To the umbilical that fed without effort.
You swam in a narrowing pond
Until an abrupt lurch broke my water.
You were being sucked out the drain
From the placental pacific world.
Birth became a life-and-death struggle:
My body, throwing the baby out with the bath water,
As you clung to your lifebuoy all night.
Twenty hours of labor and still you wanted none of it.
Afraid of this new element,
It took pitocin drip and brute strength,
Suction and forceps to loosen that grip.
You emerged holding your breath till blue
Then angry as an almost drowned cat
Shivering and screeching with fists pounding
The cold uninviting air,
Your mouth gulped like a fish leaping
Into the blue sky and landing by mistake
In the bottom of the boat.
Wrapped in vernix, blood and birthday suit,
You were sporting the trophies of the fight:
Hematoma on the crown of your head
And forceps brand across the brow.
My bruises were mostly internal, psyche-deep.
Exhaustion and relief
At your strength and health
Covered all other reactions in those first days.

Later my Lamaze coach and best friend
Revealed her terror in that room,
As she had seen how touch-and-go it truly had been.
But I was too happy to indulge in her fear.
I was floating on a euphoric cloud for days,
With visual hallucinations and heightened senses
That I first took to be the dawning of motherhood.
But later I slowly came to realize
These were left from the near-death experience.

As I gazed into your dark eyes,
I knew you were not my soul at all,
But your own person, separate,
Yet always connected through
The hardship of birth and the river of blood,
The unremembered depth of shared rhythms
That only in dreams awaken.

October 2009


  1. So lovely. I never tire of birth stories, however told, but this poetic ode was a particularly special treat. Thank you for sharing it.

  2. Lillian, I so love this deeply felt poem. No stronger feelings than a mother for her children. Your daughter will treasure this one day! Wonderfully written. Somehow I had missed it, am glad I found it today.