Tonight, after reading The Enchanted Oranges from the Yellow Book of Fairy Tales to my little girls, I kissed them goodnight and said goodbye to nine years old (at least for one kid). Tomorrow, my firstborn child will turn 10.
Her story began in London where my husband was finishing his MFA. We lived two doors down from Abbey Road Studios and around the corner from St. John & Lizzie’s where I learned everything I was going to learn about birth. It is a tiny hospital for the elderly on the bottom floor and a few midwives in a birth centre on the top floor. Should any complications arise you would have to be transported across town to a proper hospital. They had two pools for waterbirth that were built in, with one being much more grand than the other. I was due at the same time as the supermodel Kate Moss so spent much time worrying that she might get priority over little-nobody-me for the best birthing tub. Fortunately, she went a week or two before me and I got the pool, and the whole centre for that matter, all to myself.
I’d had a gorgeous pregnancy and felt like a goddess for the first time in my life. I had divine purpose. I am one of those women who adores being pregnant and wish I could bottle all of those glowy good feelings for my melancholic non-pregnant self. Most days I walked across town to Primrose Hill to do yoga and did prenatal classes that were more intense than any type of yoga I’ve ever done in my 20 years of yoga in the US. Hanging upside down by ropes at nearly full term, for example. God, that feels good. The UK has a beautiful view on birth and that is that it is presumably natural and the woman’s choice unless something goes awry. It is not an emergency medical event. Lucky for me, it didn't cross my mind that it would go any other way.
On a sad note, I found out my sweet father had liver cancer three days after I found out I was pregnant and his last chapter paralleled that of my growing belly. He held on long enough to hold her in his arms and to allow me to care for him for the last two months of his life. Partly because of this immense sadness and the fear of being unable to fly if I needed to come home, I began having Braxton Hicks at about 22 weeks and the midwife asked me to slow down. I remember her asking me how much walking I was doing during the day and I quickly calculated my answer: about 10 hours? Come on, I was delighted to be living in London and was exploring every inch of the city, every day. The only time I’ve had a super hard ass in my life was when I was pregnant walking all over the place and living on the fourth floor with a lift that was inevitably always broken. The doctor-should-I-need-to-wake-him -up later recommended that I drink two glasses of organic red wine every night and I had to laugh as I am a one drink girl on a good day. The British pregnancy books recommend diluting your alcohol as they quite frankly know not many ladies are going to quit full stop. ; )
When I was three days overdue, we went on the prowl for spicy food. We stopped at our favorite thai restaurant and I made some hand signals to my belly and was delivered the magic dish: green papaya salad. The papaya contains enzymes that can trigger uterine contractions. That and a little after dinner action and voila the labor started.
I labored at home for 20+ hours before walking to the birth centre. I had four contractions on the way and two of them were in the middle of the road on the famous Beatles Abbey Road crossing walk. I simply stopped traffic and clung onto my husband and breathed through two full contractions. In retrospect, had she been my second kid and I, a tad bit more bold, would’ve squatted on the crosswalk and popped her out right there. “Baby born on the Abbey Road album cover!” Instead, we carried on into John & Lizzie’s where I was told I was handling it too well and I should go back home to sleep! At this point, I almost cried and said I had not the strength to go home so she checked me and I was almost fully dilated! I don’t remember because they don’t get all hung up on things like checking you every minute, ultrasounds, weight etc. She said I was at 9 and I better get in. No one even took the time to change out the Carpenter's record that was on repeat. I jumped in the warm pool where the labor intensified greatly. I’m now at 22 hours labor with zero food or drink because the labor would blow me away if I took a sip of water. But, by golly, I’m in England, so the whole labor ladies are bringing me tea with toast and jam on silver serving trays and insisting politely that I eat!
No one believes me that I didn’t push out my babies, but they pushed ME. The best way I can describe it is that I felt as though I was on a wild ride, as though I was spiraling down the rabbit hole and struggling to keep my life. I felt as though if I let go, I would pass away. I have very intense mind control and concentration. No one was allowed to poke or prod me or talk to me or they would break my focus. I am like a cat hiding in a dark corner and not to be messed with when I am in labor. Just rub my back, keep the lights off and keep quiet, please. I was on my knees in the pool and had my forehead pressed against the rim of the pool on top of my hands, face hidden, absolutely intensely focused.
My birth was not painful, as I don't think waterbirth typically is, but was the most exhausting experience I’ve ever known, no question. I remember looking down to see the top of her head as she crowned and she had dark hair that was billowing softly in the water like seaweed in the ocean. She was born at 3 am on the dot on Guy Fawkes Day which is the British version of 4th of July in honor of a bloke that made an unsuccessful attempt to blow up Parliament. All the while I thought all of those fireworks were for my baby on the way! With much fanfare, Little Bird emerged smiling, I kid you not, and she peacefully turned her gaze to the one candle that was burning in the dark room. The bit of light in the room was the only awareness to her that she'd left the comfort of her warm womb.
I held her in my arms and nursed her in the water for the first time feeling utter exhaustion. My husband petted her between the eyes like a kitty and said he loved her and I remember feeling like what is he talking about? I just did the biggest marathon of my life and am almost dead. It will be another minute before I feel love. No mother ever verbalizes this, but it’s true. I mean, whew. It’s all you can do to just get that baby out.
Just when I think the deed is done, the midwife puts her book down, stands up from the corner of the room and starts telling me something about a placenta and taunting me with her Aussie accent that she will pull the plug in the pool if I don’t start pushing it out. I was too tired to move and I ignored her. The bitch pulled the plug! She actually started draining the pool to incentivize me to get that placenta out. She was brilliant, it worked and that was that. They filled it up again with warm water and allowed some family time in the pool before checking the baby out. Oh, and sewing me the hell up. That baby came flying out and yeah, ripped me open. That was the worst part because the doctor was at home sleeping and fell back asleep while I was waiting for the stitches. They had to call him a second time.
A craniosacral treatment for mom and baby was first on the list. It’s just par for the course. She had an apgar of 10, a job well done when a mother is left to do what her body does best. Happy Birthday, Little Bird, I’m so glad you’re here!