Rowena turned two months old Tuesday. I realized that if I didn’t write her birth story soon, it would be fuzzy, wonderful memory. My plan had been to record her birth as it was happening. After the birth, I would look at those notes, and create a story from them. It was to be an intellectual exercise, exploring memory and the way we tell our stories. Of course this did not happen. In the midst of birth, there was no story. There was only happening. Afterwards, I struggled to write this blessed out story. But the words just never captured that becoming. Two months out, I have accepted that this story, here for my dear readers, is not the happening. It can never be that. It has to be something else. It’s a story for those who might fear birth. It’s a story advocating a certain kind of birth. It’s a story about how birth can heal. It’s a story about the wonder of pushing a life into the world. But it is not the experience of that happening. That happening is something that I can only carry in my body. It belongs somewhere without words.
On Tuesday, April 13, I woke up feeling peaceful and content. I had to trust that my body knew when to give birth. My midwife had emailed me offering me a birth ball to use, and I debated whether I wanted to make the drive to pick it up or not. I had to teach that night and part of me wanted to just go hang out at the park. But I knew that the ball could help my body get ready for birth, and that it might position the baby better for birth. I ended up loading the kids into the van and heading out. D, my midwife, met me and we took a second to check the baby’s position. Nothing much had changed but I felt okay with this. She gave me the ball, and some Evening Primrose Oil as well as some black and blue colosh. On the way home, my contractions started up again. They weren’t over-whelming and I was able to drive fine. Once back at the house though, they increased, and I got on the ball which made them more intense.
H came home shortly afterwards, and I asked him to drive me to the university so I could teach. The class was horrible. I was so spacey and sometimes the contractions were intense enough that I couldn’t talk. I’m sure I made little sense. After the class, I waited around for H to pick me up (he had gotten the time wrong so it was a wait). I walked around a lot as the contractions were coming regularly and with a bit of discomfort. He finally showed up and we went out to eat. By the time, we left the restaurant; I felt that I might actually be in labor. I immediately got on the ball upon arriving home, and I took some blue and black colosh hoping to keep the labor going. I got nothing. The contractions stopped and I went to bed. I woke up once to go pee, and the pressure was really intense. I did some squatting at the end of my bed, and it did feel like she moved down a bit.
Wednesday morning, April 14, I woke up feeling really grumpy. I had not slept really well, and the aforementioned peaceful feeling was swallowed up in the exhaustion of three weeks of off and on again contractions. At this point, I was nearly 39 weeks which is the longest I had ever been pregnant. I went to the university and taught. This class sucked because NO ONE had done the readings. I’d ask questions to only get blank stares. I told them off soundly at the end of class while enduring yet another round of contractions. After class, I soothed my grumpy self by chatting it up with my favorite post adviser. Midway through this talk, the contractions once again regulated. He looked concern as I had to keep stopping and kept asking if I was feeling okay. Finally I left and went to the grocery store. The contractions were coming every five minutes and lasting about 2 minutes. I really wanted this to be it but I doubted my ability to read my body. I shopped, and by the end of the experience was actually hurting. I got home, feed the kids, and then asked my Facebook friends if they thought I should call H. I compromised and emailed him. He called five minutes after I emailed and said “Call D, and I’ll call you back.” D, upon hearing that I was contracting every five minutes said to have H come home, and then if I was still continuing to contract for 45 minutes to call her.
H came home and I was still contracting. I had feed the kids, got them dressed, and was packing last minute things when he arrived. I called my mom as well to tell her that this seemed to be the real deal. Meanwhile, H’s dad calls and tells us he’s at the airport. H gives him our address so that he can take a taxi to our place. And then we head out to the birth center. The drive over was hellish.
Once there we settled into a quiet rhythm. My mom had yet to arrive so we go the kids settled into the room. I spent some time on the ball, talking to D about what was happening. My mom arrived, and we hung and chatted after I introduced her to D and the backup midwife. Then things really slowed down. I was still having regular contractions but they were very peaceful and easy. They didn’t really hurt although sometimes they were intense enough that I had to stop talking. But mostly they were bearable. I did everything I could think of and everything D could think of to get things going. I sat in the pool, I walked around outside, I sat on the ball. I squatted. And we all talked. We talked about music, about breastfeeding, about birthing advocacy. I never once felt rushed to birth, even when I started to feel discourage myself, I never felt like D was trying to push me into action.
She checked me around seven with my permission and I was at 7 cent. I was happy with the progress but feeling a bit like this was going to take much longer than I had anticipated. The baby was bouncing up and down and just not getting really good contact with my cervix. My mom had taken the kids to eat and play at McDonald’s but I didn’t know how much more waiting around they would be able to take when they got back. I was starting to wonder if I should go home. I didn’t want to go home as I knew I wasn’t going to be able to labor with H’s dad there. But I was also starting to feel bad that the midwives were stuck with me. We had also forgotten Umberto’s medicine.
At nine, she checked me again, and I was at 8 cent. This was pretty discouraging. She offered to break my water. H and I talked about after she left us alone. We really wanted a totally natural labor but we were torn because we knew that once my water broke, labor would come quickly for me (this is how I normally process). It was apparent that the baby was big so we weren’t worried about size. We finally decided that H would go get Umberto’s meds, and that if nothing had happened by then, we’d break my water. While he was gone, I watched a movie and talked to my mom while riding the ball. I was still chatting away comfortably while having regular contractions. H came back and we decided to go ahead and break my water.
I got Umberto his meds, firmly made the girls go lay down, and then D. broke my water at 1 a.m. It took awhile. But afterwards things really picked up. I got into the shower with H, and the contractions become more forceful and I had to vocalize through them. They weren’t enough to make me out of control but they were intense. In the shower, I started to squat while H pushed on my hips. It felt so good to have him do this. I felt exhausted at this point so I decided I wanted to lie down. D had come in and laid out her stuff. She later told me that she could hear the change in my vocalizing. We laid down with Umberto on side of H, and me on the other said. I closed my eyes but the contractions now felt like waves washing over me. H had his arm around my belly, and all of a sudden, I felt the baby drop way down. H felt it as well. He said his whole arm dropped down. That’s when things began for real. While it was intense, it was not unbearable. The contractions continued to move in a wave like fashion, and I began to moan, low through them. I didn’t feel like was a pain moan but rather a primitive moan that was bringing the contractions on stronger to help me push out the baby. I squatted at the end of the bed with Umberto watching me his eyes wide. H assured him it was okay and that this meant the baby would be here soon. The student midwife got our camera and woke up my mom who came in and sat with Umberto on the bed.
I don’t remember too much during this stage. D was a felt but never intrusive presence. H was wonderful as always and he held me, soothing me with his hands. Everyone was so calm, and the peace was reassuring. We were listening to Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar’s Passages and the lights were dimmed. I kept squatting and visualizing that my baby was moving to meet us. I began to feel a lot of pushy pressure and wanted to push but D said I had a lip and wanted me to breathe through a couple of contractions. I remember going into the bathroom, and jokingly assuring her I wouldn’t give birth on the toilet. Then I tried to remain standing , tried to breathe those contractions. I was tossing my head like a horse and breathing hard. Finally I decided I had to lie down on my side.
As I was marching toward the bed, the midwives were hurrying to get a chux pad under me, and Umberto was flying off the bed as I was getting on. He stood by my mom from the side as I lay down with H holding my leg and my hand. D wanted me to wait but I just couldn’t help the pushing. She held the lip back while I began to push. I don’t think I pushed as hard as I had with the other children. I wasn’t being coached or rushed so it felt like I was in much more control. I pushed when I felt ready to do so. At one point, I looked up at H and said “I can’t do this!” and he said “But you are doing it!” And the look of love and confidence got me through the next few contractions. Finally I felt her head crowning, the ring of fire, and then at the tail end of a contraction (I could hear D saying “Well the head will be out with the next contraction” and then “No wait she’s going to do it on this one!”) I pushed the head out. I was able to reach down during this and feel her head which was so amazing. But it still hurt! I was used to having the pain pretty much evaporate once the baby’s head was out. “It still hurts!” I exclaimed, “Is the head really out?” H assured me it was and D said “We have to get the shoulders out on the next contraction.” So I pushed the shoulders out and it STILL HURT. I then had to push the belly out.
Finally she slid out, and I heard her cry as she was placed on my belly. The midwives wrapped her in a blanket, and Umberto jumped up beside to get a better look. We looked to see what gender we had. Another girl! H and I were looking at each other, and at that moment I knew without a doubt that he loved me and that I loved him. We had done this together. We asked Umberto if he was disappointed with another sister and he said “No she’s so cute!” I ask D if I needed to birth the placenta, and she said “Not yet.” I nursed Rowena (who was not all that interested in nursing but definitely interested in crying). Umberto got to feel the pulsing of the umbilical cord. Once it stopped pulsing, H cut the cord, and I birthed the placenta in one easy push. D showed Umberto and my mom how tough the caul had been and we think it was because I drank so much orange juice!
Rowena was weighed and measured (8lb. 9ozs and 19.5 inches long). We dressed her and I held her while eating a Waffle House meal (yuck). Then 3 hours later we went home with our newest beastie.
The birth was a truly joyous experience. From not feeling rushed to feeling calm, the midwives made this about what I needed to give birth. I felt so in control even at the end when the contractions were so intense. I was never scared, never cried out for a hospital or pain killers. Even at the most intense moments, I knew my body could do this. I knew she was big and I knew I could push out a big baby. As H said it never felt like an emergency like it all too often did during the births of other children. The birth healed me and it healed a lot in my relationship with H. During the one moment where I was faltering, it was H I turned to and it was H who gave me the strength to keep going. We birthed so much in that room. We birthed a new life, a new memory.