He arrived at 6:05pm on December 13, 2010. I felt him come out of me. I felt his head and his face slowly emerging from my body. I needed to keep pushing until I felt the full release. I kept bearing down even though the contraction felt like it had ceased. I pushed down with my whole upper body and torso with the strength of the universe, since I had none of my own left. I felt the release and I heard them say, “We have a baby!” The pain vanished and my heart leapt with joy. Our sweet little baby has arrived. Hi baby boy. Hello and welcome!
How it started
Just two days before on a Saturday night, Rudi and I were relaxing on the couch watching the movie “Babies” on Netflix. What a time to feel a strange sensation arise in my abdomen. I wondered if it could be a contraction. Our son’s due date still eight days away, I assured both Rudi and myself that even if it was a contraction, it was probably “false” labor.
But they kept coming. We both went to bed, wisely believing that at this point, sleep was paramount. But the sensations woke me each time so sleep was elusive. I knew my baby was coming. By early morning, I was getting the hang of managing the rise and fall of the sensations through breath. In the wee morning hours, I finally woke Rudi to be with me. I had began to realize that nature and my body was taking over, and there was no getting off this new and exciting train, which seemed to be moving faster and faster. I was wide eyed with anticipation and wanted to stay present to the strange and mysterious process unfolding. It was hard to believe that the intense pressure in my abdomen was going to produce my son’s birth, as it felt more like a hindrance to opening my body rather than supportive of the process.
Sunrise came and the contractions spread out as the morning passed, to the point that I again had to wonder about the possibility of false labor. I was able to do normal things throughout the day between them. But by afternoon they seemed to increase again. Rudi began wrapping up his school commitments and Isobel dropped off the changing table just in the knick of time. Our friend Alissa came over to be with us, bringing food, support, love, and her healing touch. In the afternoon, Rudi took a nap and Alissa and I took a walk. Hugging a tree seemed incredibly important. I could feel the strength of the tree penetrate my whole being and I felt at one with the tree and with the Tao of life. We walked on for a while, stopping for each contraction.
Sundown must have signaled to my body that it was time to get to work again. The sensations got a little closer and more intense, and I began to feel more reliant on the presence of my loved ones. I started to realize that there was no place comfortable to go, as I moved from the couch, to the birth ball, to the beautiful, carved, wooden South African birthing chair that my friend Moira had dropped off just a week or so earlier. I danced a bit, walked a bit, and continued to seek comfort with different positions. Alissa stayed on until 11pm or so, and then another dear friend of ours, Naomi arrived. Rudi was being very loving and supportive and his very presence was one of my biggest comforts. He went to bed to get some rejuvenating sleep when Naomi arrived. Naomi’s presence was gentle and consistent. I decided to take a bath. The two of us moved through a couple of hours together until it was time to call my doula, Wendy Kenin. She arrived in the middle of the night and just the sight of her brought more relief. At this point, the contractions were five or so minutes apart and all of my energy, focus and concentration were on them. I had left the normal world and I was in labor land. Now I knew what the books meant. Nothing else mattered to me, but to ride the contractions and find ways to work with them rather than against them. I was my instinctual body in motion. Any resistance from my mind was futile, though I did try to resist several times! I kept looking up to see Wendy’s soft, focused face. She was sitting beside me as I lay sideways on the couch, the only position that seemed sort of okay. She coached me, but I don’t remember what she said. I finally found my voice and began using it to move through the awesome and mind blowing pressure in my uterus and abdominal area. With each contraction, I let out a yelp or a moan all the way through it, and this felt very powerful.
Rudi emerged from sleep in the early morning hours and I was relieved to see him again, but I couldn’t really communicate with him or anyone. I could tell that he understood. I just stayed deep within. At some point, I wondered why we were not rushing me to the hospital. I asked and was told that I was managing the contractions well at home, and that it was a good place for me to be. This information thoroughly surprised me because I thought I had become a raving lunatic. The confidence of my team seeped in and I recommitted to the process and let go of the oncoming desire for an epidural. Plus, we had called Kaiser earlier in the night to let them know that my contractions were only minutes apart and they had said not to come in until there was no relief between contractions (turns out they were having a busy night themselves with many other births under way). Sunrise came again, and Wendy had to leave, replacing herself with her partner, Lauren. I was sad and distressed to see Wendy go, but some rational part of me knew that she had another job to go to. I locked eyes with Lauren and we bonded quickly. Her presence was very sweet and loving and her melodic voice and English accent gently soothed and energized me.
At 6:30am, we left for the hospital. Rudi packed and readied the car and we left our cozy little home with our Mexican blanket wrapped around me. I could not sit on the car seat but had to kneel on the floor and lean over the seat. The five minute drive felt torturous! Once at the hospital, two personnel tried to get me to sit in a wheelchair to get to labor and delivery, but I found it impossible to sit in the chair without feeling intolerable pain. I insisted on walking into the hospital and up to the fourth floor, my birth team and the mexican blanket huddled around me, keeping me safe and warm. I was just aware enough to reflect on the fact that I was walking into the same hospital entrance that Rudi had exited when he was released from his five week hospital stay in 2009, after he had a life threatening reaction to the H1N1 (swine flu) virus. Now I was walking through Kaiser’s corridors birthing our baby, which was a miracle given Rudi’s brush with death in ’09. Getting to the fourth floor felt like trying to climb up a tall building while enduring the iron weight of my pulsating uterus against my pelvic floor. Once in triage, I was comforted by Rudi’s steady presence. We were quickly told that I was already six centimeters dilated with only four more to go. They quickly moved me to a room. Lauren and I did some dancing once we were situated, which felt momentarily good. I met my nurse Marissa soon after and she kept referring to me as mama. This helped. I felt empowered, like I was being initiated into mama-hood and I had to show up for it. She explained to me that giving birth would turn me into mama bear. This did not seem corny, rather, it seemed right on. I began to become more aware that my son was going to arrive and I became thrilled, awed and frightened. I knew that my faith in myself as a mother would be tested during birth and here it was. Could I do this? If he came out, would I know what to do? Everything will change. Am I ready?
My contractions became more intense and eventually were unceasing, meaning that I was getting no break between them to catch my breath. I longed for relief and wondered if I needed an epidural. Part of me wished for it and part of me wanted to stay with my plan for a birth with minimal medical interventions. Finally, I cried out for help, and my team suggested that instead of an epidural that I take a dose of pain medication instead. This sounded like a good idea because the pain medication would have a temporary effect and not confine my movement as an epidural might (but not necessarily). The medication, Fentynal, brought about a bit of relief and I was able to relax more and catch my breath. Around this time, there was some confusion about whether or not I was transitioning to the final pushing stage. Inwardly, I made a decision that I was going to steer in that direction by starting to push during each contraction, and by getting into a position on the table that would allow me to bear down. I wanted to move forward with this birth. I positioned myself on my back and sought the support of a bar and the stir-ups.
I got what I wanted. I found that during the pushing stage, the contractions didn’t come as often but they came regularly, demanding that I bear down into the pain and not away from it. They would come saying, “Bear down and push through, push all the way through.” Sometimes I would resist, and I had to learn to let go of control because I just didn’t have it. I learned that if I went beyond the pain, as Lauren suggested, that I could actually move through it, and use my strength to channel the energy into my pelvis to push the baby out. But I wasn’t just pushing through pain. I was pushing through fear. Marissa was right that it was going to take courage. Would I be able to take care of this baby? Could I move forward, even more into the pain, where there is no turning back? But this was all mind blabber as I learned later. My body knew I could do it and so did everyone around me. Even the Kaiser staff, whom I feared would not honor my birth plan. I called on the female Buddha, Tara and felt strong again. I could hear everyone around me occasionally say, “ She is pushing again,” and they’d help me the best they could. Everyone had something important to say to me. Rudi made me mad to help me push. Marissa kept calling me mama. Naomi said I could do it and I believed her face. They were all around me now, so many doctors and residents. I became my animal body and everyone around me was my helper, my lover, my friend, and I trusted them. The attending doctor comes to my bedside with her quiet, firm strength and told me it will only take one more push and this baby was coming out. I believed her and I went for it. I became fully committed to his release, and about two pushes later our precious baby came. As I heard them say, “We have a baby,” I looked up to see his whole little body held in the air. He was being rushed over to a small table due to the meconium (first baby poop) found in his amniotic fluid. He looked perfect, and I exclaimed, “My baby, my baby!” I was filled with joy. I knew he’d be okay. I heard his cry, the first cry I had been hearing in my mind for months, and I knew that his Dad was with him at the table. I relaxed and waited excitedly for my baby. He came to me and he looked just perfectly beautiful. I couldn’t believe the beauty of this little being placed in my arms. He was quiet and surprisingly clean and smooth. I guess they wiped him off a bit, but he really just came out that way. Later, I learned that his little stomach had to be pumped because he swallowed some of the meconium. But my sweet baby was okay and now we were skin-to-skin. He was lying on my chest and my breast, peaceful after our birthing, our two-day journey in which we worked so hard.
I want you to know how you came into this world. Cheering people surrounded you. People committed to your safe arrival. Your mama and daddy were right there ready to envelope you into our loving arms. Lauren, Naomi, Marissa the nurse, and a few residents and doctors were there and love was in the air. This was our vision for your birth. Alissa and Wendy were there at the front and middle ends, and possibly hundreds of people were waiting to hear of your arrival. You are our celebration. You are life! We promise to do our best to let you unfold into the human being that you are meant to be. We love you Noah!
Janie Riley’s birth story was first published at The Brightlys.