Way to be six months old, Guy--sitting up on your own, chatting back and forth with your cousin, wearing 9-month-old-sized clothes, tasting your first not-of-Mama food. Last weekend after a long walk on the Tobacco Trail (during which you napped, blissfully, for a full hour), Papa and I tracked down some Girl Scouts; it's Girl Scout Cookie season (!). One of the mothers chaperoning the troop we found mentioned the Lemonades were great for "littles" because they're so soft. I answered that you weren't quite there yet, being only just 6-months-old, and she said, "Oh, I thought he was a lot older, like 10 or 11 months." I could only answer by jiggling your considerable heft on my hip and saying, "Yep, he's my big guy."
Six months have passed since August 9th, six months of healing, emotionally and physically, from the trauma of birth. Not a day passes that I don't think back to that day, the events leading up to it, the pain, the fear and endurance and relief. Before you were born, I was told by so many mothers that I would forget the pain of childbirth once you were in my arms, but I found that wasn't true at all. For weeks after you were here, I remembered every single contraction, every single push to get you out of my body and into my arms. I had dreams I was still in labor and would wake to find you nestled against me. On our drive back to Chapel Hill for your two week check-up, your father felt his chest tightening every four minutes, his body reliving the stress of driving his laboring wife to the birth center. I've had six months to process all this, and I'm ready to tell you the story. This is how you were born.
(There is mention of body fluids ahead, be warned.)
You were due to be born July 31st, according to the midwives. In preparation for this, my last day of work was July 3rd. I planned to spend weeks 37-On of pregnancy preparing the house for you, washing all those impossibly tiny onesies, and not hiking two miles to and from a bus-stop in the wilting heat of North Carolina July. During those weeks, I woke every morning and said to your Papa, "maybe I'll go into labor today," very much excited by that prospect, though not really expecting it to happen. Because though the midwives' little chart may have declared you due on the 31st, I wasn't expecting to see you until August. Being a late baby myself (not to mention an August baby myself), I had not just a feeling, not just a hunch, but a steely certainty you would be late. On the evening of the at-home pregnancy test, I flipped through the pages of my journal, counted weeks on my day planner, and predicted you'd be due the week of my birthday. And then, I spent the next nine months saying a little prayer that I would not spend my 29th birthday in labor.
On a Wednesday, exactly a week past your due date, I woke up in the middle of the night to a wetness between my legs, "the bloody show" (I warned you there would be fluids). I was excited enough to wake up your Papa and announce, "My mucus plug came out!" He gave me a sleepy hurrah, asked if I was okay (translation: are you in labor?), and fell back asleep when I assured him all was still in Uterusville. And still it remained all day. That Wednesday came and went with no contractions, no baby.
The next night, Thursday, a week and a day past your due date, I woke in the wee morning hours to another wetness, a different one, this time my water breaking--slowly, dribbly, but definitely. In the morning, I called your Aunt Sierra and Great Grandma; your Papa stayed home from work. We all spent the day together, chatting, pacing the living room, timing my contractions which began around mid-morning, but were erratic and frustrating. By evening time, those contractions were happening three minutes apart, though lasting varying amounts of time, and I was in (what I thought at the time was) considerable pain. We drove to the birth center as the sun fell. Once there, it was obvious from the midwife-on-duty's face that I was not in the throws of real labor yet. She checked to see that my water had actually broken (it had), and then checked to see how far dilated I was: an abysmal 2 centimeters. We were sent home with the recommendation that I take Tylenol to help me sleep--this would be my last night of sleep before going into labor, as at this point I was nearing 24 hours since my water had broken.
On Friday, August 9th, I turned 29 years old. My contractions had slowed nearly to a stop, and after a phone consultation with a midwife, it was decided that I would swallow some castor oil to, essentially, grease you out of me. Around 10 in the morning, I swallowed a healthy dose of the stuff (it was not as distasteful as I was warned it would be, though my taste buds could simply have been numbed by determination to get you out of me). The midwife advised I take another dose in four hours if my contractions had not sped up, but that second dose was not necessary. Within an hour, I was squatting on the floor, gripping the arms of the couch, in the throws of a kind of pain I had never experienced before, hope to never experience again, and cannot describe with any accuracy (though I will try); it was a bit like a giant, calloused hand was inside my body, gripping, twisting, tearing at my guts. The pain was dizzying, but contractions were still six to five minutes apart, and I could talk through them, though with gritted teeth and in a high, wispy, faraway voice. I'd been told several times throughout my pregnancy, by midwives and baby books, that if I could talk though my contractions, I was okay to be at home--shit had not hit the fan. Yet.
Around 1 or 2 (honestly, time is a bit fuzzy at this point), I gave the okay to your Papa to go get some lunch. As soon as he left the house, of course, my contractions sped up, the pain became otherworldly, and I got really scared--scared enough that I snapped at your great-grandma when she, recognizing that my contractions had changed course for the more serious, suggested I call your Papa back home. I think now that I was reluctant to call him because that meant all this was real, and I was actually going to have to push you out of me, and I was beginning to think I couldn't do it.
Call your Papa I did, though. We were just talking about this a few days ago and he told me that when he heard my voice on the phone, he knew things had changed, and he knew I needed him. He came home, we all piled into cars, and we spent the most stressful forty-five minutes of my life on the road to the birth center. To paint a picture: I heaved, I cried, I beat my fists against the dashboard, I gripped the door handle, I exclaimed, "I can't do this! I can't do this!" and "I'm going to die! I'm going to die!" and "I'm not going to make it! I'm not going to make it!" and "Why why why why why did I think I could do this?!". Your Papa, rather calmly, told me, "You're not going to die," and "You can do this," and "You have to do this." And your cousin Ella, who was in the back seat with your Aunt Sierra, giggled and cooed much of the drive, or so I was told, not bothered one iota by my raving.
I did not give birth on the road, though at the time I thought I would. Or, rather, I thought I would explode on the road, that you would just tear your way out of me and I would expire. At the birth center, we were hurriedly ushered to a room, the tub was filled, I stripped down to my sports bra, and I, rather spryly for a woman in labor, hopped on the bed to have my dilation checked. I think I was at four centimeters? Maybe five? Some dismal number that made me scared and hysterical, my moans reaching ever increasing pitches until the nurse guided me back down to my lower register; "a lower moan opens things up." I got in the birthing tub gladly once it was filled. It had been my plan to labor in a tub; all my reading suggested this would be a saving grace. And, perhaps, if I was a more petite woman, it would've been. But, as your papa loves to point out with pride, I am an Amazon. The water did not come up over my belly, barely came up half way, and my legs were bent at an awkward angle. I felt no relief in the water, only the urge to dip my head down and drown myself to escape the pain that was consuming me, the contractions coming faster, harder, without cease. Between contractions I had time to squeeze out a few tears and feel dread over what was to come, and then I would be lost in that awful wave, building from within me and then bowling me over and dragging me with it to some silent Otherworld.
I don't know how long I'd been in the tub before we gave up on that laboring position. In the midst of all this internal chaos, I very conscientiously laid a towel down on a yoga ball before squatting on it to labor some more. I remember doing this as if watching myself from outside my body and now, as I type this memory, it strikes me as very funny. Laboring on the yoga ball was better, better than squatting on the floor, better than the awkward positions I attempted in the tub--not good, by any means, but better. The pain was still a constant, but now it was accompanied by a pressure that threatened to empty me, of everything--baby, organs, et al. It was on the yoga ball, after how long I do not know, that I yelped out an "Ouch! That hurt!" at the tail end of one of my contractions--an understatement which also strikes me as funny now. What I meant, and clumsily explained to the nurse and midwife, was that it hurt in a different way. I could feel something inside me open up, like a door which had been stuck and was suddenly burst from its hinges. I reached down and brought my fingers up bloody. I got on the bed for my dilation to be measured once more. I don't remember my midwife telling me I was at 10 centimeters--those were the words I wanted desperately to hear. I only remember her giving me what seemed a tentative okay to push.
My body hadn't exactly told me to do so, but I was eager to be done with all this, and I finally could see a light at the end of the tunnel. That light, it turned out, was an hour away. I pushed on my back, holding my knees to my chest. I pushed on all fours with my butt in the air. I pushed on my side with my face buried in a pillow. I had never worked so hard at anything in my life, but I couldn't, wouldn't stop until you were out. I couldn't think of you in those moments though, not you as an individual, you as my child. I could only think of this pain, this work, of getting this thing out of me NOW. I could feel you traveling through me, and could feel every time you stubbornly took a pit stop, stalling in my vaginal canal and making me work even harder to get you moving along again.
Eventually, you crowned, and everyone exclaimed at what I already knew--you had a full head of hair. I felt what is commonly referred to as "the ring of fire", so-called because that is exactly what it feels like. But, unlike the births I'd been witness to, in which the head slowly crowns and then the rest of the baby's body slithers out of its mother like a salamander, you sort of stuck where you were. I pushed to get your shoulders out, I pushed to get your knees and feet out. I just kept pushing and pushing and pushing until, at 7:19 in the evening, your naked, blue body was laid down on my belly. Happy Birthday to us.
You had your umbilical cord wrapped around your neck, and your arm had been up over your head as you traveled through me, which may be why you kept getting stuck.
You were so quiet. Both your Papa and I were frightened by how quiet you were. I reached down to rub you and said, "wake up," and you did, with a yell. Time stood still as I stared down at you, feeling waves of relief--relief that you were breathing and screaming, that you seemed healthy and whole, and relief that all the hard work was over, and soon I could rest. It seemed like a long while before somebody lifted you up to see whether you were a boy or girl. As you dangled in the air before me, all my hunches were confirmed. Indeed, here was my boy--my robust, stubborn little man.
I continued to rub your little naked body and you continued to yell as I was given a shot of Pitocin to stop my bleeding, I delivered the placenta, and then was sewn up. I had third degree tears and lost a considerable amount of blood. Tending to my tears was a miserable experience. I was given only local anesthesia and could feel more of the sewing up than seemed fair. The pain was nothing compared to what I'd just been through, but it was distracting enough that I could not focus on you. And you, little guy, you were pissed. You yelled for me, and I could do nothing for you until the midwife was finished with her meticulous mending. Once she finished, I scooped you up closer to me, and you quieted as you nestled against my breast. The nurse asked if I needed help moving up from the edge of the bed, and without thinking, in answer, I began a one-armed crab crawl, which your Papa said alarmed and surprised everyone in the room--he likes this little detail of the story, the feats of his She-Ra wife.
The rest of that night was messy and woozy. I will spare you the gory, embarrassing details. Your Papa prayed over you. You nursed and you slept. And then, I slept.
You're sleeping now, as I type this and watch you on the baby monitor. You are so different now, so changed from that grumpy garden gnome I carried home with me all those months ago. You've gotten fat and happy and so beautiful. You're no less stubborn, and no less vocal. You look like me now. You are here.
All my love on your half birthday,