Last week, my kids and I zipped to my hometown for my sister’s bridal shower. We started at the midwives’ office in the morning, where Miles got to hold the Doppler and locate the baby’s heartbeat, which he did on the first try. We all marveled at the wonder of a fully formed human baby, just beneath the surface. We watched him roll about as his brothers talked to him. I got the greenlight to make the 4-hour journey, 36 weeks pregnant.
I arrived at my childhood home to learn my grandmother was at death’s door. This wasn’t shocking news–she’d been in hospice care for 7 months. I went to her bedside and said farewell, wishing I’d thought or cared to ask her more about her own 5 births before dementia took hold of her so deeply. All I know about her births is this: the first time around, an L&D nurse scolded her for vocalizing during a contraction and that shamed her into birthing silently the other 4 times.
By the time my first son was born, she was far enough gone that she mainly could comment repeatedly about the wonder of his red hair. My son Miles pleased her enormously, because his flaming red afro reminded her of her father, of her own strawberry hair. Probably of her youth and all the wonderful, pastoral things that seem amazing once one reaches 80+ years of life.
I’m glad he was able to trigger some pleasant memories for her each time she saw him, even when he played peek-a-boo with her a few months ago and every time his head popped up was like greeting him anew. “You’re gonna be a red-head!” “Oh! You’re gonna be a red-head!”
My family sat around her, holding her hand and singing to her as her pulse got weaker and her breathing more labored. Eventually, everyone left for a hot minute and she took that opportunity to slip out of this world.
Her five babies, in accordance with her wishes, had her remains cremated and the sleek box of ash sat before us at her memorial, much heavier than I’d anticipated it would be as I tried to open it to show my persistent red-head what lay within. It was locked–we couldn’t see.
The night before her service was meant to be my blessingway. My friends were gathered to offer affirmations and blessings for my upcoming birth, to wish me well as I try yet again to birth my baby. But I was 250 miles away, surrounded by the many, many women of my family. So they blessed my baby’s upcoming journey Earthside.
My cousin Christie, who wears the ashes of her own mother (fused into a glass bead) around her wrist and in her hair, painted a henna phoenix on my belly. I told her the bird had to swoop downward, toward my birth canal.
“What if, for me, to fly toward the birth canal IS to rise?”
The past two times, my births ended with me lashed to the operating table, my body severed to extract my wailing boys. My scars are every bit as weighty as the box of ash that sat before us. I want this baby to rise. I want him to soar from my body and into my arms. I want this so badly.
Christie painted the phoenix and I thought about what my grandmother would say. Probably that it was strange to paint a bird on a stomach.
We left town straight after the memorial service. I needed to get back after our stay was so unexpectedly lengthened. I had another checkup today and learned my baby is optimally aligned, knocking at the door to come out. Neither of my other boys has ever been in a position that’s optimal for birthing.
This makes me feel so hopeful, that perhaps my phoenix will indeed rise. Or maybe, given the circumstances, the phoenix isn’t my baby at all, but my grandmother herself, rising to be with me, peeking inside and impatient to see if this little man will have red hair, too.