For those who might not know (in case any of them actually read this very long birth story!), Desmond’s birth was a planned home birth attended by the midwife, Julia Bower, who also took care of me through my pregnancy with Langston, now age three. Langston was born in the hospital because ultrasounds had indicated he might have a heart defect. (As it turned out, he did not). Julia continued to handle my prenatal care through my pregnancy with Langston (along with our OB, the wonderful Dr. Christina Sebestyen), helped me labor part way at home, and drove us to the hospital where she stayed with us and participated actively along with Dr. Sebestyen in support of my natural hospital birth. While Desmond’s birth was my first home birth, it was my second natural birth under Julia’s care.
Desmond’s birth story can start in a number of places. Because I do not want to forget anything, I am beginning at the earliest beginning.
Towards the end of this pregnancy I was disappointed to discover that third births tend to have a lot of starts and stops. Second births tend towards torpedo efficiency but for reasons beyond me, not so with subsequent births.
Despite this warning, I was convinced I was on a clear path to birth on the night of February 4th, the night before the first day of Desmond’s due date range (the due date was fuzzy). After dinner that evening, the contractions that had been coming and going for days and weeks began to come about every five minutes. By the later hours of the night I told Jeremiah to get some sleep because it would be a big night.
As it happened, I am glad Desmond was not born that night. Langston was not going to have it. Even though I laid with him until he was asleep several times (through my contractions no less), every time I left the room he emerged within fifteen minutes crying and shouting that I had left him. This went on until 3:30 am. It was not usual behavior for Langston. He must have figured out that something unusual was going on. Each decision Jeremiah and I made about what to do to settle him did not work. Giving birth with Langston in such a clingy, upset state would have been a nightmare for me, whether it would have meant sending Langston off in the night with a friend, screaming and red-faced, or keeping him here with us continuing to try to calm him. Instead of either of those scenarios, after three hours of regular contractions and one wee-hours phone call to Julia’s apprentice, Nina, sometime after 4am I fell asleep on the couch next to Langston in front of a National Geographic documentary. When I awoke a couple hours later contractions had subsided into irregular cinchings that continued through the next day.
After a night awake Jeremiah and I were tired. We were grateful to have my mother and step-father in town for the birth. We each took long naps that day while my parents tended to the kids. As the evening of February 5th unfolded, we endeavored to keep the contractions at bay for the sake of a good night’s sleep. Julia recommended I drink some wine or beer, take a long hot bath, and take an herb known as cramp bark to relax my uterus. I followed suit.
February seventh--amazingly the date on which both Ruby and Langston were coincidentally born--three years apart--approached with promising signs that active labor would come soon. We could not help but get excited about the possibility that Desmond might arrive on his siblings’ birthday. For the whole pregnancy, I expected that Desmond would not arrive on the exact same date as his siblings (which is what I expected about Langston when I was pregnant with him, due five days before his sister’s birthday!). I figured the kids’ birthdays would be close, which would be sweet enough. But it would be too much to hope for something as extraordinary as a third child born on the same date as the first two. But the timing was lining up and at this point, who could hep but hope labor might hold off for another 24 hours?
My body obliged nicely. We had a peaceful night’s sleep and awoke rested on Sunday the 6th (the day before Ruby’s sixth and Langston’s third birthday). It was among the most happy, exciting days in our family. The plan was to have a small celebration at Chuck E. Cheese, the birthday destination of Ruby’s dreams. Our dear friends Krisdee and Adam and their boys would meet us there as well as my parents.
Before getting in the shower that morning, I discovered small streaks of blood passing from my cervix. It’s called “bloody show” and it was an indication that my cervix was preparing for active labor. I was jubilant to discover this good sign (and, I was warned, I was a bit over eager to project the precise timing of the birth for the next day). I emailed my friends on the birth call list with the latest developments.
As we pulled into Chuck E. Cheese I told Jeremiah I did not want to eat terrible pizza on a day that we hoped would precede childbirth. I did not want to rely on fake food to sustain me through labor. In the parking lot, we arranged that my step-father and I would go pick-up some better food. We returned to Chuck E. Cheese with Thai food in hand and met with everyone. With a little bit of maneuvering, I managed to plant my big-bellied self at the table. I sat before my meal and hardly left, enjoying the chance to rest and spend time with everyone as they came and went. Krisdee seemed as excited for my birth as she would have been for herself. Ruby and Langston ran about gleefully with Krisdee’s boys, Milo and Eliot, toting tokens and tickets. Exciting things were imminent and everyone was filled with anticipation.
The kids burned through tokens and we ran out of cash. We used the promise of birthday cake to get them out of there. Jeremiah took Ruby and Langston to Central Market to pick out a cake and I went home with my mom and step-father. Everyone converged at our house and we proceeded with cake and ice-cream merriment. Our kids peeled about the house. When everyone went home, we put the kids to bed with high anticipation.
I took myself on a vigorous walk up and down our street. I thought wishful thoughts for birth the next day. Eventually Jeremiah and I went to bed hoping to wake up soon in labor.
I awoke at 4:30am with contractions. I couldn’t imagine actually giving birth during the day time, I had always imagined it to happen at night. Ruby had been born just past seven in the evening, but after a long day in a windowless hospital room. Langston was born at 9:30 in the morning, also in a windowless hospital room. I couldn’t imagine giving birth in the light of day.
Contractions came sporadically, enough to wake me up and prevent sleep but still not regular or strong enough to be called active labor. I ate a bowl of cereal, tried to relax, and managed to get back to sleep for another hour. At 6:30 contractions woke me again. I arose and went about getting Ruby dressed and ready for school. Jeremiah notified his work he wouldn’t be in. We wished Ruby and Langston a happy birthday and promised we would come get Ruby from school if the baby was ready to be born before she got home. We could not decide whether we should send her birthday cupcakes to be served in the afternoon given that she might not still be there by then. We decided to keep the cupcakes at home for now and Jeremiah walked her to school. I timed some contractions. I was disappointed that they only lasted 30 seconds. They weren’t long enough to be active labor, not according to the materials I had from Julia (which warned against focusing too much on timing the contractions--as I was of course doing!). But they were gradually becoming more reliable, every five to ten minutes.
About an hour later I called Nina (Julia’s apprentice) and explained the situation. The concern at the forefront for me was making sure to get the midwives here on time to give me antibiotics to protect the baby from GBS, a common and naturally occurring bacteria that I had tested positive for. The drug should be given four hours before the birth and I wanted to be sure to call the in on time.
Nina understood my concerns and recommended I try doing something different to see if the contractions continued. Since I’d been moving around tidying, she suggested I try sitting still and relaxing my body. I opted to rest in the reclining chair in our bedroom. Krisdee stopped by and sat with me a while. My mom and step-father came from their hotel, as planned, to spend time with us and occupy Langston. Contractions continued to come at the same intervals and duration. I got up and called everyone on my birth list to let them know what was going on.
We asked my mom and step-father to take Langston out for the morning. None of us were sure if I was in labor and my parents were not sure how long they were supposed to keep Langston out. I was a bit worried about what they might figure out to do with him. I was afraid he might get upset and he might not let them comfort him. There was some unsure discussion of where they would go with him. He had been watching cartoons while we made our plans and when the time came to pull him away from what he was watching, he was enraged. He left crying and shouting. But Krisdee left at the same time and I knew he would be okay with her around. She would help my parents comfort him so he would recover quickly.
At this point, Jeremiah and I were alone at 9am on a Monday morning and the house was perfectly clean. Never has this happened since we have had children. It was an uneasy feeling. We joked about how it felt like we were home from our jobs to attend a funeral. I said I felt like I was home from school in order to attend a court hearing over my child support. I had not realized this far off association lingered within me, but the rare situation of being in a quiet house on a weekday morning stirred it.
Krisdee called Jeremiah to explain that she had gone with my parents to the library and she was staying with them for a while. Langston was happy. I felt better about it.
Jeremiah and I tried to watch a movie but it was too terrible to keep us interested. Over the next hour, the contractions started to fade and become less regular. Jeremiah and I were feeling jerked around! We did not want get wrapped up in another prolonged stretch of inactive labor that lead to nowhere. I decided to change my focus from gearing up for active labor to resting and inviting the contractions to go away. I drank half a beer, took more cramp bark, and drew a hot bath. Jeremiah and I resigned that the baby would not be coming on Ruby’s and Langston’s birthday.
But the contractions continued to putter along, just enough to keep me from focus on doing anything else, but not enough to take me over completely. Then, in time, they returned to regularity and strengthened. Around 11am I called Julia and reported the status. She asked me if I thought the baby was going to be born today. I did not know. I told her we wanted it to happen because it was Ruby’s and Langston’s birthday. But more seriously in my mind, I was anxious about timing the antibiotics.
She said she and Nina would come over to sit and talk with me for a while. They could give me the antibiotic if it would give me peace of mind, and then give it again on another day if the baby did not come. They would probably leave after that unless things were progressing. I was embarrassed to be calling them over when active labor was not clearly underway, but I was also relieved to know they would take care of me.
I tried to rest on the couch while I waited for them. The weather could not have been more beautiful. Between a week of temperatures in the teens with harsh winds, snow, ice, and gray skies, and another week-long cold front, were the days around Desmond’s birth. February 7th was a bright, clear day with highs in the fifties. As I awaited the midwives and Krisdee, I opened the doors and let in the fresh air and light. My home was immaculate, by my standards, and a cool breeze swept through.
On the forefront of my mind through the morning was Ruby’s birthday and whether or not to send the cupcakes for her class celebration. Around 11:30 I decided the baby would probably not be born before the end of the school day at 2:40. It would be safe to send the cupcakes. I asked Jeremiah to walk them down to her class. He had never been inside Ruby’s classroom before and was not sure about walking in unannounced. I told him to just set them on the teacher’s desk. I was excited for how special it would be for Ruby to have her dad show up at her class with cupcakes.
Shortly after Jeremiah walked out, Julia and Nina arrived at our front door. They had run into Jeremiah outside and he met Nina for the first time. Everyone was smiling about the sweet celebration underway. Krisdee returned. She was giddy with excitement. Our friendship had formed when I offered to help care for her her three-year-old as she gave birth to her second child (who is now nearly age two). She was beyond happy to be able to be here for me the way I was there for her (although I think she has done ten times more for me in this birth than I did for her!).
Julia and Nina hugged me and I introduced them to Krisdee. We all sat down in the living room. They asked me how I was feeling and I knew they meant in the emotional sense. I talked about how happy I was to have some of my friends and my mom come share the birth with me. To be connected to so many people and have them take part in my birth is a wonderful gift. But I was anxious about when to call so many people in. It was not clear that I was in active labor. I was afraid of filling my house with people only to have labor stop again. How disappointing it would be to send them all home, and what a set-up for performance anxiety on my part. Also, I did not want to feel obliged to make conversation, which I would want to do if everyone were here before I was deep in labor. I joked about how I did not feel obliged to make conversation with Krisdee, but I would with a multitude of others here. At the same time, I worried we would wait too long and the baby would be born before anyone could get here.
Julia, Nina, and Krisdee agreed this was too much for me to worry about. My labor would not progress as it should with me in a state of concern for the feelings of eight people. I asked the three of them to take on the responsibility of deciding the time to call everyone over.
I asked if Julia could check my cervix so we could know how far dilated I was. She asked how it might affect me to know this. I said that if she checked and I were dilated to five, I would know that it was not far to go before the baby would come. She reminded me that I could be dilated to five and not give birth for days. She asked how I would feel if she checked and I were only dilated to two. I admitted I might feel discouraged. She did not check.
Julia and Nina said they would give me the antibiotic shot and stay for an hour to see how the contractions progressed. They suggested I go into my bedroom to relax alone. I did not
want to be in a closed space. For three years I have arranged every nook and cranny of my house to suit our daily lives. I love my house like nothing else. I wanted to have all of my house during labor. We decided I would not close off in space. I would focus inward, and the midwives, Jeremiah--now back from Ruby’s school, and Krisdee would find a way to occupy themselves quietly.
They gave me the shot, checked my vital signs, and listened to the baby’s heartbeat through contractions. Then they suggested I put on some music.
I asked Jeremiah to find Tracy Chapman’s album Fast Car. When I had first told him I wanted this album for labor, he had been incredulous that I would choose such heavy-themed music. This is an album with a title song that tells the story of a family neglected by their father, he objected. But I am drawn to things that are heavy in this way. I guess my experience of beauty must be tied to the opposite of beauty. Progressing into childbirth was, for me, a time to draw into darkness, to draw into the music that I clung to when I was twenty, when I was at sea trying to enter adulthood in a state of pain and loneliness. Sixteen years later, that time in my life is the relief against which I define the rootedness, richness, and joy of my everyday life now.
There is something to the song Fast Car that moves me beyond most music. Even Julia commented, when Jeremiah put in the CD, that the song will always recall a specific time in her life; when she was teaching English in Mexico. She had heard a Spanish translation. I commented on how much I loved the album. With the plaintive title track playing softly, everyone in my house found their places. Julia and Nina went to the back yard and sat in the sun in lawn chairs, quietly making phone calls. Krisdee rocked on the kids’ swing and did the same. Jeremiah quietly made coffee or a snack.
I tuned them out and walked about in their midst. Contractions continued to come about every five minutes for about thirty seconds. During contractions, I did what felt best to do. I leaned on our kitchen table, and in one wonderful moment found Jeremiah and hugged him from behind, breathing through it calmly with him. Other times I fell to my knees on the floor, or leaned over the side of the couch arms. It was a beautiful hour, one I hope never to always keep fresh in my memory. We played the one album repeatedly and I felt moved by its pain to a state of joyful gratitude. The songs give voice to people living in violence, those trying to love despite emotional barriers, those with mental illness, those who flee relationships, and those who live with the urge towards broken, addictive, relationships. This is the repertoire of relationships from which I come, from which many of us come.
Without this particular repertoire behind me, I wonder what the relationships in my life would feel like today? How would it feel to me to see my children become trusting playmates for one another, to watch as they naturally take turns and give to one another? (Among many less ideal moments, I should admit!) How would it feel for me to be attached at the roots to my children, to remember the details of what they say and do across their years, to be on their side at a microscopic level (when I’m at my best, that is), to return year after year to family traditions, to see them unconsciously turn to loving ways to resolve conflicts? Surely this would be joyful to witness no matter where one comes from, but without the brokenness in my background, I cannot imagine the sort of everyday ecstasy I experience in watching my children’s relationships develop whole and healthy in comparison.
The music also reminded me that it is not implausible that my life could have gone in a different direction. When I entered adulthood college was not a clear path from where I was, nor was marriage to a person for whom such impulses as infidelity, abuse, and abandonment are nowhere in his vocabulary. Just as plausible as the scenario I now live would have been one of early partnering and childbearing, single parenting, divorce, remarriage, a blended and re-blended family, surviving with minimal skills at dead-end jobs, all of the emotional desolation that accompanies these conditions. As I ambled about in labor with this beautiful music flowing through my house, with my dear friend and two wonderful midwives waiting patiently for me in our back yard, and with my loving husband quietly occupying himself close by, I felt palpable joy for the life I ended up with--to be able to stay home and give to my children the roots and connection I wish I had as a child, to have friends, to have a home and a community, to have access to all of the help I need to give birth, and to be welcoming a third child into our family. It is lottery-winning luck, more than I understood was in store for me as I entered adulthood. It plays nicely with the statistical feat that this day accomplished in giving all three of our children the same birthday.
In some time, Julia and Nina came in from our backyard. I was perched on the arm of the couch moaning lowly through a contraction. They had their jackets on and it looked to me like they were heading out. They watched for a minute. It appeared they changed their minds. They asked for a tarp to put down on the playroom floor so they could set-up the labor pool.
It was getting near to 2pm. I asked Krisdee to pick-up Ruby when school let out at 2:40. It occurred to me how wonderful it would be for Ruby to come out of her class and see Krisdee waiting with birthday balloons. I asked her if she could leave in time to go get some before picking-up Ruby. Krisdee lovingly obliged and was out the door.
My stomach began to turn a bit and I took myself to the bathroom and then decided to take a shower. It was good to be at home, to be in charge of myself and able to get in the shower without making arrangements with anyone. When I got out, Julia suggested we might now check my cervix. I put on a tank top and lay on my bed. Julia checked and said I was dilated between eight and nine! She asked for our baby blankets! In the space of about a half hour the situation changed from the midwives ready to head out (or so it appeared) to them asking for baby blankets!
It was too late to put up the pool. Julia and Nina prepared our bed. It seemed to me that they expected me to be on it and I saw no reason to object. I asked if we ought to call everyone over and they said, yes, it is time.
I later learned that Krisdee was at the store about to pay for the balloons when Jeremiah called and told her to go pick-up Ruby immediately and come home. She was about to buy frozen food as well and had to leave it all with the clerk, promising to return later to pay for the things. I heard Jeremiah on the phone, asking the midwives if the photographer (the talented Katherine Harte--I should mention!) ought to wait for her husband to get home to watch their kids or if she needed to wake them up from their naps and bring them with her. They came with her.
At this point, the only people in the house were the midwives and Jeremiah and me. The bright afternoon light complimented our joy and excitement beautifully. I settled myself on our king bed, with Jeremiah and the midwives close at my side. It occurred to me that I might have chosen something other than a plain white sheet for the occasion. I joked about the indignities of childbirth. We all chuckled. Jeremiah said he hoped the baby would be born before midnight. I looked to Julia and Nina and said, “I think we’ve got that one in the bag, right?” They agreed. It was exciting to know that the birth about to happen would forever be joyfully remembered for its remarkable coincidence. Into old age, my kids would amaze people with the story of how they were all born on the same day, each three years apart. I hope it is something that supports their attachment to one another, something unusual and lucky that they will always share.
During contractions, I crouched on my knees and leaned onto our mountains of pillows. I thought of the twin-sized hospital beds with plastic-covered pillows where I labored with Ruby and Langston. The comfort of my own bed and my own soft, clean bedding was a luxury like no other.
As the contractions intensified, I must have asked Jeremiah to get on the bed with me. He laid on his side and I leaned into him, gripping his clothes and body, burying my face in his shirt, wailing through contractions. I felt safe and loved to have him there to push into as I needed. That part of labor was tender for me, another point in time I hope to hold onto for all my life. During my hospital births, there was not the space for me to have Jeremiah with me in this way. Being in our home allowed me to have his help and connect with him in a way that I could not otherwise have done. Jeremiah’s take on the arrangement makes me laugh. He feared he might pass out from the pressure I was putting on his neck.
Contractions were intense and painful but the process continued to feel manageable. Between contractions, I kept remarking that they were not too bad, that I could handle it. I still expected a much easier birth than Langston’s. This baby was not as large and could not possibly compare to pushing out Langston at 10 lbs., 13 oz. I asked who was coming and who had been called. I was most concerned that my mom be on her way.
I cannot clearly remember at what point the situation shifted. I only remember the sweetness of burying into Jeremiah during contractions, and then, pain so intense I was not looking up to watch who was arriving or what was going on around me. Four of my dear friends--Krisdee, Alicia, Margaret, and Melanie--arrived while I was in this state, as well as my mother and Katherine the photographer, pregnant herself with her third child.
Tracing the timing of the birth back, I must have been in this out-of-my-mind pain for about an hour. The contractions pressed hard and I writhed and cursed helplessly. Between them, I lay in fear of the next one. Moving caused immediate contractions. In between contractions I closed my eyes and held still. Nina and others periodically approached me with a glass of water or juice and poked a straw into my mouth. At times, I asked if one or another person was here. I asked if Margaret had arrived. Margaret is a birth doula as well as a midwifery student. Her sweet voice piped up and I managed to open my eyes and turn my head. There she was quietly sitting next to me on my bed, her hair done beautifully, she appeared to be ready for a special occasion. She looked on with love. When I cried out that it hurt, Margaret replied empathically, “It hurts because you’re baby will be here soon.” I knew she was right but I could not feel past the pain. Once I snarled back at her that I did not care, I only wanted the pain to stop.
Among the things I tried in order to get myself through contractions was counting to myself. If I could make it to fifty, the pain would let up. But it got too painful for me to count. I asked Krisdee to do it for me. With my eyes closed, I wailed out and focused on her numbers for the relief they promised. Fifty was unbearably far. By thirty I was thrashing and crying for help. But the numbers at least meant that the pain would not last forever. At the start of the next contraction, nobody was counting and I shouted out, “Where’s Krisdee?” Without missing a beat, Alicia’s loving voice chimed in counting. Krisdee had been called out of the room.
At some point, somehow it got in my mind that I was fully dilated and the baby was stuck on a cervical lip. Julia must have suggested this, though I cannot remember exactly how it was suggested. But I had it in my mind that she could manipulate the lip to help the baby maneuver past it. I asked her to check my cervix again, which she did, and she said that I was not yet completely dilated and she could not manipulate the lip until I was. I complained that this baby must be large and that was causing a problem. Still, I had it in my mind that she could do something to help me. Every two or three contractions I plead with her to fix the lip. I knew she would say she could not yet, but pleading felt like I was doing something to take control of the situation.
Many times during this hour Julia and Nina pressed the doppler monitor to my belly to check the baby’s heart rate. I am glad they do not listen to enraged laboring women on this matter. There is little more irritating than someone pressing a gadget on your body while you flop around in pain. While I’d like to say I was concerned for my baby’s well-being in the midst of contractions, the truth is my brain could not register such a thought. All it could register was something that goes like this, “aaauuuuggghhhh!!!!” and “get that fucking thing off of me, motherfuckingsonofabitchgoddamitfuckingA.” I do not believe I actually said these things, although those present may have a different take, hehe. Of course, in hind sight, it is comforting to know that the baby was being watched carefully even as his momma unraveled.
I had been laboring on my side and Julia suggested I turn over to the other side. Movement was excruciating. Turning over caused a contraction directly on the tail of the one before. All of the pain felt worse than what I remembered with Langston. I thought it might lessen if I could get on my knees as I had been during transition with him. I got to the floor and leaned onto the bed. It did not offer the relief I had hoped for.
In the silence between contractions, I heard the children running and playing in our back yard. My two kids were home, along with Krisdee’s two and Katherine’s two boys for a time. I made a comment about what I was hearing and someone asked if the kids were being too loud, if they were disturbing me. I said no, only that I was jealous of them. I wanted to be one of the them, a child swinging from the bars and shouting and running. Instead, I was lying in bed helplessly waiting for what felt like getting run over by a truck every five minutes.
I believe it was during this time that my mom arrived bringing Langston with her. He poked his head into the room and in his sweet voice, asked, “Where you are, Mommy?” I opened my eyes and looked at him to say hello and tell him how happy I was to see him. But I felt like I was on the other side of the world.
I do not remember at what point Krisdee had arrived with Ruby. I must have been happy to see Ruby, and eager to know how her birthday cupcakes had been presented to her class, though I cannot recall the moment exactly. Krisdee had picked Ruby up fifteen minutes before the end of the school day. Years ago she taught at Ruby’s school and and she knows the school staff. She reported that Ruby’s teacher and the office faculty were all happy and excited to hear that Ruby’s brother was on his way. It was wonderful to hear this, to know how many people were happy for us.
Ruby remained in the bedroom with all of us through the birth, drawing pictures for me and sweetly tiptoeing around per the directives of everyone around her. A few times I looked up from contractions to see her silently bouncing from one to another smiling adult, all of them glad to include Ruby in the occasion.
Melanie was the last to arrive, I believe. I was glad when I noticed her. She had been occupied caring for her sick children and it appeared she might not be able to make it. I opened my eyes and I was happy to see her across the bed, smiling and holding our video camera.
I knew the baby would arrive soon and I did not want him to be passed to lie on my shirt. I wanted him to be passed onto my skin. As I lay still between contractions, I asked if we could take my shirt off. But I was in pain even between contractions, and of course any move I made brought more contractions. I shouted out asking if someone would cut the shirt off of me. The midwives said we could remove it, that they did not need to cut it. I argued but Nina maneuvered it over my head and off.
As each of these powerful contractions came on, my impulse was to scream. My impulse was to cry for help to everyone around me. But I noticed that the sound of my scream coming on scared me. If I could hold it together to lower my voice, I could make it through a few seconds longer before losing control. But I was losing it fast.
During a contraction I clung to the bars of our metal bedframe and reached through and struck the wall with my palm. I knew a picture might fall off the wall. Nina climbed up next to my face to try to talk me into getting a hold of myself. I do not recall what she said, only her kind face nose to nose with mine. I blinked and focused my wild eyes on her black and white rimmed glasses and tuned everyone else out.
Throughout my prenatal care appointments, Nina’s presence had felt like a gift to me. In one instance soon after the twenty-week ultrasound, I talked with Julia and Nina about my disappointment at not being able to give Ruby a sister. I felt wrong for for feeling this way about the son I was growing in me. Nina replied, “Our feelings are just our feelings. It’s okay to feel that.” Her empathetic words were what I needed. She’s a special person, one of the women in my life I have encountered who fill out a model for the sort of person I want to be.
Seeing me continue to unravel and fight against what my body was doing, Julia stepped in and said I ought to get in the shower. She was trying to get me away from everyone so I could stop putting my energy into crying for help.
Standing to walk to the shower was excruciating. Several people stepped in to help me up and walk, I did not notice who it was. Julia told me to open my eyes, to walk on my own, that I did not need to lean on others in order to walk. I believed her and did it.
Jeremiah and Julia came with me into in our small master bathroom and Julia closed the door. I managed to climb into the tub and fall to my knees. Hot water sprayed at my back. I slumped over the side of the tub, my head not far from the bathroom floor. In the small space, away from everyone, screaming for help occurred to me less. I could quiet myself. As a contraction came on, I plead lowly, “help me help me help me help me.” It was a point of feeling broken to the pain, similar to how I felt in the shower during Langston’s birth.
Being in the shower also reminded me that breaking my water had finally brought about a close to my very long transition during Langston’s birth. I asked Julia if she would break my water as Dr. Sebestyen had. It might help the baby’s head push more directly on my cervix and I hoped it could expedite his passage the way it had with Langston. Julia agreed that it might help and she could do it. I asked if she could do it while I was in the shower but she said no, I needed to return to the bed.
Things moved quickly once I returned to the bed. Not long after I lay down, the painful urge to push came on. The best way I can think to describe the sensation is to compare it to pushing a tree trunk through the center of one’s body. It did not feel good to push, not for me, but the tree trunk was moving and it needed to keep going. Julia and Nina continued to press the heart rate monitor to my belly periodically, much to my irritation. Once I started pushing, no mention of rupturing my membranes was made.
I was on my side, eyes closed, gripping the bed’s iron head frame bars. Someone held up one of my legs--Alicia, I later discovered from the photos. At the start of each push, I heard the sound of my screaming as if it were someone else. It was frightening. Sudden nausea overcame me before I had a chance to notify anyone. Jeremiah was holding my hand and I vomited water and juice onto both of our hands. I cannot say it fazed me at such a moment, but Jeremiah reports it was pretty unpleasant for him, heh.
After each push, I hoped the baby was on the verge of emerging. I checked a few times to see if I could feel his head. I was disappointed several times, after a push, to feel no evidence of a baby inside me. Finally, I felt something soft and gelatinous on its surface with a firmer surface underneath. It was a different feeling from when I had felt Langston’s head emerging. I later learned what I was feeling was the intact amniotic sac emerging in front of Desmond’s head.
After one last ape-crazed, screaming push his head was out. A moment later his body slid through. Desmond arrived not long after 4:00pm on the sixth birthday of his sister and the third birthday of his brother. Never have I felt such relief in my life than in the passing of his slippery little body (except, perhaps, twice before!). I let out a long cry of relief. I was oblivious to his intact amniotic sac, which Julia pulled over his head. Those witnessing were impressed. As his purple body was laid on my chest, I continued to cry out in sobs. I felt shaky and ill-prepared to be holding my infant, much as I also wanted to cling to him. He was warm and moist and disoriented, squirming. I was disoriented myself. I asked if he was breathing and remarked at how purple he was. I picked-up a little folded foot and inspected it. Julia reassured me, all was well. I wanted to pass Desmond to Jeremiah so I could get a hold of myself. But he was still attached by the umbilical cord.
My tissues were burning in pain. I complained that the cord was tight and tugging. Julia pulled out a contraption with thin tubes. She put one tube into Desmond’s throat and suctioned out fluid. She explained that she was extracting amniotic fluid he retained because the sac never broke.
It took a little while before my placenta was ready to emerge. Julia gave the cord a tug at one point but said it wasn’t ready yet. Later she suggested I give it a push. One would think after passing a baby, passing a placenta would be no trouble. But my tissues were throbbing. Pushing into that pain once again was hard to do. When it came out, I was glad not to have to push anything else out of me.
While I was in labor, I had asked my mom if she wanted to cut the cord. She was concerned that Jeremiah might like to do it. Cutting the cord has never appealed to him and I wanted to give my mom a part in the birth. Nina clamped off the cord and we called my mom over to cut it. She has Parkinson’s Disease and it causes her hands to shake. It took her a moment to get her hand still. The scissors shook back and forth in her hands yanking the cord a bit before she could cut. But she managed to still her hand and cut the cord.
Not long after that, Julia and Nina checked Desmond. They weighed him with the same fish scale that Langston was weighed in three years ago. When they announced his weight at 8 lbs. 10 oz. I was surprised. He was the smallest of my three babies. In order to avoid the pitfalls of giving birth to another large baby, I had been on a low-sugar, low-fat diet in the final months of pregnancy. But I had done my share of cheating and I did not expect the baby to be over two pounds smaller than Langston!
As everyone talked and laughed and admired the baby, it pressed on me to remark on how horrible the pain had been. Horrible was the word that came to me. I did not want to let it go. I was still shaken up by it. Julia agreed with my remarks, adding wryly, “Babies don’t just fall out.” A couple hours later, I watched a few minutes of the video footage Melanie had taken of the birth. I could not believe how quiet the scene looked when I was in the most desperate pain I could remember. The screaming, crazed moments of pain I think of as all of that last hour are only periodic, occurring between long periods of silence and stillness. I was in pain during the silence and stillness, but to look at it, one would not know.
Strangely, I was not angry to have gone through such pain. I did not wish it had not happened, not even soon after it was over. A couple days after the birth Alica offered me her reflections on natural childbirth. She herself had given birth to her second child at home and it had moved her to be a part of my birth--to see it from the other side. In years past, she had been to a couple of her friends’ conventional hospital births. She compared the emotional tone of those births to our unmedicated births. Because her friends were anesthetized and not in pain, those gathered around made small talk. The babies were born and the doctors went about routinely stitching up, all with an air of the ordinary--an air that passed from the medical staff on to those gathered in support of the laboring mother. At a natural birth emotions run wild and deep. Everyone present is quiet and on edge to support a person at extremes. Everyday social conventions are set aside. Those present connect at an extraordinary level of emotion. It is a rite that moves our emotional systems to register the occasion as important.
This is not to say that conventional hospital births are not extraordinary. I was induced with Pitocin and provided an epidural for Ruby’s birth--and her birth was no less extraordinary than Langston’s and Desmond’s births. There are many things about my labor and delivery of Ruby that I later decided against repeating in subsequent births, but to say that Ruby’s birth was not an extraordinary and magically wonderful occasion would be absurd. But for me and many of my friends, allowing birth to be an event that pushes us to emotional and bodily extremes--an event that is controlled by our own bodies rather than by unnecessary routine medical interventions dispensed by strangers--means that we get to give birth in environments that reflect the wonder, magic, and extremity that belong to birth. The pay off for accepting the pain is access to the full emotional spectrum inherent to the occasion.
As Desmond was returned to me I asked the midwives to check my tear and make sure to do everything they could to clean it out. I had torn a lot during Langston’s birth and later got an infection in the stitches. I can still almost feel the lingering pain I was in during the fist ten days postpartum with Langston. That infection also prevented proper establishment of my milk supply, a different sort of pain also indelibly etched. When Julia had a look at my tear and said it was small and would require no stitches I was surprised and sweetly relieved. The relative ease with which I have recovered from the tear from Desmond’s birth has been freeing.
Another concern both Jeremiah and I had was to check Desmond’s tongue right away. Langston had a tight frenulum, also known as tongue-tie, which further complicated breastfeeding. It was not diagnosed and clipped until he was one month old, after much of the damage had been done to my establishing milk supply. If Desmond was going to have tongue-tie, we wanted to know about it immediately so we could have it repaired in his first days. We were relieved to see that his tongue moved without impediment and appeared to be fine.
I put Desmond to my breast and he readily took to nursing. Gradually friends departed. My step-dad arrived to pick-up my mom and meet the baby. Julia told me I needed to eat and asked what she could prepare for me. The pizza everyone had ordered would not do. She suggested toast and eggs. When she brought it to me, I told her it was the best meal I’d ever had. I had not realized how hungry I was, but I had hardly eaten since 6am.
Jeremiah and Julia prepared me an herb bath the color of coffee. Getting up to walk for the first time after the birth was not as hard as it had been after Langston’s birth, when I felt like my entire belly might fall off for lack of musculature. It felt good to soak in the tub. Julia handed Desmond to me and showed me how to hold his head and allow his body to float. While we rested in the bath, the midwives and others tidied up and changed the bedding. When I was ready to get out, someone took care of drying and wrapping Desmond while Julia and Nina helped me dress in clean pajamas. It was wonderful to get back into my own bed rather than pack up from a delivery room to be transferred to a postpartum unit.
Jeremiah brought in birthday gifts for Ruby and Langston that had come in the mail from his sister. Krisdee had some to give too. The kids stood at our bed and opened them next to me as I nursed and cuddled Desmond. While it felt a bit overwhelming to have boxes and paper thrown about my freshly cleaned bed, it was also wonderful sweetness to have so many celebrations coinciding.
Another phase of the day that I hope to cherish forever is the time after everyone departed from the house leaving only our family--newly a family of five. It was growing dark and we drew the curtains. Jeremiah and Langston went in another room to play with birthday toys. Ruby and I sat next to each other in the bed with with the baby. I had not yet had a chance to look him over thoroughly. I told Ruby we should unwrap him and see what he looks like. She grinned. We pulled out his tiny feet and inspected his toes and his funny toenails. We giggled at the way his feet bent up from being folded in my womb. They were like flappers. I pulled off his diaper and we admired his squishy, creviced thighs and his tiny, red bottom. For me, it was a long-held dream come true to share the wonder of a new baby with my older child. I hope Ruby remembers it forever.
In the coming hour, Jeremiah got the kids into their pajamas with teeth brushed as I lay in bed snuggling Desmond. Because we have been sleeping with one or two of our children in the bed with us most nights for years, we have a king-sized bed and a twin-sized bed pushed together in our room. It is a lot of bed, enough for the whole family if needed. On this night especially, with the kids being disoriented from an exciting day, they would not have taken well to being separated from Jeremiah and me and the baby for bedtime. We locked up the house, turned on only a soft light in our bedroom, and arranged the kids in our bed. I have rarely felt such a powerful sense of warmth and togetherness as I did that night, as Jeremiah and the kids and I snuggled quietly in our own bedding, in our own home, in our own bedroom, with our newly born baby in arms. Jeremiah read a couple of books to the kids and before long they fell asleep. A peaceful bedtime is an amazing feat on an ordinary day! To get one on this day was yet another of the gifts the day held for us. Jeremiah and I had some time alone to admire the baby and try to get our heads around the amazing events of the day. We remarked at how pleasant it was to have a freshly born baby and not be sleep deprived. It was time for bed after a long day and we were tired. But we had not missed a night’s sleep as we had with both of our other births.
We decided that I would take the baby into the kids’ empty bedroom to sleep where we would not worry about his siblings rolling over onto him or stepping on him. I wanted to hold him all night but I also wanted to lay flat and give my tissues a chance to start their recovery. We swaddled him and set him in a snuggle nest sleeper (a soft box-thing for the baby to lie inside of on an adult bed). I kept on one of the kids’ bed lights and drifted in and out of sleep next to our new baby as he slept soundly into morning.
As I have been writing the story, bit by bit when I can find time, often up in the middle of the night, I have wondered what it is that makes every detail of this one day important for me to record. The days, weeks, and months before the birth were full of noteworthy moments as well. The days and weeks following the birth are likewise packed with firsts and other heartwarming moments with the kids (among many, many less than sublime moments!). What is it about the one day of birth that is worthy of such careful attention?
I have a theory that it is more than just the extremity of all of the pain (important as that is) and the strangeness of a body emerging from a body--the particulars of a baby’s passage out of the womb, the surprise in discovering the baby’s weight and hair color. It is a rare day when time stands still between two worlds. It is a day in the middle. On one side is the exhausted anticipation that has built over the course of pregnancy. On the other, the long adjustment to a different life with a new member of the family. On either side of the day of birth, days blend into one another. I cannot remember whether something happened a week ago or ten days ago, or if two things happened on the same day or on different days. My life with young children is one long continuum of growth and development that take place among the constant flow of laundry, meal preparation, dishes, bedtimes, getting children dressed and groomed, sibling arguments, boundary pushing, parenting quandries, and so on. But on one important day, time stops. Friends and family drop everything in an instant to attend to it. All else is pushed aside, as it never otherwise is when a family is young. In this one day, nearly every aspect of our family’s life is apparent. Given that I do not have time to keep a journal that more closely records the spectacular developments taking place within our children on a daily basis, I hope this birth story will be something that serves to record a hearty portion of their young lives, something to treasure as a picture of what we are lucky to have in each other.