On the evening of Mother's Day 2017, I was walking up the stairs to our bedroom when I had a contraction. I grabbed the banister and took a deep breath. This contraction was unlike any I had experienced before. I was one day past my due date. For weeks I felt on the verge- is it tonight? Is this a sign? Is it time? No. No. And more no. So I didn’t want to get my hopes up but at the same time, I could not ignore how different I felt.
I quietly made sure my bags were packed and gently suggested Garrett do the same. The contractions were every 15 minutes allowing me to sleep, though not well, through the night. I got up in the morning, walked into our bathroom and looked out the window at a vibrant rainbow arching over the horizon. Suddenly, my contractions got even stronger. I felt a burning, splitting pain in my lower abdomen. Our little girl was making her way. I called my mother, told her to come to the house. I could hear the stress in her voice. I sensed it then. I understand it now.
After my mother arrived we prepared to make a Birthing Day cake, a Clementine Almond Cake from the Jerusalem cookbook. Together my mom, husband and I ground the almonds to make flour, juiced and zested the oranges, mixed together butter and sugar.
Every 5 minutes or so I paused with a contraction. Once over, I was back with 4 minutes to mix and chat. We finished the cake and stored it away to eat after the birth. I took a nap, watched a movie, tried to distract myself from labor. The evening rolled around and the sun lowered in the sky. I watched the light filter through the clouds, breaking through to hit the ocean below. It was a heavenly sunset.
Days before I had watched the boats coming into the harbor from the ocean and thought to myself how similar I felt to that harbor. I am the safe conduit through which my little girl travels as she leaves the vast unknown and enters our world. I felt her coming closer to me.
I sent my mother and husband to bed, knowing that it would be a long night. I tried to lie down, but my contractions weakened. So I got up, refusing to accept anything but progression. I brought my yoga ball to the window and rocked back and forth, looking out over the now dark ocean and the lights of my neighborhood. My contractions got slightly closer together, but not any stronger than before. Even though no one could see me, I felt exposed in front of the window. I craved privacy. I moved into our bathroom, took one last pregnant selfie and dimmed the lights. I rummaged through my drawers and found the bottle of lavender essential oil from our honeymoon in the south of France. As it diffused through the air, soft spa music played in the background. I entered a different space. I went to work. My contractions began to get stronger. I held onto the edge of my sink and swayed my hips. The mantra "My cervix is butter it’s melting away" came to me. During the contractions I repeated the mantra over and over while visualizing my cervix simply disappearing. In between contractions I sat down, breathed deeply, rehydrated and rested. When a contraction started I would get up and start moving, repeating my mantra. My contractions were slowly getting more intense. I did this for 2 hours before my labor again changed. The pain entered a new level. I knew that if the pain got any worse I would not be able to sit still in the car. Twenty seven hours after my labor began it was time to go to the hospital.
I lay in bed while my mom and husband packed the car. They then help me into my seat where I put a sleep mask over my eyes, headphones on my ears and tried to keep myself in my safe space as we drove to the hospital. When we got there it was after midnight. The lobby was desolate. Not a single person was in sight. We left the car in the turnabout and my husband found an abandoned wheelchair. I kept my eyes closed as they brought me up to labor and delivery. Once there, I was examined by the midwife on-call and was found to be 3 cm dilated. Active labor (when the labor speeds up) usually starts around 6 cm. They encouraged me to go home and come back when I was further along. "I cannot go home," I told them. I had felt the shifts in my labor and I knew another one was coming. Five minutes later my water broke and my labor went to another level. There was no longer a break in between contractions. I began making a sound I've never heard before. It was a moan from the depths of my body that spilled out, thick into the hospital air. After months of working on my meditation practice I knew what I had to do. At this point I was not thinking about an epidural. All I could think of was submerging myself in water. Fortunately for me, I was in a birth center within a hospital and they had beautiful deep tubs for laboring in. As they filled the bathtub I held onto my husband and we swayed back and forth. Relief was coming I told myself. Once the tub was finally filled I slipped in. My doula instructed me to get into a crouching position, my head resting against the side of the tub. The room was dark. Flameless candles flickered. My spa music played over the speakers. She fed me ice chips. After several contractions crouching, I had to move. I could no longer hold my body under the weight of the contractions. I asked her “How can I position myself?” She suggested I roll onto my back. I did so. They placed a pillow behind my head. And that’s where my old life ended and my new one began.
The pain became so intense, so severe that I lost all concept of time and person. I did not know my own name. I was completely incapable of thought. My entire experience of this world was replaced with pain. All I could do was surrender. And so that is what I did. I went completely limp. I did not make a sound. The other people in the room thought I had fallen asleep. Though I could not think, I yearned for death- the only end I could comprehend without an awareness of who I was or why I was in so much pain. They tell me I looked peaceful. But I was in the darkest place I had ever been, and I was alone.
I do not know how long I was in that altered state. My husband says maybe 20 minutes. Eventually, it ended when I felt a sudden pressure. I placed my hand in my vagina. “She’s coming,” I said as I emerged from the darkness. They moved me out of the tub and onto the bed. I curled forward with every contraction and pushed with everything I had. I was clawing my way back. If my fingernails had popped off as I gripped to the edge of life I wouldn’t have flinched. I knew I should slow down to reduce tearing but I didn’t care. With each push, I fought towards the light. I got further from the black hole. When I started to crown the Ob/Gyn in me told me to slow down, but a much more primal force came forward. I needed it to be done. So I pushed with all my might, my hand on Celeste’s head and I felt my vagina tearing deeply beneath my fingers. I didn’t care. Compared to where I had come from- that pain was nothing.
And suddenly little Celeste was on my chest. I remember being so surprised with how warm she was. I held her tight, unable to see her. My placenta delivered. My vagina was repaired. I laid there limp, giving as little resistance to whatever needed to happen to my body. I needed it to be over, and eventually, it was.
I felt as if I had risen from the ashes. But I did not feel empowered or strong. I did not feel the overwhelming euphoria others had described to me. I cringed when others described my birth as peaceful. I was traumatized. I felt no peace. I now understand why I had that experience, why it was absolutely vital to my future. I learned a very important lesson through my birth. More on those lessons next week on The Sterling Life…
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