Image: As pregnant as it gets; the Retired Waif reclining in active labor.
I had had such a series of false alarms, had called my husband home from work so many times, had walked to keep contractions going or had a glass of wine to get them to stop so many times, that unfortunately I can’t really say that I “just knew” that was the day. I’d like to. I’d like to have some kind of bad-ass super-cool psychic-powers birth story as befits me, and the baby, and this awesome blog, and all that. Alas.

I was pretty damned determined that that would be the day, though. I’d been having spaced-out, stop-and-start labor for weeks, you see, and not knowing what to expect was driving us nearly out of our minds. There isn’t any real way to pinpoint the true “beginning” of labor, in this case.  I groused around the house.  He called out from work.  We waited through the afternoon.

I remember the first contraction that nearly knocked me down, though. Laugh if you like, but I was letting my hormones lead the way and baking a cake in early labor (seven-thirty at night or so). My husband was timing the contractions–funny, because I had been quite scornful of his utterly-male desire to time contractions during a homebirth…. (whatever for?) When it happened, though, we both found we really enjoyed the timing and making notes as the rhythm of the whole thing established itself.

My daughter had planned to attend the birth. I left the option open, and certainly had no plans to exclude her, but let her know that the instant things got at all scary, or boring, or weird, she had but to say the word and grandma would swoop her away to be pampered in Westchester. She saw which way the wind was blowing at eight o’clock or so, and made a graceful exit. I’m terribly glad about that–I actually think she might have suffered some trauma if she’d stayed.

The next hour or so were passed with my husband reading aloud (not Graham Greene for once, although The Quiet American once got me through a miserable hospital stay). He’s a marvelous reader, but it became hard to concentrate. It was impossible to either move or stay still.  Our midwife arrived, followed shortly by our doula, at around ten o’clock. The doula brought some white daisies that stand out particularly in my memory. I had chosen her for a doula because she’s someone I see as the opposite of invasive, and also because she’s very pretty, in a calming sort of way. It was nice to see her.

The midwife and doula went to rest, and my husband talked me through labor for an hour or so. At this point I should have realized that a certain amount of shutting down was going to be the best way to get through this; rather than try to do anything I made myself as still as possible and stared into his eyes and listened to his voice. I’d had no idea how to prepare for labor, and I’d later realize that the times I was able to withdraw were the only times I could really cope.

It was a very rapid labor, and felt very out of control. At a certain point I broke away from my husband and stood under the hot shower–painfully hot water was the only thing I wanted to feel at the time, but heat causes some dreadful MS symptoms for me, so I would stand under the shower until I got too weak to hold myself upright, drag myself back to the bedroom, and wait to regain strength to stand under the shower again.  I was unable to simultaneously deal with the people around me and the pain I was in. I spent a lot of time kneeling, with my husband pressing a hot water bottle into my back. That was nice. But there were too many people…

At about midnight, I remember crawling onto the bed, curling up, and closing my eyes.  Somehow, more than three hours passed, during which everyone else slept and I crouched perfectly still, with my eyes closed.  A non-verbal state was the only possible way I could have done it, and in retrospect it’s a state I should have stayed in.  Labor pain was utterly different in this state–I could actually follow the ebb and flow, the swelling and receding, rather than being completely overwhelmed.

The pain subsided somewhat, and was replaced by pressure, not unbearable, and a feeling of heaviness. I slept for a little while–and I remember the pressure growing, getting more intense, and becoming pain again.  I wasn’t ready for it, I started making noises, my husband came into the room and suddenly everyone was in the room.

It was here that I completely and utterly lost it.

I knew I was about to have the baby, could tell that I was about to have the baby, and couldn’t quite seem to make that clear.  The midwife and I got into a completely pointless argument about a hospital transfer, an internal exam, and other things.  I infuriated her so much she stormed out of the room.  I think she knew the baby was moments away from being born and was frustrated that I seemed to have completely lost focus?  I don’t know.

I took another trip to the shower, now beginning to involuntarily start pushing the baby out.  Going back into the bedroom, I was suddenly sick.  Water broke.  I dropped onto my knees next to the bed, reached down to feel him crowning, and was able to deliver his head–and two or three seconds later, the rest of him.

Image: black-and-white photograph of a new baby.

I remember looking over my left shoulder (the midwife had gently laid him down next to me on a towel) and seeing that he was a boy, that he had a funny little beak of an upper lip, and that he was most definitely alive.

Many, many different levels of relief.

Someone told my husband “You have a boy.”  My husband repeated “I have a boy?” with a crack in his voice, sounding like a boy himself.  Sitting on the bed, which I was kneeling next to, he told me later that I looked “very frail.”

So quickly, I had the baby in my arms.

Image:  New baby, new baby, new baby.  Squished face, wet skin, mama’s hand stroking his cheek.

I held him and stared at him.  He wasn’t ready to nurse yet.  The placenta delivered smoothly, I seemed in fine shape,  my husband held the baby while I showered.  I’m so happy I have pictures of those moments.

After the shower, bed.  Nursing, newborn exam, and a few hours sleep before the family started knocking on the door.

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