Monday, 17 June 2013

Foot First

Somewhere in Northeastern Japan, there is a twenty-year-old woman who came into this world her own way: foot first, and painlessly. I think of this young woman and her mother from time to time because their story is so extraordinary.

I met the girl's mother at a party when I was five months pregnant with my second daughter. I have since forgotten the mother's name, but I will call her Saeko. Saeko and her husband had brought their firstborn six-month-old daughter to the party, and, as women tend to do, we started talking about babies, then giving birth. There were a few other mothers there, one of whom was also pregnant.

"It didn't hurt!" Saeko told us. "Everybody told me how painful it would be, but it hardly hurt at all!"

We were all astonished to hear this, so Saeko told us the rest of the story.

Saeko's baby was facing the wrong direction--feet-first. Her doctor consulted a very experienced midwife who was able to turn the baby in her womb, but although this was accomplished successfully, the baby always flipped back to her original position by the next visit. Because of this, Saeko was scheduled to have a caesarean  section, which she was understandably nervous about.

As she was lying on the guerney waiting to have the surgery, Saeko went into labor. "Only I didn't know at the time because it didn't hurt!" she said.

Saeko's belly had been painted with betadine and she was waiting for the surgeon to show up when she had a feeling of strong pressure, but no pain. She told the nurses that she needed to go to the bathroom, and before they could help her up, her daughter began to emerge, foot-first. Slowly, but surely.  And painlessly.

"She just kept moving, slowly and steadily, until her head was out," Saeko told us. "Her legs weren't doubled over or anything. The nurses said they'd never seen anything like it. She reminded them of a dancer, or somebody doing t'ai chi"

"And it really didn't hurt?" a woman who'd had a 50-hour labor asked.

"No! All around me, I heard women screaming their heads off, but I never even had the time to," Saeko said. "And I didn't need to either, because I could hardly feel anything. It was so, so strange!"

There was a long silence as we all absorbed this. The woman who'd spent 50 hours in hard labor looked especially thoughtful.

"Is she always this quiet?" another woman asked, pointing her chin at the basinette next to Saeko. Because Saeko's baby had slept placidly through a fairly noisy party.

Saeko nodded. "Everybody says so. I  mean, she cries to let me know she's hungry, but she sleeps a lot. And she's very sweet-tempered."

This, for me, was tough to hear. A few years later, with two non-sleeping children, one of whom was hell on wheels, it was even tougher to recall.

All of us mothers got to cuddle Saeko's baby when she woke up from her long, long nap, and she really was placid and sweet-tempered--no false advertising there. As we left the party, there were murmurs all around about Saeko's luck. One woman commented that Saeko might want to consider having a dozen children. My own personal opinion was that she shouldn't tempt fate.

Over the years, I have wondered to myself what sort of toddler this baby became, what sort of child, and for pity's sake, what sort of teenager. Somewhere along the line, Saeko's luck must have run out or there simply isn't any justice in this world.

But occasionally, when I meet women who are expecting babies and some young mother asks me that question--Does it hurt?--I always tell the truth, that yes, it did. And then I tell her Saeko's story.