Twenty-five years ago today I was a patient on the psychiatric unit of a hospital in Portland, Oregon. I was also nine months pregnant. Two nurses, dressed in pastel-colored lab coats, walked into my room.
"Are you ready?" one said. Her lab coat had balloons and happy faces on it.
"Today's the big day," said the other, a hefty blonde with a warm smile.
I rose from an armchair in the corner of the room and heaved myself onto the gurney. They were taking me upstairs to deliver my baby.
"The doctor will start a drip and they'll induce labor." The nurses wheeled the bed towards the elevator and continued their instructions "We'll take you up to the seventh floor and when it's all over, we'll bring you back down here. All you have to do is relax."
I placed my hands on my bulging belly. The baby kicked. "Is Alec going to be there?"
"Yes, he's already up there, waiting for you."
My whole body tensed. I'd been preparing for this moment for weeks in therapy. "Just expect him to be an asshole," my therapist had told me. She knew about my husband's violent temper. I had already decided not to go back to him. I just needed to get through this day. It never occurred to me to ban Alec from the delivery room. I was still under the spell of The Way, a fundamentalist cult I belonged to. Alec was a "man of God" and it was his right as the father to be there. I didn't consider my rights.
We arrived at the Obstetrics department and Alec was there to greet me. He was calm and smiling, joking with the nurses and encouraging me. "Don't worry, Kris," he said. "Everything 's going to be alright." The good Alec.
Soon I was in labor and Alec was holding my hand. "Breathe," he said. "Breathe." I have no memory of the delivery but it went quickly. Before I knew it, a nurse was handing me a beautiful baby girl. Alec cried. I cried. "We did it," he said.
Today is my daughter's twenty-fifth birthday. She is a strong, lovely young woman. It's a long way from her inauspicious beginnings. But how many people can say that they spent their first few weeks on a psych ward with their mother?
This day marks an important day for both of us. My daughter's birth signaled a birth in me, as well. She gave me the strength to walk away from an abusive marriage and The Way. After I left the hospital, I never went back. Today is a day of deep gratitude for the people we have become.