If this account seems overly dramatic and loose on details and statistics, it’s because the experience was overly dramatic for me, and the details got lost in the drama. You’re getting here my personal recounting of my experience, not an impartial account at all. My perception of the birth might differ very much from that of an observer (and, in fact, I was quite surprised when our midwife said afterwards, “Great birth, Diana—perfect birth.”) but then again, whose perceptions of the event could possibly be more relevant? Besides the baby, of course.
I should have known this birth would be especially tough. I had a blissfully comfortable pregnancy until the last trimester when the work of building this new baby body, while also nursing my one-year-old, and taking care of both my kids full time, became way, way too much. Suddenly I could do nothing but sleep, and I dragged myself through long days of food preparation, diaper changes and potty trips, toddler-chasing and errands, wishing someone would come along and condemn me to bed rest. The need to collapse grew so strong and the inability to give into it so constant that I became prone to fits of crying. Despite sleeping long nights and lowering my standards of both homemaking and mothering to the bottom of the barrel, facing each new day was more than I seemed able to manage.
Given the condition I was in, I should have known the birth would be tough, but thank goodness I didn’t! The thought that the birth was coming kept me going. It was my salvation: soon my body and energy would be restored and I would be able to function as usual. My emotions would return to their sane state and I would be in control of myself again. If only I could survive until I gave birth!
Although I didn’t will it or expect it, it’s no wonder I went into labor two weeks earlier than in my previous pregnancies. I was trying to fill myself with nutrients, but seemed unable to make any headway replenishing my drained reserves. Two pregnancies in two years had me running at a deficit and both my worn out body and the emotional state that reflected it needed this pregnancy to end!
I hate to say there was anything unfortunate about the circumstances because they probably were what they needed to be and there’s no telling how any alternately imagined scenario would have played out. But it sure seemed unfortunate that labor began in earnest in the evening, after a long day and before I got to sleep.
I was very happy to be having contractions, and felt like I was in a warm, glowing bubble. My husband, David, was sitting up in bed working on the laptop, and I lay next to him, contentedly keeping my contractions to myself, relishing the knowledge that only I knew I was having a baby. I tried to sleep, but it was not to be.
The contractions became strong enough that I knew I would want David’s attention soon, so I told him he ought to call his mother to come and stay with our girls. He was surprised and excited and after a few unanswered calls to his parents (it was after midnight now, I think), he drove the few blocks to their house to fetch her, then hurried back.
I must take a moment now to explain that we have a small motorhome named Benny and had been in the process of moving into it. So all four of us were in the motorhome, our daughters—Ada, aged 6, and Annabelle, 15 months—were asleep in the dinette bed, and David and I had been lounging in our bed. The motorhome was parked in the yard of our partially vacated house. The house had plenty of space for a much coveted birth pool. The motorhome . . . did not.
When David’s mother arrived, we invited her to make herself at home in our bed while we retired to the house for some birthing. Annabelle often woke during the night and we needed someone to be there in case she did.
My mother was called next. Again, no answer. It was as if these people weren’t even waiting for me to go into labor! I called again a few minutes later. Twice. My dad answered the third time. I told him that I was in labor, and that we did not need any help as the kids were already taken care of, but that he could let my mom know she was welcome to come if she wanted to.
She wanted to. Despite the fact that she prepares taxes and this was now the night of the 13th of April, or the morning of the 14th of April—the second to last day for preparing taxes. We had expected tax season to have ended before this baby came, and marveled at what good timing it would be.
We called our midwife, too, as I was already wanting the birth pool, which she was going to bring with her. She arrived twenty minutes later and when the pool was filled I got in it at once and it felt good!
I love Ina May’s book Spiritual Midwifery. The women recounting their birth stories in that book speak of “integrating the rushes.” Before giving birth the first time, I didn’t really know what that meant. Now I do, and at this point in my birth story, I was failing to integrate the rushes.
Each contraction had me thinking of my baby, saying to my baby, “Oh, good, baby, here you come! We’re doing this, baby, and soon you’ll be in my arms…” I thought of all the bones shifting in my body and the baby’s body, of the baby bodily shaping the letter ‘S’ in the slow motion of being born. In my mind, our dance was like the slow contractions of a boa constrictor around an antelope, as inevitable in its conclusion as it is seemingly cruel in its tedious pace.
And then, even as I was speaking to myself and my baby, visualizing the descent, I was externally telling myself to go limp and give over to the involuntary movements and adjustments that were birth. I dropped my mouth open with each contraction and let low, moaning noises emerge.
Despite my welcoming attitude, the sensations became too much. When our midwife offered to check my dilation I agreed, desperate to move on to the next stage. When she announced that dilation was complete, I just gasped, “I know.” But I was glad that she had checked. It felt like placing a flag at the top of the mountain and that milestone was officially claimed. It validated what I had known I had achieved. All that despite my intentions to refuse to be checked. It turned out that in the moment, my needs were different than I had anticipated.
Back to those rushes, though. They didn’t stop, and I needed a break. My upper body, sticking out of the water, was sweaty and uncomfortably hot and wanted to get out of the pool and cool off. My lower parts refused to part with the comfort of the warm water, and I can also see now, in retrospect, that it would have been a big mistake to leave the pool because I was out of energy, and without the buoyancy of the water and the side of the pool to prop me up as I hung limply over it, I would have been unable to remain upright.
Our midwife gave David a cold, wet, towel to mop my face and neck with, and it was life saving! Each contraction was met by my hanging my arms around David’s neck and dragging at him like an anchor while I kept my mind clenched firmly around my baby, and loosened up my whole body.
Still, I wasn’t integrating the rushes. They were washing over me like waves and I was an overturned surfer, able to get my head out of the water for moments before the next one bowled me head over heels, pushing and pulling so that I didn’t know which way was up, and my only hope was that it would all end miraculously, perhaps by being washed up on a desert island where I could finally give over to exhaustion without the confoundedly insistent sensations snatching me away from blessed sleep again and again.
“I’ve been tired for so long,” I told our midwife, and I collapsed over the edge of the pool after each contraction.
“I can’t do it!” I cried, echoing myself, and all the other women having babies in time and space. It was such a cliché and I had managed not to say it until now. But it was as if the sentiment and the utterance thereof were as involuntary and inevitable a part of the birth as the unforgiving contractions.
Those contractions: how could they use so much of my energy without my consent? How could they find any energy in me left to use? Didn’t they know you can’t get blood from a stone? Yet I felt like an empty gas tank that was still leaking gas. No, more like Prometheus whose bowels had been eaten by eagles yesterday and somehow found them being ripped out of him again, and again. It couldn’t possibly go on, but it wouldn’t stop either.
Pressure built up inside me, and it was pressing down very strongly. If I had the strength, I would have waited to let it erupt, but I couldn’t survive any more minutes of this, and with the goal of collapsing in sleep, I pushed down, down, down.
I wanted to stop pushing. I simultaneously refused to push and refused not to. More waves pummeling me so that I was being pushed and pulled in all directions. I pushed.
David got in the pool behind me and I leaned back on him and pushed. There was a loud pop that only I could hear as the bag of waters exploded under water. I pushed and suddenly I was yelling as a baby’s head tried to come through. I was surprised to feel so much pain because I thought I had been in pain for hours. I thought it was as much pain as I could feel. But it hadn’t really been pain—just such strong sensations coupled with such exhaustion that it felt impossible to endure. But impossible to endure is not necessarily pain, and this part, this was painful and my yelling shocked me and it felt like it woke me up too, because suddenly here we were at the finale and it was all suddenly back in this room, in this pool, with these people, and my voice was awfully loud.
Under the water, a baby was born, head first, then rest, amazed that now there was finally a resting point. My body was at peace, then terrific push and here was a baby in my arms: tiny, white and blue, and so wet. My mother and daughter were both there, and I was leaning on David, feeling like there were no bones in my body and I was just mush.
I rubbed him to bring him into his body and this world, and he cried. Our midwife pulled a little white hat over his head, and I took it right off and kissed him, and I took the oxygen tubes out of my nose to kiss him too.
I don’t have a great deal of clarity on what happened when, and I’m sure there are things I don’t remember or didn’t notice. I know I threw up twice during the labor, into a bucket. I know that I was encouraged to eat a spoonful of honey for the energy I desperately needed, and since I pulled the oxygen tubes out, I know that our midwife had hooked me up to oxygen to keep me going, and it seemed to work, but I don’t remember when.
I moved onto the couch where Annabelle was born a year before, with someone at each elbow and my baby in my arms, umbilical cord dangling between us, tying us both to our shared organ. My baby and I tried to nurse, but this new little body was not well-practiced and despite my careful aim, managed to miss again and again. Eventually we managed to line up despite over-hasty baby motions that reminded me of a tiny wild animal, frantic for food.
Somewhere amidst our attempts to connect, I lifted our baby straight up in the air and caught a glimpse of something my other babies had always lacked. My daughter, Ada, gasped, and I knew she had seen too. A few minutes later I heard her whisper, “He’s a boy—just what we wanted!” in response to someone’s query.
I wasn’t hungry but our midwife was mollified when I asked for placenta smoothie—organ meat, even in liquid form, was just the sort of protein rich meal she wanted me to have. I ended up really enjoying the raw cashews that David brought me, too.
Speaking of David, he was wonderful through and through, as he always is. He doesn’t bring attitude, worry, or stuck ideas to our births, only support, confidence, and love. If this baby was an Oscar, I would have to start by thanking my husband, the person I would most want to be stuck on a deserted island or in an intense labor with.
I was surprised when our midwife described it as a “great birth” but it was, and I am very happy. So now we have our son, Cassidy Forrest, and we are a family of five. For now, that’s enough.