I was on a second honeymoon trip with my husband, Jack, in Mexico and I didn't want him to touch me. I wept at the thought of setting foot in a boat. If our hotel had offered room service I would never have left our bed, even though the smell of the pillowcases nauseated me.
"You're acting pregnant," he observed.
"Waaaah!" I cried.
He was right. And a test confirmed it.
When we got home I let my HMO assign me a harried OB/GYN with spiky hair and impressive calf muscles. After some quick how-do-you-dos and a pelvic exam, I told her that I'd done a lot of reading and wanted to do what I could to avoid an episiotomy. Since I was over 35 and this was my first pregnancy, (an "elderly primigravida" in doctor-speak), she told me that I was automatically a high-risk patient, and therefore it was more important to have a healthy baby than to start dreaming up a feel-good birth plan.
To cap it all off, she started squirting lube onto a metal wand while distracting me with chit-chat about her triathlon training. She started to insert the wand inside my vagina and I said, "Hold it, are you doing a sonogram?"
"Yes," she admitted sheepishly. "Is this how it's going to be?" I thought. My fears are going to be dismissed while she tries to sneak through procedures I may or may not want without my knowledge or permission?
Not with my body, you don't.
But in my town there weren't a lot of alternatives to HMO treatment. My choices were to either start grinding through a list of doctors with no guarantee I'd find one whose philosophy matched mine, start trekking to the closest free-standing birthing center (40 miles away), or do what I never in a million years thought I would do: have a midwife-assisted home birth.
Both sides of my family were aghast. "Your house isn't sterile!" said my flabbergasted father. I assured him that the baby already had antibodies to everything in the apartment. My husband, Jack, thought I was insane, until he had a meeting with Anna, part of a team of three experienced certified nurse-midwives who had been delivering babies for 20 years. In the last eight years, said Anna, they'd only had two end up in the hospital (one because the baby had meconium in his lungs, and the other because the woman's placenta wasn't delivering). I liked those odds. My insurance didn't cover the midwife services, though, so we set up a payment plan to somehow, some way, give them $300 a month for 10 months of thorough checkups, tests, shoulders to cry on, birth education, and poised supervision when the big day arrived.
It is June 28, 2001, which is eight days later than I want it to be. I am big as a house. I have gained 45 pounds during pregnancy; even on a 5'10" frame, the size of my butt astonishes my husband. I can barely roll over in bed and my ankles are the size of tree trunks. The baby is eight days late.
At noon I take a dose of castor oil, one of midwifery's most disgusting solutions to the problem of reluctant labor. I have an appointment to be induced the next day but I am ready to try any shamanistic suggestion that will make labor start on its own, including Mexican food, a Shiatsu foot massage, and running up and down the stairs (thanks, Mom!).
After the castor oil, I dash to the toilet and poop out everything I've eaten for the last two years. But still no labor. So I wait and continue to nest. I make sure I have two sets of sheets that have been baked in a paper bag in the oven to sterilize them. I have swabs and plastic sheeting and an empty birthing tub in the middle of the living room. I stopped working the week before. There's nothing to do but wait.
Hour One: I'm lying in bed reading a magazine. Hmm, what was that? Just a wee little squeeze in my middle. Five minutes pass. Hey, there's another one.
An hour later Jack comes home from a long bike ride (the last he would have for months) and finds me waving my hips like a hula girl. The contractions are five minutes apart! I'm dancing through them! Wheee! I prance around putting a heavy plastic drop cloth and old sheets over our bed.
Hour Two: After that first hour of fun I finally have what is technically known as a Real Contraction. Wow. I have to stop talking to concentrate on getting through it. Alice, the midwife on call that day, has appeared in my living room with her little doctor's bag. She recommends I eat something now because I'm going to need my strength. I can't. She says a shower might be soothing so I go off to the bathroom, strip down, and just stand there under the hot water, mooing like a cow in a pink-tiled barn.
Hour Three: I've done enough yoga in my pre-baby life to be able to stay with my breath during each contraction as they build in intensity. Normally a contraction lasts one minute so I get breaks in between, though there are about a dozen sprinkled in there that would have had me begging Eli Lilly himself for drugs if there were any to be had. But I am alone and glad of it. Jack is reading a magazine in the living room and I am lying on my side in bed, imagining my cervix dilating as safely and swiftly as possible. "Open, ooooopeeennnnn," I sink into a deep endorphin fog and lose all sense of time.
Hour Five: My water breaks in a big, nasty gush all over the bathrobe Jack put on me while I was going through a phase of sweats and chills. I realize now that it's dark outside. It takes enormous effort for me to stand up to get out of the mess but once I make it to the toilet I find that sitting upright is THE. BEST. THING. EVER.
All that time I was lying down, gravity was just politely waiting to help. Now that I'm in position it's gearing up to bring this baby down. I'm six centimeters dilated and Myrrh, the midwife-in-training who came to check on me, gives Jack the okay to start filling the birthing tub. I hadn't really intended to have my baby underwater, but I knew that the chances of tearing were almost nil after you'd been soaking your lady parts in warm water for a couple of hours. Jack runs a hose from our kitchen sink to the tub in the living room. Our hot water heater quickly empties and Jack happily begins boiling water in big pots on the stove, just like in the movies.
During my sixth hour of labor, something inside me changes gear. I start making these "WhoooAAAAAHHHahhhhh" sounds, like I'm on a giant roller coaster riding through big stomach-dropping dips and wig-lifting highs.
"Are you pushing?" asks Myrrh. I'm still squatting on the toilet and she's kneeling in front of me.
"I have no idea, but if it sounds like I'm pushing, based on your experience of what women sound like when they're pushing, then I must be pushing," I hiss. She tells me to stand up as I am still sitting on the toilet and no one wants this kind of water birth. All of a sudden, I have an unexpected sense that the baby has slid into a new place, deep in my pelvis, and there is no turning back; no sucking it in and staying pregnant for a few more months; this baby needs to come out right now.
Myrrh listens to the baby's heartbeat. It's slowed somewhat, and she gets a little anxious, as she has no back-up to deal with a newborn baby in distress. She runs out of the bathroom to call Alice and get her the heck back over to our apartment. She also tells Jack to abandon the birthing tub and come into the bathroom. The baby is crowning and my vagina is stretching and burning. Fortunately, midwives let you put out this highly specific fire by pouring fresh olive oil over the affected area. Oh, the relief.
Now I'm hanging from the towel bar across from the toilet, pushing and breathing and taking direction from Myrrh. Jack hears a knock at the door and goes to find Alice struggling up our stairs with an oxygen tank. They come into our tiny bathroom just in time to see me standing there with a little head hanging down between my legs. Jack sits on the edge of the tub and lets the women work. One more big push and the baby slithers out into Alice's waiting hands. Myrrh is totally stoked, she shouts at me, "Hold your baby in your lap! Hold your baby in your lap!" And I sit back down on the toilet and I do.
It's a boy. It's a boy! My endorphin fog lifts instantly. I feel utterly and intensely awake. I look at Jack incredulously. Look what we did. Fingers. Toes. Jackson.
I feel great but Alice and Myrrh help me walk back into the bedroom carrying my boy. Jackson and I are still attached, his umbilical cord looping back up inside me. Within minutes Jack has cut the cord, the placenta is birthed, Jackson is weighed and measured and swaddled, I am stitched, and Jack is on the phone waking up relatives from coast to coast.
And, really, that was just the beginning.
Eden Marriott Kennedy is a freelance writer in California.
Originally published on AmericanBaby.com, April 2006.
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