Cassandra’s Tears

Tears of joy, tears of pain, we are reflected in the salt-water pools we create. So let us build a fleet of paper boats and sail them on our ocean of indecision, laughing at the wind-whipped white-crested waves that would wash over us, drowning us in our own despair, yet somehow never vanquishing us in the end.

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Location: Lennoxville, Quebec, Canada

Sunday, August 01, 2004


Giving birth is full of surprises. Of course, some of them are expected, if you can anticipate being surprised. But there are sudden, wonderful occurrences totally beyond our ability to imagine. The whole pregnancy phenomenon is so well documented that there is very little pre-natal class does not prepare you for. Even that first flutter of movement in the womb at 16 weeks is anticipated, but always unexpected. That is the first unmistakable sign that you are harbouring a life other than your own, something separate, uncontrolled, and therefore surprising.

But the birthing itself is an adventure in unpreparedness. First you go to the hospital, armed with Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, having been told, “We don’t want you to go past your due date, so we’ll induce labour.” The wait, after the nurse has made a mess of your left hand trying to get the intravenous in right, is interminable. The surprise there was how little it hurt, as she pushed and pulled and jiggled that needle about. The resulting bruise is not surprising.

You wait, as you read about the boat on the Thames picking bodies out of the water, and then the first contraction slams your body like a full frontal football tackle. Where were the gentle contractions, the timing by the watch? What the hell did you learn in pre-natal class that would help you deal with this indescribable pain? “Breathe,” your partner says, keeping eye contact until the pain subsides. Then there is calm, briefly. Once more, a mine explodes in your abdomen, leaving you sweating, short of breath.

“Please,” you implore the nurse, “I’m not trying to be a hero. You can give me something for the pain.” So they inject you with something in your thigh that actually works, makes the contractions bearable, but just barely. All the pre-natal preparation is for naught. Effleurage with a monitor strapped to your belly? Forget it. Walking around the delivery room with an I.V. drip in your wrist? Impossible. The drug has worn off. But there is a giant goose egg at the site of injection, an obvious allergic reaction. The medical staff is loath to give you another. You get a shot of Demerol® instead.

As the new drug takes effect, you find yourself shunted off to the side, not aware anymore of your situation. Then the next contraction grabs you with jackhammer force, sending blinding pain into your befogged universe. There is no respite. There is no time to steel yourself against the next contraction because there is no warning. One moment you are barely conscious, the next you are battling the undertow in a sea of pain.

The talk of the doctors, of your partner, is happening through a haze. They are asking him to sign a permission form so they can perform an emergency cæsarian section. “Oh no,” you think to yourself, “they’re adding injury to insult.” Another surprise when the epidural enters your spine: there is no more pain. But you are shaking like a leaf and feel as though you will never be warm again. And then the nurse lays a hot blanket on top of you and the warmth is like a hug, a surprise kiss from a loved one.

Surprise! All of a sudden a baby is wailing where there were only adults a moment before. You think, “Another soprano!” and then that baby is wrapped up, lying in the crook of your arm, eyes closed, long blonde hair framing a heart-shaped face, tiny rose-bud mouth pursed, ready to root when hunger strikes. A life that emerged from your poor, torn flesh, another human being. The most wonderful surprise possible, that through an incredible ordeal of pain comes such perfection, such poetry.


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