Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Vigil

Hawk is somehow already 10 days old, and yesterday was the first that felt easy. Most of those days I've not known with any certainty what time it was at any given moment. I've spent it looking at Hawk, and after him, and I couldn't be happier. When Hawk is in the state known as quiet alertness, surveying our faces and the environment, gathering intelligence, his features sometimes assume a severity we call Samurai Face. And then just as quickly he'll blink those grand E.T. blinks, suggesting unfathomable depths of wisdom, and I find myself gazing upon a Star Child. He also does a mean impression of the late great James Brown, if James Brown did T'ai Chi.

I'd known, of course, that Everything Would Change, as Everyone Was Happy to Point Out, but I didn't understand the absolute focus required, nay demanded. As the leader of a local La Leche League group explained, unlike other projects or campaigns or aspirations, such as taking a new job, your life for a time is full of upheaval and uncertainty, but then eventually you adjust to the new demands, the new life, and reestablish a sort of equilibrium. With a kid, that doesn't appear to happen. The world changes, you change, and you keep on changing. The old life truly has passed away and a new one begun.

For me, it started on Friday, August 29 at three in the morning. I woke, sensing that Jenifer was no longer in bed. I found her downstairs on her knees in front of her favorite chair, a loveseat, where she had been stationed since 1:30. She told me that she didn't need me yet, to go back to bed until the usual hour. I complied as best I could, though for half that time my stomach was in knots. Hawk was on his way.

We spent most of the next 24 hours in front of the chair, Jenifer on hands and knees, my hands pressing on her sacrum each time a contraction came on. Over the course of the day Jenifer was only able to eat a few pineapple slices and a bit of toast. From time to time she would get up and walk around a bit, or get into the bath, but otherwise she maintained a single position. Hours passed, sometimes without words between us. The house was still, as if waiting with us and sharing this deep peace. Together we waited, moment by moment, and Jenifer endured. I could only liken the process, however feebly, to heavy squatting. When you are doing 20-rep squats with close to twice your bodyweight on the bar, and anything else at all seems a happier option, you can pace yourself to some degree, rationalize the effort put forth, make deals with yourself to get through the discomfort. Labor, of course, differs in that you don't know how many "reps" you have to do, you can't decide to wimp out and cut the set short, and your success or failure has no impact whatsoever on anyone else. Otherwise, Jenifer agreed, the two are completely the same.

The water broke, finally, at midnight. By this point we had moved to our new bed, which is low to the ground in the Japanese style. We felt that Hawk's birth was just around the corner. The contractions grew stronger and Jenifer's vocalizations, like a galdr chant, grew fiercer as she climbed the upper reaches of the intensity spectrum. Afterwards, Jenifer said "I didn't think I was a screamer." We half-expected the captains of the condo association to call the cops on us.

But no one came and neither did Hawk. Though nothing seemed amiss, both of us entertained thoughts of moving to Plan B. Jenifer's labor was fast approaching 24 hours. How long was too long? It's not like you could consult a monitor that indicated 83% completion. I remember quipping, "Most things get harder before they get easier," and, at last, just as Jenifer reached the ends of her endurance, the head appeared.

Jenifer felt it before I saw it. And then, with a final push, Hawk flew out and into my hands. I passed him to Jenifer and we pushed into the bathroom. Jenifer bathed Hawk and herself by candlelight, birthed the placenta easily. The first thing Jenifer noticed was that Hawk has my ears, and then his long feet, and only then his sex. Back in the bedroom, we weighed (7 pounds, 14 ounces) and measured (21 3/4 inches) him, but mostly we just looked at him. Here he was, at long last, the realization of our union and of generations going back beyond the reach of thought or memory. Hawk was born in the bed he sleeps in, and that morning we slept in it together for the first time.

To say that Hawk is a revelation is a vast understatement. Days before his birth I'd dreamed of him, of his size, his brown hair, the way his features are a mixture of Jenifer's and mine. In the photos I'd taken chronicling Jenifer's pregnancy, now Hawk also is present; before he was only an idea, an abstraction, an it even, for we had undergone no testing, no diagnostics, no ultrasounds. We knew nothing of his size, shape, sex (to say nothing of his gender), but already we understood something of his personality, or at least his energy. Throughout the pregnancy there was an abiding sense of rightness for Jenifer, and so we chose not to question this and subject it to the analytics of the Rational. On Hawk's fourth day we visited the hospital to see a lactation consultant. The place had the flowery stench of a funeral home, and we knew that within the panoptic walls of this institution Jenifer could not have had the birth she, or Hawk, needed.

I'd also dreamed recently of the daughter of a friend of ours, a rare, beautiful child who knew from an early age what she wanted to be, a dancer. She has just started college, for dance. In the dream, she was backstage preparing for her performance, unaware of being watched, just being effortlessly herself. The dream took me back to the day before Jenifer went into labor, when I was at the company picnic and my table was engaged in a conversation about kids going off to college with reasonable majors to get reasonable jobs. Better not to put all of one's eggs in one basket was the prevailing wisdom, and I nodded and smiled at my colleagues while inside I vowed never to succumb to this line of reasoning. And how could I? How can we expect our children to follow their dreams if we have not only forgotten but willfully buried our own? The question most often asked of Jenifer — "What if something goes wrong?" — was just another version of the one directed by my corporate compadres at me — "What if you never make it?"

A few days after Hawk's arrival, a friend who knows something about swinging for the fences wrote me about living a vigilant life that will inspire my son. In pursuing my own dreams, in helping Hawk to discover and achieve his own, would I be able to say that I am happy in this life, happy that he has joined it? I need not ponder this long, for I already have an answer. These 10 days have been the sweetest of my life. Hawk already has taken me out of myself, down a long, winding road where there is no past, no future, only this demand, this need, this moment. Hawk, I promise you, I am happy. Let's take the road together.

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Anonymous Eric said...

Wow - beautiful post, R.

Oh, and Hawk is pretty cute, too. :)

6:29 PM  
Anonymous K. T. said...

Did I miss the part about the painless birth?

6:25 AM  
Anonymous Bunny said...

Beautiful baby. I love that his initials are HOPR Perfect tribute to October J. :)

1:10 PM  
Anonymous c.j. said...

Congrats on the beautiful Hawk!

2:02 PM  
Anonymous jenifer said...

it was an amazing, pleasurable, and intense experience. sounding was an unexpected, powerful, amazing aspect to the birth.

of course, i haven't written my part of it yet; and ryan wasn't in the bodily experience. :)

2:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

confucius say "wherever you go, go with all your heart."

in other words, what flavor of gelato may i gift you with?!?

seriously, congratulations on the birth of your son HAWK, with the 'milkyway still in his eyes...'he is beautiful!

caroline aka 'anonymous'

6:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow....... sweet...... as it all should be..... enjoy......I am so happy for you......... it is just as you wanted and dreamed. HO! Im my lifetime I would love to meet Hawk & Jenifer.......HO!

Will think of you at MMC...... HO

A man from Maine... Jim

7:58 AM  
Anonymous Mr. Raz said...

The Vigil is an illuminating piece of writing, quietly powerful, poetic and serene - a pouring out of love, of waiting, and of fulfillment. I was moved to tears as I read the words that so beautifully told of Jenifer's labor, of Ryan's steadfast watch, and of the birth of their son, Hawk. As Hawk's grandfather, I am so pleased and deeply proud.

9:01 PM  

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