By: Amber Leventry
Five years ago the meaning of Valentine’s Day changed for me. It is no longer just a Hallmark holiday, filled with clichés of chocolate, love poems, and flowers. The intensity in which I feel love shifted on February 14th, 2011. On that day, before I left for work, I kissed my partner, Amy, and asked her how she had slept. She was on maternity leave, still in bed, and a day past her due date, pregnant with our first child. “Not well,” she replied. “I was really gassy.”
I was ridiculously text-book prepared for the birth of our daughter. From books to classes and pamphlets in between, I spent nine months trying to read and understand Amy’s pregnant body. I monitored her water intake, exercise routine, and temperature when she slept poolside during the summer—I was sure all of that sweating was not good for the baby. I was a total pain in the ass. Yet with all of this pre-baby information, the one tidbit that turned out to be helpful was that an early sign of labor was flatulence.
I went to work that morning positive I would become a parent that day or the next. I loved feeling my daughter’s movements when my hands or back were pressed against Amy’s belly. I can still hear the rhythm of her strong heartbeat when it filled the obstetrician’s exam room for the first time. I cherished the few times we peaked in on her through ultrasound; I then carried the grainy ultrasound images with me just to better visualize who I was falling in love with.
I hoped she would join me when I took our dog, Bailey, for walks. I warned her that I drink too much coffee and eat a lot of peanut butter. I revealed a few bad habits. I filled her in on my Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and let her know I would do my best to not let it interfere with her growth, curiosity, or spirit. And I secretly started listening to a CD of lullabies created by one of my favorite folk singers. I was learning the words so I could serenade her.
When I came home from work that afternoon, Amy was complaining of back pain and her inability to sit in one position for more than a few minutes. I was convinced she was in the early stages of labor. She was convinced she had pulled a muscle in her back when she dragged our arthritic dog out of a snow bank earlier in the day.
Amy’s solution was to see her acupuncturist and then call a homeopathic chiropractor first thing the next morning. My solution was to laugh at her denial of the situation at hand. Her pain was getting worse and more frequent, but she was certain a pulled muscle was the cause and not a baby trying to escape her body.
Amy’s pregnancy had been relatively easy and the idea of back labor was terrifying and not expected. When I called our doctor to let her know things were happening, she advised me of positions to have Amy do to turn the baby if she in fact had flipped since our last ultrasound. Amy labored from home for a few more hours, trying to do our normal routine of dinner and Glee. After she vomited, I knew it was time. By the time we arrived at the hospital, she was six centimeters dilated and spent most of her time in the tub, with hot water massaging her back.
All of Amy’s modesty was gone. She seemed to revert to a place of primal existence, a place where she was at one with what was happening to her body. She was focused and understood the steps of the dance she and the baby were doing. She labored, bled, and pushed. Watching Amy struggle to get our daughter into the world challenged my emotional toughness. There was nothing I could do. Nothing that felt like active fixing, doing, helping.
For what turned out to be the last hour of labor, I watched our daughter’s head emerge and then go back to its current home. Our daughter was literally tearing Amy apart. The amount of blood and the uncertainty of the situation stripped away my bravado. Amy was doing the hardest work of her life, while I tried my hardest to support her. I was forced to stay in vulnerability. I was scared. I wanted nothing more than her, my daughter, and my whole world to be okay again.
And then it happened. I watched our daughter’s head finally emerge, quickly followed by the rest of her slippery body. “She’s here! She’s here!” I kept shouting. When Amy finally opened her eyes after a night of squeezing them shut, I saw that she had broken all of the blood vessels in the whites of her eyes. Her eyes were as red the blood on Eva, who finally lay on Amy’s chest.
The relief I felt when Eva was born is like nothing I can attempt to describe. I suddenly felt lighter despite the overwhelming amount of pride and joy that filled my body. I became more focused than I had ever been, and a small hole in my heart, yet to be filled by any of my roles in life, closed.
Eva’s birth story started on Valentine’s Day and lasted nearly 24 hours. Dinner was not at all romantic as it came back up between contractions. Any sexy lingerie of past Valentine’s Day celebrations was replaced with post-birth mesh underwear. And overnight accommodations were not in a swanky hotel room. We slept in side-by-side hospital beds, exhausted in very different ways.
But Cupid certainly struck again. Our love for each other grew stronger than ever as Amy and I fell in love with our first baby and newest Valentine.