Herstory: The Night I Met Lucas
Friday, September 15th, 2017: 6:45 AM
39 weeks 5 days
This isn’t a drill
It’s been about a week since we’ve arrived in Dallas to stay with Wil’s aunt and uncle, waiting for Hurricane Irma’s rage to calm and the storm to pass.
Wil wakes me up to have breakfast and start getting ready so we can pack the cars and begin our drive back home to FL. I struggle to keep my eyes open and fall in and out of sleep as I try to rise. But it doesn’t take long for my focus to shift as I start feeling concentrated tension in my center (before I’ve even attempted to rise from my stack of 6 pillows). As they continue to return every few minutes, I agree to let Wil time them with my contraction tracker app. Though he didn’t seem too convinced there was a pattern, I’m convinced he was too tired to see the consistency when they first began.
Although my contractions were coming at 5 minutes apart, Wil didn’t seem to notice a pattern since the duration of each varied. He thought it was a “false” start. But I could feel it wasn’t.
As I got up and started getting ready—slowly attempting to eat a plate of fried eggs, avocado, and toast while simultaneously dressing—my tension gradually continued to grow in length and intensity to the point that I felt the constant need to be near the toilet.
After making several trips back and forth to the bathroom, I ended up locking myself in there as I rode out the waves that clearly weren’t subsiding. It was around this point that Wil seemed to take what was happening more seriously. His demeanor revealed nervousness, readiness, and acceptance at once as I gradually gave in to instinctual urges to use my voice, the way my friend Sue (who taught our Birthing from Within class) encouraged me to when I struggled to let go during our pain-coping exercises.
Being situated in Wil’s aunt and uncle’s one-bedroom apartment (which they had graciously let us and his parents have for the stay) quickly transformed our space into my nest for the first five hours of labor. Shortly after it had begun (time was really non-existent to me at this point), his parents went out to let us be alone [and to use a bathroom since I had camped out in the only one available].
The liminal space
For the next several hours I wandered from the bed to the floor and to the living room dropping low and surrendering to the waves overcoming me with long and bellowing open-mouthed cries. Occasionally, I directed my groans into a pile of pillows (afraid I’d scare the neighbors), but throughout most of this time I used my voice without shame or inhibition.
Once it had become clear that this was labor day, Wil got to texting our doula (hundreds of miles away) and dear Sue. Sue was sending her encouragement from all the way back home, reaching out to her community who were lighting candles for us as we entered into Labor land. A moment of comic relief still stands out when she asked, “How do you feel?!” and without a thought I replied, “Like a cow!”
I didn’t exactly mean that because I was huge, but rather because I literally sounded like a cow mooing. I hadn’t connected with the wild instinct of a birthing tiger or lion— but a heifer!
Sacred as the animal is, I couldn’t help but laugh when she replied, “Ha! Yes, well, that’s par for the course! How are you feeling mentally?” My thoughts were minimal at the time and I had already started slipping into the liminal space that would give way to the “Lucy” brain, though I still felt mentally strong. See Birthing from Within for the story about Lucy and the birthing instinct.
Though I had already made it into my own zone, with a tunnel vision around me as I focused on one thing to ride the waves, Wil’s loving support and unwavering presence was the foundation of that safe space. Shortly after venturing to the living room and sinking to my knees once again, I catch him snapping a photo as I come up from another contraction. Bewildered that he was trying to capture a moment when I looked a hot mess, I asked if he was seriously taking a picture— to which he so sincerely replied, “You look so beautiful”. The blessing to have this life partner still feels unreal at times.
After calling my midwife and back and forth texts with the doula back in FL, Wil began suggesting we head to the hospital already as the steady, regular contractions were closing in at less than 5 minutes apart. After 4.5-5 hours of laboring at home, my contractions had narrowed down to 2 minutes apart and were lasting about 1 minute long.
Initially, I was reluctant to Wil’s suggestion to head to the hospital because I felt like I hadn’t put in enough work.
There was no way I was ready!
Surely I needed to spend several more hours at home before we’d be ready to go! Surely he wasn’t going to arrive just yet, was he?!
Perhaps part of me was nervous to meet him, nervous to officially be a mother, nervous that I wouldn’t be a competent, emotionally available mother. Or I was mostly just concerned for what environment I would find myself in once in the hospital that I had never been to, with practitioners I had never met. It was completely foreign territory and my instinct to protect our chance for bonding through this birthing process was intense. It was, after all, a major reason I decided to evacuate home due to Irma, rather than staying in a local hospital in case I went into labor during the storm. I didn’t want to be subjected to premature or unnecessary interventions due to lack of rooms in the hospital or because I was there before doing most of the active labor at home.
The Jeep ride to the hospital took a bumpy 30 minutes, but the nearer we got seemed to coincide with my contractions slowing to 3-4 minutes apart. Circling the hospital to look for parking amongst busy Dallas traffic, the nerves started to kick in as I felt I was about to relinquish more of what little control I possessed.
Because parking was far, Wil decided to stop at the emergency drop off where an ambulance was parked to take me inside. We paused and inched for several minutes before we made it through the sliding doors and finally to the front desk. With a confused look on their faces, the the nurses questioned my arrival to the emergency department (as if I wasn’t obviously in labor)…
My defenses already rising, I insisted on waiting for Wil to get back from parking before they take me to be checked. They weren’t having it. But all diplomacy and politeness went out the window when I was greeted with an assistant ready to take me in a wheelchair. I wasn’t disabled or sick!
I was in labor and capable!
After stubbornly waiting for the nurses to speak with management I was told that if I wanted to be seen I had to abide by the hospital’s policy to be wheeled in [for liability purposes]. Begrudgingly, I hobbled and plopped in the wheelchair with my two pillows and diaper bag piled atop my tiny lap space, hidden under a full round baby belly.
As we quickly wheeled through the maze of hallways I sheepishly realized why a wheelchair was necessary! It took us around 5 minutes (maybe more) to get to the floor where we needed to be.
When I arrived and had checked in, the nurse found me at nearly 6 cm dilated. I was relieved that my intense experience was in fact because I was already in active labor.
Upon being checked in to my L&D room I was welcomed to make myself comfortable in what was more of a delivery suite. Spacious and comfortable, I felt more like a queen than a hospitalized patient (as the medicalization of birth often makes women feel).
Who would have guessed?! I had researched the hospital before-hand in the case that I went into labor in Dallas, trying to find the most mother-child friendly hospital where my birth preferences would be truly respected and where I could have a vaginal birth without being pushed to have drugs or other interventions— but I hadn’t anticipated it to feel as safe as it did.
Shortly after our arrival to the room, two women arrived—doulas who volunteered to assist and support me after my doula reached out to the community just hours before. Lena and Lauren, two amazing women. Goddess-sent when I least expected it. I hadn’t realized that I would actually have a doula- much less two- until we had arrived at the hospital. Wil had mentioned it briefly while in the apartment, but I thought it was a question of should we reach out to someone my doula had mentioned. I had quickly forgotten about it until we made it to the hospital and was happy to have the support, even if I had never met them. Things were about to get really personal, but at that point I was beyond caring.
They drew a warm bath for me where I relaxed and the waves became a bit softer. Lena had brought a rag scented with essential oil for my head and neck which was soothing. After a short while I came out of the bath and continued to labor (often on all fours on the floor with a birthing ball). My voice became stronger and I was completely uninhibited, letting out the most guttural and primal groans as the evening went on and the contractions grew closer together and stronger.
We walked [shuffled] about the halls now and then, stopping and going, squatting and hugging after spending plenty of time on all fours in the room. The continued squatting finally led to my water breaking at the foot of the bed, where the hospital gown I had tried to modestly cover myself with before, ever conscious of my backside sticking out for the world to see, came off. For someone who feels self-consciiously shy about disrobing down to a bikini at the beach, I was more than comfortable to strip down to nothing before the night was done.
Though I don’t think it was my nudity that led everyone to assume this wasn’t my first experience birthing a child. Perhaps it was my comfort of being on all fours, my low primal groans, my intense and rapidly progressive labor, and “just do it” attitude that led the medical staff of nurses and doctors to believe this wasn’t my first child. As encouraging as it was to know I was “handling it well” it was hard to believe because I was just feeling my way through the entire thing. What else is there to do?! At 7 cm dilated I continued to walk, groan, and labor about like a feral woman in the wilderness. Even I wonder at my lung capacity now as I look back!
This was when it all became overwhelmingly intense. Lena and Lauren suggested I squat over the toilet and hold on to the railing for support to help further bring the baby down, and when I remember it, it feels like I was there for hours. The waves were so high, so sharp, so overbearing that I swayed and rocked in that tiny bathroom like a small boat out at sea in the middle of a monsoon. I howled and moaned, closed my eyes, bowed and raised my head with the immense sensation of life-force spilling out of my every pore.
At one point, I rocked so hard I banged my head against the plumbing pipe that rested behind the toilet, yet felt nothing as the rushes consumed the entirety of my focus. [I felt it the next day, but needed reminding of why I had a bruised head!]
The hours that it took to expand from 7 cm to 8 seemed to drag on. It felt like eternity and torture. At the suggestion of Lena, we bent backward over the birthing ball mid-contractions to try and flip Lucas from posterior (sunny side up) position [apparently this is exceedingly more painful than anterior position]. Each cervical check became increasingly unwelcome and some time later I found myself biting pillows, growling, and begging the doctor to cut the baby out of me (which wasn’t necessary, but this is not a rational state of mind moment).
Though the suggestion to have an epidural was a much milder choice than an unnecessary, major surgery, I felt like accepting drugs would pose higher risk of something going wrong and impeding the natural experience of bonding with my precious son. I was all too aware of common practices of the epidural and synthetic oxytocin cascade that occurs. I spent the time reading my fair share of birthing literature months before and didn’t want to jeopardize our first face-to-face moment, but by this point I knew that if I couldn’t relax I had a higher chance of succumbing to surgery anyway. So I accepted where I was and requested to have an epidural at the 8 cm mark.
And I’m glad I did!
Part of me felt like I had copped out. Like I was defeated. But had I not made this decision, I very likely would not have been able to rest as I did for a good two hours, dilate, and push my son out into the world. And lucky for us, Lucas decided to turn on his own as I was pushing! The moment he exited the womb was silent. Because of a double wrapped nuchal cord he couldn’t cry out. As a team of people rushed in to take care of him I panicked. What’s wrong with my baby?!
I've waited all my life to meet you
As the cord was cut, his vocal cords freed, and air passages cleared he took his first breath and my attentive partner and doula called the birth time (something I insisted on as an astrologer, but completely forgot about in the monumental moment of birth). After what seemed hours, I finally got to embrace dear Lucas against my breast. Placed on my tummy, he slowly inched his way up, ever-so-lightly pecking at my center along the way, looking for the breast. When he reached it I assisted in joining his mouth to my body to give him his first drops of golden goodness. The connection I had anticipated for so long was finally beginning and my heart exploding with the most profound love I had ever known.
This was the love I'd waited a lifetime to experience. This monumental moment offered me a healing salve to wounds I'd long carried—passed down from the women in my family. There would be more to reflect on and address, but I could feel a huge shift in my heart for mothers everywhere, across space and time. The night I met Lucas was the moment when I became a mother to all children. I suspect many mothers feel this. You don't walk away from something like birthing a human and remain the same person. You don’t see children with the same eyes, even if you were fond of them.
Birth is natural by nature
When people ask me what kind of birth I had I identify with having had a natural birth. I don’t say this to misguide because I had drugs. I say it because I had a vaginal birth. What’s more, my experience gave me a profound respect for all mothers and their personal journey to motherhood. All birth is natural! And none of it is a walk in the park.
Drugs, no drugs, vaginal, cesarean— our babies come from the womb and it is natural. Circumstances our out our control and women should not be judged or scrutinized the way they are for what “kind” of birth experience they had. I’m less impressed by women that feel the need to compare and come tell me they had a natural birth than I am by the humility of women who share a positive experience and perspective (even if it was not what they hoped for or envisioned). My birth experience feels no less “natural”. I labored for 20 hours, I pushed for 90 minutes. My son came from my body. And it was the most empowering thing I’ve ever felt.
After we were released from the hospital, a gentlemen from one of the news channels looking to offer the hospital coverage contacted us asking to interview us about our journey away from Hurricane Irma. Already insanely sleep-deprived, zombie parents concerned about Lucas’s slow start with drinking from the breast, we had no desire to put ourselves, our story, or our son out on television for the world to see. The postpartum period is hard enough, but the first week postpartum was a mind-boggling whirlwind as we struggled to get our reins.
Have you seen my heart?
The intense waves of emotion that overcame me the first few days out of the hospital felt like a simultaneous blanket of grief, fear, and the greatest joy that I never knew existed. My life was number one. But what moved me the most was how precious this new life was to me and how much I wanted to protect it, to cherish it, nurture it, and give it my everything. My heart had escaped my body and that was both beautiful and terrifying at the same time.
A caravan of travelers
Lucas was only 6 days old when we decided to drive back home, from Dallas, in our jam-packed Jeep— like a caravan of travelers—so that we could settle back in the comfort of our own nest. It took us 3 days and two hotel stays as we drove back through the southern states to our [thankfully] unscathed home. Before our journey back, Lena and Lauren stopped by to check in on us, offering their encouragement and blessings. They came into our lives so suddenly and we said goodbye just as quickly, but we forged a friendship that we hold dearly to our hearts.
Thanks to the North Dallas Doula’s Association that they were part of, I was connected to another generous woman, Meredith, who donated her services and encapsulated my placenta for me like I had planned. When she arrived to our door the morning we were leaving, she told me this was her way of paying good forward as her family was also affected by Hurricane Harvey not long before Irma.
I’m immensely touched and humbled by the love, support, and generosity of these women who showed up for another without question. When I got the chance to open my bag to take my first capsules, I found unexpected beautiful gifts that brought me to tears. A painted print which was made with my own placenta, and a piece of the umbilical cord dried and shaped into a heart (the piece that connected us from the beginning). If you’re expanding your family and in the Dallas/Fort Worth area I highly recommend connecting with Meredith of NDDA.
The photos I have from that day are not Instagram-able photos where my hair is in place, makeup done, or even a fresh looking face. My hair looks like a wild vulture’s nest on top of my head and I’ve sweat, cried, and retained no “glow”, but I still felt like a warrior goddess.
I share my story not because it’s vivid and entrancing best-seller material, but for other mothers-to-be seeking to prepare themselves, thirsty to know what awaits; for mothers seeking connection through similar experiences or perspectives; for mothers wondering how to share their story (it's up to you how you want to tell it and where that begins and ends); for my son to know where he came from; for people who wonder what happens in a normal everyday event— an event that doesn’t have to be scary, traumatic, or hidden; but most of all, I share this story for me. I needed to write this for reflection and for my future self because I want to remember this. All of it. And when pieces start to become fuzzy or when I want a walk down memory lane, to the most empowering night of my life, I'll come back to these moments and remember when Herstory was made.