As a preface to this post, let me just say that I am a living advocate of healthy home birth. Our babies were born right here at our home, and both experiences were wonderful. That is not to say that labor is easy. There is pain and intensity and lots of work, but the hormonal cocktail that accompanies that effort more than compensates. That said, I am not sitting with any judgement of mothers who choose not to birth naturally or in hospital settings. We did what made sense to us. Complications can arise, and when they do, it is important to have knowledgeable care. I’m just sharing my good story, with the hope that it can be a source of joy and inspiration, rather than the fear and dread that I’ve heard passed around with birth stories. Our children’s arrivals were landmarks in my life, and I celebrate them…
Each year on the kids’ birthdays, I try to take some time and get down deep into the memory of their arrival. I summon that intensity and euphoria and let myself really revel in that amazing experience again.
I love birth stories, all kinds, and though I have shared mine over and over with friends, I have never written them, until now. Lulah’s birthday is not until November, so I get to write the second baby’s story first.
About two weeks before Levon was born, we had been at the Biodynamic Conference. Everyone there was sure I was going to drop that baby at any minute, and a kindly doctor friend made sure I had a little birth hypnosis to go on. He actually waved a pendulum in front of my face and talked calmly to me, just like in the movies. I had to laugh a little. He kept saying how this baby was just going to go “whoosh, down the water slide”. That was the phrase he repeated, and I repeated it too, usually with a giggle, for the next two weeks.
It was a beautiful mid-October day. Sunday. We had pancakes, as per family ritual, and I can remember feeling antsy. I felt large and unsettled. I wanted to be busy with whatever seemed most important to me, and I didn’t want anyone in my way. Instead I was busy with lots of other things and so I was a little grumpy on top of being antsy.
This time of year, there’s a sense of relief that the summer gardens and their accompanying labors are over, but there are still a lot of things to do. The sky gets higher and the days shorter, and we’re exhilarated and busy.
I let Paul know that I was antsy and feeling kind of weird. His mind was on the garlic patch and he felt compelled to go up on the hill and plant some. I was too big and squirrely to do that, so Lulah and I stayed down in the hollow. Paul sensed that I was somehow dissatisfied with the course of things and made the great suggestion that Lulah and I take a walk.
I was feeling strange enough that day to warrant wearing a watch (tell-tale sign of a woman in early labor – she keeps watching a clock). As we walked, I really started to notice the regularity of my intensity, and began to name that intensity contractions. Lulah, 4 (almost 5) at the time, walked with me, chattering about this and that, and stopped with me to do a funny little hula dance from time to time. I noticed that the contractions were only about 20-30 seconds long and around five minutes apart. I thought that was pretty short and far enough apart to not be too consequential, so we kept walking. We stopped and played in one of the little waterfalls by the road. We waited for Wowee the cat to find us and loved on him for awhile. Finally we went home.
I can’t remember at all what we had for dinner, but I’m pretty sure I cooked it. Paul was confident that it would be awhile before we had a baby out, if he came out at all that night. He called Kathy, our mid-wife to let her know that things were starting, but weren’t urgent, then released me to go have a shower while he put Lulah to bed.
The shower was just great, but I got tired of the steam and took myself upstairs to relax while Lulah went down.
That’s when I went to another planet. I lay on my hands and knees on the bed, letting myself drift off as best I could between contractions (which maintained a strangely constant duration all this time). As I drifted, I felt like I was flying over some strange desert space-scape. Sometimes shapes down below me would seem to reach up toward me. It was an altogether new sensation.
I don’t know how long I stayed there, in flight, but eventually the thought came to me that Paul had fallen asleep with Lulah, and I should get him up.
It took longer than usual to get down the stairs and I figured out the the contractions had picked up speed. They didn’t get longer – the space between them just grew shorter. And they got more intense. By the time I reached Paul at Lulah’s bed, it was a challenge to speak.
I retired to the big bed and tried to catch up with myself while Paul got up and bustled around. I think he rubbed my back for a little while, which was real nice, from my vantage point in outer space. He wondered if he should call the midwife again, and I think I managed to answer in an affirmative. I remember him looking for the number and seeing the number emblazened in my mind, flowing out of my mouth to him. I remember pieces of his conversation with Kathy – he said “she’s not getting much of a break now,” which struck me as true. Labor is an amazing altered state of consciousness, if a mother is willing to roll with it.
Just after he hung up the phone, I felt the strong urge to go to the potty. We had a little toilet seat set up in the house for the occasion, and I swooped over to it, sat for less than one minute and realized that I didn’t need to go the potty after all. I just needed to have a baby.
There was time to get to the floor in front of the couch. I may have said something along the lines of “PAUL. TOWEL. BABY.” And Paul came, with a towel, and caught Levon as he came shooting “down the water slide” into this life. He was born fast, and then he roared. Paul handed him through my legs to me and we just sat with him, there on the floor, wet and ecstatic, looking at this beautiful little being who was so suddenly among us. What a miracle.
Lulah hadn’t made a noise when she was born. She breathed just fine, but didn’t cry at all. Levon bellowed. He was definitely clearing his lungs, and it was a great releasing cry. When he didn’t settle down after a couple minutes, Paul suggested that I try to nurse him. He was immediately hungry. (I think that might have been his primary motivation for being born – he was ready to eat.) We settled onto the bed, all amazed at our new circumstances.
Our midwife lived well over an hour away, so we had some time to just BE. I would not trade those holy, quiet moments of ourselves with our new child for anything. Eventually the placenta came and we did a rudimentary tie and cut on it. Then we just lay there snuggled into the newborn nursing zone, letting the world roll on around us. The midwife came and checked us over and went, shaking her head that we had managed to do it again without her (more on that next month).
Lulah slept through the whole ordeal. She stirred some time after the midwife left. Paul brought her over to the bed and she looked down at Levon.
“Who’s this?” she said.
“This is your little brother.”
“Oh. He’s pretty tute (cute).” she said. And then she went back to sleep. The next day she looked so proud, and she held and snuggled him as often as possible. In the morning, family came pouring in with photos and food. It was a great flurry of activity around this silent sleeping newborn, the largest presence in the room.
And that was how Levon began. He has grown into a beautiful, sweet, strong boy in the past three years. He’s glad to be with us, and I am so happy, so grateful, to share life with him. With just as much joy as I feel looking back at his arrival, I turn my gaze ahead.
If you want to learn more about natural birth and home birth, two authors that I highly recommend are Ina May Gaskin and Michel Odent.