Every year, on my boys’ birthdays, I try to make it happen. At exactly the time of birth, I try to stop whatever I am doing and think: Three [or however many] years ago, right now, my baby was born.
It’s a complete immersion in the significance of the moment, something akin to the feeling I’ve always had when I hit “one” on the New Year’s Eve countdown to midnight. And I like it. I like having that very precise marker, that almost mystical shivery sense of before and after. At this one moment, this one little speck of time, a small boy was pulled out of me and life was never ever the same.
A while back, we celebrated Luke’s birthday. He was born at 10:06 in the morning, I told myself in the car on the way to 9:30 Mass. Let’s see if I can pause in the middle of Mass and remember.
And then we got to Mass, and there was the usual squirminess on the pews, and Matthew’s inevitable request to use the potty (he seems to have perfected my high school students’ knack of requesting bathroom breaks during dull moments in the program), and the usual chaos of picture books spread out all over the pews. And I took Matthew back to the sacristy for the Children’s Liturgy of the Word, where he heard a simplified version of the Gospel and cut a large cross out of red paper and decorated it with a stamp. And by the time I got back to the main body of the church and settled in with Scott and Luke, I was no longer thinking about remembering the precise moment of my younger son’s birth.
Then during the consecration, just as the priest elevated the host and said, “This is my body, which will be given up for you,” I suddenly thought: What time is it? And I glanced at my watch. 10:16. I’d missed it by ten minutes.
Then I thought: So what was I doing at 10:16, four years ago? And memories rushed up before me: the operating room; the two female doctors and the anesthesiologist, in his colorful printed cap; the beautiful blur of a squalling little dark-haired boy, weighing over eight pounds, who had just been lifted out of the open seam in my abdomen and had been held next to my head for a picture before being taken, excited Daddy in tow, to the nursery. We’d just found out we had a second boy, a fact we had opted not to know in advance, and I was beginning to ponder, in my tired and delighted haze, what it would mean to be the mother of two boys, to know that Matthew had a little brother. And the doctors were putting me back together, literally moving parts of my body that I will never ever see back into place and closing up the line that they had cut in order to get my little Luke out of my womb and into the world. And I was lying there on my back on a table, a body that had just been opened up and was now being closed, having done the very best and most beautiful thing that a body can do.
This is my body, which will be given up for you.
Yes, I missed the moment of birth. But in another way, my timing was perfect.