Dear Family and Friends,
Several weeks ago, I was trying to come up with Good Things To Say About Birthing Small Humans Through a Pelvis Cavity that is Obviously Not Designed To Make the Process Pleasant. I came up with two things: 1. After some period of time, giving birth _always_ ends; and 2. After I give birth, I have something to write about.
By almost every rational measure, Jeff and I are totally crazy. Luckily, the universe does not require nor specifically reward rationality, and therefore our family is now even more totally blessed than ever by the arrival of our newest family member late last night. A baby girl! My middle aged baby fantasies fulfilled, I lie here with the fuzziest cuddly baby head on my chest, with five of the awesomest Big Kids helping out (or refusing to nap, as the case may be) in the background, and I am SO GLAD to be on the other side. Of the birth, I mean. With six awesome kids, three boys and three girls. Who could possibly get luckier??
I am 44. I don’t enjoy birthing adorable babies, despite how much I love their adorable selves. And I especially don’t get off on the total lack of control bit, like how you have to roll with the unknowables, and can’t plan your way into a Perfect Birth or any other part of the experience. So why, you might ask, did I just do this again?? Well, see, it all started a Long Time Ago when I met this really handsome and awesome guy who was riding his bike across the country, and started realizing what a great dad he would be someday…and fast forward to a certain point last year, when I realized that my Biological Clock will soon run out, and if we were going to have even a chance of Baby #6…time would be of the essence.
And so for the past 37.5 weeks, my belly has been growing rounder as my gray hairs get longer.
Only one thing lay between Then and Now: The Birth.
On Monday night, I started having strong contractions and was pretty sure that this was It. After having given birth five times already, I should know, right? But by the time the middle of the night rolled around, the contractions had subsided, and I woke up on Tuesday just a little tireder than usual. Tuesday night, same deal. Wednesday morning, just a little tireder. By Thursday morning, a la the very hungry caterpillar, I was STILL (and quite possibly EVEN MORE) tired. And then came Thursday night, when the contractions simply HAD to be labor…except they died down again…except they kept waking me up before increasing in intensity by 4:30am on Friday. This was DEFINITELY it! Time to savor those last cuddly pre-dawn moments before the storm, with contractions coming faster and faster, and the light from the dawn finally breaking in foggy gloom and rain. I was SO so tired, but at least this baby would be born in the daylight.
But I was so freaking tired! And then, the contractions stopped. Absolutely totally, after 10am or so, not even a sign of labor. What the heck?! I tried a walk, which brought on three light contractions and a massive hormonal and teary communion with a wintry bare apple tree, including a round of fresh tears for all moms and babies who have died in during childbirth, especially those I knew. I always have to do this letting-go part when I’m going into labor.
But there really was no more labor. And after that walk - as my midwife Rebecca said, one cannot do a forced march to make labor commence - I had to let go and sleep. I took three short naps yesterday during the day, with no further signs of labor at all. And by this time, my organized, carefully-making-plans brain was having conniptions. How would I make it through another night (or a week of nights) of contractions if they started again in the evening? When do you call to ask your midwife to come if your contractions come four minutes apart for an hour…but then wither and sputter and go away entirely without any notice at all?? And what if labor began in earnest on Friday night, and I had so little energy to do it, and I had to labor all through the night, and then I had to go to the hospital and beg for a vacuum or a forceps or a surgical birth, and I and everyone who was coming to the birth was very disappointed in me and I couldn’t push out my own baby and what about the stupid hemorrhoids and what if this baby was asynclitic like Kai, or in a similarly terribly painful position for birthing, and how could I KNOW about all this during labor and gauge my energy levels and make sure that I made the Right Choices and birthed in the Right Positions and oh god what was I THINKING, wanting to get pregnant when it meant going through this again?!
You probably already understand why I need to warn midwives before they take me on as a client.., What I really really want and need during my labors, is good and solid coaching for my brain, which is never resting, always Wondering, ever doubting, and rarely trusting. And in this head space, yesterday afternoon, I finally got up from my third nap and walked up and down the stairs, and played the piano and sang, all the songs that I liked when I was a teenager, maybe because they are corny and Deeply Emotional and obscure to most so that no one need judge my performance of them, my brain taking notes. While I sang, the contractions ramped up again, and for the fifth night in a row, I finally had to retire to the bedroom so that I could focus on Opening and Softening rather than Resisting and Tightening.
What a system!! Why can’t the cervix just soften and open in, like, a cool few minutes, gentle as a rose blooming, pleasurable as How It Got In In the First Place, and let the freaking baby out?! Instead, we get an uncountable number of Tightening While Loosening Events that require stamina and concentration and and and.
More proof that evolutionarily, humans must be selected-for based on their parents’ ability to keep their offspring alive, equally if not more so than the skills of any particular individual.
How could I make it though an entire night of labor?! In the bedroom, it was hot with the space heater, but cold. My legs kept shivering. I wanted to be done with this! What position was this baby in? Should we call the midwives? How about our friends coming to the birth from near and far?? How could there be so many questions?! Finally I had to, as Rebecca reminded me, give in to the possibility of an overnight birth, and know that I could do it. She said she’d come over so we could make a plan.
Well, fine. I was obviously having to give into the overnight birth bit, but HOW could I know I could do it?! The midwives were heading over. One friend had been here all day already. Two others were on their way. And right about 6:30, I entered the zone.
The Zone for me consists of a slightly animalistic trance that combines with my Outspoken Brain and Very Strong Body to create both a truly monolithic support for my goals…and a giant obstacle to my birthing powers. During birth I always remember that Kate told me you gotta make low sounds and relax your jaw. I remember every ounce of problems that could happen, and ask to be reassured that they aren’t actually happening to me and my baby, right now. I have an enormous ideological desire to stay away from hospitals at all times, most especially when having my babies, although I had to admit last night around 7pm that I was having fantasies about one of the midwives having somehow procured a special, entirely risk-free Technological Assist whereby they could gently remove this baby from my uterus without the rest of this childbirth bullshit. How could I tell which way this baby was facing? What about pushing - I never ever have the urge to push, so when would I know it was time? If I had to do this all night, how should I best harness what little energy I had left??? Why is there no freaking rule book?!
“I wanna be done,” I kept saying and thinking with clear rational sincerity, the only vestiges of my animalistic Zone apparent from my generally closed eyes. I could tell I needed to move my hips. But was the baby moving down? Would it get “stuck” like Kai had?? Since I never get the urge to push anyway, sometime around 10pm I had the idea that I would try to anyway. And maybe I’d be silent during the contractions, which continued to stutter and sometimes be wimpy and I couldn’t gauge them anyway, so maybe being quiet and internally roaring like a lioness could bring the baby down even further through my pelvis. Rebecca said the baby was coming down and that my cervix was softening - why shouldn’t I believe her?
But at the same time, the contractions stopped again - for what felt like hours. Rebecca and Julie said this was normal, often happens before pushing. But what on earth could then explain to my body about the pushing, which I never want to do and never have the urge to do anyway? So I decided to try the pushing experiment now, sans contractions. This was interesting, and I really thought AND felt I was getting somewhere, until Rebecca and Julie both suddenly told me to stop pushing, and mentioned gently that I might be doing damage to my pelvic floor tissue, which TOTALLY freaked out the fully cognizant part of my brain that appreciates having urinary continence, great orgasms, and generally all the good things in life that require a functioning pelvic floor.
Then I asked Rebecca to check my cervix, which of course I KNEW wasn’t a good idea, because I was hoping she’d say, “I see your baby! This madness will be over momentarily.”
And though midwives don’t tend to tell you how dilated you are, you can immediately tell based on how everyone leaves the room that the baby is STILL not at all close to emerging, and this fact makes you (meaning me) feel even more tired by knowing you have to do even more labor just to get to the pushing part. If I still had more cervix to soften, and I had potentially damaged my pelvic floor, and I can never tell when it’s time to freaking push in the first place….how on earth was I going to get this baby out?!
I had no ideas, and very little intuition. This is why I especially choose to have my babies at home, because I don’t want the easy option of the hospital’s seductive, risky Technologies to be within easy reach. If I wanted to get this baby out with any kind of tech assist, someone would have to pull me down the hill in a sled to get to the car, and then drive to the hospital, and then pay a ton of money to meet our health share’s deductible, and the baby and I would likely get some sort of Hospital Infection and my girls would see their mother getting so stuck in her own brain that she couldn’t birth her own baby, and I would be…super disappointed as well as totally exhausted. Plus probably the antibiotic resistant MRSA-type dysentery or similar.
One difference between having older kids vs. younger ones is the Direct Questions and Comments that come fast and furious when you’re Expecting. “Mama, is it super scary to give birth?” “Mama, it’s very unlikely that your baby would die at this point in your pregnancy, right?” “Mama, do you think the baby will come TONIGHT?” “Giving birth seems like Risky Business.” “Why does it hurt? It doesn’t make sense. I guess cuz you’re creating miracles…”
No. I had to get this freaking enormous-headed baby out of me.
In retrospect, the amazing thing is how incredibly well everything was going while I was having massive angst. I had done positioning exercises for months in order to help this baby NOT “get stuck” like Kai. And while I was obsessing over whether or not she would, this baby was actually gliding down into my pelvis, positioned exactly how I had hoped. The amazing women I had invited to our birth had gone grocery shopping and were teaching the kids to crochet, were playing with Kai, helping Ben with dinner, emptying my poop out of the little potty (oh, how we lose our modesty during childbirth!), doing the laundry, and washing dishes. I heard happy talking in the other room, such a vibrant, sweet life in our house into which this baby would soon be born. Jem was taking Kai to bed, after Kai’s afternoon spent playing so happily with his big-brother gift of new train cars for his wooden track (“OH! I know those! Kristen and Jeff have them! …Thank you SO much for gettin’ these for us!”). Jeff was being the absolutely awesome labor support husband that he always is, wherein he does not validate my anxieties and reminds me in every possible way that I’m Doing Great. The midwives were super attentive, new to my birthing experience but meeting me right there while expressing an equal amount of outward surety in my body’s ability to Do This Thing. (It also turned out that my pelvic floor was doing just what it needed to do, and not destroying itself in the process.)
And it additionally turned out that I wouldn’t have to go overnight, because at 11:18, after way more laboring and side lying and walking and Thinking and trying and trying and trying to remember how to push, and worrying about the stuttering nature of the damn contractions and the fact that despite the baby’s gorgeous positioning I had zero urge to push and no Body Memory of how to do it in the first place, I had my final birthing thoughts. I marveled at the crazy way I could get through each contraction when they happened, and then all pain went away. Maybe I should just stay there, in between contractions, and stop doing this ridiculously impossible task. Why push the baby out at all? I was having three or so pain-free minutes in between 1 minute of resisting the pain. What a stupid system!
And then at 11:19 I decided that the only thing worse than pushing this baby out….would be to NOT push it out, and despite the giant shot of fire and lack of powerful contractions and my lack of my body memory and an overall lack of trust in life in general, I trusted and pushed like I hadn’t just shat the contents of my entire bowels already over the past hour and a half, and the baby’s entire freaking HEAD came out, and NO I did NOT want to look and see my baby’s head coming out, I wanted the BABY OUT, dammit, and I could tell that the shoulders were rotating just as they should and then the whole baby’s body popped out into Rebecca’s hands while Jeff held me up from behind and it was OVER, thank GOD, this crazy thing called childbirth was finally over and done for my sixth and final time, and I basked in that gorgeous and exquisite sensation that always comes within milliseconds of the baby coming out: like the most lucid happy dream ever, overlaid with contentment and joy and an utter and sweet and gorgeous lack of pain, and upwellings of love for everyone in the room, which was suddenly so full of beautiful and wonderful people I had been ignoring for the past five hours.
Our baby is 6lbs 3oz, 18 inches long, and was super alert right after she was born. Her head was so perfectly molded, having come straight through the birth canal in such a straightforward position, and she is fuzzy and perfect and so very loved. We’ll figure out her name sometime in the next month or so (definitely NOT before my horrible afterbirth cramping plus milk engorgement issues have subsided, and thanks in advance for your understanding). If there’s anything I’ve learned after twenty years of being a new mom, it’s that the part that is important is not the thinking part, but the soft fuzzy head lying gorgeously and perfectly on my chest, right now.
We all send love from our babymoon. ❤️