I stirred awake in the very early hours of the morning. I felt an urge to #2. (Alright, this is a birth story. We are going to be deep into bodily functions, but in case my grandmother-in-law is reading this, which she absolutely will, I feel the need to put a disclaimer at the top of this narrative.)
I also felt what could be contractions. But, they had been teasing me for a couple of weeks at this point. Going about my days, feeling a tightening, a pressure wave, a cramp. But it piddled, faded. My body and my baby continued to let me go about my day-to-day life while time and the miraculous process of growing a baby quietly continued, biding, waiting until the appropriate moment to partner with the powerful force of labor to bring forth this new life.
November 17th. Grammy’s birthday. My sister-in-law, Raaji’s, birthday. A lot of days on the calendar had already passed. Our nephew was born a few days prior- a day when I had endured regular contractions and smiled, wondering and hopeful, thinking they might share a birthday. But like all women in the latter days of pregnancy, I went to bed and awoke, the sun rising on a new day to continue carrying and growing.
I got out of bed to use the bathroom. I knocked my phone off of the nightstand. It clattered to the floor. My husband continued to sleep, uninterrupted, except for the possible snort and rollover. I saw the time, 1:11 AM, as I placed my phone back in its rightful place.
I used the bathroom but remain in the darkness, in the small space of our restroom. (Our older home used to have two master closets, but our previous owners converted one of them to a bathroom. It is small but functional, and has served as a cave-like sanctuary in all of my labors.)
I sat and felt more contractions, I moved and swayed. Having lived in the liminal reality between pregnancy and birth for so long, I wasn’t sure what to think of them. Was this the beginning of actual labor? Another one would wash through me, and I would think, maybe you are here. Maybe it is time.
I would challenge these contractions in my mind, “Is this all you’ve got? Hit me again. Hit me!!!!!!”
And they did. A threshold was crossed, and the intuition set in. I decided to welcome this birth, this work, and calmly gathered the appropriate supplies, the restless energy of labor propelling me from the comfortable cave in my bathroom to ready our home for our home birth.Â
The pool was blown up and propped up on our bedroom wall. Towels. Birth kit. Everything in the hall closet was ready to be collected and placed near the capable hands of Cathy and Mandy when they later arrived.
I walked to the kitchen. No lights. I didn’t want to be jarred out of the rhythm we were in. I felt more intensity and slowly breathed. No tension, no holding back, simply allowing the sensations to wash through and releasing any resistance I held- from my mouth, my body, everywhere- soft clay in the hands of labor.
I rustled around in the cabinet beneath the range. Large pot and fine mesh strainer ready to simmer herbs. Large mixing bowl for supplies or placenta. On the floor by the cabinet, more contractions, strong. Leaning into them on all fours.
Mantras serve like the markers on the shore when swimming in the ocean. No matter how the tide may carry you, there is for you to look up, to see, there is solid ground you have staked and can return to. Mine had been “my uterus is a powerful ship bringing my baby to shore.” It made me laugh internally during each birth, which lightened me as I continued to process through contractions.
I stayed on the floor and allowed my body to work, focusing on releasing all tension. I stood, I lunged, I breathed. It was hard to know where I might be in labor. Very little time had elapsed since the clattering screen flashed at 1:11 A.M., so I decided to keep moving and working on my own for the time being.
I made my way back to the bedroom. I tried to wake Andrew on my way to our bathroom. I said his name, loudly, but to no avail. This wasn’t a project I felt like spending more time and energy on at the moment, so I walked by, knowing he’d wake up eventually.
I went back to find comfortable positions. Sitting upright on the toilet, down on hands and knees. At one calm moment between contractions, I checked myself. In retrospect, I was complete and feeling my baby’s head partway down the birth canal… but, I didn’t know this at the time, so kept laboring.
I began making more noise, unable to contain the sounds of processing contractions- it was a full-body experience. Andrew woke up to me making louder noises. He made calls. It was 2:20 A.M.
First, Cathy. “It’s definitely happening- she’s having regular contractions… no not very far apart… definitely intense, can’t talk through them.”
“How long has she been like this?”
“Uh… Laura, how long?”
(Grunting, mumbling.) “I don’t know… not very long… I don’t know… “
I grabbed a towel and spread it beneath me to support my wrists. I had taken off my clothes to be more comfortable, not wanting anything to cling to me.
I felt… a familiar feeling. The undeniable, unstoppable intensity of downward momentum. Maybe transition? I wasn’t sure.
Cathy assured him she would be here as soon as she could. (My previous two labors were roughly three hours, so she knew not to stall.)
Andrew called my mom. “Hey Mom, looks like it’s time. Go ahead and make your way hereâ¦ Yeah, yeah, make some coffee, take a shower, whatever. Just make your way when you’re ready.” (He’s a midwesterner through and through. Unflinching, polite, not going to inconvenience anyone.)
More downward momentum. Andrew put the plastic cover on the tub. He started to attach the hose. It slipped, doused me with water. He reattached and started to fill the tub. I questioned if I would even get up to get in the tub. If there would be time. I felt the urge to poop again. I forced myself from my comfortable position on the ground.
After a brief moment, I shot up and off the toilet, ripped underwear away. “Oh no oh no oh no… I think the baby’s coming right now!”
“What??! Okay… Okay… “
He calls Cathy back.
“She says the baby’s coming right now!”
I’m on all fours, knowing my baby is about to evict itself from my body, but have the presence of mind to be sure that the towel is spread beneath me to catch any fluids. Andrew takes position, ready for the snap.
Cathy, never allowing her tone to be urgent or anxious, “Okay, tell me what you see.”
Andrew, tone certainly urgent and quite anxious, “Uhh, uhh… I see a face!!!!!”
I guide the baby’s head into my hands to make sure it is safely cradled earthside. Andrew catches the baby as the shoulders and body slide out.
“Okay, body’s out!”
The signal failed, and we didn’t hear anything from Cathy’s end.
“Cathy??? The baby’s purple… not making noise!”
I shout to Andrew, “Give me the baby!”
Anatomy was forgotten in the urgency and Andrew started to pass her over me, not remembering the cord and placenta still attached.
“No, no- through my legs!”
I didn’t know the gender of our baby, so I moved the cord aside. “It’s a girl?!?!?!”
She let out a yell.
I grabbed her and placed her up on my chest, repositioning myself to an upright position, reclining against cabinets. She was pink. Andrew grabbed another towel and we were wrapped up.
He called Cathy back. She assured us she would be here soon and gave some instructions about placenta delivery, but I decided to hold it in until she got there. I think Andrew had been through enough midwifery at this point.
Then, I called my mom. “Hey, Mom. Well, the baby’s already here… So… I guess you can come over whenever you are ready.”
Her response was shock mixed with expletives.
I felt her breathing rhythmically, us in sync with her cuddled close to me. I knew we were both okay.
I felt the ecstatic, adrenaline-laced relief- the exhale. And she was breathing, and then peed on me, too. I made Andrew take a picture.
My mom arrived and walked into our room to her daughter and granddaughter nestled together on the floor. “Are you comfortable? Do you want to sit on a pillow or something??”
“No, I don’t want to stain anything.”
“We can get you a new one!”
I assured her I was fine and perfectly comfortable, besides the regular contractions that were coming because of my placenta.
Cathy and Mandy arrived. Calm, efficient, reassuring. Mandy set up the mise en place. Cathy squatted to the floor in front of me, placed an underpad beneath me. She asked if I felt pushy. I didn’t, really- just felt painful contractions. She told me to push and I bore down, the placenta slithering out. (There’s not really a better way to describe the sensation in our lexicon, as negative as the connotation of “slithering” is.) Smoothly, completely.
We named her. Sweaty and victorious, brainstorming over the bustle of the aftermath. Margaret Drew Miller. We called her Mae, for her great grandmother, AnnaMae, who had given birth the exact same day, 83 years prior.
I relocated to my bed for a repair. Mandy drew a bath. Mae was held by Andrew, alert, beautiful eyes taking in the world. She had a lot of hair. She was perfect.
Cathy worked on details for the logistics of paperwork, needing a time of birth. Andrew checked the call log. His second call to Cathy, when he knew we were about to deliver a baby, was around 2:40. And the next, after Mae was here, was 2:47. The time of birth was decided to be 2:45 A.M.
We took our herbal bath. Cathy had to vigorously scrub her vernix-coated hair because it was so long and thick. The water was perfect, a cocoon of scent and soothing warmth.
We returned to bed with juice, water, and many instructions on care for the coming hours. Cleanup was quiet, calm. Professional and deeply caring. Which flows from the standard of care given by the team at KBC.
Mae and I were tucked into bed. I still wanted her attached, close to me, mine. My body felt worn but well worn. Peaked, submitted, and descent. Now rest. A new reality with a family of 6. She was welcomed by three older brothers, eager to see her. Their days continued seamlessly with getting dressed and fed and school and snacks and going to their grandparents’ house. But they carried a new life with them, too.
We recovered from her ride into the world. It was fast, it was surprising. But, it was her. And she was here.