A special thanks to Dark Daughta for getting me off my ass to finally write this.
Towards the end of my pregnancy my blood pressure started to rise. As I wrote in my previous blog, it was causing some concern, so I stopped working entirely and just concentrated on caring for myself and my babe. I recognize how fortunate I was to have been able to do this.
I have never eaten so much protein in my life. The shakes were nasty but I gave my normally vegetarian self permission to enjoy some salmon guilt-free, grateful to the fish nourishing me and my baby.
The day I was "due", I met with my family at the hospital where my aunt was being cared for. Her Hep C was killing her. She'd been on the transplant list for nine days and her Meld score kept rising and rising, she looked nothing like the vibrant, sassy, beautiful Italian woman I'd known all my life. Unresponsive for days, she had, I feel, given her all, the machines kept her alive, but barely.
I know my aunt Cara had given everything she had to try to get Tawn a liver, but, as the doctors told the family, even if a liver had arrived at that moment, there were other complications which basically revoked Tawn's candidacy for the surgery. After having our questions answered, it was decided that the most humane act would be to remove life support. I have no doubt that this was the right thing to do, the medications and interventions were prolonging her suffering and postponing her death, more than they were keeping her alive.
We surrounded her bed after all the lines had been removed, speaking words of love, holding her hands and gently touching her limbs and face. I provided some oral care for her and made sure her dry lips were given balm. We wished her well on her journey, gave her permission to be free of her pain, and waited. She passed into whatever is to come later that night.
While arrangements were made over the next few days I just prayed to the universe and the baby to wait a little while longer. Friday arrived, three days after my due date and I woke up to a bit of bloody mucous in the morning. Oh yes, sex will surely help a woman who is ready along. The memorial would be on Saturday and I felt confident I'd make it.
Saturday morning I found a huge mucousy clot when I first went to the bathroom, and new I wouldn't be pregnant much longer. I had woken up at five in the morning, unable to sleep, so I just got ready for the day. For an October in Minnesota it was ungodly hot, we were looking at a high of eighty-five for the day and I certainly didn't want to be laboring in that kind of heat.
It was going to be a very busy day, as Pam England, of Birthing from Within fame was presenting a workshop in town that day. I planned to attend the morning session, then go to the memorial in the afternoon.
I felt loved, surrounded by so many doulas, midwives, and birth workers in the community, I personally knew well over half of the hundred or so women who attended the morning session. Everyone knew I was close to delivering and were eager to know how I felt, I was happy to report that I was very near labor, and indeed began to feel contractions every twenty minutes or so as we sat and listened to Pam.
At the noon break I was able to chat with the midwife from my son's birth as we ate Indian food at a local restaurant. It all felt like destiny.
The memorial was a testament of my aunt's crazy, colorful life. She was loved by so many people, my family laughed and cried through the service.
Afterwards I went home exhausted, with well-wishes from my family, to a much needed, but brief, nap.
That evening, refreshed, I went to listen to Pam recite the story of Innana. How fitting. The story of a woman dying to herself, to be reborn as something else. Life and death are ALWAYS with us, but in our death-denying culture, we are so fearful of what is to come, of what is unknown, of what is beyond, we have lost the ability to trust ourselves, our bodies, our births, and we cannot let go when death (both literal and metaphorical) is the best option. When I said good night to my birth work sisters I told them I'd have a baby within forty eight hours.
Sunday was a bit cooler, the wind had picked up and the weather was due to change. I knew my baby would be coming soon and I was busy with last minute preparations. Contractions came every twenty minutes, then every seven, but they didn't hurt so I acknowledged them but didn't stop what I was doing. That evening, as dusk fell, we walked around the lake, knowing I would not be pregnant the next time we did this.
That night the contractions picked up, but I was able to sleep well until three at which time I moved from the couch to our bed and tried to sleep just a bit longer. At that point I felt contractions every five minutes, but fell asleep between them. They were stronger than menstrual cramps but by no means unbearable so I stayed where I was.
Finally at five I woke up and started making ginger compresses and herbal pads for my perineum, I knew I was going to meet my baby very soon. At six thirty, more lonely than anything else I woke my husband who asked if I should call the midwives or the doula, I said I didn't want to bother them at least until sunrise.
Spurred by some maternal instinct my Mom called around seven o'clock. When I burst into tears she asked me if I was in labor and I told her that I was, she asked if I'd called the midwife and I told her that I was about to, she agreed that that was a good idea and wished me well, telling me to call her as soon as the baby came. I promised I would. As soon as she hung up I called my midwife and my doula who agreed to come right away, I assured them they had time for a shower and to grab some coffee and that I'd expect them within the hour.
It was eight on the dot when they arrived, my primary midwife and my friend and doula arrived first to find the candles from my blessingway lit, my birth alter arrayed with flowers and essential oils we might need. My secondary midwife and another friend arrived soon after. By then I was vocalizing loudly through contractions which swept over me ever two to three minutes, I spiralled my hips and sank into a squat with each contraction, dropping my shoulders and saying "Open", willing my body into birth. I felt like I was really in my head and thought I might be behaving a little melodramatically since I couldn't possibly be that far into labor. Could I?
The bath was being filled and when I finally got in I thought "liquid epidural my ass!" Where was the sort of euphoric relief I'd been expecting? Though not as nice as I had hoped it would be, the birth tub did take the edge off, especially between contractions. Even though it was only around eight thirty I felt like the contractions weren't stopping.
There were some sort of amusing moments. Although I felt like I was laboring hard I was still aware of what was going on around me. I'd hear my son ask a question of someone else during a contraction, but once I came out of my contraction I'd answer him. At one point everyone was giving my verbal support telling how well I was doing, how strong and brave was, how beautiful, and I said I felt like this was payback for every time I'd said that to a laboring woman in the past nine years. My midwife laughed and said "It's just a dance" to which I replied "I like the dance that got the baby in better".
The contractions were coming fast and furious at this point and I asked to be checked. It was now ten to ten. My midwife found me to be a dissapointing (to me) three cm. Not possible! I thought; I was working too hard to be a mere three centimeters! Never the less I got back up and talked to the baby, pleading with each contraction "Please baby, please baby, please baby" I continued to walk and work and squat and spiral, contractions moving through me less like waves and more like huge breakers, tsunamis, I learned to surf them, moving through each one as best I could and trying not to drown.
Soon it was time for another blood pressure check. Too high, the midwife encouraged me to labor on my side for a time. This did NOT appeal to me, but wanting to bring my reading down I agreed to do so for a little while. As I as walking to the bedroom my water broke on our wooden floors, splashing down my naked leg. I was sure I saw meconium and waddled to the bathroom to check. Sure enough, the toilet paper was stained a light green.
Not terribly worried, but hoping the baby chose to come sooner rather than later I moved to the bed asking to do "just one more" before getting in. At the very end of that contraction I couldn't help but grunting just a bit. Intense pressure. I heard one midwife ask the other from another room "was that grunting?" I called out "Yes! yes that was grunting!"
I lay down and from that moment on it was all I could do NOT to push. My "pah pah pahs" sounded more like "Pahpahpah pah pah paaaaaahhhhhhuuuunnngggrrr" I couldn't NOT push! Finally, frantic I asked to be checked again, my midwife found just a small cervical lip to one side. She asked me if I'd like to move to the tub "Yes" I said "Now" I knew there wasn't much time left.
I moved to the tub and the moment I was was in I felt the baby's head fill my vulva. I pulled away from the sensation physically and mentally, but only a milisecond later resolved to open.
It was less an experience of pushing the baby out than allowing my body to open to the baby. With the next contraction I felt the baby's head fill me again, and I allowed the baby's head to crown up into my hand. I felt so much hair and at that moment of first contact I knew it was a girl.
At this point my Midwife said something like "Now, when the head crowns..." but I interrupted her, "The heads already out" I said calmly, I was concentrating, and in a completely present state, I checked for the baby's cord and found nothing, I heard everyone and sensed a lot of activity around me but I was simply too busy birthing my baby. Another contraction and her body slid from me. Such ecstasy. I love that feeling. I brought her slowly from the water and up to my chest. Having made such a gentle entrance into the world she took her time deciding to breathe, but her cord still pulsed with Oxygen rich blood and cooed at her, telling her to come into her body, calling her by name "Poppy Ireland Jones" and welcoming her into the world.
When I asked what time it was someone told me it was eleven thirty nine in the morning. "Seriously?" I said. I couldn't believe it went so fast! Soon I felt a separation gush of blood and stood with the help of my husband and the midwives to get out of the tub so I could birth the placenta. A birth stool was placed just outside the tub and after a few minutes I pushed a bit and the placenta was out. I was helped to the bed and checked for tears. Not even a skid mark, and in truth, I didn't feel as though I'd just had a baby. Even with a fairly decent blood loss of eight hundred milliliters I felt fine, if a little hungry.
I snuggled down with my beautiful daughter, my son, and my husband and soon she was nursing like a natural.
I am grateful to my midwives, my ancestors, my body, and my faith in myself for this empowering, and blissful birth.