Scott McClanahan – The Birth ChapterFollow
And so this happened.
It was called a wedding. I told Sarah it was a contractual obligation to keep people attached to one another so that they produce children and pay taxes and pass on property and then I also told her it was a necessary illusion that gave people in society the hope of the possibility of upward mobility.
Sarah told me she didn't know what the fuck that meant. She told me it was just a party to get fucked up with the people you love. That was all.
And then this happened.
We said, “Entreat me not to leave thee/whither thou goest I will go. Your people will be my people and your God my God. And whither thou diest I will die.”
And then this happened.
People danced and people got drunk and people laughed. I threw the football with one of Sarah's bridesmaids. The porti-john clogged up because somebody put their panties down in it. Then Sarah's uncle found another pair of panties in the tall grass near the woods. These were signs. People were getting drunk and fucking.
I told Sarah, I guess weddings make people horny.
Sarah agreed and said weddings plus alcohol equal fucking.
So everyone lit candles at the end of the ceremony and Sarah and I said goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye. And then we drove away in the darkness.
That night we stayed in an old house surrounded by ghosts. We dreamed our dreams...
This was one of them.
Sarah was pregnant and getting ready to have a baby. Hello. Hell. Earlier that day Sarah had gone for a check-up. It was just a normal check-up but then she called me crying.
“Scott, they're taking the baby. They're taking her today. I'm on my way to the hospital.”
What the hell happened? THIS. The baby wasn't moving and the baby weight was low. Sarah was 36 and a high risk mother. So we waited all day and then we waited half of the evening. Sarah sent me home at nine that night because they had no idea when the baby would come. I sat and drank beer in the basement and AND THEN.
The phone rang.
It was Sarah. She said she needed me after all. She said the baby was coming. She said the doctor said she was fully dilated. I was quiet for a second. Sarah said, “Scott.”
I said, “So a dude had his hand in your vagina?” I was joking but not really.
Sarah told me this was no time to be jealous. She said she needed me. She needed bubbies.
So I took off and zipped to the hospital and there she was. She was shaking. This wasn't normal shaking either. Her hands were shaking and her arms were shaking and her head was shaking and her feet were shaking and her knees were shaking and her legs were shaking and she was shaking. I looked at her again to make sure I was seeing right. Her hands were shaking and her arms were shaking and her head was shaking and her feet were shaking and her knees were shaking and her legs were shaking and she was shaking. Are you cold?
Sarah smiled and said, “No Scott. I'm not cold. It's something else. I'm in pain. I'm in horrible pain.” SO SARAH WAS IN PAIN. Aren’t we all? And so I held her hand and sang No Woman No Cry. And she smiled. “O god no. Not fucking reggae.”
But it shook me and if I had to tell you about what I know on the nature of birth--it would be this. It would be Sarah McClanahan shaking in the bed and her eyes like this. Her eyes full of one word. This word: Terror. And then me. Scott McClanahan: The one who was powerless over terror. We all have our terrors but they belong to only us.
So the epidural guy came and asked me to leave the room. He explained it was a legal thing—“a liability thing you know.”
So I stood in the hallway and gave Sarah a double thumbs up and a silly face. I looked like this:
But then Sarah smiled. Sometimes there are smiles even within the pain. And then the man explained to her she could be paralyzed by the epidural. PARALYZED?
I remember what Sarah's stepfather said, "Having a child is like stealing fire from the gods."
I didn't believe in the gods, but I believed in the stealing of fire. Then the epidural guy handed Sarah a pen and she tried to sign. Her hand was so shaky that she had to try three different times.
The document was signed. The epidural was too late. The pain of labor was starting. For life is brought by this. It's brought only by pain.
O but I refuse this pain for right now. I refuse it all. So I say this to pain. I say, "Fuck you pain."
And pain says this: Nothing. And rocks say this: Nothing. And rivers say this: Nothing. And the sky says this: Nothing. I say: I am alive and then pain says: This does not create in me a sense of obligation. And even though pain does not have ears to hear I want to say it again. Fuck pain. For perhaps I have found something for its relief. We can tell one another stories that travel through time and are not constrained by the facts of space or gravity. So in this story let us go back together. Let us go back to the night of the ninth. 9 is the human number. It is a few hours before the hours of the 10th. 10, the number of human luck. But we are beyond luck now. So in this story let us return to Sarah and we will see this: She is in NO pain. She is sitting up in bed just like she was that afternoon and she is beautiful, but why are the pregnant beautiful? It's for one reason: It's because they have two hearts inside of them. And this morning as I write I have all of the hearts inside of me and you do too. So Sarah is smiling because she is about to be given a new one. She will steal this fire and a brand new heart. But oh god I wish I was pregnant right now. To be pregnant together
Oh shit but that's a bunch of junk because Sarah isn't smiling. Sarah's in fucking pain and her labor has started. So hold her hand. She's squeezing the shit out of it. Can you feel it? And her face is all scrunched up like a poop face or like a fucking face. And I'm there pushing up one knee to her chest and the nurse has the other knee and is pushing it up to Sarah's chest. So hold her hand. Please. We beg of you. We need you.
Because where in the fuck is the doctor?
Where in the fuck is the midwife? Oh shit they’re not here. They're down the hallway because there's an emergency. A baby is being born blue and dying with the umbilical cord wrapped around its head. In another room is a premature baby and they're going back and forth, back and forth with O shit faces. And here in this room the nurse is looking over at me and I'm looking over at the nurse. She has a look on her face like... Are you ready? We're gonna deliver this baby motherfucker. My PTSD kicks in and I'm ready for crisis. I have a look on my face like this. So are you ready? We're gonna deliver this motherfucking baby.
So I ask you now. Are you ready?
Say yes and perhaps the child will live. Perhaps the mother will live to.
Let us steal this fire together
So the nurse puts the shit bag beneath Sarah and I say "What's that?"
And the nurse says, "That's the shit bag" and Sarah says all doped up "That's the shit bag."
Then the nurse whispers "It's for, ya know. The feces and afterbirth." The nurse says "Sometimes a woman is pushing so hard that she has put so much pressure on her body that the bowels just give loose. And then of course the afterbirth."
And now I’m thinking, “Sarah. Don't crap in front of these people. We don't know them. It would be rude."
And then it's like Sarah is reading my mind because she says, "Don't worry bubbies. I gave myself an enema before I came here. That's one good thing about being induced. You can give yourself an enema."
And now Sarah is no longer talking about her enema but she's asking me a question. What question? This question? "What does it look like?" I look down at her dilated vagina and a baby head pushing out. I answer her like this: It looks like a wet mole. It looks like you're holding a wet mole between your legs. The nurse turns her back to glove up.
Then Sarah whispers, “No, how does my pussy look?”
At first I'm thinking "What a weird question. Like what a weird time for dirty talk," but then I get what she's saying. I look back between her legs again and I say.
It looks sort of angry.
No tearing? She asks.
No I don't think.
What about my wax?
I waxed myself a few days ago knowing I was going to be showing off my stuff. I know how nurses are. Didn't want anybody talking about my stuff and how my triangle looked like a wet, sloppy mop. Then she was quiet.
Then Sarah said, "So my pussy looks angry?"
But no tearing.
Stretching, but no tearing. I promise.
But just a second
What in the hell is this business with the tearing stuff?
The 460th thing I didn't know about pregnant women.
Often times they experience vaginal tears from the size of the infant’s head and these tears are classed by different degrees. There is one degree for slight tearing, another degree for moderate to severe tearing, and another degree for children who are born so big that the vagina is opened up into the anus of the woman and needs to be surgically repaired. It's why women used to die in child birth, Sarah tells me. Wow. Holy shit.
Other facts I didn't know about pregnant women?
She told me that sometimes they have orgasms during childbirth. She told me that the bodies of women who have been discovered from ancient times (and even still in some parts of the world) today have broken pelvises because they’re still too physically young to have a baby. Then she told me about women who had their skeletons discovered by cryptologists. Many of these women from the 12th and 13th century were as young as 21, 22, 17, 16,12 and they had died with what we would today call osteoporosis. After having baby after baby, year after year, many of the women were simply leeched of calcium by their babies.
But enough about suffering. Back to birth. Sarah is pushing. Pushing. Pushing. Pushing. And then she breathes. Then she is pushing pushing pushing pushing pushing pushing pushing. And then she rests. And then she is pushing. Pushing. Pushing. Pushing and then there is screaming. A baby is pushing her arm out of the vagina and looking at us with a fucked up baby looking face. She had a look like I'm pushing my way out of a vagina, YO. The baby groans eeeeee, and then this happens. There's a lightning storm outside. It’s smashing and crashing around us and cutting through the dark and the baby girl is pulled from the womb and given to her mother and then there is one more lightning bolt that goes Boom and what do you see now? You see the baby glowing and flashing and on fire, sparkling like flashers beside a fatal accident. The lights go out and then they come back on, and when they do the little girl has a lightning bolt on her nose.
And if you were to find this child today and touch that lightning bolt, it would be like touching the hand of god. But Sarah says now from somewhere far away. But Scott you don't believe in god. And I say this. True, but I believe in lightning bolts and babies and the stealing of fire. And so listen: the nurse is sucking shit out of the baby lungs. This baby was born to two people who no one will ever know, but they knew one another. They loved and they had babies and they fought and they screamed. Sarah. Scott. SO. Listen. The baby is screaming. It's the most beautiful sound in the world--the sound of a human scream. A scream means you are still alive. So listen. She is here now. She is ALIVE.
But wait. Perhaps there was no lightning. Perhaps there was no glowing child or darkness of night. Things are much quieter than they appear. It's the quiet things that lets a baby voice be heard. That night though we called our parents and let them know. Sarah kept holding the baby and crying and repeating again, "I love her so. Oh how I love her so. Scott, don't you love her?" But I felt nothing. My mother said it was such a miracle and I told Sarah. No it's really just biology. So I went home and went to bed and Sarah slept and was brought the baby to feed every few hours and I waited and slept. I dreamed a dream where I was pregnant.
I saw my belly growing big with each day. For a while I thought I was just gaining weight but then I started feeling something kick. Each day I grew larger. My pants no longer fit. I threw up in the bathroom from morning sickness and felt my breasts grow larger. I stood and looked in the mirror and I said “What is a person? What is a man?”
Then one night the labor started and Sarah helped me deliver. In this dream my babies emerged from an opening in my thigh and Sarah cried and whispered, "We are parents now. We are parents."
The babies I gave birth to were fully grown men who looked just like me except they were funnier than me and more charming than me. I wondered if Sarah liked them more.
Then one night they carried Sarah away and I screamed "Put her down. Put your mother down."
And they turned and smiled. "She's not our mother. You're our mother." I never saw her again or learned of where they took her. And so I was their mother now. They gathered around me in the evenings and I prayed for them.
But nothing is ever truly stolen without someone stealing something else. So now I wish upon a star for the children and I have stolen them a prayer. I have stolen this prayer from my friend Giancarlo Ditrapano. Instead of saying May your wishes all come true/ may you do for others and have others do for you/ May you stay forever youthful and happy and have those wishes destroyed, I am now praying the opposite. I am praying the prayer of the stolen and so I say...
May my family and children and everyone else I've ever loved be raped and tortured and killed in the worst possible ways and with the worst possible faces. Do not let me turn away for one second. Let me watch this torture please. Let me watch the pleasure of seeing all my friends kill themselves in front of mirrors with cries and screams and holding some bad album in their arms. Let this go on a long time. Let their only children be retarded at birth killing the wife so that the spouse hates the retarded children. Therefore, making the lives of the retarded child more miserable than a regular retarded child. May these wishes be wished. AMEN
Perhaps by wishing the opposite the real wishes will come true. But let us prepare ourselves. We are approaching a new world now and perhaps it's one made of fire. Oh fire. Oh fire.
Edit the description to add:
- Historical context: the work's place in history, how it was received
- A summary of the work's overall themes (example: "Here, Byron evokes the classic struggle between virtue and temptation...")
- A description of the work's overall style and tone