Today is the Winter Solstice, which is marked by some as the ending and the beginning of the Pagan Wheel of the Year. You can read about Naturalistic Pagan traditions for the Winter Solstice here. Today we also begin a new theme here at HP for early winter: “Beginnings”. For our first contribution of the new season, we hear from Meg Pauken, with a story especially well-suited for the date.
December 21, 1999. I strode the hallways of the Cuyahoga County Courthouse, bursting at the seams of my maternity suit.
I dissolved one brief marriage, argued about post-decree support and custody with a bitter couple and their surly, snide lawyer and filed a few things with the clerk of courts. I passed another very pregnant lawyer in those echoing marble halls and grinned at her. We were like two freighters, motors in the back, prows jutting forward, trying to maintain a professional appearance despite our advanced state.
Finished finally, I walked the three city blocks back to the office in a bitter wind. I filed loose papers, went over instructions with my assistant, locked my desk and said good-bye to my office mates. I planned to be out for six weeks or so. The baby wasn’t due until January 6, but I built a little cushion in so I could get some things done before delivery day. I hadn’t washed a single outfit or bought diapers or figured out how to install a car seat. That’s what the next couple of weeks were for: nesting.
My Hombre picked me up in front of my office building and we headed to a local Spanish restaurant where we met family for dinner. I ordered the Octopus Diablo, which I ate with gusto after having a bowl of deliciously pungent garlic soup. I treated myself to one glass of red wine. It felt good to sit after a busy day. It felt good to be with my Mom and Dad, my brother, sister-in-law and their girls. It felt good to relax and celebrate closing a chapter — my life and career before baby.
As we drove home, it snowed; big feathery flakes. I have always loved snow. We marveled at the beauty of it, the holiday lights and our excitement about the coming baby. When we got home, we let the dog out and headed up to bed. It was about 11.
As I brushed my teeth, I felt a strange sensation. It was my water breaking. Very strong contractions began immediately; not more than 2 minutes apart from the onset.
Our departure for the hospital was delayed only long enough to throw a few things into a bag. Until a few minutes earlier, we thought we had plenty of time to prepare.
We drove to the hospital through silent, snow covered streets. An enormous Solstice full moon hung low in the now-clear sky.
In between contractions we talked. We had not yet chosen a name for the baby; in fact, we didn’t even know if it was a boy or a girl.
At the emergency entrance to the hospital, an attendant appeared with a wheelchair.
“I do not need a wheelchair.”
“Honey, let them take you up.”
“No. I am perfectly capable of walking.”
The attendant merely shrugged. “Labor and Delivery is on 4.”
No sooner had we entered the elevator, when another contraction hit, hard, and I wished I had taken the attendant up on his offer. I was excited, but a bit anxious. I didn’t feel ready. I am a planner; I like to prepare; to have things organized, details itemized, rehearsals complete. I had done none of that.
We checked in and a pretty, young nurse directed me to a changing area. As I changed into a gown, she told me that this was her first night on her own, after her training.
She asked me when I last ate. I told her I finished dinner about 9. She asked me what I had to eat. I burst out laughing and told her.
“I wasn’t planning on having a baby tonight or I would have had something a little “milder.”
She made a face and said, “This is gonna be fun!” She walked me to my room and left.
Hombre and I looked at each other in disbelief. It was really happening.
The nurse reappeared with ice chips.
“How are you doing? Can I get you anything?”
“I’m doing great.”
She dimmed the lights, checked the baby’s heartbeat and my blood pressure.
“You’re sure you don’t want an epidural? If you wait any longer, it will be too late.”
“No. I’m doing fine.”
Oddly enough, I was.
With my Hombre holding my hand, I sat in the dusky room, rocking in the chair, feeling at once very young and at the same time, ancient. I went inward, talking less and focusing on the feelings and sensations I was experiencing.
I felt a connection through time and space to every woman who ever labored. I could feel their fear, their worry, their pain, but even more, a deep sense of peace and rightness. I was a part of something much, much bigger than the birth of our child. This was about all of us; all of life — renewing itself, beginning and ending.
In this rite, my Hombre and I were connected to every other set of new parents on the planet. In my mind I could see kings and farmers, laborers and executives, pacing the floors as they tried to comfort the mothers of their babes, as they felt helpless watching the unfolding of a process that had everything and yet nothing to do with them.
My Hombre had travelled a long road with me toward this night. Six years of trying to have a baby. Six years of hormone pills, invasive and painful tests, one emergency surgery and many, many disappointments.
The night wore on; the contractions came closer and closer; they became rougher and stronger.
Finally, the time came to push.
“Give it everything you’ve got!”
“How is the baby? Is the baby okay?”
“Fine. Push again! HARDER!”
“You are doing great! One more time — HARD!”
“The head is out. One more big push and you’re done!”
Four times I pushed.
“You’ve got a baby girl! Come over here and cut the cord, Dad.”
I shook and shook. I was cold. I was sweating. I heard tiny cries.
“Where is she? I want to hold her. Where is she?”
“They are cleaning her up. She’ll be right here.”
Finally, finally, they gave her to me. My tiny baby, 6 pounds 4 ounces.
I cradled her in my arms and she held her head up and looked straight into my eyes, studying me, memorizing my face. She looked like a little owl to me. So wise and solemn. I felt like I had known her forever.
My old life was over. A new life, for all of us, had just begun — the morning after the longest night of the year; as the sun reappeared, so did she.
Meg Pauken is a writer, former lawyer and mother of two living in rural northeastern Ohio, USA. Raised as a Roman Catholic, she is a Unitarian Universalist and has felt the call of paganism since her childhood. She blogs about family and spirituality at Tales from the Sandwich Chronicles.
Join us as we kick off the new Pagan year with an interview with B. T. Newberg, founder of Humanistic Paganism and current Treasurer and Advising Editor.