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I trudged through piles of snow to get to her office in Manhattan, wrapping my arms around the swaddled globe of my belly, around a coat that would not zip, and saying, Mine, mine, mine. My sense of ownership was sharpened by the icy flurry all around me.

The Quickening

It was primal. It had to do with the drop in barometric pressure.

This seemed like something one midwife might whisper to another in the barn, while the sky filled with clouds, and like a fairy tale it came true that night. I woke at three in the morning, stepped out of bed, and the hot warmth gushed out. It was almost biblical, I told myself: As it was for the mother, so it shall be for the daughter. There was a pleasing symmetry. My birth-class teacher had recommended going back to sleep if my water broke in the middle of the night, because I would need the rest.

I did not go back to sleep. I could not even imagine the version of myself that might go back to sleep. Plus, I still seemed to be leaking.

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I sat on the toilet with my laptop on my legs and felt the amniotic fluid leave my body while I edited an essay about female rage. The pain meant my body knew what it needed to do to bring you here. And I was grateful that my body knew, because my mind did not. After we got to the hospital, I labored through the early evening and into the night.

A monitor above my bed showed two lines: my contractions, and your heartbeat. My doctor started to get worried, because when the first line spiked, the second plummeted. Your heartbeat always came back up, my doctor said. But we needed to stop it from dropping. It was supposed to stay between and I watched the monitor vigilantly.

It was as if I believed I could keep your heart rate above the danger line through sheer force of will. Belief in willpower was another familiar ghost, one of the gospels of my hungry days. But really the pain was exactly like everyone had described it: impossible to describe. Someone had told me to picture myself lying on a sandy beach, that each contraction would be a wave washing over me with pain, and in between those waves my job was to soak up as much warmth as I could from the sun.

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But very little in that delivery room felt like waves, or sand, or sun. I asked for an epidural: a helicopter that would spirit me away from the shore entirely. Early in my pregnancy, your father told me that his first wife had been determined to have a natural birth. The story of the woman determined to have a natural childbirth felt nobler than the story of the woman who asked for all the drugs right away, just as the story of the pregnant woman felt nobler than the story of the woman who starved herself.

There was something petty or selfish or cowardly about insisting on too much control, about denying the body its size or its discomfort. I thought you and I had managed to bring it up. But when I looked at the monitor, it was just below —and dipping further. Another nurse came in. Why do you need so many hands? More nurses arrived. They told me they needed a better measurement of your heart rate.

They stuck a wand inside me. They had me roll onto one side, then the other. They stuck the wand inside me again. They asked me to get on all fours. It was the only question in the world. Then my doctor was in the room. Everything happened very quickly after that: 10 people in the room, 15, many of them rolling me onto a gurney, my legs still paralyzed from the epidural.

Your father grabbed my hand. Then they were pushing me down the hallway on the gurney, running. In the operating room, a man pinched my abdomen and asked if I could feel him pinching. I said I could. He seemed annoyed. I said they should just go ahead and cut me open anyway. My doctor said I was going to feel pressure, not pain.

Everything would happen on the other side of the blue curtain, where the rest of my body was. Your father sat on a stool beside the operating table—worried, in a blue surgical cap—and I watched his face like a mirror, trying to read your fate.

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Every birth story is the story of two births: The child is born, and the mother is born, too—constructed by the story of how she brought her child into the world, shaped by the birthing and then again by the telling. My birth plan stayed folded in my hospital duffel bag. It was the story of a thing that never happened.

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  • Instead, a team of doctors separated my mind from my womb with a blue tarp. The hands of another woman reached in to pull you out.

    My body went from collaborator to enemy. It was no longer laboring; it had failed. It needed to be cut open. I felt betrayed. My story was disrupted. My body was disrupted. You arrived and showed me that pain had never been my greatest teacher. It mattered because you showed up glistening and bewildered and perfect. You were still part of me.

    You were beyond me. If the work of starvation had been as small and airless as a closet, then the work of birth was as wide as the sky. It expanded with all the unknowns of a life that would happen in the body that my body had made possible. For much of the first hour after you were born, I was still lying on the gurney, asking if I could hold you. Your father reminded me that I was still in surgery. He was right. My abdomen was still gaping open. I knew only that your father was pointing to one corner of the room, where they were carrying a tiny bundle to the incubator.

    One little leg stuck out, impossibly small. My whole body vibrated with the need to hold you. Is she okay? At your surging voice, I heard my own crack open. Giving out your number may seem fairly innocuous, but it can have big consequences. The commander in chief is impulsive, disdains expertise, and gets his intelligence briefings from Fox News. What does this mean for those on the front lines? F or most of the past two decades, American troops have been deployed all over the world—to about countries. During that time, hundreds of thousands of young men and women have experienced combat, and a generation of officers have come of age dealing with the practical realities of war.

    They possess a deep well of knowledge and experience. For the past three years, these highly trained professionals have been commanded by Donald Trump. To get a sense of what serving Trump has been like, I interviewed officers up and down the ranks, as well as several present and former civilian Pentagon employees. Among the officers I spoke with were four of the highest ranks—three or four stars—all recently retired.

    All but one served Trump directly; the other left the service shortly before Trump was inaugurated. Last Thursday, Donald Trump said something that, on its face, seemed inexplicably self-defeating. Already under attack for having asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, he publicly asked China to do the same.