As I write this, the sweetest, softest baby lies milk drunk and fast asleep against my chest. It’s been 10 days since she was born, and only now am I getting the first chance to document her birth; so I type feverishly in order to get down as many of the finer details as I can remember before they gloss over any further in my mind.
In truth, I could’ve written about this sooner – but the first three days postpartum were filled with such vivid, visceral memories of the experience that I couldn’t revisit it. It was too raw. I want to tell you all about how reading Ina May Gaskin’s books equipped me with the strength I needed in order to conquer birth—and don’t get me wrong, because IT DID—BUT (and this is a big but) if I’d been hoping for the serenity of a flock of fairies or the majesty of a group of wood nymphs as I navigated facilitating the birth of a full-sized, overdue human being by way of my vagina, then, well, present-day Sandy has some bad news for past-Sandy. There was yelling. There was swearing. There was a legitimate desire for a needle & thread and a cosmic catapult. (I’ll get to it.)
First and foremost, I’ll say this: my birth went exactly as according to plan. I’m infinitely grateful for the fact that twice in a row I’ve gotten the water birth I hoped for, and that the second time around, my tearing—though not non-existent—was less extensive than the nightmare aftermath of my first birth. So that’s the good news. But hear me when I say that the swift, unmedicated labor I’d been crossing my fingers for was a double-edged sword heated in a forge and dipped in…I dunno…acid?
It was the evening of Saturday, January 19th. I’d been FaceTiming with my mom at around 8:30, assuring her that there was no progress in the matter of my pregnancy, and that I was most definitely not in labor. Daryl and I stayed up binge-watching TV until I couldn’t stay awake any longer—roughly 10pm, at which point I went to bed in our spare bedroom, vowing to get a good night’s sleep at long last, in solitary confinement since that husband of mine had kept me up for the entirety of the night prior with his incessant snoring. Between that, my heartburn and my never-ending trips to the bathroom to pee, I was desperate to eliminate at least one aspect of All That Which Encumbered Me. So, sorry, Daryl, but I bid you adieu.
I lay in bed for about an hour, realizing that my contractions had ramped up in discomfort substantially. I didn’t suspect labor necessarily, as the pain felt really low and crampy – and having not experienced labor in nearly six years, I had forgotten what it was like. I’d been waiting for those cramps to overtake the entirety of my uterus. But, by 11pm, I decided I might as well start timing contractions. When midnight rolled around, I woke Daryl up.
“Daryl. I, uh, I think we might want to go to the hospital. I’m not sure, but I think maybe. My contractions are about a minute long, and three minutes apart.”
Yikes, okay, we agreed. I think I was supposed to go in when they were five minutes apart, so three suddenly felt a bit emergent. We crammed some personal belongings into a bag, threw on our coats and boots, and made our way in, calling our dear friend – my doula, Marcia, on our way out the door.
She met us there. I spent some time in triage before getting admitted, at which point the show got going. I ended up laboring on land, so to speak, for a fair bit of time while my nurse got an IV ready to hook me up to a penicillin drip since I’d tested positive for Group B Strep. (Can I heartily recommend avoiding the completely unavoidable and random occurrence of GBS showing up in your guts? Being hooked up to an IV line for an hour during labor sucks.)
I’m fuzzy on the timing of things, but as soon as I could, I got into the bathtub. I wasn’t quite dilated enough to be allowed into the birthing tub, but no matter. Marce poured warm water over my belly, I breathed through each contraction and I let my body do the work.
I remember being in labor with Margot, and at 14 hours long, I had disappeared deep within myself. I had let the work of labor and delivery wash over me and sweep me away. My memories of the event are patchy, and I have no recollection whatsoever of breaks between contractions. Here, now, though, I was on an entirely different plane. Everything was playing out so quickly that I had no chance to disappear. I was cognizant for everything; acutely aware of the goings-on in the room, conversing with Daryl, Marce, my midwife and the nurses, even LAUGHING, apologizing that everyone had to be up at such an ungodly hour, and asking anyone if they were hungry or if there was anything at all that they needed, ever the host I am. But when a contraction would come on, I’d bear down, feel the weight of my own eyelids as they closed, and legitimately wish someone would take a needle and thread and sew my eyes shut then catapult me into outer space. I envisioned it, I craved it, I knew I’d never get it but I wanted to be anywhere but where I was. I was too tired. I hadn’t slept. That’s a brutal way to start labor.
From the bathtub I made a brief stop on the toilet to pee before heading into the birthing tub, and BAM; my water broke! (You’re welcome, cleaning crew!) And yep, as it goes (for me, at any rate), as soon as that happened, all hell broke loose. Gone were the breaks between contractions, away went any last traces of my cheery disposition and in came my primal howls. I did the best I could to keep my jaw loose, my brow and shoulders relaxed and my breathing even, but oh, god. I was in it. And I wanted out.
It felt like light years and like an instant all the same; and all told, my labor was about five hours long. Sweet miracle rainbow babe was born two-ish hours after we got to the hospital. Between all the hands I squeezed, the life-giving hands that squeezed my hips during each contraction and the singular “FUCK” I shouted out in the throes of the madness, I made it. The ring of fire felt exactly as I remembered it; but I reached down, felt my baby’s head crowning, and minutes later she made her entrance.
FUCK. I DID IT. IT WAS SO INSANELY HARD, y’all. But so redemptive. So healing. So fulfilling, so beautiful, so torturous and such the perfect ending to a surprise pregnancy that I’m elated to choose as my last. My god. Even now, going over what I’ve written, I feel like I’ve done none of it justice; but such is the way of the befuddled postpartum brain. I think this is the best I can do under the circumstances.
My sweet babe made it earthside at 3:34am on Sunday, January 20; all 8lbs, 12 oz of perfect her. She lay on my chest and rooted around until she found my breast, at which point she latched perfectly. She’s effectively stayed there, too, from that very moment she found me. She’s an expert nurser, a baby chill beyond expectation, and utter perfection. It’ll take a lot of reflection and introspection before I’m able to make any sense of her wild and beautiful existence, truly. I can’t believe she’s here, she’s real and she’s mine.
Here she is; my rainbow, my redemption. My Vivian Wild.