My Best Friend Multiplied!

Mothers love to compare labour and delivery stories in some zero-sum one-upmanship of who is really suffering the fallout of Eve’s disobedience. “You think  682 hours of labour is bad? When I gave birth, walked ten miles to and from the hospital, uphill both ways. Barefoot. In the snow.”

I hope that Mcintosh tasted really good, Eve.   

But while women size-up their relative pain in this ‘who had it worse’ contest, they fail to contrast how horrible labour and delivery is for those of us who aren’t labouring or delivering. Hyperboles aside, my best friend Sarit’s 36 hours of labour were the most excrutiating, distressing and laborious of my life. It’s a miracle I was able to make it through.

With her due date looming, I jumped for the phone when it rang earlier than usual on a Saturday morning.

“Is it Go Time?” I asked.

“It’s Go Time.” 

Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh My God. Oh. My God.  

Sarit had asked me once before to  accompany her to a blood test, the result of which was my having to sit with my head between my knees as she rushed to get me juice. So ‘Go Time,’ for me, meant doing absolutely nothing. The nauseau was manageable at first. In fact, in the early hours of Sarit’s labour I wondered what all the fuss was about, why giving birth lends itself to so much drama in movies and books. Clearly I had an exceptionally high threshold for pain and I congratulated myself on this biological accomplishment. But as two hours turned into three and three into four, I found myself lying on the bathroom floor, breathing into a paper bag as I rocked back and forth in the fetal position.  

I thought I was ready for this. I had long been preparing for this moment. Sarit had mentioned her desire to be a mother practically the first time we met, standing one in front of the other in the bus pass line on our first day of university more than ten years ago. We were nineteen at the time and if I was a guy this admission likely would have come between us and a second date, but as a potential friend, I was touched by her obvious warmth and kindness.

When she called a few weekends ago, her voice straining to tell me she was heading to the hospital, the thought of someone so sweet, so lovely and so dear to my heart in such tremendous pain felt intolerable. That, and my therapist thinks Sarit and I have an unhealthy enmeshment. Enmeshment? Us? I felt sorry for my therapist when she warned me of this. 

“Clearly you’ve never had a friendship as meaningful as mine and Sarit’s,” I had told her, “How does that make you feel? Do you want to talk about it?” 

I don’t know if it’s our same age, how very long Sarit has wanted a child or how cherished every moment of her pregnancy has been, but even with twelve nieces and nephews, Sarit giving birth felt particularly momentous.

“Just calm down,” my husband said, poking his head into the bathroom.

Calm down!? He wants me to CALM DOWN!? What an asshole!

“Can I get you a glass of water?”

“Ice!” I heaved, “Some ice! Please!”

He dutifully returned with a glass. Although I had definitively decided that day never to be touched by a man ever again, I made an exception and let him rub my back. The counter-pressure helped offset the knotting pain in my stomach and I moaned my appreciation in muffled whimpers. He looked frightened.

What could he possibly be scared of!? Like this is hard for HIM!?   

“Maybe you should take one of your xanax?” he suggested.

Maybe you should shut the hell up!?

I valiantly refused, holding out until hour twelve, when I finally decided that I needn’t be a martyr. It’s not like anyone is handing out medals to best-friends who forgo anti-anxiety medication, right? As the drug kicked in, I fell into a fitful sleep, waking every so often to check my phone. I was unable to respond to messages or emails from anyone else, wanting, in this moment, for it to be just me and my husband.

“Why haven’t I heard anything?” I asked my husband, “What if something’s wrong? Oh my God, something’s wrong. Something is definitely wrong!” 

I paced the room, willing news to be delivered. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I wrung my sweaty hands desperate for this ordeal to be over, promising the universe that if it just got me through this day I would do anything it wanted. I would recycle more, eat less fish, devote my life to the service of African orphans.

“Just make it stop,” I cried, researching flights to Zambia, “Please make it stop.”

And then, finally, it did.

“She’s here!” Sarit said when she called the following evening, “7.6 pounds of her!”

Heading over to the hospital I was exhausted and overwrought, my nerves frayed from the coursing emotions of the last two days. My arms around Sarit as she held her new baby, I was so overcome with love, from the tips of my shaking fingers to the tips of my weary toes, that I couldn’t imagine ever feeling anything else.  

I am still unsure if I will ever want a baby of my own. I don’t know if I will ever feel the overpowering urge to become a mother above all else. But as I cradled that new life in my arms, staring up at me with my best friend’s soft eyes, I thought as I do every time I play with my nieces and nephews, every time I hear them say “Auntie Wendy,” how very lucky I am to have children in my life.