An Ordinary Miracle (Part One)

A month or two ago, Kirsten and I went to see a one-night showing of a movie about addiction. Part of it involved a mom talking about losing her son to heroin, at which point Kirsten leant over and whispered, “Are you okay?”

I was. I felt nothing, at least nothing discernible.

Yesterday, she and I went to see “Gravity,” whose title had more weight in it than any of the particularly-long 91 minutes that followed. Yet in the few moments of the gorgeously-lipped, enviously rip-thighed Sandra Bullock telling the oh-so-manly-and-charming George Clooney how her kid died, I cried right along with her. Maybe it was because the first and last time I sat in an IMAX theater wearing those goofy glasses was when Philip was seven and Natalie five and we’d first moved to Montclair and I raced into the city with them one evening after school to meet Phil to see whatever IMAX sensation was playing on the Upper East Side. Or maybe it was because yesterday I was weary of this, all of it, of every day dealing with Philip dead and not coming home and the ambivalence of wanting to be wherever the hell he is coupled with not wanting to leave Natalie and not being entirely sure that I won’t wonder how fast it was Death came when I’m actually staring into its dark and infinitely deadly eyes.


I’ve had a secret habit of wanting approval in ways that ran my life. Secret, that is, to me. I never looked at the way I felt around anyone who had authority, how hard I tried to be the good girl while my guts seethed with resentment and rebellion because it wasn’t me giving the orders. For Chrissake, I’m not a child, but I spent a good portion of my adult life feeling like one; feeling odd and left out, lost in confusion and wondering where my life was, could somebody out there please help me find it?

But when I got pregnant, I knew exactly what to do, which included having my baby at home. Approval? Ha. None available, from the doctors I called for help, down to my mom, who cried, “I didn’t raise you this way!” Even Phil wasn’t entirely on board, and took to telling people he’d be at the hospital, pacing, if anyone needed him.

To give birth at home, I needed a back-up doctor who’d agree to meet me at the hospital if something went wrong . Barbara, my midwife, wouldn’t see me until I found one. And I had to find one since I’d already disowned my Colorless, Cheerless, Clueless no-matter-that-he’s-really-Handsome OBGYN, Dr. Fuster, for being the pompous jerk that he was.

Before what wound up being my last appointment with Dr. Fuster, I’d shaved my legs. It was pap-smear time, and any woman who’s ever had a pap smear knows what it’s like to spread your legs unwillingly and not look while someone you see once a year fiddles around down there, poking and probing until s/he climaxes by shoving that cold, hard speculum up your bajingo to crank it open and stick a friggin’ foot-long Q-tip into the holiest of holies.

I shaved my legs as defense. Then did some serious moisturizing. If Fuster expected me to drop my drawers and hoist my feet into his stirrups, at least he’d have a creamy set of legs to part. Except I outed myself by nicking my leg and so had to band-aid it because as anyone who’s ever shaved anything anywhere knows, even the tiniest of razor-cuts especially like to bleed.

“What’s that?” asked said CCCH OBGYN as he prepared to examine me. “I cut myself shaving,” I answered, surprised that he noticed. “I mean, can’t get a pap smear without shavin’ my legs.”

Since that’s what’s known as self-deprecating humor and since I was already gowned, stirrupped and vulnerable, a chuckle would’ve been, well, nice. But CCCH OBGYN looked down at me over his glasses and said, “We are not in the habit of counting the hairs on our patient’s legs.”

Afterward, fully clothed in his office and with a desk between us, I asked Dr. Fuster what he thought about home birth with a midwife, to which he replied, “Midwives are stupid. If it was up to me, I wouldn’t let them in my hospital.”

Well. I didn’t know Maimonides Medical Center decided to rename itself “The Fuster Center of Hubris and Stupid-Midwife-Control.” I was never again going to take the risk of shaving even one more hair for Dr. Fuster, never mind thinking of him as my back-up doctor.

So I called around to various obstetricians. As soon as I told the receptionist what the appointment was for, I got an incredulous, you’re-not-seriously-asking-me-this, “Um, uh, No.” The one doctor whose receptionist said, “Sure, no problem” was confused and unprepared when I told him what I wanted. “I don’t believe in home birth,” he said. “I’ve seen too many dead and mangled babies.”

I didn’t ask him how his rate of dead and mangled babies compared to that of Barbara’s 20-years-without-a-single-fatality one. How is it that a midwife can go 20 years with that kind of record? Maybe it was her standard of care and attention vs. his? I didn’t ask because I was too embarrassed by his lack of approval to spit out another word. So embarrassed, in fact, that I paid the $50 co-pay even though he could’ve said that to me over the phone and let me be humiliated in the comfort of my home.

So I left his office and called Stephanie from the nearest pay-phone and cried. But by the time I got home, I was over it. I was more than two months pregnant at that point and hadn’t yet been examined. My options were to give it up and go to the birthing center in NYC where I’d have a comfy room, music, tea, candles and a midwife who I could pretend was in charge even though every hour she had to walk out of that room and report to the doctors at the hospital who were monitoring her, one of them (I kid you not) being He of the dead-and-mangled-babies. Or I could figure something else out.

Which I did, by calling  the midwives at DWS Medical Center who said of course they’d be my backup – I had to see them twice during my pregnancy and if something went wrong when I was laboring at home, I’d be admitted to the hospital under their care.

Being pregnant was the most normal thing I’d done in my life. I didn’t have to ask what to do. I wasn’t worried because I didn’t get examined until my third month. I wasn’t worried that my baby wasn’t “developing properly,” that because I was thirty-something I supposedly had a higher risk of having a child with Down’s Syndrome and was told that I just might want to have an amniocentesis. Because then what – I could abort mission? Like my “imperfect” baby wouldn’t deserve to live because I didn’t want to deal? I wanted to have a kid. Was I in, or was I out?

And I’m not talking the politics of abortion. I’m talking my Very Own Personal Experience. I’m talking the moment I heard, “You’re pregnant” I was in a relationship I chose to be in, one I was responsible for in an extraordinarily unique way. And non-religious as I was, that moment put me in the presence of an ordinary miracle. And I finally felt the gratitude I’d heard so much about.

See, being one with life growing within changes you as impossibly as living on in the presence of its death.

To reiterate. The first time in my life I chose with surety and clarity and said fuck it, I’m doing this thing the way I want to – no confusion here – involved Philip.

Stories don’t unfold in a linear way any more than writing does. This story was necessary background for the next, which is a continuation of what I’d written about signs, and how I said I wanted to talk about the other ways I know Philip is around. And that’s what I’ll talk about next.

© 2013 Denise Smyth


27 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. afichereader
    Oct 13, 2013 @ 17:11:33

    Your point comes through loud and clear. And beautifully.


  2. Denise
    Oct 13, 2013 @ 17:15:16

    Thankee, you of the beautiful writing…


  3. gracielynne62013
    Oct 13, 2013 @ 18:24:53

    I am so in your corner girlfriend! I had all of my three babies with a midwife. The first, my daughter was in a birthing center and my two boys were both at home. My daughter wanted to be present at my youngest son’s birth. My mother had a hissy fit.
    If my daughter wanted to be there I was going to let her. When I started having contractions I told her that I may be a bit grumpy because I was having some pain and it was ok if she checked on me but she may not want to be around me that much.
    The little angel did just that. She periodically checked on me and then went back to watch TV.
    My midwife was awesome and when she knew I was getting into the hard part of the labor she had my daughter lay down on a palette in my bedroom and my daughter fell asleep. After my son was born she woke up and helped her Daddy cut the umbilical cord and welcomed her brother into the world.
    It was a night of miracles and I swear God was present in each and every second. I think that if you are healthy, natural childbirth is the only way to go. It is an awesome experience to give birth and the pain is so short lived.
    What an awesome memory.


    • Denise
      Oct 13, 2013 @ 19:12:57

      And how good does it feel that you’re right in this corner with me! I don’t usually use this word due to overuse, but that your daughter was there and cut the cord is awesome (see, THAT’S what that word was made for ;o) Philip was 2 1/2 when Natalie was born. I planned to have him there, but when the time got close, I changed my mind because I remembered how much I moaned and yelled and all of it when he was born; I didn’t think he was ready for that, and I needed the freedom to labor as I could.

      Thank you – I needed to hear that. It makes me less alone, even if it’s just for a bit. So much of what I feel for people disappears into the hole where Philip used to be; and I know he’s here, but this is so very hard. I miss him and I still get scared. But you made me smile, and for that, I’m grateful.


      • gracielynne62013
        Oct 13, 2013 @ 19:59:55

        Darling you are so deeply loved. I know that you were the most awesome mother ever to Phillip and also to Natalie.
        Interesting note that my daughter’s name, who witnessed her brothers birth, is Natalie. Aha, now we have more than just our natural births in common. 🙂
        As I read more of your posts I find a tenderness and a compassion for people who are tempted by substances which can be addictive. Although I have not done drugs I have smoked cigarettes and I am still addicted to those stinking expensive nicorette lozenges. I am thankful that I never really liked cigarette smoking but I am also thankful that I know from personal experience how hard it is to break a habit which is deadly. Gives me compassion which is so hard to have when you are in the throws of self-righteousness.
        Reading your post has softened my heart in ways that I didn’t even realized needed to be softened. Thank you for allowing me to enter into your heart- even though it is still hurting- it is beautiful painted in brilliant hues of love for your children. My love and prayers are with you my friend.

    • Denise
      Oct 13, 2013 @ 23:16:13

      You’ve left me speechless and in tears. I don’t know how to thank you for all you’ve said. I swear to God I haven’t had as much love in my life as I have since Philip died. Or maybe it’s just that I couldn’t feel it and now I feel it all too much. No, not too much. Because I’m starting to feel that love goes as deep as grief. Whatever opens you up, opens you up to all of it.

      I’m still in shock that my son is dead, but it’s through my love for him that I met you. And for that I’m more than grateful. My love right back to you, friend. You’ve helped me through tonight.


      • gracielynne62013
        Oct 14, 2013 @ 11:27:11

        Well I have replied twice to you this morning but somehow my computer deleted my prose. Dang it!
        I did want to tell you that you are more than welcome for my friendship. I actually think I receive a lot more from you than I could ever give back. You are a dear sweet soul.

      • gracielynne62013
        Oct 14, 2013 @ 14:11:01

        I don’t want to shove religion down your throat. I hate when people do that.
        I just want to share with you something that occurred to me today.
        That thought was that if any of your grief was tied to guilt over any misstep or mistake that you may have made as a mother.
        All that you have to do is go to God for forgiveness and peace.
        Guilt is not from God. It is from the devil. With the sacrifice of Jesus we were released from all guilt for the sins which we have committed.
        Darling I love you so deeply and my heart cries out to God for you. Although I love you I don’t love you like God does. I wouldn’t sacrifice any of my three children for any other human. Yet he sacrificed His only begotten Son for you so that you could know just how deep His love is. I pray that you will feel His love and comfort and can understand just how deep that river of love flows.
        With all my love to you,

    • Denise
      Oct 14, 2013 @ 19:06:32

      First, as to the comment prior to this one – let’s call it even. Writers need readers – you can’t have one without the other. But it’s more than that; it’s you’re reaching out that moves me and helps me along.

      No, guilt isn’t of God. I don’t know if you read the post I wroet about the doctor who read the autopsy and said that the amount of drugs in Philip’s system wasn’t enough for an overdose, that he probably had a heart condition…I’ll never know the truth of that, but I do know that cut like a knife because all I could think was, “I took such good care of myself but I made a kid who was too vulnerable to live long.” I know, I know; that’s crazy-think, but it shook me up and I’m not over it. I’m his mom – I can’t be completely rational about his death. I’m wired to protect him, you know?


      • gracielynne62013
        Oct 14, 2013 @ 19:36:39

        Yes, but darling God would not have given him to you to be your son if you weren’t the best mother for him. You did the very best you could, you have nothing to be ashamed of. I will try to read more of your posts to get more history so I can understand more of your thinking and also your pain. My love goes out to you my dear.

    • Denise
      Oct 18, 2013 @ 13:38:01

      I just saw your last; thank you. Our reactions are the result of a lifetime, no? It takes time for the heart to catch up with the head.


      • gracielynne62013
        Oct 18, 2013 @ 18:27:32

        The most beautiful outcome of a broken heart is the outpouring of compassion from the cracks and crevices of that heart. Even though pain and grief go so deep into our soul, so too. does love. When you reach down there into that pain be aware that my hand is reaching out to gently pull you back into the love. With deep love and compassion from my soul to yours, Gracie Lynne

  4. anna whiston-donaldson
    Oct 13, 2013 @ 18:29:46

    I can think of several times when I gave in to what others thought was best for Jack and I regret it. Way to follow your mama heart and instinct.


  5. Denise
    Oct 13, 2013 @ 19:14:02

    Anna, I just love that “mamma,” I do. It says so much of what I am in just the most loving way…


  6. Denise Hisey
    Oct 13, 2013 @ 21:53:32

    I was 22 when pregnant with my oldest and they wanted me to do an amnio also “just in case.” I said just in case what? Cuz there wasn’t a report or condition that would talk me into aborting this wonderful miracle! No amnio, no disaster. Perfect pregnancy, perfect baby.


    • Denise
      Oct 13, 2013 @ 23:25:26

      The more I let go the easier it is to live. And that’s what was so easy about pregnancy and birth; I just let it be. I let my body do what it had to do and I took care of it the best I could and whoever was born to me was mine. It’s a risk, all of it. And it doesn’t always go the way you want it to, so you figure how to live with what life’s given. I don’t have to say that to you, you who’s suffered things I can’t imagine. But look what you did, how you turned it around. And I know it never “disappears,” but it doesn’t stop you from living your life.

      Hugs to you, my friend; and thanks for stopping by. ;o)


      • Denise Hisey
        Oct 14, 2013 @ 10:55:47

        That’s so true, Denise. Pain never fully disappears, but we can choose to keep living life. For me, the pain has ebbed. It’s certainly more tolerable. Keep up the great posts!

  7. Lucia Maya
    Oct 14, 2013 @ 15:37:38

    I love this – love every piece of your writing! I too loved being pregnant with both my daughters. I felt totally free and comfortable in my body for the first time in my life, and never wanted the pregnancies to end…I planned a homebirth for my 2nd (couldn’t find a midwife to do one for the first), but ended up with a 2nd c-section, with a huge baby. It was a huge disappointment, but as always, I trust that it was exactly as it was meant to be…

    I totally understand your desire to follow your instincts. It’s interesting that I had no problem EVER speaking up for my children (including when I was pregnant), but much more difficulty doing it for myself…and it sounds similar for you? Thank you for this, looking forward to the next story, and the next…


    • Denise
      Oct 14, 2013 @ 19:15:32

      Being pregnant was also the first time I felt at home in my body. I never felt fat – I was pregnant, for God’s sake – that’s not fat! And what a short and sacred time it is, to be pregnant. We each had two kids – out of a whole, long life, being pregnant was such a tiny part in terms of time. But what an impact – it changed our lives forever, as it will any parent.

      And yes, as to the speaking up. I never thought about it that way. To speak up for them was natural. To speak up for me – not so much.

      Thank you Lucia; you’re always there for me. Somehow, I know you know I can survive this and it’s something that helps keep me steady.


      • Lucia Maya
        Oct 18, 2013 @ 01:29:50

        Yes. I know you can because you are! As we’ve both said, there are times when you hear yourself thinking, this is unbearable, and then notice that in fact, it is bearable…and then it becomes more than bearable! So glad you’re here.

    • Denise
      Oct 18, 2013 @ 13:42:59

      You, too, Lucia. And I’ve realized how much writing makes it bearable; it’s gives a shape and feel to him, to my relationship with him. More and more I see how much I have to learn to live with this; I am not (as you are not, as anyone who’s lost a child is not) in the world in the same way. When I sort of lapse and try to be, I get into trouble. It’s exactly those times when I hear Philip say, “C’mon mom. I’m here, I’m right here.”


  8. wepoetsshowit
    Oct 14, 2013 @ 15:41:46

    Stupid medical world! Good for you for standing your ground on what you wanted and needed. xo


  9. tersiaburger
    Oct 14, 2013 @ 17:21:05

    Interesting is that with Vic’s Hospice I have become a Midwife to the dying… I look forward to your next post.


  10. Denise
    Oct 14, 2013 @ 18:31:16

    You know, I never thought of it like that; how true, and how kind and compassionate you are. It’s amazing the way you’re able to give of yourself, even as a chunk is gone with Vic. Sometimes I feel this is strangling me. Slowly.


  11. Becki Duckworth
    Dec 27, 2013 @ 01:59:38

    I fought them as well, when I told my OBGYN that I was going to have an underwater birth at home in a hot tub in the basement they thought I was nuts.Then I found the American Gentle Birthing Association and all was fine. My births were with incident and the most natural way to give birth.


  12. Denise
    Dec 27, 2013 @ 03:51:03

    Good for you! Such craziness to have to “fight” them. What’re we in a war? It’s birth, for god’s sake.


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