Greetings from abodyandabrain!
The last post here was from October second of last year, and as most of you know, the entire world has changed since then. I was reluctant to write about the pregnancy because I’d suffered a miscarriage a few months prior and didn’t want to risk the pain of writing through it, but not mentioning it in posts also seemed wrong, as it was all I’d think of. After we told our parents, coworkers, and facebook, it seemed weird to write about my growing belly since I hadn’t mentioned it at all before, and thus the vicious cycle of procrastination ensued. You know how it goes.
Now the pregnancy is over, and I have a story to tell.
It’s happened billions of times to billions of women, but it still feels special.
I had a strange feeling that my baby and I would share a birthday. When the hours of June 6th waned on and there were still absolutely no signs of labor, I felt progressively more defeated. So much for a mother’s instinct. I’d also been sure he was a girl. It’s irrational and I know it, but I was disappointed and angry at myself for getting my hopes up, and a day that began so beautifully was turning bitter despite my best efforts to remain positive.
I told myself that I loved my body, that my baby was growing safely and healthfully inside me, and tried to convince myself to be content with what was. “And that’s that. No more,” I told myself, not quite resolved but trying my best.
Ryan and I sat down to watch a movie around eight in the evening. By eight-thirty, I noticed I was having more Braxton-Hicks contractions than usual (painless, “practice” contractions that are just the body’s way of preparing – I don’t know how Dr. Braxton-Hicks got to brand them) and began to look at the time whenever I noticed my stomach tightening. 8:30..8:35…8:40…there was a pattern but I still didn’t want to get too hopeful. Only when they remained regular for a solid hour did I lean over to Ryan, sitting next to me the entire time, and asked him to write them down. It wasn’t long before I was comfortable enough to say it out loud: “Ryan, I think this is it.”
Neither of us were afraid of labor. Both of us had done a fair amount of reading on childbirth – physiology, history, best practices, etcetera, and had no fear of it. We’d also done a rehearsal of the home birth, put together a birth plan and an early labor to-do list for Ryan. After another hour of regular contractions, when we were both sure of what was happening, Ryan sprang into action, to-do list in hand. Call the midwife – check! Make cold compresses – check! Inflate the birth pool, text the placenta encapsulist, make sure Megan has water – check, check, check! Meanwhile, while my contractions were still regular and relatively painless, my water broke on our bathroom rug. We were going to rock this birth.
Melan Smith-Francis, our midwife, came over to our home around eleven to check me. I was dilated one centimeter (out of ten) and 50-60% effaced. I had a long way to go. She told me to try to sleep. Ryan put on a hypnobirthing CD and we both fell asleep to it. (If you don’t know what hypnobirthing is, it’s basically yoga nidra. If you don’t know what yoga nidra is, get on your bed after you read this, youtube it, and get ready for the best sleep of your life.)
At two a.m. I was no longer able to sleep through the contractions. “Oh, so THIS is what labor pains are,” I naively thought. I got up to breathe through them, do some yoga, and bounce on the birth ball. Ryan tried to get up with me, but I asked him to keep sleeping, knowing I’d need him rested and ready. On I labored, my cat staring at me.
Melan had said she’d be back at four.
She came with her assistant, Jaye, and the two of them set up some medical supplies in Finn’s nursery; an oxygen tank, large, sterile pads, an infectious waste bag. She checked me again; still laboring, still early. She suggested we walk, and they left.
We walked, very slowly, up and down our little street. The sun was just rising and the air was only slightly chilly but full of the promise of a warm June day. I discovered my favorite labor position: leaning into Ryan and swaying, while he reminded me to let go: “Relax your shoulders, honey. Release your jaw. Let your fingertips relax.” I’d told him weeks before that I do this in my yoga classes – encourage my students to compartmentalize the muscles doing the work and the muscles that can relax, so that they can learn to relax in the pose, and hopefully by extension, in difficult life circumstances.
We went back into the house, where I had a contraction that caused me to vomit for the first (but not the last) time. I’d prepared an abundance of snacks to keep up my energy for this day: popsicles, fruit, vitamin water…as the day wore on, I saw my well-made food plans go, literally, down the drain. Ryan played me soft songs on the piano, read me the twenty-third psalm, and held his arms open for me to collapse in them when I felt a strong wave coming.
At ten a.m., Melan officially “admitted” me to my house at 4 centimeters. She and Jaye were staying until the baby came, and a third teammate was on her way. From ten on, day was probably unbelievably dull for everyone but me. I sat on the ball, waiting for contractions to come and silently breathing through them, going through muscles to relax. I heard one of my favorite yoga teacher’s voices in my head, reminding me to smile. If I wasn’t going to be “comfortable,” as the hyponobirthing book promised, I was at least going to fake it.
Melan suggested I take a break and get inside the shower for some relief. I was reluctant, as I’d heard water can offer some marvelous natural pain relief, but at the cost of a slower labor. I did end up taking her advice, shedding the last of my clothes, letting the hot water stream over my belly. Ryan came in and said when I was done, we could fill up the pool, which lead to an intense internal debate: get out of the shower and get the pool filled, speeding things along, or stay in the shower as long as possible, feeling much better but slowing down and wasting the hot water? I stayed for a few more contractions, then Ryan helped me out. As I left the shower, I saw the green garden hose running from the kitchen faucet to the bedroom, an auspicious and welcome sight.
There was a new woman in my living room. “Hi, I’m Shirley.”
“Funny time to meet someone,” I remember thinking, and managed to say hello and tell her my name before I felt the next wave coming on, closing my eyes and shutting the world out again.
The pool was set up in our bedroom, and I stepped inside for a couple of contractions, and Melan said she wanted to check me for dilation. I wanted to be prepared for less progress, and I asked her what she thought; maybe a six? She told me she couldn’t guess. I accepted her help out of the tub and onto the bed, where she told me I was at an eight. I thanked Jesus, loudly.
I stayed on the bed for a few more contractions, no longer content to be zen about this business. Now when they came, there was an alien sound coming from my body; long, slow moans of various vowels. And unexpectedly, a new sensation: my body was pushing.
I opened my eyes and there was Ryan, gazing at me with tears in his eyes. “Tell Melan I’m pushing. I can’t help it.”
Back into the pool I went. I told Ryan for the second time that we should have gone to the hospital. I’d seen the youtube videos of epidural birth: some women are texting, totally relaxed at eight centimeters. Texting! A hospital serving up epidurals seemed like a faraway fantasy land flowing with milk and honey, and I wanted to be there.
“This was a stupid idea.” I told him flatly, meaning all of it: drug-free labor, home birth, and pregnancy.
He looked me straight in the eyes, his voice steady: “You are giving your son a gift. You are doing this for Finnegan.”
It was all I needed to hear. As strange as it sounds, I’d gotten to a place where I’d all but forgotten that there was a little life inside me, between two worlds, aware and alert and participating in this process. I reached down and felt his head for the first time.
The next contractions were easier to accept, albeit painful. When I opened my eyes, I saw Melan in the nursery next door, in the rocking chair, dressed now in an apron and long gloves with a flashlight fastened around her head, just patiently watching me.
Not long afterwards, my body began pushing again. I had nothing to do with it. Melan said that I should just listen to my body and do what it was telling me to do, so I let it push – on all fours, sitting back, standing on my knees – he wasn’t coming. But I could feel an energy change in the room. The birth team was all around me now, taking the baby’s heart rate and shining a flashlight down in the water.
Suddenly Shirley came in the room with a long brown scarf. She told Ryan to stand in the water in front of me, and told me to squat facing Ryan. She draped the scarf over Ryan’s shoulders, and I held onto it while bearing down.
“I can do this.” I told Melan.
“Yes, you can. This family’s bringing this baby in together.” She meant Ryan, holding our weight in his shoulders.
Things began moving quickly. The crown of his head was out. It looked so small, and it confused me; were babies that small? It took a some time for me to realize that it wasn’t his entire head, and what was going to have to happen to push the rest out; it felt like I was going to break.
I smelled coffee, and was a bit annoyed. Couldn’t a coffee break wait? Jaye crouched down beside the pool with the mug in her hands, the look on her face saying she was doing anything but taking a break. Melan told her to get ready with it. I asked what it was for, and she told me it was to prevent tearing. Jaye poured it in the water. As Finn’s head pressed against me, I wasn’t so sure it would work. And thus the decision: push him out and risk tearing, or stay pregnant forever. I pushed his head out.
“Good job. The next push gets his body out.” said Melan, and the next push did. I screamed, and he shot into the water. He was scooped up on my chest in a few seconds.
He was all slippery white with vernix over his purplish skin, and out from his gummy mouth came a loud and relentless cry. The most beautiful thing I’d ever seen* and heard, all at once. The pain, so slow and progressive to come, was gone in an instant, like I’d been launched from hell straight into heaven. Ryan leaned down and we both looked at him in awe, in another plane of existence – there are no words to describe seeing your first child for the first time.
Ryan cut the cord when it stopped pulsating and held Finnegan while Melan took me back to the bed to deliver the placenta. My body began shaking heavily, so they covered me with blankets and began the hour-and-a-half-long process of giving me two stitches. I’m afraid I made it harder for Melan by tensing and jumping and, and one point, even laughing; HOW was this more painful than pushing?! Ryan sat beside me holding Finn, his beautiful cry like music to me, and I reached out and held his little foot.
After a shower, a crash course in breastfeeding, and a champagne toast to a successful birth, Finn was back in my arms. Melan and her team packed up and left us alone just as the sun was setting. Ryan ordered us a pizza, and as it was dropped off, I heard the delivery man make a joke about it being a hard day full of work. “Buddy, you said it,” I thought, and soon we were happily munching on greasy, cheesy pizza in bed, staring at our new baby boy in his firetruck pajamas, a family complete.
*As tempting as it is for us, we’ve decided to let Finn decide for himself when and if he wants an online presence. We won’t be posting any photos of him online, but we do want you to see him – email me if you’d like some extremely cute pictures.