Saturday, March 5, 2011

I don't have a punchline

There is just this: an unplanned unassisted (but planned home birth) to a mother who, when her baby grew limp and breathless moments after her birth had the resuscitation training to calmly position her, breathe into her mouth, and repeat until her little arms curled up, she sputtered, and she cried. (Watch.) When I first watched the baby's arms grow limp, even though I anticipated it, having read the word "resuscitation" in Rixa's post, I panicked. My own baby was nursing to sleep as I watched this and I startled harshly enough that he pulled back, opened his eyes and looked at me, surprised. As I watched the baby grow dangly, I said to the screen, "No, no."

That was the first pit of the last 20 minutes, that full-body rejection of the sight of an unbreathing baby. (Qualifier: I am a mom with a still-young baby and some unresolved junk around his birth - I know I have no business bringing all of that to anyone's birth, and I am not attending births. But I'm allowed to watch youtube.)

And then, as I watched the aftermath, mama settling into the tub, baby squirming in the normal fashion, the bustling attendant arriving and then being asked to leave, and the new baby girl seeming fine, I filled with joyful exuberance. That this one precious, tender, incredibly sensitive new little person could be born needing help and receiving that help from her mother in the warm safety of a tub is a transcendently beautiful departure of what neonatal resuscitation normally looks like. Nothing jarring, nothing painful or invasive, nothing panicked, nothing even as upset as my own response watching on a screen so many miles away. No, just family, breath appropriately applied, and the rolling of time into life here among us other breathing people. I felt buoyant and celebratory.

But now I'm sad again. Because this exemplifies what Adrienne Rich said. I believe every baby is that tender, soft, new, sensitive and deserving of such gentleness. Especially when it needs extra help. But in our world, such gentleness is not a universal right but a privilege that becomes available based on the constraints of social, cultural and demographic factors, including educational privilege and a willingness to make a choice that our culture largely regards as reckless. That is an awful lot to ask of people, who are social, dynamic beings in constant relationship and flux with the people around us, carrying with us the vestiges of that sense that certainly we can't know everything about this world, so mightn't it be wise to defer to authority?

I love Rixa's bold and unapologetic grasp on her responsibility for the choices she makes for her family. I'm so glad for her, and for that sweet baby girl who may have had the world's most tender resuscitation. I'm so glad for my own children's relatively peaceful births, and for the so many that are held in that remarkably rare spirit of reverence and respect in this slowly growing trend of gentle birthing.

But it is a bittersweet gladness, indeed, when I let myself broaden the lens to the larger world.

I wish I could summarize it all with... "And here is our clear answer."

But where? Where is our clear answer? I don't live in a world that has any of those. Not really, anyway. We like to assume the stance of certainty and conviction, but not one answer seems to stand firm against the onslaught of every possible experience, every possible shred of information, and every possible circumstance. And as much as I don't like to leave a bit of writing dangling with this feeling of conflicted joy-sad-ambiguity, it's what I have. There is no punchline.


  1. This is a beautiful post. I too watched with great anticipation, knowing what was going to happen, and the experience leaving me feeling shaken up but not understanding exactly where to place my emotions.

  2. Thank you for this kind look at her birth and at examining the fact all babies deserve gentleness.