Chapter 1

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Now that I've had more than one "near-death experience," I think the term is misleading. After all, just living is a near-death experience, for all of us, all the time. We're so alarmingly near to death right now that it's uncomfortable and often painful to fathom the enormity of our situation. A so-called "near-death experience" is just a moment in which we're suddenly and without warning forced to confront death's inescapable presence.

For me, the first time it happened was a car accident back when I was nineteen. It took me years to come to terms with the memory and finally let it go.

The second time it happened, I ended up pregnant. That was just before last Christmas.

Twenty-seven weeks later, I'm still holding onto that one.

I watch my body giving birth from the outside.

The doctor's practiced hands reach into the cavern of my torso, which is pinned open like a science project. My husband, Owen, sits on a low stool next to my head and stares blankly at my closed eyelids.

With his wavy, blond hair trapped under a bulky blue hospital cap and sweat soaking into the neckline of his hastily donned scrubs, Owen looks like a character in a soap opera. Paler, though. Huh.

He's much paler than usual, and his jaw is visibly tense. I want to hold his face in my hands and thank him for still being awake beside me.

Just above the horror show of my open abdomen, a blue screen has been erected. It is meant to shield Owen's eyes, mercifully, from this new angle of my senseless body in case he looks down at it. He doesn't.

But from above, I see everything. And as I wait for a scream from this new slimy, squirmy person – who didn't exist before but very much does now – I realize that I want to scream, too.

Put my body back together! Wake me up!

They must have given me the good drugs, because no one in the room reacts.

And there are a lot of people in the room. In addition to Owen on the stool and the doctor with his hands in my body, four or five young-looking doctors – students? – gather in the corner near the door. One in particular looks like he wishes he hadn't peeked behind the blue screen. Several technicians and assistants alternately rush around delivering tools or directions, type furiously at computers on standing desks, and examine ream after ream of paper strips as they yank them from humming monitors. Two nurses with pinched foreheads assist the doctor, who is holding the baby suspended above my open body.

The silence in the room seems to strangle time in its grasp. It's as if everyone has decided to pool our breath for the sake of the new life among us, all of us inhaling and holding... holding... until we can be sure the baby has gotten the air it needs.

Finally its shrill, panicked wail fills the operating room. Owen's head snaps up, his gaze darting from my face to that of my son, whom the doctor now hands off to one of the waiting nurses. As Owen watches the nurse clean and measure the baby, I finally recognize exactly what the emotion is that I see in his eyes.

Anger.

*

My first near-death experience was a car accident when I was nineteen years old. I remember it vividly – the helpless screech of brakes blurring into the whizzing lights as my tiny sedan spun across three lanes of a dark, rainy highway. More intense than my physical experience, though, is the memory of the deep acceptance that settled over my brain within the time it took for the car to skid through a single rotation. First I registered shock, then intense fear, and finally, in the moment just before the side rail brought my trajectory to an abrupt halt, the only thing I did was wait to die.

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