National Leon Day
Today is my fortieth birthday. My son, Leon, is a month old. Vincent our dog, Leon’s big brother, is seven years old. Max and I have been together for eight years and this October 28th, we will have been married four years. Both sides of our family are in town to meet our lad and the hours of late summer feel longer, fuller as I see so many of them with an infant. The number forty has loomed with significance over these last two decades. A goal post, a demarcation, a line in the sand; I’m sure my desire to conceive and carry a child informed that. Despite scary percentages and statistics about conceiving in your late thirties and past the big 4-0, here I am… a wondrous boy called Leon chose me. There isn’t language for my thanks or my happiness in him so I walk around saying thank you in my mind all day long: right foot, left foot, thank you for my life, right foot, left foot, thank you for this child, right foot, left foot, thank you for Max, right foot, left foot, thank you for today.
On Saturday morning June 25th, 2022, Max and I watched the sunrise over the Hollywood sign from our delivery room at Cedars. Skimming email, Max opened a message from a classy chain restaurant in London called Leon wishing him a Happy National Leon Day. We’d decided on the name months ago, shared it with family and friends, used it around the house and never heard of the holiday. Six months to Christmas, June 25th, is National Leon Day because Leon spelled backwards is Noel and in Latin it means “to be born”.
I spent most of my third trimester believing the baby would be early. Due June 20th, when my water broke undramatically Friday morning the 24th, it felt like our little lion was never coming. On the advice of our OB, we wandered sheepishly into the hospital that evening convinced they would turn us away; a false alarm. But turns out I was having contractions I didn’t realize were contractions and my sack had broken at the top which kept the baby from dropping with a gush but Leon was in fact making his move.
After a long Friday evening of erratic contractions, Saturday rolled. Leon and I got into a rhythm, contractions grew steady and productive. Ten centimeters dilatated by 6:00 p.m., we felt pretty assured National Leon Day would be our Leon’s birthday. The midwife gave me two things to think about when pushing and three pushes in, Max saw the top of Leon’s head. I pushed for just over an hour. Midstream, I sent Max away from the top of the delivery bed for breathing in a way that annoyed me. When he patiently moved away, I felt instant remorse and apologized to the him and the rest of the room of people. It is my constant lesson that vulnerability and control are bedmates; they share a womb.
Threshold. My brain begins breaking with pain and fear. I lose control of my breath and shake my head back and forth, no, no, no. Every molecule in me surges with the lie that I can’t do this. Dr. Rothbart stands up and makes eye contact with me, “Megan, the only way out of this is through”, he says and then instructs me to “reach down.”
I feel my son’s whole head; he is that near. I think of Haywood’s giant hands around the infants he baptized at Westminster. We’d sing, He’s got the whole world in his hands, as Haywood walked the baby up and down the church aisle. Leon’s little head in my hand – my whole world – making his way between the universe of my body and the planet beyond.
His velvet hair, a miniscule ear, the silky jawline of this wondrous creature; he was right there and still doubt capsized me. It’s an exquisite anguish to doubt your body, especially as a woman. We make life, it transforms us, even after it exits us, our bodies sustain it. The loneliest hours of my life were questioning whether I’d get to be pregnant and carry a child. And even at the brink of meeting my son, I fell into doubt’s sweaty, familiar arms. A last embrace with doubt before everything changed. I let go. Truly let go. Three more big pushes and Leon slipped out. Moments later, he was placed on my chest. My heart on my chest now, not in it.
Numbers, letters, language, time – all units of measure now feel inadequate. A baby named Leon got born on National Leon Day and so did a mother. A mother who now wonders if the world has always been this impervious to measure? Indeed yes. Yes completely. Yes. Like my son’s assurance in picking National Leon Day as his birth day – yes – life can only be defined by the incomprehensible. And yes Leon - you miracle that tamed my doubt - right foot, left foot, thank you, right foot, left foot, thank you, right foot, left you, thank you.