comes. I see tulips in the supermarkets. I hear Van Morrison
singing “Coney Island.” I think about T.S. Eliot’s “Marina.”
And I am back at the birth of my second daughter, a child
scrupulously scheduled to arrive in May.
But February came.
On Valentine’s Day during my first pregnancy, my husband gave
me money for fabric since I had planned to (and, foolishly,
did) sew all my own maternity clothes.
The Valentine’s Day I was pregnant with my second child he
gave me Van Morrison’s Avalon Sunset. And misanthrope
that I am, all I could hear from the songs was “Have I Told
You Lately That I Love You?” To which I wanted to pout and
A week later the amniotic sac broke. My midwife ordered me
to the hospital. The birth center plan was scrapped.
I was terrified and mystified. The midwife had waved away
my every concern during this pregnancy since the first one
had gone so well—I was born to give birth. But my body had
known something was off this time, though both my brain and
my midwife wanted to deny it.
I was put in the labor and delivery room since there was every
likelihood labor would begin.
honest,” I said to the doctor, “will the baby live or will
the baby die?”
baby will live,” he said. But his face was grim. Since I had
been working with midwife I had never even met him before.
I said, “I don’t want my child in a life-long vegetative state.
I don’t want a show of technical prowess. I want my baby to
have life and to have it abundantly.”
are different than older people,” he said. “We don’t have
DNRs for preemies.”
I was supposed to sleep. They gave me a sleeping pill. I couldn’t
sleep. I couldn’t pray. I called my sister. Pray, she said.
Even if you don’t believe it.
Finally I slept—serendipitous blessing. And in the morning
I was brought to a hospital room in a wing with mothers in
their rooms nursing and cooing with their newborns. I was
waiting and talking to the baby.
The Baby Under the Hill, I’d come to think of him/her, the
“hill” being my belly.
under the Hill for awhile, I cajoled, trying to channel
calmness through the umbilical cord.
I rubbed the Hill. Beneath the Hill amniotic fluid leaked
daily, a little geyser of life, sweet-smelling, not gross
at all (surprise!). And a cadre of seminary students, anxious
to prove their pastor’s chops, lined up to visit me as if
I were the Mona Lisa. Faces came and went. Some wanted
to pray for and or with me. I did their bidding. I wasn’t
actually there, anyway. I was in exile with the Baby Under
So I nodded and bowed my head. Or I shook hands. Or I praised
my classmates for driving all the way out the mainline to
All week I lay on my left side (better for our combined hearts)
looking at a basket of tulips the color of bruises that a
friend had sent. I listened again and again to Avalon Sunset.
I read C.S. Lewis’ A Severe Mercy, which everyone should
do their best to avoid reading (along with Surprised By
Joy). I tuned out the ground war in Iraq which, when my
water broke, had just begun. Desert Storm. There are different,
and private deserts.
Then I read T.S. Eliot’s “Marina.”
It’s not a very well-known poem. And it reads like an elegy—Eliot’s
own. It reads like an homage to his daughter—though he had
But something about it spoke more to me about what it means
to be a parent than anything else ever has:
This form, this face, this life
Living to live in a world of time beyond me;
Resign my life for this life, my speech for that unspoken
The awakened, lips parted, the hope, the new ships
When the seminary students had gone back to the dormitory,
when my other child was brought home to go to bed, when the
hospital was quiet and the room was dark and I was alone,
I thought of “Marina:”
to live in a world of time beyond me.”
I don’t know for sure what it was that I learned from that
poem. Maybe it was the obvious and the simple: that giving
birth really is giving life, a life to go beyond the
end of my own life.
The Baby Under the Hill came out just fine. When I look at
her now, 17 years later, her amniotic exile seems like a dream.
But when February comes and I see tulips in the supermarket,
hear Van singing “Coney Island” in my mind, I feel a strange
and inexpressible gratitude. “Wouldnt it be great if it was
like this all the time?” (from “Coney Island”)