You are born under a fire Sky. California burning. Smokey brown haze and a deep red sun hanging like a foreign star on the horizon.
You are born in an unprecedented time: global pandemic, racial unrest, the most abysmal governing body our generation has seen. Born into a country spinning dissension and hate.
You are born on a Thursday in September, a Virgo like your mom. At Providence St. John’s Hospital, in Santa Monica, California. At 2:40PM.
I want to tell you the story of our birthing journey. Our mythological separation from one into two…
September 8, 2:11AM
I feel like something has begun. Your dad sleeps peacefully naked in our heat wave bedroom on 2nd street. I’m eating cereal and timing contractions in the dark kitchen. I can smell the earthy campfire scent of the forest fires burning around us. The contractions are long but mild and they aren’t very close together, 10, sometimes even 15 minutes between.
I know I’m not in Active Labor yet, I guess it may be Early Labor. I try to recall from all the pregnancy books I read, there were so many. No matter what this is called, I know that it is the opening act. I can feel you preparing as much as I am, as much as we can, for this vast unknown we are entering. When each contraction lets up, you kick and squirm as if you can feel my relief, my excitement.
You may not have the language or even the cognition, but somehow, in your tiny body, in your budding braincells, I know you’re thinking the same thing as I am. I feel like something has begun.
September 8, 2:26PM
The contractions taper off by morning. I feel tired but fine. We have our weekly appointment with Dr. B. She finds me to be 4cm dilated, 80% effaced, my cervix paper thin. We did some good work last night, baby, you and I.
Almost all the news is good. You’ve always been low and head down but suddenly, today, you are sunny side up. Fully looking into my cervix, belly out to the world. You want to know where you are headed, to face it.
I spend the rest of the day crawling around our apartment on all fours. As I do I smile to think that you will someday crawl around like this too.
I invert, legs up the wall, whisper: Please flip over baby Sky. How can I draw your back to my stomach? How can I offer you and I the easier path?
Dr. B says that you will come today. That you will come fast. She sounds so sure. She strips my membranes. Perhaps I should not have let her do this? It’s so hard to know. It doesn’t hurt.
Please turn over. Come soon. But not too fast. I can’t wait to meet you. Can you hear me?
September 9, 3:00AM
They say it will be worth it when I meet you. They say it will be worth it when I meet you. They say it will be worth it when I meet you.
I repeat this again and again, in groupings of three. The pain is not so bad, but I am terribly uncomfortable, exhausted, and impatient.
The doctor said you were coming yesterday but there was nothing. Here I am again, awake all night with sporadic contractions. I want to cry, but I don’t. There’s no reason to wake anyone, nothing to do.
I am usually a pessimist, thinking of all that can go wrong. But I trust you, I trust us, in our birth. You will come when you are ready. I hope you’re ready soon.
September 9, Noon
Your father and I take endless walks around the block. We have sex, eat dates and pineapple. We walk again. The contractions hit like a wall of cramps in my center. They squeeze and I must stop walking, lean over and squeeze back. It’s hard not to breathe shallow but I try for depth, depth is better, right? I know the pain will eventually get much worse, but I’m not afraid of that. I’m afraid that it will take too long to get to this “eventually.”
Please come today. I want to meet you! The minutes pass like hours.
September 10, 12:00AM
I already know that I won’t sleep tonight, but I’m worried about how long this non-labor will go on for. I am getting so tired. I can’t lay in bed. So I stand in the dark, crouched holding on to the bed frame, my head on the mattress. The contractions come and go, they don’t seem to be letting up. Still, I decide not to wake your dad. I decide that this night is no different than the two nights before. But my body decides otherwise.
With the next contraction I let out a deep unintentional howl. At the peak of the thing there is no thinking, only feeling. When it subsides, I whimper like a puppy, like a sick child.
I have woken your dad after all. “What can I do?” he asks. “Nothing, I moan,” but this is a lie and I know it right away. “Squeeze my hips,” I tell him. “Cut me up some fruit. Water. I need water. Stay up with me.” And he does.
I wonder if this is real productive labor at last? It’s a silly thought, for all labor is productive, all we’ve done so far has prepared us for this night, for this coming day, when you will at last be born.
Another contraction comes on, then another. I can see their strength now. Their perseverance.
“Should I start timing?” He asks. He opens his app. We have a system in no time.
I say, “start,” some yelling ensues, I say “stop.” Phil listens, enters data.
The contractions are consistently 8-10 minutes apart, 45 seconds long. I give them a 3 out of 5, but it’s hard to know the scale when it’s all so new. In comparison, I’d say the Early Labor contractions from the previous two nights were a 1. I wonder when I will feel a 5.
2:30AM We call Doula Monitrice, Amy, tell her how close and strong the contractions are and she’s at our apartment by 3. She examines me on our king-sized bed, under the painting of your dad and I surfing in Hawaii. I’m 6 centimeters dilated and 100% effaced. You are no longer facing the wrong direction. You have turned. I’m impressed with this progress we’ve made, it all feels bearable. We have fully arrived in the land of Active Labor.
From here on out there is never a moment that I doubt us, Sky. I do not cry, feel defeated, or question that I can tolerate the pain of a natural birth, or of the next contraction. And even if I had cried, and felt defeated, and doubted, it wouldn’t have mattered. For I’d filled with the power of womanhood. I do believe that this power can be accessed at any time.
It is fiercely-brave, goddess-unstoppable.
But that doesn’t mean that I’m not petrified. We put on my labor playlist and light candles. Amy squeezes my hips when the pain explodes within, feels like it will burst me with its force. She rubs my sacrum, gives me water, always makes me feel that we are moving forward, doing it all just right. She mothers me as I work my way towards motherhood.
As morning nears, she prepares us to leave for the hospital so that we’ll arrive before shift change. She worked for many years as a nurse at St. Johns and in addition to her knowledge about labor and birth, this too is a comfort.
We drive down the dark and empty Santa Monica streets. A dusting of ash covers the parked cars. But the dry heat has finally broken. The air through the window is smoky and cool. Though there is fire burning all around us, it feels like a peaceful morning. This morning of your birth.
I think of my mom’s birth story. Where her water breaks, and my dad gets a stomachache. She rushes him off the toilet and into the car and then screams at him when he stops at a red light. Her scream is warranted, for I came out only one hour after they arrived at the hospital!
Your dad and I stop at red lights. We are not in a rush. I remember an old fear I had of my water breaking in the car and ruining the leather seats. I laugh. I remember fearing the wild screams of labor, who might hear them, who might stare. These are not things I care about anymore.
A contraction comes on hard. I hate this sitting position, the pressure all bearing down. I have no space to move, to help release it. Our drive is so short that I only experience one contraction on the journey, but it is a long and painful one. I cry out like a dying animal in the night. The sound frightens your father. But to me it feels right. Death and birth are so united, I can see it now. Some part of me, of us, is dying, while another part prepares to come majestically to life.
We arrive at the Maternity Ward entrance with hospital bag, pillows, snacks. I walk very slowly now, you are so low and heavy inside.
A bold lady at the door tells us that our doula is not allowed in. “One birth person may accompany you in,” she says, annoyed. As if I should already know this. As if I shouldn’t push the limits of COVID restrictions. As if this isn’t my moment, my special day of birth.
I argue. I tell her that my doctor told me that morning that doulas were in fact now allowed at St. John’s hospital. She tells me I heard wrong. I wonder where her empathy is. I wonder if she’s a mom. I wonder if this is the beginning of everything going wrong. COVID spoiled my pregnancy and I now for my birth too. The thought of continuing without Amy’s gentle guidance and support is heartbreaking.
I hug her goodbye at the door. “Don’t worry,” she says. “I will be right up.” She seems so sure.
When we enter the Maternity Ward, everything feels right. It’s calmly dim and quiet. The nurses in their bright garbs are gathered around the front desk expecting me, they know my name. They ask where my Doula is, they were expecting her too. They call down to make sure she makes it up to be with me. She does!
Amy greets her friends and tells them that I am almost seven centimeters dilated. “But she looks so calm,” they say. “And she’s smiling.” “Are you sure?” All throughout my birth people comment that I look happy, energetic, and peaceful. I am these things as I await your arrival.
They show us to our room. It is spacious and clean. A long window traverses the entire side wall, looking out on the palm trees, rising buildings, and city sprawl of Los Angeles. A city that both your father and I dreamed of living in, and now do.
A red fire sun rises magnificently in the smokey-gray morning sky. I feel like we are on another planet, in a future time, a dream.
There is the birthing bed, and on the wall across a large photograph of a blooming white lotus in a pristine pond. I was worried there would be crosses or a creepy crucified Jesus, since St. John’s is a Catholic hospital. I thought of how I might take them down or cover them up. But there are no crosses in this lotus room.
The lotus is a symbol I feel comfortable around, one of purity, enlightenment, re-birth. It tells the story of a flower that can rise from dark muddied waters into the light, and bloom to pristine beauty. It is your story, baby Sky.
There is the clear plastic bassinet. Where they will place you. It seems impossible, that on this day, in this room, you will come to be.
Things get “hospitally” right away and I know for sure why people choose to have a home birth. I’d be happy to still be there, in my peaceful living room.
The first thing they insist on doing is giving me a hep-lock, an IV threaded into a vein and capped for possible later use. I tell them I don’t want it. They insist. The nurse who administers it blow my vein out. It swells immediately, a giant bubble, a spreading bruise. It hurts. The nurse apologizes profusely but I don’t have the energy to forgive her.
A different nurse puts the hep lock in my other arm. I have to ask three times for someone to bring me an ice pack for my ever-swelling left wrist that looks like it’s been stung by a bee, just below my feather tattoo. As I contract, I ice my wrist, annoyed.
They put an uncomfortable baby heart monitor around my belly. It’s wireless so I can move around, but I don’t want it there. Amy must fidget with it constantly to make sure it is working so that they don’t come in and bother me about an irregular heartbeat. Once I slap her hand when she goes to adjust it and then apologize. I continually suppress the urge to rip it off and throw it at the wall throughout my labor.
The contractions are full now, I’d say they’ve reached that level 5 that I have for so long wondered about. Always wanting to know about this pain that works to push a human from inside to out. I knew it must be quite a magnificent pain to accomplish all of that. And it is.
The contraction comes on like a wave. Rising, peaking, falling.
It shows itself on the horizon, giving me a chance to prepare. I have no choice but to catch it, there’s no such thing as a pass. So, I paddle to the best position, set up on my board, and power through the rising wall of water the best I can.
THE RISE feels like cramping and a deep pain in the pit of the pelvis. I stand up off the yoga ball, sturdy my feet to the earth, lean forward onto the bed and make sure that someone has me. Amy is near, I look at her and nod.
THE PEAK comes on like a strike of lightning. It’s take-your-breath-away pain. It’s hard to contextualize. I jumped into ice cold water at the Ithaca Gorges during college a few times in the spring. That took my breath away. This is like that, but also much more. It’s also like the most excruciating pain I’ve known, that of shattering my entire heel bone, that magnitude of destruction, but located below my belly button. That’s the best context I can give it.
Amy uses all her strength to push my hips together, it’s crazy how much this pressure on the pelvis helps in dealing with the pain. My instinct is to tense up, every time. I squeeze the metal bar of the hospital bed in one hand and the bedsheet in the other. Then I remind myself of my tools that I’ve acquired during my laboring so far.
The first tool is my noise, this deep low “ahhh” that reverberates in the depths of my belly. Moaning the pain down and out. The moaning helps me to relax. Relaxation is my second tool. While instinctually I tense everything up to try and fight the pain, or even distract from it, that makes it so much worse. What helps is the opposite, letting go. Releasing everything down, allowing the contraction to do what it is intended to do. I don’t resist, it opens me up so that you might emerge. I “ahhh” my tension out and release everything. I let the pain take hold, I feel it. It passes through me. The peak of the wave lasts 20-30 seconds.
THE FALL lowers me gently down. I’m still submerged in the thing but the seas have calmed. There’s a sort of aftershock. Phil rubs my back as I pant and shudder. My legs and arms shake. I’m still deep inside but I can hear my thoughts again, feel my tired body. You are so strong. You’re doing great. I say loudly in my head. I’m talking to myself and I’m talking to you, baby girl.
An elation comes at knowing this one has passed. One more down. I emerge back into the room. I sip water. Breathe. Talk. Look out at that blazing red sun, the cars passing through the LA morning streets. I lay my head down and close my eyes for a rest. My contractions are still generously spaced. Seven or eight minutes in-between. These minutes of reprieve are essential. I am so grateful for each one.
The hours pass this way. Phil, Amy, and I. The nurses pretty much leave us alone, Dr. B has yet to arrive, though I’m waiting for her, wondering why she has not come already. It’s huge to Amy in the room, to know that she is a nurse and a midwife. To know that she has seen labor and birth so many times when your father and I have never seen it before. She feeds us power and strength. I could not imagine being in this room alone with just your dad, we wouldn’t have the energy for it all. But the three of us together are a team.
Phil and Amy support me through every pass, I could not do it alone. I only have to yell at Phil to put away his phone a few times. Everyone wants updates, he’s sending too many replies. I don’t want anyone in this space with us. I don’t want their stress or worry, them thinking it is taking too long or that I can’t do it. I want just the three of us… and you.
I sit on the birth ball. I walk around the room. I circle my hips with my hands on my knees. I contract, groan, breathe deeply. I lean on a rocking chair and rock it back and forth with my hands while a particularly hard contraction comes on. Some water trickles down my leg but not very much. I wonder if this is my water breaking. It’s not at all like the movies where this is always the first step. Here I am, so many hours in.
I sneak bites of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and granola bars, though eating in the hospital is forbidden. The food gives me strength. What a ridiculous betrayal to ask a woman to not eat while she’s undergoing the arduous task of labor. Another hospital fail.
My doctor finally arrives. She rushes in, tells me I’m looking great, doing great. I make her wait until right after a contraction to give me an exam so that I don’t have one unexpectedly while lying on the bed, which sounds dreadful. I don’t want to lie down to give birth, that sounds dreadful too.
She says that I’m almost 8 centimeters dilated, head position 0, 100% effaced.
Dr. B says that she will be back around noon, that I’ll likely have the baby then. She says it as if this is the most wonderful news. My heart drops. I thought you were going to come fast. Like I did. I’ve already been here, doing this for three hours. To labor for four more seems an eternity. I feel like I’ve failed in some way. Why haven’t I opened? Why aren’t you here? I hold back tears.
I’m allowed 30 minutes in the shower. It is the most peaceful and private part of my labor. I’m alone, well, we are. The heart monitor is off. All I can hear is the sound of the hot water beating down on my back. I round and arch my back, lean into my knees, prepare for the contraction.
I’m afraid when the first one comes, the first of these level 5 contractions that I’ve done without Phil or Amy by my side. But the water helps immensely. We got this. The force of you is strong, pressing down upon me. I moan, I relax, I breathe through. I feel strong to be here just with you in this small steamy room. I would stay forever if they’d let me.
Dr. B returns and examines me to find that my water sac is still intact. I must only have popped a tiny hole in it, hence the little trickle. She uses a hook to break my water, says it won’t hurt and it doesn’t. SO much water comes out, the bed is soaked with it. The water is clear, good, my baby you are not in any distress. Your heartbeat is strong. I know we are making progress, but I am growing impatient for you to come.
“The contractions will get stronger now that your water has broken,” Dr. Bayati says. “This will be the hard part. You’re doing great.”
When Dr. B returns, you are really starting to drive down. In the peak of each contraction, I have the urge to push, it’s so hard to hold back that I think I may not be able to.
She checks me and says that I am close, but that I’m still only 9 centimeters dilated. “If you push now, you’re going to rip. Don’t push yet. You need to wait.”
This is the worse news. And this next hour is the worst part. I almost can’t believe it when Dr. B leaves the room, leaves me here with this baby that I want to push out.
The contractions come more closely now. I can no longer relax into them for if I do, I know that I will push you out. So I must resist your pressing down. I must hold you in. The pain of this is unbearable. Like holding in a lightning storm, the bolts explode inside of me.
I scream “Noooooo…” one long sound that last the entirely of the contraction peak. Amy asks me why I am screaming “No.”
“So that I don’t let her out. No, not yet.” I’m determined not to tear, not to let you out too soon and risk my own destruction. “She wants to come now,” I whisper to Amy. “Will you stay close, in case I can’t stop her?”
“I’m here,” Amy says. “If she needs to come, let her. I’ve got you.”
“Thank you, thank you,” I cry.
Amy has her catching hands ready as I scream, leaning forward over the hospital bed. I don’t know if I can hold you in much longer. I grab my vagina with both hands as if this may help to hold you in.
I’ve never done anything as hard as withstanding the next half hour. Oh how I want to push you out. Oh. Oh.
Dr. B comes back to check on me. She asks me if I want another exam and I scream, “Yes! She is coming! Now!”
The doctor checks me and finally she agrees. “Fully dilated. Let’s have a baby.”
There is labor. There is everything that came before. Then there is birth. Me pushing you out of my body and into your particular and unique existence. Your induction to life.
It all happens very fast. Dr. B and the nurses take off in a frenzied cyclone of tasks. A well perfected costume change. Suddenly, they stand before me in full scrubs, with shiny metal trays and supplies neatly arranged.
People are holding my legs, nurses, Doula Amy, and your dad too. It’s like they all knew where to go, but that can’t be right. No, I can see that Dr. B is conducting her seamless orchestra. She beats a strong pulse with her baton, and I trust her. Doula Amy got me though the labor and now it’s the doctor’s moment. I feel lucky to have two trusted women, two mothers, to guide you out of me and into the world.
“Okay, push out your baby,” Dr. B says.
This is the best thing that anyone has ever said to me. I cannot wait to push you out!
A few months back, two different women that I knew told me that pushing is the best part. That I should not be afraid of it. I was skeptical, couldn’t truly believe them, though I’m grateful to them for telling me this, it gave me strength in those anxious days leading up to birth. Still, I was terrified. Had always been terrified of this part.
Until now. In this moment there is only fearlessness and the purest excitement I have ever felt.
“When you feel the contraction come on, that’s when you push,” Dr. B says.
It comes. And it’s such a relief not to hold you back any longer. I push with all the pent up might that’s been building inside of me. A monstrous push.
Phil holds my hand along with my leg. I squeeze him so tight, as I bear down. The same way my mother squeezed my father’s hand when I was being born. My dad said it hurt for days after.
I scream, one of those classic heart wrenching pregnancy screams. My eyes are closed, I go to a place of darkness. A deep, hot, vibrant place.
It feels like trying to push out a gigantic poop and do one million simultaneous crunches. It feels like my vagina has been set on fire. And yet, it’s still amazing.
Then the contraction is over. It is only then that I realize that you didn’t simply fly out of me. Realize that I’ll have to keep doing this pushing, until you do.
I open my eyes, my heart speeds up. The doctor rubs oil on, as a lubricant to prevent tearing. It feels like she’s rubbing sandpaper on a fresh wound.
Another contraction, already. They are so close now. This is the finale. Wahoo! I engage my core, squeeze every muscle in my body. I start to scream again but Dr. B interrupts me.
“Try to put the energy into the push instead of the scream,” she coaches. I do appreciate being coached, though I wonder about this one. Should I have kept screaming if that’s what my instinct was?
I try not screaming. I focus my energy into my abdomen, I give it all my strength. It does help. I feel focused and strong. I get in a series of good deep pushes before the contraction ends.
“What does it feel like?” Your dad asks.
Another contraction comes on so fast I can hardly think to answer, I eek out, “I don’t know.”
I push. I push.
“Oh my god she has so much hair,” Phil says.
He pulls his phone out of his pocket and I swat it down violently, nearly flinging it across the room. I thought he was going to text our family and tell them I was pushing the baby out. And I’m so annoyed. I can’t believe he is going to look at his phone right now.
“I thought you said I could take pictures,” he says, meekly.
“Oh yeah, I did. Go ahead.”
We have one picture of your head emerging out of me. I wish there were more.
I push. I push.
“Feel her head,” Dr. B says.
I reach down and there you are. The sensation of you jolts, almost scares me. Your head is so soft, like a peach gone past ripe. The crown of it is stuck there in my blooming vagina. So warm and slimy.
“So much hair,” Phil says.
“Why do you keep saying that?” I yell.
Phil laughs. He is giddy with excitement to meet you.
“Deep breath,” Dr. B says. “Now push!”
I push from a place that feels cosmic, the universe itself. Waves of energy and sensation wash over me. My eyes are squeezed so tightly closed, I am covered in a powerful inner darkness.
“Open your eyes,” Dr. B says. “Look!”
It takes me a moment to comprehend her directions, I’m so far inside. I pry my eyes opened and they fill with light as I witness your arrival.
Dr. B reaches in and twists out your shoulders in this graceful and fast maneuver. There you are. Out of me, all at once.
I don’t recall hearing you cry but your dad says you let out one perfect call into being.
You are so human, so slimy, your features are big and perfect. You have so much black hair!
The place you on my chest. You breath air, see the blur of light and shape, all for the first time. This new world must feel strange upon your skin. I thought you would be screaming, writhing, scared. But you lay so quietly, calmly upon me. I am still your home. You trust me. You know me. I don’t yet know you, but I know that you will teach me to.
I don’t cry in these first moments as I expected to, but rather chant through fractured breaths, “Oh my god. Oh my god.” As I gaze down at you. I tremble with awe.
I remember the words of doula Patti. “Auspicious souls are growing inside of you,” she said to our Zoom pregnancy group. “They are blooming into being in this time of change, bringing forth the energy of the future.” She seemed so sure. At the time, I thought, that’s a nice thing to say. But isn’t it just bad luck to be pregnant during a pandemic? Isn’t it just sad to bring a fresh soul into this decaying world? Aren’t you just trying to make me feel better? I never much liked the word. Auspicious. Too ethereal, or convenient. Mystical, pre-ordained. Deep into my third trimester I looked up the origin of the word. It is from the Latin, auspex, which means “bird seer.” Refers to oracle types in Ancient Rome who would watch the patterns of the birds and from them make prophecies. I liked that: the simplicity of consulting the birds in the sky. I look out the long glass windows of the birthing room at that sun red as Jupiter, the palm trees swaying, the smoke clouds bursting. The gulls and crows are heading out to sea for cleaner air, spreading word that the world must change, making way. Your omen. I know, at once, that you are nothing like the burning world.
Your father cuts the chord to disconnected us, that last pulsing of our shared blood come and gone. You find your way to my nipple for the new sustenance that I have made you. My legs are shaking uncontrollably. Dr. B massages my stomach too aggressively. But it doesn’t matter, nothing matters. But your warm body on mine. Your magical being.
I have always known for sure that there is no God, but it isn’t until now that I know it doesn’t matter at all. Suddenly and all at once, I know the secret known by all who have passed through the birth portal and been reborn as Mother. I know that mothers, collectively, are the creators of life. That this is the creation myth, this very moment. Every birth story is the story of how the world came to be.