On Monday evening at 8:52 PM, Joshua, Lu, and I were sitting outside sharing a drink with Weston and his lady friend. The phone rang and I ran up the stairs to grab it. I’d been doing this for nearly three weeks now. It’s very unlike me. I had the phone charged, the volume turned on, and my ears twitching, primed for that jingle.
“Is it go time?” I asked, like I had asked at least half a dozen times before.
Between Lu screaming and the muffled connection, Stacy had to repeat a few times that yes, her water had broken, and yes, I should come over. Like, now.
I ran down to get Joshua, and together we packed a small bag. After a round of kisses, I was out the door.
I drove the truck to Stacy’s and ran inside, half wondering if running was a bit unnecessary. But once I arrived in the living room, I could see Stacy doubled over in contraction. I grabbed a few things and then ran back out to the truck, yanking out the car seats and stuffing them behind a raspberry bush to make room.
We moved fast. Stacy had dilated from 4 cm to 10 cm in an hour during her first labor, and though she seemed calm, I think we were all concerned about the 30 minute drive to the birthing center.
I drove with Sandy in the passenger seat and Stacy draped over the back seat, just like I had done in my labor with Lu. Though I could tell that the contractions were gaining in speed and intensity, I tried to focus on driving safely and just slightly over the speed limit. Sandy gave me directions and filled me in as we drove.
Stacy’s water broke after a dinner at Lola’s. It was the last night that her cousin, Kristine, was in town, and they had celebrated with spicy food in a last ditch attempt to bring on labor. Perhaps it worked, because as Stacy leaned over to find the last word in the crossword on the children’s menu, she felt a slight pop and rush of water. By the time they had walked to the car, she’d already had two contractions. Feeling giddy with progress and anticipation, she called me.
About half way to the birthing center, K pulled up next to us, and Stacy gasped out an update through our rolled down windows. It seemed possible that Stacy might start pushing before we got to the birthing center, but I was also hopeful. From my own experience, I doubted that Stacy had made it to transition, though it seemed she was close.
We pulled into the parking lot and Stacy finished a contraction before exiting the truck and making her way to the entrance. Sandy, K, and I fumbled with bags, trying to grab everything, but Stacy told us to leave it. Another contraction hit before she made it to the door.
The midwives led us to a room, and while Stacy labored on the toilet with K in attendance, I started the tub, set up my oil diffuser with Clary Sage, ran and got the last of the bags, and tried to set up Stacy’s playlist, but to no avail (gah! technology!).
Finally, the tub was full enough for Stacy to get in and K with her. Though they sat facing in the same direction at first, the midwife quickly advised that Stacy kneel and lean into K. And there she labored.
We turned on the faux candles and lined the bath with their flickering light. I applied counter pressure to Stacy’s lower back, and Sandy held a small fan in her hand and generated a breeze near Stacy’s face. K held onto his wife and encouraged her the whole time. The midwife stayed, undeterred by updates from the nurses about other patients or arrivals. “I’m not leaving her,” she said.
Between contractions, the midwife would hold a mirror and flashlight under the water to measure Stacy’s progress, and it wasn’t long before she saw a patch of Walden’s head. The anterior lip of Stacy’s cervix was the last barrier to pushing, and so she gave Stacy some homeopathic arnica pills to bring down the swelling.
By now, transition had come and gone. A contraction hit and Stacy played with noise and breath, working through it. Just before she began to push, her body skipped a contraction, and she leaned into K for rest. I smiled when she asked me to sing the Shema, and though I felt a bit shy at first, I complied.
The Shema is a song that my dad and Mandy have sung to all of their children just before bed, and I sing it to Lily and Lu, too. It’s not a lullaby, but in our family, it has become one. Stacy has heard me sing to my girls, and in her monkey-mind wisdom she asked to hear the song.
|Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.
Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.
|Barukh sheim k’vod malkhuto l’olam va’ed.
Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever.
|V’ahav’ta eit Adonai Elohekha b’khol l’vav’kha uv’khol naf’sh’kha uv’khol m’odekha.
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.
|V’hayu had’varim ha’eileh asher anokhi m’tzav’kha hayom al l’vavekha.
And all these words that I command you on this day shall be in your heart, shall be on your heart.
L’ma’an tiz’k’ru va’asitem et kol mitz’votai viyitem k’doshim lei’loheikhem
That you may remember and do all of my commandments, and be holy unto your God, unto your God.
I suppose it’s not surprising that a song with so much history and power not only in my family, but also in the Jewish faith shifted the energy in that room. Everything felt still but magnified. Stacy and K are not religious. I’m not particularly, either. But I felt it.
Stacy began pushing. His head and arm were out; he was waving to the world. She pushed some more. As he left her body, the midwife directed him under her belly and up into her arms. She fell back and cradled him high on her chest. The moment slowed and then burst into real time with his cry. I hugged Sandy and we were both crying. K kissed his son. Sandy looked at her watch. “It’s 10:37,” she said. From start to finish, the labor had lasted less then two hours.
In no time at all, Stacy stood up with Walden in her arms, beaming and steady. She walked to the bed and laid there with him on her chest and K by her side. We exclaimed over and over again at how well she had done, her strength and confidence. We gazed at Walden’s bruised little head, his hands, and his tiny mouth, already searching.
The midwife sat with Stacy, trying to coax out the placenta. We tried some Clary Sage on her abdomen, but in the end, a shot of pitocin accelerated the process. Walden started nursing.
After a while, Stacy got up to take a bath, and the midwife came in to measure Walden. He’s big! We all agreed, trying to guess his weight. Even the midwife guessed 8 lbs.
The scale read 6 lbs 1 oz, and we were all baffled. The midwife announced that she’d never been that far off and re-calibrated the scale. The second time, he weighed 6 lbs 11 oz. We all laughed. Why did he look so big to us? Was it just because Margot had been so small? His head though, was large at 14 and 1/2 centimeters.
Once Stacy was back in bed and the lights were down low, Sandy and I gathered our things and said goodbye. Kristine was at home with Margot, but she was scheduled to leave in the morning, and we needed to make sure there were some well-rested adults in Margot’s life.
On the drive home, we couldn’t stop talking about what an amazing labor and birth we had just seen. Looking at texts, we tried to figure out how long we had been at the birthing center before Walden was born. We figured it was a little less than an hour.
I dropped off Sandy and then drove home, dumping my bags at the door and crawling into bed next to Joshua and Lu. It was 2:30 AM. As I fell asleep, thoughts swirled in my head. Wally’s sweet face. Stacy beaming, holding him, and walking out of that tub as though she had just run a race. The Shema.
Years ago in English 210, I read “How to Talk to Your Mother (Notes)” by Lorrie Moore. At the time, the last paragraph struck me as incredibly beautiful:
1940. Clutch her hair in your fist, rub it against your cheek.
1939. As through a helix, as through an ear, it is here you are nearer the dream flashes, the other lives.
There is a tent of legs, a sundering of selves, as you both gasp blindly for breath. Across the bright and cold, she knows it when you try to talk to her, though this is never really something you manage to understand.
Even now, “a sundering of selves” is listed as my Favorite Quote on facebook, a vestige of my original profile. It’s less than a quote, but it’s more than a phrase. It’s what I think of as birth, and what I fell asleep thinking of that night.
Tonight, Wally is two days old. I got to hold him yesterday for a good, long while, and I looked into his face, admiring his nose, eyes that are still too new to stay open, and his little hands, resting stoically against his chest. He’s a beautiful baby. Stacy is tired but happy, and Margot seems to be quite content in her new role as big sister. Truly, she seems no worse for wear.
Today, at Wally’s two day appointment, he weighed in at 7 lbs 11 oz, so…. Either Stacy is creating colostrum on steroids, or we were all closer to the mark with our guess of 8 lbs.
And that’s the story. Thank you so much for having me, you guys. I feel so blessed to have witnessed such a birth! Love.