Birthing begins at home
My daughter is in labor with her first child as I type. If you imagine a woman laboring in a hospital bed with an IV of drugs coursing through her body, that didn’t happen. She did not want the medical model of factory birth.
It is 11:47 a.m. She is tired. Last night when her water broke, she was excited. If you imagine a torrent like Niagara Falls on the Canadian side, that didn’t happen. It was a trickle like a bottle of water with a loose top turned upside down. The contractions didn’t come right away. The couple sat home, thrilled about seeing their baby.
She is sideways on pillows now. The living room is dark. She is dozing between contractions. When the contraction comes she wants her husband to breathe with her. They are face to face, unless his breath annoys her, and sometimes it does. He is gently rubbing her in a reassuring way. He is not rubbing worry on to her; he is soothing and kind. She whimpers as another one comes. He adjusts the ice on her lower back. I am mainly silent. Having gotten the coconut water, water, grapes, refresher bags of ice for her lower back, I wait to encourage and do not fill in the silences. The mood is dreamy, focused, meditative and electric.
There are no criticisms here. The midwife is here with equipment and silent unless something needs to be said. We listen to the baby’s heartbeat with the Doppler. Baby is calm through the contractions. His head is rocking in her pelvis and it hurts.
I say, “Find where the pain is and welcome it. Imagine a flower opening. It is opening so you can see your baby. Your baby wants to see you.” She rides the contraction out and her husband breathes with her. My voice is low and fades out to let her sleep. She whimpers softly like a cat.
It is 12:05 the world is still. The only sound is the heater pushing warmth throughout the dark house. The street is silent. She is laboring. We are strong.
The 12:06 contraction has come. They now last two minutes. She is seven centimeters dilated. There are children playing on the street now. We can hear them outside. She is dozing after the midwife has checked her. The baby’s head is molding in the pelvis. He will have a little cone head or an Egyptian pharaoh head.
Fear crosses her face and she projects vomit. My sweet daughter is Linda Blair and fills the trash can with clear liquid. She vomits again and again, just like she did her whole pregnancy. She is shaky in that “just ran a marathon and have to puke” kind of way.
She isn’t even half done.
We will need food soon, but we rest in the dark between contractions. I am in the living room and can hear her breathing deeply through her contraction. The shallow breaths of Lamaze do not produce enough oxygen for mother and child. It is all wrong. She must breathe deep and get oxygen into her blood.
The first baby often comes slowly. The body has not done this sport before and has no muscle memory. She labors on her side, on her knees leaning forward, but avoids the back. Lying on the back reduces blood flow. It encourages the baby to be in the wrong position. We want baby to come in the easiest way for both mother and child.
Hospitals administer Pitocin if the contractions don’t produce a baby fast enough; artificial hormone makes the arc of the natural wave stronger than the body would produce, which in turn can stress the baby. Pitocin changes the ride from a 45-mile per hour zone to the Autobahn. Why are hospitals in such a hurry? Time is money there. Time is money and each intervention will make more money.
The behaviors administered toward the mother are not motivated toward her health or the baby’s health. The behaviors are motivated by fear and time. In the hospital she would be hooked to IVs, made to stay seated in a bed and moved around like a car in production from labor room to delivery to surgery to recovery to billing.
She is laboring, vomiting, laboring, sleeping. Baby is descending the pelvis in the tiniest of measurements. A strong one comes. She yells, “Kelly Clarkson” and only her husband gets the joke. I nod, knowing that she still has a sense of humor, even though she is naked, even though her vulva is about to turn inside out. Even though a human will descend her pelvis like a 747. She’s still funny. I am watching and dozing between contractions too.
I think about the Prado museum. Las Meninas is there. Diego Velasquez’ great painting. The maids of honor stand in the foreground in low light. A door is open toward the back, a painter is painting. Almost everyone in the picture is looking toward the viewer. On another floor is Hieronymus Bosch. You can race through and say that you saw a great painting or two. Run through the museum like an Autobahn driver. What you have missed is perhaps the greatest accomplishment in Western painting. Toward the back wall painted in the Velasquez scene is a mirror showing the King and Queen of Spain. Their reflection is exactly where your reflection would be, had you been there. Then again, you are just as royal. You stand where they stand. It is an existential question. You have traveled the museum. Time is not money here. You must take these paintings in if you are going to be fully human. Diego Velasquez is expecting you. It is eternal.
A healthy birth is like that. It is a healthy quest for mother and child. I am not saying that no woman should ever have pain meds, because if a woman chooses to have them, you had better make sure she gets them. I am saying that the model of racing through the museum is ineffective; even though the outcome is that you have indeed visited the museum. American medicine has lost its way. It is profit and business over the holistic experience.
My daughter is sleeping now. There is a lull in her labor. Her body is resting for the big push which is about to come. I am tired too. It is now 1:12. The house is dark, the shades are drawn, a family is nesting inside. The midwife has her suitcases of supplies organized. There are medicines and oxygen tanks. She is writing things down.
By no act of my own, I will be a grandma tonight. She will push, she will whimper. There will be gouts of blood. I imagine she will tell me to go fuck myself.
This 29-year-old daughter of mine has been vomiting since her pregnancy began, now, in labor, she has puked about 20 times. She has not slept well. It is demanding everything from her reserves. She goes within and pulls out strength. This birth is a marathon quest. Her contractions finally get more intense. She is drinking water, coconut water, protein shakes, and vomits some more. Birth is messy. Her husband and midwife keep her focused on the prize. After hours of waiting for full dilation, she gets to 10. We were sitting at 9.5 for so long. I wondered what was happening.
She was given the go ahead to push at 5 p.m. She has no fever, baby’s pulse is steady; we are ready to go. She pushes and pushes, but doesn’t really know how. The midwife says, “It feels like it’s in your butt.” We want to laugh, but we all know she is serious.
Slowly he descends into her pelvis. He just has to pass the ridge inside. His head rocks and he is trying to come out. The cord is being pressed. He is large and heavy like a stone. She bears down on the yoke of her pelvis, bears down harder and harder. Nothing else in life matters now. No goal has been as hard or as demanding.
The midwife has a new approach for birth. She has tried a few positions and will now try a birthing chair and a tug of war apparatus. My daughter is competitive.
She grabs the flexible handle of the apparatus and pulls while one of the midwives pulls back during contraction. Both are grunting. The midwife is straining hard. My daughter pulls and pushes. Another midwife has to take over the tug of war because my daughter is relentless. Finally, a patch of scalp is squeezing out. The baby is coming. Mom works harder. She says, “It hurts now,” as if she is out of her body and observing the moment.
Yes it hurts now. An 8-pound human is lodged and descending from her pelvis. It is sacred, profane, and wondrous. Bits of snot fly out as her nostrils flare. She is panting, pulling, pushing. A low growl comes out of her. Argh! She is a bear, a pit bull, a honey badger. The midwife works his shoulders out and baby arrives, squeezed and in the end, hung up a bit by a cord. Mom is crying. Dad is in awe that his soft, pedicured wife is capable of such power. The baby is slightly blue. He has not breathed yet. In this moment we do not know if the cave of death has closed upon him. The midwives communicate something low to each other. One is getting him oxygen, the other is tubing his nostrils and suctioning out amniotic fluid. The cord is still pulsing and providing oxygen into him. He quickens and breathes. It must be like descending from heaven where everything is provided and into a world away from mother where one must take that air and feed upon it. He starts to cry.
Yes. This is what is like to be fully human. We are vulnerable. To live we must breathe. It is a simple act, an automatic act, and a necessary act.
He continues to cry, but louder. My other daughter brings towels. We will warm him, clothe him, love him. We will take our places in the drama of breath and life. There is snot, blood, hair and heaven in the air.
A father and mother are born.
Franklin Mark Foster, you have newly defined us by your presence.
8 lbs, 13 ounces
20 and ¾ inches