Damn, but it’s been serious around here lately! I need a reprieve from the sadness and heartbreak and anger, and what better reprieve could there be than to tell you the happiest story from my personal story bank?
It was 7:00 am on July 24, 2002 – my due date. Brian was sound asleep next to me when my alarm went off and I hit the snooze button at the same moment I realized I was having a contraction.
I dozed back off and when my alarm sounded again, I was having another contraction.
I hit the snooze button again, but this time, instead of going back to sleep, I lay perfectly still, thinking, “Oh please oh please oh please let this be labor!” The alarm went off again, but this time, no contraction.
I got up to go to the bathroom and on my way there, what’s this? Yes! It’s a contraction! And then, a minute later, when I was on the toilet? Bloody show! I could actually hear my adrenal glands pumping hormones into my blood.
I, being the lady like and very delicate flower that I am, pumped my fist in the air and shouted, “Fuck YES!!!” It was such a precious moment.
Brian didn’t wake up because he’s one of those men who can sleep through anything, so I did what any smart partner of such a man does when she needs his attention: I grabbed hold of his ass and squeezed.
“Is it time to go already?” he asked. He had already started his paternity leave but we had to get up and take the kids to their summer program.
“No,” I said into his ear, “but I thought you might want to know we’re having a baby today!”
“So I can sleep for twenty more minutes, right?” he mumbled.
Men are stupid.
We took the kids over to their summer program and while I was contracting the whole time, I was concerned that it could all stop any minute. Was that one stronger? Did I go longer in between that time? Is it time for another one yet? I was driving myself (and maybe Brian, too) kind of crazy, so we decided to run some errands. We bought groceries, dropped off a stack of rental movies, and pretended that we weren’t beside ourselves with excitement.
Finally, at about 11 am, we landed at Borders. I thought the baby was being too quiet and I wanted something sweet to eat to wake him up. I was eating coffee cake and drinking juice when Brian said, “I’m going to the bathroom.”
“OK!” I responded, all cocky with my fabulous ninja labor skills, and Brian walked away.
Then, while I was sitting in the crowded Borders cafe all alone? I had the first real contraction of the day, plus? The baby chose that moment to wake up. Bam! He shoved one foot into my lungs. Wham! He punched me in the bladder. Owww!
Brian came back from the bathroom and I told him, “You’re not going anywhere without me until this baby is born.”
“OK,” he said, “but you’ll have to come with me if I need to poop.”
“Yeah, well, you’re going to see me do way more than poop today,” I said, “so I guess that wouldn’t be a big deal.”
From that moment on, I knew without a doubt that I was in real labor. Like a freight train, real labor is. We decided to go home and get ready to have a baby.
Now, I have this labor problem. I never once thought labor was going to be easy; I never anticipated that it wouldn’t hurt. I did, however, have this weird notion that I would be fully functional – you know, doing stuff – right up until the very end. This resulted in a mad dash during every one of my labors. Every single time, I was caught short, surprised that I was very busy laboring, and only laboring, so early (not really; just from my skewed perspective) in the process.
So this whole “getting ready to have a baby” was more than a little involved. The only drawback to a home birth, for me, was the necessity of extensive preparation. It was my due date and nothing was ready. I had the necessary gear, but it was all in bags at the back of our bedroom closet because I’d been operating under the assumption that I would do all those last-minute things while I was in labor.
Just like I’d never packed a hospital bag for Jacob’s birth. He was born in December but when I was getting him dressed to go home, I discovered that I’d packed three hats and no socks.
Know what I took to the hospital when Abbie was born? My pillow, a paperback novel, and a giant bag of sanitary napkins.
I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of a girl.
We got home and I was, by then, very busy with labor. My mom got to our house and, thank God, she’s never flown by the seat of her anything. She took in the general state of un-preparedness and got to work. She sent Brian to inflate the birth pool, threw a load of baby blankets and clothes in the washing machine, and made our bed with a giant sheet of plastic.
Me? It’s July, remember, and I was massively, monstrously pregnant. I felt like I might melt into a baby/mama puddle instead of giving birth, so I was leaning over the back of a chair, swaying and moaning through contractions, with our big fan blowing a hurricane right at my face.
I hung over the back of that chair for a long time, and finally my mom said to me, “I think you should call the midwives. You’re closer than you think you are.” She was sitting across the room from me on the couch, Jacob on one side and Abbie on the other (Spencer’s mom had come to pick him up.).
“No, no, I’ve got a long ways to go. We should wait,” I said.
Another contraction grabbed hold of me and while I swayed and moaned and chuff-chuff-chuffed my way through it, Jacob asked, “Why is she making such weird noises? Is she having the baby right now?”
Abbie, alarmed, said, “She can’t have the baby while she’s standing up! It’ll fall on the floor and bust its head!”
Don’t laugh at the peak of a contraction. Just take my word on that one.
By 1:00 pm, we were all there: Brian and me, Jacob and Abbie, both of my parents, and our midwives Julia and Mary Lou. Oh, and our little dog, too. We all went out to the backyard where Brian had set up the birthing pool.
Why the backyard? No idea. Remember how I don’t plan? I never told anyone where to put that pool, so they set it up where it was least likely to make a mess.
I climbed in the pool and Brian pulled a lawn chair over so he could sit next to me. For the next three hours, I rode the waves up and down, up and down, up and down. Shoulders relaxed, release the muscles, voice low, let it happen. Everyone was very quiet. Now and again, Mary Lou would whisper to me, “Release everything. Let it all go.”
The kids were in the house, watching cartoons with their grandpa, but every now and again they’d come check on me. Brian whispered to me, “You’re doing great. You can do this.” When I really started to struggle through the contractions, I knew I was close to the big finish, so I gave myself pep talks, “I can do this. I’m a bad ass. I’m tough. I can do this.”
At about 3:30 pm, I heard the phone ring. Or maybe I didn’t; I don’t really remember, but shortly after that, I heard my dad say my name. I looked up and he held the phone out to me, “It’s for you.”
“What?” I said.
“It’s for you!” he said, pushing the phone closer to me.
Men are stupid.
At about 3:50 pm, some of the contractions felt a little pushy and then, suddenly, I was up on my knees, out of my late-labor stupor and Mary Lou told me to reach down and feel the baby’s head.
I did just that, and there it was: his slippery, wrinkly head, right there. He was so close, and I gave myself one last pep talk, “OK, I can do it. I’m almost done. I can do this!”
And then I did.
Julia caught him and pulled him out of the water, untangled him (He had a very long cord and it was wound around his neck, arm, and body.), and put him in my arms at 3:59 pm.
I was half aware of Brian saying, “He got the red hair! He got my red hair!” Mostly, though, I was looking into Carter’s squinched, surprised face. He wasn’t breathing, but he was still getting everything he needed from the cord. Julia suctioned his nose and mouth and he let out a good holler, though he didn’t open his eyes.
Jacob and Abbie were standing with their grandpa, each of them hanging onto one of his hands. Abbie was crying and Jacob, trembling from head to toe, asked, “Are you sure that’s our baby? He doesn’t seem like he’s ours.”
Mary Lou showed me the true knot in Carter’s cord and I went cold with what-if fears, but they were short lived. We all moved to the bedroom where I got in bed with Carter and fell in love.
Head-over-heels, stupid, goggle-eyed love. With no hospital procedures to interrupt us, no strangers or unfamiliar smells or strange sounds to distract me, I fell. His red hair smelled like rain. I was so utterly enchanted, the world outside of my bedroom fell away. Jacob and Abbie asked to pet the baby, my dad took pictures, the midwives weighed and measured Carter (8 lbs 4 oz and 22 in), and I barely noticed.
Later, after my mom helped me take a shower and Brian made me eggs and toast for dinner and Jacob and Abbie had gone to their dad’s house, Brian and I got in bed with our new baby. I nursed the baby and we took turns holding and kissing him. My mind was quiet, full of nothing but the smell and feel of this new creature, this perfect red-haired baby made of rain.
Dozens of times while I was pregnant with Carter, I joked that I would have the perfect birth. I said that I would wake in the morning in labor and my baby would be born before dinner. I never thought he would be born outside; that was just a bad ass bonus.
My wish for every woman is this: every pregnancy a wanted pregnancy, every birth completely your own. As it has been written, so may it be done.