Havilah's birth story is shared with permission from JJB mama Holly, who first published it on her blog: http://unschoolgirls.blogspot.com/.
Grandma Judy was rooting for a St. Patty’s Day baby to share her own birthday. And when I started having pretty regular contractions on the morning of the 17th I started to think she just might get her wish. Unfortunately, she got a broken foot instead when she slipped on the pavement on her way to a birthday lunch! But that’s another story.
This is the story of Havilah Miette, born at home on the morning of Monday, March 18th, 2013 at 11:12am.
I’d been hoping to dodge a St. Patrick’s Day birth for a couple of reasons. While I wasn’t eager for Havilah’s birthday to be overshadowed by any holiday, particularly one associated with green beer, my main concern was the traffic. Twelve and a half years earlier, Lucia had nearly been born in the Holland Tunnel as we inched along behind the tunnel cleaning truck on our way to the birthing center. (Yes, there is such a thing as the tunnel cleaning truck, a lesser-known urban cryptid spotted only in the wee hours of the morning and presumably only at times of great urgency. I’d never seen it before that night, and I’ve never seen it since.) This time I was looking forward to one of the great benefits of home birth: not having to go anywhere! I’d be in my own home, in my own space, calm and relaxed. But the thought of a St. Patty’s Day birth conjured images of my midwife trying desperately to navigate a city overrun with bagpipers, step dancers, revelers and mounted police, and moving at a crawl on her way to my apartment while the baby was born headlong into Nick’s bewildered hands. I marked each mild contraction that day with minor dread until, at precisely midnight on March 18th, as if aware that she was in the clear, Havilah began in earnest her push for the outside world.
Though I told her this could take a while, that there was no guarantee the baby would even be born that night, Lucia was determined to be awake and present for the entire process. She helped prepare the apartment while Nick readied the birth pool. She arranged curtains on the living room windows and set up the candles and the music. And in fact, it was she who discovered that the hose for the birth pool, fallen unnoticed from the sink, was quietly siphoning a small ocean onto the kitchen floor. Mop in hand at 2am, she helped to quell the deluge.
Meanwhile, I was busily contracting and enjoying the anticipation of Havilah’s birth, trying to relax and conserve energy. I’d heard that second births are often quicker and easier than the first, and Lucia had emerged with rapid and sudden intensity after only a few pushes, that is once we’d finally emerged from the Holland Tunnel hot on the heels of the tunnel cleaning truck and arrived at the birth center. So you can imagine my surprise when Havilah took twice as long to be born. What’s more, this labor required actual, well, labor! But of course we had no way of knowing that, and Nick seemed to be anticipating a similarly precipitous birth. He kept asking if we should call the midwife. Somewhere around 4am I agreed. My contractions were five minutes apart and intense, the kind that obliterate any sense of reality beyond the boundaries of the body. They were the kind of contractions I’d been having in the Holland Tunnel, behind the tunnel cleaning truck, and Lucia had been born only a few hours later. So, yes, I thought, it must be time to call the midwife.
When Karen arrived I was in the pool, drifting in and out of that meditative state with each contraction, surfing each wave of sensation as it built to a peak and then crashed into oblivion. There is a rhythm to this, temporal and physical, that acts as a kind of anchor. Karen listened to the baby’s heartbeat, and she sounded fine. But she also needed to hear her heartbeat during a contraction, and she asked me to tell her when the next one began. I waited. And I waited. It was like waiting for the next hiccup and wondering if they’d in fact been cured. Had I been cured?? I panicked a little. What if this had been false labor after all? What if we’d flooded the kitchen for nothing? Called Karen over here at four in the morning for nothing? But then, after maybe fifteen minutes of waiting my contraction came. It seems that even such a welcome distraction as the arrival of our warm and supportive midwife, Karen was enough to slow the process for a short while. I can’t imagine how any woman manages in a hospital with the constant interruption of nursing staff and other strangers passing in and out of the room, the clock ticking on the wall, and the pressure to progress in order to avoid the looming threat of c-section.
I started to feel tired and cold and wanted to lie down, so I got out of the pool and made my way to the couch. It felt best to lie on my side. I was so comfortable there in the candlelit room with Nick, Lucia, and Gatsby never far away. I may have drifted to sleep between contractions. I remember Lucia telling me I looked pretty. And I remember being vaguely aware of Karen and Shana whispering through the place like pixies magically preparing the bed, setting things up. Everything was thought of, everything was taken care of. All I had to do was give birth.
This proved a longer process than expected. Havilah must have been in a posterior position. Karen could see and feel a lump in my lower back where the baby’s head was putting pressure on my spine. There was a lot of pain and pressure in my lower back and hips, especially in my hips, which surprised me, and Shana helped by applying counterpressure to my lower back during contractions. It felt good to move and change positions. I was on my hands and knees a lot. I hummed a lot. Moaning helped. I want to describe what this feels like, but I know it’s impossible. People talk about the pain, but pain only exists at one level of the birth experience. I remember labor like a dream in which I’m jumping through the sky from cloud to cloud, transcending pain, staying high above the pain where I experience all the other sensations labor brings – the opening of my body, the baby coccooned inside, the rushes of emotion, strength, power, vulnerability, all of it equally important. And sometimes I jump through a cloud straight into the pain because it also deserves to be experienced, and maybe pain is actually the tether that keeps you from floating away altogether.
At around 8am Martine showed up to relieve Karen and take up her shift. So I got to see both of my midwives during labor. I never felt that overwhelming need to push that some people describe, but I’d never felt that with Lucia either. It was more of a conscious decision, a sense that now might be the time. Martine said I might try pushing if I wanted to, so I went ahead and tried. Like with Lucia my water hadn’t broken, so first I had to push out the amniotic sac. At this point Nick was behind me on the bed, supporting me, and Martine had woken Lucia from a nap so she could be present for the birth. I started to really push. I pushed and pushed, but it didn’t feel like anything was happening. This was confusing and unexpected.
When Lucia was born I’d only had to push a few times. The first push had forced out the amniotic sac which had swelled between my legs and burst suddenly like a big water balloon, dousing the midwife in amniotic fluid and scaring the hell out of Nick who’d assumed at first that it was the baby’s head. Lucia had come careening out shortly thereafter, seemingly under her own power.
But now I found myself struggling to gain traction and starting to feel frustrated. Martine told me to relax my forehead, and I suddenly became aware of the tension in my face and body. I looked at Martine’s calm, confident face, her warm eyes, and I relaxed, took some good breaths, and tried again. At some point the amniotic sac did finally emerge and break, and right away I could feel the solidity of Havilah’s skull pushing through me. That’s what I’d been searching for, that connection with my baby, that sense of our two bodies working together to bring her into the world. The thought of Havilah about to be here with us, the idea of holding her in my arms, filled me with such elation that I laughed. I laughed with exhileration and joy. Martine could see Havilah’s head just beginning to appear, emerging and retracting with the rhythm of the labor, and she told me to reach down and feel my baby. I reached up inside, and I could feel the soft skin on the top of her head, and I could feel how close she was, and I laughed some more.
The pain in my hips was unbelievable. With every push it felt as if my pelvis would explode. So I put my hands on my hips and pushed inwards, and that helped a lot. I wasn’t thinking any more about how different this labor was, I wasn’t wondering why this time was so different or why I had to work so much harder. I was just doing it. Time felt unfamiliar. I have no sense of how long it took. I was aware of Nick holding me, and I remember being so glad that he was there. I was aware that Lucia was somewhere in the room, though I couldn’t say exactly where. I remember seeing Gatsby standing vigil in the doorway. I remember hearing music.
And finally Havilah was born with a mighty push and an operatic roar. And I scooped her up onto my belly and felt her warm wetness and slippery little limbs and her umbilical cord against my thigh. “I didn’t know you could do that… singing thing,” Lucia said, and I looked at her. “You were singing,” she said. And then the room went quiet, and we all gazed together at Havilah as time stood still and peace fell over the whole world.