My Amazing Oaxacan Birth
As for my Labor Day, I’ve come to the conclusion that Guadalupe IS there and I must have done some serious favors for her in a past life, because my birth experience turned out to be absolutely INCREDIBLE. Not only was my labor super short (5 and a quarter hours total!) but the whole scene ended up looking and feeling the way I had wanted. (Actually, the feeling part I couldn’t have imagined. Pushing a baby the size of a watermelon out of an opening the size of a lemon is a pretty daunting task. Okay, it’s the most intense pain I’ve ever felt in my life, and task is probably the worst synonym I can come up with for labor, but I did it.) It was amazing, inspiring and empowering. And I know now, without a doubt, that I would do it again in the same way. But let’s go back to the beginning…
I had always thought that the day I gave birth I would wake up knowing, “this is the day.” Wrong-O. On my labor day, I got up just like it was any other day. I spent a good part of the morning at the market and then made a huge pot of chicken soup (talk about a random motherly thing to do – my Jewish mother would have been so proud.) While the stock simmered, one of my midwives, Cristina came over. We chatted for awhile, and after a quick check-up she told me I was 1 centimeter dilated. Since it often takes women days to get from 1 to 10 centimeters, Cristina assumed babe wouldn’t show up until the weekend… So, Miguel and I went about our day. We lunched with a friend. We attempted to take a siesta, but couldn’t fall asleep. We planned to see Soderberg’s CHE Part I at a local theater that nite after my Prenatal Yoga class…
Fast forward to early evening. There I am, stretched out in Warrior Two, breathing in through the nose, out through the mouth, tightening and releasing, working the pelvic floor muscles. I’m feeling great. After about an hour of exercise, it’s time for relaxation. As we all lay still in the dark, our Yoga instructor Lauren (also one of my midwives) makes her way around the room and puts a little dab of essential oil on the back of our necks. When she gets to me, she puts her hand gently on my neck, and all of a sudden I feel this intense CRACK in my pelvis. Then a ridiculous rush of pain runs from my womb straight up to my head and through my whole being. ((Shudder)) Oh. My. God. This is it.
I keep my game face on for three long OM’s. The rest of the Pregnant Yogis bid me farewell with smiles, suertes, and you can do its. Out in the courtyard, Miguel is waiting for me. It’s about 7:45. Despite my having what I think are four contractions right there outside the studio, we decide that we should still try and go to the movies, because, well, early labor is supposed to take a while and you should do normal things to pass the time. So we start walking to the theater.
Not five minutes into our walk, we’re in the middle of Jardin Conzatti, one of my favorite green spaces in Oaxaca, and there I am - hanging onto a tree for dear life. Yep, in labor, I’m an all out tree hugger. When the pain comes, I MUST MUST MUST get to a tree. Hold the tree. Put my hands up and grab onto those limbs. Pull down hard. Breathe fast. Whoo Whoo Whoo. After a few rounds of this Miguel realizes that passersby are staring, and we should probably get out of there. Besides, the contractions are 5 minutes apart at this point. (Miguel called our midwife, Cristina, who said to time them and call her back.) Wait – five minutes apart? Are you sure, Miguel? Isn’t that the “cue flight of the bumblebee” moment in the movies when the ladies rush off frantically to the hospital to scream their heads off? Why, yes – it is. My instinct tells me – go home. Go home. Go home. Che will have to wait. So we make our way home.
To get to the spot where we always hail cabs, we have to traverse a few blocks, another park, and (OOPS!) make a quick stop at a mini-market – (there are a few supplies we just realized that we haven’t got for the home birth). All the while I want to be hugging trees. I hate anything not naturesque. I’m pissed when I have to go through a contraction up against a graffiti covered concrete wall. I don’t want to be around people either. Just Miguel. Miguel and nature. Oh, and I want to walk in the grass. F the “keep off the grass” signs. There’s a nicely designed spiral grass formation in the middle of the park and I want to walk around and around it. I brave two contractions in the spiral and we jump into a taxi. The cab driver wants to bring me to the hospital, but, nope – we’re going home.
When we walk in the door, Miguel and I lose each other for a bit. He’s busy trying to fill up the birthing tub which we installed a week before. I’m busy trying to load two video cameras, (the small family one and my big professional one.) I need to load the tape, mount a microphone, set the timecode and white balance- but I keep on getting interrupted by these darn contractions! Come on, I tell myself, you’ve done this a million times – but I’m super distracted. In the meantime, Miguel realizes that we don’t have enough water to fill up the tub. (You see, unlike in NYC where there is a seemingly infinite stream of H2O coming from who knows where, here in the Global South, you have this tank of water on your roof. Every three weeks or so, you run out of water and have to pump water from a bigger underground tank up to the littler tank. This takes some time, and usually the first batch of water is sandy and silty – not optimum for a birthing scenario.) Miguel tells me we have to let go of the water birth possibility. I realize I have to let go of the big camera possibility. We agree. I load the smaller camera and get back to my contractions.
I want to change. It’s hot. I want to wear one of Miguel’s white button down shirts, the one from our engagement party. I want to be on all fours, on the floor in our bedroom with a pillow under my knees and my hands on the cold tiles. I need water. I think of my mother in labor with me, on her back in a hospital bed for 11 hours with no water. I can’t imagine how she did it. If someone tells me I can’t be on all fours, I’ll strangle them. I can’t believe how often these waves are coming. I also can’t believe how the pain goes away completely in between. I realize that this is the miracle of childbirth, that I get real bonafide BREAKS in between contractions. It’s not like other pain – which starts strong and persists.
I want Miguel to be next to me for every contraction. I call out to him. He comes right over, falls to his knees with me. He breathes with me. I love him. I nuzzle into his neck. I hug him. I can’t believe this is actually happening. He brings me mango and water. The mango is sour and not yet ripe, but it’s delicious.
Our midwives, Cristina and Lauren are here now, it’s 9:30 or so. I hug them. Their smiles are warm, welcoming and reassuring. They make me feel safe and strong. They have suitcases and set up lots of equipment. They check me, and realize I am 8 (!) centimeters dilated. They can’t believe it. They remind me, “This is what you wanted, Miranda! You’re getting your birth!” I’m excited, but the pains are so intense that I can’t really go beyond this wave that is happening right now. Miguel says, “you’re almost there” and I say, “don’t say that, don’t say that, don’t say that.” Maybe I don’t believe it.
I want to take a shower. The warm water feels good. It helps me relax. My legs stop shaking. I feel like I’m high, there’s so much adrenaline, serotonin and oxytocin rushing through me. Soon the hot water runs out and I get out of the shower shivering. When I grab my bathrobe, I discover the terrycloth belt which is part of the robe. This is perfect! I think to myself as I fling the belt over a hook in the bathroom, pull down and brace myself for the next wave.
I love this belt thing – I fling it over doorknobs, fall to my knees and pull down. At some point, I try the birthing chair but I don’t really like how it feels – it’s too big for me. I don’t want to sit. I go back to the bedroom. I’m on my knees and I drape my upper body over the foot of the bed. I clench the mattress edges and tighten my fists when the contractions come. I shouldn’t do this, I know – I’m resisting the waves, I have to let go and channel the rushes down. Lauren guides me, she tells me to put my head down so my neck touches my chin, and to let go of my upper body, release the tension, channel the pain down, down, down. When I let go, I can feel the difference – I can feel my body opening. I can feel him moving down.
The next two hours blur together. I’m my most instinctual ANIMAL self. I crawl around on the floor on all fours like a cat. I moan low, deep moans from my core. I hug Miguel for long moments. Film me, I tell him. I fall asleep completely in between contractions. I call out to my son, Come baby. I feel the Goddess, some other energy, there. I tell myself that 200,000 other women are doing this right now, and I can do it. I want to cry, because it hurts, but I can’t summon the tears, and here comes another wave. Motherfucker, I say. I can’t do this. ”Yes you can” says Miguel.
At some point, the midwives tell me that I should try to go pee, because an empty bladder will make more room for baby to move down. I go into the bathroom with Miguel. I’m standing above the toilet. I go through three intense contractions there. I feel how gravity is helping. Poor Miguel, I pull down really hard on his neck. At the end of the third contraction I feel a new pain. A different pain. The ring of fire. I’ve been told about this. It’s the burning sensation, the stretch when the baby begins to crown.
I walk out of the bathroom and tell the midwives about the new pain. I want to sit on the birthing chair now. I’m in the hallway. I’m about to give birth on the floor in the hallway. Cristina looks me in the eyes and tells me, “Your baby is coming now.” She takes a mirror and shows Miguel that the head is crowning. Both midwives ask me if I want to touch the head, but I say no. No. No. I don’t want to touch the head. I believe you.
I tell Miguel to set the camera up so that we can film this moment. He tells me that he wants to be present. I insist that he go and put the camera on a table in front of us. ”How’s the shot? Can you see me?” There I am, producing my birth, after all. The camera is rolling. Miguel comes back to me. I brace myself, my hand on his knee. He is right there by my side. I’m ready.
I push. Once. Twice. Three times. And our son joins us.