Yes, that Breaking Dawn. The one by Stephenie Meyer.
This seems like such a strange thing to share. It has taken me a long time to be able to write about Juniper Junior’s birth; he is seven now, and it’s only in the past couple of years that I have found myself able to share my experience in any way other than small remarks and brief medical histories. The way Breaking Dawn has affected my experience has been a story I have gone back and forth on telling so many times that it doesn’t bear thinking of. Perhaps it would have been simpler if the novel involved had been written by an Orange Prize winner.
The Twilight Saga came into my life* because of the comments that Harry Potter should “move over” around the time the first film, Twilight, came out in late 2008. I picked up the first book from the shops, finished it, and promptly ordered the rest of the series from Amazon. All I knew about the series was what I read in the first book and the buzz around the first film. In no time at all, I was beginning Breaking Dawn. I seem to recall a vague notion of wondering where the plot was going. Juniper Junior was a year old. I didn’t know what the birth scene would be like. I finished the book. I’m pretty sure I cried. Breaking Dawn went onto the bookcase.
It was hard to avoid noticing the hardback on the bookcase. Drat my desire for organised books; a series should be together on a shelf. I still enjoyed the previous books in the series. But Breaking Dawn was always undeniably there. The book with the birth. The traumatic birth. Every so often, I would try to read Breaking Dawn. I wanted to prove to myself that I could, though I don’t think I was sure why. I would get a few chapters in and give up. Sometimes I would simply skip to a few chapters before the end. There, I could say, I read it. Sort of.
Despite what others may think, I’m not obsessed with The Twilight Saga. It’s more that a space opened up in my need for comfort reads when The Twilight Saga came along. A few other books have wedged themselves in there over time. On the surface, I felt an irritation that I couldn’t manage to reread Breaking Dawn. I’m an adult, for goodness sake. Then I would come across a television programme about birth or hear the news of a new baby, and I would be crying. Bawling my heart out. And I would see that book and wonder why I couldn’t read it. It took a long time for me to realise what had become entangled with Breaking Dawn.
During this time, I ordered Birth Crisis by Sheila Kitzinger through our local library; they had to buy it in, as it wasn’t in their catalogue. I couldn’t even order it through Amazon. I couldn’t bring myself to have even that much invested in the book. I was so scared. When the book arrived, after weeks of waiting, I picked it up. A slim book. Not terribly intimidating. Sometimes I read paragraphs. Sometimes I read chapters. Sometimes I could only manage a sentence before putting it down. In the end, I didn’t manage to read the whole book. I took Birth Crisis back to the library.
If a television programme featured a birth, I flipped over to another channel. I didn’t read novels that featured births in any significant way; I would skip pages until it was over if I did come across a birth scene. I’d be wary of movies if I knew little about the content. I would turn off the radio if there was a feature about birth. Mr. Juniper held me when it became too much. Often, no one knew. It was the middle of the night, when I would sit at the top of the stairs. Replaying Juniper Junior’s birth. Over and over. I did all I could to distract myself. But in the middle of the night when not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse, I would remember. There are parts that seven years on, I have no recollection of. I have been told, but there’s no memory. Even the lack of memory hurts. Then there was the night I began to really write for the first time. On the back of an envelope. I finished writing as dawn broke. Through the skylight, I watched the clouds flood with colour.
Something changed in me that night.
And, as is the way of the universe, I found out I was pregnant with Little Juniper a few months later. I knew I had to think about birth. I had to read about birth. I had to hear about birth. I was going to give birth. Breaking Dawn was still on the shelf. I don’t know how far along I was when I picked it up. I had reread the rest of The Twilight Saga several times. I hadn’t even attempted Breaking Dawn in a long time. I didn’t get very far at first. In amongst the other books, I did it. I read Breaking Dawn from cover to cover. I watched Breaking Dawn – Part 1. And I was okay. Something close to okay, at least. I began to push myself to the point that I was eventually able to to watch episodes of One Born Every Minute and Call the Midwife. It took longer before I could stomach Call the Midwife. There was part of me that was so thrilled, so pleased and proud that I had managed to watch these. There was a part of me that wanted to turn off the television and throw up.
It was incredible when Little Juniper was born. We had made it. In the months that followed, I didn’t continue to watch shows like One Born Every Minute. Even now, I flip channels if an advert for the show comes on. There was an unmistakeable change within myself though. I had confronted those things that I had been desperate not to think about. I thought I had anyway.
I would listen to audio books from The Twilight Saga whilst getting ready for bed, or when Little Juniper was having a nap. I’d read Twilight itself on occasion. I hadn’t returned to Breaking Dawn since managing to read it again whilst pregnant. One evening I bought the Breaking Dawn audio book. I’m not sure why. I had wanted something different. I guess the uncomfortable familiarity with it won out over the unknown. I listened. I skipped chapters. I turned the audio book off. Then one day I didn’t. I had half-listened to it on so many occasions that the birth scene probably had been there, playing out in the background. I had stopped flinching when I heard the narrator for Jacob’s part of the book; hearing his voice meant the birth scene would be coming before I knew it.
I listened. Again and again. I began to recognise those things that I hadn’t before. Those little strands that had probably caused the punch to be so much harder when I first read Breaking Dawn. I had remembered that Bella gets married at the beginning of the novel. I’d forgotten that she gave birth just a few days before her 19th birthday. I married Mr. Juniper when I was 18. Juniper Junior was born less than two hours before I turned 19. Something slipped into place. I began to realise why Breaking Dawn had stayed on the bookshelf so long. In the heat of the initial reading, I hadn’t realised what was in front of me. It was those little parallels I hadn’t noticed that made the punch of a traumatic birth even harder. It wasn’t being able to recognise what happened. It was when I could barely recognise what had happened to me.
Whenever I’m in the library, I try to sneak off to the health section at some point during my visit. I look for Birth Crisis. I open it up and look at the piece of paper on which is stamped the date for return. The first time, I nearly cried. There were more dates stamped in there. I closed the book and put it back on the shelf. I went through the library to where the books were that I wanted. In the back of my mind, I hope quietly that Birth Crisis had helped those other people who had checked it out from the library. And now, I still listen to Breaking Dawn. It isn’t often that I skip chapters.
*I checked my Amazon order history recently and discovered it was in fact December 2008.