I've deliberated over what to write here, knowing that some people are annoyed by this type of self-indulgent drivel. (If you are one of them, please don't read this. I hate being annoying.) But I have persisted for three reasons:
1. I am a writer (or, we should say I like to write) and I get unsettled about things if I leave them unwritten. Telling people, aloud, can sometimes fill the need, but I often forget things or say them poorly. Writing in a journal for myself alone doesn't work either (anyway I've sworn off journals); it doesn't seem REAL. Writing it here, and having to edit myself and consider whether I'm being excessively dramatic, etc., produces results I'm less likely to hate in ten years.
2. I love reading about births, myself. I don't usually feel like I have to get defensive about it. We're all different, etc. etc. I just find childbirth and motherhood fascinating subjects and part of our heritage as women. (Slightly related: for an exellent article on birth and its symbolism, see here. The author brings up fascinating insights; subjects for a future post, perhaps.)
3. One particular detail in this story seems too good to keep to myself.
Intrigued? Then pray, continue.
Driving home, my contractions slowed, but didn't stop. Sam and I spent dreamlike, child-free hours walking the neighborhood, going to a movie, going out to eat, all while the contractions came and went. It is the most delightfully secretive feeling, to be around crowds while in labor, and no one knows but you. I wasn't worried because my body seems to prefer laboring at night, and sure enough, as it got dark, the contractions increased in intensity and duration. I was supposed to host a breakfast for the Young Women leaders in my ward the next morning, so I called my counselors to let them know I was (conveeeniently, I'm sure they thought) in labor, and figure out a change of venue. Then Sam and I filled up the birthing pool in our room and went on a walk. It was such a beautiful night, with sprinkles of rain in the air and the moon nearly full, and walking was difficult but the air felt wonderful. We walked by the temple, resting on benches when the contractions got strong, and enjoyed the quiet darkness.
Back at home, I slept somewhat restlessly, and around 2 a.m. woke up feeling much stronger surges. I texted my midwife, Cathy, and she drove over in her tiny red car. So far, everything was feeling just like with Daisy, so I was pretty sure I knew what was next: labor that progressed quickly and ended with a sweet baby at dawn.
All morning I waited for the familiar upsurge in intensity, the mixture of certainty and fear that always comes when the birth is imminent. But after several hours I started feeling fearful because nothing was changing. The sun rose. Cathy and her assistants assured me that all was well with baby, and went to get themselves some breakfast, trailing many cheerful encouragances behind them.
It seems excessive to give a play-by-play account here, but from that point on, I felt I had entered some sort of other existence, where I was only half living in the real world, and the other half of me wandered through endless empty, shadowed halls somewhere inside myself. As overdramatic as that image probably sounds (and I hesitate to use it because I don't want to sound like I'm feeling sorry for myself or like I think I had the worst situation in the world or anything---of course I know it could have been MUCH worse, and IS for many people), it describes perfectly how I felt. I always turn inward during labor, but the length of this labor seemed to increase the effect. The constancy of the contractions, the uncertainty of what would come next, the lack of sleep, all combined to make me feel otherworldly, like I was alone in a boat drifting farther and farther from reality and closer to some other fog-covered shore. I started doubting everything, especially myself: Was I dreaming? Were these contractions psychosomatic? Was I even really pregnant?
My midwife monitored me throughout the days, making sure baby was still active and undistressed. So many days, so many nights: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. I know, and I knew then: it's just four days. Really nothing, in the general scheme of things. Still, it felt like weeks, or months. Because I was dilated to between a 5 and a 6, had this been a hospital birth, I would no doubt have been induced within 24 hours. My midwife gave me various herbs and tinctures to help urge progression, and my chiropractor did a gentle adjustment to make sure the pathway out was clear and straight for baby, but it didn't feel right to do anything further yet. Or at least I didn't think it did, but as I was uncertain about everything, this decision worried me along with everything else. Many people knew I was in labor and all of them were wondering about me, and I knew this, but I literally could not deal with it, so I drew further inward. Turned off the phone. Turned off the lights. Went on long drives with Sam, and emerged for long walks when it got dark and the contractions increased. I listened to all the echoes of my fears in those dark, inward caverns I couldn't seem to escape, and couldn't hear which ones were real and which were products of hormones---sleeplessness---irrationality. I reached points of absolute desperation, cried, and prayed "I absolutely cannot endure this for one more minute"---and then (somewhat sheepishly) did. (Isn't that always the way? I don't know why I bother to keep giving up when I have no control over when I actually can give up.) Sam and I read poetry to each other, hiked in empty canyons, let the rain fall on our heads. I felt like we were different people who had somehow sprung into existence from nowhere. I anchored myself to him and let him hold all the weight. Hauled myself back to reality when I had to talk to someone other than Sam, and then let myself drift away again like mist.
As I think back, my memories have that odd, shifting quality too, like light and shadow underneath fast-moving clouds. Sometimes I thought the fear and the uncertainty and, more prosaically, the embarrassment and the impatience, would swallow me up and I would get lost in the dark halls. I felt so sorry for myself, and then ashamed of feeling sorry for myself. I felt exhausted and fragile and like my whole body was contracting at once: waves of tension, regular and deliberate, washing over me every so often despite my desperate attempts to let them drift downward, to float on top of them. But then, my head was full of voices, and some surfaced to reassure me: "In a dark time, the eye begins to see." Yes, and I did, and there are flashes of brightness: yellow-headed blackbirds by the salt marshes; rain sifting down over daffodils; fresh avocados and yellow eggs on a plate; the moon's reflection staring out crisply from the middle of a dark lake; the first mountain flowers, yellow dogtooth violets, emerging between patches of melting snow. And I think: it can't have been that bad. And it wasn't. I survived it from one of those flashes to the next, clinging to each as I got there, holding the memories to me even as they were forming and thinking: This. Remember this when it's all over.
And eventually it was. Wednesday night began like the others: a gradual increase in contractions, a surge of hope and fear, quickly pushed down. I slept and woke in waves, finally getting up to wash dishes (I clean while in labor---it's because I want the house to feel like a nice hotel) in the dark. I didn't wake Sam until I was pretty sure something was different this time. But I wasn't really sure, of course. I didn't know how to trust myself anymore. I wanted to be in the water, warm and cocooned like the baby inside. The full birthing pool had sat there expectantly all those days, getting cold and adding the spice of danger to every midnight bathroom visit (would I fall in?). I didn't know how to drain it quickly (naturally it didn't occur to me to ask Cathy for her pump) so I turned it over to Sam: I need this warm. Make it happen.
And now, finally, here is the detail too good not to share: he sprang into action, following that most basic of all male urges: to BOIL WATER. He bailed water out into the bathtub, filled pots and pots for the stove, and ran up and down stairs with them. I was sufficiently myself to feel bad for him, but when I told him he could stop, he laughed triumphantly. "It feels like exactly what I should be doing! It satisfies some deep need inside! I only wish I'd been able to do it during your other labors!" So, up and down he went, while I rolled around on my big blue birthing ball, and started out my window at Moroni, and breathed. When the water was warm I got in, and this is the beauty of a waterbirth: you can MOVE. I was perhaps not as graceful as a dolphin or a porpoise, but compared to elephants and houses I might as well have been.
You remember, of course, the story of Elijah---how "the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice." But do you remember how Elijah reached that mountain? How he found the strength to scale it? I'll remind you:
He "went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers. And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat . . . because the journey is too great for thee. And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he . . . arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God."
As I said earlier, before I give birth, there is always a point where I hover in darkness between certainty and fear, between peace and doubt. This time that moment extended for four days. But sometime that Thursday morning, the scale tipped, as it always does, to peace, to light. To confidence. To gratitude. And with that dawn, Baby slipped out like a little blue eel, and Sam fished it out of the water and put it in my arms. A baby girl. "Sweet baby, I was waiting and waiting. I wanted so much to meet you," I whispered in her ear. And we finally had her: our sweet Juniper Lark.