A Very Revealing Baby Story: A Barbaric Yawp

I want to start at the end, at the glory.

You’re supposed to hear a cry- a drawn out newborn wail, tearless and gasping. That’s how you know everything is ok. A little squawk will do, or even a gurgled protest, but Willa came out with what I imagine Whitman meant by a “barbaric yawp,” something more animal than human.

To hear her voice calling to us was the sweetest assurance, even more so than the muffled percussion of the sonograms at our prenatal appointments or the early pokes and flutters felt in my womb.

There is so much hidden behind the curtain of skin, muscle, and organs; we could only make guesses about our baby. “She’s so withholding,” we would say to disappointed grandmas with their hands on my stomach. Willa, who moments earlier had been violently rippling my stomach flesh, held deadly still under the watch of others trying to catch her acrobatics.

There is so much hidden behind the curtain of skin, muscle, and organs; we could only make guesses about our baby.

In her thirty two week ultrasound, the doctor pointed out the improbable presence of hair on her head, and the tech showed us the way she was practicing her breathing, preparing her lungs for inhaling  those first  gulps of air.

After forty two weeks of waiting, we were alert and ready to find out who this baby was.

“Not a small head” announced Dr. San Juan, the doctor who had joined our birth team. Was this in place of the announcement that the baby was a girl, do doctors feel like they must announce something about the baby? “Medium sized hands for a baby.” or “Thought you should know your baby has well-proportioned ears!”

Drew took over at this point, finally able to touch our baby who had been wrapped up in my body, snug behind my tissues. She held his finger as the neonatologist checked her out, since she’d gotten busy pooping in the two weeks since her due date.

“She’s so nice,” he kept exclaiming. “You’re going to love her.” His words became my comfort, a mantra as I laid there opened like a sardine can, exposed and helpless. Inhale, she’s so nice. Exhale, you’re going to love her.

Nothing prepares you for the fact that an actual baby comes out, a human who’s been hanging out inside of you, suspended upside down in a contracting womb.

Nothing prepares you for the fact that an actual baby comes out, a human who’s been hanging out inside of you, suspended upside down in a contracting womb. On the inside, she was overpriced pink shoes at the baby gap, she was lumps protruding from my stomach of maybe a butt, maybe her torso?

She was waves of nausea and back aches, and a basketball with flowy blouses draped over top. She was my wide-awakeness in the middle of the night and an occasion for strangers to offer me a seat in the lobby of crowded breakfast restaurant. She was a name, carefully recited to make sure it sang just right in the air. She was so many abstractions and hunches, but now she was nice and not a small head and a voice that could muster a primal yell.

When I become sad or start to feel shame about my story, I think of that blessed moment where she, scrappy and brave, met the air with an unapologetic screech, wild and wonderful, arching her neck with strength to meet the world.

She was nice. I was going to love her.