This time 32 years ago I was at a crawfish boil in Destrehan, Louisiana, and my friends were amusing themselves by watching a nine-months-pregnant woman peel mudbugs with two hands.
Of course, they were drinking beer, which added to their mirth. I was so appropriately sober, ravenously hungry and engorged with my first baby that I didn’t care. Like anything that goes down socially in that state, the mood was light, libations were abundant, fun was a given and the laughter was kind. Crawfish spilled out of boiling cauldrons onto communal tables covered in newspaper. New potatoes and corn were gourmet afterthoughts to my food-besotted brain. I remember strong sunshine and sweat trickling down my back. Upside down in my womb, Anne-Christine kicked.
The next morning, Sunday, I awakened at 5 a.m. to what felt like a heavy period getting ready to start. “This isn’t bad at all,” I remember thinking right before stabbing pains roiled across my abdomen with increasing urgency. They were five minutes apart, but I was a trooper. When was I supposed to feel like I needed to push? My mother called from Seoul, S. Korea and was horrified to hear I was waiting around for the urge to strike.
At 5 p.m., she had Lee hustle me off to Lakeside Hospital, where I apologized profusely to the nurse for bothering her by arriving too early. Someone whispered transverse lie. I tried vainly to recall the stages of labor I’d dutifully memorized. A nurse whisked me into a private room. “You’re stuck in transition,” she explained. As the epidural needle slid like the grace of God into my back she cautioned me the worst was far from over. Yes, it is, I thought smugly as I was wheeled pain-free if numb, down the hall to the delivery room. The nurse and doctor climbed onto the table to re-position the recalcitrant child into the birth canal. I screamed.
Anne-Christine emerged, finally, and as Dr. Tilton, the obsetrician, triumphantly raised her into the air so I could admire the fruit of my labor, Lee levitated into the air. She looked just like him. The light shone down from heaven. “Come over here,” the other nurse commanded authoritatively, knighting him with parenthood. New fathers are all alike. Wearily, I watched as my doctor stitched me back together. We both looked tired. I started shivering as he finished and the nurse who had worked through her shift just to stay strong for me, covered me with a heated blanket. “You were great,” she lied.
Like all mothers, I repeated some iteration of this story every year to Anne-Christine. It’s the mythic origin story that all mothers share first with each other, then with their kids, then with bored sons-and-daughters-in-law before passing them along to grandchildren, who won’t fully appreciate this legacy of love either until their own children make grandparents of them.
I regaled Anne-Christine annually with these circumstances surrounding her entry into the world, usually over crawfish at Ragin’ Cajun on Richmond in Houston, where she thought it was funny to kick me under the table occasionally. “At least it isn’t in my rib,” I’d joke lamely back.
Julian, her 10-year-old son, thinks that’s funny, too, but it’s his origin story that matters desperately to me now. Anne-Christine will never get to tell him how she told me her back ached during her wedding rehearsal dinner (long story), and of how I panicked watching her leave abruptly for the hospital with soon-to-be-husband Donnie. Neither one of them know what they’re doing, I remember thinking, forgetting that I didn’t either in 1986.
Doctors slowed her labor and kept her on bed rest, dopey on magnesium. Desperate to do something, I went out and bought Tempurpedic pillows to make her comfortable. Like my mother before me, I sensed something was wrong. I called Donnie. “I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I think this baby’s coming.” I felt silly. The nurses weren’t alarmed. Anne-Christine lay in bed next to Edward, her childhood teddy bear. “Tell the nurse to get the doctor,” the 2008 me commanded.
Julian’s entrance into the world was quick. Afterward, Anne-Christine vaguely remembered the nurses worrying about her medical status in the aftermath of Julian’s arrival, and the doctor looking up and telling them all to settle down. She thought it was funny, during the long hours we sat together in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, where we virtually lived for two months, as Julian endured a brain bleed and blood transfusions.
We rehashed every detail of his arrival. The story got better over time. “Bitches,” she thought the doctors said. “Calm down.” Ah, medicine.
Today? Julian’s origin story is a little scarier than hers, but I know that the love that cocooned his little plastic isolette at Texas Women’s passed directly from my umbilical cord to her, and from her to him.
Tomorrow I’ll drive once more to Liberty, where I’ll fantasize that the decorated U.S. Marine buried next to her grave returns to life to stomp all over Shaun Hardy with the granite boots that mark his grave.
I’ll remember every moment of all of the pain it took to bring her into this world, and of the horror and pain it took to remove her from it.
As always, if you are an abused woman who is reading this blog post — and I know many of you are — think of Anne-Christine’s story and get out. She would have turned 32-years-old today, but she is forever 30, love’s labor lost over a psychopath with fists.
Her origin story lives on in her son and through you, imbuing you with the strength and courage to escape all that negated hers.
Please get out. Leave now, with love and in peace so you can celebrate your next birthday with your mother or family member or anyone else who really loves you. Anyone without fists.
Break the cycle.