The desire to write the story of my daughter’s birth has been gnawing at my insides since she made her journey Earthside. The story needs to be explored in it’s totality: the who, the what, the why, the before, the after. So, my next few posts will explore each of these interconnecting parts.
Why home birth?
My motivation to have home birth was at first entirely political. Birth is bound up in the social, political and economic contours that define our society. So, in the US (and many other places in the world), birth is a patriarchal, capitalist endeavor where liability, profit and male convenience take precedent over a women’s inherent wisdom, autonomy and desires.
Birth outcomes in the US reflect this phenomenon. Maternal death in the US is staggering for a developed country. About 700 women die annually from childbirth. Black women and Native women die at 3.5 times the rate of white women. Cesarean rates hover around 30%.
Midwifery and the home birth are the antidote to these patriarchal trends. At it’s core, the home birth movement is defined by a radical form a feminism that aims to respect, empower and values every aspect of the body, mind and soul. It aims to “de-medicalize” birth and empower individuals with all the information and options needed to make decisions about their care and birth. The midwifery model of care is all about building relationship with your caregiver and addressing all aspects of health from our fears about birth to the food we eat to nourish the life growing inside of us. All of this aligns with who I am, who we are as a family and what we wanted birth to be.
After Sugar and I met with our midwife, Kris, we were sold. The shelves in Kris’ office were lined with books about reproductive justice. Kris is queer and uses they/them/their pronouns. Their calm, understanding and open energy connected to both Sugar and I in a way that felt right. After our hour long consultation, Sugar bounced down the creaking stairs and onto the street, he jumped on his bike and said, “that was awesome. Let’s do it.”
So, we were both in.
Preparing for birth
Preparing for childbirth is a physical, mental and spiritual process. I am by nature a workaholic and there was a part of me that wanted to believe that if I prepared enough, I would achieve the birth I had envisioned.
Reflecting back, I realize there was always this tension inside of me that didn’t really believe the narrative that a lot of birth preparation materials spout. Most of what I read followed this idea that if I thoroughly expelled all the fear mongering ideas that surround birth, I created a vision and I prepared as much as I could, I too would be “entitled” to the birth I wanted. (It turns out that birth doesn’t care about your work ethic.)
But I had always been a visionary and a hard worker, and my life had never unfolded in the way I thought that it would. But there is not playbook for surrendering to birth. It’s much more difficult to acknowledge and embrace our lack of control, to let go and give into the unknown.
So, I treated my birth preparation like I was training for a marathon. I was obsessive, meticulous and committed. I created a vision of successful birth, I planned, I did research, I tried to anticipate everything that might get in the way of me achieving peaceful, natural birth at home.
Preparing the body
I have always been an adrenaline junkie with an addiction to exercise endorphins. Exhaustion was a good way for me to achieve a state of calm inside my physical and mental system that tended towards imbalance. I spent decades running marathons, snowboarding, playing soccer in college and in the men’s over 30 league. I attempted to achieve internal equilibrium through exhaustion. I bruised my tailbone and had several concussions and a body bound by muscles that don’t easily release.
And none of this accounts for the emotional wounds that are also lodged the fibers of our muscles and memory. I think about the tension in my jaw that started when my sister had her psychotic break and my relationship of seven years fell apart. I try to release this tension as I do my morning pregnancy affirmations.
I attempted to undo decades of physical trauma with massage and prenatal chiropractic work. A prenatal massage specialist loosened the scar tissue around my tailbone and massaged all the itty bitty ligaments around the vagina that need to stretch and open to allow a child to pass through.
I remember laying on the massage table wondering why I hadn’t paid more attention to this part of my body. The pelvis is the connection point that linked everything in my body. I thought about how many times I stretched by groins as I slide tackled my opponents or swung my leg to fire a shot at the goal. Yet, no hands had ever touched the muscle groups that were fundamental to movement and life. Standing, walking, sitting, all of these activities require some type of pelvic engagement.
I also saw a prenatal chiropractor to work on my physical alignment. My chiropractor used muscle activators to try balance my severely misaligned pelvis. The doctor assures me that my pelvis and hips were perfectly balanced and ready for birth.
Releasing fear, preparing the mind
I prepare my mind, I completed at at home hypnobirthing course. Hypnobirth is about undoing the negative conditioning society has about birth being a painful, medical event. It seeks to reprogram our minds to believe that birth can (and should) be different.
Every morning during the second and third trimester, I woke and listened to pregnancy and birth affirmations. I worked on my mantras and breathing techniques. I watched videos of hypnobirths online. I wrote a story about how my birth would go. I completed a self-study course.
I let myself believe the naive mantras that passed through my wireless headphones. “Every woman has the right to a pain free, peaceful birth,” a woman with a soothing Australian accent said.
I listened to dozens of birth stories on podcasts like the Birth Hour and Doing It at Home and read Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth. I watched the documentary “Orgasmic Birth.” Stories poured through my car speakers and flooded my mind with fascination. I didn’t want to listen to very many stories about struggle and C-sections for fear that they might break the loose grip I had on the narrative of natural and pain free labor.
In the end, my birth was not at home, not “natural” and very far from pain-free.
“We make plans and God laughs.”
Birth: The fucking real deal
My daughter Morning’s birth was an exercise in patience, endurance— a physical and mental feat that challenged, stretched and pulled me apart. Birth reassembled me into a new person whose bits and pieces I am still trying to understand.
Waiting for Morning to arrive was excruciatingly long, weepy and tiresome. She was born either 2 weeks or 8 days “late” depending on which “due date” is taken in account. (My due date changed when I was 40+4 based on an ultrasound error a nurse practitioner made early in my pregnancy.)
I went on maternity leave the week before she was due—tying up lose ends, sending emails and trying to anticipate all the things that might happen at work while I was gone. When I finally put up the “autoreply” on my email and unplugged, I thought for sure she would make her arrival soon. I was ready. Should she be?
But she did not. The days leading up to her birth passed like a broken record, spinning around an axis of anticipation and then landing at the same place—me laying uncomfortably in bed or on the couch, answering people’s incessant texts and phone calls inquiring, “baby here yet?”
I tried to “make the most” of my last days as a “single” person. I went on a “due date date” with Bob the Farmer on my initial due date. I forced myself to get out of my paper thing gray pajama bottoms and put on a cute, low cut, black and white striped maternity dress I purchased second hand from ThredUp, an online thrift store. We strolled around midtown buying plants and drinking over priced Kombucha from a trendy health food bar. My belly felt as large as the universe, stretched as taut as a drum head about to burst. I had to pay attention to every step and movement I made so as not to strain my already aching back and hips.
Sugar and I went out for our “last meal” several times—scrolling yelp reviews, trying to find places that felt “special.” We did this four times.
I neurotically checked my underwear for signs of a “bloody show” every time I went to the bathroom, pulling the crotch of my cotton panties taut and sighing disappointedly when all I saw was dinghy, dry white cotton cloth staring back at me. I read the evidence based articles on due dates over and over again convincing myself that everything I was feeling was completely normal and that most first time mom’s don’t give birth until 5 days after their “due dates.”
California law does not allow home birth after 42 weeks, so I felt this ticking clock slowly taking away my chances of having the birth I imagined.
At 40 weeks and 7 days “over due,” Sugar and I went to the OB’s office for a non-stress test and a vaginal exam. My OB’s schedule was booked back to back with patients giving her only 15 minutes to talk with us. She immediately started talking about induction without asking me how I felt or checking Morning’s fluid levels and heart rate. She swabbed my vagina to retest for GHB without asking for my consent.
I told her that based on my ovulation chart, I thought my due date was wrong and wanted her to change it. I was desperate to gain “more time” to have a home birth.
“We don’t change due dates this late in a pregnancy,” she told me. “But let me review your records.”
She found that the due date initially assigned to me was based on the wrong ultrasound, so my “new due date” made me only 2 days and not 7 days overdue.
Sugar and I left the appointment feeling victorious—my intuition and calculation was right and the large HMO hospitals date was wrong. The nonstress test revealed that our baby was perfectly healthy.
Still, more days passed. The anniversary of my grandmother’s death, my best friends birthday, the evening when we went strolling around the neighborhood and the light was this perfect pale orange color and all the flowers that lined our cracked sidewalk were in bursting in bloom. All of these days felt like the perfect day to have Morning arrived, yet she still did not come.
On the evening of June 1st, as Sugar and I were finishing up Season 8 of Game of Thrones. In the evenings, I was using a breast pump on and off for 20 minutes to try to stimulate labor. Some research showed that pumping helped to release oxytocin which can help to send “late” women into labor.
This evening, I began to feel a dull ache in my pelvis, similar to a period cramp. The cramps continued for the entire evening, coming and going with no particular pattern. The pain wasn’t enough to constitute active labor, but it was enough to keep me awake and uncomfortable all night, laying on the couch, clutching my cell phone trying to time contractions, or “waves” as hypnobirth would call them. No real pattern. Just pain and not sleep.
I laid on the couch waiting for time to pass, so I could contact my midwife at a “reasonable” hour. (My attempts to keep everyone else comfortable in my early days of labor didn’t serve me well.) At 6am the next morning, I texted Kris, my midwife, and said, “well, last night was no fun.”
She told me to take a Benadryl and a bath and try to get some rest. I took a warm bath and breathed through the irregular contractions. Sugar built a mountain of pillows on the bed and I tied a heating pad around my waist to try to get some relief from the waves of pain. By 1:30 pm, all the contractions had stopped. I texted Kris again and they encouraged me to try to rest, because it was likely that contracts would pick up again in the evening.
The evening of June 2nd looked a lot like June 1st, Sugar and I sitting on the couches watching Game of Thrones and waiting, the breast pump churning rhythmically in the background. At around midnight, I felt stronger contractions, enough that I had to walk around move through them to manage the discomfort. I had regular contractions, about 1 every 3 minutes, for an hour and then the distance between the waves of pain would, frustratingly, increase.
Sugar fell asleep and I spent the night on the couch, staring at the twinkle lights I hung on the wall, gripping my hips and trying to breathe and through each wave of pain. I watched the hours pass by backlit cell phone and grew increasingly scared and frustrated. I knew that the lack of sleep was draining my energy and that inconsistent contractions were not a sign of true labor. I needed more support, but wanted to let Sugar sleep and knew I couldn’t call my midwife without a more consistent pattern.
By 6am on June 3, I hadn’t really slept in 48 hours and was still in pain from the inconsistent contractions. The pain picked up that morning, feeling like waves of lightning passing through my pelvis. We called Kris and asked her to come to our house. My friend and fellow recovery warrior, Alex came over to help support me. Alex would be my steadfast friend and doula through my grueling labor.
At around noon, Kris and their assistant, Jimena, came to check on me. “This baby is coming soon,” Kris reassured me, placing a gentle hand on my arm.
Kris asked if they could conduct a vaginal exam to check my progress. I laid on our bed and pressed my feet together, letting my knees fall to the sides. Jimena, their assistant, placed a glove on her hand and pressed her fingers towards my cervix. I felt pressure all through my pelvis as she moved her hand around. Jimena said I was only 2 cm dilated and about 50% effaced. The baby was at a station of 2. This was disappointing to say the least.
Jimena did a membrane sweep to help jump start my labor. She inserted her finger into my cervix and separate the placenta from the uterine wall. I felt a surge of pressure and then the sweep was over.
Laying on my bed with Jimena and Kris standing over me, I continued to wince though the inconsistent contractions. Exhaustion was taking over my body and mind. I fantasized about drugs and the comparative ease of a C-section. I asked Kris to walk me through what a C-section looks and feels like. My mind and body already were scheming ways to get out of this incredible discomfort and exhaustion. I confessed that my addict brain was starting to become active and seeking outlets which really scared me. I wept and blubbered and Kris again reassured me that the baby was coming soon.
As Jimena and Kris walked out the front door, I felt a rush of warm fluid between my thighs. My water had broken, finally. This is typical after a membrane sweep. I vomited wilted lettuce into the sink. Sugar sent Kris a text to let them know what was happening. “Woo hoo. That’s great news!” Kris responded. (I learned that a midwife’s job is to remain patiently optimistic even when things are not going as planned.) They said they would come back when contractions picked up.
I laid on the couch and attempted to watch a movie with Alex. We selected “Wine Country” on Netflix in hopes of lightening our mood. Sugar crawled in bed and attempted to take a nap. We only made is about 5 minutes into the film when my contractions strengthened. I laid curled up on my side with a mountain of pillows between my legs and on my back. Alex sat on the ottoman facing me, holding my hand through each contraction and pressing on my hips to help ease the pain. This continued for four hours. I had a contraction every 3 minutes for 1 minute. I feel asleep for 2-3 minutes between waves, completely overcome by exhaustion. Alex held my hand with her left and checked her email on her phone with her left. Labor is an exercise in staying present and patient while finding ways to pass the time.
Jimena and Kris came back at around 5:00pm. The birth team felt a renewed sense of purpose. We’d have this baby tonight, we all thought, as if we could will my baby into the world with our shear determination. I chugged a lemony electrolyte beverage to try to get some fluid in my body.
My contractions got stronger throughout the day. I hadn’t slept in about 60 hours and hadn’t eaten in almost 24 hours, so I was growing feeble in body and mind. Someone needed to be next to me at all times to help me cope with the pain and growing fears. Whatever mantras I had learned in hypnobirth no longer seemed to apply.
As the pain grew, I remember wailing on the couch at around midnight with Kris, the midwife trying to nap in the living and Jimena sitting next to me, pushing hard on my hips through each contraction. Jimena was texting with Kris in the other room. Based on the guttural sounds I was making and my inability to speak as the contractions ripped though me, Kris said I could get into the birth pool.
Sugar sprang into action and filled the tub with luke warm water. I looked at the translucent blue plastic walls and wondered by the hell I was going to get my body into the tub. I had fantasized about having a water birth, so the moment felt good. I was so relieved that I could get in the water and finally feel some comfort after days of suffering. Sugar and Jimena helped me step up on three step stool and hurl myself over the side.
The water wasn’t quite warm and the tub was quite full enough to cover my lower back. Kris came in from her nap and told the team to fill up the tub with hot water. I draped my arms over the side of the plastic wall, scared to move, because movement would cause incredibly painful contractions. I felt my stomach tense and insides rumble and began puking into a green plastic bag. Whatever liquids, I managed to gulp down promptly spewed out of my mouth. I fell asleep on the side of the birth tub, puking and moaning through each contractions.
After about ten minutes in the tub, the contractions stopped. Every few minutes I would feel a wave whip through me, but again, the distance between the contractions didn’t add up to active labor. I wiggled my hips around, Sugar handed me my manual breast pump and I tried to start labor again by pumping my breasts. It was 4:00am and the team all looked weary, Alex sitting on the stool, Jimena in the corner and Kris kneeling next to me.
It was time to get out of the tub and reassess our plan. I crept over the to the bedroom with Alex and Sugar holding my arms. I stopped and screamed in pain and dry heaved every time a contraction hit. I laid on the bed and Jimena did a vaginal exam. I was only 5 cm dilated and 80% effaced.
I should have been disappointed, but I didn’t have the energy to feel much of anything anymore. The more pressing issue was that I hadn’t slept in almost 72 hours and had any fluids in about 12 hours. Kris told the team that I would need an IV and that we should all try to get some rest.
I looked away toward my off white walls as Jimena tried to insert the IV needle in the arm. She wasn’t able a vein and poked and prodded. I usually terrified of needles, but the pain paled in comparison to the contractions. Kris took over, found a vein and hung the IV bag from our curtain rod.
At 4:30am, everyone left Sugar and I in the bedroom to the try to rest. Alex left to go to work. Sugar was completely exhausted and fell asleep. I laid there terrified with an IV bag hanging above me. Contractions came and went and I screamed to Sugar, “I need help!” But he didn’t respond. I saw blood creeping up the IV line. “Sugar, is this supposed to happen?” I screamed. Sugar looked at the bag and promptly moved me and the fluid to the living room.
“Is this supposed to happen?,” he asked Kris, pointing to the red blood plastic line. “No,” they replied and adjusted the height IV bag.
Sugar crawled back into bed. I laid on the couch with the IV bag hanging from a tree branch I had nailed to the wall.
Everyone was sleeping besides me. I cried to Jimena and asked her not to leave me alone. I laid on the couch with Jimena, dry heaving between contractions, unable to rest or move, tears streaming down my face, a bag a fluid hanging over my head.
At 6:00am, Kris emerged from the living room and came to check on Jimena and I. I tried to get off the couch my rolling onto all fours. Every time I moved, my body reeled from the intense contractions and my stomach retched. There wasn’t any fluid left in my system to dispel.
“We are going to need to have a more active day today to try to get your labor to pick up the pace,” Kris said as I stood gripping the kitchen counter. Every time I moved, a contraction would rip through me and cause me to dry heave. I knew that an “active day” wasn’t going to happen for me.
After more than 72 hours of no sleep, about 18 hours of not being able to hold down fluid and over 24 hours without eating, I had nothing left and was physically incapable of eating, drinking or sleeping. I was done. I asked Kris and Jimena what it would look like if we went to the hospital.
Sugar woke up and came to the living room. Kris and Jimena told him that we were considering a hospital transfer. Sugar agreed that this was a good idea.
I put on my fuzzy winter robe and stood on the porch, gripping the white metal pillars that hold up our roof. The rising sun felt warm. There was dew on the grass. “I haven’t been outside in days,” I said to Jimena. “It’s beautiful out today.”
Jimena, Sugar and I piled into my Honda insight and drove to the hospital. I sat in the back seat gripping the plastic handle above the door, feeling a sense of relief that some of the pain might subside soon.
The hospital transfer
We arrived at the hospital. Jimena walked me to the labor and delivery wing while Sugar parked the car. I stopped every few feet as we moved down the white, sterile hallway toward the reception, gripping the siding on the wall as the contractions inconsistently came and went.
The receptionist was asked me what type of pain relief I was looking for and I told her I wanted an epidural. Kris explained my options for pain relief before we left the house and said that the epidural might help my tight muscles to relax, so that my body could take over and allow the labor to progress.
I was admitted, placed in a wheel chair and rolled into a labor room. I was nervous the hospital staff would judge me for having a home birth. A nurse with chocolate black skin, round glasses and a wiry hair, black hair cropped close to her head greeted me. Her name was Summer. Jimena gave her a timeline and my status. She nodded and took notes. “I’m a big supporter of the home birth movement,” Summer said. “And it seems like you all made the right decisions.”
Another nurse, named Spring, bounced into the room. She had dirty blonde hair pulled back into a pony tail and an energy that vibrated high with positivity. “My sister tried to have a home birth twice. It just never worked out for her,” Spring said as she stroked my arm. A doctor named Kate came in and reviewed the notes and checked my cervix. I was 6 cm dilated and 80% effaced.
“I can’t believe how nice you all are,” I said with surprise in my voice. “Thank you for not judging me.”
Summer, Spring and the doctor were all taken back by my surprise. “We support your decisions,” the doctor said.
The lack of judgment and support received from this team was starkly different than all the horror stories I had heard about hospital births.
Spring explained to me that anesthesiologist would be coming soon to insert the epidural. A needle would be inserted into my spinal column and the numb my body from the waist down.
A 40 something Asian man came in shortly after and asked me to sit up on the hospital bed. Spring explained that I would have to stay very still while the needle was inserted. Staying completely still while having a contraction at 6 cm is not easy. I also had to crunch my body forward to round my spine, so that the needle could fit between my vertebrate.
Spring put her forehead on my forehead as I leaned forward and the doctor tried to find a place to put the needle. I reeled in pain as the contractions ripped through my body causing my stomach to clench tight.
“You can do this,” Summer assured me.
“Just a few more seconds,” the doctor said.
“Is it over yet?” I begged.
“I can’t seem to find a good vertebrate. You have a little scoliosis,” said the doctor as he poked and prodded my spin trying to insert the needle.
In retrospect, Sugar would say this was the most difficult part of the entire labor—watching me scream as a doctor repeatedly stabbed a needle into my spine.
After several failed attempts, the doctor inserted the needle and within a few minutes, the pain began to subside.
Kris, Jimena and Alex had arrived and were sitting on the couch. I sat up and smiled for the first time in days.
“Whoa, this is crazy. I can’t feel my legs,” I said to Kris.
“I know, but you need to try to sleep now,” Kris said.
I dozed off for about 30 minutes when a nurse woke me up and told me they were going to administer pitocin, because my contractions were still irregular. Alex, Jimena and Kris had all gone to get coffee and Sugar was the only person left in the room.
“Is that OK?,” I asked Sugar. I was in a desert land, so completely drained and so far from the birth I had imagined that I needed others to make decisions for me.
“Yes, Kris said we would probably need pitocin.”
I told the nurse OK and she went to the giant boxes of machines and pushed a few buttons. A new drug was now coursing through my veins, overriding the natural instincts that had apparently gone astray.
At this point, I was scared. A part of me believed that going to the hospital would mean a quicker and easier birth. Yet, this wasn’t happening. I was scared that one intervention would lead to another and another and another and soon I would unwilling be on the operating table. The hum of anxiety and unease kept me awake. I put on a podcast, This American Life, and tried to block out the thoughts and sleep.
The next 9 hours passed in a blur. I remember having conversations with people, cracking jokes and watching as my abdomen clenched with each contraction, I was unable to feel any of it. Machines that monitored Mornings heart rate whirled in the background. I could hear a steady beep and I knew that she was OK.
There was a change in shift and a new nurse was assigned to us. She had a nose ring, tattoos and shaved head. She had tattoo of a coffee carafe and her energy buzzed like a gnat. I was instantly annoyed by her presence.
Dr. Singh, an round Indian woman with warm presence, was now on call. She checked my cervix and told the team I was almost fully dilated, 9.5 cm, and 90% effaced. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. I didn’t feel much at this point. Dr. Singh wrapped a tight band around my abdomen to try to shift Mornings position as she made her way through my pelvis.
Kris told me I should have the baby before midnight, so Dr. Singh could deliver her. Everyone seemed sure that the baby was coming soon.
Midnight came and went and yet another shift change at the hospital happened. Labor progressed slowly. The doctor’s left and a certified nurse midwife named Morning Water was assigned to my room. Nurse Water had been delivering babies for 30 years and was a supporter of the home birth movement. She had a soft short, white haircut, thin silver rimmed glasses and a calm, grandmother like energy that gave me confidence.
She came in and checked my progress. I was fully dilated and 100% effaced.
I remember thinking, “OK, what now? Shouldn’t the baby just come out? Isn’t that what all these drugs are supposed to do?”
Morning told me I was OK to start pushing.
My birth team surrounded me with Sugar by my head, Alex holding my right leg, Jimena holding my left leg, and Kris next to Nurse Water by my feet.
Nurse Water took the lead on teaching me how to push. She explained that I needed to crunch forward and curl my body around the baby. I needed to breathe in and then hold my breath and push with everything I had.
I tried to follow instructions and mimic Nurse Water’s motion and crunch my abdomen while holding my breath. My swollen legs felt like dead tree trunks and I had zero feeling from my waist down.
“I can’t feel anything,” I said, bewildered as to how I could push a baby out my vagina with zero sensation in my lower body. “Can you turn down this epidural?”
“Just practice,” Nurse Water said as she smiled and left the room. “I’ll be back to check on you.” Nurse Water alerted the anesthesiologist to my request to turn down the epidural.
The door clicked shut. I felt like I was on another planet— my swollen body was limp and listless. A dull panic crept over me. I would need to push this baby out of me without any feeling in lower body. How the fuck was I going to do that?
Kris snapped a glove onto hand and placed two fingers into my vagina. Midwives don’t have “hospital privileges” so this was a risky move for Kris.
“Try to push out my fingers,” they said.
“I can’t feel your fingers,”I replied.
I felt everyone’s eyes staring back at me. My birth team had been up for about 36 hours already and now we had to do this together.
Kris grabbed a bedsheet and twisted into the shape of a rope. They held onto both ends of the sheet and had me grab the middle forming a U-shape.
“Breathe in and pull as hard as you can on this sheet as you can on this sheet as you breathe out,” Kris instructed.
It was me and Kris in tug of war with a bed sheet for the next 5 hours.
I had to leave my physical body to bring my daughter, Morning, into this world and find a source of primal strength to transcend my unrecognizable body. I hadn’t slept in 4 days, eaten anything 2 days and I had gained about 60lbs that was mostly fluid. I have climbed mountains, run marathons and nothing compares to the physical feat of pushing out Morning.
It took 2 hours to regain any feeling in my lower body after the epidural was turned down.
What I remember most vividly was the feeling of Morning’s head coming through my pelvis. It was like your bones are splitting in half and the only way to stop the pain is to summon some sort of internal strength and to keep pushing. The feeling of cracking open, of not being able to escape the pain is completely terrifying. You have to have touch down with that terror and very quickly roll yourself back or else you completely lose your mind.
At some point as Morning’s head descended closer to the opening of my vagina, a nurse brought in a large mirror to help me push. I didn’t recognize what I saw in the mirror.
“What’s that?,” I asked as I stared at the reflection of my genitals.
My labia looked like one of those miniature bananas that grow on stalks in the tropics. My anus was covered by hemorrhoids were the size of golfballs. There was a clear plastic tube coming out of my vagina that was inserted to measure the strength of my uterine contractions. It was a totally foreign landscape.
“That’s your vagina. You see this hole. You need to try to move this hole,” Kris said as she pointed to my vaginal opening.
Something clicked for me at this moment. As I exhaled and pushed with whatever fibers of strength remained, I could see the muscles and ligaments of vagina expand and contract ever so slightly. I had a visual target, a goal, and could finally connect the upper and lower hemispheres of my body.
“Let’s do this,” I grunted harnessing the kind of energy I needed to motivate my soccer team during a double overtime match.
With each contraction, my vaginal opening slowly expanded. With each push, I saw the excitement in my birth teams eyes grow wider. Their energy motivated me to just keep going.
Nurse Water moved aside my swollen labia and showed me a small, dark triangle of matted hair.
“You see that? That’s your baby’s head.”
With each push, the triangle moved outward and expanded, slowly revealing more hair and white mucus. Nurse Water poured mineral oil over the crown of her head. She massaged my perineum and while my baby’s head slowly emerged, each contraction and push leaving a ring around her soft skull.
“Now, I need you to give me a bunch of little pushes,” Nurse Water said. “Go slowly.”
I gave a few staccato exhaled her head emerged. With the next contraction, her limp body flopped out of me.
I feel sad sometimes when I think about the moments after Morning’s birth. My memory after Morning’s birth is limited, because I was so exhausted I could not stay conscious.
I remember her being flopped on my belly and huge burst of meconium covering my stomach. I remember nurses scrambling to wipe up the mess with piles of staunch white towels. I looked between her legs. She had a vagina and therefore would be assigned the gender “female.” “Girl,” I said to Sugar as I looked up into his tear stained eyes. “This is your daughter.”
“I feel overwhelmed with emotion,” he choked.
Morning laid on my chest and I fell into a deeply exhausted sleep. My eyes shot open when she latched onto my nipple for first time, surprised by the intense pressure of the reflex.
I woke up later and was in my dark hospital room, Morning in a plastic bassinet under a heating lamp next to me, Sugar curled up on the couch sleeping. My birth team was gone.
A small Asian woman who was the new nurse came into the room.
“I need food,” I told her.
She brought in a tray of last night’s dinner, a potato curry dish in a white plastic tray. Pads of butter wrapped in metallic gold in one compartment, a brown roll in another, a fruit cup, apple juice, I ate it all and felt completely satisfied.