The calendar said you were due to arrive on Saturday, April 17th. Ten days after that date I woke up asking myself the same question I’d asked for the previous nine mornings – Do I feel any differently today? No, the answer came.
I went on with my day nervous and a little scared. Since I was past my due date I had already gone to the hospital for one round of fetal monitoring. If you didn’t come by tomorrow afternoon I would have to go in for another. If you didn’t come by Friday it was likely that I would have to be induced.
Around 11 a.m. I noticed that I’d soaked through the panty liner I was wearing. I mentioned it to your dad when he came home for lunch and he suggested I call our midwives.
We arrived at Rosemary around 1 p.m. and Alina checked the fluid with a test strip. Sure enough, I was leaking a small amount of amniotic fluid. Since it wasn’t gushing, Alina guessed there was a leak in the side of your sack. This was confirmed when she checked my cervix, which was about 2 centimeters dilated, and still felt the bottom of the bag intact. Because of the risk of infection, I would have to start IV antibiotics within 6 hours. If I wasn’t in hard labor within 24 hours I would have to go to the hospital. Your dad and I were worried but Alina put us at ease saying, “you’re going to meet your baby today!”
From that point on we were on a mission to get labor started. Alina gave me some herbs to take every 15 minutes. Your dad dutifully set reminders on his iPhone. After returning home to eat and take a short nap your dad and I walked the Ringling Bridge and swung on the swings at Arlington Park. We even drove up and down Orange Avenue flying over the speed bumps. We were trying everything we could think of to shake you loose!
While Cheryl was on her way over to do some acupuncture, I made the decision to take castor oil to further hasten your arrival. I blended the castor oil into my favorite smoothie – hemp powder, almond milk, almond butter, banana and flax oil – and chugged it down. Within minutes I was upstairs in the bathroom pooping my brains out. By the time Cheryl arrived, around midnight, I was feeling a slight but regular tightening in my belly. Your dad had them timed, again with his trusty iPhone, at about five to ten minutes apart.
As the contractions got stronger I started feeling nauseous. When I was sick enough to throw up I remembered Carmela saying that throwing up was a sign of labor progression. By this time it was about 3 a.m. and I was moaning through contractions that were now a solid five minutes apart. Your dad called Alina who said she would meet us at the birthing home. We were finally in active labor!
Walking through the dimly lit courtyard felt like a dream. The birthing home shone like a giant amethyst. The small pond gurgled exceptionally loudly. Alina had prepared the birthing room. Candles were lit and soft music was playing. Everything was sharp and sparkly but blurry and concave at the same time. I knew the lyrics to the song that was playing yet I’d never heard the tune before. I suddenly remembered the joke I had made in birthing class about how Carmela’s explanation of labor could be confused for a bad acid trip. Not so much of a joke now that I was in it. And although I didn’t consider it bad it certainly was a trip.
In addition to the visual and auditory intensity, time seemed to slow down and speed up all at once. At one point I looked at the clock as I felt a contraction coming on – 4:04 a.m. I could hear the “click, click, click” of the second hand for what seemed like hours as I dove head first into a wave of contraction. As the wave crashed and then faded I looked at the clock again – 4:05. How was that possible?
I wanted desperately to curl up on the bed and sleep but my body wouldn’t let me. The discomfort while lying down was almost unbearable. Instead of sleeping, I went inside myself and played with all the ideas I had about childbirth. I paced, rocked in a glider, hung from the bed posts, leaned over the bed as your dad and Cheryl rubbed my back. Mostly I howled. I was like a she-wolf – bending and baying at the full moon.
I didn’t realize it at the time but was told later that at some point during labor you turned face up. Since it isn’t ideal to deliver a baby in that position, Alina had me flip flop on the bed while she attempted to manually turn you. This was painful and exhausting. Then I labored on the toilet for about an hour. In between pushing contractions, which spaced to nearly 10 minutes apart, I rested. Then, after pushing in bed and in the tub, I climbed up and down the stairs for an hour or so before returning to the tub.
Your head was emerging ever so slowly – one centimeter out, two centimeters back. Cheryl got a mirror to show me the progress and even fashioned a birthing stool from two chairs so I could squat and get you lower. Even though I was determined to see you it felt like I had no control over my pushing. The contractions would force me to the ground, my knees on the hard wood of the stairs, and I would bare down aimlessly. But you knew what you were doing. You worked so hard to carefully stretch my perineum. Thank you.
By this time Harmony, Julia and Heidi had all arrived and were helping me stay focused and hydrated. It felt so good to have one of them put cool washcloths on my face and body. And your dad never left my side. He was my shadow. He rubbed my back and stroked my head. He waddled behind me up and down the stairs. He even held me up while I sat on his knees in a squat and worked through contractions.
Then, back in the tub, I pushed for another hour. As soon as I hit the water I entered a new state of awareness. I was exhausted and I knew it. I wanted you in my arms so badly. This whole thing was taking forever! My contractions slowed, there was an eternity between them, and my body would just curl around itself and flex downward as if on auto pilot. Your head would slide forward with each contraction only to retreat back inside.
After nearly five hours of pushing, the burning on my perineum was intense. I was given oxygen. I started crying. I was desperate and scared. In my head I was screaming at my mom, “why didn’t you tell me it would be this hard!?! Why aren’t you here to help me!?! I need you!!!” I pleaded with my midwives to help me, to do something, but there wasn’t anything they could do. Perhaps an episiotomy would have brought you out more quickly but they knew I didn’t want one.
I wish I had words to describe what I was feeling in that moment. This was, by far, the most difficult part of the entire process. It wasn’t physical pain that blocked my progress, it was emotional pain.
But then something happened. I was asked to stand up. Blood had darkened the tub water. Alina needed to check the bleeding and get your heartbeat. I guess this was a big deal but Harmony and Alina were so calm I didn’t think anything of it and just stood up (with your head hanging half way out of my vagina, by the way, like it was no big deal). Your heartbeat was strong and there wasn’t any major bleeding so I sank back into the tub. I could feel that the change in position had forced you lower and perhaps the distraction helped clear some of my fear. I only knew one thing – that I wanted you in my arms. So I closed my eyes and waited silently for the next contraction.
I don’t remember the pain of your head finally delivering. All I remember is hearing someone scream (presumably me) and then hearing someone (Harmony, I think) say, “Ryan, look down at your baby”. I looked down and as your head slowly turned you looked right at me with two huge black eyes. Your hair was dancing in the water. I had such an intense longing to have you in my arms but when I reached down to pull you up I saw your dad eagerly fixed on your arrival. I let go, leaned back and let him catch you.
As the rest of your body emerged I felt so many things. Every inch of you – neck, shoulders, chest, stomach, waist, butt, legs, feet – was examined by my insides like I was feeling sensation for the first time. Simultaneously it was as if I had left my body and was watching from above. I could see inside myself. But I also clearly remember this strange X-ray image that I was seeing from above was also being projected on the wall in front of me. My bones flexed and bended around your tiny body as its skeleton stretched and compressed and came forth into the world. It was the most transcendental thing I have ever experienced.
In that moment the exhaustion and pain and fear evaporated and they were replaced with pure love. I barely paused long enough to see if you were a girl or a boy! You were wide eyed and alert and nursed beautifully within the first 20 minutes. And as your dad and I chatted and giggled and snuggled you close it was as if we had known you forever.