…and then one day I awoke and was given the chance
to walk (and dance and sing) my way through the corridor of birth.
On the other side, I found new life in my arms, and
suddenly I had the capacity for more love than I ever imagined possible.
It was a Sunday morning in early October. I woke up to windows open, birds singing, life buzzing, and warming scents from the kitchen where Dan was preparing an epic breakfast of: homegrown fermented padrone peppers, sweet potatoes, onions, and fresh eggs – omelet style. I appreciated good food before pregnancy, but not near as much as during pregnancy! We ate to our hearts desires, leashed up the dogs, and went for a stroll towards downtown – to get Dan a cup of coffee at the Bourgeois Pig (3/4 mile, both ways). I felt the walk was quite an accomplishment with how heavy my pelvis was feeling from the weight of our brewing babe (due in 5 weeks).
The dogs and I waited for Dan on the back brick and wood patio, overlooking a treed alleyway that brought me back to memories of childhood trips to Telluride, Colorado. The morning seemed so perfect and I felt so calm, it took me some time to truly notice that my lower back had started to ache. Once I noticed it, I realized it reminded me of the cramping feeling I used to get leading up to a fresh menstrual cycle. It being only mid-way through my third trimester I thought, Hmmm… this probably is my body asking me for rest. I’ll send Dan out to the farm without me today, once we return from our walk. I’d felt excessively tired all week anyway and had had to miss two other workdays – but baby was our priority and I knew he’d understand.
Dan emerged from ‘The Pig’ with a steamy glass mug of honey-sweetened decaf coffee and we shared sips. I expressed a desire to head home and sleep off the discomfort. Bottoms up he went, and we were off for the 3/4 mile return home by foot – during which I had several (of what I now know were) contractions. I mentioned my contractions to Dan and he looked at me a bit confused, ‘Usually when you have those practice contractions, you stop walking to wait them out. Do you want to do that now?’ I was having one when he asked that and the idea of resting appealed to me, so I found a tree to lean on and gave it a try. Very quickly I knew this was NOT the way to handle these particular sensations, and I told him ‘I think these are the walking kind.’ That they were! I would soon find out they were the real deal. However, at the time I fully denied the possibility that I was in pre-term labor – we were not due for 5 weeks after-all!
We arrived home through our alleyway, where we found neighbor Greg gardening. “Mornin,” he said, “I thought of you in church this morning.” I felt hazy and unable to focus on his words, desiring nothing more than to get inside the house and center in on what my body was asking of me… as I walked away and left the boys to chat, I heard Greg explain, “The pastor’s sermon this morning was about due dates. She said, ‘they don’t mean anything!’” Later that afternoon the memory of his words would make me literally laugh out loud between rapid-fire contractions tempered by flowing hot shower water on my back.
Upon entering the house I crawled into bed, adopted the fetal position, and immediately experienced the rush of warm oozing fluid between my legs. Standing up and cupping a hand under myself to catch the flow, I observed it was clear with little white spots (vernix, which covers and protects babies in utero). “Dan,” I said looking puzzled and smirking at the present reality of labor that I (comically) still refused to admit to myself, “Umm, I think I’d better call the midwives.”
Excitement entered the house, followed by our neighborhood midwife who arrived at our home by foot within 15 minutes of my call. She entered the front door to find me in a semi-squat, slowly circling my hips in a sort of belly dance while moaning ‘Ooooohhh’ through a contraction. “Ummm, Cole, you are definitely in labor,” was her professional assessment.*
“Are you sure??” I asked, quite serious. ”Can’t these things seal back up and fill with more fluid and keep the baby in there longer?”
“Well,” she responded, “tell me about how much fluid you’ve lost.” I stood up and another gush hit the tile floor.
Looking up laughing, “Umm, not a little!” I replied. It took several more contractions and visits to a full length mirror – where I could clearly see our little one’s body outlined under my skin in the absence of amniotic fluid – before I could accept the reality of being in labor.
Between the walk from the cafe to our house, I experienced four or five contractions. Once my water broke, Dan timed the contractions at regular intervals of 45 seconds to 1 minute apart, and about 1 minute in length. I hadn’t read up on what was a ‘normal’ interval for early labor contractions. I would later learn that mine were SIGNIFICANTLY more frequent than what many women experience. This baby wanted OUT!*
I always thought that this first child would come a little early, despite a family history of birthing late.* One part of her personality I could sense from within the womb very early on was her enthusiasm for and excitement about life and the ‘outside’ world. By my judgement, she seemed to have spent the last month and a half trying to claw her way out through my cervix – an awkward sensation! When it came time to be born, she held true in her enthusiasm and excitement. She and I worked as a team to accommodate a very fast labor.
By 4:20 that afternoon, I found myself a new mother, in a birth tub in my kitchen – with my husband, ‘rural midwife’, and ‘neighborhood midwife’ there as witnesses. I’d gone through labor eating frozen grapes grown by friends Regina and Craig, and sipping on fluids between ongoing rapid-fire contractions. I’d taken time to step away from my husband and midwives to converse openly with our child, telling her “You are worth every bit of pain little one. It’s OK. Don’t worry. I love you SO much. I am so excited to meet you.” Labor, for me, was powerful, earth-shattering, and immensely fun. I felt I had the best birth team in the world, and I was in complete bliss as they joined my child and I on this journey. So involved were they that at one point I called out asking them to “Oohhh” with me and, as my next couple of huge contraction (through Transition) came, indeed they did “Oooooohhhhhh” with me.
Together, we filled the room with our low, deep tones, and it made me feel like I was giving birth in a Buddhist temple. The sounds resonated through me and I opened, opened, opened, to let our child out. I felt “the burn” I’d read of, the most painful sensation of my labor, and it caused me no aggravation. In fact, “the burn” did nothing but incite great enthusiasm in me to see the process through. I was ready. I knew the burn meant she was crowning, and I reached down to feel her delicate, tender, head. In the final moments of pushing/releasing, I called out to Dan who had been faithfully pressing firmly on the tops of my hips to aid in my comfort as our baby passed through the birth canal, “Dan, catch your baby!” And with just 1 1/2 pushes more, there she was, safe in his arms and singing. I stepped over the umbilical cord, leaned into a squat against the tub wall, and opened my arms to receive for the first time the most amazing creature I know on this Earth.
It was several minutes before I, glazed-eyed and feeling so complete, looked up at Dan and our midwives and realized there was a question I’d forgotten to care to ask, “I think she’s a girl Is she? Is she a girl?.” They couldn’t believe how long it had taken me to ask – but in that moment, the only thing that had mattered to me was that moment, and the child’s sex seemed so inconsequential. She is, they said, and I laughed and laughed, tripped out on the bliss of the moment. We had a daughter.
Irie Eloise is her name. It means “Peaceful Warrior.” [Irie: To be at peace with where you are/ in a state of bliss; Eloise: noble warrior.] In the hours and long days to come, she would prove her title true.
Irie scored high on her apgar test, but about 4 hours after her birth she showed signs of infection – most especially, she struggled to breathe. On her first day of life, she rode in an ambulance and a helicopter. From the time I handed her over at Lawrence Memorial Hospital until day 10 at Children’s Mercy Hospital, we were not permitted to hold her — only to watch as she breathed through a tube, and pray that she would overcome her physical challenges.*
The experience was supremely traumatic for Dan and I but, in the end, what we have to walk away with is the memories and blessing of life saving support offered by hospital staff, the emotional support offered by friends and family, the wisdom and encouragement from our loyal midwives, and the ultimate gift of all… from Irie: a life held on to.*
Our Peaceful Warrior.
*An important note: The decision to birth a premature child (even late-preterm, as Irie was) at home is one that neither I nor my midwives would advise to anyone. It was a choice I made on my own, based on the empowerment of my intuitive belief that Irie would breathe when she entered into the outside world. We were fortunate that she did breathe, and very well at first. But after several hours of effort, our daughter’s immature lung muscles became fatigued, and we were privileged to have paramedics and hospital staff available to help. It is a decision I do not regret, but by no means one that I recommend.