Updated: Oct 8, 2019
‘The new air greeted him harping in wild nerves, wind of wild air of seeds of brightness.’ - Ulysses.
The evening of June 15th 2017 was a normal, uneventful one. My husband had left earlier that morning to stay for a few nights out in Long Island while finishing up work on a film and I was home with our daughter (my stepdaughter) Tierney. School was a couple of weeks away from letting out so we went through our usual motions, homework, violin, cooking dinner. As we sat down to dinner I noticed that I was having intermittent cramping, similar to period pain but dismissed it as no more than intense Braxton hicks which I had been having for months. Besides, the baby wasn’t due for another couple of weeks and being a first time mother I had no reason to think I wouldn’t fit somewhere along the curve and go slightly overdue. I got T into bed and lay down on the couch, back propped up against the wall that the side of the couch rests against so I could recline slightly and relax, maybe ease my swelling ankles. The summer heat had been particularly intense for the past week and I was starting to feel over being pregnant. I didn’t enjoy heaving my belly along on sweaty, rubbing thighs or the feeling of my sandals cutting into my ankles as they swelled in the humidity. For the most part I had loved it, growing a baby inside my own body. What a singularly miraculous thing a woman’s body is capable of. I felt like Mother Earth herself had reached out and planted a seed inside me. I was imbued with light, with love, with forbearance and patience and wonder. But that last week was long.
Around ten o clock in the evening I started to time the contractions. They had been pretty consistent for a while with no sign of abating even after a shower. 50 seconds long, 4 minutes apart. Hm. I called my husband who was still at work, though about to wrap for the day and he immediately asked with some urgency if I’d spoken to the midwives.
“No, but I emailed them” I explained, “I’m sure this is false labor, it’ll go away sometime in the night”.
Danny insisted that I call and speak to them, in the meantime he’d head back to the hotel, shower and wait for me to tell him what to do. When we hung up I called our midwives Barri and Kristen. Kristen answered the phone sounding absolutely exhausted. I’d later find out that she had just gotten home from the birth of our friend Rye, who’s mother Andrea had labored for over 30 hours and had severe pelvic complications that caused major distress but were skillfully resolved by Barri.
Kristen asked me if I’d had any of the usual signs. Bloody show? No. Mucus plug? No. Water breaking? No. Just regular contractions.
“Well then” she said, “lets wait out the night and let me know if anything else happens”.
At this point, I thought to mention that while I hadn’t had any typical signs, I had pooed about 5 times since dinner. That got her attention.
“Call Danny, it’s time for him to come home”, she told me.
I called him. He had already packed up his stuff and was walking to the car, way ahead of me. I was full of excitement (of course) but decided to try to do the sensible thing and get some rest, knowing it could be a couple of days of labor ahead of me. By the time Danny got home at about 12.30/1 in the morning I had been dozing for about half an hour and we both tried to get some more sleep, me in between contractions. At 2am I decided that I couldn’t lay down anymore, my body needed to move to get this baby out.
I went out into the living room with a pile of pillows that I made a tower out of on the sofa, alternating between pacing the floor during a contraction and leaning my head on my pillow pile to rest and try to sleep. Getting up from lying down in my heavily pregnant state took too much energy so sit sleep it was. I remember being acutely aware of the squeaking of the floor boards while I paced and hoping I wasn’t bothering our landlord downstairs. Every so often I’d time my contractions to get some idea of how I was progressing. I did this for a few hours until at 5.30am I suddenly started to panic about Tierney. Initially when we’d spoken to her mom, Fran, we decided that she’d get ready for school at our house and then Fran would pick her up to take to school but I realized that things were progressing much faster than I’d anticipated. I was starting to need to vocalize through my contractions and I didn’t want to scare Tierney when she woke. So, I woke Danny and asked him to call Fran and call the midwives, it was time, I needed help. Danny encouraged me to get into the shower which really helped and I was still in there when both our midwife and Fran arrived at the same time.
Danny tells me that T had woken up from a nightmare while he was making the bed (sheets underneath the two mattress protectors that I had insisted we needed with sheets on top to save our Tempur -Pedic) and came our bleary eyed and teary but upon hearing that news that her brother would be born soon a massive smile spread across her face. Tierney tells me that she woke up to hear me sounding like a ‘wounded cow’. Her words, not mine. In response I told her this is very normal (and felt quite proud of myself for keeping my vocalizing low and guttural, conducive to helping the cervix open).
My midwife, Kristen, arrived to find me clinging to the ledge in the shower, just at the moment where I really started to need her. She placed a reassuring hand on my back and Tierney came in for a kiss goodbye. I stayed in the shower for a while, Danny was getting things ready and speaking to my family in Australia, mainly my mother. Mom was due to arrive in New York in just a couple of days’ time. The idea had been that she would be here for the birth, we hadn’t anticipated that I’d be two whole weeks early! Kristen sat by me providing comfort. At about 7am I was rudely interrupted from my meditative birth state by someone else in the building turning on their shower, which immediately makes our water either freezing cold or burning hot. You’ve never seen a mother in labor move so fast. Like a huntsmen spider I was out of there. Kristen helped me to the bed and I spent some time with the birth ball on the bed, I was starting to feel really uncomfortable and couldn’t find a position that was really working for me. Meanwhile Danny was struggling to set up the birth pool which we hadn’t yet done a trial run of. After what felt like an eternity the birth pool was set up and I got in and labored there. I remember feeling intermittently hot and cold and often asking for cool washcloths on my neck. I was draped over the inflatable side with Kristen on one side holding my hand and Danny on the other. Kristen would apply counter pressure through the contractions and when I occasionally looked up it felt like she stared deep into my soul reassuringly. I had thought that I would need more support and interaction during labor but I found when it was actually happening I didn’t want to be touched too much or spoken to a lot. I just went within. However, I did use some pretty profound language through my contractions and every so often I’d look up to see Danny smiling and taking notes of the things I was saying. Something along the lines of “Oh for fucks sake, Oh for fucks sake, fuck fuck fuck”. I remember asking at one point if everyone swore as much as me. It was when I was in the birth pool that I started to feel like I wasn’t getting a break between contractions, there was no sweet relief and I couldn’t tell when they would abate. I’d keep thinking I was reaching the climactive point of one only to be wrong. I kept vacillating between wanting to know how many cm I was dilated and not wanting to know in case I was discouraged.
Eventually I couldn’t take it any more and decided I needed to know (also something I repeated throughout labor). Kristen asked if I would be able to get out for her to check me and when I agreed her assistant Chloe, who had arrived silently and respectfully, set up the birth stool. Kristen put her gloves on and checked my dilation. At this point she told me that I had a choice, I could either get back into the pool and keep laboring or I could start pushing and she would manually move the cervix aside.
‘Great!’, I thought, ‘A cervical lip, no problem!’.
And decided to push. I found out after the birth that I was actually only 8 cm dilated but Kristen estimates it would have been about another 2 hours of laboring to be fully dilated. What followed was possibly the most excruciating pain I have ever experiences in my life. Imagine your cervix being squeezed between your pelvis and a skull. Ouch. I would bear down when I felt a contraction coming and Kristen would try to move my cervix around his skull. In between contractions she would massage my perineum with oil to help it soften and open as well as use hot compresses. I was howling. Like a wolf. At 10am with no mind for the neighbors. It took a long time, almost an hour and a half of pushing, Danny behind me, keeping me upright and supporting me. There are some women who say pushing feels like a relief, that they’re finally actually doing something. I hated it, I hated it so much. To me it was the same pain as labor with the added pain of pushing. Eventually he was right there and I reached that moment, the final choice of pushing into the pain. Finally, his head came out. And for the longest time I didn’t feel the need to push. I remember asking if it was okay to stay like that or should I push even though I didn’t feel the need. Kristen reassured me that it was fine and told me to wait until I felt like pushing. There I was on hands and knees with my baby’s head just hanging out. Danny had opted to stay with me holding my hands and looking into my eyes. Finally, after the longest time, I pushed the rest of him out into Kristen’s waiting hands. She passed him through my legs to me, all covered in vernix, purple blue and swollen with a huge head that didn’t concave at all. He didn’t cry right away. I tried to pick him up but was having trouble with my arms trembling from exertion and his skin slippery with vernix and amniotic fluid.
“I can’t pick him up!” I cried. Danny and Kristen helped me and we were all bundled up to lean against the wall while we waited for his placenta. After some time, Danny cut the cord which he hadn’t necessarily planned on doing because we thought mum would be there to do it.
After the placenta was delivered we were helped to the bed, Torin was weighed, 8lbs 2 oz, the placenta was checked and my considerable tearing sutured. Looking back, we didn’t use a lot of the stuff I had prepared, neither the birth mix or the essential oils though I found the meditation, yoga and breathing exercises invaluable. Funnily enough my water didn’t break, I didn’t bleed and I didn’t lose my mucus plug until the very, very end of labor. I’d been told over and over again that it never goes as you expect. And there Torin was, born between the chair and wall next to the bookshelves on the floor of our home at 11.09 on Bloomsday. It started to rain. Fitting for a little boy who is named after the Celtic God of Thunder.