in your boat, tied to a tree
i hope you'll find the sea
throw me a dream please, it's been a dreamless sleep
for such a long time, such a long time
sing myself awake
watch the branches break
no one could ever take your place
wash your face in the lake
you've got a diamond under your skin
if i said that the flood of emotions at that moment was the hardest part of labor, it'd be hyperbolic -- no, actually it'd be a lie. but i can say honestly that the intensity of the emotions then was similarly disorienting to the intensity of the contractions which would reverberate through my body a few hours later. i was surprised by how deeply i was resisting the fact that i was in labor, how much like a child i felt, thinking that if i insisted enough that i wasn't in labor, i wouldn't be in labor. it wasn't that i was scared of giving birth; it was just that i had, without realizing it, internalized certain expectations of what labor would be like, and nothing at that moment corresponded to what i had unknowingly prepared myself for. for one thing, i was completely unprepared for the fact that labor could start with my water breaking -- since the thought that i had been in labor all day already had not occurred to me at this point, and i was still convinced i could have days to go -- and though i knew joan doesn't pay attention to arbitrary rules on how long it's "safe" to have one's waters broken, i felt uneasy, like at some point i'd be on a timeclock. i remember thinking that perhaps i had been stupid to decline the gbs test. then there was the fact that both my sisters were out of town: saadia visiting patrick in pittsburgh, tahira up at maine in school. i knew joan was at another birth. the baby wasn't supposed to be early. i hadn't really anticipated being with my mother when i went into labor, though i was certainly glad i wasn't alone. andy was in the city. it was dark out and we wouldn't be able to take the walk in the park with neeley i'd always imagined i would. the bottles of recharge ("natural" gatorade) i had ordered for the birth hadn't come yet. i had just ordered my cloth wipes the night before. we had never gotten a chance to check the hookups for the birth tub. so many things swam through my head with such speed, and i felt overwhelmed and out of control, though in the back of my mind a little voice sang out that it was silly to get hung up on these small details, that i could give birth without recharge, without a walk in the park, without a birth tub, without, even, my sisters or my midwife. but i had to come to grips with all this, to let go of all it, to realize that, in some ways, the beauty of labor (and in fact the beauty of bringing a child into the world in general) was that i had no control over it.
i certainly didn't accept it instantaneously, however. when i opened the bathroom door to my mother standing on the other side we had, first, a conversation about whether it was indeed my waters that had broken. my mother scrutinized the wet pantlegs, and declared that it hadn't really been a "gush" and suddenly seemed skeptical. this time it was i who had to convince her that i was in labor: in two out of three of her labors, her waters had broken really forcefully closer to the pushing stage, and so she didn't realize that it didn't always happen like that. after this conversation, i sort of stood there, not sure about what to do next. i mentally made a list: i needed to call andy, saadia, tahira...joan, right, my midwife joan. i needed to change my wet pants. there was a load of receiving blankets that needed to go into the dryer...wait, no, that could wait for a second. priorities, right. should i go straight to bed, try to get some rest? i felt my heart was pounding too fast for that. i tried to slow down. somehow i figured out to call andy. i barely remember this conversation now, except that for most of it i was standing in the bathroom because i started having another gush right after i called. andy sounded worried, but not terribly so. mostly he sounded confused. we decided he should probably come home. he asked if he should take a cab, and i said i didn't think it was necessary. later i found out that i sounded so nonchalant that he stopped for a slice of pizza on the way home, so convinced that it'd be hours and hours, if not days, before the baby showed up.
when i came out, my mom was on the phone with her friend angela. i heard her explain, "no, it seems more like a leak than a huge gush...no, we haven't started timing contractions..." she got off almost immediately, and started laughing, "angela just said, 'her water broke?! she needs to go to the hospital!'" i smiled. then i remembered i should probably call my midwife, so i beeped her. she called back quickly.
"hi joan, it's robina," i said. she greeted me, sounding a little rushed. i think she asked me what was up.
"well, ummmmmm. my water broke," i said. i gave her the details: definitely not pee, smelled sweet, contractions all day, but didn't think much of them, still contracting but hadn't bothered to time them yet.
"you will not believe who's labor i'm about to go to," she said, definitely sounding rushed at this point. i didn't answer though i knew what she was going to say. "heather's."
"really?" i feigned surprise, but really i felt my heart sink a little: i had hoped against hope that heather was already done.
"yes...oh, they're calling right now. robina, i've got to go...just keep me updated, okay?"
"um, okay," i said. and that was the end of the phone call.
i sat there for a few seconds, at a loss. what did this mean? i felt i had gotten no answers. should i rest? i had always imagined i would begin labor and not be sure it was labor, and would take a warm shower, drink a glass of wine, try to sleep and then take it from there. what first labor started like this? but that option didn't sound right considering my water had broken already. so should i try to get the contractions to pick up? i didn't want to go for a walk without andy. should i be worried? was i going to be walking around with a broken bag of waters for three days and end up with an induction? at this point it hadn't really occurred to me that joan might not make it in time; heather had already been in labor for 13 hours, and i assumed my labor would likely go similarly since they were both first babies. but i still felt totally unsettled.
and i was still wearing soaking wet pants.
"change your pants, and call your sisters," my mom instructed, as she went back to folding clothing.
i dialed saadia's number. it went straight to voicemail. i panicked. then i realized i had patrick's number, which i had saved many months beforehand, after he had texted me to say he seen a kitten that looked like shoeboot making out with a garbage bag, or something like that. i went through my contacts and a rush of relief filled me when i saw "Patrick" and hit send.
"hi, patrick?" i said. "it's robina."
"hey!" he responded.
"is saadia there?" i asked. i felt like my voice sounded small.
patrick handed saadia the phone, and she answered with some suspicion in her voice. "hellllooo?" she asked.
"saad?" i answered.
"what's up, b?"
"well, ummmm, my water broke."
i don't remember much of this conversation, either, though saadia tells me now that i was still very non-committal about the possibility that i might be in labor, that i kept saying, "i don't know, it could be hours, it could be days..." i do remember saying, "you might want to think about trying to get home."
i then tried to call tahira. her voicemail picked up. having talked to her briefly about 10 minutes before my water broke, i knew she was getting dinner. "shit." i said, then left a message: "well, ummmmm, my water broke."
"shit, shit, shit." i repeated. i walked into the babystuff room. "i couldn't get in touch with nani," i told my mom. i wandered over to the computer, still in wet pants. i posted to my due date club on mothering.com, and here, looking for some reassurance, i think. my heart was still pounding and i couldn't focus. and i realized something: it had become impossible to ignore my contractions. whereas all afternoon they had felt like a constant ache, the ones since my water had broken had distinct starts and stops.
my mom came in while i was posting to my livejournal, and said, "bina, you're still in wet pants!"
"mom," i snapped. "i will. i'm fine. i'm not that uncomfortable" (a lie). "i need to record this." she looked at me blankly.
"i'm writing in my journal. if this is labor, i need to write this down."
she shrugged, and headed back to the babystuff room.
eventually i did change my pants, and continued doing laundry. my mother was on and off the phone with saadia. my mother's end of the conversation sounded bleak. there wasn't a flight til 6am. they could take an overnight bus, but wouldn't get in til 8am the next morning. something about a rental car was mentioned. i suddenly felt filled with panic. i almost yelled to my mom, "tell her i will PAY FOR THE RENTAL CAR. she. just. needs. to. get. here." i bit my tongue. maybe i was overreacting, and maybe i'd still be in labor at 8am. but slowly the realization had set in, somewhere in my body. i knew, even though i hadn't spoken it in words or even articulated it clearly in my head, that i was in fact in labor and that it was progressing fast.
at some point i texted claudia and chris. they both responded "WHAT?" claudia later said she thought it was so "me" to nonchalantly text her "my water broke." after not receiving a text in return to the three she sent me, she called, and i chatted with her for a while. chris eventually texted: "go with the pound cake!"
while my mom made phone calls to saadia and my dad, i would sort of idly mention the start and stop of contractions. once in a while, i'd say, "there's another one...how long ago was the last one?" eventually we gathered they were coming really quickly, and my mom looked nervous. i was still running around. she said, almost harshly, "b, you need to sit down and time these."
"you're stressing me out!" i told her. "i'm fine. we can time them if you want, whatever."
but of course i was still too crazed to really have her time them, though we got some sense they were about three minutes apart and lasting 30-40 seconds. i tried briefly to log them in on a website online, but the flash code wasn't running properly and i got frustrated after timing about three contractions. my body wanted to move around, so i wasn't about to sit at the computer pressing a spacebar.
it was around then that i started getting really upset that i didn't have a camera for the birth. my parents had agreed to buy me a digital slr as a christmas/eid/birthday present this year, and we had just the day before chosen the one i wanted, since it was on sale at circuit city. we had almost ordered it, and i had surprisingly said, "i feel like we should go pick it up at the store, because i don't know if it will ship in time: it says it can take 4-10 days." we had planned on going to buy it on sunday -- the next day. suddenly, that was too late. i found this terribly upsetting. so my mom got on the phone with my dad, instructed him to go to circuit city and buy the camera Right Then.
in this flurry of phone calls, andy called. "i'm on ninth street," he said.
"why??" i asked (we live on 22nd).
"i wanted to walk down fifth avenue and see if i could find an extra sheet. light colors, right?"
"oh, yeah. okay," i answered, remembering we had never bought an extra sheet after we realized the one we'd originally planned on using as a backup was ripped.
"should i stop and get snacks, too?"
"no...i want to take a walk when you get home. we'll get some vitamin water and stuff then," i said.
by the time andy got home, everything felt like it was at a fever pitch. my mother's phone kept ringing, usually because my dad had some question about the camera and whether he should buy a special kit with a memory card and camera case. we thought i already had the right memory card and convinced him not to spend the extra money. my mom's phone wouldn't stop ringing, and eventually the ringtone started driving me insane. i wanted to get to the store before 9pm, when it closed. we had to bring the dog up to my parents' house, and bring the birth tub down, since it had been up there airing out away from my cats' claws (luckily, my mother had called my dad as soon as my water had broken and alerted him to deflate it). andy called his parents when he first got home, and his mom was almost hysterical she was so excited as she talked to me. they would later call back after just 45 minutes to check in again. i started feeling distinctly irritated, and told andy: "as soon as my mom leaves, there is a no phone policy in this house. everything needs to be shut off."
then i took my mom aside, "mom, i really appreciate everything you are doing, but i think i need some alone time with andy...before we're never alone again," i joked. i feel like this is all too much to process right now."
"oh, oh! i can leave now," she said. i could tell she was hurt, but trying not to let it show.
"no, i don't need you to leave right this second. i think andy needs you to help him move the coffee table...and you can keep doing what you're doing. i just want to give you headsup that after our walk, i think i need to be alone with him."
"okay," she agreed.
"maybe while you wait to come back down, you can make me some fake chicken soup?" i asked. "i'll probably need to eat at some point."
"okay," she agreed.
at that point andy and i left for our walk, neeley in tow. as soon as we were out the door, tahira called andy's phone.
"everyone's having titty attack," i heard him say. he looked at me. "except robina. here, talk to her."
"did your water actually just break??" she demanded.
"yes," i said.
"OH MY GOD? WHAT DO I DO? WHAT DO I DO? WHAT DO I DO?" she started shrieking.
i started to tell her she probably wanted to come home, but the phone went dead. when she called back, i told her to try to get home, and to call mom from here on in, because i was starting to need to focus on my contractions. i hung up. my adrenaline was waning, and i felt the need for everything to slow down. the frenetic energy in the house had started to stress me out, and i tried to focus on the crispness of the night air and calming myself. but the contractions weren't slowing down. i was starting to feel distinctly uncomfortable through them. i could talk through them, but not quite coherently. i'd start "um"ing a lot, and would say the same word over and over again, not sure what i had been trying to say before the contraction started. then the contraction would slow, and i would pick up where i left off.
we got to my aunt's health food store, and opened the door. their worker was cleaning up, since there were only five minutes left to closing. he wouldn't let us in with neeley, and i remember feeling teary about it because i didn't want to shop by myself. shopping was, predictably, too overwhelming. i walked up and down the two aisles and tried to figure out what i might possibly need. i eventually settled on faux chicken broth and quorn cutlets for my mom to make soup, some miso soup, 4 ice pops (two lime and two mango and yogurt), and some organic chocolate. i then went outside and told andy, "i can't do this anymore. can you please come in and get the vitamin water and pay?" i instructed him to get any "yellow or green" vitamin water and stood outside with neeley, who was overexcited about a little white dog standing outside the coffeehouse a few shops down. i remember being confused as to why neeley wasn't calmer, didn't intuitively know that she should not pull on the leash with me in labor. i felt restless now that we were standing still. i leaned against the potted tree behind me, then shifted, then leaned again. i watched andy through the glass door with a bit of anxiety, wanting the errand to be done. when it was, i handed him the dog's leash. "we should stop and get bread at lopez, too, in case someone wants a sandwich."
we crossed the street and i walked into our local, family-owned bakery. the family often asks me about my pregnancy, and that night was no exception. "so, when's the baby coming again?" the teenage son of the baker asked me, as he wrapped up my sliced loaf of whole wheat.
at that moment, in the middle of a contraction, i couldn't lie.
"um, tonight i think," i said.
he smiled, looking bewildered.
"i'm in labor," i told him. "we're taking a walk to keep contractions going."
"oh." his smile faded. he handed me the bread, looking vaguely traumatized.
"the next time you see me, i'll have a baby," i said, as i opened the door to leave.
"okay...uh, good luck??" he replied.
(later, telling this story to my friends justin and neil, neil quipped "that kid is going to stay a virgin for a few extra years thanks to you." this part of my story seems to be a favourite among a lot of my friends and family; at the time i didn't think it unusual or humorous at all.)
we started walking home. i watched the people we passed, mostly young people our age, on their way out for their saturday nights. i remember thinking of how different a reality that was than mine. all my senses still felt heightened. i can't remember a lot of specifics of that evening, but i can remember the exact feelings: of the air on my face, the scarf around my neck, the way the streelights bounced off people's skin, the expressions on faces as people chatted with each other animatedly as they passed, the way andy looked so tall as he walked back to me after ducking into "nice guy" (our favourite local bodega) to see if he could find a stopwatch. i remember wondering if i looked like i was in labor. i remember wondering if anyone could see that my pants were wet since, even though i had changed them, i had continued leaking. i would, in fact, change my pants about six times during labor before finally taking them off, less because of the wetness after a certain point and more because of restlessness.
we got home, and my mom appraised us of the situation. saadia and patrick had rented a car: check. tahira on her way to bus: check. dad had gotten camera: check. i listened to her talk about these things, and as i sat there with contractions coming pretty quickly, i had one thing about my sisters that i needed to verify.
"they're not going to make it in time, are they?" i asked.
my mom looked at me. "no, b, they're not."
my heart broke a little then, because i had so counted on my sisters being there. but it was the definitive moment where i finally let myself accept i was in labor, where i committed myself to the process regardless of the fact that it wasn't panning out the way i wanted it to. i suddenly felt like i could and would just let this Unfold.
...but not before i attempted to bake my cake, of course.
i took out the cookbook, plunked it down on the table, and opened it to the pound cake recipe. later, kristen would smile and say she had noticed it on the table and wondered if i had actually baked. andy and i went back and forth a little over whether i should walk up the block with him and neeley, but i decided i was through with walking. a few seconds later, he informed me he and my mom were leaving, and he'd be back with the birth tub and the compressor to blow it up, and sans neeley. "are you sure you're okay being alone?" he asked.
" 'course," i shrugged.
but it wasn't so easy. after all the rushing around, annoying ringtones, and constant talking, the house felt eerily quiet. i realized then that i hadn't talked to lauren, and i impulsively called her number. i remember feeling a bit of trepidation: this wasn't right. i shouldn't be in labor; she should. we had always thought she'd go early and i'd go late, and she felt more "done" than i did, so i felt vaguely guilty. periodically during the conversation i'd start giggling nervously and pause: contractions. at this point i could still -- kind of -- talk through them, though still with a lot of "ums" and losing my train of thought. i realized while on the phone with her that i hadn't opened her labor gift to me, either, since i hadn't accepted i was in labor til only a few moments earlier. for a month i had stared at its pretty bird wrapping paper as it sat on my bookshelf, wondering when i would open it, what it would feel like to be in that moment. i can't remember now if my dad and andy showed up right at the end of me and lauren's phone call (do you remember, lauren?) or right after i got off the phone, but i do know that when i saw my dad's face pop in through the door, i ran and hid in the bathroom for a second before coming out again: i don't remember why i did that, but i remember feeling bashful and doing it.
my dad's stay was brief: he dropped off andy, the camera, the pool, and the compressor, said something vaguely encouraging; i responded with some kind of quip or another, and he left.
at that point andy started rushing around, his m.o. when he is nervous. he stomped around the house doing everything from figuring out we didn't have the memory card for the camera (which at that point i shrugged off, but now that i have the card and a working camera and see the beautiful pictures it takes, find so sad because my few birth pictures are basically un-useable) to blowing up the birth pool to putting groceries away to trying to wash dishes so i could bake my cake. meanwhile, i walked into my bedroom and placed lauren's box on my bed, ready to open it. i read the card, cried a little. at that moment, without my sisters, lauren's words were exactly what i needed: a warm embrace from a woman who loved me. i suddenly felt much stronger. i opened the present, and saw the three little birds, which are now hanging in my living room to remind me of the birth. opening this present is one of my most vivid memories of wren's birthday, and with good reason i think. i placed the birds in the living room, where i also hid all the clocks. surprisingly, time went by not slowly, but quickly during labor: i was continuously surprised at how fast time would pass. but at that point i wasn't taking any chances of getting tripped up if it started taking long.
i told andy i thought i might lay down, and tried.
i immediately returned to the living room. "i can't lay down during these contractions," i said.
"oh shit, we still haven't timed them," he said.
so i was off to the kitchen, thinking i would try the contraction website on our laptop instead, while i was making the cake. i took out one bowl. it suddenly hit me that standing through a contraction was decidedly unpleasant. i sat on my birth ball, which had been rolling around the kitchen since lunch. the contractions were much better there, and i mused about whether i could get andy to help me bake the cake by bringing me ingredients so i could do it sitting down. he had just found out the birth pool hook ups didn't fit our kitchen sink, and was trying to figure out how to hook it up to our washer-dryer hookups in the basement, and him helping with the cake was out of the question. so i sat in the kitchen, alone, getting frustrated with the website and just beginning to feel overwhelmed with the contractions. the fact that andy could take this picture of me at around this time is something i find amusing:
(am i a trooper or what?)
at this point, still alone in the kitchen, i decided to try music. the four songs i listened to are probably the weirdest fact of my labor. you ready?
1. modest mouse, "float on."
2. modest mouse, "ocean breathes salty." (only because i was in the middle of a contraction when it came on and then i didn't feel like changing it.)
3. the killers, "all these things that i've done."
4. the blow, "parenthesis."
during the first song, andy passed through, smiled wryly and said, "you really want to listen to modest mouse now?" and smiled even more wryly when a few minutes later he returned to find me chanting along to the end of the song ("EVEN. IF. THINGS. END. UP. A. BIT. TOO. HEAVY. WE'LL. ALL. FLOAT. ON. ALL. RIGHT"), and even more wryly when he came in a few minutes later to find me belting "I'M SO MUCH OLDER THAN I CAN TA-AA-AKE!"
what made me listen to those two i don't know, but the fourth i do know: it's week 35 of my gestation mix and i find it one of the sweetest songs ever. incidentally, wren loves when i sing this to her when she's fussing.
when you're holding me / we make a pair of parenthesis / there's plenty space to encase / whatever weird way my mind goes / i know i’ll be safe in these arms.
after the fourth song, i was Done with music. i decided to try TV. and what was on? america's next top model (season 6) of course! oh, wendy wiltz, i'm sorry you lost your family during hurricane katrina, and i remember feeling terrible the first time i watched the clip where you talk about it, but My God did i want to kill both you and tyra banks at that moment. unfortunately, our mexican neighbors (who some of you may remember me talking about earlier in the summer) were having a very loud party that night, so without tv it was impossible to stay in the living room. i moved back into the kitchen.
at this point i really had to focus on the contractions; i could no longer talk through them. i had told andy several times that i really needed him to stop rushing around, but he still had so much to do that he couldn't. at this point i think he sensed on his own that i couldn't be alone anymore, and the tub was finally filled, so he came and stood in the kitchen with me. he teasingly took this picture:
our last together, he said, before we had a baby.
he then stood and timed contractions for me the old fashioned way: with pad and pencil. since i could no longer tell him when they stopped and started, he guessed based on my moaning. i had to hold on to the counter through them, and he said the look on my face when they started to cease was "that of utter relief." i thought it felt like a orgasm gone wrong: pain instead of pleasure, but then that comedown at the end where you can't do anything but just breathe and feel sort of spent.
he called joan and updated her. it was now 10:30 and contractions were only a minute and a half apart and lasting for about 45 seconds. joan said she thought they should get longer and further apart before they then got closer together again. i remember feeling discouraged then, like maybe i was a lot earlier than my body was telling me i was. the contractions were so strong i started to fear what i had in store if this was only early labor. i had been closing my eyes a lot during contractions, but then i began to sometimes lock eyes with andy through them instead, and sometimes moaned his name.
somehow it hurt less looking at him.
initially i could tell he was vaguely uncomfortable with this, but he settled in quickly. he opened his mouth wide and gestured for me to relax my face over and over again. i remember thinking that if i hadn't been in so much pain, i would laugh at him because he looked so goofy. occasionally he would try counter-pressure on my back. sometimes it helped, sometimes it didn't. when it didn't, i would raise a finger and shake it, sort of desperately.
at around 11:30 or so, i went to the bathroom, and found blood in the toilet. i started crying because i hadn't expected this. i didn't know it was normal, which i now think is weird, since i've read so much on the whole process. at that moment, though, i was terrified. i remember not understanding why andy and i were doing this alone, without anyone to tell me where i was or how i was doing. i hated not knowing what part of labor i was in, because the pain at this point was becoming unmanageable. interestingly, i kept thinking not "i need drugs, i want to go to the hospital," but "how do people do this in hospitals?" i also kept feeling like i was far along, but doubting myself because i felt so lucid. i kept wondering why i wasn't in "laborland" as my childbirth ed teacher had called it.
after finding the blood i demanded andy call joan, then asked for my mom. when andy called joan, she told him she "wanted to make sure things weren't progressing too fast" and was going to send over a backup midwife. "i heard your friend in the background," andy told me when he got off the phone. "she was making the same noises you were." i remember thinking this was weird, because heather should've been, in my estimation, close to pushing at this point. little did i know i was, too.
andy asked if i wanted my mother after all. comforted by the fact that the midwife was on her way, i said no. i was Doing in this scene and i was afraid to change any of the variables. i remember at this point turning off all the lights in the house, then saying "no," and turning them back on. andy laughed and said i seemed like i was tripping. i smiled weakly at this in between contractions. i had asked to get into water a number of times, kept feeling like i NEEDED water, but andy and i felt maybe it was too soon and would slow down labor. "i don't care if it slows down labor at this point," i said, and i got into the tub.
it was freezing. because our hookups hadn't worked, andy had had to fill it will hot water, then cold, and had left the latter on too long. i got out of the pool, shivering, and began to feel that indeed, this was like being on e. i started to doubt my ability to do it and wanted to cry. i felt utterly wretched as my teeth chattered, and i put on my robe to labor in the bathroom for a while, moaning loudly and wondering if my old italian neighbor, gilda, would hear. then the doorbell rang.
i heard andy let kristen in. i came out, pantsless, with my robe on. kristen had a warm, almost elfin face, and i instantly liked her. i could read in it that she felt bad it was she who was showing up and not joan. she spoke softly, compassionately. "i'm kristen," she said.
i held out my hand. "i'm robina. nice to meet you."
and then i started moaning loudly through a contraction.
the three of us sat in the kitchen for a while, me on the birth ball moaning through contractions, kristen and andy watching. occasionally i'd like eyes with andy, sometimes kristen. i surprised myself by feeling utterly free with her almost immediately. andy was, yes, boiling water for the pool at this point. he would periodically offer me vitamin water or water, and i would drink dutifully, saying "thank you" every time. this was something that really surprised me about myself in labor: i was inordinately polite. if i asked for water, i said "please." if i was offered or given water without asking, i said "thank you." at some point i decided to put my hair up and i said, "kristen, would you please hand me that rubber band? thanks." when andy realized he had not offered her anything to drink, i apologized profusely on his behalf. i was so unbelievably grateful for the support i was being given, and it came out in the most mannerly manifestation ever.
a few times i would moan, "i can't..." and andy and kristen were right there to say, "but you are. you're doing it. you can do it." immediately after saying something like this during a contraction, i would look at kristen and say, "i know i can do it, but it really sucks," after the contraction.
"yes," she would respond. "it does. it really, really sucks."
finally, after a particularly hard contraction, i looked at her. "i feel like i'm being a big wuss," i said.
"why??" she exclaimed. "you're in transition!"
this was the moment the clouds broke and the sunlight poured in. so THAT was why i felt couldn't do it! so THAT was why it hurt so bad! so THAT was why none of my pain relief techniques were doing a damn thing. so THAT was why no position on earth felt even remotely comfortable! i was in transition!
at this point, the water was a good temperature and i got back into the tub. it was extremely relieving, but here everything merges together. it was just wave after wave of contraction, wracking my body. i remember saying, "this must be really boring for you guys," and kristen and andy laughing. "not for me!" kristen chuckled.
the pain of childbirth is so much worse than i thought it would be, to be honest -- which i expected intellectually, but which obviously i couldn't expect, physically. there were moments i was almost afraid of the force with which my body was, well, laboring. the pain was really profound: like it could split me open. not that the sensation was that of ripping, but just that the sheer force of it was everywhere: in my eyelashes, in my toes, behind my eyes, in every cell. it flowed through me so much so that i felt i could shatter. it felt unearthly, like time didn't matter, like this was just Energy. but there was never a moment where i really doubted i could do it. i remember telling kristen at some point that it was "totally fucking awful," but that it was "only one day."
she smiled at me. "you're right. it is totally awful."
"I Just Need That Perspective," i told her, gritting my teeth against another contraction.
at some point after a contraction, i stuck out my lower lip and pouted at her and andy. she looked at me sympathetically, and andy said, "my poor sad panda." i was, indeed, pretty sad. i was annoyed that i didn't feel transcendent about the experience; it just felt like Pain to me. surprisingly, andy said later that "i made it look easy;" strange considering i felt like a big whiny baby the entire time. i was surprised by my need for constant reassurance, how vulnerable i felt, how much i wanted my hand held and my morale kept up.
andy snapped pictures, most of which came out crazy looking and blurry, which somehow is fitting considering that that is how i remember labor. as i heard the shutter go off (i had set it to a little barking noise when i first got the camera) repeatedly, i said to kristen, "i hate that andy is taking pictures right now, but i know i'll want them later."
"yes," she said, "let him take them."
at one point in between contractions i felt andy raise his hand to take another picture, and i turned and looked at him, lifted my lips wearily.
"are you trying to smile for the camera??" he asked increduously.
i remember thinking that if this was normal life, i would return with some sarcastic comment, but all i could manage was "yes," and he and kristen laughed. i smiled too, a real smile, before another contraction came on.
at around 1, kristen told me i could push if i felt like it. "but i don't feel like i'm open," i fretted.
"why not?" kristen asked, furrowing her brow.
"i just don't..." i paused, feeling kind of dumb and inarticulate. i began again. "i just don't feel it in my vagina. i only feel it...in my butt."
she smiled. "you won't feel it stretching your vagina for a while," she told me. "in the meantime, you have to treat this baby like it is the biggest poop you have ever taken."
i looked at her, skeptical.
"you have to push it out of your butt," she repeated.
so i started pushing at around 1, an hour after kristen arrived. pushing is even more of a blur. it was such hard work. at first i focused too much on breathing and wasn't effective. then i wasn't effective because i kept shying away from the pain. i was amazed by not my mind's resistance, but my body's. "the only way out is in" i would tell myself, chant in my head. but my body would still pull away from really pushing into the center of that pain. what body wants to be in pain? i find it funny now that the rhetoric of natural birth is often that we have to "get past" our minds and be reunited with our primal selves. well, my primal self didn't like pain either. but kristen's hands helped guide me into the center, and i started to push more effectively. the handles in the tub were useful, and i flipped around and tried hands and knees.
kristen's encouragement kept me going. but if i pushed and she said nothing, i would feel like a small child and start to feel like i couldn't do it.
"i feel demoralized," i said at some point.
"what?" kristen smiled, and i could tell she thought it was funny that that is what i articulated. "don't feel demoralized. you're doing great!"
"i feel like i've been pushing forever, and i'm getting tired."
"you've only been pushing an hour," she told me.
"ONLY an hour??" i said, startled. it hadn't felt like an hour.
"you're a first timer," she said. "and you've got an hour left." she shrugged as if this was No Big Deal. i remember accepting that.
at some point, i looked at her and said, almost embarrassed, "i'm not excited to meet my baby. is that okay?" she assured me this was normal; that it's hard to keep the end in sight when you're in pain. she told me to stick my finger into my vagina to feel my baby's head. i did and was astounded and how close it was. "it's only this far away," i exclaimed, indicating about a knuckle on my finger.
"yes, it is!" she said. i then felt excited and renewed, though only briefly.
when i started losing steam again, kristen then suggested we get out of the tub. she wanted me to try different positions, i think because she sensed that i was getting overtired. i pushed on the toilet for a while, but kind of hated it, much to my surprise. the plastic hurt my tailbone.
so we moved to the bed, where andy helped support my legs. often i would feel his muscles shake under the force of my pushing against him, and, ever-polite, i would apologize. he later said this was his favourite part of the birth because, unlike during the second phase, i always liked him touching me, so he got to do more than "be on water duty." aracat was also involved, standing at the end of the bed and watching, occasionally meowling at me. she was like the comic relief of the night -- every time i noticed her, i'd look at kristen, and kristen would laugh and make a comment about her. eventually she curled up and went to sleep at my feet.
kristen asked if i was okay birthing in here. i nodded, wanting to say, "lady, not really. this is not my ideal birthing spot. but i will birth in an effing garbage pail as long as this just ends." i began to feel the baby's head descend, and kristen could see it start to crown. she showed andy.
he looked at me, his face elated. "the baby has tons of hair!" he yelped.
"hair?" i said. "what color??"
"black!" he said, looking wide-eyed.
looking at him at that moment, i felt my strength renew. i loved him, and our baby was coming. i had to get her out. once in a while, i'd plead "baby, don't you want to meet us?" or "please come out" -- though by the end i downright screeched "I. JUST. WANT. IT. OUT." and "I. WANT. THIS. TO. BE. OVER." andy and i tried squatting, and that seemed to bring her down a bit but after a few contractions in that position kristen said she'd prefer me to get back into bed and into the side-lying position since i'd be more prone to tearing in a squat. andy and i had a hard time getting me up during a contraction and i wanted to laugh at how spazzy we were, but the pain was too intense. you try moving from a squat into a bed with a head in your vagina!
once i was back in bed, i could feel the baby's head so close, but still slipping back after every contraction. "don't leave!" i'd exclaim, desperately. the feeling of a head in your vagina is exactly what you'd imagine it to be. a head in your vagina. it's not pleasant. i felt like it would never end and that it was hopeless, and then suddenly, the head was out. i didn't really understand what was going on. i was overwhelmed. i pushed again, and suddenly her body slid out. i remember this registering, and feeling momentarily sad, thinking, "her whole body just slid out. she's separate." but then the Relief took over.
the feeling of that profound relief in my entire body was like nothing i had ever experienced. for a moment i wasn't even sure where i was, i felt so sublime. and then suddenly i was back to my room. kristen was looking at me, speaking. i stared at her. (andy would later tell me i was "just gone" for a good few seconds.) she repeated the words: "grab your baby."
i reached down, confused, and suddenly a slippery, wriggly thing was in my hands, on my chest. i looked at the baby. there is no way to articulate what i felt. awe, mostly. the feeling is best summed up by this totally insane picture andy took.
so many feelings, so much energy, just filled me. pride in myself, love for andy and the baby and even kristen, utter joy, shock. i felt, above all, so lucky.
she began to scream: loud, angry cries. andy sat down next to me. "you're so angry!" i kept exclaiming. she would open her eyes, stare at us suspiciously, then scrunch up her eyes and protest a bit again. andy and i giggled like children, totally enamoured of every sound she made, every expression she gave us in between cries and whimpers.
"what...what is it?" i suddenly asked. kristen leaned over and moved the umbilical cord. "can you see?" she asked.
"IT'S A GIRL!" i exclaimed. "IT'S WREN!"
in the second trimester, i dreamed of this moment often. i would have dreams where i would give birth, discover, then announce, that the baby was a girl -- often to people who insisted in waking life that i was pregnant with a boy. i'd always end the dream by saying, "it's wren! i knew it!" -- which is how we came up with her name. that this actually happened in real life, without my being cognizant of the fact that i was repeating my dream dialogue, is something i still am astounded by.
kristen told me at that point to try breastfeeding, and wren latched on like a pro. i was still wearing a shirt, though, and between that and the umbilical cord hanging out from between my legs, i felt awkward. kristen tried to help me get my shirt off, a challenge when you're holding a baby still attached to you:
moments later, i delivered the placenta, saying "how annoying that i have to push again" though it was in reality quite easy.
wren ate and ate...and ate and ate.
after a while of her doing so, and us starting, mesmerized, andy started making calls. tahira had just arrived home, and she and my mom immediately rushed down. he called his parents, and claudia, and i think robin. i stared at the baby, said to kristen, "i always said during pregnancy how funny it is that newborn babies are such ugly aliens, but how no doubt i'd think mine was gorgeous...but i have to say, i think she's OBJECTIVELY kind of pretty!"
kristen laughed. "she actually is very pretty," she agreed.
the rest of the night is just a blur of joy. i felt energized and downright amazing. after wren was done eating, she and andy had some skin-to-skin time while kristen took care of me, introducing me to the wonders of the peri bottle (how amazing that such a simple piece of plastic can provide such exquisite relief!), telling me that i would be "peeing and sweating" constantly, to get all of my fluid off (since i was rather swollen by this point in my pregnancy), and chatting with me about everything from witch hazel soaked pads to the fact that she had a close afghani friend who also studied african american literature. i then took a shower, and i rinsed off, chatting with tahira -- who stood in the bathroom with me -- all my inhibitions gone and not caring that i was naked and looking kind of busted. washing my hair at that moment felt incredible. i then realized i was hungry and announced, "i'm RAVENOUS!" and requested a grilled cheese and a hot chocolate, my ultimate comfort foods, which my mother set to making.
i got out, and kristen did her exam with the baby. wren, unsurprisingly, hated all parts of the exam besides being weighed.
by the time saadia and patrick arrived at 5am, i was wearing the silliest outfit ever -- a pair of old smiley-face boxers andy's mom had bought him eons ago that he doesn't wear anymore, and a huge baseball t-shirt of his -- drinking hot chocolate, eating grilled cheese, and utterly content and chipper and wide awake. saadia found this amazing, and couldn't stop telling everyone about it when they asked how my birth went. of course, as soon as she walked in she made everyone cry with her complete and intense excitement:
it was around dawn when everyone left, and just as we were getting to sleep, joan called, wanting to stop by. she and her assistant tessa dropped by to say hi, and joan commented on how long and shapely wren's nails were. she also told me heather had given birth to a 9lb6oz baby boy, django, 15 minutes after i did. she said she'd be back on tuesday for her first of two home visits, and left.
and andy and i got into bed, wren in the middle. like parentheses, but now with something miraculous enclosed between them. and as the two of them slept, i studied their faces, and finally, after all that joy, after all that energy, after all that moving and doing, i stopped. i just stared, quietly, watched them both breathe, noted the way their mouths curved in the same way, led my eyes linger on every aspect of their faces. my husband and our daughter.
and finally, i just wept.