My May baby. As you made the conviction that you were ready to be born into this world and slip today, May 19, 2016 from eternity into this strange design of time and measures, I ate the first cherries of the season. Once again and forever, these cherries taste sweeter when I talk to God.
At around 12:45am, some cramping woke me up but I didn’t think much of it since I’d been having irregular cramping for weeks. Plus, my due date was still three days away and I’d been convinced because of Qohelet’s birth that there was no way this baby was going to play by the rules either. But after about an hour of laying in the dark under almost-full moon-shine while the mild rushes came about every ten minutes or so, I asked Joshua not to go to work today. We heard Qoey stirring so while my husband went to put her back to sleep, I boiled water for tea and stacked a bunch of towels, hydrogen peroxide, wash cloths, Chux pads, and sterile gloves on the kitchen counter.
For the next couple hours under a strand of Christmas lights, I laid on the futon breathing through the 8-7-6-5 minute apart contractions while during the breaks, Joshua rubbed my back and prayed the rosary. I thought it so lovely that I was able to spend these early hours of labor chewing on cherries and sipping raspberry tea. The Hail Mary’s, Our Father’s, and Glory Be’s added to the serenity of what was going to be a sacred day for our family. I had been relatively fearful about this day compared to Qoey’s birth because now I knew what the out-of-this world pain of labor felt like and what I’d have to endure again. Last time when the first of the many back labor contractions hit me, I was told that it was my time to suffer with Jesus on the cross. Now with the sweet cherry juice, I also swallow the truth of what it means to give your enemy not only one but both cheeks to strike, to face the pain with a cutting perspicacity that reminds me of Psalm 91. “A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but evil shall not come nigh thee.” Baby and I were going to get through this birth experience by going straight into it.
At almost four we decided to call Heather, the midwife, because everyone had told us that second babies usually come in half the time as the first, and since she lived about an hour away; I just felt like we should give her a heads up and get her input. After listening to me breathe through a contraction, she said she’d shower and head over. I have loved her organic way of doing things all throughout the pregnancy. She didn’t weigh me, I never had an ultrasound, she didn’t test my urine, and only pricked my finger to see my iron level once. Prenatal visits had all been at our house and consisted mostly of her putting her hands on my womb to feel the baby, checking my blood pressure and Baby’s heart rate, and just talking about anything on my mind. Even after the birth, at our three-day postpartum checkup, Heather came by and stayed for an hour and a half revisiting the birth from her perspective and opening up about her calling to the midwife vocation, akin to a priest being called to a religious life. So before we hung up the phone, she said that there’s no need to time the contractions anymore but to sink into a space filled with prayer and rest.
When she arrived we continued what we were doing while she checked heart rate and blood pressure, then took a nap on the alpaca wool. At around six our daughter woke up and the contractions pretty much stalled. I felt like her presence pulled me up to the surface as I thought about her needs like I did every other day. I felt bad about calling the designated baby-sitter, Amy, so early so I decided we’d have an hour of family time and then make the call. When I talked to her on the phone she said she’d take Qoey to school with her that day since she had to work but didn’t hesitate for even a moment to come and get her. What love!
With Qoey out of the house, we were all able to reestablish our intent for the day and while Heather and Joshua ate scrambled eggs and veggies and I had my four bites that I had promised Heather I would eat for energy (I didn’t want to eat anything but the cherries); I put the Mantra of Avalokiteshvara on the stereo and chanted, bent over the birth ball.
After breakfast Joshua began the birth tub scenario (“It’s always a comedy,” says Heather) and sure enough we would also not let that prophecy go unfulfilled, as we soon learned that our shop vac didn’t blow, but only sucked. So Joshua began filling it manually with our birth ball pump and the “elk call” wheezes this made coupled with another anticipated forty-five minutes or so of this “music” was enough to send Heather laughing and out the door into town to grab a cup of coffee.
By the time she returned, the tub was blown up and my contractions were stronger, so I changed music to Arvo Pärt and other ethereal songs and just groaned heavily and low through all the waves, remembering from last labor to send the energy downward. Since the back labor was not bad like it was last time, it actually helped to walk around and sway from side to side. At one point Heather said softly and full of meaning, “You’re dancing with your baby.” My love for Baby throughout labor was overwhelming. Any time Joshua or Heather mentioned something like, “We’re going to be holding the baby in our arms today,” a wave of love crashed over me and I would start a gentle cry, knowing this was the truth.
The tub comedy continued when for some reason they discovered the water heater was only feeding cold water into the hose. Luckily Joshua remembered from shutting off our water when we left town over Christmas (high-altitude living, haha) that there was a hot water tap in the crawlspace. And I was oblivious to all of the logistics of water birth by this point, when I didn’t want to even hear music anymore. I just know I was so relieved when Heather said I could now get into the tub, which didn’t make the contractions any more bearable but was extremely relaxing in between them, with Joshua beside me offering sips of grape juice from our daughter’s neon cup.
After laboring for an hour in the water, Heather thought I should get out and try different positions, because at that point the body had adjusted to the water and temperature so that it no longer had an analgesic effect. The contractions were coming one on top of the other by now, and while I was in the midst of an especially long and hard one, I looked pleadingly at my husband right as a huge gush of water came out of me and nervy-Joshua jumped back with surprise. “Your water bag broke!” exclaimed Heather. “This will increase the pressure.” Not something I wanted to hear in the throes of this pain but I knew I couldn’t stave off the inevitable either.
Soon I was back in the tub and I intermittently had the urge to push during contractions. This sensation was confusing to my body and to Heather, who at one point said, “If you’re going to push you’re going to need to lift up your leg.” So she checked me and saw that there was still just a tiny amount of cervix in the way, creating all the confusion. I still had work to do. Joshua helped me to breathe through the pain and laid cold wash cloths on my forehead, because I was being shaken by the energy of the surges and allowing it to escape out of my mouth rather than focusing it downward. How did Jesus do it, offering up his other cheek? It’s one thing to preach it when your pain and enemies are in the periphery, but when it’s happening and the persecution and suffering are real, and they’re actually nailing palms and feet into wooden beams, how is it possible to do what you said you should do? How can one be so pure? Like birth, a miracle.
A few contractions later Heather checked me again and said I could trust my body to push now: the cervix was completely out of the way. But I was scared. As I felt the baby’s head enter the birth canal, my mind and body remembered what it felt like to do this excruciating part. I said no. The contractions stopped. Heather knelt next to me and looked me in the eye and said, “Amaya, it’s your baby. Your baby’s coming.” She said some other affirmative words about the women who throughout time have ‘danced this dance’ and about how hard this ‘gift of labor’ really is, but unconditional love was all I needed to remember.
As she went to get another pot of water to pour into the tub, this love fueled me through the oncoming wave and I knew this was it. With Joshua right behind me, sweet good God, I felt the baby move down and I wasn’t going to stop this movement. I screamed with pain letting Heather know that this was it and she ran over as I guided the baby’s head out. “Help me!” And I cannot believe it that afterward Heather said it was four minutes in between the birth of the head and the birth of the rest of the body. I guess it was a grace that it all seemed to happen so quickly, within seconds. The baby’s arms were crossed around the shoulders so Heather had to reach all the way in, hook her hand under the baby’s armpit, and pull the baby out. I felt the searing pain of the tear as the baby was completely born and Heather lifted the baby from the water and onto my body. “Praise God! Our baby! Our baby!”
That first glimpse of those eyes — that little squirming thing inside me has eyes! — and the feel of the warm, slippery, body against my chest, and oh, the first time you hear your baby’s voice… I just want to do it all over again for this moment alone.
But the gifts keep coming! Just this morning, a week after our second daughter, Salome Medo, came into the world, the sunrise rays poured into our bedroom as the two of us woke up peacefully lying next to each other and I nursed her; while my husband laid Qohelet next to us and gave her a bottle of mama’s milk I pumped yesterday. I held my older daughter’s hand. Bountiful milk and love flowing through this family these days, as Qoey kisses her sister’s tiny, soft head and says, “I love you, Mei Mei.”
My May baby, we are blessed.
© 2016, Amaya Engleking