When it started, it felt like a stomach ache. Every once in a while it was a just a little stomach ache. They were about five minutes apart. Normally that’s when they tell you to head to the hospital, but if all went well I wasn’t going to end up there at all. We called the midwife an told her we’d keep her posted and headed out to get something to eat. At Rite-Aid we ended up buying twenty-five dollars worth of candy. No one needed to know that I was in labor. I just paused once in a while. And I wasn’t yet excited or scared.
When we got home, it was harder to talk during a contraction and my Mom was panicking. That was right on time. I could see my face during a contraction that scared her. It was a calm face, no wrinkling and eyes closed. When I opened my eyes she was wide eyed and breathing fast saying she didn’t know what to do over and over. I thanked my good planning by inviting my niece. She’s calm, I remembered. She’ll calm things down. And I felt a little anxious, let that pass, and lost myself in peace.
When I felt better squatting like a sumo wrestler during the contractions, they were trying to get me to eat. ‘Too late,’ I thought. But they insisted so I took some bites of scalloped potatoes. They weren’t happy about that and insisted I needed more strength. I suggested the use of protein powder and almond milk. Other people started showing up. The midwife said she was going to stay and my niece had arrived. We started to fill up the tub and wonder how long we’d have to wait. And I was feeling happy and prepared.
When I got in the tub, Oh my God the amazing feeling! I felt a contraction melt away and then we started to take pictures. That was the perfect time. I’ve no idea how much time passed in there. People were in and out. Lots of people. But I couldn’t see them my eyes were closed and when they weren’t I had my glasses off. Everything was blurry. My vision, my perception of time. What time was it? It was late afternoon they told me. I made an offhand comment that if he waited until after midnight he would be born on the anniversary of my grandfather’s passing. ‘Wouldn’t that be nice,’ I thought. Then as another contraction reminded me of what waiting would entail I quickly let that thought pass. Little Acorns started to play from my labor playlist. The midwife asked me if I was still okay with the music thinking that the raucous song would disturb me. I told her that I loved this song and it was perfect. And I was present. And in that presence, every single moment I felt different.
When things started to stall, they exiled me to the bed. Oh if I had started there or stayed there with access to an epidural, I would have taken it. Lying down is not easier. Not at all. My only relief was being able to stand but everyone insisted that I get some rest. If only they could read my mind because my lips were silent. I must’ve fallen asleep between contractions because several hours passed. Every time I woke, I thought I couldn’t do it and prayed that I would start to throw up signaling a progress into the final stage. And that’s the time between times in labor. When you walk into the valley of the shadow if death. Most people think it’s in the pushing- the times of stretching and sometimes tearing- it’s not. It’s in the part when you lose all sense of time and you begin to believe there is no end in sight. Then I threw up. And I was happy and excited.
When I got back in the tub, it was time for business. I don’t know how long I pushed. Gabe says maybe a half an hour. What I remember is Gabe helping me to make low sounds by making them with me. And seeing how many people were in the room at that time. The cold washcloth that my niece kept on my neck and my husband supporting some of my weight. I remember leaning into the fear and pushing into the pain. And I remember the moment the head popped out, I smiled. As I smiled possibly the biggest smile of my life, my father graced the doorway. He’s a squeamish man. Getting lightheaded at the sight of blood and passing out during his childbirth class in school. And I thought, I’m glad he gets to see this. My smile. That last push to get his body out while still smiling and that first second his grandchild entered the world. And I was elated.
Baby entered the world hungry. I don’t remember crying, but I do remember the little mouth rooting as soon as I scooped that little one up to my chest. I stared at this tiny baby like I would have stared down an alien, had I ever met one, wondering why was I so lucky and where did this person come from. I held my little one and stared in awe for what seemed an eternity. Finally, i looked around to the midwife and asked her, “Is it a boy or a girl?” She looked back and replied, “I don’t know, you’ll have to look.” And that was when I first met my son, Gavin Nicholas. He was born on the day my grandfather had passed. And I don’t know if it’s that coincidence or something else, but I have felt my grandfather’s presence with me very strongly every day since. Many times I’ve considered changing his middle name to reflect the sudden closeness I felt with my beloved grandfather. Perhaps I will someday. Today, I feel grateful. Grateful that my experience with birth has ushered me into a community with other mothers. That I felt stronger and more capable than I have ever felt in my life. That I rose on the other side a warrior. Not worthy of worship, but of respect previously denied by my own self. There is no disrespecting this body. This body is bionic. As I watched it grow and shrink and endure and emerge victorious, I gained a greater respect for it’s sacredness, for it’s power and vulnerability. And with that my own. And I am awesome in the truest sense of the word.