Birth Story

"it is five a.m. and the sun has charred the other side of the world and come back to us." it is five a.m. and i am stirred by a tensing in my belly, pressing on my bladder. this is nothing shocking, nothing new. this has become my life in these 15 days of delayed baby. i get up to pee, and for the first time in months, more than a few teaspoons of liquid trickles out. a lot more. i am confused. i am terrified of hoping that this is my amniotic sac sprung a leak and seeping down my leg. in my life, "maybe" always means "no". it has been 15 days since my due date. i am done waiting. i am through with hope. i am swollen from my spine to my navel with so much hope i can’t stand it anymore. we had tried every home induction and wives tale in the book to no avail: primrose oil, blue cohash, black cohash, sex, orgasms, swimming, spicy food, bouncing, nipple stimulation, castor oil, stripping the membranes, foot massage, spinal realignment, long walks and a raspberry tea leaf enema. and yet here is this trickling down my leg as i get back into bed and then another contraction. i check the clock and try to rest. in lieu of sleep, i periodically watch the time and realize that approximately every ten minutes another contraction comes. knowing that my husband has just recently fallen asleep due to a lifetime of insomnia, i let him be…

at seven, my mom got up for work. i got out of bed and went downstairs. i told her my water broke. she got the doppler and listened to the heart rate. it was fine. she asked if she should stay home. i told her to go ahead and go to work because i wasn't sure how long it would be. mom said i would have the baby today. i felt giddy. finally he was on his way. i ate breakfast and folded laundry, contractions still coming every ten minutes, maybe closer. at eight my mom left. i tried calling the backup OB's office to let them know i wasn't coming in to talk about induction.

at eight thirty, i woke jon up. he was groggy but immediately jumped up and got in the shower. i started to make the bed with two sets of sheets and the plastic cover, but had to stop because the contractions didn't let me focus outside of myself any longer. for some reason i wanted to be downstairs. i started to pace around, not knowing what to do. i wanted to get the bed made, but didn't want to go back upstairs. i guess i was afraid of getting stuck up there. i would stop and lean against the dining room table during contractions. they weren't really painful at this point, but the pressure was mounting and i had to breathe through them.

the lay midwife happened to call for my mother and jon talked to her. he gave me the phone and i had to tell her to hang on for a contraction. i leaned against the table and once i could talk again said, "okay," then told her when it was over. she said it was about 45 seconds long. i didn't know what to tell her, but she recommended that we call my mother back home. i stopped for another contraction and handed the phone off to jon because it was more work than the last. she told him they were three minutes apart. he got off the phone and paged my mom, then called the photographer, our friend sarah who was going to be there to help out and our other parents to tell them i'd started labor. my sisters, natalie and lilllian, got up and became pretty excited. they made me cinnamon toast and got me gatorade. my step-father, jim, was out feeding the animals.

i sat on the floor between the wall and the dining room table. during contractions would get up on my hands and knees and moan. i had been having irregular contractions for a week and was already dilated to three, but these contractions were more in my lower back. the pressure on my low back was becoming more painful and everything was becoming gradually and evenly more intense.

my mom got back at about 9:30 - an hour and a half after she'd left. she got my sisters to start setting up the birth pool and listened to the baby. she recommended that i get out from between the wall and the bench and go into the living room. she said to try out the bean bag chair. i labored there for a while, moaning through contractions, starting to seriously lose my head.

everyone arrived between 11 and 12:30. jan started taking pictures and sarah jumped in to do counter-pressure on my back. i got on the birth ball, leaning on jon with sarah pressing hard on my low back. mom put on the norah jones cd, which was really nice and burnt a sage incense wand. i smelled it when she first lit it – i could smell the sulfur of the match and asked what it was, but sarah and jon didn’t know what i was talking about because they couldn’t smell it all the way in the kitchen.

mom brought me a rosie the riveter shirt to wear instead of the nightgown i’d had on. natalie, lilly, and sarah kept cool washcloths for my head. natty filled up the bathroom sink with water and ice and several washcloths so they didn’t have to take the same one away to re-wet it every time. i remember she was proud of her innovation.

this is where my memory of the order of things starts to get hazy. i was in such a haze – completely in laborland. i moaned and wailed through the contractions. i tried to find positions that were comfortable and completely used jon and sarah physically to rely on to support me when i couldn’t support myself and massage me to relieve the pain. during contractions i struggled to get my torso higher to let my uterus move the boulder in my belly lower.

the norah jones cd ended and some classical music came on that was from the olympic games and i said, “what the hell is this music?” mom stopped the cd and said, “i know what she wants to hear.” and i knew that she did. she went and found her al green box set, put all four disks in the cd player and hit shuffle. i know that the music played the rest of the labor, but i have no recollection of hearing it.

they told jim to boil water for the swimming pool since we were out of hot water, which made him really excited because it was just like in the movies. i finally let my mom check me and i was dilated to 4 cm. jon and i walked around some, stopping in the kitchen for a contraction. i stood and rocked a bit, but it was harder to relieve the back pain while i was standing.

i got in the pool for a little while, which did help the back pain at first. in fact, as i was getting in, my contractions let up for a couple of minutes. at first i relished the relief, but then i started to worry that things were stalling. just then, the contractions came back full force. i went to the bathroom then came back to the pool. my mother said that my father had called. i remember thinking that i should respond to this or call him back or something, but was completely unable to do so. he called periodically throughout the day and kept my step-mother and step-siblings up to speed. they seemed to think that it took a very long time for the baby to come, but to me it went by quickly.

pressure was building inside of me and i felt a strong urge to poop. jon and i went into the bathroom. i insisted that it was just jon because i didn’t want everyone watching me poop. everyone else took a break and ate sushi that jim had brought home from his errands. jan told me later that tuesday said, “i love this part. i know she feels terrible, but it means the baby’s almost here.”

the contractions were nonstop at this point, though because of the back pain they had never been clearly defined anyway. i told jon that i felt like i wanted to crawl out of my skin. during contractions i would lean my full weight on him and make him pull on my lower back with his hands from where he sat in front of me, all while he was squatting down on his haunches. i asked him if he wanted a towel to sit on, but he declined.

my mom came in to check me, which i didn’t want her to do, but she assured me that i was close enough that it wouldn’t hurt quite as badly as before. she said i was 7 to 8 centimeters. i think that i sort of began to push there in the bathroom, but it was more because i kept thinking i needed to poop than about getting the baby out. he was moving down the birth canal, but it all felt like pain to me.

we went back to the living room, which i didn’t think i could do. i got on my hands and knees on the bean bag chair again, this time with the birth ball to lean on to help me lift my torso up higher. i think they grabbed the ball in desperation as i growled about not being high enough. i started feeling incredibly nauseous and someone brought a bowl for me to vomit in. i threw up several times and totally lost my head. the contractions were building to a crescendo and i couldn’t do anything. i was totally and uncontrollably in my body. i kept struggling to get my torso higher to allow my uterus the room to stretch, to open and push down unobstructed by my insides. i couldn’t support my own weight and started to fall asleep between contractions. everything was a panicked rush of struggling to get higher, vomiting and desperately searching for a more comfortable positioning. it was a little like being drunk to the point of sickness, falling asleep on a bathroom floor between vomiting… occasionally i'd scream as loud as i could, though it wasn’t a b-movie horror flick scream, but a deep-throated howling. i was flailing my whole body uncontrollably as i couldn’t support my weight and couldn’t stand the pain i was in.

they put me back in the pool, now completely naked (though i don’t know when exactly that happened) and i felt nauseous and flailed some more. someone said as i was getting in the pool that i was close and was bringing my baby, trying to remind me that there was a purpose to my agony and reassuring me that everything was right, but i said, “i don’t want a baby, i want an epidural.” my mom said that she had the midwife’s epidural ( the pool) and put me in the water. i said that i couldn’t do it and thought to myself how i really didn’t want to anymore. everything my body did was trying to find a way out of the situation. all my movements were frantic and uncontrolled. i kept saying i couldn’t do it, even though i knew that i had to. even as i thrashed around in the water, it occurred to me how much worse it would have been if we had gone to our appointment with the backup ob that morning and had had to go in for an induction on monday and i’d had to have the baby in the hospital. i was glad that i hadn’t been given pitocin and wasn’t stranded in a hospital bed. i couldn’t imagine how much worse a pitocin drip would have been.

mom and tuesday tried to listen to the heart rate with the doppler, but couldn’t get a good listen because of the water and my thrashing. they were able to hear that the heart rate was dropping during contractions which i was now definitely pushing through. someone asked if i was pushing, though i think they just said it out loud, not directly to me, but i couldn’t answer anyway. they tried to get me to calm down and to breathe. they had jon breathing slow and deep, in through the nose and out through the mouth for me to mimic, but all i could do was hyperventilate. i guess because of the dip in the heart rate, they wanted me to breathe deeply and slowly down to the baby to give him oxygen, so tuesday got the oxygen out and put the mask on me. jon kept breathing slow and loud and i held onto him, trying to breathe with him, but still breathing too fast and moaning and screaming and pushing. considering the feeling of it all now, i can only think that i was opening up with a capital O. i was being forced open by giant hands – pushing me open, squeezing me open, prying me open from the inside out, making room for the boulder to come out. i didn’t feel like i was going to be split in two – i felt a surging, pushing, Opening.

finally, they pulled me out of the pool (though i was there less than 15 minutes) and put me back on the bean bag, this time on my side to deliver. while in the pool, i had reached down to try to feel the head, and i did feel it, but it didn’t feel hard, it felt like a piece of fruit or a water balloon – taut, but soft. on the bean bag, i was laying on my side on top of my left arm. sarah had to hold my right leg up and i yelled at her to hold it better and higher. i pushed during every contraction and natty got a mirror for me to see the head come out. mom asked if i wanted jon to come catch the baby or stay with me by my head. i’m not sure if i actually answered, but i did tighten my arm around his neck.

tuesday described the pressure i was feeling and said that i would feel a stinging sensation from the pressure of the head, which i didn’t until it was fully crowning. they told me to push hard during contractions and they started to see the head come out. it came out then went back in a little bit through a few contractions, then tuesday said that it had stopped going back in, so i pushed as hard as i could for as long as i could, grunting and screaming. i caught a glimpse of jim in the doorway between the living room and the dining room – he was jumping up and down, clapping his hands, then he’d leave and then come back and do it again. i looked at the head in the mirror that tuesday was holding and reached down to feel it. it crowned and i felt it as it came out completely – it was a sensation unlike any other and one i could not describe with words. it hurt, but i could also feel the head moving through the birth canal and what that was like – the tissue moving against tissue, the boulder becoming two parts and releasing. the head came out and turned – sarah said that he opened his eyes and looked up. his hand was up by his head and my mother pressed to keep it from flipping up and tearing me – it was probably what caused all my back pain.

another contraction came and i pushed as hard as i could so the whole of his body slid out – first one shoulder then the other then the whole body. i pushed like a champion. he started screaming right away. they grabbed him up and placed him on my chest and i said, "it's a baby!" i kept saying over and over, “oh my god, oh my god.” then i asked what was wrong with his face, because it took me a second to see that he wasn’t just squished, but that something was wrong. my mom said, “she has a cleft, but it can be fixed.” i wanted to see what gender he was, especially since mom had said “she”. somehow we got the towel off to see that he was a boy and i think i said, “i told you” to my mother since i’d had a dream that he was a boy even though she kept calling the baby “she”. then mom untangled him from his umbilical cord (it was wrapped around his shoulder) and i was able to get my arm out from underneath me. i held him and he screamed. mom had jon cut the cord when it stopped pulsing. then jon took him and wrapped him in heated blankets.

my mom noticed that i had a peri-urethral tear, but said i didn’t need any stitches. i didn’t feel it happen at all. tuesday wanted me to push the placenta out, but i didn’t want to because i was afraid of the pain. she said it wouldn’t hurt like the baby did, so i pushed it out. she was right, it didn’t hurt as bad. aleksander manuel wlasiuk-martinez was born august 16, 2002 at about 3:05 pm, though no one thought to look at the clock the moment he was born because we were all so caught up in the moment. the first time someone noticed the time, it was 3:12 and i’d already delivered the placenta. i had inadvertently pushed for 30 minutes, then intentionally pushed for another 35 minutes.

i shook and my teeth chattered. jim brought me warm blankets from the dryer. i went to the bathroom, then came back and held him, both of us all wrapped up in blankets. my sisters brought me long soccer socks that went up to my thighs to keep me warm. tuesday gave me some homeopathic remedy for the shaking, and within fifteen minutes it had stopped. i had to be careful about how i moved, but i felt a lot better.

i took a quick shower after he calmed down, then held aleksander the rest of the evening on the couch. i was brought a glass of champagne and food. i tried to breastfeed all evening, but aleksander couldn’t get much. my mom called the pediatrician right after he was born to see if we needed to bring him to the hospital. the doctor told mom to try to look at the extent of the cleft. she also said the hospital was the worst place for him because of the germs, and called us in a prescription for special cleft nursers. my mom found me an electric pump to rent. jim went to his radio show, which he hadn't prepared for at all even though it was a special 25th anniversary of elvis presley’s death edition. my mom did a prenatal visit for tuesday who was pregnant with her fifth child, then cleaned the whole house. my dad and jon's mom came to visit. my friend amanda stopped by. she was most impressed that my toes were painted. our family friend martha came by and told us about joaquin phoenix being born with a cleft. interestingly, we had gone to see signs with joaquin phoenix and mel gibson the night before. i remembered staring at the scar on his lip the whole movie wondering what it was from.

aleksander manuel wlasiuk-martinez; august 16, 2002; 7 lbs. 0 oz.; 19.5 inches