This morning I made muffins for breakfast while B. slept in with the boy. This is not at all our usual arrangement, but B. was up with the babe from 5 till 6, and then I settled him into sleep, and then I was awake and hungry. Also, it is it’s own pleasure to cook alone in a quiet kitchen with the radio playing. We picnicked on the rug with an eye on the boy who was sleeping in. I allowed myself one moment to rue all that sleep I could have been getting. We ate and then, my idea, stripped down to have sex on the rug, super quick, before B.’s work departure. But the boy woke up, and we had to rush the finish, and so my O was skipped over. Again, not at all our usual arrangement. I jumped into bed to scoop the boy, still breathing hard, and even my hand still scented with me, and he immediately latched on and began nursing. Seconds before my husband gasping behind me his hands on my hips and now my son, his mouth on my breast.
My body gives pleasure and sustenance; my baby wants to be held more than he wants words. And B. and I also often need each other’s touch more than each other’s words. It’s easy to forget that; the boy can subsume all our physical energy until we shrivel and snap at the other. Now that it’s getting chillier I stand under hot showers for a long time.
My water broke in a huge, hollywood gush on a Tuesday evening. The second B. touched a knife to the frosting of a red velvet cake it burst out of me, soaked my dress, pooled on the chair and ran down our slanted wooden floor. There was not a reason that this night was special, and yet we had both made an effort to treat each other. I had cooked dinner; he had brought cake.
We called our midwife and doula, and they said, go to bed, go to bed, go to bed.
I began to clean. B. shooed me into bed. He read me a few pages from Fellowship and then I suppose we fell asleep because the contraction woke me. It was a tectonic pain. Period cramps the tremors to this deeper than bone shifting.
I didn’t want to wake B. yet. I peed, I think, returned to bed. Could not lie down. Went onto my hands and knees, breathing and rolling forward and back and then B. was awake too.
And it began and it did come in waves and then in between there was stillness. My labor was long and slow; the contractions never gathered into one rush of sensation, not even in the very end, always they were five, six minutes apart. At the fastest it was three or four. Every push was a decision to push. In that way he was moved millimeter by millimeter through me. Finally, my midwife said, “Would you like to feel him?”. And she guided my hand and there was his head; rock hard and covered with hair. I cried. He was so close. He was in fact going to arrive. But still, it would take hours more to move him out of me.
I threw up a few times.
I did not feel closer to God or the universe or a higher power, as I thought I would. I did not feel that the curtain between life and death had thinned and that I was in the land between. I did not feel closer to the miraculous. I did not transcend my body. It was the opposite. I was only my body. I was held in it, caught in it, could not imagine a land beyond it. I stared at my belly and tried to imagine where he was inside me. Had he left my uterus? Was he in the pelvic tunnel? Where was he? I wanted to know exactly. His heart beat steady and sure. My cervix did exactly what it was supposed to; thinned and softened and opened. He moved and he moved; fractions of millimeters at a time. My uterus squeezed and released. Squeezed and released. Cups with bendy straws were held in front of my face and I obediently sipped and then buckets were held for me to spit up into. I paced and sensed B. trailing behind me. I pressed my forehead against a wall and he pressed into my lower back. We paced some more.
I lay on my side half conscious while the contractions pulsed through me. I dozed through them somehow. A cold washcloth was pressed to my forehead. Someone massaged my foot; my hand. The day began again. I listened to the movies we played with my eyes closed; Blue Crush and The Neverending Story. I heard B. and our doula and our midwife talking; they in their own dance of care for me and care for themselves and care for each other.
“Do you want to go outside? Walk around?”
I gave up on pants. And then underwear. I wore only a shirt. I crouched and bore down and pooped little dark curlicues in front of everyone. I puked and I puked. I sat backwards in a chair while B. or our midwife or our doula pressed into my back. I sat on the toilet and contracted there; peeing and pooping and spitting up. My feet were swollen and I hated the sight of my fat toes beneath the horizon line of my belly.
They put me in a hot shower and I laughed at how good it felt.
I floated in the warm birth tub.
I asked B. to put on Paul Simon’s Graceland which I hadn’t listened to in years and years but with the first notes of the album, I said, “Oh no. Turn it off.”
I tried to open my sphincters by singing. B. and I were alone upstairs and I relaxed my throat and I don’t sing really ever and we circled the floor and these noises came from me and B. trailed me and I heard that he was crying and I knew he was deeply moved and he said something like, “So beautiful.” He told me later that as we drifted through the rooms, he was listening to these incredible sounds coming from me, nothing ever like them before, and at the same time seeing the objects in our home, most of them given or made by people we loved, and he was overcome by the love and the beauty and the depth of our life.
And the boy’s heartbeat was sure and steady. And my body kept on doing just what it was supposed to. Just very, very slowly.
They call it posterior labor, or back labor, the baby flipped so that its weight, its back doesn’t press into the front of my body but into my back. It’s slower than standard labor and more deliberate. A baby born in this position is called “sunny side up” though I think when he came out he was on his side.
I didn’t feel mythic or beautiful. I was sweat and piss and skin and hair.
I did what they told me to do, when they told me to do it. At least I tried. I believed what they told me. I gave myself completely to their care. I abandoned myself, my baby, to them, and that was the gilded net that held me. This is what kept fear or doubt at bay. I was moving my baby through me. He knew what to do. B. and our doula and our midwife; they knew what to do. My body knew what to do. I knew nothing.
The only conscious decision I made in the whole thing, my only exertion of will came at three in the morning, after what we called “the big sleep” when the midwife went home for awhile and the rest of us slept for about three hours. I went alone to the bathroom and decided that it was time to start pushing. And I squatted and began the long, slow pushing of the babe.
The last morning the game changing visit from the acupuncturist. My energy went up, my contractions came stronger and closer together, the babe in my pelvis; I felt the weight of him there; something to push into. The midwife brought my hand to his head and I cried.
I lay on my back on my bed. B. by one leg, our doula by the other, the midwife next to us on the couch. When a contraction came, I said, “Ok” and B. took one leg, and our doula the other, and then the midwife put her finger just inside me to show me where to push into, and I grabbed my thighs and lifted my head and grunted and pushed and then it was done, and we waited again for the next contraction.
I paced. I crouched. I stared at my belly.
We moved to the couch upstairs and somehow there I could really push. The midwife, “Do you want to see?”
Yes, but mistake! All that pain and just the barest oval of his damp, dark hair. It’s too small a hole, I thought. And, This is going to hurt.
Finally she said, “One more push like that and we’re going down to the tub.”
The push did more than she thought it would.
“Okay, we have to move now.”
To his great frustration, I wouldn’t let B. get in front of me on the stairs because I could not pause. I felt the baby as if his head was already out of my body. B. helped me into the tub and I draped my body over the side. I think I shouted out, “What do I do?”
And she said push, and I did and the pain was everything, mind scrambling, there was nothing to grab on to, there was no thought, it was a flash that lit my brain up and left not a single shadow to duck into. And then there was one more, and my mind skittered like a bead of water on a stove, and again, there was nowhere to go, but then it was done. And they handed him to me. And he was tremendous. Huge and solid and real.
A quieter sweetness than I expected.
The rest is the simple miracle of it. The afternoon light in our room with the yellow ceiling. The water in the birth tub turned murky and I felt like I was sitting in the primordial swamp of all creation. My boy my boy my boy. B. beside us. Our boy. The women cared for the babe and for me and after some amount of time B. held him while I showered and there were clean clothes for me, and the women cleaned the rooms and I held the boy and we called my mother, but I can’t remember the words. It was dark then. The bed with fresh sheets and the babe measured and weighed and tended to, and the women left us with kisses and promises of return the next day. The cat re-emerged but she was frightened and had scratched a bare spot into her chin. We went downstairs briefly, to B.’s mother’s apartment to show her the boy. She had waited there through her worry, resisting her urge to knock on the door.
I ate a little chicken and hummus and salad because B. couldn’t handle it if I went any longer without eating but I was not hungry. The house was silent. We lay the boy between us on the bed and stared at him; the adoration that has been repeated for millenia. We eased into sleep. I woke up at dawn and my guys were asleep beside me. Finally I was hungry. I walked up to the kitchen and fried two eggs and ate them with toast and butter and watched the sky lighten outside of the window. I felt scrubbed clean and more awake than I had ever been. And everything was scrubbed clean; brighter and fresher and lighter than any day had ever been. I went back to bed and the next time we woke it was into the first morning to include the boy as, I hope more than anything, will every day for the rest of my time here.