I'm not entirely happy with this story, but as the afterglow of Eve's birth wears off and she changes, I am realizing that there is never a perfect time (time doesn't really stop, even when it slows), and similarly no perfect memory or articulation or image or interpretation. Her birth was both delightful and imperfect, full of my ambivolence and of course the same inside-outside contrast and general chaos that seems to accompany dh and me all the time. Which was part of the delight: It just happened, in the middle of before and after, in the middle of our apartment and life and everything, yet it somehow seemed
I'm putting in dh's version, too. As soon as he read mine, he started adding things he remembered differently. So I told him to write his own. As Erin remembered it
The night before Eve was born, I went to bed at 3 am, realizing my water might have leaked and starting some crampy contractions, thinking, Oh sh--, I’d better get some sleep fast…
Sure enough, the contractions woke me up at 6:45, and as soon as I sat on the toilet, out came more water, the plug, and a lot of pink mucus. I called my mother right away, since she had to drive several hours to get here. But I still felt kind of uncertain, almost in disbelief. I started folding laundry and straightening up the apartment.
Around 8, Sean woke up and asked if it was ok if he kept sleeping for awhile. I said sure. Then Grace woke just as the contractions were getting intense. At first, I felt kind of awkward and unsure how to tell Grace what was going on. I told her Footies was going to be born soon, and I was having contractions, and I needed to stop and concentrate. She seemed a little confused by the different things I did during contractions. One time I was on my hands and knees on the floor, and when I looked up, there was dd on her hands and knees right in front of me, staring me in the face. It took me a second to realize that she was trying it out. I smiled, and she said, “What?” (like, what are you looking at
) Occasionally she would notice me leaning on some new surface and ask, “Are you having a traction?”
The whole process of getting Grace breakfast, fixing the computer for her, taking her to the bathroom, etc. got to be too much, so I woke Sean (who, having slept through the elapsed time, thought I had suddenly changed my mind about it being ok to sleep
). I started to take another bath, reading a Bone comic book, but found it really painful to sit through contractions, so I got out. I could hear Sean and Grace bickering, which was stressing me out, and I was hungry and had a kind of low blood sugar feeling, so I asked Sean for food. He took Grace with him to get me a grilled cheese sandwich and some red punch, since I associated it with Grace’s birth. I wondered, in the back of my mind, if the baby would come while they were gone. Sean had called the midwife before he left. She called back, but I told her I didn’t want her to come yet. For awhile, I timed contractions, uncertain whether I should tell the midwife to come or not. They were irregular. I realized that a lot of time was passing quickly, I was in that strange timeless state. I also realized that watching a clock was discouraging me, so I put it away.
It was about 10. I was very tired. I decided to get back in the bathtub and try to rest, lying back in the water and closing my eyes. Weirdly, it worked for a bit. The next contraction was very mild. Then the contractions got intense, so I had to get out of the water. Later I tried lying down on the bed, but would find myself realizing too late (once I couldn’t jump up in time) that it had been a bad idea. Now I was making all sorts of strange movements, trying to keep my postures relaxed but starting to find it hard to control my response. I started thinking I couldn’t do this much longer. It occurred to me that that could mean the baby was almost ready to come out, or it could mean that I was simply almost out of stamina. My legs began splitting apart too much as I knelt on the bed, because of the pressure on my pelvis, so I got back in the empty bathtub, kneeling in it and hanging on the edge, or standing, leaning on the windowsill, seeing the sunlit yard far away and feeling cool air on my face. When I saw and felt that, I thought, my baby is going to be born today.
I recognized the pressure in my lower back and legs, and started to bear down in response to the contractions. But again, I couldn’t quite trust. I worried that the baby had turned posterior, that this would go on for a long time, that I might be swelling my cervix by pressing against it. I agreed that Sean should ask the midwife to come.
Now I was squatting as I bore down, and rich maroon bloody stuff started like big raindrops (that exact pattern – like when the first drops of a warm spring rain come down and slowly get quicker), falling onto the empty bathtub. Another ambivolent feeling: This means the baby is almost ready (or that there is something wrong…how would I know?). I told her, “Swim out of me, baby.” Now blood was running down my legs and over my feet. At this point the midwife’s very perky young assistant, whom I had never met, arrived and walked in, smiling broadly, to shake my hand: “Hi, I’m Megan….Looks like you have lots of bloody show, that’s good.” (??!! :LOL ) I heard her asking Sean where all the supplies were, then she came back in and asked me to please excuse her so she could wash her hands in the sink over which I was leaning. The funny thing is, I was still afraid to commit to how I felt, like I might be getting ahead of myself and somehow getting into trouble, or embarrassing myself. (I had really dreaded the assistant’s coming and had great difficulty greeting her.) So I told her I was feeling kind of like bearing down, but was a bit nervous that I might be doing so too soon. But I kept doing it anyway, because there was no way I could handle the contractions otherwise. I was getting very serious, dropping to my knees and pushing hard against most of the contractions. I had this feeling that there was no turning back – it’s not getting any better until s/he is out, the only way is to get her out.
I heard Sean let the midwife, Joan, in. Suddenly water gushed out as I stood, and then I knew and could feel her burning in my cervix. I got on my hands and knees and started pushing hard now, vocalizing. Joan apparently knew too, from looking at me, and I was so grateful she didn’t say anything dumb (like, “you can start pushing now”). She was gathering stuff. Grace asked in a surprised but undisturbed tone, “Why is it so much trouble?” Joan suggested I shift so that my knees were spread diagonally across the tub, which was great, because I’d just been trying to figure out how I could spread my legs further apart. I noticed that everyone in the house was around me, touching me in fact, and Joan was behind me in the bathtub getting ready to support my perineum (a practice about which I’d had reservations), yet I didn’t feel overwhelmed as I had when Grace was being born. I felt quite in possession of myself. Joan was saying things, reassuring me, telling me it was almost there and I was doing well, telling me to hold onto the baby and what parts were coming out, but this time I felt she was responding to me rather than the other way around. I could feel everything, continuously. I felt the baby squeezing further and further down, I felt her slimy round head pop out, and then her whole tiny body, and drew it up into my arms. Sean asked, so I looked down and saw that she was a girl, Eve. I struggled to figure out how to sit down without using both hands, felt awkward about sitting on the cord. I kept talking to her. She was crying, so I nursed her. She latched on (and stayed that way for the next two hours). I felt a cramp and pushed out the placenta. In front of me, the drain was covered with clotted blood and meconium.
There were her little opaque eyes under the window of bright afternoon light, crossing and focusing on and off as she looked up at me. Everyone left Eve and me alone as the tub was filling with warm water. It was wonderfully quiet, and I felt completely free to talk to her. I told her about my new feminist-theological insights into her name. :LOL I was crying. After awhile, Grace wanted to nurse, too, so we got out of the red water (which I noted, with surprise, did not disgust me), and after a lot of cleaning and drying, I found myself sitting on the edge of the bed, nursing them both.As Sean remembered it
Sleep had been funny lately. A lot of late nights and early mornings, with irregular afternoon naps, and the line between asleep and awake had begun to blur; I’d had a a lot of lucid dreams, and largely become nocturnal, being listless until 5-8 pm, when – much to the chagrin of Erin, who wanted to get to sleep early -- I’d suddenly become fully clearheaded and ready to get to work.
On top of all this, I’d gone to bed aware that Footies was almost certainly on her way, and that Erin was going to be tired. So when I woke and peeked out the door to see Erin hunkered down on the toilet (you know the difference in posture you get between “be out in a second” and “don’t bother me for awhile”?), I was more or less prepared to wake up and make some double-strength coffee. Acting 50% out of a desire to be as lucid as I could for her, 50% out of a desire for sleep, I asked if she needed me up or if it would be alright if I went back to sleep. She said okay.
I was the littlest bit pissy when she changed her mind 5 minutes later and had me make breakfast for Grace; letting me go back to sleep just long enough to get covered in yummy pink fog seemed a cruel trick. Well, I’d have sworn it was 5 minutes. Turns out it was more like an hour.
So, not realizing this, I was short with Grace, and I knew Erin could hear it, and I knew it was stressing her out, which stressed me out, which made me snappier with Grace… Neurotic-bitchy feedback loop, finally contained with some effort and the twin realizations of how far along Erin was, and why Grace was acting so stressed (Footies on the way, Mommy moaning and writhing in the other room, duh!).
There wasn’t much for me to do other than housework – when Erin is stressed, she finds it uncomfortable to be “comforted”, so my job as far as labor was concerned was keeping her supplied with juice and food (when of course nothing sounded good to her because she was in frickin’ labor). So Grace and I got our coats and shoes on and went to the diner for Erin’s customary grilled cheese and fries.
On the way, we met a few people we knew, one we hadn’t seen for months, and I never thought to mention that the baby was coming; it just didn’t seem like something to talk about at the time. We also discussed why I’d been so irritable, and we decided it’d be cool to stop fighting (‘cause we “like and love” each other and besides it stresses Mommy out).
We got home. Erin ate half the sandwich, Grace most of the fries, I got the pickle and coleslaw. As I gave her the food, I noticed the quite different aura. I asked if we should call Joan (the midwife).
“I don’t know…” Erin agonized.
“That means we should,” Sean translated.
“Okay,” Erin relented.
[Change of tension, change of tense.]
So I call Joan, she says she’ll tell Megan, her assistant, to come, and she’d follow ASAP. Surprise, I’d thought Megan was already on the way. Oh, well -- Erin still wants me out of the bathroom, so this gives me more time to pick up. I could do a better job, but feel the need for distraction, so I join Grace at some computer games, counting on the birth of our child to distract from the stray Tinkertoys.
Shortly, Megan calls to confirm directions from the subway. After I guess 45 minutes, she’s at the door. I realize I have no shirt on, it being perpetually stifling in our apartment, so I find myself struggling in to a shirt as I buzz her in.
I’d not met Megan before she walks in, all 6’ or so of her – I check, and yep, wearing flats. Also sports a dramatic mane of jet-black hair. By all of which, Grace is profoundly impressed; her first words are, with a grin of delighted surprise, “You are very big!” Then, to me, “Why is she so big?!” (I give the standard quick answer: “Because that’s the way God made her.”)
I bring her into the bathroom, introduce her to Erin (Surreal Moment #231: “Erin, this is a stranger. Stranger, this is my naked, bloody wife in the tub.”), then leave the two of them to discuss bloody mucus or whatever. I redouble my housekeeping efforts for about two minutes until Megan needs to know where stuff is. Grace, meanwhile, is following Megan around like she’s some kind of toddler familiar.
My MiL calls. I can barely hear her, because our phone is on its last breath (we can’t seem to keep them alive for more than a year). She’s on the Tappan Zee Bridge, and how’s it going? I tell her it’s pretty much going now. She says “WHAT??!” I ask if she wants us to put it back. She says she can’t hear me, I suggest she call back when she’s across the bridge.
Fifteen minutes after Megan, Joan arrives. I think I’m keeping pretty calm, but then I’m not the one with the cub getting squeezed out of me. The bathroom officially becomes No Man’s Land, if only because I can’t fit much past the doorway. Grace manages to worm her way in, and watches with fascination.
We’d expected that part. Joan had seemed very concerned with who was going to take care of Grace if she needed to leave, but we both knew she wouldn’t. She is, however, even more intent and absorptive than we’d expected. She asks “Why is it so tough to have a baby?” and I tell her it’s because the baby had to get squeezed out, sort of like the time she hadn’t been able to poo (an epic battle with hardened feces you don’t want to know about). Wrong thing to say, because she looks awful scared for Mommy, so I quickly put in that babies are made to come out this way, where the bad poo had just been weird.
I further mention that Mommy seemed to be having an easier time now than she had with Grace. Erin cautions me with a word or two, and I see, in fact, where this could go wrong, so I spin it; “You helped get Mommy’s body ready for it!” Well, it sounds like a good save to me, dammit.
Okay, head’s coming out. Holy crap. Funny, though, looks round, not like when Grace was born (I had to keep telling myself when they first put Grace in Erin’s lap that babies’ heads fold up all the time when they’re born, she’s not deformed, she’s not an alien…). Erin’s holding onto the tub with both hands as she squats, Joan is holding the head for her. I feel I should do my part, and cup her head with my right hand. Something gelatinous falls on my hand and, for no reason I can understand, I feel nauseous. (Me! Who dwells on the Miracle of Birth and took AP Biology in high school! That damn patriarchal/sitcom dad upbringing left a subconscious land mine, I guess.) I wash my hand in the sink without looking at it.
Then, like 15 minutes after Joan walks in the door, the kid is out and immediately nursing with a blanket over her. I ask if she’s a boy or a girl, so I can find out whether to call her Seth or Eve. Turns out no one else knows, either; no one checked before they got the blanket on her. Erin checks, and it’s Eve. Whoopa!
MiL calls again. Again, asks how it’s going, I say it’s gone, and she’s a girl, named Eve Roselyn. She says “It’s a boy??!” What the hell? I say, “No, a GIRL. EVE ROSELYN!!” She says “Austin? Owen Austin??” I suggest she wait until she gets here.
Joan & Megan ask if Grace wants to cut the cord. She says “Sure,” but then demurs. They ask me. I Say, “Okay,” and snip.
Neither Erin nor I are overly sentimental about this part. Homebirthing is like homebrewing; some people brew because they like the tools, the yeast, the smell… and some people are in it for the beer. We’re pretty much in this for the baby, and once it’s out, the rest is byproduct.
The rest is a pretty relaxed blur; Erin & Eve resting in the tub (“Looks like chicken broth,” I observe.) I feel no disappointment at my inability to hold her. There’s no need; Eve is more of a bond than a hug is. So is Grace.
They change towels to keep Eve warm. I have a chance to observe how different she is from Grace; eyes mostly closed, much fatter-faced. I have a moment of worry that will come back over the next few days (but evaporated thereafter) that she might have to live with Grace being “the pretty one.” Silly, really, but then I worried about plenty with Grace, starting with the deformed/alien thing.
When Erin’s ready to move to the bed, I carry Eve – my first time holding her. After 3-1/2 yo Grace, she weighs nothing, I would have believed if they told me she was 7 lbs. She’s the same shade of burgundy-pink Grace was.
Erin and Eve curl up on the bed. After awhile, Grace joins them, both apparently happy with colostrum. Joan and Megan start on their paperwork. I have a beer -- wishing I'd saved myself for this moment, but I'd caved a few weeks before -- find no other takers, so I make som tea. MiL arrives, and the distraction gets everyone out so I can finally curl up with Erin & Eve for a few minutes. There's not much to say, so we mostly just lie there, in as good a place as any to end the story.