If there is one cosmic message I seem to receive more than any other, it’s this one: “You are not in charge of this rodeo, Janelle.”
(So sit back, asshole, and enjoy the ride.)
I wanted to have a May baby. I really, really wanted a May baby. My husband was off work for the better part of 3 weeks in May. On June 7 was a family reunion that occurs once every 15 years. I wanted to go, and I wanted to take a week-old baby. My due date was June 3. I had a vision. I always have a vision. WHY WON’T THE UNIVERSE GET IN LINE WITH MY FUCKING VISION?
Of course, strategically-timed-baby-delivery is a bit harder when you’re planning a homebirth. Midwives offer visualization techniques and Amish birthing herbs. They do not offer Pitocin.
But I did try castor oil. At around 39 weeks, I gave it a shot. They said I could. It didn’t work.
It worked with Georgia, but I was a few days past my due date when I tried it with her. All it did with this one was make me sick (I’ll save you the details) and sap my strength. Also my soul, but I digress.
After the failed induction attempt I surrendered. Fuck it. The baby will come when it comes and I’ll either make it to the reunion or I won’t. Profound, I know.
Three weeks passed. Actually it was a couple days, but we all know how long those days feel. I was enjoying false labor ALL.NIGHT.LONG, or at least every night until 2 or 3am. You know, contractions that hurt enough to keep you awake, come regularly, get your hopes up, but don’t actually evolve into anything? Yeah, those. I love those. Those are fun.
Around June 1 the baby dropped so low into my pelvis I peed teaspoons every 30-minutes and enjoyed near-constant cramping and pressure and an existential misery that took my breath away. Okay, drama. But for real sometimes I would sit on the toilet and almost cry. Everytime I peed I’d think “was there blood on the paper? Anything? ANY FUCKING SIGN?”
I was sure my water was going to bust at any moment.
So much pressure.
But it didn’t.
At my 40 week appointment on June 3 I pretty much hated all humans. I couldn’t sit very long. I couldn’t stand for long. I couldn’t lie down (my bladder was all “UM you need to pee, bitch.”)
Precious, precious end of pregnancy.
On the evening of June 3 contractions began again around 9pm, and I figured it was more false labor. I had resigned myself to forever pregnancy at this point. But these continued through the night and into the next day. They came every 15 or 20 minutes but were mellow. I took Georgie to the dentist, picked up a prescription, got haircuts for Georgie and Ava. I wanted to believe it was the real thing but I had been misguided so many damn times I just assumed it wasn’t real.
But they kept up.
By 7 or 8pm they were 10 or 15 minutes apart and still manageable. I would stop and breathe through them, but they weren’t long and I was clear-minded. I ate dinner. I made cupcakes so we could sing him or her “Happy birthday.” I knew my baby was coming, but clearly it was early labor. Early labor can go on for hours. I’m no schmuck. This isn’t my first rodeo.
(oh yeah, just when you think you “know…” that’s right. you get served.)
At 7:30pm or so my mother-in-law picked up the three older kids. The plan was that they would keep the kids while I labored at home and bring them back when it looked like I was getting near the pushing stage, so they could be here for the birth.
I texted my dear friend Sarah, who was going to photograph the birth, told her I’d call her when it got closer. Did the same with my mom.
The contractions kept on, 8 or 10 minutes apart, 30 or 45 seconds long, and they just sort of stayed that way. I had to stand up and moan and lean against the wall during them, but they just weren’t really evolving. I called the midwife at 10pm and told her they were 10 minutes apart and I’d call her when they ramped up. I told her I was restless and anxious. She said take some skullcap, go for a walk and take a bath.
Mac and I took a walk around the neighborhood. It was hot. When a contraction came I would hang from his neck and lean on him and bury my face in his chest. I couldn’t believe the strength I found against his body. During my last 2 births I was kind of a lone birthing wolf (or whatever). I didn’t want to be near anybody or touched. This time was different. This time I felt dependent, overwhelmed. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want the work, the pain. I was just so tired.
This pregnancy was really, really hard. I’m pretty tough, but this shit damn near killed me. Three kids, teaching 3 classes, writing, moving, all of it. The last two months were the hardest months of my life, at least since I’ve gotten sober. I was so uncomfortable, so tired, and yet life just kept on. Kept on. And kept the fuck on. So much work. I had nothing left for this birth.
It seemed incomprehensible that I would face 7 or 8 or 9 hours of MORE WORK at the end, but there was no choice. The only way through childbirth is through childbirth.
Like life, I guess.
We got home from the walk. Still 8 or 10 minutes apart. I got in the bath.
They seemed to stop for a bit. It was probably 10:45pm at this point.
I thought “OH HOLY SHIT they’re going away.” But then, after what seemed like a long time, a contraction came that felt a little different. I felt a little panicky, scared, freaked out. I got out of the bath and thought “Well shit, that felt a little like a transition contraction.”
But it couldn’t be. The contractions aren’t hard enough, fast enough, I’m nowhere near that point!
I hadn’t labored actively at all, or I didn’t think I had. I was confused. I was in labor but I wasn’t. In my past births, there was a time when the contractions came hard and fast and long, my whole belly like a raging machine – 60 second pains, 90 seconds. It was all consuming, insane. I left this world for a weird “labor land.” All lucid thought ended.
These never went past 45 seconds. I never entered that place.
I remember standing out of the bath and thinking I just can’t do this. Mac held me and I cried. “I can’t do it, Mac. I just can’t do this work. The pain, all of it. I can’t face it.”
I had another contraction. He pressed on my lower back and it helped.
Out of the tub, I leaned against a dresser and had 2 or 3 contractions 2 minutes apart. What the hell’s happening? Why are they coming so quickly? They were just 10 minutes apart?!
He called the midwife and we told Sarah and my mom to come.
I had 5 or 6 contractions 2-minutes apart, maybe 30 seconds long. I knew I was entering active labor, and I just dreaded the hours to come. I knew I had A LOT OF WORK ahead of me.
I asked Mac if the tub was full yet. I asked him if he remembered to put the sea salt in, and I even helped him find it. Always the multi-tasker. Or, control freak. Probably both.
As I was walking across the living room to the birthing tub, I stopped and leaned against the high chair (yes, it was in the living room. Don’t ask.) to have another contraction. The pressure built and my water broke. Everywhere. Like a flood.
With the rush of waters I felt my baby’s head slam down, way down. Like coming out down.
He was coming.
“The baby’s coming NOW!” I was shocked.
So calm, he said “Get down to the ground. Get down to the ground.”
He ran across the room and grabbed some towels, threw them beneath me. I squatted, the head was crowning. I squatted more and the head was out.
“Get it out!” I yelled.
“You have to push the baby out with the next contraction,” Mac said.
“Are you holding the head?”
“Yes, I’m right here.”
I bore down a tiny bit, and out slipped a baby. I ripped my shirt off to hold him and tried to turn, but felt the umbilical cord. Duh. Mac passed him between my legs and I pulled him to me, kissed his gorgeous self, laughed, looked between his legs “It’s a boy!” (Though I already knew that, the whole pregnancy).
“Is he okay?” my voice shook.
“Well, he’s crying,” Mac answered. We laughed.
Mac grabbed blankets. They were already warm. He had them prepared already. My heart explodes for him.
We sat together and laughed again, gazed at this little creature, talked to him, loved him, suddenly the three of us in a quiet, darkened room.
I couldn’t believe it was real. Here he was. After virtually no labor, he came. After no time at all, he was in my arms. Peacefully, gently, quickly.
Maybe he knew I didn’t have the strength. Maybe the universe knew I needed this, like this.
A birth so fast I barely knew I was birthing. A perfect baby fallen into the arms of his father. We named him Arlo Theodore Valentine.
The midwives showed up about 10 minutes after he was born. Sarah and my mom about 30 minutes later. At one point I saw Mac literally jumping up and down. Adrenalin, I guess. He was born around 11:15pm, an hour after I called the midwife for the first time, telling her I’d call when real labor started happening. Ha.
We sat and talked and laughed and I smelled him and loved him. I thought for sure he was a regular-sized 8-pounder (since he came out so fast), but he was 9 pounds, 8 ounces. I had not a tear. The power of movement in birth. The power of the woman’s body.
The next morning, the other 3 kids came and I thought if somebody tried to tell me 6 years ago that this would become my life, that it would ever get this good, I would have laughed in their face.
In a birth like this, everybody’s born again. The heart bursts open, raw, exposed. People fall in love all over again. The man who sat beside me 13 years ago when we were 19 and 22 years old, as I birthed our first baby and we breathed together, to last week, as he caught our 4th baby, second son, the remaining portion of our hearts.
And then, newborn breath.
And hey! Three more days to help fund The Before Project. Seattle-based filmmaker Terence Brown is making a documentary about tweens, “exploring those raw early days of growing up.” As a mother of a 12-year-old, I am both in love and terrified by this strange, liminal tween place. Talk about gray area. There are moments when they seem so grown up. Other moments not totally unlike my toddler.
Please click here to help fund this project. Though Terence has reached his initial goal, he is using thousands of his own dollars to fund the making of the film, so every additional dollar will make a profound difference. Also, there’s only 3 days left, and every backer (even at the $1.00 level) gets access to the finished documentary.
In Terence’s words: “Last year I thought it might be interesting to film some very short interviews with a class of 4th graders just to see what they would say. Here’s what they said: 4th Grade. Now that this group of 60+ kids is heading to middle school, I’m planning to film more extensive interviews with each 5th grader this June. I’m going to spend roughly 30 minutes with each student, asking them a wide range of questions.
The final project will be a documentary short called ‘Before.’ My goal is to explore and even celebrate this awkward and thankfully fleeting phase of life. The final video will live on a site we are creating called thebeforeproject.org. Our plan is to create an interactive site where people from around the world can contribute content and stories about the tween years.”