Up to the 40th week of our pregnancy, I had successfully distracted myself from the ever-looming question, “Is today the day?” I baked zucchini bread, created artwork for the nursery walls, and even cleaned and organized the pantry. I tried some natural induction strategies, including forgoing my dislike of spicy food to have the hottest curry ever, drank raspberry leaf tea, took a few relaxing baths, and continued to walk 2.5 miles on our daily outings to the park with our dog, Henry. Once we hit 40 weeks, I could tell that the other park walkers were also having some baby disappointment. We’d pass the old man in the blue jacket who gave us his obligatory good-morning nod and smile. This week, he was clearly not as chipper about his greeting, since any morning now, he too anticipated that we’d be pushing a stroller and was obviously feeling a little blue too.
Then Geoff started coming down with flu symptoms. Suddenly we had to shift gears again. Now we were hoping the baby would hold off until he was feeling better. His symptoms worsened: chills, night sweats, high fever, and a cough. I went into nurse mode, waddling around the house cleaning everything in sight, dispensing Geoff’s medicine, and doing all the cooking. “My turn will come!” I thought. I knew Geoff would have his hands full after the baby arrived, having two of us and Henry to look after. Geoff’s fever finally broke on Tuesday, but his cough was lingering. By now I was 41 weeks exactly. My midwife Emily assured us that if I were to go into labor while he was still sick that we could still use the birth center, but they’d have him wear a mask. I was relieved, and decided that if this baby wanted to wait another week, so be it!
The next day I decided to get busy again and gathered up all the blankets in the house to take to the laundromat, went to Lowes for new air filters, and proceeded to do all the chores and cook dinner before finally collapsing into the rocker in our living room. “I over-did it,” I told Geoff, feeling weepy and exhausted. I climbed the stairs to bed.
At 11pm, I woke up feeling crampy and went to the bathroom. I wiped and looked at the tissue, as I had been doing for weeks, anticipating with each trip to the toilet that I’d see some bloody show. There it was! I was too tired to feel very excited, but I felt relieved. I didn’t want to get my hopes up either, since I knew that true labor could still be days away. I crawled back into bed and told Geoff. After about 20 minutes, the cramps weren’t letting up. I decided to start timing the contractions using an app on my phone. They were coming consistently but at odd intervals of 4-7 minutes apart, lasting 1-1.5 minutes each.
I drifted into a sleep, and then into a lucid dream. I was standing on a beautiful beach, facing the waves and feeling the surf rush up to my ankles and recede again. The sky was brilliant pink and purple, dotted with bright stars, and the rays of a rising sun. The sand was warm. Geoff stood beside me, holding my hand, facing the vast ocean in front of us. “You’ve got this. I love you,” he said, looking at me with a fervent intensity, filled with love and confidence. Each time a contraction came on, so did a wave, and with each wave, my dream self looked at Geoff and told him how much I love him.
I drifted back to reality, and several hours had passed. I could feel the contractions strengthening. This was the real thing. Geoff took over timing and texting updates to Emily. Finally the contractions were coming 2-5 minutes apart. Emily told us to meet her at the birth center.
On the half-hour car ride, I kept trying to visualize the beach. Between contractions, I thought, “All these other drivers have no idea that there’s a laboring woman in the car beside them!” We arrived at Brookhaven just before 8am.
Time seemed to stand still over the next 12 hours. I labored on my side for a long time making slow progress. I managed to move between the bed, toilet, tub, floor and yoga ball a few times over the course of the day. Since this was a birth center and not a hospital, I could still eat during labor, and I did! I knew I would need the energy. I had grapes, a granola bar and some peanut butter chocolate cake. Cake never tasted so good. As my energy waned, I kept trying to get back to the beach, chanting “wave” with each oncoming contraction, and rocking back and forth to allow the discomfort to disperse through my body instead of settling in one place.
Laboring in water was soothing but seemed to lengthen the time between contractions. Geoff was by my side. Another one came. “My body is wise.” The thoughts and words formed simultaneously as I breathed them out. I realized then I needed to surrender to the ancient wisdom of my body – the inherited knowledge that lives in my muscles and bones, my very DNA. My body is wise. I didn’t know what to expect next, but I knew I didn’t need to be afraid. My body knew what to do.
Finally, Emily checked me, and I still wasn’t fully dilated. She and her assistant Megan offered me a combination of homeopathic treatments to help move things along and to release my tension. Within 30 minutes, the contractions changed, coming one after another. I writhed with the pain, letting my head press to the bed. This was intense. I held Megan’s arms to give myself some leverage. Then I vomited. A few times. There went the cake. Then the midwives put a peanut ball between my legs while I lay on my side on the bed. Suddenly it felt like my entire body was being squeezed and every muscle was bearing down to move everything inside to the outside. If this was the transition to “feeling like pushing” then I’d put pushing on the low end of the spectrum. My body took over, and push or no, this baby was coming out. I recall Emily saying that she saw the baby’s head and no cervix. They called Geoff back into the room. I held his arms through more contractions.
Somehow I managed to move to the tub again, which the midwives had refilled with warm water. I leaned forward on the edge, facing the room, looking up at Geoff. My mind oscillated between “I can” and “I can’t.” My pelvic floor was giving way. Desperate for a sign that I’d survive this, I looked at Geoff. He nodded at me with confidence and reassurance, and I knew it was almost over. I let out a primal shriek, which we both later recalled took us by surprise. I heard the midwives encourage me to pant and breathe low. I grunted. They urged me to shift and lie on my back. I moved my legs under me and let my body fall back into the water. Another contraction, and I screamed again. I think someone said that the baby was almost here, and they could see her head. Another contraction, and a rush of panic surged as I could feel her press through me. I opened my eyes, and the pressure released. Her head was born! Almost instantly another contraction brought the rest of her into the water. Then she was in my arms. Hazel Rose, the most beautiful sight. I wept with joy and amazement. Geoff came to my side as we stared down at our child, our healthy daughter, who was crying in my arms. I counted her fingers and toes, in awe of their perfection. Geoff cut her umbilical cord. I looked into her face as she opened her eyes for the first time. Hazel Rose was born. A mother and father were born too. I kissed Geoff.
The midwives placed Hazel into Geoff’s arms while I moved to the bed. They brought Hazel to me, and we learned to breastfeed. The midwives examined me and said I had some tearing. After surviving labor, I accepted that I would have some scars to show for my experience and declined stitches. Geoff came to my side, and we took in the first moments of being together as a family. Before long, my parents and brother arrived. Geoff called his parents in the U.K. We were surrounded by love.
I got up from the bed and hobbled to the toilet. Nothing would come out. It took about 15 minutes for me to find the strength to go. The midwife’s assistant helped me back into bed. Exhaustion fell over me. We slowly gathered our belongings and placed the newest little human into her car seat. I put on a nursing nightgown I had packed in our birth center bag. Geoff put Hazel in the car, and we made our first journey as a family through the quiet streets back home. It was 2am. We settled Hazel into the bassinet beside our bed. Then we slept, as a family, for the first time in our little nest.