Carmelo's Arrival by Michelle Foy
Three nights before Carmelo was born, Fernando and I climbed the steep hill of Sanchez Street under the light of the full moon, enjoying the smells of an early spring, talking about our fears and hopes for the birth, the baby, and the world he was coming into…
Each night for a week or so I went to bed imagining that it could be that night. That the baby would decide it was time to join us on the outside. On Tuesday night, the day after Carmelo’s due date, I went to bed with the same thought and fell into a deep slumber.
I awoke around 4 am. I lay in bed for a while, thinking about it all and wondering if it was the anticipation that roused me from sleep or early labor contractions. I had heard too many stories of people not knowing if they were in labor or not…I reminded myself that birth is about listening to my body and the baby.
The contractions came with that early labor burst of energy. I woke Fernando to let him know it was happening and that we might want to start filling the tub. I did a load of laundry and walked through the house, breathing and taking it all in.
I recall sitting in our small, dark front room of the house on the birth ball, looking out onto 23rd St., imagining that our street, our neighborhood will be different, transformed in some way, once the baby arrives.
The contractions were coming on rather regularly and strongly at that time, but were short, around 20 seconds or so.
At 8 we called Maria to let her know that the contractions had begun. She said, “ok, I’ll call you tonight to see how you’re doing.” I thought to myself, “What, tonight?! I’m going to have this baby today!”, intellectually thinking about the fact that my mother had two very short labors, one 5 hours and one 3 hours, and imagining that I would follow my mother’s footsteps. I asked Maria to remind me what it is that we were looking for in the contractions before calling her again (funny how that part of Jane’s childbirth prep class flew out the window), three or four minutes apart and a minute or more in duration. Again I reminded myself of something we learned in class, don’t focus too much on how often and long the contractions are, just trust the process, trust my body and things will happen as they will.
Around 10 I napped, enjoying another couple of hours of very restful sleep as the contractions had eased up. I knew how important rest would be for the hours ahead.
That afternoon Fernando and I walked the neighborhood. We stopped by More Mojo and Maria’s office. When I walked in Kristine asked, “Are you in labor?” Another woman in the office and I both responded simultaneously with a “yes”, and then we turned around and gave each other a high five. There was something so reassuring about the serendipitous meeting of the two of us in the middle of early labor.
Kristine shared her birth story with me while I lay on the table, a welcome reminder of how non-linear labor can be, the ebbs and flows of the contractions, and the need to let go of expectations about the process. On our way home we bought some cheese and a box of thank you cards. We called family and friends to let them know the baby was on the way.
At home, I got into the tub while Fernando sat on our futon next to the tub reading from the book Birthing From Within. Moving through it with breath, meditation and the tools learned from working with Jane in yoga and childbirth prep class. We joked about how we were finally doing our homework from class…
Our friend Andrea came over that afternoon with fixings for lentil soup and I sat in the tub comforted by Andrea and Fernando’s chatting in the kitchen while they cooked. Our friend Sarah arrived and we all sat and ate together. I still had an appetite, a sure sign that I had a ways to go until I was in active labor.
Fernando answered the phone when Maria called that night at about eight. She said that it was important to get some sleep and rest, that we had a big day ahead of us and that the most common reason for a hospital transfer for first births is exhaustion. For the first time, thoughts of doubt crossed my mind, and I felt daunted by the idea of sleeping between or through contractions that were coming on regularly, at about 10 minutes apart. I again reminded myself that I could do this, that the baby and I were on this path together and that I had all the tools I needed to have an empowering and safe birth (at the same time knowing that it was not something I could “control”, that things will happen as they will…)
Andrea and Sarah went home knowing that they may be summoned back in the middle of the night, or not.
Sleep was difficult. It was a struggle to not get up and walk through every contraction, as the pain while lying down was clearly more intense because I was lying down. And the plastic underneath our sheet made the bed unbearably uncomfortable. But I knew that I would only sleep between contractions if I stayed horizontal.
At about one in the morning I got up and went into the tub. There was a calm in the house and in the neighborhood as if all were quietly preparing to welcome Carmelito.
I got out of the tub and went to the couch to lie down. I fell asleep to be awoken by increasingly intense contractions. Lying down meant that I only had breathing and meditation to get through each surge. I remembered what a friend said, “it will be tough, you will feel pain, but remember that it will end. Visualize being in the park with Fernando and the baby.” I remembered swimming in the ocean a few months before and imagined riding the waves, feeling weightless and incredibly small in the vast body of water. I thought of the contraction as a spiral that led to the baby being born and the baby as a partner in this process, the continuation of a long relationship and dance between the two of us. I imagined my womb opening up, making the space needed for the baby to make the journey. I practiced non-focused awareness by noticing the subtle sounds in the house, on our street. It felt incredibly challenging, but also empowering as I made it through each contraction, confident in what was happening.
Around three am I got up from the couch, feeling like I could not do it lying down any longer. I awoke Fernando, almost 24 hours after early labor began. For the first time, we timed the contractions, which were over one minute long and about 3 ½ minutes apart. We called Maria, Andrea and Sarah.
I walked and walked. Up and down the long hallway of our San Francisco apartment, leaning on Fernando while I drew from his love and support.
I recall Maria arriving, as I watched her climb our staircase up to where I was standing, in between contractions, and still wearing my robe. She was asking me some questions, which I don’t remember, something about how I was feeling, and her reassurance that what I was doing was exactly right. I felt very warm and took my robe off, ready to let go and move into the uninhibited place of active labor.
Maria checked me and the baby’s heartbeat soon after arriving. I told her that my water had not broken, but she said that she could not feel the amniotic sac inside of me. I was 7 centimeters dilated, something very reassuring as I knew that that determination and focus while laboring on the couch paid off. Maria said that I should just continue doing what I was doing and that I was looking for the feeling of the need to bear down. That is when I would be ready to start pushing, when I was fully dilated and felt that urge to push.
I continued walking up and down the hallway, and by this time, was fully moaning through contractions. Sarah said that I mooed through labor, something I wasn’t aware of, although I knew that I was vocalizing and that it was really helpful. I remember thinking that this stage was almost easier than when I was on the couch, as I was able to move and had more tools to get through the contractions.
After another hour or two Maria checked me again. She determined that there was still a bit of cervix that needed to thin out and that the baby had not positioned himself exactly as he needed to be, to successfully make his way through the birth canal. She then instructed me to lie on the bed, in a very particular position (if I remember right, on my right side with one of my legs bent and folded over another leg) in order to encourage the baby to move into a good position. She said that I should stay there for 45 minutes, something I dreaded, as I did not want to lie down again. But once in the position it felt great, as if she knew exactly what I needed, a rest for my legs and an encouraging position for the baby.
After 45 minutes I got up and Maria asked me if I had an urge to push, as she said I was ready to go as soon as I felt the urge. She said I should assume whatever position I most feel that urge, trying out different things, like squatting or sitting on the toilet. I then went and sat on the toilet, focusing in a way that would allow me to move to the next stage of labor.
I left the toilet and felt a wave of nausea come over me. I didn’t make it back to the toilet and threw up on the floor. I immediately felt better, a sort of release that got me one step closer to the birth.
Maria suggested I take a shower, which felt, once again, just right. When I got out of the shower I was shivering and felt ready to get into the warm tub so I would not be shivering. I asked Maria if I was dehydrated as my legs were shaking. She said that was just labor.
It was 9 am by the time I got into the tub. Maria guided me through different positions, thinking about those that would create the greatest pelvic tilt, the most room for the baby to come through. She said I was ready to begin pushing at any time.
The pushing came fairly naturally although I never felt a strong urge to push. It was also by far the most difficult and painful stage of labor. I thought about the idea of seeing stars with the experience of intense pain, but rather than seeing stars I saw the most amazing, colorful patterns during each contraction and each round of pushing. Between contractions I would focus in such a way to build up the kind of energy needed to get through the next one.
I was on my hands and knees in the tub for maybe less than an hour, when Maria said that I was doing everything just right, but at some point she wanted me on my back, propped up slightly with my legs up. Fernando got in the tub with me and I switched positions, as he held me in such an important and powerful way at that stage of labor.
I continued pushing with an amazing team of supporters, (including Nancy who had arrived as the second midwife, around the time I got into the tub) who had only encouraging words. The support and encouragement, along with the thought of the baby that would join us on the outside in no time, is what got me through this stage of labor.
At some point, during a round of pushing, Maria said that the baby’s head was beginning to appear. His small, hairy head would crown just a little, and then would return inside of me in between contractions. She had me reach down and touch his head during one contraction. It was unreal to feel his fuzzy head between my legs, yet another aspect of the miracle of birth and how imminent his arrival was. Down he would come, and then retreat back into me, once I stopped pushing.
Maria offered that with a little more pushing his head would be fully crowned. I thought, “what just a head crowning, what about him being born?!”, forgetting that, as long as his positioning was good, once his head was out the rest of him was just shortly behind. One more push, she said, encouraging me to really focus in on my pelvis, opening it up, and bearing down. Then it all seemed to happen so quickly. Before I knew it, the baby came shooting out of me. I couldn’t believe it, there was the baby that had been nurtured within me for all that time, finally joining us, making a journey into our arms through the water.
There was a round of gasps and cheers, as well as Andrea announcing his sex (we did not know his sex—although there was a lot of speculation and a majority opinion that he was a boy).
Somehow, between him coming out, when Maria caught him and began to bring him up to me to hold him, his umbilical cord got tied. It was very amusing as it was in a full knot, but nothing dangerous. He was out, having taken his first breath, and cried his first cry. Sarah then cut his cord and I handed him to Nancy to dry him off and keep him warm.
Maria had me climb out of the tub to birth the placenta. It was a beautiful way to end such an amazing process, to push it out, Carmelo’s sibling, as some call the placenta. I squatted over a bowl as it slipped out of me with ease.
I then, with a lot of help from others, walked to the bedroom next door to get into bed with Carmelo and Fernando. I was so elated and overcome with emotion and joy, the memory of that next period, is a blur. I just sat there cuddling Carmelo as he slept, recovering from his tiring journey. I heard the sounds of the others in the house, tidying things up, draining the tub, chatting about the birth. I reveled in the experience and the beauty of this new life, one that would change our lives forever.