Here’s what I’ve learned:
Things don’t always go as planned.
You dream of a homebirth. Of candles. Of soft music. The presence of strong, empowering women helping you through this, your first labour.
You surround yourself with them: there’s your midwife, your twin sister as your birth partner (the kind of strong woman who’s been through two homebirths already herself), your mum is there in the picture you’re making and she’s smiling, anxious but beaming. You are lucky enough to have your massage therapist offer to attend just for the experience of helping a woman through labour. You have four goddesses aiding you, touching you, whispering their love and encouragement while you descend into your belly and what lies there...
These beautiful faces surround you and walk you from room to room. They help you breathe through contractions that begin to grow closer together. That begin to grow more intense.
And then your water breaks and there’s meconium in it.
Here’s where things change from this pretty picture you’ve made…
There is zero hesitation on your part to transfer to hospital. Zero. Absolutely zilch.
Your sister battles traffic like she’s Mcgyver. Your massage therapist helps you through the stages of 6 cm dilation weaving through Wellington county in the back seat of a Toyota Tercel. She takes a photo of the license plate of the asshole who refuses to let us pass as we speed to the hospital. You watch the clouds, biting your lip and try to count them as you breathe through the sensation of having your uterus squeezed through a wringer.
Your thoughts are only on this baby within you and the journey she or he is making with you. To you. And your thoughts turn to meconium. You try to repress those ones though. They’re not helping your current sitch.
I want to talk about bravery. Courage. I’ve never seen so much of it in such a small, beautiful package. You are now 7cm dilated and been labouring for 16 hours and the pushing reflex has begun a little too early and you’re being told not to push. Don’t push. DON'T push. Don’t fucking PUUUUUSSSSSSSSHHHHHH.
It seems so small. Negligible. Three tiny centimetres of dilation separate this baby from me and my arms. It’s then I realize I don’t have the energy or stamina to handle what’s coming ‘cause what is coming is the most intense phase of labour: TRANSITION. I cave to an epidural. Naturally pitocin follows. And then the heart rate of this little package inside me begins to slow. It fluctuates, drops, then stabilizes. They flip me over back and forth like I’m a dolphin to get it back to normal. I’m thinking about waves. About each contraction as a wave. As water. Approaching the shore and then sliding away from it.
And I’m thinking about you. Only you.
Your heart rate drops and I begin to hum “dream a little dream” and watch it stabilize. I’m talking to you the entire time. I am whispering to you while 10 people wander around me: my homebirth team, doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists. I’m oblivious to anyone in the room but you – yeah, you there in my belly. You are my entire focus. You are the only one that matters.
The doctor suggests forceps and I just want to end the stress on my baby. To no longer have this little heart rate drop. Come out to me baby. Come out to my arms. The doc pulls and I push. I PUUUUSSSSSSSSHHHH.
My sister gives me the running commentary like she’s Ron Maclean: There’s the HEAD!!! The HEAD is OUT!!! Here comes the shoulder. Now the other shoulder...
And here’s where I give my final push and the absolute love of my life slithers from between my legs. They’re holding you upside down because of the meconium scare. The first thing I see is that you are a boy.
I have just given birth to my son. People are talking all around. I can’t hear them. My son. My son. My son. I have a son. I have a boy. A son. He’s mine. He’s all mine.
I have to wait to hold you. They suction your trachea and give me five minutes with you skin to skin. You are almost 10 minutes old when they place you against my breast.
So THIS is what Joy feels like. Shit, I wasn’t ready for it. I didn’t realize it was THIS all-encompassing. I feel humbled. Blown away. Breathless. I feel exhilarated and frightened. I remember this sensation while lost in the fog on the coast of the Dingle Peninsula 18 years ago. I feel a terrifying LOVE. Deeper than I’ve ever felt. WOW. Wowowowowowow. A terrible beauty is born....
We spend almost a week in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of the local hospital. I move through this week sleep-deprived, like a zombie. Everything I do, say, breathe is done for you. I make pacts with gods I didn’t know I believed in. I double pinky promise everything so you’ll be okay. We are surrounded by preemies barely clinging to life, screaming their lungs out and you and I cling to each other like rafts in this ocean we're swimming right now. I feel lucky. You are full term. I feel so luckyluckylucky. I repeat it like this refrain is a bouy to embrace in this lake of doubt, confusion, fear. The boy in my arms. I listen to conflicting opinions as to what constitutes progress and I nearly go insane wondering which one will be the one that releases us to just go home. Just you and me. Home together. Safe. Away from all this. Away from these leads on your body. Away from this monitor. Away from that IV tube in your tiny, fragile head. Away from that damned nasogastric tube stuck down your tiny little nose that everyone says is my nose.
Last night was Victoria Day. I sit on the fourth floor by the hospital window in the dark with you sucking at my breast and the night sky is lighting up again. I can hear the boom of fireworks in the distance. But see, I get confused. ‘Cause I can't tell if they are shooting off inside me. In the core of my heart as I hold you instead of simply showering over Victoria Park a few blocks away. I’m banking on the first scenario.
It was 11 years ago today that I lost my first baby via miscarriage and, as we are finally released from hospital, I step across the threshold of my farmhouse tonight holding you, my son, in my arms and I look back at this journey I’ve made. The journey of 11 years. The journey of 9 months. The journey of a 21 hour labour. The journey of the last week. Your beautiful, devoted, selfless aunt drives us home through the country and I feel like I’ve been gone forever. The world looks different. Everything is so green. Was it this green last week? Was the sunset this beautiful? Were the clouds this white and fluffy and perfect? I don’t think so.
The world has changed. My world feels as new as yours.
I look at you now lying in your bassinette. You are swaddled and cozy. Three little owls, your spirit siblings, the ones I lost before you, float over where you sleep and keep a watchful eye. We are home. It’s just you and me now. BOOM. Those fireworks are still exploding in my heart.
Goddamn I love you. My starry, starry knight.
Photography: Courtesy of my twin sister
Music: Starry, Starry Night, Don Maclean