November 17, 1996 at 1:24am
I awoke about 3:00am on Friday, November 15 with very mild, but very regular “contractions” which happened every 5 minutes and lasted about 10 seconds. This definitely didn’t fit with how I imagined labor would start and I figured that maybe the baby had “dropped” a bit and I was feeling bladder spasms. I laid in bed and drifted in and out of sleep, wondering, excited, but not wanting to call anyone or every awaken my husband prematurely. The alarm went off at 6:00am and I told Craig that labor might be starting and was a little annoyed when he decided he should go to work to finish a few things and could come home quickly if needed. But I knew that these mild sensations might be “false labor” and that his plan was sound. I got up with him and took a picture of the beautiful sunrise out our back window on the day our child might be born. As I moved around from 6-8am, the sensations pretty much stopped but I called Maria at about 8:30am to ask how to tell the difference between real and “false” labor. She wasn’t home so I decided to see what happened as the day went on. I took care of a few errands in the morning and laid down for a nap between 11:00 and 1:30. When I got up, I decided to do some neighborhood walking to see if that would stimulate things. I walked to 24th Street and back, about one and a half miles total and had a series of encounters with passerbys who seemed to know I was close to going into labor. As I had not had a lot of public comment on my pregnancy from anonymous passer-bys in the past, it was very surprising to me that three different people spoke to me about how close I was to labor. One woman said she’d seen me walking in the neighborhood over the past weeks and wanted to tell me how beautiful I looked- very uplifting! I dropped my purchases off at my house and decided to take a “real walk” about four miles up and down hills of Noe Valley and Dolores Street. About every 20 minutes I’d feel a “sensation” that I sang through but nothing intense or long-lasting. My husband got home around 6pm after stopping for a bottle of wine so that I could have a much-looked-forward-to full glass of wine that evening. I called Jenny to let her know I might be going into labor and she advised a full glass of wine and a hot bath. I drank the wine and was dismayed to find it tasted awful. But I drank the whole glass with the hope it would induce sleep. After my bath, we went to bed. I slept from about 10pm until midnight when the sensations got a little more intense and about every 15 minutes apart. (I forgot the passerby comment- as I was in the final stretch of my four mile walk, I saw a woman across the street (Church Street) who was pushing a stroller and seemed to be looking at me and smiling. She waved at me and yelled “Hey you’re walking into labor, aren’t you?!!” I yelled back, “I think so…I’m trying to.” She yelled “Good luck, it’s great!”) And as I was walking on Dolores Street, someone had written “Smile, you’re in good hands.” This was all very amazing to me.
Friday night I continued to have sensations about every 15 minutes which I had to sit on the side of my bed and rock myself through. I was now convinced that this was early labor and was concerned that at this pace, it would be a five day affair! I let my husband sleep through the night because I wanted to make sure he had energy for the next day. And, I enjoyed the privacy of early labor- the quietness, the darkness, the excitement and expectation of things to come.
We had phoned our labor support friends Friday night and let them know that labor might be starting, and by Saturday morning at about 7:00am, I was ready for company to share this experience. Joan and John arrived about 8:00am and we all hung out, ate a little, drank a little and started to ready the house. We had rented a big birthing tub from Natural Resources for relaxation during labor and hadn’t set it up yet. John and Craig took on that task while Joan and I rocked through contractions. Things were still moving very slowly, about every 12-15 minutes. After John and Craig got the tub set up, I suggested we all go for another walk. We all set out on a circuitous route through Noe Valley and I was walking like I was in labor; slowly and needing to stop with each contraction. This day, however, no one commented on my labor status. We walked for about 2 hours and took note of the sky and the winds. A big storm, the first of the season, was moving in, supposed to arrive that night. I wondered if our child would wait to be born in the storm as many other very significant events in our lives had taken place during big storms. I looked forward to relaxing in the tub and watching the storm come in.
When we got home, we found that the tub wasn’t heating up and it took a few hours to correct that problem. Finally, around 6:00pm, it was ready and I was excited to get in it. I talked to Jenny on the phone about the pace of this labor and asked for advice about how to relax with the contractions. I felt that I couldn’t get comfortable with them and that I was resisting labor at some level. Jenny advised getting in the tub and seeing if it would relax me. Craig and I hung out in the dining room (where we had set the tub up) and listened to the impending storm and talked about being on the brink of parenthood and what that meant for both of us. I still felt very aware and “in my head” about labor and feared that this meant we still had a couple of days to go. I got up and went to the bathroom and talked with Joan about what might be holding up labor. We called upon the energies and psychic presence of all the women in my family who had given birth, especially my mom and asked for their help. I got up and took two steps into the hallway and aham! I felt a big, long, hard contraction- I started crying on my husband’s shoulder- this was it. Joan called Jenny to say that labor seemed to be happening in earnest- then contractions were now 4-5 minutes apart and strong. After my bath, I was able to lie down on my bed and moan that each contraction was like a wave washing over me. I wasn’t very aware of how often they were coming or how long they lasted and I didn’t “do” anything to cope with them. Jenny arrived around 8:30pm and Craig’s brother and sister-in-law, Clark and Beth arrived shortly thereafter. The guys went out for a burrito run and Joan and Beth helped me to the bathroom. When I wiped myself, my mucous plug appeared in the tissue.
I went back to bed to moan and float through contractions. Joan and Beth were rubbing my back and my legs; the guys joined in when they got back. Jenny checked me when it seemed the contractions were getting even stronger- I was 7cm dilated! I got this incredible urge to push with each contraction and after checking the condition of my cervix, Jenny said it was okay to keep pushing. Around this time, I noticed Maria was in the room also.
By 10:30pm, I was fully dilated and ready to really push. The storm had definitely arrived and I could hear it pouring outside my window. The midwives asked the group whether we thought the baby would be born on the 16th or 17th- I thought they were joking! I was sure this baby would be born on the 16th. Pushing was much more of a challenge than I expected. I could feel that I was pushing hard and generating a lot of force but the baby wasn’t moving. We tried different positions- squatting, semi-reclined, etc. and nothing. My water did break with one of the pushes- that was quite dramatic. Finally, at about 12:30am on the 17th, Maria and Jenny suggested I go back to the tub and relax with Craig. As much as I enjoyed the first time, I didn’t want to go this time because I was afraid it would sap my last remaining bit of energy. They really encouraged me though and so I went. I started drinking this potent ginseng tea and eating slices of the root and sat in the tub. It was magical outside- really dark and really wet and I enjoyed taking it in. However, I was really starting to doubt that I could do this at home- I didn’t have much more energy. Around this time, Maria came in to see how we were doing. I asked her if she was aware of any common psychological/emotional blocks to labor at this point. She looked at my and said very sincerely, “MK, I believe you’ve got what it takes to do this” and reminded me that many first-time moms push from 2 to 4 hours, sometimes 6. She gave me an herbal tincture to strengthen my contractions and then checked the position of the baby’s head in my pelvis. She said her head seemed slightly tilted and maybe a little stuck and encouraged me to push as hard as I could and think about opening as wide as possible with the next contraction. Suddenly, I felt stronger and able again- her words of faith in me, the ginseng, the herbs, the warm water and maybe the baby’s decision to be born- who knows? But with the next contraction, I felt her head at my vaginal opening and knew that I was about to have this baby.
I got out of the tub and walked quickly down the hall back to my bed. I laid down in a semi-reclining position in time for the next contraction and it was hard. Finally, by pushing with my legs against two people seated on the bed and pulling with my arms against their resistance, I could sustain pushing long enough for her head to emerge. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hold on long enough for her head to come out completely and she slipped back in. With the next contraction everybody was cheering and encouraging me and her head came completely out. Her shoulders came out on the next push and she immediately shot her left arm up as if to wave hello to everyone. The next push she was completely out and the midwives put her on my chest. I was amazed at how beautiful and pink and alert she was- she cried lustily briefly and then just looked around. After a minute or so, it occurred to me to check her sex- I had a feeling we were having a boy- and was completely surprised and thrilled to find out we had a daughter. I held her and welcomed her and loved her for a few minutes while Craig cut the cord with Maria’s assistance. Then I had to get up and do the surprising hard work of delivering the placenta. Then I got to hold her again while Maria and Jenny checked for any tearing- none! Then they helped me to shower while each person present got to hold and welcome Kealy. Maria and Jenny stayed another four hours making sure I was okay and doing a newborn exam and then everybody, including me, ate some wonderful minestrone soup that Joan had made. At about 4:30am, Kealey and Craig went to sleep together, Clark and Beth went home and Joan and John went to sleep on the futon. Maria and I took care of a few last details and she left around 5:30am. We all got up the next morning around 8:30am, called the grandparents and the uncles and had a spontaneous, celebratory pancake breakfast. Orla & Mary came with a birthday cake and the uncles were here too. The grandparents all arrived that afternoon. By the afternoon, I was starting to feel deliriously tired and almost fell asleep mid-sentence talking to my mother-in-law. She put Craig and I to bed for a couple of hours, after which I awoke aching to hold my beautiful, gentle daughter again.
The rest of our days have been wonderful, lots of holding, kissing, walking, bathing, burping and diaper changes and of course, crying. Our daughter is so calm, aware, present and gentle and I believe that’s in large part due to her very gentle birth where/when she was allowed to come at her own pace and her prenatal care which was free of invasive tests. Maria and Jenny were wonderful beyond words and Kealey, Craig and I are very, very thankful to them for all their care before, during and after her birth. We chose this little silver charm with a little girl on it because it’s circular which is symbolic of so many aspects of life, because our little girl has been a joy and treasure and surprise to us and because the little garnet bead reminded me of the importance of the heart in this process- listening to mine and Craig’s and opening to Kealey’s. Thank you again Maria & Jenny and to Clark & Beth and Joan & John, and to all the mother spirits who came and gave support.
Gratefully and with much love,
Mary Kay, Craig and Kealey