A few months earlier, I flipped through Lennart Nilsson's photography book, Life, at Border's and was fascinated by the images he was able to capture. He had photographed every stage of human development, from conception to birth. There is an egg descending into the fallopian tube. An egg magnified god knows how many times that it looks like some magnificent planet. A sperm penetrating the egg. Fetuses at various stages of development floating in their amniotic sacs. Looking through the book felt like spying into another world, one so foreign, bizarre, and completely captivating.
I ordered one of my own. I wanted a book to help me visualize what was happening inside of me. We found the illustrations in the Mayo Clinic Guide helpful for imagining the growth of our baby from week to week, but I wanted more. I wanted to peek inside, see him as he is, not as some penciled drawing. I didn't order the same book because Life is more of a coffee table edition, glossy and expensive. I ordered A Child is Born, which has most of the same images but more text to explain what the images capture.
So when I received it from Amazon on Saturday, I immediately plunked down on the couch to finger through it. Many of the images were ones I had seen in the other book, but I scoured them again, trying to extract as many of life's secrets as I could. Near the end of the book, I came to the section on "Labor and Delivery," and I saw photographs of women, bare chested, legs propped up, faces in obvious agony, as they prepared for delivery. I was amazed that they had agreed to be photographed as they were. Then I turned the page and was stunned to see photographs of women and babies mid-delivery. The first in a sequence shows the doctor grabbing the baby's head as it emerges, then the torso, and then the whole body dangling from the doctor's arms with the umbilical cord still in tact. The next two-page spread is a photograph of a woman mid-delivery with the baby's head protruding from her, and the image is captured from the top, as if the camera were dangling from the ceiling.
I had watched Nova's "Miracle of Life" in seventh grade, and I had heard delivery stories from my friends. I assumed I knew what I was in for. But I have to admit, these photographs were a shock. A part of me reeled from it - mostly from fear and perhaps a tinge of disgust - even as I threw the book in Jeff's face with "You have to look at these." I hadn't spent too much time imagining the delivery part, focusing instead on the baby's development. A couple of weeks ago, I had lunch with a friend who was coming upon her due date. She said, "I am so scared." Now I understood a little better, not just mentally, but emotionally.
I wondered why I had that reaction -- fear and disgust. Maybe all the blood and gore signaled to the brain that something horrific is happening to the body, even as I know mentally that it is something quite different. Maybe we live in such a sanitized world - where pieces of fish and meat come sliced in geometric arrays wrapped in saran wrap - that we're out of touch with life in its naked form.
But whatever it is, I'm still looking at the photographs two days later and re-living the same shock. Jeff and I joke that we hope our baby's head won't be too large, even as we anticipate it will be given the sizes of our own. We comfort ourselves that billions of women have experienced it before us, so how bad can it be? Then we talk about the time when so many women died during child birth, and feel eternally grateful that we live today.
I want to face my fear head on. I promptly put Miracle of Life on our Netflix queue. I want to find other sources to help me process this fear, so that it no longer seems a stranger come delivery day. But then I remember that strangeness has entered our lives, as I feel the little guy kick inside of me. A day hasn't passed for a while now when Jeff and I don't turn to each other to say, "Amazing... it is so damn amazing."