I am a mother!
Rio Willow Hunter Black was born at 4:10 p.m. EST on May 24, 2004.
She weighed 9lbs 4 oz, and has a thick head of dark brown hair and dark blue eyes.
Though we did have to transport to hospital to birth her, Mom, baby and Dad are all in perfect health and happily settled at home now. Martin caught her as she was born, and laid her on my belly, and she hasn’t been out of my sight for longer than the duration of a shower since.
Here is the (long) story of our labor and birth:
The Birth of a River
For Rio Willow, born May 24, 2004
My waters broke with the storm, pouring down my bare legs as I made my way down a dark corridor. Small puddles marked my passage to the bathroom; at first, waking from restless sleep with the intense need to pee, I thought my bladder had simply let go before I reached my destination. Back in bed, I lay for a few moments watching the night sky dance with lightning, excited, not ready to hope I was finally going to meet my baby.
Then I woke Martin.
“I think I might have peed on myself,” I whispered. “But I might not have.”
We examined the puddles together. While we were examining, a fresh stream of fluid bubbled out and soaked a small circle in our bed.
“OK,” I said, “I’m awake now. We’re trying to decide whether or not this is pee. Under these circumstances, I really think I would know if I were peeing.”
We stared into each other’s excited eyes. It was Time to Call the Midwife, according to the little form I’d been given. It was also 4 a.m., and she’d told me that when I went into labor, I’d call her, and she’d tell me to have a snack and get some sleep. So I skipped calling her. Martin brought up a snack of the delicious bread pudding I’d just learned how to make the day before, and we ate it in bed.
The bread pudding. I’d made it Friday night, right before we went to see the park where we were thinking of getting handfasted this summer. We’d walked in one of my favorite tame wildernesses, visited with my mother, and enjoyed a wonderful Indian dinner before coming home early and deciding to go right to bed. We often decide to go right to bed and then stay up half the night fussing, but this time we really did. We cuddled, shared massage, and went to sleep wrapped up tight together, his arms and knees supporting my hips and belly. In the morning, we woke and played together for awhile. Eventually we made love and collapsed back into a gentle sleep, waking again a few hours later for a breakfast of bread pudding in bed. We’d never eaten in bed before, and we both talked about how special it was. Now, with my waters opening like the sky, we repeated the little ritual of eating in bed, before folding into each other’s arms to try to sleep.
Martin drifted into rest, but I lay awake through the small hours, watching the sky gradually lighten and quivering waking dreams of meeting our child.
When morning had struck, I called the midwife, who suggested I eat and take a nap. My labor pains had not begun, but my body was getting ready for them; small changes like backache and diarrhea. We had Epic Breakfast and a long wonderful nap. We spent the afternoon setting up the birth space with all the tools we’d carefully assembled for our birth. We never did get the birth pool put up, but we made our bed, and moved the altar for Yemaya to sit beside it. We hung the long strip of sarong fabric Martin uses to carry his drum in actions over an exposed beam, by the bed, and placed my nursing rocker in the room.
The midwife came by around 4 to check in, and I was beginning to have little waves of discomfort that would later become contractions. My mother came by around the same time. The midwife went home and Martin and I lay down to have a nap together in the sacred space we’d created.
When we woke, we called the circle. As we invoked each quarter, a strong, good contraction would fold my body into a pose of gratitude. There are, as Rumi writes, thousands of ways to kneel and kiss the ground, and in this casting, I explored them. How to invoke the waters of her living womb, as we do in the west, with amniotic fluid running down my legs? How to call in the tears of the god with my partner standing behind me, weeping with joy, at the threshold of fatherhood? The water came on its own.
Yemaya had carried me through the pregnancy – it was her voice I heard in dreams telling me first that I would have a child, and then giving me her name. When we thought we might lose her, bleeding early in the pregnancy, it was Yemaya who held me, and told me how to hold my daughter so she could stay with me. I’d built an altar to her then, that I tended through the pregnancy, and I wanted to sing her into our circle now.
It is Elegba who carries mortal prayers to Yemaya, I was taught, and Martin called out to him with his drum; Elegba the ferryman, to aid us in our crossing. A dangerous invocation; both of us aware that Elegba will ferry one across the river but not disclose the fare until it is too late to turn back.
We called him and felt his presence, awful and deep, come into the room. I remembered the few times I’d met him before – he’d always frightened me, and he did now, but one can’t simply pick and choose what gods to invoke and avoid the scary ones – it was Elegba and Yemaya who were called to carry us through the birth, and we welcomed them.
Yemaya came again with a storm, thunder cracking around the house. My own mother appeared in the doorway then, calling us downstairs. She braided my hair, her fingers running gently through it. We talked and laughed in the kitchen. We’d started a sourdough loaf the night before, and decided now we may as well make the bread.
As my contractions grew stronger, I would pause in our project and lay my arms down on the counter. My mother would lay her face opposite mine, and gently guide my breathing with her own. She showed me how to move my hands in rhythm with the breathing, so I could use my fingers, opening and closing gently like flowers waking to the sun, as a guide for my breath when the sensation was strongest.
Around 9 we called the midwives. They came just as the bread dough was finished, and I was beginning to move between the worlds, away from the world of language and ego, into a mystery. The experience I’ve had that most resembled labor was using hallucingens in ritual – a sense at first of wondering when the drug will take effect, then slowly realizing that everything has shifted, and you’ve cast off from the shores of normal awareness. A long slow hazy ride beyond that, in which each moment is vibrant and memorable, but often disconnected from the ones around it. A stretch of time escaped from the bonds of narrative on which our waking lives are lived. Like a drug trip too, there were things happening that I wouldn’t have found pleasant under normal circumstances, but in my altered and euphoric reality, they were simply what was, and it wouldn’t have occurred to me to try to stop them from unfolding.
It was full dark now. I was having such a good time. I remember asking the midwife why no one had told me labor would be so much fun. The contractions were strong, even painful now. Under other circumstances, I think I would have been upset at being so uncomfortable, but my child was coming and I felt myself filled up with light, buoyed by the waters within me and those raging around the house.
We played for awhile, cuddling and laughing while the house filled up with people. Downstairs, I could hear laughter and music, while up in our labor room, I ate a bowl of fruit and cottage cheese, sang songs of love to the baby and my body, which was working pretty hard now, and played with my mother and my partner. His older son came in and played with us for a bit – we bounced the birthing ball around the room, and Martin sat on it and pretended it was him having contractions.
e midwife and my mother both asked me to lay down, so we turned the lights out and Martin and I climbed into bed together. He’d taken a long break during the early part, and I was telling him how, now that things were more intense for me, I wanted him to stay with me.
“I will,” he said. “I’m going to be right here with you. I won’t leave you.”
“If he needs to leave to go to the bathroom or get a snack,” the midwife told me, “I’ll remind you where he’s gone. I know it can be hard to remember.”
That was it exactly. When he left the room, I couldn’t remember where he’d gone, and it felt as if he’d passed out of my world.
Feeling safe now and held by both of them, I curled in my lover’s arms and faded in and out of a light sleep. Between contractions, we just lay there loving each other, and when one came, he’d hold me and breathe with me. I began to chant and moan through them, and he would lay beside me, striking deep notes with his beautiful voice for me to follow downward, away from the sharp squeals of pain I’d begun to let out and into the deep, low sounds of power that would help me birth my baby.
I described one contraction as ‘good’, and then found myself craving an album called Good, by the band Morphine. I asked the midwife to go find the portable CD player and the album of Cds, so I could listen to it.
“Gods, what will the home birth community say, me bringing you Morphine during your labor,” she joked.
Every contraction, Martin stayed right with me. As they got more intense, I was more and more uncomfortable trying to lie down comfortably. I spent a lot of time on my knees, chest pressed to the bed. When I’d begin to wander too far into pain, the midwife would call me back.
“Slow and open, Sierra,” she would say softly. “Slow and open.”
She’d moved the nursing rocker slightly into the center of the room, where we’d stood to invoked center earlier in the day. She sat there, head tipped back and hands out to her sides, her own infant sleeping fast on her lap, anchoring the room.
After some time on the bed, I got up to use the bathroom – it took much longer than I’d imagined it would to climb the half-flight of stairs out of the labor room and walk down the hall. Once there, I was overwhelmed with the most forceful contraction yet. Sitting on the toilet felt as if I might break open.
Coming back into the room, I walked for a bit, then announced that I might like to vomit. Someone brought me a bowl and I fell to me knees, shaking through a massive contraction while simultaneously vomiting and peeing on the floor. When it was over, I stood up laughing, and announced that while that was probably a braver moment than the playful breadmaking downstairs, I was glad no one had taken a picture of it.
A hard moment then: the midwives did an exam and found that my “brave moment” had indeed been a gate. I had crossed from early labor to active labor; I was four centimeters dilated. Knowing that ten is the magic number, I felt disheartened. I’d worked so hard already, I’d been sure I was really moving along, and now I was being told that I was just at the beginning. On average, the midwife said, I had another 24 hours of this to go. For a moment, I didn’t know if I could do it. I felt like I could cry if my body wasn’t so engrossed in the work of labor.
“This is the worst part,” the midwife assured me. “Later, you’ll have more pain, but you’ll also have more endorphins, and you’ll see that you’re really progressing somewhere. This shift into active labor just sucks.”
I couldn’t have agreed more. The thunderstorms came roaring back, lighting up the room and lending me strength. The contractions were different then, stronger and more rhythmic. Martin and I curled on the bed together. Occasionally, we’d make that long journey to the bathroom, where I’d do “toilet magic”, choosing to sit on the toilet for as long as it took to pee, a few seconds really, knowing that would set off an intense contraction.
The night wore on with the storm. When things got tough, I’d take a shower. At one point, my growling moans brought my mother up, and she began breathing with me again. Martin told me later I’d cried out for her in the midst of a contraction.
A friend said she’d never found a good description of a contraction. I can’t offer one. They happen one at a time. Inside one, the experience is total, and totally overwhelming. As soon as its passed, the memory of the pain passes with it. The sensation is beyond words, but not traumatizing. The pain, for me, didn’t matter once it was over. The answer to, “How mnay of these can I do?” was always, “As many as it takes to bring the baby out.”Between contractions I felt tired, playful, euphoric, fine.
My labor progressed well with the night. Around dawn, another exam brought another small setback. My cervix was almost entirely dilated, but I’d developed a small lip. To encourage the rest of the dilation to go smoothly, the midwife insisted I labor on my back. The prospect was awful; I’d been talking all night about ho w unbelievably painful lying on my back even for the duration of a cervical exam was. Pregnant women are often uncomfortable on their backs throughout pregnancy – it hadn’t bothered me until the last weeks of mine, but now it was as if the cumulative effect of all the discomfort I’d been spared came crashing down – one contraction on my back was like an hour of work on my knees.
A deal was struck: I had to labor on my back, but I could do it in the bathtub.
The tub was magical – not because it offered me particular relief during the contractions, but because between them it relaxed me deeply, and both Martin and I were able to sleep, me lying on my back in the warm water and him sitting beside it on the bathroom floor, holding my hand.
It also worked – within an hour of being in the tub, the midwives did another exam and announced that I was nine centimeters all around. I’d gone through another gate in the labor, with the same combination of intense contraction and everything coming out of both ends at once. I was through the initial active labor and into transition: the short, intensely painful period of labor right before the pushing stage that brings the baby out. The contractions were unbelievably intense; Martin had to use his back brace to support me during them, but they came less often, giving my body a bit more rest between.
Elated to think we were near the birth, I went back into the tub and slept again. I woke with a sudden, excruciating contraction, throwing half the water out of the tub and screaming to tear my throat out. For the first tine, the pain didn’t feel “right”. One of the midwives came running.
“Are you feeling pushy?” she asked.
“I don’t know. It feels like I have to poop, but I don’t.”
“That’s pushing. That’s great. We just want to do one more exam, and check your dilation. If you’re fully dilated, then you can push and we’ll see the baby soon!”
I hated the idea of getting out of the tub, but we went down and did the last exam.
I wasn’t fully dilated. Instead, my cervix had gone from nine to six centimeters, and the baby’s head, which had been low and engaged in my pelvis for weeks, had pulled back up, floating away from the cervix. The fancy word for this was that the cervix was not “well-applied”, and what it meant was that, no matter how overhwleming the urge was, I couldn’t push. Doing so could be disastrous for me and the baby. At best, it would cause the cervix to swell, at worst I could tear it and hemmorage.
“We can try a few things here,” the midwife said. “We could do ice,
which would help a swelling cervix, but yours isn’t really swollen, yet. We could try to manually dilate it, but without the baby’s head pushing against it, there’s no guarantee it won’t retract again. Or we can go to the hospital. They’ll give you medication to loosen your cervix and another to push, and you should be able to have the baby no problem.”
Here it was, then. The price of crossing the river, the thing I wasn’t sure I was prepared to pay. My whole pregnancy, I’d been dreading the prospect of a hospital transfer. My mother had labored at home with me, and had to transfer after three agonizing days, when she was so exhausted and dehydrated. The story of her labor and birth loomed over my prenatal care – I was determined not to repeat her frightening experience. And here I was, healthy, well-hydrated, rested, ready to push my baby out, and facing the prospect of climbing in a car and leaving my safe, beautiful ritual space for the cold world of a hospital. Not only to go to the hospital, but to go there for the express purpose of being given the heavy drugs I’d shuddered at the mention of throughout my childbirth class. I remembered scoffing at the film we’d seen about having an epidural in awareness. The idea was to prepare expectant moms for the possibility that an epidural might be “necessary”. I’d thought the idea of necessary anesthesia was a convenient fiction to make women feel like less of a failure if they decided to expose their baby to powerful, potentially dangerous narcotics rather than experience the pain of labor themselves. Now I was facing the choice between taking the medical route and a relatively low-risk of complications brought on by overzealous hospital staff, and staying home, where I would almost certainly injure myself and my baby. Women had, I’d repeatedly said, been laboring without the help of modern medicine for millennia. They’d also been dying in the process, from exactly the kind of complications I now faced.
I didn’t really think I might die; we were too near emergency medical care for a hemmorhage to kill me. I did think I might tear my cervix, and even in the midst of the most intense physical pain I’d ever experienced, the prospect that I might damage my body such that I couldn’t do this again was enough to get me off the bed I lay writhing in.
“What do you think is best for the baby?” I asked my partner and the midwife.
“I think,” she said, “that we’re going to wrap up the magic of our home birth and take it with us to the hospital.”
It was, at the moment I needed to do it, the easiest decision I have ever made. Elegba had his fare. To cross into motherhood, I would cross a literal river, the Merrimack, and birth at the hospital the next town over from my home.
The next hour was also, physically, the hardest I have lived through. With each contraction, every muscle in my body, every swirling energy of my being, tightened around the baby. I could feel the baby trying to push herself out, and everything in me but my tired, frightened Talking Self working as hard as it could to help her. With each contraction, the midwife stood beside me and told me to blow up as if there was a feather on my head I was trying to blow away. It was the most intensely painful thing I have ever done, compounded by an overwhelming sense of how wrong it was to be holding up what must come down and out. In the midst of each horrible contraction, I’d break into tears of fear and pain, sobbing, “She’s pushing! It’s all pushing! I can’t stop it!”
“That’s Ok,” the midwife would tell me. “It’s all pushing, but you’re not helping. Just blow.”
At one point, she reminded me of the joyful song I’d been singing in early labor.
“Remember, your body is a living temple of love,” she said cheerily.
“Fuck you,” I snapped.
“OK, you can fuck me, but right now you have to blow.”
I got so dehydrated from blowing that the pain in my throat around breathing began to rival my contractions. I sat awkwardly in the back seat, of Martin’s car, holding my knees very tight to contract my pelvis when all I wanted was to be opening the gate for my baby to emerge. Between contractions, I made up silly songs pleading with them to slow down, to take a break from labor and come back when we reached the hospital. The singing seemed to reach my body, because they did space out further.
Finally, we reached the hospital. They pushed me in a wheelchair to the labor ward, and I remember a horrified woman, maybe a few months pregnant herself, turning pale and letting us ahead of her in line for the elevator.
Upstairs they brought us to a labor room which was pretty nice by hospital standards, with a large window near the bed. A doctor came almost immediately to examine me, and there was a lot of commotion about who was in the room, who the midwives were, what had happened so far in my labor. We’d agreed in the car to tell them my waters had broken at 4 am, and not to volunteer a date, but to lie if necessary and say it had been four am this day – five hours earlier, as opposed to thirty. If they’d known how long my waters had been broken, they might have taken me immediately into cesaerean prep, and we wanted to avoid an unnecessary surgery.
My mother had missed this conversation, and began telling someone how long I’d been in labor when I sat bolt upright, in the midst of the worst pain I’d ever felt, and lied to the doctor. I’m normally a terrible liar, and martin told me later he knew I’d be alright if I was together enough to maintain the fiction about when my waters broke.
I liked the OB, though later the midwives told me he was a jerk outside my room. Perhaps my standards for this sort of thing are pretty low, but he talked directly to me, instead of through my partner or mother, and left me with at least the appearance of options. After he’d heard from the midwives and done his initial exam, he sat down and said, “I’d like to make a plan with you,” and gave me his recommendations, which were exactly what the midwives had described when we decided to transfer – they’d give me an epidural to slow my labor and relax my cervix, and check again in a few hours. If all went as planned, I’d be able to deliver the baby without any further intervention. The doctor, however, started on about what a big baby this was, and advised me that I needed to consider the possibility of a casaerean because I might be too small to push her out. I found the idea laughable. My body grew this baby, and I knew I had the power to give birth to her. Laughable and terrifying, because while I knew I was capable of birthing her, I didn’t know if I was capable of winning a fight with the hospital staff about it.
“Can we call it a caesaerean delivery?” I asked after he mentioned it as a “section”.
“Sure,” he said warmly, “We can call it a casaerean birth if you want. Let’s all hope we don’t have to go there.”
I didn’t really care about the vocabulary we chose to talk about a surgical procedure I desparately hoped to avoid, just like I didn’t really care about wearing my pretty green labor dress instead of the hospital Johnny they offered me. I was still wearing it as a badge that I intended to cooperate as little as possible with anything beyond the minimal necessary intervention with my birth. That I had, as we’d decided at home, wrapped up our magic and brought it with me. The birthing woman statue from Yemaya’s altar sat on the instrument panel beside the bed.
The anesthesiologist came. His name was Dr. Katz, and he was wearing a silly hat with cats all over it. Though I’d been desperate for him to arrive, I fought with him about whether or not my tongue stud was coming out. It was, it turned
out, a silly misunderstanding – he asked how hard it would be to take out and I said it would be impossible, because I would lose the piercing and I knew he could give me a local anesthetic for my hips without needing to remove jewelry from my mouth. He was really trying to determine how easy it would be for someone else to remove later, if I fainted or needed emergency care that did require removing it. Eventually we got sorted, and somewhat warily the epidural process began.
The first step was like a scene from a Flying Circus sketch – the room was already crowded with my family, my midwives, the nurses, the obstetrician and the anesthesiologist, when suddenly a crowd of people showed upa nd announced they were moving furniture. They rushed everyone out of the room so fast that a few people ended up getting shoved into the bathroom, then they carried every piece of furniture that wasn’t physically attached to me out of the room and came in with another dozen pieces of medical equipment and chairs. In reality, they were bringing the anesthesiologist’s equipment in, but to me it seemed like an utterly random intrusion, a comically ill-timed visit from the hospital housekeeping staff who’d decided now was the moment to update the furnishings.
When the circus died down, we began. I have never been able to hold still for anything. The one time in my life my mother ever hit me was because I kept wiggling while she braided my hair for some special occasion,. In fourth grade I won an award for my inability to talk without waving my hands around. We’d often joked, I my family, that I couldn’t hold still to save my life.
Now, that joke was put to the test. The anesthesiologist had explained to me that, for reasons too complicated for my pain-soaked brain to grasp, I was not a good candidate for an epidural, and it was essential therefore that this wbat he called, “the perfect epidural”. No room for error as he inserted the needles into my spine. This was, I reminded myself, what was necessary for the baby to be born. I had to sit up, supported in the arms of a kind stranger, the delivery nurse who stayed by my bedside. The anesthesiologist leaned me over her, into an incredibly awkward position folding forward over my pregnant belly. It hurt just to sit like that. I couldn’t even breathe, I needed to hold so still. He began, driving the needles into my back. I’d heard this would hurt, and it did. Not the same intensity of pain as a contraction, but not the same quality either. It wasn’t a “good pain”, as my midwife liked to describe labor pains. It was a sharp piercing pain in a part of my body that had never felt such a pain before. One of the incredible pushing contractions struck me. I held still. His pager went off, and he stopped what he was doing to answer it and discuss something totally unrelated. Twice. I weathered another contraction. He came back to what he was doing, finally coating my entire back with a sticky plastic tape that irritated my skin. I sat perfectly still for another minute, until he came back and told me I could move.
If I was going to do it once in my life, this was the occasion. As before, the answer to what I could bear to bring the baby out remained, “Whatever it takes.”
After that, it almost didn’t feel like I was in labor. The epidural completely numbed my body, to the point where I couldn’t feel my legs. I could still feel my cervix, and I could tell when I needed to urinate, but I tried not to let on right away for fear they’d give me another dose I didn’t need.
They’d given me a shot of morphine, and used it in the epidural as well. My midwife indirectly brought me morphine during my labor after all. What would the home birth folks say?!
My head began to swim, and my vision lapsed into hallucinations. I saw four of the midwife swimming like a kaleidoscope ahead of me. Word associations drifted around me; I theorized about the impact of little rubber flowers on my labor. I slept. When I woke, the doctor came back and gave me the news everyone wanted to hear. I was fully dilated, and the baby’s head had descended down through my cervix. I could push her out when I was ready!
The anesthesiologist came back and lowered the painkiller, not quite as much as I asked him to but more, I learned later, than he would normally have done. I hated feeling dissociated from the sensation of my labor. Everything was so orchestrated, I joked with my mother, I felt as if I almost didn’t need to be there. As the pain meds withdrew, it got to the point where I could feel a pressure, as if far away, in the middle of my lower body. I had use of one leg back. The other one had overdosed somehow, and would take most of a day to recover. The nurses brought me a squat bar to hitch up over the bed – I wanted to try to get up on my hands and knees to push, but with only one leg I realized this would be impossible. They rigged a sheet over it instead, that I used to pull on while I was pushing.
The pushing was incredible, even with the sedation. I’d feel a contraction start to tighten inside, and I’d take a deep breath and push down, holding my breath until the midwives said to let it out. One of them stood on each side of me, and I saw my mother and Martin right beside me as well. There were a lot of other people in the room, and they were all helping me, holding onto my legs and telling me what a good job I was doing and reminding me when to take a deep breath and when to let it out. It felt a little strange to be coached through the pushing, but it made up for the lack of intense sensation guiding me that I’d had earlier in the labor.
I’d had them bring a mirror so I could see Rio being born, since I couldn’t feel much and I didn’t want to miss the experience. First my whole bottom area began to swell outward, then my cunt opened up like a flower and this spiraling mess of wet black hair appeared inside. I reached down and felt the top of her head with my fingers, then reached back and pushed again. When she was about to be born, there was a big commotion to go get the doctor, who seemed totally unnecessary to the process. He arrived, from my perspective, too late to do anything one way or the other – he jostled my mirror out of whack so I couldn’t see what I was doing, and then sat on his hands watching while I birthed my baby. As her head emerged, he helped her shoulders out, then moved out of the way and Martin reached down and pulled her body out of my body and laid her on my chest. She didn’t cry as she was born, she just made these gently singing gurgle sounds, and then coughed up a lot of mucus. Someone draped a blanket over her wet body, and Martin leaned over both of us, singing a birth song to her. I could only see the top of her head and her tiny, crinkly ears, all wrinkled in like pickle chips and not ear shaped at all. She was the most beautiful slimy pickle-eared baby I’d ever imagined. We all three held each other and sang for what seemed like all the time we needed, a long priceless moment where no one knew if Rio was a boy or a girl, or what number of pounds and ounces or what name should go on the birth certificate. There was just me and Martin and the baby we’d brought into the world together. Ours were the only hands who had ever touched her, and for a few seconds ours were the only voices she heard. As we lay there together, the storm raged outside. I’d been so deep in my body I hadn’t noticed till now Yemaya’s rain still thundering around us.
She was born 36 hours to the minute after my waters first broke.
The hospital staff were of course eager to do things to her, and I, realizing I was about to faint, passed her up to my mother, checking her sex as I did so. It seemed like a silly thing to do at the time, but everyone in the room was asking, and I wanted to be the first to know.
From here, there was a constant low-grade struggle with the nurses. No, we don̵
7;t want to vaccinate our newborn daughter against a rare sexually transmitted disease that she could not possibly have been exposed to, her mother having been vaccinated years ago. Yes, we’ll sign a waiver. Please don’t put drops in her eyes. We’ll sign another waiver. You don’t need to test her hearing; she’s afraid of the thunder, she can obviously hear. She doesn’t need a bath. You can check her vitals on my lap. You can take her out of this room over my dead body. Yes, behind the curtain counts as too far away; bring the equipment over here. By mid evening, when the shift changed, word seemed to have gotten round that we were a bit odd – they sent us The Most Progressive Nurse In The Hospital, who helped me arrange the pillows in my hospital bed so the baby and I could sleep comfortably together, and bathed her in warm water with no soap under Martin’s supervision.
That night, while I slipped in and out of exhausted, drug-tinged sleep, Martin sat on the side of my hospital bed, watching over me and our baby, holding her to my sleeping breast and pressing the nipple into her mouth when she cried, so she could nurse without waking me. Every time I opened my eyes, he was there, looking down at me with a loving smile, holding our daughter close to my chest. He’d been up for close to 50 hours, but he seemed animated by quiet joy. Only in the morning, after a pediatrician had come by and pronounced our little girl “perfect” did he allow himself to fall into an exhausted sleep in the chair beside my bed. When I asked him about it later, he simply said, “Well, it needed to be done.”
We stayed in the hospital two days without further incident. They gave us some very good advice about breastfeeding, a lot of menstrual pads, and twenty-four hour room service. We could have gone home the morning after she was born, but Martin was so exhausted, I didn’t want to make him responsible for doing all the things for me that the nurses were doing. By the second day it was clear we’d made the right choice. My body had recovered so quickly that in twenty-four hours I’d gone from needing two nurses to help me walk to the bathroom to being able to get up, shower and dress on my own, and sit up in a rocker nursing my baby.
In the fifteen minutes before we left for home, a shift change brought us the Least Progressive Nurse In The Hospital. When she wanted to take Rio away to do some simple vitals check on her, I asked her to wait till she was done nursing and she snapped, “She’ll nurse twenty-four hours a day if you let her.” I just looked at her and very calmly said, “No, she won’t. She’s more than 24 hours old, and she hasn’t been nursing the whole time.”
Before we could leave, she had to score what Martin called The Goal of Glory – a soccer term for when a team is losing fantastically, say 13 to nothing, and they are desparate to score that one goal before the game ends. The hospital’s Goal of Glory was around Rio’s car seat. Before we left the house, I remember in the midst of my pain worrying that we didn’t have a car seat yet, and how would we get her home. Some friends in Florida had sent us one, and it hadn’t arrived yet. Of course, UPS dropped it off on our porch the afternoon she was born. When we were ready to go home, Martin went back home to get it. We told the nurses we intended to have him drop by the local police department and have a traffic safety officer install it, and they said that sounded great. Now, the Evil Nurse insisted he bring the car seat up to the maternity ward and strap the baby into it before we could leave our hospital room. Then, she said, she would push me and Rio out in a wheelchair. I was not allowed to walk.
They fought about it for some time – the car seat is not one of these little newborn baskets, it’s a real car seat, meant to go in the car and stay there for several years. Good for babies five to sixty-five pounds, according to the label. Martin insisted, rightly, that he had spent an hour installing the car seat, and that the baby would be safer if we simply brought her downstairs and put her in it. He invited the nurse to supervise that activity if she want to be sure we strapped the baby in correctly. No, she said, once we leave, we’re out of their care, and they can’t be responsible for how the seat fits in the car. They just need to be sure, on the maternity ward, that the baby has a car seat and we’ve strapped her in correctly.
So he brought her seat up. It was a major project. He put it on the bed, and she hovered over us while we strapped Rio in. Then I went to take her back out so we could go down to the car, and the nurse said, Oh no, the baby has to go down to the car in the seat. We both looked at her like she was nuts, and then Martin got angry. I don’t think I’d ever seen him really angry at someone before. I’m not sure the nurse realized how angry he was, but I wondered, briefly, if he was going to hit her with the car seat. He informed her, again correctly, that her idea was completely unsafe, and he wasn’t going to carry his daughter down a flight of stairs and out a long corridor strapped into an unwieldy seat he couldn’t manage well. Finally, she agreed to wheel the baby out in the wheelchair, still strapped into the car seat, while both Martin and I walked.
It was a long walk for me, and at one point I thought I might faint again, but I refused to sit down because I was very eager to get away from this bitch. When we got to the car, contrary to her earlier claim that we were no longer her responsibility and she couldn’t help us re-install the seat, she now tried to insist that we put the car seat in the car with the baby still strapped to it. Martin had told her several times this would be impossible, because the seat needed to be disassembled slightly right where the baby was sitting to fit the seat belt strap through and secure it. At this point the Evil Nurse became slightly hysterical, and tried to convince him to strap the seat into the car through another whole in the plastic casing with a large red warning label on it saying that it was never to be used to secure the car seat, and would not hold the seat in place. She’d rather see us put the seat in incorrectly, and risk our babies life, than allow us to take her out of the seat and win the argument we’d been having for the last twenty minutes. I thanked her sternly for her attention, informed her we were no longer patients of the hospital, and assured her we could handle things from here. She retreated angrily, we got the baby safely in the car, and at last returned home.
The first night at home was a hard transition. We finally had the privacy we’d been longing for, but the house was full of echoes of the labor; mountains of laundry, stacks of dirty dishes, furniture in disarray from our hurried departure. We spent an awkward night, getting up even more often than the baby, restless in our big cozy bed.
The next day was a flurry of unexpected activity – again. Martin had to go into work for an emergency, and we couldn’t find anyone we knew to stay with me. Finally one of the midwives’ husbands came over and sat with me for a few hours, doing laundry and making me lunch. It was an awesome gift.
It was only when we’d had a full day at home together, and put much of the house, not back in order but into a new order, discovering what we needed close at hand for the baby and what we really weren’t using at all, that we began to feel more settled. At the end of our second day home, we went into the labor room, where the energy of the labor still swirled strong. I sat down in the nursing rocker at the center with Rio. Martin pulled the footstool up beside me with his drum, and together, the three of us closed our circle.
Rio is a week old as I write this. She’s sleeping soundly in a sling on her father’s chest. They’re
sitting on the porch with his older son, talking quietly together. Every once in awhile, Rio squeaks in her sleep. I’ve never seen him so grounded and so happy. I’m sitting inside writing, watching the oven for her birthday cake to come out. I’ve become a mother, and the transition has been full of grace and joy and a deep sense of Right Action. There’s a surety and power in me now that I remember from childhood, but mature. After the birth, Martin asked me is I was amazed what I could do. No, I finally said, I couldn’t be surprised because I hadn’t gone into it thinking I had any limits. Now it seems, I know that I don’t.
Writing this is the first time I’ve been separated from her body for more than a few minutes since she was born. In this whole week, there was probably a total of twenty minutes when she was not being held by someone who loves her, and even then, she was being held by nurses.
There’s so much of her first week I want to capture and save that just slips away from me: the funny little snuffles she made when she was first laid on my belly; the way she smells like a new tiny person flower, a smell that she brought into the universe with her and that no one smelled before. The pattern of lanugo whisping over her face and back, the little tufts on her ears. The way she rhythmically opened and closed her eyes when she first saw the world, like a new butterfly testing its wings. The perfecct roundness of her newborn face, like a tiny moon goddess. When she wants to eat, she roots around on my chest and makes a snorting noise like a little pig. She squeaks all the time; we call her the Queen of Squeak. Her favorite thing to do is lie curled against my chest or Martin’s listening to our heartbeats. Her second night, as she lay sleeping on Martin’s chest, he was snoring gently and she was doing her little newborn snuffle. Then she stopped, and after about twenty seconds, she started snoring in exactly the rhythm of her dad’s breathing. She’d just taught herself to snore. She’s already learning and changing so much. I know I could never catch and capture every detail. “This too shall pass” is the blessing and curse of time.
and here are the mandatory baby pictures.