At 2:30am, July 25, 2014 I found myself awake with some cramping and anxiety: about my decision try castor oil once more later that morning and that the baby still hadn’t come to us. If the baby won’t have been born by this weekend–already two weeks past her due date–it’s likely we would have to give up the idea of giving birth at home. But something had changed today. I was full of peace as I read the chapters ‘Motherhood’ and ‘Paternity’ in Fulton Sheen’s Three To Get Married. Then I noticed that the cramping was getting more intense. And more regular. I just really focused on God during each wave and thanked Him that the labor was finally beginning. I asked to be forgiven for losing trust over the past two long weeks and He answered me through holy words of his servant-priest.
Just before 4am I texted Marlene, the midwife, that the contractions were about a minute long and six to seven minutes apart. I didn’t get an answer. I kept on reading and let Joshua sleep and after a while I unpacked the birth-kit and displayed its contents on the table of the fire room. But at around 5:30, they were becoming more painful and I found myself not being able to read or do anything while the waves came. So I called Marlene and she awoke, asking if I was able to concentrate on anything else during the contractions. I minimized the pain and said they weren’t too bad yet and she said to call when they got more intense. That was probably less than five minutes later. After my call to her, I woke up Joshua and said I’d been having regular contractions for three hours. He asked if he should call Marlene. I said yes, because by now there was no doubt that this was the time.
I wrapped myself in a towel and went out back to the pool with Joshua. By now the sky turned a crisp early morning blue, and after all the rain in the night, the light of the day on the dew of the land made the colors so sharp, it was as if I was seeing these hues for the first time. God had been saying this would be a birth for my soul, as well. Then a great thing happened. As I was going through the rushes in the warm water, I looked up the bluff and saw the fawn. “Look, Joshua! The fawn! At about two o’clock from the mother.” We watched as the fawn clumsily walked downward toward the doe loosing mini rockslides, and began nursing. How honored and loved I felt watching that holy moment, the first time we had seen mama and baby together since the day of the twins’ birth on the 13th! Her spirit showed me a kindred love and compassion, and by appearing there she gave me renewed strength for what I was about to go through. Joshua then exclaimed, “There’s the other one!” And this just overflowed me. We had suspected maybe one of the fawns had not made it in the first susceptible weeks of life in grand nature. But here we were, blessed, blessed children of God, watching both fawns suckle their mother, all while a new child of God was moving lower and lower inside me to be born into this beautiful creation.
I asked Joshua to make me some tea, and so he went inside. By now the rushes were intense. No other position suited me except on my knees, clutching the rim of the pool. I prayed during each one and asked not for strength, but to be my strength. Sometimes my mind would go to the Immaculate Birth of our Lord, and how Mary was enshrouded in God’s grace during the birth. But a new thought contradicted that hope for me as a painful rush overwhelmed me and I realized this was my time to suffer with Jesus on the cross. Although I did get nervous about the physical pain at this point, I was deeply moved to be called by God to get to share His burden. Joshua came back with the tea, but by this point I was not comfortable with the outdoor pool. The RV park just north of us was waking up and besides, my legs were cramping up with every rush: I felt that my space was inflicted upon. He helped me out of the pool and by this time there was very little rest in between rushes. I moved with difficulty back into the house and Joshua began filling the indoor pool.
My position to cope with the pain at this point was leaning over with my hands on the bed and then alternating raising my toes up and down, as if I were getting psyched for a sprint. I cried out a few times during this hour, now at around 7am, but I could still breathe as if through a straw. I remember wanting Marlene to come, and she and Annie, the assistant, arrived at about 7:30. Shortly after, I felt another one coming on and a great wave of nausea with it. “I feel like I’m going to throw up,” I called out. Marlene went to find a big bowl for me, but I made it to the toilet and let it out during the contraction. I heard Marlene say to Josh, “That’s totally normal. It means she’s almost done.” This surprised me because I had heard of contractions lasting all day. Although I couldn’t possibly have shown it amid all the agony, I was thrilled to hear they were going to end soon and I would start to push.
At one point, I don’t know if I was in the pool by this time or not, I heard Joshua ask Marlene, “So, is she dilated?” And Marlene answered without having to even physically check, “Oh yeah. She’s well into labor.” And to me this was amazing that I never had to go through the disappointment of hours of contractions and only one centimeter dilations at a time. Once, in the pool, I tried leaning back in the seat, but my body would not have it. It was an instinctive impulse, once the rush came on, I had to be up on my knees and holding onto Joshua who was out of the pool. I also could not control my voice. Despite trying to talk to God through them, I really started crying out now, “Ow, ow, owww!” Marlene suggested that instead of saying ‘Ow’ I focus on ‘Out.’ “Baby, out, out, owwwwt!” Annie would, in between rushes, massage my lower back, where I felt most of the pain because of the baby’s sunnyside-up position. “That’s a lot of bones to move out. The baby’s just working around your tailbone now,” said Marlene at one point. The pressure Annie put there was a gentle relief.
For a couple hours I alternated between the pool and on my hands and knees on towels right beside the pool. Once, I tried lying in the bed because I was feeling so drained, but that rush didn’t go so well, so I got back up on my knees in the music room. Another light relief was the birth ball I leaned on in between for a little rest, but I remember once trying to push it away during a rush because I didn’t like the echo it made of my cries. That’s one thing. I was so sensitive to my environment during the rushes. Once I asked Joshua to chime the meditation bowl, and during the rest it was soothing, but right as the contraction came on, the noise and vibration irritated me. Any noise did. I didn’t want to hear a sound out of anyone during the rushes. Mostly no one spoke. Annie was reading a book on the couch, despite my torturous screams. I remember thinking it was funny, but couldn’t laugh about it at the time. Another time I remember Joshua asking me something during a rush and Marlene answered, “She won’t be able to answer you now.” And that’s right! The moments are so intense, that it’s almost as if I were outside of time. These are units of ‘time’ I’ve never experienced before, except for a soul recollection of them from heaven. I remember hearing that too: that giving birth is likely the closest women will come to death while living on this earth.
At one point the pain was so overwhelming and I pleaded, “I don’t know if I can do this anymore!” To which Marlene gently but firmly replied, “You can and you are.” In the water again, which Marlene, Annie, or Josh would come periodically with a pot of boiling water to keep the temperature at around one hundred degrees, I started feeling urges to push after the mucus plug came out and the pool filled with slimy red “seaweed.” Now I really needed Joshua to hold onto during these new stronger sensations. I remember once he left during a rest to go to the bathroom, and though I felt another push coming on, I tried as much as possible to stave it off so he could get back. The anticipation of having to push without his body and love there was unbearable.
At ten o’clock the contractions’ pain subsided but were accompanied now with uncomfortable (to say the least) pushes. I felt myself letting out some poop on some of them and Marlene would just fish them out with the skimmer we’d been using the past couple weeks to remove mosquitoes from the outdoor pool. But my alimentary functions were beyond my control at this point. There was so much downward and outward energy within my body and the energy itself didn’t discriminate which correct door to use – like people escaping a burning building. My vocal energy too was past my own conscious ability. I began making noises of which I never imagined myself capable. However, Marlene did try to urge me to make lower, guttural noises; doing which would help push the baby down, she told me. It was remarkable how this did really help. I literally could feel the baby moving when I concentrated on focusing my cries out the root and not out the mouth. I was conscious for a moment about the front door being slightly open for some fresh air, and neighbors being able to hear the ‘domestic violence,’ but I was long past being able to do anything to quiet my cries.
I got out of the tub again and since Marlene suggested that I stick my finger up the birth canal to feel for the baby’s head, in order to get a better sense of where to push. On the next push I did that and felt the melon! Not too far either, but I would have to quickly learn how to now direct my pushes ‘into my hand’ (she suggested that I keep my hand at the opening while pushing.) For the next few, I wasn’t quite getting it so she had me lean back into Joshua with my butt on the floor and each leg bent and level with my head, one held by Annie and one by Marlene. These were extremely painful because I wasn’t in my preferred position on my knees, but I was able to feel the baby’s head push further against my hand. I guess I was getting tired because Marlene asked me, “Are you with me?” I answered in a dazed, “What do you mean?” “Your eyes are rolling back into your head. You’re getting tired. Annie, hook her up to the oxygen.” So for the rest of the labor I had supplementary oxygen feeding my nostrils, although the tubes weren’t quite fitting and I remember having to support them as I went through the painful contractions. But I did like the cool feeling of the fresh air channeled directly into my body without my even having to breathe.
Then, after a few more pushes, Marlene said I should get on my feet and Josh, sitting on the ottoman, would support me from behind while I squatted and braced my hands on the rim of the pool. I think now during the pushes I was crying tears, and again I remember giving a pleading look to Marlene. Why wasn’t she helping me?! And as if reading my desperate mind she looked me in the eye and stated, “This is the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do.” I could now feel the head crowning and Marlene told me not to push to give the yoni a moment to stretch. Although my mentality was pretty much off at this agonizing point, I do remember not believing what my body was doing at that moment. I was in awe of my nature. When I could feel the baby’s body halfway out, I could feel the acute pain of tearing along with the pressure of the pushing. Afterward, Joshua told me I shouted, “Get it out!!!” although I do not remember this.
At 11:27, I felt a great release and heard the baby’s cries. I looked down and was amazed at seeing the long, curly gray cord coming from the baby and going inside me. “Our baby? Our baby?” I asked in an elated daze and followed my own stupid questions with immediate, “Praise God! Praise God!” Marlene was holding the baby low and I asked, “Boy or girl?” But before she answered I looked below the cord and saw it was a girl! “A girl!” I exclaimed so surprised, and so, so happy to say, “Our daughter!” They handed her to me and helped me back into the pool that just filled with blood. Marlene and Annie suctioned out her airways and told Joshua, who was filled with tears, to rub her back. Then he looked at and fell in love with his daughter, and this is what life is all about! He will always remember how alert she was right from those beginning moments. I meanwhile couldn’t stop shaking because of all the adrenaline, and soon, still holding the baby, I felt an urge to push. Out came the placenta and I winced. Marlene actually looked alarmed and asked me, “What’s wrong? That shouldn’t have hurt at all.” I don’t know if I answered her, but I felt much better when it was out. I kept kissing our daughter’s head, saying, “I love you Qohelet Aspen. I love you. Praise God.” Joshua and I kissed and this moment was the best in my life.
Nikki-Rosa, I too feel blessed, quite happy, in our poverty. Remember when we grew all that spinach and lettuce in our little garden, and we would hear the baby coo as she nursed, and we sat in the birth tub in the back yard like it was a hot tub, and saw the fawns as their mother left them for the day in the overgrown grasses adjacent to our yard. We made drinks out of all our fresh fruit, and snuck in a few moments to lay side by side in the afternoons when work was slow to rub each other’s backs, and the townspeople liked us and cooked us meals when the baby was born, and we’d stop by the lake after shopping in the city and you’d strip down and go for swims, and when we’d have a little free time you would draw and I would write, and we’d lie in bed at night and read The Poem of the Man-God and all five volumes lasted us a few years, and in her first couple weeks Qohelet would lie in between us and we’d wake up in the morning beside an angel. The potato plants on the south side of the house kept growing so it didn’t matter that we forgot to harvest them before the frozen ground got too hard, and we liked when our landlady came by to visit, and the mountains seemed to keep going to heaven whereas before they closed us in, and God spoke to us through the town priests and children, and we danced with our little girl in our little music room, and sunlight would pour in through the bay window in the morning as she fed, and the aloe, basil, and senetti plants thrived in the windowsill, and we fed the deer and chipmunks and birds strawberry tops and celery ends, and we would go around town visiting our favorite dogs, and we spooned in the sun at the music festival (in the back so we would not hurt Qoey’s ears.) And Henry comes by to drop off homemade cauliflower soup and bread and Palisade peaches and hopes the baby’s silence in church does not last forever because, “We need to hear her because it kicks us out of complacency and moves us into love and empathy for you guys.” For us, the “quintessential lovebugs.”
And I want to remember our first conscious connection, ‘This is my mama/This is my daughter’ while at Jenna’s baby shower. A conversation was going on among Jenna and some of her friends in the family room, but I was transfixed with the one-month-old in my lap staring up at me and making big smiles. Every so often I’d look up and try to be engaged in the conversation, but love would overwhelm me and I would look back down at Qoey and she’d still be looking up at me with a cherubic grin. Does she feel what I feel? That tremendous tenderness that led me to knowing the Christ? Or is it just a mother’s love? Our house is a mess these days due to the influx of baby stuff (Grandma Ione says that’s just how it is: with babies come stuff,) we’re all sleeping in the music room while our bedroom furniture is scattered among the rest of the house as he insulates the bedroom, and the new puppy, Shyaphru-Beshi, who chews on sticks and chews her food into small crumbles and leaves them all over three rooms. But it’s true these are the happiest days.
© 2014, Amaya Engleking