I was very ill.
It had been a bad week since December 26th, when I started feeling a horrible illness in my body, a constant throbbing on my stomach and an intolerable bad mood. The whole world had lost its colors and I was shaken by a very strong feeling of impending death.
On January 1st, 1999, my family was gathering at a resort in São Paulo, a state in Brazil, to celebrate New Year’s Day. I didn’t celebrate with them; I was in bed instead. I went to sleep on December 30th and couldn’t get up after that.
When my mother walked by my bed that morning of the new year, I begged her:
“Mom, seriously. I need to go to a hospital urgently! Something very bad is happening to me, I know it. Please, Mom, help!”
But despite my urgent pleas to go to hospital and my clear despair, my mother, who is a pediatrician, replied:
“Calm down, sweetie… There are no hospitals or clinics around here. I promise you, tomorrow, after everybody wakes up, we are heading back home. And as soon as we get to Brasília, we’ll take you straight to a hospital. Is that okay, honey? Rest a little more today, then tomorrow everything will be better.” Then she added: ” And… have the happiest year of your life, my lovely daughter!”
No point to keep on trying. There I was, on my death bed, and my mom refusing to wipe that unbearable smile off her face. But I was so weak… I didn’t even feel like saying another word to her.
I made the trip back to Brasília as I could, “by leaps, bounds and street holes” (a Brazilian saying). I was dreaming that someone would take me to an emergency room once I arrived and a doctor would cure me from the terrible feeling that was consuming my entire body.
Illusion, sad illusion. Once we arrived, instead of a hospital, my mother recommended that Leonardo, my boyfriend who was traveling with me, take me directly to a pharmacy and buy a pregnancy test.
TEST FOR WHAT??? I was physically and psychologically too shaken to laugh at such a lame joke.
For several years, I had been suffering from a chronic depression, and as a result I had not been menstruating for a while. I was eating well, but I would still lose weight. I was like skin and bones, thinking of myself as a very weak person. I was not taking any contraceptives because it would only worsen my health, both physically and mentally.
“I don’t consider myself a fully grown woman yet”, I thought. “I’m too skinny and not mature enough to be a mother. It’s obvious that I’m not pregnant.”
I only agreed to do the damn test just so that I could take that naughty grin off my mom’s face and convince her to finally take me straight to an ICU.
To the restroom I went, walking like a zombie, with the test packet in my hand. Leonardo waited outside, silent, with the worried face of someone who for days had no idea what was happening to me.
I took a pee and seconds later the paper indicator turned completely pink. I looked at the instructions to know what that meant, and it was pretty simple. Blue, negative. Pink, positive.
Positive what? What the hell does “positive” mean??
I showed it to Leonardo and I’ll never forget the giant smile he gave.
But I, myself, had no clear thoughts passing through my mind. Maybe that’s what desperation is…
I was in a catatonic shock. Suddenly I felt nothing under my feet. Things were starting to spin in my mind. All this mass filled me with an urge to rewind life, to discover a way to travel back in time and unmake this absurd nightmare.
“How come this crap is positive?? I’m right in the middle of several plans for my future, for my career, my personal growth! Even my to-do list for the year is humongous! There is not a slightest chance that a child could appear at this time. I have ZERO financial stability, and no ways to sustain a child on my own!”
The first image that came to mind was a huge concrete wall of a dark and unkempt overpass. It was a night of a light moon, I was sitting under a cardboard tent with that child in my lap, covered just with a random dirty rag. I remember seeing that picture clearly. An extreme tiredness. An absolute abandonment of life. I will end up homeless on a street…
I thought of who was going to be the first to pass away, me or the baby… It was obvious I would not be able to support that child.
My life was over.
Lesson number one of motherhood, and perhaps the greatest lesson of all: Nature is perfect and unforgiving… And our arrogance is a total stupidity.
Man, I was already 24 years old! How could I have been such an unprepared and immature person?… But I was. Young kids today are completely overprotected. At age 24, anyone is already beyond ready to have a child. How didn’t I know that? What an arrogance of me to think I was not ready.
It took me a few days to start understanding the size of nature’s wisdom. Yes, there’s life after the positive result of a pregnancy test. Days passed and I still had not died! Amazing! In fact, exactly nothing had changed on my routine so far. “Very interesting…”, I thought.
I was still groggy and everything was still very confusing. But once the catatonic shock had passed, around the first week, I started to realize that a very strong love was welling within me. Very different from anything I have ever felt. A deeper thing, purer.
Few more days and yet everything had changed completely inside my head. Once the greatest of all responsibilities knocks on your door, you mature by force. Or maybe, you just stop holding a maturity that had actually been there forever, but never had the need to be used.
Maternity lessons are daily and diverse.
Unfortunately, in the case of my pregnancy, it was not only the first three months that caused me malaise and nausea. I spent all nine months feeling crap. My mother said the same thing happened to her when she was pregnant with me and my brother.
I was feeling so bad that I had no memory about the day I was taking the ultrasound scan to find out the gender of the baby. I just remember Leo being very happy with the result. But as to me, none of that had any importance.
On the other hand, also because of my pregnancy, both Leo and I decided to get married. An event for more than two hundred friends and family members. It was the day I felt the most beautiful in my entire life. Makeup, hair, nails, shoes, hormones over the top… Everything! A flawless production.
I vividly remember the exact time when I arrived gloriously on a Chevy Camaro sport, looking like a ruby red modern carriage, and the huge metal portal of the crowded church opened in front of me. I entered the aisle with my five-meter long embroidered veil. My white dress was stunning, haughty like every bride should feel. I chose my gown like the ‘Juliet of Shakespeare’ style, because deep down I’m a romantic, and also to hide the little tummy already protruding at that time.
I thought my heartbeat stopped when the loud, majestic music started playing just because of my presence. A multitude of eyes focused on me. I walked in arm-by-arm with my father, who, that day, felt very proud of me. I could see my brother out front at the altar with his beautiful smile on his face. And my mother with my only grandmother still alive, magnificent! And already crying, of course.
The after party was simple but extremely joyous and beautiful, filled with people who wished us absolute happiness. I felt the strong presence of a beloved cousin that I had lost not too long ago; I knew he was there sharing that special moment with me.
But back to the pregnancy story, the day of my wedding my breasts were giant because of the milk. Beautiful, round and natural. For those of us women who never had a big chest, this is certainly one great memory from when we’re pregnant.
I remember buying a few bibelots here and there, decorating the baby’s room with furniture donated by my family and re-modeled by me with the help of my mother. Whom, by the way, always gave me full life support, specially during such a difficult moment. I did some painting on the crib and dresser, embroidered children’s comics to hang on the wall; also went to Goiania, my hometown, to buy the baby room outfit. I remember the baby-shower barbecue, on the shores of the Brasilia’s lake, where I asked my friends for disposable diapers. We filled an entire closet with just donated diapers.
But I also remember suffering from urinary infection, heartburn, stress, painful stomach gases, stretch marks, sores, my big belly swollen so much that I couldn’t even see my feet or my legs; having trouble breathing, eating, sleeping, working, bathing, walking, moving, sitting, standing, talking, thinking, smiling… being…
The size of my belly during the last countdown weeks started to panic me. To tell you the truth, I didn’t freak out totally, because when you don’t breath right, you can’t think right. And when you can’t think right, it also includes don’t think of bullshit. I simply vegetated, terrified.
On August 20th of that same year, on the exact day of my younger brother’s 20th birthday, I woke up at 6 in the morning with an annoying intestinal pain. I went to the bathroom a few times, but nothing happened…
Spoiled as usual, I quickly called my mommy for help.
“Mom, what medicine can I take for stomach pain?”
I decided to ask because of those pregnancy lessons that you shouldn’t put just anything inside your mouth anymore. Everything has rules now.
“When did that start, honey?” My mother answered me with another question.
“Less than an hour,” I said.
“Let me talk to Leo.”
“Hi, Ms. Cleusa.” Leonardo picked up the phone from my hand.
“Leo, please start preparing a little bag with her things and the baby’s. We will call the obstetrician to know how he wants to proceed.”
I grabbed the phone back from Leo’s hand and demanded impatiently:
“Mom, what part of the ‘I have a bellyache’ you aren’t understanding?”
“Daughter… labor contractions feel exactly the same as bellyache.”
That was the first lesson of a day that would be long…
The message from my obstetrician, who was in the middle of his morning walk, was to wait a few more hours, and get back in touch with him by mid-morning, to report the outcome.
Less than 15 minutes after this terrifying message, the suitcase was already in the car and I was forcing Leo to drive me to the hospital with my screaming. I was in a complete state of panic.
We were already inside the hospital when I started feeling the first real contractions. Short but painful. My obstetrician arrived right after and was ready to examine me. He said everything was going well and I had to wait to dilate something and something else.
That was when I begged him, for God’s sake, in a much louder tone than he deserved, to immediately take that child out of me. My belly was giant and I was very sure that I would never be able to push all that out by my own.
Dr. Sebastian was a saint! He endured all my craziness with the serenity of a great friend and a professional of extreme competence. He knew my baby was still facing up, had three laps of the umbilical cord around his neck and that my case would require a C-section anyway. He would not let me suffer anymore.
Lying on a gurney, heading into the operating room, on a baffling move, staring at a pale and cold hospital ceiling, roof lights flicking through my eyes, with absolutely no notion of what awaited in front of me, that was when I felt an even greater panic. The biggest one of my life so far. I remember crying desperately. I only calmed down when my better angel showed up in front of me and spoke softly in my ear: “You can relax now darling, I’m here with you.”
It was my cousin Evandro, nickname Deco, my delivery assistant that day. The room they put me in was empty, except by Deco and me. He sat me up on the stretcher with a sweet smile, his gentle voice and the tact of a wise doctor. Someone dressed in white came in, with a gentle smile too, and ran his hand down through an opening on the back of my gown, that ill person’s blue pj they dressed me in. I felt a very light chop in the spinal region. I had no idea what was happening, since I couldn’t see anything. Deco was still holding my hand quietly. Much later I would learn they were shoving a gigantic needle into my spine. But I couldn’t feel anything because of the prior anesthesia he’d given me. Thank you, Mr. Doctor!
I was begging for Deco to put me to sleep urgently. He asked me if I wouldn’t like to see my baby right after delivering. I then freaked out completely. Just to consider the possibility of seeing all that blood made my heart reach my mouth immediately. “Deco please! Put me to sleep now for God’s sake!!!”
He then consented. He laid me back on the table underneath a carousel of strong bright lights and began to prepare a few things around. Someone put a large white cloth in front of me, in between my head and my stomach. Deco then said:
“I’ll put you to sleep in a minute.”
“I don’t want to see blood!” I screamed with horror.
“You won’t see anything. Trust me.”
I felt a little snap inside my belly and immediately after, a young doctor came out from behind the white cloth, raised my hand and kindly asked me to count to ten.
I don’t remember the Two.
It was also later when I learned that at that moment, I wasn’t even aware, they had almost finished the surgery, they had my whole belly sliced and opened already. In my head, surgery was something that takes hours and hours to complete, but in reality my Ceasarean didn’t last more than thirty minutes.
For various medical reasons, during the birth, the mother can only become unconscious after the child is out of the womb. That snap I felt was already my baby coming out of me through the tight cut. Everything happened fast. I slept the second before hearing my son uttered his first cry.
I woke up and my eyes were reluctant to open. I was still lying on a stretcher, up against the wall of a hospital hallway. I was unconscious for about an hour after birth. When my vision returned, the first thing that appeared in front of me was my father’s huge smile.
“Hellooooooooo!” He was very content.
“How do you feel?”
“No idea…” I replied.
I was still sleepy. A nurse (I guessed) moved me to the room I would spend the night.
In less than an hour the anesthesia began to wear off, and it was then that I started feeling the greatest pain in this world. The bottom of my stomach started to throb a bit, then it got worse, and within minutes it felt like an insane knife was sawing my belly from one side to the other without a pause, exactly where the stitches were set with the white bandage.
There I was, screaming again. They quickly called my ‘personal’ better angel back.
Deco, like any well-respected angel, released into my vain some supernatural drug with the power to completely wipe out all the pain I was feeling. He put his hand on the bottle of the saline water that was dripping into me, and in a matter of milliseconds a big wave surged through my body, from the tips of my hair to my toenails. A great wave of peace.
I actually smiled for the first time after nine long months. To tell you the truth, I laughed totally uncontrollably. It felt so good!
Shortly after, all of a sudden, the room door opened. And at that moment, the most wonderful vision magically appeared before my eyes.
It was a prince all in white. The most enchanted prince of all princes.
“The errant knight sent by the universe to rescue my life from the darkness of immaturity. The blessed savior who came to flood the void of my existence with the kiss of his eternal love.”
He had his eyes closed. They looked red. His little hand was full of fingers! The MOST BEAUTIFUL thing I’ve ever seen!
Mastercard can forgive me, but seeing the face of your child for the first time is priceless. It is the climax of months and months of anxiety wondering what that image would be. My heart started racing. Even besides the fact that he looked exactly like his father, none of that mattered.
“MY son is SO BEAUTIFUL!” I couldn’t stop repeating. It was a mix of the anesthetic drug effects with the vision of paradise, all at the same time. See photo below of my two angels together!
How come one day it crossed my mind that I might not be ready for this? How arrogant… Thank you for this great lesson, my mother nature!
Today my son is fourteen. I still try to understand what I did to deserve such a perfect kid.
The most beautiful baby, the sweetest child, the smartest boy, the most lovely pre-teen, the most sensitive future man I know. I never thought much about having kids, but whenever I imagined how they would be, it didn’t even remotely seemed as wonderful as my Luiz. The greatest love of my life.
Happy birthday, my beloved son. I wrote this post as a present for you.