I started having strong contractions 20 minutes apart at six in the morning. At first I slept through them, but when I suddenly found myself on all fours begging my husband for back compressions, I knew this was it. Since the contractions were far apart, we went about getting our oldest off to preschool. At 7:30 am, I had a contraction that ended with bloody show and a few gushes of water.
When our oldest was born, it was a beautiful but glacial 36-hour marathon in a hospital. We decided to have the second at home and it was only six whirlwind hours. This time, my history and the fact that it was my third meant everyone was prepared for a fast labor.
Feeling like a ticking time bomb, I started calling everyone on the birth team. Our midwife was ready to come the moment the labor “shifted” and the rest promised to be there by early afternoon. My husband cancelled a day of back-to-back meetings and started to set up in earnest. (Let me tell you, there’s nothing sexier than a man in Dockers blowing up a pool in your dining room.)
In the midst of our preparations, I looked out the window and noticed the birds. The slim pear tree in our front yard was heavy with red-breasted robins. At several points they multiplied and were joined by other birds, forming a scene straight out of a Hitchcock movie. They were descending on the tiny pears that clung to the tree, which made sense. But seeing robins, especially this many and in the middle of winter, was odd.
Watching and wondering about them became a welcome distraction from the waiting. As each hour passed, I looked at the clock and repeated my internal mantra, “I cannot go into active labor yet.”
I heard him say, “She says she’s physically, emotionally ready to have you come check her.” The moment he said the word “emotionally,” I burst into tears.
At 1pm, a friend who is studying to be a doula arrived to act as our birth support. My son returned home from school and immediately decided the pool was a bouncy house. When the boys weren’t jumping, they were using my body — draped over the birth ball — as a jungle gym. Needless to say, I was grateful when the babysitter arrived two hours later and escorted them out the door.
With everything and everyone now in place, things progressed quickly. Around 4pm, the contractions came closer together and I told my husband it was time to call the midwife. I heard him say, “She says she’s physically, emotionally ready to have you come check her.” The moment he said the word “emotionally,” I burst into tears.
I turned down the lights, started my labor music and focused completely on the contractions. I was entering “the zone.” I thought I could hold out on the pool, but within minutes I was jumping into the sanctuary of hot water.
The midwife arrived around 5pm and a check revealed I was only 4-5 centimeters dilated. I thought I was further along, but I knew it was a meaningless number compared to how I felt. There were only a handful of contractions before I was begging my husband to get into the tub with me so he could put his full weight into the back compressions. He complied, but I still called out for more weight.
“I only weigh so much,” he huffed, causing the room to erupt in laughter.
Then suddenly the urge to push gripped me in the middle of a contraction. My moans shifted into growls and I knew the baby had dropped rapidly. Sure enough, by the end of the next pushing contraction, she crowned. I needed a break, but since her head was already part way out, the “ring of fire” was upon me with all its fury.
I screamed all bloody hell, frantically groped at her head thinking I could pull it out but knowing I couldn’t, attempted a tiny push and realized that was no better, said all the irrational things women say in labor (“I can’t do it!” “Get her out!”). FINALLY, I was able to push out the rest of the head and then collapsed onto the edge of the pool in total relief.
When her body slipped out at 5:29pm, my husband caught her and brought her to the surface. Then she was in my arms, fat and dark and completely gorgeous.
When all the busy-ness of the birth died down and we finally got a quiet moment alone hours later, I looked at her and thought: “Love is awful.”
These past 10 months, she has rustled inside my cupped body, so soft and impossibly small. And then I let her out into the wild, into a lifetime of vulnerability.
I assumed this time I would be a little tougher. Instead, I found myself wondering why on earth I agreed to carve out yet a third chunk of my heart and put it in this fragile bird frame. These past ten months, she has rustled inside my cupped body, so soft and impossibly small. And then I let her out into the wild, into a lifetime of vulnerability. Now perched just out of my grasp, she turns to face me with a head of downy brown hair, stares with wet dark eyes, and talks in little bird squeaks.
Everyone that came to the house the day of her birth remarked on the birds. I know that, in and of themselves, they have no meaning. But in my mind, they became a symbol of all that I had gained… and all that I now stood to lose.
I try to immerse myself in the constant noise, ruffle three heads of hair, kiss three tiny mouths, and feel overwhelmingly grateful for my abundance. I know in a month I will be standing in line at the store listening to three shrill screams and I will struggle to remember my gratitude.
But hopefully a little bird will remind me.