“… a woman must go to the place between this world and the next, to that thin membrane between here and there. To the place where life comes from, to the mystery, in order to reach over to bring forth the child that is hers. The heroic tales of Odysseus are with us, each ordinary day. This round woman is not going into battle, but she is going to the edge of her being where every resource she has will be called on to assist in this journey…We are not a culture that waits for anything, nor are we believers in normal birth; waiting for a baby can feel like insanity.”
1. work, especially hard physical work.
When I was still pregnant, I had a conversation with my best friend about past labor experiences, namely how our mental state affected the outcome. Our hopes and fears all manipulated our sense of control. We reflected on all the ways our thoughts are interconnected with how our bodies functioned in labor… So having “been there, done that”, I thought I knew what I was getting into the second time around.
My water broke a week after my due date. We went into the hospital around 2am on a snowy Sunday night. I thought it was going to be really fast process since my 1st birth was about 6 hours from start to finish. With this one, I was disappointed to find out that an hour after my water broke I was only around 2 centimeters. Although I was contracting (not very strong contractions though), this led me to feel like I should have stayed home longer, (which was too late a this point since being Strep B positive, I needed to get hooked up to an IV for antibiotics.)
Upon arrival, I was greeted by lovely nurses who were joking around and in a good moods. It was confirmed that I had some meconium (baby poop) in my waters, but not enough to be concerned about. Then I was checked by a young resident, who was nice but inexperienced. He said something to me about offering me a “special medicine” in the morning if I hadn’t “progressed”. Poor dude didn’t know who he was talking to and I am sure he was surprised when I said I am NOT interested in taking pitocin (I know that names of your “special medicine”!) … Interventions have their time and place when needed, but I trusted my body to do its thing in its own time.
Little did I know how much this trust in myself and in biology was going to be tested during this labor.
As the hours sped by and soon turned into a full day and night, it was becoming clear that no amount of walking, squatting, or birth ball bouncing was enough to get active labor started! My nerves were getting raw. My labor started so quickly last time it felt like I was being carried away by a strong stormy current- no amount of resistance could hold it back- with my last labor, as in my previous relationship to myself and others-life just happened and I simply reacted and went along for the ride. This labor was different. It wasn’t going to just do the work for me. There needed to be more give from me, but I needed to figure that out…
I was disappointed that due to the meconium in my water I had to be continually monitored. This was already a trigger from my first pregnancy (even though that was 6 years ago)- because I associated that belly monitor with giving medical staff the reason for starting unnecessary interventions. Luckly, this hospital and my new Dr. didn’t come in and bother with me at all. I was waiting for the ground to be pulled up from underneath me, but other than checking my vitals and putting in my IV I wasn’t being pressured about my progress. I was upset that I could barely walk around with the monitor without it somehow slipping off, making the heart rate unreadable… I thought “If I couldn’t walk around then this baby was never coming out!” My doula and nurses kept trying though, and eventually – after several hours- got the monitor to stay working long enough for me to walk and that helped get a few strong contractions going.
I know they say not to go into childbirth with any expectations, but I had already broken that rule. I not only expected my labor to have started already (I mean, my water broke!) I also passed that judgment on to my doula and husband, who I feared were some how disappointed things were taking so long. I said no thanks to suggestions of nipple stimulation at first especially via a breast pump- because I assumed it was more trouble than it was worth- I was gonna start hard labor anyyyyyy minute right now, right?- but also because of some deeper fears that I didn’t realize I felt. I finally said yes to the pump late that night cause we had to keep trying everything we could. I assumed that I was on that “24 hours of breaking water” deadline before I’ld be forced some sort of intervention. After talking of the Doctor’s assistant, I was assured that there was no rush, they knew the baby was fine since it was constantly monitored and that I was guarded against infection due to the antibiotic IV drip. It really was just up to me.
The pump was a surprising trigger that reminded me of the last time I used one- when I was worn out, depleted physically and emotionally, in pain, lacking support from my partner and others… All these years and this new life later, and I was still triggered? Clearly I had some internal work to do before this baby could come out… about 24 hours in, I decided I needed some rest. We turned the lights low and I ended up sleeping for a couple of hours.
That must have been all I needed to get my mind right cause at about 3:30 am, I was stirred awake by some stronger than usual contractions. At first I didn’t pay them any mind and tried to go back to sleep, but after a few I realized there was a pattern developing. This was it!
I was so thankful for every contraction, moving me closer to meeting this baby! I welcomed the pressure that was moving downward and I squatted with every contraction. As they got stronger, I was reminded of the massive rush the last time. This was different. The waves moved slower and I had more control. I imagined myself reaching for “that thin membrane between here and there”. This child, I felt, was increasingly within reach, in that place between worlds. I still feared all the waiting though. I was worried that this wasn’t really it.
In a moment of clarity I looked at the time, it was about 5am. Dawn. Fajr.
Growing up I was lucky enough to live with my extended family including my Teta (grandma). She was widowed fairly young and as a result become more devout. She wore the hyjab, studied the Quran and prayed five times a day, never missing her call to prayer, even that very early Fajr. She was the one who was home when I came home from school each day. Who made sure I ate and prayed and did my homework. She retaught me how to read Arabic after we immigrated to the states- after my new language pushed the Arabic to the back of my mind. Being a natural storyteller, she shared descriptions of Palestine so vividly that I felt like I’ld actually tasted the salty Yaffa air, smelled my ancestors orange groves after a rain, and felt the roar of the rockets as they flew over her house in ’48. Teta is 85 now and is remembering her words less and less. Whatever gender this baby was going to be, we already decided they were going to have her name- Ismat-a turkish name from the time of the Ottoman occupation of Palestine meaning Protector.
I remember what Teta said to me about Fajr- about it being the most important of all the prayer times. She said when you ring in the dawn with the Fajr prayer, you set the right path for your entire day because Allah will be with you through it all. I always considered how simply witnessing a sunrise felt magical. Watching a new day unfold in quiet stillness held the promise of so many possibilities, it made sense to me that she would call Fajr the most important time for prayer. As the pressure and tighting of my contractions increased, I remembered her words. I remembered the patience and power of a brightening sky. I remembered the role of stillness and was reminded to let go of any fears.
For only the second time since I was admitted to the hospital, my progress was checked. “8 centimeters”. I was so giddy! Finally! This was happening! That’s when I also realized that oh 8 centimeters! I am entering transition…! Just then, a nurse came in and asked if I wanted to move to room 4… aka: first class labor suite, aka; the shower!! Knowing what I knew about transtion being fast yet very intense I said lets go! As soon as we moved in there it was non-stop close together contractions that thankfully had the edge knocked out of them in the shower. It got to a point where even the water wasn’t much of a relief and I knew that it was time. I alternated holding on to the bed, my doula and my partner during each rush. I was getting so tired that I was literally falling asleep between contractions! Soon I was feeling the urge the push and again-thankfully was only directed by the medical staff to do what my body was telling me to do. This was hard at first since I never felt the urge to push with my first child and it took me some time to assimilate to the new sensation. At this point my doula was my lifesaver- she guided and urged me to focus my energy downward instead of out- to use the rush of the contraction to move the baby down. She helped me focus on my breathing, to direct it downward and use it to my advantage. Every woman should have a doula! Without a doubt, I wouldn’t have gotten through it without her!
At around 8am, my Dr. came in to check me after a few spontaneous pushes and said, “you are at 10 and the head is at 0”.
I asked, “What’s the number we’re going for again?”
“0! Go ahead and push all you want. What position do you want to be in?”
“Ummm?” Being asked mid-contraction was a bit challenging…
“You seem to be doing great right there squatting on the bed, go for it!”
…So, I did. I again focused my energy downward and pushed when I felt the urge. As the head moved down, I paused to take in the new sensations. It was uncomfortable but so much better than still being in transition! At least now it felt like all that hard work my body was doing was getting somewhere to pushing! After about 20 minutes of pushing, I was asked to put my hand down to touch the head. I was terrified! Why would I want to do that? After more coaxing I finally put my hand down and was surprised how soft and spongy the baby’s head was. With renewed energy and purpose I kept pushing. The baby plopped out all slippery! How funny and gross! And then he promptly sprayed baby poop on everyone! He cried all on his own, got wiped up then was placed on me… where he then peed on me…lovely!
A big thank you to the good folks at Memorial Hospital, my doula Jessica, my friends and family that came through with gifts and goodies and my husband Christopher!
Introducing baby boy Meena Ismat Samih-Rotondo!