...smell like wood fires and crisp cold, the kind that just grazes your nose, but let's it know it's a nose, that it's smelling the temperature of the air in the way only an autumn night can feel.
I walked to Belmont Station tonight, laptop slung over my shoulder, and spent some time writing comments for Nora, one of the midwives I worked with during my pregnancy. She is writing a book based on the teachings of her prenatal classes and asked for comments. I had comments aplenty.
Just in case you didn't know, my dear son Joaquin was born at home. I've mentioned it before, but not in great detail. After this evening's writing, however, I realize that I haven't ever really hammered out the birth story before. But mine is a great, non-traumatic one. There's no screaming or critical pivotal moment. (Unless you count transition, but I digress...)
I should tell you up front that I thought I'd have one of those long labors, where you putter about and make soup and paint the rocking chair and all that good stuff. I envisioned putting my son's clothes away during the labor, having those "bonding" tasks to do because first babies take so long to come out. Needless to say, like so many things in my life, my vision of the blessed event and the actual reality of it were two entirely different animals.
For weeks (like, since week 32...) I kept thinking I was going to go into labor early. It was a huge anxiety. One night I had such anxiety about it that Joe and I went to the store to get absolutely everything we'd possibly need and he took a half day off work to finish painting Joaquin's room. This was at Week 36.
Imagine my chagrin at week 41, and counting.
Joaquin was taking his time. His "due date" was April 7th. It came and went. No baby.
We did everything we could, besides castor oil. Joe and I walked up and down Mount Tabor (dubbed Mount Labor by the midwives) countless times. I walked and walked and walked. I ate curry.
I took a non-stress test. Baby J in utero was fine, and we made an appointment with an acupuncturist to induce in few days, so we decided to chill.
Nine days after the charts had predicted his arrival, I went in to see Mary Beth, the acupuncturist. She's also a midwife, and consequently, is more effective for inducing than the average acu. On April 16th, at 5pm, she checked me. 2 centimeters dilated, 75% effaced. Okay. She stuck the needles in me, and by the time she sent us on our way, I was having some light cramping. I asked her what I should eat to help the chi do it's work best. She said to avoid hot, spicy foods, which would move the energy up, and suggested beets, which would pull the energy down. We bought some beets on the way home.
At eight o'clock, I started having some light contractions. I'd eaten my beets and headed up to bed. I should mention, too, that our house had been prepped for birth for days. The tub was set up, waiting to be filled. The box of medical supplies was unloaded onto a card table in my son's very-ready room. His clothes were all ready to go. Both our brand-new pillow-top mattress upstairs and the futon in Joaquin's room had the shower curtain under the fitted sheet to protect the mattresses.
Everything was ready but the baby.
Joe came to bed at 9:30 and went to sleep immediately, which is one of the Amazing Abilities of Joe. At ten I woke up and thought the contractions were slacking off. So I woke him up and demanded we go for a walk.
It was surreal, a walk through the still night air. My contractions intensified and I decided to go back to sleep around 10:45. It was a good move.
I woke up at near midnight, feeling a pop! of sorts from within. I knew instantly what it was. "Grab my legs!" I yelled at Joe, who was groggy and uncomprehending. I'm unreasonably proud to say that despite his stupor, I managed to swing myself, pregnant belly and all, off the bed and let my water break onto the floor, thus saving the protected but very precious new mattress. "Grab a towel and get the papers!" I told Joe. Poor Joe, still half-asleep (hey, he wasn't in labor, I was) brought up a towel and the paper upon which we'd been timing contractions earlier. Nice thought, but I had meant the pH paper that the midwives had given me, to test the water to make sure it was amniotic fluid, and not that I'd peed myself. Yep. It was the right stuff.
Call the midwife. Contractions coming on. I remember rocking in the glider, chanting "More, more" and rubbing my belly. It was another world...
At 2 or so, Regina, the assistant midwife, arrived. I loved Regina. That serene face. That sense of calm as she said "You're still in early labor. Practice relaxing into it." And then she examined me. You moms know what an exam during labor feels like: it's akin to shoving an orange traffic cone up your nose. How is a baby supposed to come out of something that feels so teeny teeny teeny? Then those calm words--
"You're about 2 centimeters dialated and 75% effaced."
So, she left at 2:20 or so, and I decided I would suck it up and try that relaxing thing. But I really, really had to use the bathroom. This would be the focal point of my birth story, the part that my friend Alisha will always remember as "she almost gave birth on the toilet".
Because nothing ever goes the way it's supposed to. Paint the rocking chair? I couldn't have written my name to save my life. I stayed in the bathroom. Couldn't leave. It was like my own personal safe haven. I'm not ashamed to say it: sitting on the toilet felt good. Really good. I didn't want to leave. These days, I'm not surprised when I hear that women have their babies in the toilet. Truly, I'm not.
Before long, I was doing that thing Ina May Gaskin calls "Horse Lips"...making my lips loose and blowing raspberries through them. I wiggled my head and loosened my jaw and made low, bovine sounds. This all sounds kinda weird unless you've read the appendices of Ina May Gaskin's "Guide To Midwifery". I don't want to be crass here, but that animal stuff is what it's all about. Being loose on top means staying loose on the bottom, so to speak.
At one point, I realized that one of bags of waters (there are three layers!) had fallen out and was pressing painfully on my cervix. I reached up with my fingers and tweaked it hard. It ruptured and I felt better. But then, suddenly, I knew I was pushing.
"Call Catherine." I told Joe. He was trying to time my contractions and I was beyond communicating with him. They were constant. I'd stopped bossing him around, telling him to stir the defrosted soup I'd made for the midwives and his attempts to fill the birthing pool. I guess I should have told him what I had realized. "Oh, shit, I'm in transition. I'm pushing!" Probably would have been helpful information, huh?
He went to the living room to call Catherine around 3:20. I felt lost and confused without him, and so reassured when he came back. I told him I wanted to push. He said "Don't push yet, babe." I responded "I'm...trying...not...to...PUUUUUUUUSSSSHHHHH!" Trying not to push is like trying to stop a truck coming at you 60 miles an hour. Impossible and incredibly stupid. And painful.
But Joe, Mr. Cool and Collected, walked me through a guided meditation which helped center me. And when Regina arrived, all I could think of saying was "I don't want to have my baby on the toilet!" But all that came out was "Uhhhhhh....".
Blessed Regina. She knew where I needed to be. She and Joe each wrapped an arm around me and helped me to my son's room, to the bed where he would be born.
I don't remember the pushing, the rest of it. I really don't. I don't remember it hurting or the "ring of fire" some women experience. I birthed on my side, Joe holding my leg up, Regina supporting my body, and Catherine arriving just in time, having run all the red lights. First babies don't usually come this fast.
Joaquin was born at 4:16 a.m. We could have fudged it and claimed 4:17 on 4/17. The midwives were cutely game, but I just couldn't do it. I'd always know it wasn't true.
My son's first act was to poop on me. I so didn't care. I was in love.
And as you might have guessed, I still am. Joe's upstairs with our boy right now, having put him to bed. Today, like many days, Joaquin went down for a nap on the futon he was born on, and then woke up and walked out of his room, came to find us, and smiled. 18 months this Friday, and I still remember his birth so vividly. What a wonderful gift.
And his smile says it all.