“Don’t strive after finality. Nothing is final except an idea, or an ideal. That can never grow. But eternity is, livingly, the unceasing creation after creation after creation, and heaven is to live onwards, and hell is to hold back. Ah, how many times have I, myself, been shattered and born again, how many times still do I hope to be shattered and born again, still, while I live. In death I do not know, do not ask. Life is my affair.”
– Mr. Noon, D.H. Lawrence
“It might take a while for me to get pregnant,” she told me. I hadn’t known her very long. Just a few months. I knew she would be the one after I crashed my car and met her outside a Love’s in a Southern place that city dwellers don’t even know exists. I was on my way to see her, but then she had to pick me up. It progressed so fast but we were both in our 30’s and there was no time for us to not be serious. Now we were laying our cards down on the table and she needed me to know some things about her.
“I had a germ cell tumor on my ovary when I was young and they had to remove it. I’ve only got one so I also have a device that regulates my hormones. I won’t get pregnant until that’s removed, and even then, who knows.”
I thought it was funny how she cried easily but always dealt in hard realities. She loved Wallace Stevens and it was always go big or go home. She wanted to be with me and she wanted to be near me and she wanted me. She talked easily about how hard it would be to have children but she wanted it so badly and I wanted it too. She knew because of her childhood cancer her life could be a shorter one and she did not fear death. It all happened in a fever and I saw no reason to cool it down.
But I thought we needed time. We needed to go slower. Get to know each other, make sure this was right. It’s gone so wrong before. I was too eager, too needy. It had to be right this time. She’d get a place of her own and we’d test the waters. Children would come, but it didn’t need to be so soon. She had history and so did I. Let’s get it right this time.
She moved in immediately and I couldn’t say no.
It wasn’t even three months before we moved somewhere else together. I was asked to come down on an unsteady offer and she made sure I couldn’t say no. She wanted to free me from where I was. She wanted me to be happy. It would take a while for her to get pregnant, so I could work the new thing until it made some money. It would take a while for her to get pregnant so we could plan our wedding to take place the next year. She went back to get all of her stuff and get the device removed. Her doctor confirmed if she gets pregnant it will probably take a while. We had time to get our affairs in order.
She came back to me and got pregnant within two weeks.
We had plans but the Lord had better ones. I had no doubt that God wanted us to have this baby, even if we had faltered in getting there. I took the sign and we got right with our church and sped up the wedding so that issue wouldn’t be lingering. We joked about how traditional our marriage was–the shotgun or knobstick wedding being a very common phenomenon among the peasantry. We were ready for the responsibility though and we wanted this baby so badly. We always wanted to grow up, even if it wasn’t how.
“I hope that somewhere on the far fringes of the future, deep in the surviving jungles, high in the isolated mountains, far out in the forgotten deserts, little bands of free men and liberated women may still be roaming, hunting, fishing, gathering, begetting and mothering human children, awaiting their opportunity to attack the corrupt cities, to sack the temples of technology, to ravish and raze (once again!) the leaning towers of babble…We are dreamers, every one of us. I console myself with a single fierce resolve—the drama must go on. Women and men share not only their beds, their food, their homes, their lives, but also a common fate. The continuity is all.”
– One Life at a Time, Please, Edward Abbey
Her pregnancy wasn’t easy. Brief waves of euphoria were only within a sea of rapid weight gain, discomfort and distorted image, bloated feet, and intense pain within her wrists that had no relief. Our son was growing mean and strong however and we eagerly tracked his progress. She was so small and he seemed so large though. My wife was tough in the way that women were meant to be tough, but she looked so fragile on the nights she was doubled over holding her wrist and crying in pain. She only cried once from anything physical that I saw.
For the sake of our child she gave up even the mildest of painkillers. She gave up all caffeine. I reminded her that the rules and suggestions are put out there not for people like her but for the people who need rules, that she had leeway. She insisted on doing everything right, on being as natural as possible. She did this all the while taking care of other people in her job as a nurse. She contained within her the seed of life as she cared for the bloom that fell from the lives of others. I remembered what Pentti Linkola had said about women: “There is no reason other than the fact that women are stronger: women take care of the continuity of life to the very end.”
When Christ was crucified, it was the women who were there. When Christ was entombed, it was the women who were there. When Christ was risen, it was the women who were there. They are known as the Myrrhbearers or the Myrrhbearing women and their names differ in traditions and interpretations. It was the women who told the apostles that His tomb was empty. It was a woman He appeared to first; Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons. A very sick woman, and He appeared to her first. A very sick woman, who had to go to the men who were in hiding, sickly with fear of the Jews.
God works in ironies. The first to embrace Jesus in Resurrection was a sick woman full of demons. The first to walk with him into death was a condemned thief. The leader of the apostles was a self-loathing coward and denier. Paul condemned the first martyr Stephen. I saw the ironies in our own lives, that our faith was always abstract and uncommitted until we had sinned and saw it come into focus. I saw the ways in which my wife’s own strange life had led her way to me.
While there might be little to praise in the state of modern women, there’s also little to praise in the state of modern men and modern society. Women are what they are in their worst ways, but getting mad about them as women is like cursing the moon for pulling at the earth’s tides. Without the moon there is no continuity of life on earth itself. The earth and the moon share a common fate. This is not a dismissal of the issues of the younger generation and their diminished future prospects. This is not a command to take up women that cannot be taken up. This simply is what is.
It doesn’t do a man any good to wish for things he can’t currently have, to fantasize about breeding stumps, or to rage for the sake of raging. Teenage fantasies burn out fast as they’re a fire that is starving for oxygen. Growing up is understanding is-ought and what you do now with that. It’s sharpening sticks not just for fighting but for frontier medicine.
My wife was in so much pain but she was so determined to give birth to our baby on the floor of our home.
“True pain can only come gradually. It is exactly like tuberculosis in that the disease has already progressed to a critical stage before the patient becomes aware of its symptoms.”
– Confessions of a Mask, Yukio Mishima
We were two weeks from due date and she wanted to see all of our friends. I didn’t think it was a good idea but I couldn’t deny her. She brought out all of my best qualities when we were with our friends. She baked cakes for them and we drove out there to have a good time. At first we thought we’d stay the night, but she suggested we drive back during the night so that we could start the week off right being absolutely ready for the baby.
I drove there and she said she would drive us back. It poured in rain and we ended up pulling over into towns we never heard of that were just extensions of motel strips, trying to catch a wink of sleep so that we could quickly get back on the road again. I said “let’s just get a hotel”. She said “no, we can do this”. She played Star Trek at full volume in the car to stay awake while I fell into the pathetic rest of dreamless sleep paralysis. We start and stop three times, looking for rest and respite against the weather and the night as we inched our way back home.
That third time was not the charm as I woke up in a rest stop to her squirming in the driver’s seat in pain. We were in the danger zone and I feared she might go into a labor at a moment’s notice. She seemed to be now, for all I knew. I sat up and looked at her. I couldn’t imagine how I looked, other than weary and nearly defeated. I didn’t need to say anything, she picked up every thought in the subtle way I shifted and looked at her.
“Braxton hicks,” she seethed, putting on her nurse mask. “It’s basically false labor.” She puffed out air in an attempt for relief and then winced again. I looked at her like I might get instruction on what she wanted to. We were stranded off the road and going nowhere fast. The easy solution she’d fight me on but the harder solution she wouldn’t commit to. We ran through every solution:
Let’s just rest here (except she’s in pain)
Let’s just find a hotel (except we’re nowhere near one and why spend the money)
Just keep driving (except she’s in pain)
I had maybe two hours of sleep at best. It was dead of night, when everything was cold and silent, when even the graveyard shift workers are barely alive. I sat there shivering, bones shaking, and watching my wife writhe up and down her seat. I closed my eyes. It would be so easy to just go back to sleep. The car wasn’t comfortable. I could do it. But they snapped open and I threw the door open and stepped out.
“Move over,” I told her as I went around the car to the driver’s seat and forced her into mine.
“Are you going to be okay?” she asked.
“Yeah, I’m awake now.”
I pulled us back down the road and hunched over the wheel, wishing I had toothpicks propped up under my eyelids. She asked me over and over again if I was fine. I was fine (I wasn’t fine). Lights hovered above my eyes like fuzzy UFOs. The flat road carried us quickly home and I was terrified at the thought of closing my eyes even for a blink. She asked me a fifth or sixth or seventh time and I told her she needed to stop. There was a pregnant pause and I silently pulled over to the next rest stop.
I ran in and made a beeline for the vending machines. All I could find was a coffee energy drink. Fumbling with my card I bought it and slammed it down. I found some chips, bought those, and returned to the car and tossed them to her. I looked at my wife, more alert. She looked concerned, but at least the pain seemed to be gone. “We’re getting home.”
She didn’t ask if I was fine anymore. We made it home without another stop and I fell into the bed while she slipped into the bath. There would be dinner with the parents soon enough. I worried about the baby. I had expected her water to break because taking it easy and thinking things through wasn’t really something we do. The due date was still over a week way but I knew deep down that we wouldn’t make it to that point.
“But, you know, woman goes through a lot of pain in giving birth to one child. This always has to be remembered in our male way of looking at things, that there are other forms of strength, there are other forms of power and those are good because they’re based on natural processes.”
– Why I Am Not A Liberal, Jonathan Bowden
There was a pounding on the door of my bedroom. I wasn’t sure what time it was, I had gotten back from the hospital so late. So much had happened in the last twenty four hours and the only rest I’d received in twenty eight was the dreamless sleep of the dead. The last night was slowly coming back into focus.
She called me while I was at work. She thought her water broke. I had no doubt this was the case. We had a false alarm the week before but after the pain of that car ride I knew we had bumped up that due date. Two days ago my mother said she was certain he was coming this week and I always trust my mother. This was it.
I ran around the city collecting the things that the midwife would need. We had opted for a home birth after all of the experience my wife had in the hospital system as a nurse herself and seeing its different sad stories. Mothers barred from skin-to-skin contact with infants because of Covid scares. Patients abandoned by TikTok nurses who couldn’t care less other than to pick up lucrative travel contracts. Medical mistakes that could have easily been prevented which no one will own up to. When you fail you get to own the mistake for the rest of your life but when the system fails you’re just a bullet point or a statistic.
I came home hours later to our concerned dog watching my wife sway with guttural moans. The midwife wasn’t supposed to come until near the end and my wife was already asking me to get her over here. I put the midwife on the phone who tried to coach her through this early stage while I ran the dog out. It was slightly drizzling and a chilly wind blew through us as a cold front in spring settled dark clouds overhead. Night was coming and I’d been told that most babies are born in twilight. By the time I got back into the house she was writhing on the couch and told me between contractions that she got the midwife to come over now.
Family slowly milled in before the midwife arrived. They brought food, help, and good will while my wife rooted around with primal growls. I didn’t really know what to do but be there. Eventually my mother arrived and then the midwife and then her assistants. I put my trust in them. I was the only man in the house besides the animals and I stuck out like a sore thumb.
Hour by hour went by with little progress. The midwife and her assistants sat at our table and chatted while my wife went in and out of fugue states, barely responding to the birthing positions that they tried to get her to try. She screamed for her mother, then she screamed for the midwife who told her she needed to keep moving through this pain until she was dilated enough and the baby had dropped into the canal. She never called my name, and when she did see me she was embarrassed that I saw her in this state. She even apologized, like it was her fault that this was where we were. I tried not to notice the bloodstains in our bed. How could I ever pretend to understand.
The hour was becoming late and people went home, one of them taking our dog for us, while the rest of my family who stayed was just my mother. 10 became 11 became 12 became 1 became 2. It almost seemed time. The midwife could see his head and he had hair. I sat by my wife’s side and she had tears in her eyes. She couldn’t wait to see our baby. She knew she could this; 2 became 3 became 4 became 5. I lifted my wife from behind as she tried to squat with the contractions. We were going nowhere fast; 5 became 6.
Everyone was exhausted. My wife was screaming in pain. She was in and out of a fugue state with no idea what was going on anymore and yet she didn’t seem to want to give up. The midwife told her she just needed to keep going. I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t prepared for this. I’d been awake twenty four hours and I felt helpless as a child. My quiet mother had been silent the whole night now looked at me and gently said, “it’s time to go to the hospital.” She repeated it several times until the decision was made. She would drive us. I always trust my mom.
The midwife and the others had another birth to go to, one they had been advising while attending to us, so we parted ways. We left with almost nothing while I directed my mother through the dead parts of our Rust Belt city. My wife was doubled over in the car and shaking. Sunlight still had not broken and we shivered in the dark of this night that wouldn’t end.
They rushed us through security and we wheeled my wife up to where we needed to be. As my wife begged for them to do something, they asked for her driver’s license and insurance card. They put her on a bed and me next to her as she rolled and cried. She hastily gave them her medical history about the germ cell tumor and swore up and down she had no Covid symptoms when they asked. They proposed some options for the birth and she yelled at them to just do the Caesarean. They ran her down while a nurse tried to help get me ready to be with her.
Next time I saw her she was smiling. They had her anaesthesized and they led me around the curtain to sit with her while four or five people cut her open. She looked at me and asked if I was disappointed. Even after all of that she was still thinking about how I might feel. I assured her and we talked until the operating room was broken by a baby’s cry. Her eyes lit up. They showed us briefly before whisking him away and I could have sworn he was huge. I stroked my wife’s hair while they cleaned him up and closed her up.
It seemed to take so long but we got him first and cooed over him as they wrapped her up. Time kept stretching and they finally told us what was up. There was a lot of damage down south. Her bladder was attached to her uterus which was ultra thin. She wasn’t even fully dilated when she came in. She was never going to be able to push out our baby no matter how long she was at it. Shockingly none of us, not even her doctor, had considered the treatment of the tumor might make natural birth impossible. An OB/GYN might have caught it, if we had consulted one. So many stupid little mistakes had been made along the way that being here now felt like a stupid little miracle.
They dissected her bladder off of her uterus and took us to recovery. Everything was finally calming down and we had our baby. They told us he was perfectly healthy. The beginning of our lives could finally start. In the end it was worth it. My wife took one look at my tired eyes and sent me home. I’d been awake for a day and a half and couldn’t wait to hit the bed. I’d see my wife and son again in the evening. My mother picked me off and took me home to sleep. It was nearly afternoon.
There was a pounding on the door of my bedroom. I wasn’t sure what time it was, I had gotten back from the hospital so late. So much had happened in the last twenty four hours and the only rest I’d received in twenty eight was the dreamless sleep of the dead. My mother told me to wake up. I looked at my phone I left on silent and saw thirteen missed calls and multiple voice mails. I was down to 1% battery.
I plugged in the charger and listened to my mom tell me that my wife was back in surgery, that something had happened a few hours ago. They had been calling me non-stop and after getting no response she drove to come and get me. I listened to my wife’s voice message and her sweet voice let me know she had to go back into surgery as there was some bleeding, but not to worry she’d be back out soon. I didn’t know what to think but I rushed out the door in two day stench and raced the setting sun back to the hospital, my heart pounding faster than the engine.
“Pulling down the blinds on sun’s tomorrow
A fist through the wall for what you can’t swallow
Babies in the crib take care and breathing
You count up all your luck, can’t stop the feeling”
– “Privilege“, Stars
I sat alone in what had previously been my wife’s room earlier in the day. All of her stuff had been moved out once she had been taken back into surgery. No one could really give me an update on her status until a doctor could be in to see me. My phone was dead so I had nothing but myself to occupy my time.
On the way, the midwife had called me to check in since half a day had passed and the other baby was born. She was genuinely shocked at what had happened and what we had learned since we all left my home earlier in the day. I gathered that she had never had a case go this south before, which might have explained some of her nonchalance the night before. I reassured her that the baby was perfectly healthy and that I’d update her once I knew more about what happened to my wife.
A fearful thought shot across the fog of my mind. What if something really bad happened to her? What if I lost my wife and my son lost his mother? I tried to push that scenario out of my mind but remembered something that I had said when my mother drove me back that morning.
“This was a humbling experience. It was a miracle she even got pregnant according to the doctor who had treated her germ cell tumor. It seems so stupid in hindsight that we hadn’t taken that into account. We never should have been a candidate for home births. One hundred years ago this would have just been another statistic in the danger of childbirth for women and another notch in the high infant mortality rate.” She said nothing as she normally did but I wondered if she was thinking of other pregnant tragedies in our family.
Return to Tradition, unless it returns you to the hospital, I thought. We hadn’t just tried to set the clock back one hundred years, we had tried for five hundred. These things have their time and place and I’ve always been skeptical of talks of Tradition because Tradition is a system of practices, not a reaction to Progress. Which traditions and whose? Which arbitrary point are we choosing and why and is it actually reflective of thar reality, such as when people think premarital sex was rare but when you view parish records of marriages and births it becomes clear that priests and families imposed marriages on peasants to keep the rates of illegitimacy as low as they could keep them. That too is a tradition, and a pretty good one all told.
There should be a way to integrate the future and the past together in a way that works for us. As Ivan Illich points out, engineers, nutritionists, and moral guardians are owed a debt of gratitude most for making and keeping people healthy, but now I saw what a good hospital could do when you needed it most. My wife and child would have just been a statistic not long ago. She might still be. I was sobered.
A mousy little doctor eventually greeted me in the room and began to explain everything that had happened. Everything had been fine with my wife when I left for a couple of hours, but it turned out she had an elevated white blood cell count (possible infection) and a blood clot that opened that had caused her to bleed out on the bed. It had started a little and the nurse wasn’t worried but it got worse. It got worse fast. Apparently the previous surgery, as they didn’t really understand her history and were focused on getting the baby out, they had made some mistake while closing her. She had multiple doctors crowding her bed trying to figure out what to do. They debated how to stop the bleeding and save her ability to have more kids. The head of their department popped by while they discussed, took one look at her, and said she needed to go to surgery for a hysterectomy now. My wife agreed. “I’d rather be alive with no uterus than dead with one.”
The hysterectomy was a success and now she was recovering in the ICU. Had they waited, had she not agreed to it, she would have died. By the time the transfusions were taking she had lost all of her blood. Everything in her now was brand new blood.
As I listened to this and processed everything that happened, the doctor stopped and gave me a curious look. “Do you have a medical background?”
“No,” I said, then realized she was probably surprised that I followed all of the jargon she threw at me. “My wife’s a nurse so I hear stories like this all the time.” It then occurred to me that she might have been concerned about my lack of emotional response. I guess I have a flat affect, or it just seems that way to others as I often distrust my emotions. I was still catching up to the fact that my wife nearly died that no more children seemed too distant to think about.
“Unfortunately due to Covid restrictions we can’t let you into the ICU to see her. We can take you to your son though. They had to put him on antibiotics as a precaution due to the possible infection in the womb but I’m told that he’s very healthy. Just speak to the nurse outside when you’re ready.”
I knew the hospital though and knew who I could talk to and without a word I headed over to the ICU to see my wife. She was in good spirits though in pain. She’d only be there for a day before she’d be transferred to maternity. We only briefly discussed the hysterectomy; she had no regrets about telling them to do it. She apologized again to me if I had been worried. I saw in her weary eyes a small sign of defeat, the admission that she was wrong about doing the home birth. She replayed the previous night, trying to remember what she could.
“I don’t think anything really changes where we are. A lot of mistakes were made along the way between us, the midwife, and even the doctors and nurses here, but it all goes back to the germ cell tumor you has as a kid. Your doctor said you might not even get pregnant, so we should have thought that a C section might have been a probability.”
She nodded. “She did, yes. This has given me a better appreciation for what modern medicine can do. But I’m fine with it. We have our baby and he’s perfect. He’s our miracle baby. God gave us a little miracle. You should go see him. I’ll be fine here and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I kissed her and slipped out back to the other side of the hospital. The nurse was waiting to take me to see my son again. He was lying in his bed sleeping while the machine he was hooked up to beeped out numbers I couldn’t read. He had been swaddled but obviously had broken out at some point as his arms were sticking out by his tiny face. The nurse picked him up and put him in my arms.
We didn’t name him for a saint or any heroes to our politics. He was only named with the names of the men of our families. It was a weird feeling seeing him again here and after what had happened. I had only seen him briefly before going home and now I was holding him and thinking about my wife and the life we’d be living now. What happened didn’t really matter to me. There are options if we want more, but tomorrow matters more than next year. Prayer never comes easy for me and never had but I silently thanked God for giving me this, just this, and only this. My son yawned and startled and began to open his eyes.
His smiling eyes almost killed me.