Our birth story began with Ina May. I’m not referring to her books or appearances in documentaries. Literally, I saw Ina May when I was in labor. It wasn’t a personal visit, but it was an unexpected way to start our story.
A week before Dragon’s due date I did something very silly. I purchased advanced tickets to an 90 minute documentary screening. First of all, who was I kidding to think I could last 90 minutes at nine months pregnant without a bathroom break? I secured tickets because the film, Birth Story, was to be followed by a q&a with the directors and the subject- Ina May Gaskin. Ina May is the most recognized midwife around the globe, author, and leader in the natural childbirth community. I figured, what better baby date could I have with my unborn? That night turned out to be an ironic final date for all of us before birth day.
Around 3am on January 16, I woke up with Braxton Hicks. The sensation wasn’t unusual, s0 I fell back to sleep after 20 minutes and woke up later like it was any other day. Fighting a winter cold, I decided to blow off my list of baby preparations to rest and watch movies. Dragon wasn’t due for almost a week, and I truly expected labor wouldn’t come for another two weeks after. My birth was two weeks late, as well as all of my siblings, so why not?
In the late afternoon, just as I laid down for a nap, light rushes (contractions) began to come in consistent waves. Poor timing on my part. I had no idea then that I would have to wait until the birth of my baby before I would sleep longer than 15-30 minute stretches! Knowing that early labor can slow down significantly or come to a halt for days, I tried to ignore the sensations and distract myself with housework.
My mom was planning to visit the following week, to spend my final pregnancy days with me and to act as a second doula during the birth. I called and she was ready to jump on the next train to New York, but I was in denial and told her to hold off. I was the only one though, because even Jonathan called to update our doula, Kathryn. I sent Jonathan to bed and attempted to sleep on the sofa, so I wouldn’t disturb him with my tossing and turning. A warm bath at 2am helped slow down the sensations enough that I could rest and even sleep for 30 minute increments.
January 17 was the date of our show. I didn’t want to miss my chance to see Ina May, but I began to have serious doubts that I could make it. Once I mentioned refunding our tickets, Jonathan returned home from work midday. I called my mom again. She booked the train for herself and my youngest brother. It was happening. The realization actually made me hold off refunding the tickets. My mother even joked, “What better place to be if you go into labor than with (Ina May).” Jonathan wasn’t as relaxed. He offered to keep our date night as long as I would walk two blocks around the neighborhood beforehand, so he could determine whether I might actually make the trek to Manhattan. I did make it, though the subway ride was one of the most uncomfortable.
Birth Story is an wonderful documentary about the work of an amazing woman and her team of midwives. I highly recommend it, especially to those in labor. Well, it could be easier to watch when one isn’t closing her eyes every eight minutes to breathe through a rush. After all the doubt about whether or not we should go out, it turned out to be the best decision. I did not give birth at the theater, but Jonathan and I connected with friends and made it through the q&a. Listening to Ina May speak live, just 24 hours before giving birth, was surreal. I can’t recall anything she spoke about, but at the time it was just what I needed to hear. (I could spend an entire entry talking about Ina May and The Farm midwives in Tennessee, but I just want to include the irony of this last date experience. Jonathan and I were initially serious about having Dragon at The Farm. We have family in Kentucky, so it wasn’t entirely out of reach. We did all the research and mapped our trip. In the end, we realized that driving home with a newborn in January or February may not be the brightest idea no matter how beautiful the birth setting may be. We also opted out of a home birth, due to necessity of space for a water birth. Watching Birth Story and listening to Ina May right before having my own birth story was a gift, full of comfort and good advice. It boosted my confidence at the most pivotal time.)
After the film, I requested my final odd food craving- non-fried, vegetarian, southern food. Thank goodness for smartphones. One search found us within blocks of a popular vegan restaurant that served us healthy house-made dishes. Perfect for the challenge ahead. Like the previous night, I sent Jonathan to bed but this time I woke him at 3am to help me prepare another bath and time rushes. Due to lack of sleep, the rushes were inconsistent. At this point, I was so tired I couldn’t have feared childbirth if I wanted to! The day progressed slowly with texts to and from Kathryn and updates to our family. On a short afternoon walk, I hugged every tree in the neighborhood while swaying my hips and breathing through rushes. After a warm shower I suddenly felt a huge release. The anxiety and excitement of having a child, plus lack of sleep, came flooding from my tear gates. I felt so vulnerable and tender. I don’t often cry, but I knew that holding back could make the labor tougher down the road. I gave Jonathan a hug and let the tears fall. I was a peony. A small bud, opening and expanding into a large, delicate flower.
Around 5:30pm my rushes were stronger and consistent. After another appointment in our neighborhood, Kathryn stopped by to check on my progress. It was perfect timing. She lent her support by zoning in on pressure points in my shoulders and back. Both Jonathan and Kathryn took turns squeezing my hips and relaxing my abdomen with the rebozo technique. By 7pm, my plug dislodged, so we packed into the car and headed to the birth center. Of all five boroughs, there is currently only a single stand-alone birth center in the NYC area. It’s usually a two hour subway or one hour car ride from our home to the center’s Brooklyn neighborhood. By some miracle and without speeding, Jonathan managed to get us there in a record 20 minutes! Thank goodness, because enduring rushes in a moving vehicle was the opposite of fun, even with Kathryn’s magical massage hands!
A great treat was that our favorite birth assistant, Maggie was on-call for our delivery. She greeted us at the door and began preparing a warm bath. (I didn’t plan on a water birth, but decided to deliver at a birth center for the option. Even if we had rented a birthing tub to labor at home, we wouldn’t have been able to fit it in our cozy apartment.) The midwife arrived at 8pm and as soon as she confirmed I was 6 centimeters and 70 percent effaced, my waters broke. I had a strong inclination that my labor wouldn’t last much longer, so I hopped right into the tub. At this point my memory is a bit of a blur. I was on all fours in the tub. I refused knee pads, which was really silly. Maggie periodically checked the baby’s heart rate with a doppler. Kathryn soothed me verbally through rushes, while Jonathan rubbed my lower back. Kathryn and Jonathan recalled that I would sometimes bang the side of the tub, slap Jonathan’s hands away or say something humorous. To me it was almost an out of body experience. Though it was tough, part of me kept thinking, “Oh my gosh! Dude! You are having a baby right now. Like right now. You. You are doing it!” I also kept in mind how hard my little one was working to get out and how painful it probably was to be pushed around and squeezed.
Sometime around 10pm I felt my body working to expel its gift. My eyes opened wide and I told Kathryn that I wasn’t pushing, but that my body was! It felt as though my body was a popcorn machine. With each rush I could feel pockets of air being pushed out and the baby’s head moving further down. The midwife checked my progress and the baby’s heart rate. We were good to go! Slowly and between rushes, I turned over. Jonathan jumped into the tub, fully clothed, and positioned himself behind me for my comfort. I leaned back and, on the advice of the midwife, waited only to push during a heavy contraction. She didn’t want me to waste my strength on small ones.
Being “in the zone” wasn’t always a good thing. Maggie, Kathryn and the midwife explained a few times that I should push as if I were constipated. It took me a while to realize that meant I shouldn’t make low moaning noises, but put my chin to my chest and just push through…well with that constipated expression. One more check on the baby’s heart rate revealed that it was falling somewhat. The midwife advised me to take a few deep breaths, wait for the next heavy contraction and push the kiddo out fully. She didn’t want to waste anymore time. While we waited through small rushes I
felt touched Dragon’s soft fuzzy head, still safely tucked inside of me. The moment was short, but memorable. The next rush brought the birth of the head, the ring of fire and the rest of my little Dragon’s body. Such a quick exodus after a long early labor!
I could feel Jonathan crying joyfully behind me as I simply stared at the quiet, blue-eyed stranger on my chest. Dragon must have been just as shocked as I from our team effort, because it took some time before we heard a cry. Even then, true to our baby’s nature as we now know, the cry was subtle. Rivers Theophilus Fourwood was born at 10:19pm on January 18th. He was a small and early bundle. A sweet gift.
While most of this story was unraveling, my mother and brother were in transit. They arrived 10 minutes after Rivers’ birth. Just in time for my poor 12 year old brother to walk in the room when I was completely naked and being examined by the midwife. It might be quite a while before he has kids now!
I’m so grateful to my birth team for their encouragement, patience and support. This also includes people who were not present for the delivery, like friends with comforting words, our family’s love, knowledge from our Bradley Method instructor, Tanya and of course, Ina May. This story may not be as beautiful without all the tools we were given by these loving individuals.