We were born during the first summer storms to hit Banderas Bay, when lighting crackled and finally broke the spell of humidity woven over the town. As they wheeled me back to my ‘suite’, my abdomen screaming in agony where they parted my flesh to remove your bodies, I caught glances of the storm through other patients’ windows. Finally, in my room, I focused on the clouds rumbling through the black night, lighting showing their path.
Your father, Marcos, was worried about the dog, hastily put out on the balcony as we departed for the hospital. Likely she was cowering from the flashing noise, so he left me, and my now deconstructed womb, alone while he traveled to our home. ”I’ll be back in an hour or so,” he promised, but he didn’t return until the sun lifted above the ocean in the salty morning air.
It was my first storm during monsoon season when you entered the world, both gray and miniature. As they whisked you to the unknown, I only remember fleeting, fuzzy, whirls of pale flesh crossing my vision after they tugged you from my body. The doctor and staff refused to let me wear my glasses, and I was a prisoner on the operating table, my arms pinned mercilessly by wrist straps. From the waist down, my skin and muscle was numb, due to the anesthesia pumped into my back from the needle piercing my spine.
I was surprised we had not lost power as we would frequently over the next few months, when bolts would rage from the sky and tap dance on the shoddy electric poles. Sometimes, I wonder if I might have died if the lights went out. They almost killed me when my blood pressure bottomed and the world went black. I woke in the elevator, bandages tightly slung across my belly, wondering where my babies were.
As the fierce battle of the ocean storm continued to rage across Puerto Vallarta, I lay alone in my big bed, in my huge room, bigger than the two room apartment Marcos and I first had when I moved to Mexico. Occasionally, a nurse would come in, and I would try in vain to communicate with her, wanting to know where and how my twins were doing; I assumed the silence meant you were breathing. I cursed my dependence on your father, whom I needed to translate. Sleep eluded me, and I watched empty television until they finally give me pills powerful enough to ease my aching body, and I relaxed enough to surrender to rest.
In the morning I woke, and the sky was a soft, gentle blur across the Bay with a gleaming sun tickling the rooftops. Marcos finally arrived: “I fell asleep, I was so tired,” he attempted to justify his absence. But the seed of doubt about our relationship, already planted, nestled further in the earth as tiny water drops seeped toward its growth. He just as quickly ran off to call family and friends, after translating my concerns to the nurse. I learned that my tiny hearts were in the NICU. The nurse sternly admonished that if I wanted to see you, I must get up and walk the endless hallway to where you were being kept.
It did not matter which side I leaned into as I squirmed my way into a sitting position, my belly burned. I could feel the fibers of my abdominal muscles sloppily held together by invisible stitches, the tug emanating out to the stapled scar above my usually covered bikini line. My stomach was now an empty pouch of skin, listless and past purpose. Much slower than I hoped, I eventually rose to my feet, gathering my gown in my hand behind me and took my first step. I suddenly, and excruciatingly, discovered how interconnected the pieces of my body were to its whole. A second step, as jolting as the first: twenty minutes later, I reached the door.
In the bright hallway, I cursed the slick marble floors that forced my brown, institution grade slipper socks to grapple with their grip. Every tweak of the foot, every overshoot or slide, meant shooting pain. The walls were immaculate, with a new hospital smell that managed to disinfect the sultry salt of the sea from its air. Everything was silent, and I could hear every footfall in the hour-long journey it took me to traverse the seventy feet to reach the door.
When I finally crossed the threshold into the small room, I quickly spotted the two incubators to the right whirring softly as they kept you warm and breathing. With tenderness, I walked as fast as I could toward your temporary wombs, and my eyes fell upon two of the most graceful and lovely creatures I had ever laid eyes on. In the first machine lay Kudra, a tiny Kewpie doll with bubbly cheeks and soft brown hair. Just under five pounds, with a quiet resonance of strength in your dark eyes, you lay still and quiet, watching the world around you as it beeped and hummed in a blurred concoction of sights and sounds. Your hands pressed together, grasping your own fingers, as if meditating over the experience of your journey to this life.
Next door, Jacob lay in great agitation. A bit above five pounds, with shocking black hair like your father, you shook and squirmed and cried. It was very clear to me that you wanted to be held, and that you missed the security of my body in this new world. Your tiny cries barely pierced the air, as you moaned and hissed without stopping. One of the NICU nurses entered, and I asked her if I could take you out. I was met with a frigid glare and a firm shaking of the head: “No.”. When your father finally found me, sitting in the rocking chair, overwhelmed by a body torn in half and my heart stomped on the floor, he learned from the staff that only the nurses would be tending to you until you were strong enough to go home. I was not allowed to feed, bathe, hold or even touch you until you were ‘out of the woods’. Sullenly, after watching you for an hour, I shuffled my way back to my room at a slightly swifter pace, just in time for my postpartum nurse to begin to tick off all the bodily functions that needed to occur over the next few days for my surgery to be considered a success: I had to eat, drink, piss, shit, fart, and try not to vomit as I ate pain killers every 4-6 hours. And I had to walk several times a day: the one thing I knew I would accomplish because it meant I could see you.
The next morning, on your third day of life, Marcos’s family descended from Mexico City and Zacatecas. His mother, sister, brother-in-law, grandfather and aunt all arrived with great fanfare, bearing trinkets and small mementos for you, my favorite being the delicate silver rattles painted like the night sky with tiny stars glistening. They reminded me of the night your father took me to the beach to look at the sky bursting with stars above the ocean; he surprised me when he got down on his knees and asked to marry me, offering a temporary skull ring for my engagement. When you shook them, it was like hearing magical rain. They raved over your beauty, and your father beamed with distinct pride and joy at having created something substantial.
All day, the nurses checked items off my list of ‘things my body must do if I want to go home”. Truthfully, I did not want to leave the air conditioned space to go home to my sweat box apartment where the only company I kept were the books I traded at the local coffee house. We had no television, phone, radio, or microwave: no modern convenience. Our dirty clothes were sent weekly to the laundry service down the road for about $7, and as soon as I thought about laundry I worried about money, since I had stopped working the week before your birth. Out of the two of us, I had the steady income: $1.00 per hour, roughly $30 a week, managing the desk at the hotel across the street from our apartment. I only went on bed rest when my OB insisted that I could no longer make the trek up and down the seventy degree staircase two or three times daily without potentially going into early labor. Unfortunately for me, I still went into labor a week after being on bed rest, and still a week in advance of my expected due date, at 35.5 weeks gestation.
Later in the afternoon, the nurses determined that I was healthy enough to go, but you were required to stay until the end of the week. Leaving my hearts behind, I boarded the taxi gently and cried as Marcos and I rode to the other side of town to home. As we drove, every cobble stone street sent shock waves through my incision, and I was in agony by the time we made the twenty-minute trek from the Marina to Playa de Los Muertos. Finally, we arrived and Santo, our faithful, grey, mountain pup, greeted us enthusiastically from her view on the second-floor balcony with happy cries. I ambled to the staircase, and positioned myself for the first upward step, something I was supposed to be avoiding for the next few weeks. Bracing the wooden, worn rail, I pulled myself the thirteen steps at a snail’s pace, vastly relieved when we reached the top and could enter our apartment.
Inside, the air felt still, as if it last took a breath the day I went into labor. Already a storm was gathering outside, sweeping away the soft blue sky in favor of miserable, rolling clouds that gathered from the mountainous jungle behind us and invaded the ocean air, announcing its presence with mild booms that echoed through the narrow streets around us. I moved into the bedroom, the sheets tangled and falling off the bed, to open the balcony door and bring in Santo. Immediately, her medium frame lunged at me with love and longing, and I cried from the ache she created as her paws hit my abdomen. Lowering myself to the bed, I forced her to sit on the floor in front of me, as I showered her with affection. She hastily sniffed every inch of me, cataloguing the smells of the hospital and your birth.
I rested for a bit, until Marcos’ s family came by to see how we were managing. Thankfully, his mother took over the house, and dived into preparing food. Earlier that day, she had hand washed the babies’ new clothes, which Marcos brought in from our outdoor laundry line before the oval drops of rain began pounding down. Her sister now sat at the table, folding each piece, admiring them with adoration as she went along. After a quick meal, his family left, and we were alone for the first time in several days. I was so exhausted that I could barely put myself to bed; every inch of my body ached and hurt, and the only thing I wanted more than sleep was to hold you in my arms, which I dreamt of after drifting off.
The next morning, my breasts were rock hard and swollen, and I wasn’t sure what to do. There were no childbirth classes, and the only book I read in preparation was ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’, which I would never recommend now. It barely covered breastfeeding, and I had no idea how to remove the milk my body was producing for you to live. I puttered around in the morning as Marcos attempted to work and earn some quick cash, waiting in discomfort until he returned in the afternoon so we could journey back to the hospital for an hour, where I sat and watched you grow through your temporary plastic homes. At the hospital, with embarrassment, I tried to ask the nurse about removing the milk from my breasts, but she only managed to reply that I should massage it out; she did not seem to be an authority on the subject. There were no pumps or instructions or lactation consultants, but I knew that I wanted to breastfeed. I instantly missed your grandmother, who was counting down the days when she would arrive on my original due date to see you both and aid me.
After a few days of back and forth, my pain slowly diminishing, you were finally given the go-ahead to be released from the hospital. You had gained enough weight and were breathing well, and they felt confident you were thriving. I was ecstatic; it had been five days since you entered the world, and I had yet to lay a finger to your soft, downy hair and pale, sweet skin. That morning, I paced the apartment, waiting anxiously until your dad returned home an hour later than expected. I joyfully hopped into the cab, tugging at my insides, and ignored the achy pain as we bounced our way to San Javier Hospital through the streets of old town. As we passed the Malecon, I realized it was sweltering, watching the tourists as they struggled in the afternoon sun to collect knickknacks, ceramics, and street food, fanning themselves every few steps. I no longer distinctly noticed the power of the sun or its humid powers as I had when I first arrived.
Finally, our cab pulled up to the hospital, and we exited swiftly, my pace a tad too fast for my muscles to keep up the speed. My bikini scar began to twitch and shiver, and I slowed my steps enough to avoid tearing open a still healing wound. It felt like we were moving in slow motion while my mind was in the speed lane. I wanted to run, but I had to pace myself to get to you. The elevator finally opened its inner sanctuary and we rode upstairs, carefully striding the long hallway I had once battled to walk. At the end, we arrived at the NICU, and found Marcos’s family had already arrived. Swiftly, the nurses went to gather you, and we sat in rocking chairs, where we gently glided as they carried your tiny, swaddled bodies to our open arms.
Kudra was handed to me, and Jacob went to Marcos and his grandmother. I immediately broke into sobs, and felt my milk trickling through my shirt from my heavy breasts. At last, there was no plastic between us, no nurse telling me that I wasn’t allowed to cuddle you; it was a perfect moment of bliss as your miniature figure squirmed in my hands; as your large, brown pools gazed up and searched my face with what seemed like relief and bliss. Your tense frame instantly slackened, and it felt like you molded against me as if you were back inside my body. Instantaneously, my heart ballooned and burst into something new, an entity that was larger than anything I knew in the world; it became an endless, timeless and boundless space of love for your entire being. I transformed into vulnerability and strength in the same, swift moment, and I instantly wanted nothing more than to keep you safe, warm and loved for all eternity.
When Jacob was eventually placed in my arms, I felt the same starburst of emotion run across my body, and I sat in awe of your huge, sparkling eyes and soft, sweet nature. The doughy, flower petal silk of your skin and hair soothed me right away, and I felt this unbelievable surge of familiarity, as if we had always known each other in spirit, but were meeting in the flesh for the first time. It felt like grace swooped down into my lap, and I surrendered to its magic.
After we were instructed on how to feed you, we daintily placed you in car seats, gathering your small bags of already collected belongings and necessities, and made our way to the entrance of the hospital to catch a cab home. The staff followed us out to the parking loop, clearly enamored by you, and I felt both grateful for their loving care, and a deep resentment that I had to wait so long to be given the keys of motherhood, when I clearly had the scar to prove that I had earned the right. As the early evening light began to fall across the ocean, glimmering in a molten blur of orange, pink and yellow, we made our way home as a family for the first time. The sun slowly slipped into the Bay, its daily exit a part of the rhythm of its existence. And with my soul blown open and our hearts sewn together, I fell into motherhood with pure instinct: as if the exact moment you entered my world, I too, was delivered into a boundless love.
Reflections of a woman spawned in a cement cocoon...