To you, my brave girl: For our first mother’s day together, I spent the last months thinking about and writing our story, almost always with you strapped to me in your carrier, so close I could hear your breathing and sense how long I might have before I have to wrap up by your fidgeting. Our story is one of triumph… our first, certainly not our last. Always, your mama
Your due date came and I pleaded with you to stay put just a little longer, the temperatures plunging to record-breaking lows, us going on a week of having to feed the fire all night long to keep the pipes and us from freezing. One week past “due” and I started to worry, pleading with you now to come sooner rather than later. I don’t want you forced out I think. Though I now know all the pleading is fruitless when it comes to birth. It’s wild and unpredictable. You’ll see.
Sunday, March 10, 1:00 am: Given my repeated bathroom visits, I was the fire feeder for the last frigid weeks of the winter that would never end. I wake up to tend to these chores, the temperature in the negatives as I walk slowly and quietly through the house, my huge belly at last at the point that it is hard to move. I toss on a log, maybe two, then proceed to the bathroom. It is then that I notice the unmistakable fluid heralding your arrival. I sit in shock.
But almost a half a day passes with not much in the way of contractions. During that time I scurried about the house, turning on the second water heater, setting up a little “birth shrine” near the tub, tidying up and eating an early breakfast, all to make our home a suitable birth place for you. I do all this without sharing my news with anyone (but eventually texting the midwife). Finally your papa wakes up. We sip coffee together and await the midwife’s arrival for your 41-week visit. We listen to your heart and you sound great. Music for us! She departs with instructions for inducing labor, and we set to work.
3:00pm We walk to the grocery store for supplies, contractions are coming on here and there. They’re strong which makes me nervous since it’s so early and they’re so far apart. I stop on the sidewalk to cope with them and feel embarrassed but get over it fast. Finally, after struggling along the snowy sidewalks, we’re home. I eat a small meal (french toast, I think) then begin different physical and herbal processes to get you here. I sit alone in our bedroom and worry first when the contractions aren’t coming then worry when they do. They’re nothing like cramps. They grow and peak and release. Mine, however, grow, peak and spread to my back, making me nervous about your position and the likelihood of the dreaded back labor. But what is there to do but endure? The only way out is through.
9:00pm or so I find myself in the throes of active labor, on a train I can’t get off. I try to sleep but the moment I lay down a shooting pain goes through my back. I go to the living room and set up camp in front of the fire–a blanket on the floor, the birth ball, my heating pad, wood to add to the fire, me and it roaring.
Labor is everything and nothing like I expected it to be. Before actually being in labor I had ideas… what I would wear, what I would listen to, how and where and with whom I’d progress. For me, it’s nothing like any of this. It’s simultaneously simple and the hardest thing I’ve ever endured. I surprise myself with my ability to be present in each contraction. I don’t find myself thinking ahead or back. All I can do is sit with what is. I also surprise myself with my desire to labor alone given how fiercely close your papa and I are. But this was work you and I had to do in silence and solitude. I moan loudly, convinced your he will wake up but he doesn’t. I time the contractions obsessively, some extraordinarily long. I lay my body over the ball with the heating pad on my back, put a pillow on the countertop and lay on that, anything to release the torture in my back. Back labor is no joke. On the rare occasions I have regular contractions I breathe and count my breaths, rocking on the ball. All this means you are on your way, even if my intense focus on the moment makes me forget that sometimes .
6:00 am, Monday, March 11: Morning comes. I’m in the same place and so are you. I knew intellectually first labors are often long but I had secretly hoped yours wouldn’t be. Wrong. But both of us press on and stay as calm as possible, your heart rate steady. Later your midwives arrive silently toting all of the medical equipment we could possibly need and hopefully won’t. I acknowledge their presence briefly but really don’t pay much attention to anything else but the fire inside me. It’s building. Each pain is elongating and strengthening to the surprise of the midwife–some contractions lasting minutes, others coming back to back. I remember one period of time where I’d grip your papa’s sweatshirt with every contraction, yelling out when he left and one came on. I think we should start getting the tub ready she says. I nod, knowing this means I’ve made enough progress not to fear slowing labor down anymore.
Afternoon: I sink into the tub, the room hot despite the frigid temperatures and full of light which almost felt wrong–labor should be in a dark, cave-like environment, no? but it brought me joy to think of you coming into the world and being kissed by the sun. Your papa brings me a glass of coconut water and we laugh at our ability to recreate an island paradise in the Arctic. The water eases the pain in my back somewhat. But just then, the contractions start to intensify. Transition. My mind goes to places it has never gone and likely never will again. I envision the fire of creation in many forms, including you. Including the Universe. Suddenly I’m looking down on the scene– me in the tub and your papa holding space next to me. I envision the hundreds of thousands of women giving birth at this moment around the world and look into their eyes, encouraging them and allowing them to encourage me. You get the idea. I start to cry at advice another mom gave me Your labor will be the perfect labor for you just like you will be the perfect mother to this baby. I fall into a primal state, roaring with the intense pain. But still I’m not scared, not like I thought I would be. And I know we can make it this final stretch.
Hours pass but it feels like minutes. Where are you? At this point I’m nearing 20 or so hours of active labor and your midwife suggests she do an internal exam (which we’d avoided to reduce infection risk) to see if perhaps I have a cervical lip or something else impeding progress. The check is awful truthfully, happening during a contraction and forcing me out of ‘labor land.’ Once it’s complete I’m able to sit back. Luke comes in. I don’t have great news she says. Not something anyone wants to hear ever, especially me at this moment. You’re at 3 centimeters. But I was able to get you to a 5.
I sit in shock and can’t wrap my head around what she’s saying. Baby is right there though and has a lot of hair. I’m able to muster a smile at this. We can wait a couple more hours and see how you progress or we can transfer to the hospital now. So we waited and worked. I stood in the shower roaring some more, the water somehow intensifying it now. I’m tiring, but I’m not giving up. Two hours and then some passes somehow. I’m checked again. 7 centimeters. Our midwife looks me in the eye, happy with the progress: I know you can do this.
Evening: Still no you, though I don’t feel discouraged. You will come when you’re ready I think. But your midwives sense something I don’t. I think by this point I am so absorbed in getting through each moment, I don’t think beyond them at all, maybe to a fault. I am taken off guard. You’re back to 5 centimeters and your cervix is very swollen. The best thing for you is to go to the hospital and get an epidural so you can rest before it’s time to push she says. You can’t go on like this. At this point I’ve been in active labor for close to 24 hours.
I am devastated. I wish I wasn’t attached to birthing at home but I am. Why is this happening? I curse my body for not being able to do what it was meant to do. The hospital bag I packed, sure I’d never need it, consists of a shirt, clothes for you, and some energy bars. Even though I know I should have thought through what a hospital birth might entail I didn’t, convinced that I would not be one of the first time mothers likely to transfer. And now, I start to feel fear. I do not want an epidural. The process itself scares me as does my gut feeling that it’s going to lead to much more serious interventions because of my exhaustion. I start to cry.
Your papa comforts me while rushing around the house to prepare to leave. I can’t summon the strength to get up. He helps me put a random assortment of clothes on, stretching a t-shirt of his over my bulging belly, then puts on my socks and shoes. Somehow in the midst of this I call to him to bring the camera. It’s still your birth day, after all.
Night: On the drive I start to lose my composure. Fuck this I yell at my body as another contraction hits, angry that they’re not doing what they need to do. They slow down immensely for the 25 minute drive and I’m able to doze. The midwife’s apprentice sits in the back seat quietly. I confess my fears to her. This is not what I wanted. But there’s a part of me that’s grateful that once we get there at least the back pain is going to stop.
We drive past the entrance to the hospital once then double back, giving us all a much needed laugh. We reach the entrance and I see our midwife and the nurse-midwife on call waiting for us. I know this midwife. We’re in good hands.
We arrive to a huge suite that looks not at all clinical. The lights are dim. I change into a gown before a fetal monitor is strapped to my belly to listen to you and the contractions. They offer me “gas and air” and I inhale deep, letting me relax just a little. I’m handed a clipboard of paperwork I can’t at all focus on. This one is a release for the epidural I’m told. The midwife can see my reluctance I think and says How about we check and see where you’re at. Who knows, you might be 9 cm and we’re going to be filling up the birth pool. I laugh at this but appreciate her kindness.
I lay back and ready myself for more hard news, more tears. Moments later she finishes the exam. You’re 9cm dilated with a bulging water bag. The whole room is shocked, me particularly as I’d pretty much given up on my body by now. She uses a thumb-tack looking thing to break the water bag and before I know what’s happening we’re whisked away to an even nicer room that’s available. It’s time.
For the next three hours I try every position imaginable to get you here. You’re still content and I am so grateful, but I’m exhausted. I can’t quite figure out how to push and never feel the urge I was expecting. The midwife starts perineal massage and I find myself distracted by that pain so much so that I can’t focus on pushing. I move from the birth tub to a stool to side-lying on the bed, back to the stool, back to the bed. This whole time I’m trying so hard and getting so frustrated. I think I’m following their cues but then I hear I’m making no progress. Then, a sheet is rolled into a sort of rope and a tall, strong nurse holds one end while I pull as hard as I can, curling my body over you–so low now–and pushing through a blinding light of pain. I’m making progress but exhaustion is slowly taking over. I doze in between contractions, which are slowing down. I hear mention of a drug to get them going again and think to myself Absolutely not, not after all this and somehow call forth strength I never though possible.
Midnight, March 12
I push with everything I have and then push past that. That is where the power you need is. I surrender everything, fearing nothing anymore and giving myself up to the Universe to do with me what it must to bring you here. A room full of women cheer us on as you finally begin your decent. I scream out I can do it! and everyone responds you can! Your papa alternates between standing by my side an cheering me on and standing at the foot of the bed, eyes wide, watching you emerge. Your head is finally crowning and the pain is blinding. I keep my eyes closed, trying to stay in the otherworldly place that is allowing me to press on. The midwife takes my hand places it on your head and I feel your hair. She offers a mirror too but one glimpse was enough for me as it took me out of my trance.
At last your head is born, sweet relief! And at that moment it’s realized why all the trouble… a nuchal hand. You’re holding your left hand alongside your face. You swing your head to one side then the other, I’m told, unsure of which way you want to come out. Then come your shoulders and finally I let out a primal yell that didn’t sound human as the rest of your body came out. Open your eyes the midwife says. I refuse. Open them! It’s your baby!
I open my eyes only to see you, my sweet baby, arms wide open greeting the world and screaming your lungs out. You’re here!!! You’re thrust onto my bare chest and rubbed fiercely with blankets as I talk to you. Look at her! I cry. You’re perfect, you’re so beautiful! I cry to your papa. I gaze into your huge eyes I’m sorry it was so hard. I’m so consumed with you that I forget to look to see whether you are boy are girl, not that we care. I think I hear someone mention a girl and finally look… A girl! I yell to your papa. Our daughter. What’s her name? someone yells out. I look up to your papa to get his final agreement before proclaiming you Beatrice.
In the meanwhile, I deliver your placenta with a little push, no big deal at all though the feeling of a gush of blood unnerves me. The stinging sensation when all is said and done is strong, but I turn toward you and try and ignore it. Nurses come in like a pit crew, ‘massaging’ my uterus to get it to contract and cleaning us up. Suddenly the room changes from delivery room to recovery. We lay in bed together, and you latch on immediately, hungry from your journey earthside. Relief. Bliss. Amazement.
I’m taken into the bathroom by the kindest nurse and she helps me use the bathroom and cleans me up. Meanwhile you’re weighed and measured. 7 pounds, 3 ounces. 20 inches. You’re swaddled up and we’re left with you for the first time. Our baby. After your papa finally gets to cuddle you, we place you in your little bassinet and we all fall into a deep sleep. I wake to your cries and assume you to be hungry and feed you, albeit awkwardly and painfully. I look at the clock and realize it’s been only twenty minutes. I try to put you back into your bassinet and you scream. I instinctively pull you onto my chest and we doze that way, one of us sleeping much more than the other.
Our stay here is sacred…we’re mostly left alone, the room warm and dark. We order big meals from room service and I feel spoiled. We’re bothered only to check vitals and for the tests that make you wail. I notice snow accumulating on the tree outside and worry about bringing you home. But by the next afternoon, the sun is shining. You brought spring.
I sit in the back seat with you as we lower your impossibly small body into the car seat and drive home. Slowly. We walk into the door, here is your home, and a flood of emotion comes when I am greeted with the unresolved birth scene. So I retreat with you into our bedroom, turn the heat on high, and we rest together, tears flowing from me. Meanwhile, your papa quickly returns the house to the way it was, no evidence of those days of struggle, and cooks us a beautiful birthday feast pops a mini bottle of champagne. For dessert we put a candle in one of the birthday cupcakes I made before you were born and sing to you.
Your birth went exactly as it was supposed to. I can finally say that with confidence. You were welcomed into the world by a room full of women and an adoring papa, all who worked tirelessly to support us on our first journey together. And while it took me several weeks to accept and feel less troubled by what unfolded, I’m there now. I think you are too. I think about this as we hold each other tight, relaxing into one another. I think about this as I look down at you during the countless hours of feeding you in low light and study your sweet content face. We did it. I ventured to the great beyond and back to bring you here, and now we can’t imagine life any other way.