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birth story

Rewrite: I become a six-year-old mom today

Six years ago today, this happened:

photo by our doula, Candace Palmerlee

The celebration of this day feels more significant than any other in my life. It lurched me awake at 5am this morning with memories of that exact time on this day in retrospect. It moved me to get out of my bed in my sleeping house and re-write this post I wrote 3 years ago today.

The anniversary of my birth of Jo is about returning. Every year, I circle back to the same day from farther away. Every year, I remember the same but different. Today, I remember 5am on 09/09/09. It’s not written down in the birth log that our doula wrote for us, and I can feel it more vividly than the moments we caught on video.

It was the hour we drove to the hospital. The hour that the momentum I had built over 19 hours of labor came crashing down into anger. I pissed off the triage nurse by declining a routine but optional vaginal exam. She shot me glances when I would moan with my contractions that said, “Jesus. This one is an entitled drama queen.” And so began my visit in triage–that bed in an open hallway–that lasted hours instead of minutes.

My blooming anger all but stopped my contractions, and just before we were finally admitted to a labor and delivery room, I literally peed on the floor in protest. Squatting down to the toilet was so painful that I chose to stand. The pee ran down my legs into a pool on the floor, and I barked at AJ not to clean it up. If the women who work in this place where mothers go to have babies were not going to respect me, then I wasn’t going to put myself through ripping pain to respect them.

This is the unsung triumph of my first birth: I pissed on their linoleum floor on purpose, without a lick of shame or regret.

As I set off into my 6th year as Jo’s mother, let me grow that mother stronger. The one who knew the moment when politeness and compliance weren’t useful tools anymore. The one who easily sank into her formidable, animal self.

My experience of labor and birth has expanded my emotional territory in all directions. There are sublime moments of rightness beyond knowing, and despair that can sweep me out to the furthest reaches of myself. I never knew I was so big until I started becoming a mother.

No wonder I wake when I could be sleeping to remember it.

Saying goodbye to birth: a love letter

Since I’m a total birth junkie, I can’t let any moment with obsess-about-birth potential go by without properly obsessing.

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So I made this little altar in the corner of our back patio where I meditated for 3 interrupted minutes on birthing Cal.

I’m diving in today because it was almost exactly a year ago to the minute that Cal was born. Even as I write them, the words “Cal was born” are a passive and withered description of what actually happened. No single human in the history of the world “was born.” Someone birthed them while they simultaneously birthed themselves. In reality, Cal and I and pitocin and AJ and my midwife and doula and nurses did a magical, timeless birthing together. Cal navigated out of the most cramped but yielding passage. I faced all of my yeses and my nos and a deep, dark, holy abyss. I stood on the very pin prick point where the breathless height of awe tips over into terror.

I’ve been marinating all day in the birth log my doula kept, announcing to a friend at a 5 year old birthday party today,

Right now a year ago I was puking. Yep. 12:15. Puke time.

After I got Cal down for his nap this afternoon, I positively skipped down the stairs to my laptop where I flicked through all our Cal birth photos. I gushed over little snippets of video too. I forgot how lucid I was between contractions. And how quiet I was in the beginning. How loud at the end.

Now I’m feeling high. Just the thoughts and scenes and sounds of our birthing a year ago have left my body feeling like a slightly jostled bottle of sparkling water. I’m actually fizzing.

Birth is unequivocaly the peak experience of my life. Both of my births. Celebrating Jo’s and now Cal’s birth feels so much deeper and more real than celebrating my own. And it’s not because of my unending love for each of them. It’s because I remember being there. Because I had no choice but to go straight into the depths of my body with each of them. And the only way out was straight through the pain and intensity and I-can’t-do-this of it all. There has never been anything like it for me.

I’ve been skirting around the edges of my grief about the decision that AJ and I have made to stop making babies. I’m firmly rooted in our choice–I do not want to raise any more children. About that I am crystal clear. Oh, but birth. I would do you again in a heartbeat. Even after having just listened to this.

 

Nay, BECAUSE I just listened to that.

There will never be another thing in my life that will take me to that place. The small, smooth stone of that truth drops down and leaves an ache. There is an emptiness. I’m on the other end of my births, and I can never go back again.

It is this minute. This very minute a year ago that I felt that shockingly insanely huge hard round head coming out. Between contractions, it just lodged there, expanding me, and there was nothing but that smooth, molded skull and my voice and the vast shock of awe.

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Photo by Best Doula on Earth, Candace Palmerlee.

And then, it was over.

***

If you’d like to read more about Cal’s birth, help yourself to Part 1 and Part 2. And here’s my sappy nod to Jo’s.

How I came to love the hospital birth that I didn't want, Part 2

We’re picking up, right where I left off last time–in the hospital, having rhythmic and mild contractions after taking Misoprostol and feeling vindicated for choosing to be induced after the baby’s heart decelerations returned with my contractions. Between the oxygen and IV fluids they gave me, the baby recovered beautifully, and we all tucked in for some sleep around midnight.

(In the event none of this makes sense to you and/or you’d like to know the back story, here’s Part 1, in all its glory.)

Four hours after I took Misoprostol, the doctor suggested that we add Pitocin to my IV drip. My cervix had dilated to 2.5 centimeters with the help of the Miso, and Pitocin would likely continue that process. If the baby had more decelerations, we could always turn the Pitocin down or completely off (which is not an option with the Misoprostol pills). She made this suggestion at 2:00 am.  My partner, A, asked her if we could start the Pitocin in the morning, after more sleep and some breakfast. “Sure,” she replied, casually.  And with that, he earned me 4 hours of sleep and a big plate of eggs, bacon and toast to fuel my labor.

(Why a doctor who specializes in helping women have babies would not think of this small adjustment on her own, I’ll never know. But I’ve found in my own births and as a doula that when you ask if you can have more time to make a decision or, say, a few hours sleep, or some food before engaging in one of the most taxing experiences known to human kind, the doctor often says “Sure.”)

My doula, C showed up at 9:00 am. We started Pitocin at 9:45, and contractions were strong enough that I wanted to get out of bed by 11. My preferred method for coping with contractions: I wanted to be on the birth ball, leaning back into someone. With each contraction, I would go limp and slump forward into a still, silent lump. And then I would just tunnel into my uterus. The center of all that pain and energy and power. I would think of lightening.

I’d envision this.

Ixchel

It’s a card from a deck of goddess cards my friend A gave me—and when I’m feeling particularly lost or confused, I’ll draw one. So that’s what I did before we started the Pitocin. I happened to draw the Mayan goddess of childbirth, Ixchel (whose name I still don’t know how to pronounce). Score.

Between contractions I felt pretty blissed out. I’d look around at my midwife, my doula, the nurses and tell them all how beautiful they were. At one point, I smiled and cooed, “I love pitocin.” (I’d also like to mention that I knew to look for the bliss between contractions because of Nancy Bardacke’s masterful way of explaining labor in pages 86-89 of her book, Mindful Birthing.)

When contractions got stronger, I got into the shower with A and did my whole birth-ball-still-and-silent thing. When we got out of the shower at 2:35 pm, I confessed to my doula that I was starting to want the labor to be over—and she said, “Yeah, since you got into the shower your contractions have started to space out a bit, so I think you’re having more time to think.” Somehow, that helped.

Ten minutes later, at 2:45, they checked me, and my cervix was dilated to 5 cm. I know better than most that dilation numbers are meaningless–women can stay at 5 cm for 10 hours or go from 5 cm to having a baby in their arms in 30 minutes–but I was still deflated. Then I had a fierce contraction while I was lying in the bed. It wrapped all the way around my hips and down my legs. When it subsided, I told my doula, “That one made me want an epidural.”

With that, I got out of the bed, back on the ball, and thus began the “never-ending contractions” portion of my labor. They rolled in, one after another, hardly a break between. And my still, silent meditation became the still, bellowing moose meditation. It was mind-blowing. To be certain, there was no time to think between contractions.

Fifty minutes after my 5 cm cervical check, and I heard my own power moans turn into pushy grunts. With the first mammoth grunt, my water broke. My midwife laughed and said, “The baby’s right there,” and I reached down and felt the wet toadstool squish of head. In the next few moments, in the stillness between contractions, and as I felt my body gathering up its power into pushing the baby out, an earth-shaking awe flooded my senses. It was as close to terror as I’ve ever been without being terrified. I was laying back, head turned to the side. I could see my doula’s blue eyes and the black plastic side of the computer screen next to me. My eyes were focused to the tiniest pinpoint and wide, all-encompassing, to take in the gravity of the timeless, massive, awe-inspiring place where I was.  My body trembled on the edge and at the center of a shocking and immense moment beyond time.

I pushed with my own instinct and then with the urgings of my midwife. And in 6 minutes, I felt this immensely hard, huge, lumpy head fill up and then come out of my vagina. (There’s really no other way to put it.) And then I pushed out a shoulder. And then I opened my eyes and reached down to grab this warm slippery thing, and bring his body up to my chest.

And that’s how it happened.

Had I known beforehand that this is the birth I would have–in the hospital, induced, pitocin, the works–I would have cringed with disappointment and sadness. On this side of things, I feel aglow and triumphant. What a tumble into the space of letting go! Once I was able to shed my own hopes and expectations, I was just left with what was:

  • my steady and balanced partner A, who should really consider moonlighting as a doula
  • the doula of my dreams, C, who helped me through with her presence and humor
  • my midwife, with her remarkable skill and empathy
  • a rotating array of hospital nurses, midwives and obstetricians, all of whom listened and worked with us towards the birth we wanted
  • baby C’s incredible body
  • my incredible body

It was a beautiful birth.

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