“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” – Lao Tzu
The morning of July 15th I woke early after a short and poor night sleep. It was on my mind to get to bed earlier to be rested for labor. But sleep had been elusive. I was two days past my guess date and feeling a little melancholy. I set out for an early morning walk around Bass Lake and tried not to feel down. Other women in my birth class had started having their babies and I was ready and wanted mine. As I walked, I talked to the babe, referring to him by the name we’d picked. I rubbed my stomach and told him I was ready – we loved him, please join us when he was ready. I went back up to our apartment and read a few books to my belly. This was not something I often did, but was feeling weepy and sad. I thought about taking a nap and instead made an acupuncture appointment.
Xong my acupuncturist wasn’t in that day so I saw another doctor. She didn’t know me, and was surprised when I came in asking for help inducing labor, armed with my Zuo Yuetzi books, and asking for specific herbal formulas. She hadn’t been with me thru my last trimester. She mentioned I was only two days late and may need to come back a couple more times next week. Did I still want the treatment? I was confused. Yes, why else was I there? Afterwards I left a little discouraged and went home to work on one of my continuing education courses, called Nourishing the Womb. I was learning about everything I could’ve done in my pregnancy from a Chinese medicine point of view – much of which I hadn’t done. I was also being educated on everything that could go wrong. Dismayed, and now anxious, I stopped the course and decided not to continue until after the the birth.
Ez came home and tried to cheer me up. It was a Friday, and with the weekend ahead of us, we went to Whole Foods for snacks. Postpartum I vowed a strict healthy diet and wanted to get in one more scone (a weird pregnancy obsession – as well as yogurt with granola and tons of fruit) and maybe a piece of cake. While perusing the baked goods I felt something different. Almost a heaviness in my uterus. It didn’t hurt so I tried not to focus on it. Next stop, the liquor store for Ez. I decided to pick up some fake beer, tempting labor to start. Because who else but a pregnant woman would chose to drink that swill?
As soon as we arrived home I felt the strange sensation again. This time a little stronger and I mentioned it to Ez. The first time had been around 8:30 pm and now it was 9:00. I took a shower, ate and waited to see if it would continue over the next couple hours. At 11:00 I was pretty sure this was the real deal and texted our doula, Ellee, to let her know things were starting.
I tried to sleep but it was in vain. I went into the tub, laid down, sat on the exercise ball – repeat, repeat, repeat. Eventually around 5:00 in the morning Ez noticed I wasn’t in bed and found me in the bath. I hadn’t woken him knowing labor would be long and now was the time to rest. We started timing the surges, and although a little erratic, they’d been about 5 minutes apart for about an hour. I was uncomfortable from back labor and when we called Ellee at 6:00 she told me to crawl around on my hands and knees. She said she’d come whenever I felt I needed her. Ezra was such a wonderful support, and I was doing pretty good on my own, so I continued to labor most of the morning on all fours – clutching a comb in each hand. Digging the teeth into my palms was a trick we learned in our birth class. While it didn’t help with pain, it was a distraction, and I became oddly attached to them. A little while later we called the birth center to see what we should do. Again I was told to crawl and to get our doula there. I didn’t know at the time, but all this crawling was to encourage the baby to turn, which was the cause of the back pain. Eventually it worked.
Ellee was filling in for her friend at the hospital which made me a little worried. She said she’d come as soon as she could and to eat. I’d only eaten a popsicle and some fruit – she scolded me. Ez gave me yogurt with honey and I worked on getting a protein bar down over the next six hours. Around 3:30 Ellee arrived and everything started to feel a little more real. She had me crawl and sit backwards on the toilet through a few contractions. This brought a new intensity and I found myself trying to focus my energy down and open instead of up and contracted. I tried to watch the sensations without reacting, but this was a challenge. I found my body reacting in a primal way without concern for what my mind was trying observe. Concerned by how little I’d slept the past couple days, Ellee wanted me to rest. Contractions were coming faster at this point, about every three minutes, and she wanted to slow them down. Ez and I laid together in bed and I dozed a few minutes here and there. It was a sweet respite and later Ellee said she wished she’d taken a picture of us (I wished she had too), Ezra holding me, me holding our baby. Ellee was by my side occasionally soothing me and just a comforting presence. At this point I was pretty tired and wanted to feel like I was progressing. Ellee helped to keep me focused and at home for another couple hours. A little before 6:00 she said I had that look in my eyes – I was ready to be where I’d have my baby. I was happy to hear those words. It was wonderful to labor at home for so long in privacy and relative comfort, but it was going on 20+ hours and I wanted a change. I’d found the first 12-15 hours almost enjoyable – it was exciting. I was experiencing this crazy thing my body was made for. But I was now reaching a point of exhaustion and feeling a little despondent.
Ez pulled the car out front and I was thankful to see no one in the halls or elevator. Piling in the backseat there were a few guys out on one of the balconies. I couldn’t help but wonder what they must be thinking. I guessed they were happy not to be me! The drive to the birth center felt like an eternity. Clutching a pillow and hanging awkwardly over the backseat, I hoped no one could see me. In one of our prenatal visits Ellee asked if I like to be touched or a more hands off approach when I didn’t feel well? Ez put it perfectly – I’m like a cat who wants a dark corner and to be left alone. So being out in the sunshine, contracting in traffic, was sort of my nightmare.
Once we arrived at the birth center I met Mary, the midwife-on-call. I’d met her husband a few weeks earlier when he taught me how to install our carseat. They were an inspiring couple that had lived and worked in the Philippines and India while raising their boys. They were the sort of parents that Ez and I hope to be – having meaningful life experiences and adventures, while also showing their children another way to live.
Mary examined me (the last time had been at 15 weeks) and asked if I wanted to know how dilated I was. The birth center’s standard procedures were exactly what I wanted – so my birth plan was pretty generic. Originally I didn’t want to know, in case it was discouraging. But honestly, I also just felt I should put something on my birth plan and didn’t care all that much. So I told them to tell me – I was 7 cm, this was encouraging. Ellee didn’t tell me then, but she’d been guessing I was 6 cm. My membranes were still intact and we used a Doppler for the first time. They were readying the tub when I felt a gush of water. I couldn’t see it, but imagined it looked as comical as it felt.
Once in the tub it got a little confusing. Mary told Leah, the nurse-on-call, to come in. Ellee said if I felt like I needed to push I could try. So I pushed but it didn’t feel productive. They had me get out of the tub and said I could prop my belly in a sling to help with positioning the baby. At this point things were getting intense. Looking back I must have been transitioning. I knew I didn’t want to do this sling thing. So I laid in bed on my side with a bolster. Did I mention it was intense? I asked to try nitrous but found out why many women don’t like it. It takes awhile to find a rhythm and only works while you, yourself, hold the mask to your face. It felt like breathing through a scuba mask and it made me feel panicky – I thought I might hyperventilate. I ended up throwing it to the ground and getting back on my hands and knees. It’s supposed to take away the perception of pain, not the pain itself, but it threw me off. After trying it I was more motivated. I didn’t have it in the back of my mind as a crutch anymore. It was just me and I could do this – I had to. This was the reason I changed to a birth center.
They had me sit backwards on the toilet again. I didn’t want to, but said okay anyway, I was willing to do anything to help things progress. Using the back of a metal spatula, Mary looked every now-and-then to see if the babe was crowning. Nope nothing. She checked me again and said I was fully dilated except for just a little lip of my cervix. If I wanted she could push it aside. Again, I was sure I didn’t want her to do this, but instead I found myself telling her okay. I found myself saying “oww, oww, oww, oww.” They commented on how calm and polite I was – one of the calmest laboring women they’d had. I’m sure this was their way to make me feel good – but it worked, and somewhere in the back of my mind it made me feel capable.
Finally I felt like I needed to push, I was ready! Back in the tub I go – fully dilated. It was go time. One of my friends told me pushing felt like reverse throwing up, and in the middle of one, I thought she was exactly right. It took a few waves to get the feel for how was most effective, but once I got it, I wanted to do it. I’d heard many women liked pushing. I wouldn’t say I was one of them. I was exhausted and wanted to be finished. But mentally I was thinking this might just never end. My back still hurt so I couldn’t lay against the tub and didn’t want to be on all fours. So I kneeled, and with each surge I tried to breath my baby down and into the world. Mary told me to feel for the head, but there was nothing at first. Then what I felt was strange, softer than I expected, so I wasn’t sure. When I heard Mary tell Ezra to get the camera (which was not charged and his phone died – luckily Ellee took these few for us) it was a surprise to me. I’d been bracing myself for each moment not thinking about the next. Not sure how I’d keep doing this while feeling capable all at the same time.
Pushing was this strange almost out of body experience. I don’t remember if it hurt. I just remember it felt like harnessing some universal power that thundered through my body as the head descended down the birth canal. The head crowned and then retreated back in. It was a very strange sensation. Another push and the head was out. I remember feeling overwhelmed at the thought of having to keep doing this, but it all happened so quickly. I don’t even really remember the final push. At 10:10 pm Mary caught our baby and I lay back and held this special little being to my chest. Ezra wanted to announce the sex. The umbilical cord and a towel were in the way, he was looking around this and that and said, “a girl?” I was utterly confused by the way he said it, like he was unsure. We’d been guessing it was a boy. I was so shocked – we had a daughter! I kissed her sweet head and just wanted to know she was healthy. Trying to look at her while keeping her close all at once. Ez and I looked at each other and couldn’t believe it, a little girl. And just like that we had our little Indra Eloise.
Immediately Indra cried – her day had been challenging too. We realized just how swollen her little face was only days later once it subsided. We sat in the tub and after 7 minutes her cord was still pulsing a little so I asked to wait. I wanted her to have every last drop of blood – it was her birth right. So we waited and then Ezra cut the cord. At the time I didn’t think about it, it was much later when it occurred to me – she would never be part of me again.
Out of the tub I was shaky and cold, and was helped to the bed to deliver my placenta (a very unusual placenta which Ellee dried and encapsulated). They massaged my uterus and stitched and cleaned me up. Meanwhile Ez held our daughter and she initiated him into fatherhood by pooping on him three times, then once on me. Indra was healthy and weighed in at 8 pounds 10 ounces and 20 inches long. We tried nursing, with a lot of helping hands, and Indra’s strong instinct to suck (and not a very good latch), it seemed like one more obstacle but we’d figure it out in time. Afterall, neither of us had done this before. Leah drew us an herbal bath and the two of us got back in, mother and daughter, and soaked together. The conclusion to the best day of my life.
At 2:00 in the morning, just four hours after her birth, we left for home in a downpour. We realized in the middle of it all there was a storm. It felt like a beautiful tribute to our little Indra who was the deity of thunder, lightening, storms and rain. She entered our lives and the world with an energy that would influence our path forever. I bore my greatest teacher.