I wrote the majority of my story in the first few months after my daughter’s birth, but have had a difficult time finishing it. Perhaps this is because the birth process never feels final. At least it doesn’t to me. My mind frequently revisits the experience of labor and the precious minutes following Isla’s plunge into this world. These memories sustain me and remind me that the lens through which I view the world is no longer singularly mine. Motherhood is constant and thus a birth story is perennial.
Giving birth to Isla Ren is the most rewarding work I have ever done. A few days prior to her arrival I was at a prenatal yoga class keeping my mind off of due dates and my body active. My mantra for that day’s practice: I trust the partnership between my babe and me. I carried this with me into the tub at Woodwinds and believe it powered Isla’s swift and healthy delivery. I was never alone. My baby girl was always present and working with me.
Isla was born on Tuesday, July 17, 2012 at 8:01 p.m. My early labor began on Monday, July 16 in the late afternoon. I felt crampy and flushed and before I went to bed I noticed some bloody show. It was the first time in my life I wanted to high five someone at the sight of blood. When I woke up on Tuesday morning I sensed something was different about my body and psyche. There were more intense cramps and steadier bleeding, but mostly I felt calm, anticipatory and certain that I was destined for parenthood that day. I told my husband Chad that he should start his paternity leave and he happily obliged. We slept in and then went to Colossal Café for a big breakfast. I’m convinced my frittata and biscuit sustained me through my first seven centimeters. Tasty energy!
It was blistering hot, one of our many 90+ days with a jungle-like dew point, but I was craving a walk. I wanted to move. I needed to move. Chad and I opted for the air-conditioned track at the Midtown Y and walked for about thirty minutes. By minute twenty-five I was slowing down considerably and had to stop for contractions, which were coming about every five minutes. On the way home we picked up Bridesmaids—laughter was a big part of our birth plan—and got ready to hunker down for hours. I spent a few minutes in the baby’s nursery moving through some yoga positions. A bath seemed like a great idea, so I spent some time in the water attempting to relax by paging through old Vanity Fairs; however, my contractions were now about three minutes apart and getting stronger. I knew things were picking up when I attempted to dry my hair (why?!) and had to turn off the blow dryer for each contraction. Eventually, I decided self-grooming was futile and left the bathroom for the comfort of my bedroom, balance ball and beautiful husband who was ready to massage me and love me for as many hours as necessary. In terms of time, which truly melted away and meant nothing to me during labor and birth, challenging labor began around 12:30 p.m. I tried mightily to find distraction in Kristen Wiig’s hilarious movie, but instead found myself giving in completely to every bodily and emotional sensation I was experiencing. The contractions were coming quickly, about every two minutes. Chad called Jess, our doula, and she listened through one of my contractions. She asked how I felt, if I was ready to head to the hospital, or if I wanted to continue laboring at home. Even though my contractions were close together I didn’t think it was time to go. I was waiting for … something—some other sensation. I had heard so many women speak of “waves” when describing contractions, and that the intensity moves from back to front. My cramping was concentrated in front, low, where I typically experience menstrual cramping. In my mind this meant I was on the way to being in rip roarin’ labor, but wasn’t quite there yet. We waited another hour. Somewhere in the middle of that hour I collapsed in tears for a contraction. The gravity of it all hit me. Chad called Jess again and she listened through one more contraction. This one lasted nearly two minutes. She was set to come over and hung up with Chad. She then called back a minute later to suggest we meet at the hospital. It was time to get in the car, which Chad had smartly loaded after making the first call to Jess. I hadn’t even noticed. He was so prepared.
I waddled to the car with Chad’s assistance and before I could get in my neighbor and her two kids wandered up and asked how things were going. Needless to say, I wasn’t interested in chitchatting. A contraction hit and squelched any opportunity for conversation. My primal grunts surprised the hell out of her kids.
I decided to camp out in the back seat, so that I could sway and moan and not have to sit strapped in. The urge to push was intensifying. I was not keen on birthing my baby in the back of a Corolla so I proceeded to sit on my heel as if this would stop Isla if she really wanted out. Chad, who seemed totally calm in the moment, was quietly having a coronary listening to me moan, breath and talk about pushing as we set out for Woodbury from South Minneapolis in the heart of rush hour. Later, doula Jess admitted that she thought Chad delivering the baby in the car on the side of the highway had been a distinct possibility after listening to me over the phone.
From the parking lot to my room at Woodwinds I had between four and six contractions. Crazy intense! Within a few minutes the midwife on duty came in and checked me. I was at seven centimeters, which was awesome to hear. The next thing I remember was being asked to lay down for the first round of my antibiotics (I was group B strep positive). The next forty-five minutes drove me crazy. I hated being stationary for the antibiotic drip and wanted to get in the tub. Telling a woman in labor to be still is asinine.
To my knowledge my water hadn’t broken yet and the midwife was encouraging me to allow her to break it. My gut said no and Chad and Jess assured me that such an action wasn’t necessary. The caveat to saying no was that I would need to exit the tub right before pushing so that the midwife could confirm my fluids were clear of meconium. I agreed. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure my water broke when I had a fierce contraction (more like five contractions) while attempting to go to the bathroom prior to getting into the birthing tub.
I was finally invited to enter the tub around 6 p.m. The water felt freeing and allowed me to be buoyant. I labored for another two hours and then it was time to push. I got out of the tub, passed the fluid check and re-entered ready to deliver sweet Isla. When I had the green light to push I went for it! It burned like hell, but in fourteen minutes my baby girl’s head was out and, as our doula describes it, Isla casually blinked a few times awaiting the finale of her exit from mama and her entrance into the world. Her arrival was so swift that the midwife barely made it in time for the delivery. I was thankful for my ever-present and supportive nurse Kristen. Isla floated through my legs with a little help and I held her under the water possessing her face and unfurling body with my eyes. Chad and I wept and I leaned back and brought baby Isla to my chest so that her dad and I could kiss, smell, stroke and listen to her. Sublime. When the cord finished throbbing Chad cut it and sustaining Isla took on an entirely new meaning.
The people that sustained me throughout my labor and delivery were Chad, Jess, Kristen Wiig (Thank you for bringing levity to a very intense day, KW!), and dear Isla who knew when to arrive and the best route for getting here.