The giving in birth

Negotiations began early between us. He is a sly little teacher and I’m a slow learner. A month after his birth, I sat anxious in the doctor’s office (a heart murmur, the doctor says), trying to nurse him to sleep so that he would lie still for the scan of his heart. Silly me. He was not persuaded and spent the entire time mouthing about and smiling up at me despite the nurse’s increasingly frantic insistence that “he will fall asleep as soon as you feed him!” The boy will take his time, just like his father.

At 8 months in utero, he was breech and the doctor simply scheduled a C-section. Irate, I cancelled the appointment and hunted down a midwife. Now, I think the boy was holding out, pushing me toward the less familiar option of giving birth outside a hospital. The minute I made up my mind to try the midwife, he turned into birth position, satisfied that I was finally getting it.

We live, at best, 40 minutes away from our midwife, so I was nervous: what if labor starts in the middle of rush hour? We voiced crazy fantasies of dragging ourselves downtown on rush hour trains in the middle of heavy labor. My husband’s nesting instincts lead him to locate public access wheel chairs, just in case, and to drive every meter of Zoshigaya’s crazy one way streets over and over. And to buy expensive technology.

There are 3 stages of labor, my sister reported: opening, transitioning and pushing. Logical, I thought. I can do that.

The boy’s due date found us, not at the birth house, but at my nieces’ sports day, where I filled in as their surrogate mother, playing mother-daughter tug-of-war with the other moms. “When are you due?” they politely asked. “Today” I quipped. “What?! You know this is just a game, right? Don’t really pull on the rope, ok?” The next day, still no baby. Despondent, we ate a spicy Indian curry lunch, hot fudge sundaes and walked for two hours. The boy started knocking at 2 AM. I slept in between contractions until 4, but then woke my husband: “you need to get up” “What? Why? OH!” Our midwife told us: walk the dog, eat breakfast and then come in. By 6 AM we were walking the streets of old Tokyo, admiring the sunrise, the tiny rock gardens, the strange architecture. By noon we were still walking, but my eyes were closed. I think I kept them closed for the next 6 hours.

By 2 PM, I sat rocking on the soft cork floor (heated to 30 degrees); squatting felt good, so I squatted and held on during each contraction. Midwives are the most blessed of women – such calming, quiet vitality. Each time he pushed, she pushed back firmly, keeping me from swelling, keeping him moving slowly. “Yukuri, yukuri;” “slowly, gently,” she said. (We later found his cord wrapped around his neck; had his delivery been rushed, the cord might have strangled him, but the midwife’s patience guided him slowly and safely) My husband held my shoulders and hands and fed me brown sugar cubes, sweet potato and sips of aquarius. I think I slept between contractions, or at least went deeply inside, listening to the small boy, taking cues from him. Idiomatically, we say, “give birth” and it is a giving, a releasing, an emptying. Time became meaningless to me, although I think my husband was glued to the clock. Contractions ebbed and flowed like waves. Each time I made it through without pushing, I rejoiced silently and slept.

At some point, the contractions slowed so I sat back up on a birthing stool. Secretly, my husband wanted us to use the “Heineken” brand body pillow provided as a birthing aid option. Finally, my water broke; first, the hot rush of release, followed by bone jarring, intensified without the watery cushion. There was no magical moment – in fact, I don’t even know when he crowned. Just before the final push, the midwife pulled my hand down to feel his head – I hadn’t known he was right there! And suddenly, there he was; his tiny furious head appearing just below my right thigh. Midwives (by that time there were 2, plus one intern) cleaned his nose and mouth – laughed as he ripped out the suction tube and jerked his head away. Swaddled in a garish green towel, he pulled eagerly at my breast. We lay, the three of us, on that sweaty cork floor, breathing, smiling, staring.

– Nelle