By Linda Epstein
Web Exclusive – October 15, 2007
I was dreaming. I was speaking with a man whose wife had just had a baby. He showed me a box high up on a shelf. As he pointed to the box he said, “That’s a contraction.” I replied, “Really? Let me look at it.” I reached way up to take the box from the shelf and I felt the contraction. “So that’s a contraction,” I replied in the dream. And when I woke up, I was indeed in labor.
My pregnant belly had been experiencing a lot of activity for more than a week, each time teasing me into thinking the baby was coming. But really my belly was just warming up. So I decided that now I would give it some time before awaking my sleeping husband. No use sounding another false alarm. After all, it was 5:30 in the morning, and the sun had just begun to climb over the horizon. About 45 minutes later it became quite clear to me that this was going somewhere, and going there pretty quickly.
I woke up my husband with a smile and a sense of excitement. I called my midwife to let her know what was going on. I called my best friend, who would come to pick up my two daughters. I called my sister and my mother, who lived out of town, just to let them know that this time it was really happening. I knew they would be sending me their love and good energy, even from far away. I chatted excitedly with everyone, stopping occasionally for the contractions.
By 7 a.m. I called the midwife back, in tears now, and told her she had to come right away, things were beginning to happen really fast. She calmly suggested I take a shower while I waited for her to arrive. It seemed like I spent a long time in that shower. I began to cry. I sobbed and cried, louder and louder. I had forgotten how much labor hurt. The contractions were coming in waves and at the crest of these waves I was becoming overwhelmed with the pain, both physical and emotional. Maybe I had made a mistake having this baby. This pregnancy had been emotionally turbulent, as I vacillated between feelings of power and self doubt. As my tears washed down the drain with the shower water, I cried out the last of my reservations, and those demons that might hold me back in my labor swirled down the drain. I cried until I knew in my whole being that I could give birth and fall in love with my new baby.
A short time later my friend came and picked up my daughters. I drew together my formidable parenting skills and kissed my daughters good bye, trying to smile at them through the increasing pain. The midwife showed up not long after that. She gently checked my cervix and reassured me I was clearly on my way.
Mostly I labored sitting on the toilet. It was comfortable there, easy to relax my bottom, as it is a place where one is used to doing that. I remember being very vocal, moaning and singing. I sang, “open, open, open,” and remembered to keep my voice low and deep. Afterwards, my husband told me that I almost broke the toilet because I was sort of pushing with my feet against the doorjamb with each contraction. He actually became concerned about the plumbing. Whenever I pushed too hard he could hear the pipe behind the toilet begin to drip, drip, drip. He and the midwife encouraged me to move into the bedroom or onto the futon in the other room. But I just couldn’t be any place but where I already was. I sang my opening song and began to retreat into my private space of birth.
A second midwife came to my house. She was training to do homebirths and I had been looking forward to meeting her. I was honored that I would participate in the training of another homebirth midwife. My midwife said to me, “If you turn your head you will meet Jane.” But I could not turn my head to meet her. I whispered, “Tell her to go away.” I will always love my beloved friend and midwife so much for what happened next. She smiled her serene smile and looked at the other midwife. “Go away, Jane,” she said. And Jane did. I didn’t meet her that morning. That’s one of the funny things about giving birth. We must trust ourselves, trust our own instincts. Although I’m usually a gregarious and friendly person, when I give birth I become extremely private. I imagine that if I ever were to have another child, I would find a cave to crawl into and let the midwife stay outside to keep watch for wild animals. I would tell her when I was done and she could give me and the baby a hand crawling out of the cave. But this time, the midwife just asked me if I wanted to go ahead and have the baby in the bathroom. I think she imagined that I would come to my senses and go somewhere more cushy and comfortable. She said she needed to know where to set up some things for the birth. By this point, I had retreated further and further inside myself. I spoke less and less. I thought, “Why is she asking me where I’m going to have the baby? Why does she need to set up so soon?” Since my first two children were born in 17 hours and 11 hours, I started to question whether this midwife actually knew what she was doing. She had never helped me have a baby before. I got a panicky feeling, thinking maybe she wasn’t a very good midwife. I said nothing.
I don’t believe I ever answered her question, but I knew I couldn’t go anywhere else. I needed to stay where I was. So she began to prepare the bathroom. She covered the floor with a plastic shower curtain and then some pillows and blankets on top of that. And then she asked me to get off the toilet, as she wasn’t comfortable with me having the baby there because we suspected the baby was going to be pretty big.
Trusting my own instincts, I got down on my hands and knees and labored that way a bit. Then she said the strangest thing to me. She said, “If you give a little push you can meet your baby in a few minutes.” And that is when I really knew she was nuts. I seriously questioned her proficiency. By then I was totally non verbal, I couldn’t say a word out loud. But with the next contraction, I pushed just a bit. I could feel the solid presence of the baby’s head pressing against my bottom. And then I felt burning. Unable to stop now, I pushed through a ring of fire and the head was out. With yet another push I felt the slippery eel feeling of the body coming out.
Turns out she is an excellent midwife. She knew exactly what she was doing. After a five hour and 15 minute labor, my very beautiful and perfect son was born in the bathroom of my home. I believe that all in all I pushed about four times. He weighed in at nine pounds, four ounces and 21 inches long. He had Apgar scores of ten and ten. He nursed like a professional, shortly after his birth, as I sat on the futon couch with my dear midwife, while my husband took pictures of us all. I told her how I had doubted her, in my deep silence. We laughed together and drank tea. I had come out of myself. I was born as a mother yet again.
When my girls came home that afternoon my older daughter showed me the trophy she received at her soccer game. My littler girl gave me a bouquet of autumn leaves that she had gathered in the woods at my friend’s house. They were both very excited about their new baby.
And now, as my son sits at our kitchen table, I can remember dreaming of a contraction. I can remember crying in the shower. And I remember the unfolding of unbelievable love I felt holding my baby boy to my breast for the first time. And although I haven’t spoken to her in many years, I remember that midwife and her gentle caring, her respect for me, her trust in me to know how to birth my child. And I thank her.
Linda Epstein is a freelance writer and Registered Nurse who lives on an island with her three children, husband and dog. She writes fiction, poetry and non-fiction. She is passionate about kayaking, home birth and good food.