He blinked half awake. “How do you know?”
“I can tell. Something is different.” A new wave of sharp pain rose, crested, and receded. I took a deep breath.
I told him to get some sleep, that nothing was going to be happening for a while, and that I was going to go in the baby’s room with my yoga ball and a bottle of water to try to breathe through and get myself ready.
I stayed in there for a while on the floor. I used the yoga ball to try and find a good position from which to manage the pain, and eventually found that being on all fours seemed to take the pressure off. The waves came about ten or eleven minutes apart, and in between I rode the euphoric high that that pain sometimes creates in its wake, endorphins flowing into the hollow jagged recess left behind by each subsequent wave of contractions.
Eventually I returned to bed and tried to sleep in between, in bursts of ten minutes, and eventually I heard someone at the door, trying to speak French to poor Ariana, who was gamely following along. It was Mathieu’s dad, stopping by before leaving town for a one week trip to England. Mathieu got up at last and went downstairs to save Ariana and explain the situation.
I heard him tell them both that I was starting labor, and his words felt like a door clanging shut, like it suddenly crystalized the situation and made it real. I laid in bed for a few more moments with my eyes open.
I came downstairs in a bit and heard myself telling Ariana that we could totally still go out this afternoon, that it might be a while before anything happened…that it would be good for me to get out of the house and take a drive, and while no one exactly talked me out of it, no one exactly made eye contact either. I kept babbling on about how it wasn’t that bad, unable to visualize the catastrophe of wandering around in a weird French town an hour or more from home while being seized with birth pains. It seemed completely reasonable.
It’s crazy to me to think of it now, how even in the middle of it all, I couldn’t get my head around the momentousness of what was actually happening. I even put on my boots and got my purse and put on makeup and prepared to go out for the day and, I don’t know, deal with the whole birth thing later?…All the while, Mathieu and Ariana looked at each other, then at me, blankly without a single thought flickering on their face.
She cooked pain perdu (what we call French toast in the US, which means “lost bread”, ie what you do with older stale bread) and made plates of oranges and raspberries and strawberries. Mathieu had bought fresh croissants too from the bakery. The sun came through the window.
Finally, as it started to dawn on me that no one was actually making any moves to go anywhere, I suggested to Ariana that we walk down to the park (down by the bridge where I photographed all those sheep) and she agreed to come. I walked slow. The cramps were coming faster now, and more intense. I even made it all the way to the park before I was hit with a wave so huge that it dropped me to my knees and I fought back the bile rising in my throat.
“Ça va?!” I heard a voice call from up above the park, where a man stood watching us with concern. “Ça va?” he shouted down. “Est-ce que je dois appeller quelqu’un?” (Are you ok? Should I call someone?) I realized what he saw, a hugely pregnant lady, teeth gritted, collapsed on a path.
“Non, non, ça va!” I called back, trying to sound both cheery and convincing. I smiled and waved and whispered to Ariana. “We should go. Now.” I tried to walk back to the house but only made it a few steps to a concrete post, where another wave of pain hit. Another woman came by with her dog on a leash, looking horrified. I smiled and waved off her concerned entreaties as best I could while clutching the post with white knuckles.
The contraction crested. It didn’t fade either, this time, but lingered on, and I fumbled in my pocket for my phone. I bumped against Ariana’s hand and realized she had been trying to pull my phone out of my pocket, that we’d both made the same realization.
Here is her drawing of the moment:
“Mathieu, I was really dumb. I’m in the park and I can’t walk anymore. I need help. I need you to get the car and come get me.”
(to be continued…)