I Walk Alone

By Thais Derich

A week past my due date with my second child, I’m slowly climbing the front steps of my San Francisco apartment. My eyes hardly move from my feet. The rhythm of my squeezing belly paces my steps. I remember how greatly I was misinformed before the birth of my first child, three years ago. Women have been giving birth forever, I thought; how hard could it be? My heart pounds. The brick steps up to my red front door seem never ending. I’ll go to a birth class and study birth books; spontaneously begin labor; go to the hospital; and then, the baby will just come out. I stop and grip the railing. But things weren’t fine. I begin slowly climbing again. This time, I’m going to trust my own body.

Three years ago, in the midst of labor with Nate when a cesarean was proposed to me, I never knew that I could have declined and just kept pushing. I thought cesareans were reserved for emergencies. It wasn’t until my postnatal appointment when I asked how I could have avoided the cesarean that the feeling of betrayal set in. My provider told me that I just could have pushed longer. I would have pushed longer. I swear. If I had been given that choice, I would have. The hardest part about birth is trusting that I know my body better than any other authority. Now, after months of preparation, I have a second chance to get it right.

The weight of my off-balance pregnant body and the accumulated fatigue of days without enough sleep sweep over me. I resist the urge to use my hands to help my legs up the stairs. They shake. Poor legs. When I reach the top, I’m breathing as if I have just run a marathon. Why am I still living in a place with so many stairs? All I can think about is collapsing on my bed, the way the Olympic athletes fall on their backs right on the racetrack after they cross the finish. But my marathon is just beginning. Finally, I enter our apartment. The water runs for Nate’s nightly tub. I peek into the bathroom.

“Maybe you should go for a walk or something to keep it going,” Zack says.

Let’s not end up with a stalled labor like last time, he’s saying.

“Later,” I tell him.

I turn my back and walk to the bedroom. I have to sleep, if only for five minutes. Am I already sabotaging my hopes for a better birth by resting? No, that’s what my body is telling me to do. Sleep.

I slowly lean back in bed. Zack comes in and rubs his thumb in circles on the nervy pressure point just above my ankle. It’s supposed to stimulate labor. I groan. Nate runs around the corner, wet. He leaves his little three-year old footprints on the wood floors.

The contractions are so gentle that they might slip away with the fading daylight. Zack scoops Nate up with one arm and swishes a towel around on the floor with the other. My heavy eyes blink slowly a few times. The big building behind our house blocks the low sun.

After an hour the soft squeeze of my belly wakes me up. It’s still there and stronger even. Energized, I force myself to rise. I’m ready for that walk.

I stand at the top of the carpeted stairs that lead down to the front door. Zack cradles Nate in his arms and struggles to untwist his penguin pajama feet.

This is it.

“Wait! Take your cell phone,” Zack says.

My keys jingle as they hit the counter, then the entire contents of my purse hits the granite like he’s shaking out a lost sock from a pillowcase. He holds up the phone like a trophy and tosses it to me. I catch it between my legs. I close the door with a gentle click behind me.

I’m on Fulton Street now. The cars speed by.

The noise is more like jet engines than normal traffic. Cars stream by me one after another.

I have got to get off this street.

My stomach cramps up and I stop walking and breathe deep, long breaths. I turn right into the USF campus. The sunset melts in front of me. My legs waddle so wide, I could have a horse’s back between them.

The campus is empty except for a small group of people following a young tour guide. They stop at every building to look up as she talks. I cross the large green lawn. At the edge of the lawn, I teeter back and forth between the tall grass and the flat pathway. I rest and wait out a contraction. They’re strong now. I make it to the foot of the USF stairs.

Two weeks ago, Zack and I climbed these steps; they are the same stairs that we climbed together on our wedding day. The view from the top looks straight at the tower of St. Ignatius church. We posed for our wedding pictures, kissed, and enjoyed a quiet moment together here. I want to climb those stairs with Zack again and recapture a simpler time. I take two big steps up. The promise of the view of the St. Ignatius tower urges me onward. The orange and lemon sky unobstructed by buildings like the top of a pint of sorbet awaits me. The railing splits into two curving staircases flanking a beautiful rose garden.

And then, I can’t feel my legs. They buckle under with the next contraction. I start to fall. My shirt brushes the petals of a rose. With my hands outstretched, I catch myself on the railing. I’m not going up these steps. I need to get back home.

But when my feet touch the flat sidewalk again, walking feels good. I head further on towards the setting sun.

Almost to my favorite ocean vista point at the edge of the university parking lot, I bend over. My deep breaths manage the rolling waves of contractions. The trek to this vista point makes my already long walk longer. But, I’m too close now to turn back. The expansive view of the Pacific Ocean is steps away. A little further and I will witness the earth rotate away from the sun. Now, at the edge of the empty lot, I stop to look. The city opens up and the colors bleed into the blue water. I breathe. The faint smell of the roses still lingers on my shirt from the stairs. The warm ocean breeze pumps me with energy and gently blows my hair.

As the color starts to dull, the first star of the night appears.

“Time to go home,” I say softly.

Determined to take the most direct route back home this time, I waddle across the crosswalk. I can barely walk now. No cars are coming. I resist the urge to drop to my knees and surrender to labor right there on the other side.

I take the cell phone out of my pocket, but what can it do for me? Nate is probably sleeping, and I don’t want Zack to wake him to come get me. I put it back in my pocket. The white campus security car drives by. Should I flag him for a ride? No, I have to make it home. I have to do it myself.

I hobble to the pedestrian entrance of USF. The shortcut home runs through the deserted campus. If I take the longer route, down Fulton there will be people around, but it will be longer. I can’t do longer.

I turn into the campus. The same tour group walks toward me, and I stop and pretend to look at a poster as I wait for my contraction to stop. I don’t want help. I look normal on the outside. The group passes me and I am alone again. I shuffle my feet forward.

The sky is completely dark now and I am really alone. Should I call Zack now? But then I look around and realize that I am not on a road. I’m in the middle of the pedestrian-only campus. Zack couldn’t pick me up in the car. I smile at the stubbornness of the universe to get its message of solitude across to me. One step at a time, I go back toward the house. Zack will be doing the dinner dishes. Music will be softly filling the empty spaces of the house. Nate will be asleep unknowing that he will be a big brother in the morning. I’ll call the midwife.

I am prepared now. I am ready.

 

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Thais lives in Mill Valley, CA with her two active boys and husband. This spring, she was a cast member/writer for the live national production, Listen To Your Mother, and has written a memoir about her birth experiences and maternity care reform in the U.S. This piece, I Walk Alone, was a finalist for the Creative Nonfiction Magazine’s Babies Anthology. Visit her website www.ThaisDerich.com to read her other published work.


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