Maya was born at a naval hospital on a Thursday, my favorite day of the week. At the beginning of labor, when the regular contractions started, I envisioned — without any predetermination or forethought — the ocean’s tide coming in and as the contraction faded, the tide shrank back to the sea. The tide simply appeared when I closed my eyes, as if a gifted image from the universe. Imagining the tide shielded me from almost everything else. With this sudden image, I knew something big and beautiful was on its way.
Everyone else seemed to be in a panic. Everything in the delivery room was a fast-paced dust-up occurring outside of my calm encapsulation. I felt still within a swirl of frantic motion. My labor was not without its issues. I threw up in pans and shit the bed and ripped off my agitating hospital gown to labor naked. At some point, Maya’s in-womb heart rate dropped enough to cause nurses to panic, and they ran around more and injected my thigh with something. They stuck something up me to “wake the baby up” — I think they were making things up then — but still I felt so calm even when they seemed to purposefully try to worry me. Maya and I were untouchable. Didn’t they know?
Fourteen hours really is nothing compared to the forty weeks of pregnancy. But it was the anticipation during labor that nearly did me in. I listened intently to nurses –not to get out of the process or pain, but simply to get face to face with my girl quicker. My ultrasound had not revealed a gender, but I knew it was Maya. We were separated by flesh walls is all; as if we had our ear to the door of each other’s rooms. The last fourteen hours were simply in the way. The hospital gown, the ice chips, the ha-ha-ha breathing, the vomiting, the shitting – it was all unimportant, just obstacles.
I could feel a bond with Maya on the rise as she was about to enter the world. It tightened and escalated. During the months she grew in the womb, I felt like a Grand Nurturer, a Goddess, but I did not feel a complete connection with Maya yet. In the delivery room, though, I could feel the force of her pending presence. I looked around like I knew a secret. Had anyone else felt it? I felt completely empowered, centered and illuminated as chaos waged on around me. This empowerment seemed so personal that it caused me to disconnect from everything else in the room, including Maya’s dad, Vic. He wasn’t allowed in our vacuum.
The pushing gave me issue. I was too impatient. It went longer than it should have because I was too anxious to get her out of the canal. I sensed the finish and tried to rush it. But Maya lingered, enjoying the last of the womb. Good for her. After two hours, an older nurse elbowed her way between the nurses assigned to me, and while my eyes were closed — I had been completely engulfed in my own world since the start of labor — I heard the old nurse’s voice cutting through to me. She said, “Push where my fingers are.” Her voice was the only other I allowed into my labor world. I was so grateful. I needed a guide through my desperation. I followed her voice. And Maya’s head emerged into the world.
She was swaddled in a white navy-issue blanket bordered with a pink stripe and a light blue stripe. Her face was flattened and blotched and swollen, like a crude ball of modeling clay topped with a thick surprise of hair. Her head and hair alone poked up from the bundle. She opened her thick, shiny eyelids. I put my face close to hers and we locked looks. I gulped hers in. I could feel her tiny puffs of breath against my lips. And I was astounded. As I stared — my own breath held — every noise fade to vacuumed silence and every image, besides her, blurred to a cloudy nothing. We floated in that perfect suspension for a while, and though I thought I already knew, I was completely and utterly gutted and refilled in those eternal seconds. I knew that when I eventually pulled away from her stare, I would no longer be the person everyone in the room had known before. I panicked a little. I couldn’t stare hard enough. I thought, “This is true love. This is how it feels.”
Someone touched my shoulder and spoke to me. I thought the feeling of panic would dissolve, but I wanted everything to go away. I looked around at the hospital room that had become unbearably stark. I didn’t want it all to disappear for the moment. I wanted everything I had known before to leave permanently: The doctors, the hospital room. My job. My hobbies. Maya’s dad. I considered bolting. I wanted to test my legs from wheelchair to sprint with Maya tucked against me. I wanted only us from that moment on.
For the first few months, I convinced myself that the unrelenting desire for only Maya was irrational and had to be some postpartum misalignment. And though the feeling dulled as I got back into normal routines, it didn’t go away. Feeling so overwhelmed by my introduction to love, I didn’t know how to proceed in other relationships. It didn’t seem fair to them, to her dad especially. If I had just now discovered love, then the painful truth was that I did not love him. And this became a growing, looming beast of which he was completely unaware. He didn’t deserve the pain I plotted, but I couldn’t continue after what had been revealed to me.
When Maya was eight months old, I left her dad. We took it hard – he in his way, and me in mine. I harbored tremendous guilt. I figured I didn’t know how to keep a healthy adult relationship going. I was clearly damaged in that regard. What I felt for Maya was out of my hands – it was ethereal and something of which I had no control. I hooked myself on, knowing this was a calling or destiny. Or whatever. I didn’t know, honestly. I just knew I had to release all I had believed before about love and loving – and it all had to be rebuilt starting with Maya and me.