Submitted by: By Lisa Conway
I was relieved that my transition to the hospital, however chaotic and probably embarrassing, was over. I answered the nurse’s questions in between contractions. Her name was Annie, and she helped me to feel more comfortable than anyone else had since we’d entered the hospital. Before long I was allowed to focus solely on my labor process. My midwife, Peggy, arrived at the hospital in her usual glow and bright smile. She set me up in the shower to help labor progress. I remember that those contractions were some of the toughest. I felt enormous pressure and a stretching of my hips I never before fathomed I could endure. It felt like metal rods were driving my hips away from each other. I hugged Joe, who patiently stood outside the narrow shower stall, during every single contraction.
We returned to the room. I did not know that hospital lighting could be as soft and incandescent as that pivotal space. I put on the soundtrack from the movie Garden State, and we listened to it over and over again – maybe six or seven times. At this point I remember I no longer wore any clothing. During contractions my hair would loosen from the headband and rubber band, holding it back and Joe kept trying to fix my hair and smooth it away from my face. I remember I finally grabbed the headband, soaked with sweat, and threw it on the floor, yelling, “Get this #$%@*& away from me!”
I was fierce and decisive. I was wild and free. I was a mama in labor. I was the tigress that I hoped I’d be.
My doula, Stephanie, wrapped a shawl over the bathroom door in the hospital room so I could pull on it during my contractions. I drank tons of water. Like a fish. Like the fish I’ve always been. We were a moving human sculpture – sliding like the great skirt of life on that flecked tile floor, my uterus our lead. I hummed and groaned and growled and whimpered. I walked and squatted and danced and drifted. I remember one contraction brought me to tears.
I found myself wondering how much longer I could go before… before what? I asked for drugs? I collapsed in defeat? I died? Or maybe, possibly, finally, gave birth?
I leaned into Peggy with all my strength and sputtered a half-hearted, “I want drugs!” I had wrapped my arms around her waist; I had buried my head in her belly. “Okay,” she said, looking at Annie. “That’s my cue to go.” Stephanie suggested we try another position. I climbed on the bed and tried to make my body obey – it laughed. And now. Now, Peggy returned, refreshed. It was ten o-clock. “We need to check you,” she said. I can still feel the haze of this moment, the blurred edges of this photograph. I remember lying on that hospital bed, feeling weightless. Was I even there? And I remember that triumphant moment: “She’s fully dilated.” Incredibly, though not for the first time in human history, I found myself in the glory of pushing. So much pain had suddenly subsided. At last I could do something! The Garden State soundtrack still carried us along.
Here I am.
I pushed for three and a half hours. I was grateful for Ina May Gaskin, and grateful for Pam England, and grateful for that spirit of sisterhood living somewhere in my body. I was grateful for my great-grandmother and grandmothers everywhere. I was grateful to the Venus of Willendorf. I was proud of my dated Japanese tattoo on my ass: it means “Woman.” Ah, capricious seventeen-year old me – I was grateful. I was me. And I loved myself more than I ever had before.
I was grateful for George Balanchine’s Nutcracker ballet. That I had been watching it over and over again, meditatively, with the highest hopes I could ever muster. That if I could channel those arabesques, plies, changements, fifth position, first position, battements, pas de bourres. If I could just be that open, that feathered, that free. And now, here I am. Pushing. Picturing that movie in my mind. Open, open.
Here I am.
Pushing was hard. Annie said, “You’re jumping into the pool and blowing out through your nose.” I pushed my chin into my sternum and blew. I pushed. Peggy counted. I could barely push for more than five counts. I didn’t much care for the counting. Stephanie said, “Remember your flower,” and that was probably about the time I started calling on Jesus big time. And I remembered my flower. For weeks I had been watching this one particular time-lapse video of a velvety red rose opening and opening and opening. I etched that video into my brain. I can still see it. I gazed past Stephanie’s incredible attention and past Joe’s incredible love and past Peggy’s incredible patience and I watched my flower opening. Open, open. I saw Natalie’s head. It was right there, so tauntingly near and far. So purgatorily stuck. So pure. So about to be. I felt it, I felt around it, I touched and loosened and let go. Let go.
Something in my body unstuck itself, unlocked itself. I will never know what that particular key was. I know that I jumped into that opening flower in the best Pas Asemble of my life, and when I landed, my daughter was born. I do not know what it is like to shoot heroin, I don’t know what skydiving feels like, or a runner’s high, or myriad other drugs’ effects, both concocted and natural. I do not know what it’s like to wake up with confidence every day, to be certain of things, to be comfortable in my own skin. I don’t know at least 6, 496 world languages or the effects of the speed of light on time travel, or the basic concepts of quantum physics or if I will live until I’m seventy-six like the Ouija board said when I was ten. I do know that nothing has topped that moment – those seconds that felt like we were suspended in time, in air, in love. I reached my arms down to lift Natalie onto my belly. She immediately let loose a batch of meconium. Peggy said, “Up! There’s some meconium!” And I trilled, “Meconium! My baby!” My eyes were swollen shut with tears and relief and labor and exhaustion and love. She wailed; I held her close. Peggy sewed my second-degree tear. I wished I hadn’t torn. Had I pushed too hard? My baby! This moment! Nothing mattered.