By Lisa Lim
Issue 97, November/December 1999
Our second child, a boy, was born on a Saturday afternoon last fall. The sky was blue, a gentle breeze rustled the leaves, and the clouds floated along as I labored. The midwife arrived at our home at 2:30 p.m. I was dilated 2.5 centimeters, very excited, and a little scared.
We went for a long walk in the neighborhood, and in a little over two hours, at 4:49 p.m., Kai James Lim was born in our living room. His eyes were a dark blue, his hair tinged with red, and he weighed a bouncing 8 pounds, 6 ounces.
I chose to stay in my home for Kai’s first 40 days, a practice many cultures support. I took the time to recuperate, bond with my son, and also record the story of his birth in my journal. The following is an excerpt.
Once we began walking, I remember passing the hedge and talking with Shelly, our midwife. I had another contraction, and I reached out and held onto her. My arm across her shoulders, I could feel her upper back. She was wearing a tank top and sweats. We all had sunglasses on, and Anna, my doula, was holding my water bottle. I was keenly aware of my surroundings. It was a beautiful day. The sky was blue, the breeze refreshing and alive. There were birds and lawnmowers, the Saturday energy of relaxed chores. We walked, and with each contraction I would gently squeeze Shelly.
We turned onto Bayview and continued to talk, but the voices and the surroundings were fading. I was fading into myself, and I needed all of them for support. It was then that Shelly suggested turning around, to my relief. Just as I walked back onto Fairwood I truly fell into labor. It was a downward force that pulled me to the center of the earth, a drawing down that took my legs with it. I grabbed for my husband Stephen’s hand and fell into the three of them, howling back into the world as if to remind them, me, not to get lost. To yell, to howl, to scream so that everyone could find me. To descend but leave notice. We walked on.
Only flashes come back to me: Someone on the hill throwing out the trash. Two men coming out of a garage. The very long way back to my house, which at this point couldn’t have been more than a block. Shelly telling us, “Wouldn’t it be lovely if all women could labor outside on the streets freely, if we all considered it an honor to come across a laboring woman, saw it as a blessing, a good omen.” And I thought how wonderful it would be to view all of this as normal. A woman’s pain moving, breathing within the community. Not hidden behind medical walls.
These thoughts were floating through my head, but at the same time I was thinking, “How the hell am I going to make it across the street and the last block?” I remember saying to Stephen, “Get the ?*&% car!” as I collapsed into his arms once again. I was being sucked into the very ground. To stay up and keep moving-how? And before I fell again I was flinging off my shoes and walking across the cool, wet grass of our lawn. My front porch. The railing. Just squeezing the wooden frame and howling deep so they could find me.
Then there was the beautiful face of Davi, Shelly’s assistant; comforting music; broken light. Home. My bed. But no. “Lisa, pee first.” I ripped off my dress as I moved down the hall. I had to concentrate. I no longer really remembered how to pee. I just sat there hoping it would fall out. I just wanted to lie down. To sleep. To stop.
Next the cool pillows were beneath my head, the soft flannel; beautiful yellow lilies; purple grapes on the blanket; Michael Stillwater’s CD gently breaking through. I just wanted to rest, to sleep. “Please, Shelly, I want to sleep, I need a rest.” Her hand pressed against my thigh, pushed my hair across my face. “Rest now.” And I did. I don’t know how long, but long enough to allow the panic to subside-and to let in silly thoughts. “Lisa, you are a stupid woman. You could be at the hospital getting really good drugs.” It passed. Instead, I called for Eliot, my physician and acupuncturist.
It hurt. My back. My front. The baby was moving through me, and I was spreading out across the room. I was being pulled in every direction, up, down, sideways, lengthwise, and it hurt. The pain of counter tension. The force of pulling apart. The quiet fullness between contractions when the baby and I were still one, rocking and waiting to pull again.
Shelly was holding my lower back, and Davi was anchoring my feet. I did not want to fly away now. No way. I wanted to follow the suction downward. They would find me. I was hollering loud enough. Davi had my feet; I was safe. And I could fall into Stephen’s eyes, sink deep down into love.
Eliot came in, bearing three beautiful roses. What if men always came bearing roses? There would be no war; the fear couldn’t take hold. The smell of roses. Remedies under my tongue. I would be all right. Where was my friend Aimee? “Call Aimee.” Everyone shifts their attention, and I am alone. “555-6363!” I blast again. I had blown up a few moments earlier when the disc changed from my birthing music to African dance music. I don’t want the heavens now. I am in the earth, toiling. I want to hear the river flowing, wind blowing, ice splitting. Mother earth moving. No time for flying now.
Stephen looked into my eyes, trying to find me. His words seemed slow and syrupy. “I am going out for evening primrose.” “No,” I order him, clutching onto my counterweight. “You can’t go, I think the baby is here.”
Shelly had checked me when we returned from the walk. I was hovering around 7 centimeters. Where was I now? Fear kept invading me. Then I looked into Shelly’s eyes. She had been there. She had also been sucked into the earth and had returned. I could fall, too, and come back. I didn’t want to waste a single second of a contraction being afraid. Shelly whispered, “Lisa, remember making love, how you got this baby inside of you. Now make love to this child. Love your baby out. There is only one safe place-your heart.” Stephen put his hand between my breasts, held onto my heart, tightly-down I went again.
Then I felt a transfer of energy. For the first time something was moving up and out. I wanted to get below it. Hell, I was below it. Now I wanted to lift, to push, to raise my baby up high. “Lisa, how do you want to do this? Your side, sitting?” Shelly didn’t offer me squatting. Good thing, we would find out moments later. I think the little one would have come too fast, bursting out, taking me, too. I thought side, no, no, sitting. Shelly made sure someone was holding my feet. Stephen massaged my belly, while Anna caressed my thoughts with her gentle whispering. I was totally embraced. I felt the head, a tiny bit of hair. I wish I had lingered there longer, but there was work to be done. That’s me, always efficient, even if sometimes the cost is an experience.
Up, up, up, I was now feeling. I was deep under this child, and we were rising. I felt the head between my legs, the full, tight stuck feeling. And then one howling push and the baby was free. I was aware of being comfortably around his neck. I could actually feel him moving inside of me. It was very sensual and exciting, but he did not want to linger. He wanted out.
I was so open that I touched my very edges, and just as I was about to fall off of myself he fell out. I was in empty space. I felt so empty. For a second I was lost. All this effort, concentration, focus, and now nothing. I’m not being sucked down. There is no one to push up. No heaven, no earth. Then I see Shelly’s arms pushing my little one towards me. “Lisa, hold your baby.” And I was back. This wonderful, wet, warm, breathing baby brought me back home.
Everything moves quickly now. There are tears in everyone’s eyes. Anna is holding the camera. Eliot is embracing Stephen. Davi is laughing. Then I begin to remember the labor. Shelly saying: “Davi Kaur, these cloths are not hot enough.” Davi remarking on how there wasn’t enough time for the Crock- Pot to heat up. Everyone laughing when I shouted out Aimee’s phone number.
I deliver the placenta, we cut the cord, I receive a single stitch. I breastfeed. The midwives move about, working efficiently. The storm has passed, and now we clean up. But, oh, how good everything feels. Back to earthly movements and chores, I get up and am escorted to the shower. Eliot passes the soap. Shelly combs my hair.
I am back in bed, and my little man lies naked across my chest. Having spent the day at the carnival with my friends, Eddy and Constanza, my daughter Isadora arrives home. “Mommy, he has a penis. He’s a boy.”
The look of all the faces around my bed: Eddy, Constanza, Stephen, Davi, Anna, Aimee, and my friend Tony. Eliot has left. Shelly cleans and gently checks our little boy. He sucks my finger for comfort and cries when I complain about my back. Aimee massages me. Then slowly everyone leaves, all of us open, happy, and free in this moment of birth.
I am so tired. It is dark out now, and the candles in my room throw off a comforting light. I pass my son over to Constanza and fall into a deep sleep. When I wake up, a few hours have passed. The house is very quiet. I look at the clock; it’s past 11:00. I shuffle out of bed and then hear them-Stephen is singing to our little boy. I want to touch them, be close. I sit on the sofa and get as close as I can get to them. They smell so good. I check on Isadora. She looks, as always, like an angel. And I fall asleep, realizing that now there really are three of us in this bed. Kai lies between Stephen and me, breathing. Life begins again for all of us.
Lisa Lim and her family live in southern California. Lisa hopes that by sharing her story more women will be inspired to consider giving birth at home.
After a day and night of turning
inside out, you slip from between
my blood-stained thighs, gasping, snorting.
Turtle rabbit, not battered and homely
the way newborns are supposed to look,
but red and ripe as an early girl
in August. Boddhisattva with dark hair
spiraling like the rings of sequoia.
Survive, survive, you intone as you
latch onto my breast. You hold on
to your father’s pointer, each knuckle
white. You open one puffy eyelid, then
another, staring us down
with your slate gray eyes.
But then your gaze floats over
our shoulders, to the corners where
the ceiling meets the walls.
Your jaw falls slack as you greet
your hovering hosts. I look
over my shoulder, too, wondering
what you see, but catch only
the movement of air.
-By Peggy Hong
Photo illustration by Diana Van Campen.