My doula later told me that my perineal tears were pretty bad, but I hadn't even felt the nurse's needle stitching me up.
My whole body was traumatized and still hurting, but it was nothing compared to the contractions and pains of pushing for hours. Were it not for the sight of the nurse leaning into my spread legs with the concentration of an exacting embroiderer, I might not have noticed at all.
The relief was proportional to the intensity of the pain, and I felt the world opening to me, as though my skin, eyes, and olfactory nerves were waking to new colors and sensations that my terrified body had been too cowed to meet during the labor.
I remember when I first felt the wakening.
They say I pushed for about two hours, but I couldn't believe it. No, it couldn't have been more than twenty or thirty minutes. How had I stayed in that intensity, pushed in that exhaustion, leaned into that pain without a sense of when it would end?
But it did end. When you feel the pain intensify, they tell you, don't back away. Push. Lean in. Even as your body wants to retreat, it wants to advance, and when it's most frightened, it wants to be brave.
The fear. That was the most surprising thing. People talk (too much) about the pain of childbirth. But I didn't know that I would be afraid, that I would reach a place where I didn't know if I could go on, didn't know if I was strong enough.
But I knew I had to go on, that my body was proceeding whether I liked it or not. I didn't have a choice. This baby was coming out one way or another. The option of quitting was not open to me. I was powerless to back away from my body. The only way out was to go through.
The baby is crowning, they say, almost there.
How long between crowning and birth? I can't remember. Minutes? Seconds? Years?
The ebbed pain rushes through me again and again: rising, peaking, falling, rising, peaking.
Falling, rushing, rising, until the climax that I do not know is the final climax until the falling action.
Then a slippery bundle of tiny head, arms, and legs shoots (yes, shoots) out between my legs. I see the baby plop squirming into the open hands of Josh and the midwife. I see Josh crying, astounded. I feel the world rushing in as the intensity rushes out.
A team of nurses whisks the baby away to deal with the meconium, but minutes (seconds?) later the baby is in my arms, my breast is being shoved into the baby's mouth, and someone is giving me the stitches.
It feels like a joke, really. I was so afraid of tearing, of having to be sewn up. Afraid of falling apart. Afraid of remembering that I am a body, an organic composite of infinitely divisible parts working together, moving, changing.
Afraid of being exposed. I laugh at how, in the beginning I am determined to labor with as much skin covered as possible, and by the end I am a mess of exposed body, seen by a host of ministering angels who catch my vomit in a pan, put ice in my mouth, and bear away my shit.
Yes, a joke. All of it a joke. To think that I am afraid of being torn.