A Part of Me Looking Back

September 26, 2010

I’d never known what it was to have a part of you looking back. That birthing meant you carried that child with you for the rest of your life . . . I don’t know how any woman makes sense of what she’s carrying, before or after a birth. It took me a while myself to understand.
                    — Michelle Hoover, b. 1973
                         American fiction writer
                         from her debut novel The Quickening

Twenty-five years ago today, at this very hour (7:30 pm), I lay on a — I don’t even know what it was – a gurney? a bed? — in a labor room at Osteopathic Hospital in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I’d been in labor for 24 hours, in that room for nearly 12. It was probably the atmospheric pressure from the weakened but still formidable Hurricane Gloria that had sent me into labor, finally, five days past my due date.

“Oh, you’ll go early,” my obstetrician had said, and that statement, along with the determination via amniocentesis that the fetus I was carrying was of a “normal female karyotype,” had led me to choose a name, Evelyn Rose, for both of her grandmothers, and to use the skills in calligraphy I’d learned in a summer class to fashion a birth announcement:

For this child I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of him.
1 Samuel 1:27
Evelyn Rose DeAngelis
September         , 1985

I had a suitable quantity printed, assured that the ink as it appeared on the card would match the ink out of the bottle which I would use to add the actual date in the wide space between the r and the comma. With five days in September left, I’d begun wondering just how amusing it would be to have the announcement of the most wondrous day of my life read “September 31” or “September 33.”

I had hesitated to have the amniocentesis at all. As an “elderly primi” (a woman pregnant for the first time past the age of 34), at risk for carrying a child with Down syndrome, I was eligible to have the test declared “medically necessary” and thus paid for by my insurance. When I told the doctor that no result would change my intention to carry the pregnancy to term, he urged me to have it anyway. It would afford us time to prepare for circumstances we had not planned for, if that were the case. This gave me permission to spend my insurance carrier’s money, because all I really wanted to know was whether or not I had the girl I had specifically prayed for. (“Dear God, please show me your will regarding starting a family with Ron. But if I were you, here’s what I would do: I want a girl, brown hair, brown eyes, above-average smart but not one of those supergifted prodigies because they can be a pain . . . “)

A few nights before the procedure I had a dream. A shape that looked like the ones in the photographs in the Linnart Nilsson book I looked at every night appeared in the dream, and a child-like voice of uncertain gender told me that it was OK to find out what diseases or conditions it might have, but that I shouldn’t go poking into anything else. “Just let me be me,” it said.

The dream gave me pause, but only for a moment. I went ahead with the test, got my grainy, blurred screen capture of what the sonogram showed (“Somebody told you that’s a picture of what’s in there?” said one of my teenage boy students. “Some people will believe anything!”), and waited the three weeks for the results. With assurance that God had followed at least one of my suggestions, I chose a name, hung rosebud wallpaper in the mornings and practiced my calligraphy in the afternoons as July gave way to August and then September.

“I don’t know how any woman makes sense of what she’s carrying,” says Enidina Current, the early-twentieth-century farm wife in Michelle Hoover’s novel who has to suffer several miscarriages before she successfully delivers twins. Enidina became pregnant by chance, suffered her fetal losses suddenly and unexpectedly for reasons no one could explain, and was as surprised as anyone else to find herself an elderly primi who was lucky enough, finally, to have the family she always wanted.

I had so much more medical knowledge and scientific technology at my disposal than did the fictional Enidina, and yet, like her, I had to make sense of the wonder that had come to me day by day, stage by stage. And twenty-five years later I am still in love with this part of me that looks back, whom I have tried to let be her own person, as her imagined fetal self requested.

Below is the picture I used in the post I made last year on this date. I quoted poet Sharon Olds then: “From no one have I learned as I learned from you.” I noted that her boyfriend, Matt, pictured with her, had, “so far,” proved worthy of her. Matt is still the boyfriend, and still proving worthy of her, and I think I don’t have to use any qualifying phrases anymore. At 25, Lynn is most definitely her own person, a young woman of courage, a young woman of peace, whose every decision is sound and sensible. If she is a part of me looking back, then perhaps I have proven worthy to have been her mother.

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