I want to remember the feeling of safety that washed over me when I nuzzled my face into your dad’s hands. I gripped his wrists in anguish and bore my forehead into his palms. He stroked my hair with his thumbs and glided down my neck and I felt less alone in the pain. It was the only thing that brought me comfort when you made your way into this world. It’s a feeling I find myself chasing in these days of achy newness, these first days of your life. You were born in the night, little boy, on a wave of fire and ice.
The contractions started hours before the snowfall. At 3:30 in the morning I felt it starting to roll up my back again—heat, a familiar burning. And by the time the sun was up I knew that what I’d feared was true—that again it would be back labor, that again it would be long, that either the shape of my pelvis or fate’s cruel hand had forced another baby into a posterior position inside me. It was all too familiar. I resigned to labor with the devil I knew.
I had contractions all day about ten minutes apart. Sometimes they’d speed up and give me hope. Sometimes they’d slow down and make me anxious. But they kept on coming, the waves of burning, as the snow starting falling just like they said it would. Your dad made Pho and a mess in the kitchen. Your nana made a snowman with your sister behind the apartment. Scout made all of us laugh, ruling our roost and reining our hearts alone for one more day. And through it, my back was slowly burning.
We put Scout to bed with a foot of snow on the ground outside her window and I immediately tried to go to bed myself, to rest while I still could, but it was already too late. I bounced on a ball and watched TV, breathing through the fiery waves. I called the doctor to check in about the weather and he told me what I didn’t want to hear—that it wasn’t time yet, that I should stay home longer. Annoyed, I turned off the TV and told Dad to sleep and went to the living room. I sat in the rocking chair and rocked in the darkness, listening to Nana breathing on the air mattress, knowing she was awake and doing the same. The doctor called back and told me he’d go sleep at the hospital, just to make sure he could get there in the snow. “Come when you’re ready,” he said. And I felt a little stronger, more content to let hours pass rocking, rocking, rocking as my body was engulfed in flames.
When one contraction brought me to my knees and made me cry out, Nana spoke up in the darkness. “You should go,” she said. And I did. I woke your Dad and laced up my snow boots and we made our way to the car. The bite of cold air was a welcome change. I gulped it in.
The car got stuck almost immediately. The wheels spun underneath us, and I felt your Dad go frozen in the drivers’ seat. He pushed on the gas and they spun again. I started to panic and sobbed, “please, please,” over and over, an audible prayer. God would have to fill in the blanks. I saw a dark figure come out of the building and into the parking lot, and then another and another. Neighbors. Saviors. They said things like, “kitty litter” and “traction” and heaved and hoed while I sat in the passenger seat, clutching the handle above my head, trying to stop my mind from wandering into worst case scenarios.
We moved. Dad jumped in. Relief spilled out of who knows where and we drove on icy, deserted roads as fast as we could to the hospital. I got out of the car at the main entrance and a shocked security guard, shoveling the sidewalk, ushered me in to the ghost town lobby. He looked at me like I shouldn’t be there—didn’t I know there was a blizzard outside?—and then told your Dad that with a good Irish name like Murphey he’d better have one hell of a cigar to celebrate at the end of all this. I walked to the delivery room, taking breaks to breathe through the heat waves, and the rest was a blur. It always is.
For two and a half hours, I was burned alive, full of doubt that my body was capable of anything but its own destruction. “At this point, bad is good,” one nurse told me, so I forced my body up and clung to your dad as the heat waves rolled in on top of each other. It felt worse. I knew that meant progress. I would drown and gasp, then find the surface and steady my breath.
You started crowning as I stood in the corner. I screamed, “I can’t! I can’t!” but I already was. The pain was blinding, deafening. The doctor rushed in and gave me instructions and I repeated the words out loud, comprehending nothing. I pushed. I felt powerful and helpless, trapped and wild. And six minutes later, there you were, lifted up to my chest. I collapse beneath you.
The pain, the burning, was all consuming. And then it was gone. So quickly it melted into love and sweet relief. Pain isn’t supposed to work like that. It wanders away slowly. It leaves ghosts. It clings. No pain has ever consumed me then deserted me that way. But that night it did. It vanished so swiftly and completely that all I was left with was a strange kind of dream, a memory of your dad’s hands softly holding my tortured face, and you. I’m still trying to work out what I’m supposed to learn from a pain like that. I know it has something to teach me.
We were snowed in at the hospital for more than a day. No one in, no one out. The three of us just slept and snuggled with snow drifting down outside the window, warm in the light, light in the warmth. We marveled at your 9 lbs. and 8 oz., your arm rolls, your blonde hair. It all surprised us. We tried to pick a name for you, tried to discern a lifetime in a little face, and did our best, which is all we can ever do, I’m sorry to say.
Phineas William Clark Murphey, may I do right by you. May you keep surprising us. May you learn from your pain. May you find soft, strong hands to hold you and sweet relief to fill you in this world you live in now. I love you, little boy. May love be enough.
Read Scout’s birth story here.