12 weeks today. And I’m finally getting to writing that birth story. So much life packed into this time, so much awake time, so much sleep. My life seems to be divided into exactly those parts — awake and sleep. Eat, no eat. It’s very basic and simple. I’ve leaned back into that baby way, where even if I am standing by myself I am swaying back and forth, shifting my weight from side to side like water, unconsciously rocking an invisible baby to sleep.
I guess I should start from the beginning. The birth.
Nico Boon came two weeks later than I thought he would (I was sure he would be early like Ben) and exactly one week after his due date. I had scheduled an induction for Friday morning, deciding I couldn’t be pregnant for one second longer or to have the baby grow much bigger than he already was. As soon as I made that appointment I felt myself relax. There is an official end date to this suffering! My heart leapt at the thought. I was officially out of patience.
Then, the night before, at 4 am to be exact, the contractions started with a bang. Finally! I thought. Bring it on! I lay in bed through the first few thinking I would let Matt sleep to a more reasonable hour (we would be doing this for many hours, right?) when a mere 20 minutes later, I was sobbing and scared, unable to breathe or relax. I woke Matt up and called my friend in San Francisco who was scheduled to stay with Ben. By the time she arrived a little after 6, I was panicking. The contractions were only a few minutes apart and I was bleeding. We were going fast! So much for my years of yoga… I didn’t have it in me to breathe through the contractions. It was just too much. So I just let myself cry.
Poor Matt hightailed it to the hospital as fast as he could with me sobbing next to him.
Me: (choking through tears) I think (sob sob) I need (sputter) an (sputter) epidural this time.
Matt: Whatever you want honey! The world doesn’t need another hero!
As I walked through the long hallway toward the intake/admin desk, I remembered how long I endured the contractions without medication during Ben’s labor. I marveled at the memory of managing the pain with my breath, how strong my mind was and how relaxed I was able to get my body. This time was different. It was as if I was already exhausted, too tired to do what I knew I had to do to keep the pain under control. I kept thinking, I just don’t have it in me this time…
I’m glad I was so clear. They admitted me immediately and got me set up with an epidural as quickly as they could. I was AMAZED at how well it worked. Several minutes after they hooked me up the nurse asked, “How are the contractions now?” I told her I would let her know when I had one. She smiled and said, “You’ve been having them every minute for the last five minutes. In fact, you’re having one right now!”
And here is the moment where I should back up and give you a little context. A few days before I went into labor I had a long talk with a friend who is a doula. Given that I was past my due date and feeling anxious she was wondering if there was some kind of mental block that wasn’t allowing my body to relax and go into labor. She asked me a ton of questions about how I wanted the birth to go, what my hopes were, etc. What I appreciated most was that she asked these questions without any agenda. I had an assumption that doulas and midwives had an agenda about delivering at home, are suspicious of hospitals and generally frown on any sort of pain medication. Turns out I was wrong, and I felt so relieved when it was clear that she really just wanted to know what kind of birth experience I wanted to have. The more I talked with her, the more I realized that not scheduling an induction, not having an epidural, etc. was me trying to be good. Trying to do it right… in the “natural” way that people do it here in Berkeley.
“What would a fun and easy birth look like to you?” she asked me. (She knows these are two of my core values) I laughed at the impossibility of it… Birth? fun and easy? Is that even possible? But for the sake of conversation I answered, “I would get the epidural as soon as possible and have a pain free 5 hour labor where I chatted and laughed with Matt and the nurses.” Then that’s what you should plan for! she encouraged.
My body immediately relaxed at the thought and tears came to my eyes. In that moment I realized what was underneath my desire for it to be easy. Although my labor with Ben was great, it was 15 hours of breathing through incredibly painful contractions (often with no break between them). I had to go so deep into myself to manage them that I was somewhere else entirely. My eyes were closed the entire time as I sat on the hospital bed, afraid to move a muscle. I didn’t want anyone to touch me or talk to me, and although at the time I wasn’t aware of it, in retrospect, I see how disconnected and alone I felt. It wasn’t horrible or traumatic necessarily, just something I felt like no one could help me with, something I had to do myself.
This is my tendency in life in general, to not ask for help, to just tough things out myself. I’ve been working consciously to invite more collaboration into my life, more help, more company, more togetherness. My birth with Ben mirrored the way I was operating in the rest of my life — being strong and trying not to need anything from anyone else.
“I want to do it differently this time,” I told my friend. “I want to feel connected. I want to be in the room.”
And I got to be. And I’m so grateful. It was pretty much exactly what I had hoped–Six hour labor, relatively pain-free, chatting with Matt and the nurses and just generally marveling at the lack of pain. I still can hardly believe that kind of ease was possible. Mostly though, I’m grateful I got to be more present to the love that surrounded me this time.
My most vivid memory however happened before we left the house that morning, while we waited for my friend to arrive. I was lying on the couch and a strong contraction came. I closed my eyes and cried, my body shook and tears rolled down my face. When I opened my eyes Ben’s little face was just a couple of inches away from mine, his hands cupped gently around my cheeks. He looked deeply into my eyes for one long moment and said, “Is that better mama?” And it was.
I will never forget this one gorgeous moment of pure attention and presence he offered me. There was so much love in that gesture it made my heart burst open. A friend of mine says, Love makes you brave and now I know what she means.