And then I woke. Inked in red on the dark. 11:49 pm. Drenched, I was afraid to move as though I might drown.
Because I tested positive for Strep B, I’d been told to get to the hospital as soon as my water broke so I could be administered IV antibiotics to prevent infection. Within a half-hour Travis and I were on our way from Brooklyn to St. Vincent’s in the Village, quite confused. This was our first. My due date was still twenty-four hours away. I had not had a single contraction.
In our childbirth class, the instructor had talked about a ‘cascade of interventions.’ Pitocin. Epidural. C-section. Episiotomy? The instructor laughed. “Not unless your doctor is over 60.”
But the baby would be born on February 21st! My sister’s birthday.
I wasn’t dilated yet. Not a single centimeter. We wandered down hallways, turned corners. By the elevator bank, the linoleum floor pitched and rose. A crack ran through the little hill, a thin, crooked road.
Beside my bed, tethered to the IV, I bounced. “I feel stupid.”
“Maybe it’ll help get things going,” Travis said.
“Maybe if I fall off,” I answered.
In the evening, a new nurse came in to administer the next dose of antibiotics.
“You’re having a girl, right?” She smiled.
“Uh, we don’t know,” I said slowly.
“Oh, that’s the couple down the hall.” She scurried away.
Norah then, not Liam.
This Ought To Be More Interesting
February 21, 2010 was like standing chest-deep in the ocean beneath a cresting wave.
With few distractions, I fretted about writing. Though I’d published short stories, two novels had not sold. I’d hoped to finish a draft of my third before the baby came; it had not happened. After, I intended to climb in the crawl space between “next to” and “impossible” and write from there. But to write, you need passion far more than time. What if, After, the passion was un-findable?
11:00 pm ish.
11:40. The pain was brief. Soon it was not. Soon, there was no ending or beginning.
Morning light seeped around the blinds. I told Travis that if less than seven, I’d get the epidural. The epidural, because there was only one and it was mine. The on-call doctor grinned. “You’re two centimeters!”
My own doctor arrived. Gray-haired, distinguished, he wandered in and out as I pushed and pushed. I kept drifting off like I was watching a boring miniseries.
At one point Travis cried, “I see the head!”
Well, fucking grab it, I thought.
Two hours in. The doctor was concerned. Did we want to try forceps first?
Travis said, “Wait—”
“Do it,” I snapped. This was not a baby, but a project to complete.
A resident stepped up, hesitantly. “Go on,” the doctor barked. “Cut.”
Apparently forceps means episiotomy.
When she finished, proud, relieved, the doctor picked up the forceps and took her place. A sudden weightlesslessness. An indignant scream.
Later, when the baby and I were alone, I traced the red mark from the forceps that went from forehead to cheek. I said I was sorry. Eyes opened. I saw at once that they were not newborn blue but my blue, exactly.
Seven months after I signed with my agent, she emailed me about a date to send the novel out to editors.
”How’s February 21st?”
Perfect. I’d finished the book, not in spite of parenthood, but because of it. So I could someday say that you don’t quit because something difficult gets exponentially more difficult.
On March 10, 2014, my 4-year-old was the first person I told.
‘At your age, a home birth it’s not advisable,’ he said, shaking his head.
Prepared for resistance, I said, ‘I’m only 31. And back in Holland it’s normal for women to birth at home unless the pregnancy is problematic. Mine isn’t.’
Too polite to frown, he contemplated his next move.
My fitness, as I saw it, came from daily climbing three stories of straight and narrow stairs to where we had lived for months, in the house of friends, overlooking Amsterdam’s Vondelpark. And all throughout that hot summer before moving to England I’d been addicted to Sauerkrautsaft – cabbage juice – a divinely refreshing, healthy drink. My arguments were sound. And my Dutch husband, sitting next to me, nodded sagely.
Flicking through my brief medical notes, the doctor tried a different tack. ‘In two months it could be snowing in the Quantock Hills.’
‘What’s wrong with a little snow?’ I said. ‘And isn’t Somerset known for mild winters?’
The dear man sighed and then played another card. ‘Our midwife’s retiring. I can’t promise she’ll be replaced in time.’
My attitude towards hospitals was based on an early experience wrapped in fear and anger, which is why I vowed not to become stubbornly antagonistic to any emerging process, and to surrender if necessary. That moment had not yet come. As we walked into the hall of the surgery a portly woman emerged from another room, beaming. She seemed to know of our plans. Sister Ann proved my match in determination. Home births had been discouraged for years. My baby offered her a crowning exit before her retirement. She was going to be there. She was our trump.
Extraordinarily, on Epiphany Day, rain turned to snow, and the steep lanes to our hamlet were lined with sheets of ice. Ann was escorted uphill in a police Land Rover. The driver mistakenly knocked at the door of a neighbouring cottage. Poignantly, it was the home of a couple whose wish for children had been repeatedly frustrated. They, together with another couple, equally childless, looked forward to the birth of a baby in their midst as a miracle, showering us with blessings.
During long hours, Ann regaled me with humorous stories of the donkey sanctuary she supported. To appease my impatience, she said, ‘Let the child choose its time. If it takes beyond two days we beam in a helicopter.’ She gently guided my breathing, made me relax in a bubble bath, calmed my husband, who struggled with our erratic heating system, and between my shortening, agonising spasms, we gazed together at the swathes of snowflakes whirling across the field opposite. Late afternoon the sun came out.
Our son spiralled into the light and instantly opened his eyes, gifting us his world, and beholding mine, and his father’s, whom Ann had encouraged to support my back.
‘He’s been around before,’ she said. ‘He’s perfect.’ To this day, irrespective of her advanced age, this wonderful midwife is sending birthday cards to her “Snow Baby.”
Your birth was such a powerful and precious event. I’ll write about it here – but I don’t think words will be able to capture how magical it really was.
Your daddy and I have been waiting for so long for you to come to us – it’s been many years that we have been trying to have a baby – and finally, you decided you were ready! When we found out I was pregnant with you, daddy and I didn’t even need to do a lot of thinking about how we wanted you to meet the world. We knew we wanted a beautiful, natural home birth. And luckily, with the help of Oma in Atlanta, we found an extraordinary, sensitive, talented, lovely midwife up here to help guide us in our journey. Her name is Nancy and I think she’s an angel.
So, daddy and I went to months and months of appointments and classes – learning how to have a baby, how to feed a baby. We learned and discussed and planned… During this time, we even had our lives uprooted a bit when we were forced to move when I was about 7 months pregnant! Even in the upheaval, we never lost focus – we both kept developing our plan for your birth in our minds and hearts. [[and truthfully, the new apartment was a much better place to be born anyway!]]
We learned so much during my pregnancy – about you, about ourselves, about the changes we were about to go through. We were ready!
Your official due date was August 27th. Nancy recommended that we add at least a week on to this date when people asked, though. This is because first time mommies often have babies a little bit late and we didn’t want people asking and asking if/when you became a little post-due. It was a good plan. Our stated due date for you turned out to be September 5th (Labor Day).
August 27th came and went. I felt big and pregnant, but not ready yet. The morning of September 1st, I began feeling some cramping and back pain, and I was having a ton of warm up contractions (braxton-hicks). It wasn’t too bad, so I went on with my day – took you and Lucia for our daily 5 mile walk, went into the acupuncture office for an errand. Normal stuff. Since I’d never been in labor before, I wasn’t sure what was going on, only that it was different.
By midnight (9/2/11), the cramping was getting more intense, but it still didn’t have a regular pattern to it. I tried to sleep, but it was strong enough that I couldn’t. I got up, walked around the block, around the house, laid on the couch – but the cramping was still pretty strong. By 2am, the feelings were pretty strong and regular, about 5 minutes apart. I called Nancy, called Mia, told Oma to get a flight here ASAP, and finally, woke up daddy. It’s time – labor had officially begun.
Daddy was confused and excited when I woke him up. He ran around the house preparing things – filling the birthing tub, putting on the birthing bed sheets, playing our planned birth day play list (even though I don’t remember hearing any of the songs, it is a great mix!). Watching daddy multitask when he’s excited is funny – he doesn’t do it very well, but in the end, he did a great job getting everything ready.
I concentrated really hard during labor – so much that I actually don’t remember a lot of it. I focused on breathing during surges and resting in between. Daddy was next to me the whole time – in the bed, in the tub, walking around. He supported me physically and emotionally, and gave me water to drink. He was amazing.
By about 11am on the 2nd, I started getting the urge to push. I though, wow, this is really happening, our baby is almost here!! It gave me new found strength and energy. I pushed for a while, but it didn’t feel like you were moving much. I told Nancy this and she asked if I wanted her to check me to see if my cervix was opened enough. I told her yes – she should check. She did, and she saw a little bit of cervix was in the way (a cervical lip). She pushed it back and I continued to push. It felt better. Oma arrived around this time. My birth team was complete.
I pushed – on my side, on my back, on a birthing stool. Ah, the birthing stool – that was the answer. Gravity is our friend! I pushed, your head moved down I could see it in a mirror, feel it with my hand. I pushed – there was some burning – you had crowned. I was ecstatic. Suddenly, Nancy said – turn around and get on all fours! I was a little nervous – there was some urgency in her voice – but I trusted Nancy and turned around as quickly as I could. She reached in and helped your shoulder rotate (I think it was stuck because you had your little hands up by your head in the womb…). It probably should have hurt when Nancy did this, but I didn’t feel a thing. I pushed. You came out!! Nancy caught you and handed you to me. You were so mad! Screaming and red. But the screaming was good – it cleared your lungs out really well! I held you to my body. You were beautiful, perfect. Mia announced you were a girl. I announced your name – “Josephine Rose” – it was
perfect. Your daddy and I held each other and you. We were awestruck – it was all perfect.
I love you baby girl and I wish you a peaceful, fulfilling life – full of love and wonderful surprises and dreams come true. You are my dream come true.
My first baby was due February 15, 2010. Two weeks later I was still pregnant and scheduled to be medically induced. I was afraid that getting hooked up to Pitocin would negate my chances of a “natural” birth. So I drank four ounces of castor oil the morning before my scheduled induction and waited. I’m not a total idiot; I cleared the plan with my nurse midwife, who said it couldn’t hurt and that castor oil worked for some women. Two hours later, my gut churned and rumbled and I raced to the bathroom. After three hours of industrial diarrhea rocking my bowels, I felt like my back had been knifed from the inside out. Unbearable. It passed, and then came again. This time my pregnant belly tightened into a rock and then released. “Hey!” I remember thinking. “It worked! I’m in labor!”
At the hospital, we were ushered into a birthing room, where a nurse checked me and determined my cervix was dilated six (out of 10) centimeters. Jeff drew me a bath. I was focused and in pain, but confident.
The hours crept by, and the pain intensified. My nurse midwife checked me. Seven centimeters, then eight. I suffered through hours of contractions. I lumbered in and out of the tub seeking a comfortable place to escape the pain.
“I can’t do this anymore,” I said at one point, as if I had an option.
“You can,” answered my husband.
Actually, I couldn’t. As the night slipped into dawn, my cervix stubbornly refused to dilate beyond eight centimeters. That didn’t stop the agony. I asked for and got an epidural. That was decidedly not part of my plan, pre-labor. The midwife decided to also hook me up to Pitocin to get me to dilate completely. Again—not part of the plan.
After four hours of sleep, I awoke with a fully dilated cervix. Three hours of pushing later and the baby hadn’t made it through my pelvis into the birth canal. His heart rate slowed alarmingly. In came the OB, the anesthesiologist, and a stretcher to rush me to the operating room for a Cesarean. When Henry emerged pale and listless from a small slit in my belly, Jeff cried out: “A boy!”
After they stitched me up and wheeled me to the recovery room, a nurse brought me my hour-old son. She held him to my chest, grabbed my breast and tickled his mouth with a nipple several times until he puckered on like a fish, his lower lip folded almost down to his chin. I had never felt such exhaustion in my entire life, the drugs and anesthesia still coursing through my body. Henry’s face was covered with scrapes where he’d rammed against my pelvis. And when I finally put my lips to the body that had grown inside of me and battled its way out, I melted into my son with a love I hadn’t known existed.
-by Rachel Walker
Quiet time with my parents, husband and two sleeping children under three years old. Mantel clock ready to bong. Twelve o’clock toast and a Happy New Year 1963 would begin..
With two weeks until the expected birth of my third child, Mom and I had prepared for New Years Day. Being blessed with a large extended family we were ready to celebrate the New Year. Lasagna was made; sausage and peppers were cooling, cookies and wine stood ready. Tomorrow we would continue the cooking and setting the table. Candle sticks and fine silver would be used. The table cloth, a wedding gift of fine linen with branches of gold thread, would be placed across the elongated table.
For now my bed was calling, “Cecelia come to sleep.” Like a sleep walker I kissed my parents good night. A sigh, as my foot touched the first step, like a cat’s tail caught under a rocking chair, I howled. The labor pains took me by surprise. We called my parents to come back as the pains were not stopping.
Greeted by a landscape of snow and ice we began the trip to Jamaica Hospital, our destination. Our horn blaring in hopes that we would see a police car to escort us, no one was on the road. Getting to the hospital my husband said. “I need to find a parking spot”. As I shrieked “let me out ” my husband parked.
Getting into the hospital I heard “the doctor is not here.” As he came in he asked, “What are you doing here Its New Years Eve, and I was at a party.” Not words I cared about. What felt like three mule kicks in my back, my daughter Carolyn was born. It seemed as if the stars had shattered the sky and all I could hear was the sweet sound of new life. Welcome Carolyn, Happy New Year!
-by Cecelia Tumminello De Luso ( Author of Remember Me Young & Sicilian Life Beyond the Veil)
My story begins 33 years ago when my first baby girl decided to spoil all my midwife/ birthing clinic plans and present herself butt first. The midwives had to hand me off for a c-section. Back then the doctors weren’t attempting v-bac’s so baby #2 was also a c-section. All through pregnancy #3, the doctors kept telling me they didn’t like to do more than 3 c-sections so I should be done having children after this one. In the early morning hours the day of my scheduled surgery, my water broke, so we headed to the hospital earlier than planned. My sweet doctor was relieved that I had started labor on my own because it reassured him that baby was ready to be born. When I woke up in the recovery room, my first thought was that I really hadn’t needed to have a c-section, that I could have had him naturally.
I went on to have 4 more children. After reading a book about natural delivery after Cesarean and meeting a lay midwife, I decided to try a home delivery with #4. My labor was long and didn’t progress well, so after many hours we went to the hospital and had another c-section. The surgeon was worried about the health of my uterus after laboring so long after having 3 c-sections. But when he did the delivery, he was very impressed at the health of my uterus and said he couldn’t even see the old scars. I was encouraged when I heard that and went on to have more babies. The next three were born at home, with the help of a midwife. Being able to make it through natural childbirth was one of the greatest thrills of my life. It was such a blessing to be at home with my family and the recovery was much easier. Each of my birth experiences were a little different but they were all very special.
We were going in for a routine checkup once the due date came and went, and afterward we would get pho then go to the book fair, but then the baby’s heartbeat wasn’t registering on the monitor and the midwife decided we needed to induce. Goodbye birth center, hello hospital! We started on cervadil at 4:20 and for the next four hours I only felt somewhat intense cramps while we listened to The Bugle and played cribbage. After the midwife administered the second dose, the contractions became INTENSE. The nurse came in once and mentioned that I was getting a little loud. I told the midwife, a mother of two, that she had no idea what I was going through and she called me a drama queen. I finally caved for the epidural around midnight and baby was born at 8:18. The entire time I was tied to the monitors, baby’s heart rate was loud and clear. He was born on what would have been my dad’s 70th birthday, and I believe his spirit is always present with my son. Baby just turned once and we finally got pho. I still haven’t been to the book fair.
-by Sarah Lyon
There were two big lessons from pregnancy and birth that have informed my life as a mom. First, things that threaten need care, but often turn out to be nothing and do not require undue amounts of premature panic. My pregnancy and birth had several potential big problems. Fibrous bands in the womb that could cut off his arm, but with a closer ultrasound turned out to be nothing. Borderline gestational diabetes…but after a morning of drinking the orange super-soda in the doctor’s office to check, it turned out all was well. In labor, he was faced downward, could have been dangerous…but he turned just half an hour before hard labor started. That sort of thing. He is only seven, but so far this pattern has held true in his young life. He’s a small guy for his age, so far…but big on confidence. He was “allowed to get” glasses at 3 and a half… but it hasn’t been a problem. And so on.
The second is about time, and for me, patience. Ethan’s birth was on his terms. He came 12 days past due date, but once he was ready, he came in just 8 hours. To this day, Ethan does almost nothing, from putting on boots to leave the house to getting out of the tub – unless and until he is absolutely ready – but always just in time. For me, the gift is learning better patience, giving up some control over timing and trusting that in the end we’re in sync anyway. In the end, we usually are.
His head looked so big, him lying there on my belly. We waited to decide his name for sure until we met, and he was very clearly Ethan. I breathed, was coached and supported and felt this shaky, huge universal goddess power through the whole thing, and together – the midwives, his dad, me, and Ethan himself, brought him into a world so ready for him. It was, without a doubt, the most powerful thing I have ever done. I know many women aren’t as lucky, and am eternally grateful for such a great way to start this lifetime together with him.
My pregnancy in 1962 was spent roaming through Europe, coming home just a few weeks before giving birth. It was there I learned about the Lamaze method and came home to have the 1st Lamaze birth at UCLA. My mother had spent the day with me telling me stories about my childhood and what a strong willed person I had been.This was the most time we spent together in my entire life.
I knew what to do, how to handle myself, had made arrangements with the doc (the only doc in LA county who would stand in for this birth method) to be able to wear my glasses, to have a mirror at the end of the table to see the birth, breathing-no drugs! As I entered the hospital I was urged to sit in a wheelchair–exclaiming, “I’m not sick, I’m having a baby!’ Demanding pillows, I marched ahead of the nurse pushing the wheelchair, refusing to sit down.. A tray of drugs, needles, etc. was placed next to me and the many interns and residents who had never seen a natural birth hovered around saying, “Don’t be a martyr now!”
“I’m not being a martyr, I’m having a baby,” I huffed repeatedly. I was “prepped” and then attendants proceeded to take my glasses away, tie my arms and legs down (“You might flail around and throw things,” they kept repeating) and I started to scream for the doctor, intermittently grunting away as contractions were becoming rapid and strong. I never imagined such sounds could come from me.
“Untie me!” “No I won’t be flailing around!” “Give me my glasses!” The doc arrived, rescued me and set things straight..After just about an hour my son’s head began to show–breathe, breathe, push, breathe, breathe, push. Seemed like moments and there was my son, Erik. Love at first sight!
When my mother held him she exclaimed, “Look at that strong chin. May he have the strong spirit of his mother!”
-by Maxine De Felice, excerpted from “May the Spirit Be Unbroken”
The birth of my son, Julian, had its amusing moments (although I seem to find the amusing in most situations).
I went into labor on a Saturday morning (thank you raw jalapenos at breakfast). In what to Expect When You’re Expecting, they tell you to eat very lightly when labor begins. I now know that it really is What Not To Do When You’re Expecting.
As I began the labor of labor, we got a call from our realtor (the house was on the market) that someone wanted to come see it.
I quickly got out the white paint to repaint the stair risers. Not so easy with a scarily big belly (I was told that I had the biggest belly people had ever seen. Hmmm, coulda joined the circus. Actually, having a 2 yr old at home, and one on the way was enough of a circus.)
When the people came to look at the house, we had to vacate. So, I walked around our street (always good for labor except on a cold Jan. 22rd..), patiently waiting for them to leave. Little did they know what was going on in their possibly new neighborhood.
It was finally time to go to the hospital and meet up with my midwife. We had had a girl’s name picked out, but were still undecided on the boy’s name. While in agonizing labor, with my feet up on the dashboard, I thought that I’d use the sympathy card to pick the name, which I did!
Upon being taken into the birthing room, they checked all the usual vital signs and said that I definitely was too dehydrated and had not eaten enough to have a successful birth. The plan was to feed me, give me morphine to sleep through the night and have the baby in the morning.
Here’s the best part: I LOVE hospital food. Always have from the time I was a candy striper in high school. Big faves are the grilled cheese and tomato soup, but any overcooked, salty veggies will suffice too. They brought me a heaping plate of hospital mushroom stroganoff. It was DELICIOUS!! I couldn’t believe that amidst the pain I was so lucky.
Then they put the morphine into my IV and …..i woke up more. Then more morphine (should really call it more-phine) and my labor started to increase and I started to get really chatty. Then more, etc until they said that was the legal limit they could give me. They named me the “morphine queen.” I was speedy and that little (or big) baby came out the next morning, to a well fed, happy (albeit in intense pain) mom.
I owe it all to the stroganoff. (And yeah, the morphine).
-by Gail Erdos