On May 15th, 2010, at 7:43 in the evening, our son Niko Crane Benson was born in the very bedroom where he was conceived. He was born into the hands of our capable and trusted midwife, Lynn, and from there went immediately into my arms.
After 41 weeks of pregnancy, my water broke on May 14th in a gush of drama at our local cabaret club. I slept soundly that night after a shower and woke up that morning with no symptoms of labor. I had 72 hours following my water break to deliver our baby at home, and after that would need to transfer to the hospital because of infection risk. Our midwife encouraged me to start drinking delicious castor oil cocktails to get things going.
I had really hoped that my son’s birth story wouldn’t be kicked off with castor oil. I decided that I should walk to my favorite breakfast spot with my best friend and my husband, about a mile away, to try and encourage my inevitable labor. The morning air felt pretty ripe with expectation; it was a beautiful day.
While carb loading on buckwheat pancakes with delicious fruit toppings at the cafe, we played it normal. Honestly, I can’t remember in the least what we talked about. Every part of the conversation was overshadowed by the knowledge that I was going into labor that very day. I started to really zone out into my own birthing bubble. I felt completely connected to my husband. We were going to have our baby, finally. The news washed over me again and again.
We were home by 11:30. My best friend, Katie, and I prepped the house before she took off, thinking that she would come back later to me going through the motions of what was supposed to be a long and exhausting labor. I called Lynn to get a pep talk about castor oil. What would it do? How long would it take? Would it be terrible? How did it work?
I hated the thought of having to induce anything, but was also so done with being pregnant. I was 3 centimeters dilated, well rested, and mentally prepared. I braced myself after a pep talk and pulled out my (former) favorite flavor of coconut milk ice cream from the freezer. I combined my (former) favorite ice cream, 2 ounces of castor oil, and Perrier for a delicious milk shake. At exactly noon, I downed it before retiring with my husband, Buster, to bed for a pre-labor nap.
At 2:30, I woke with a jolt and checked my cell phone. It was late. I was supposed to drink another shake at 2 if labor hadn’t yet begun. I prepared another shake with my (former) 2nd favorite flavor of ice cream.
3:10 rolled around with still no signs of even a Braxton Hicks contraction. I googled “immunity to castor oil” and came up with a good dozen stories that convinced me that castor oil had done absolutely nothing for my system. For a famously fast metabolism, I was sure getting nowhere fast. I yelled down to Buster, “I’M IMMUNE TO CASTOR OIL.”
At 3:13, I had my first contraction and pulled out my iPhone to use the Contraction Master application. I was fairly convinced that showtime was still so far in my future that using the app was just a funny game, but I was also certain that the game was ON, which was exciting enough. For an hour, Buster and I made out, slow danced, and laughed with each other. We were totally going to have a baby! And we are totally in love! Win!
All through this hour, I was having contractions every 1.5-2.5 minutes for about 45 seconds. They were definitely progressing, but were completely manageable. We texted our midwife and doula to let them know that the contractions were regular, but that we were totally in control and not ready for back up. Our doula was off supervising a birth for another couple in our birthing class. That woman was had been at 10 centimeters and pushing since lunch, so we told the doula, “No problem! We’ve got plenty of time!” and carried on with our labor.
Our midwife decided to come over and check me out to see how things were progressing. She figured that she would pop in and then leave us to laboring alone for a few more hours. I bounced on a ball and read my favorite columns in the paper to pass some time. Then, quite suddenly, I hit another level of intensity. I asked for the bag of rice that we had warmed in the oven and found that that bag was just what I needed to get me through the next several contractions. I hung out upstairs in the rocking chair, not realizing that I wouldn’t come downstairs again … for a whole week.
At that point, I still didn’t think my contractions were a big deal. I was doing a lot of deep Ujjayi breathing through them, and found that I could maintain my breath throughout my 45 second long contractions. This had been my plan for labor all along. I had hoped that I could maintain my Ujjayi practice through all of labor and delivery.
I had read a bit of hypnobirthing literature, and though I’m not fond of visualization (frankly, the rainbow visualization technique outlined in the hypnobreathing book made me feel as if I were gagging on a tie-dye moo-moo), I felt as if the 2 breath practices that hypnobirthing waxed poetic about were the same practices I used in my asana practice or to lower my blood pressure during times of stress. I practice that breath control all the time, on the mat and otherwise, and figured I had everything covered.
At 4:56, Lynn arrived for my check up! She watched me move through some contractions before checking me out on the bed. I have to stress here that we all still thought we were in this game for the long haul. We had all the time in the world at that point. We were bound and prepared for a glorious all nighter! Right…?
Lynn checked me out and said “I’m not going anywhere!” I was already a “good” 4 centimeters along and officially in active labor.
We contacted our doula and let her know that I was in active labor. The woman she was with was STILL pushing (uh oh!) and she sent for her back up to join us. Right around the time this call happened, I started to feel a little more intense and decided to get into our bath tub. It was 5:15. The water felt amazing! I couldn’t wait for my birth tub to be ready! My husband stayed with me and held my hand. With every surge, he commanded my eye contact and helped me breathe through.
At this point I realized for the millionth time what an amazing birth coach he was going to be. He was absolutely right there with me for the ride. Up to this point, he had project managed the whole labor, making sure that he executed contact with our midwife, doula, family, and friends. He refused to let anything distract me or stress me out. Now, in active labor, he committed himself to being totally with me and letting everything he had set up so perfectly ride itself out. Our connection, which has been solid since we first met, sparkled.
Around this point, we stopped timing the contractions. It no longer mattered how far apart they were. I was in active labor and time had stopped for my husband and me.
While I was in the tub, Lynn’s wonderful assistant, Marion, arrived. Around this point, we stopped timing the contractions. It no longer mattered how far apart they were. I was in active labor and time had stopped for my husband and me. It became just a blur of rushes, coping, meditation and strength from where ever I could find it. Marion checked the baby’s heart rate before, during, and after contractions to make sure he was maintaining. He was doing great, like we all hoped he would.
My blood pressure, on the other hand, was not the best. I’d been trying my best to keep it down for some weeks, and now that the contractions were coming so fast and hard, it was being pesky. The midwives give me some sort of homeopathic powder to put under my tongue that seemed to do the trick. I remember feeling a superhero relief when Lynn gave me the blood pressure nod of approval.
Lynn watched me go through a contraction and declared that it seemed different than the ones before. She was right. Not many rushes later, I had to ask myself if I was being dramatic. It hadn’t been very long and, rather suddenly, I felt pushy. How was that even possible? It was a half hour or so since my 4 centimeter check up. I looked into my husband’s eyes through the next rush. When it was over I said, “I think I feel pushy?” I figured there was really no way I could be so far along. I felt embarrassed for being dramatic when really I expected that I was really only at 5 centimeters. Lynn reached into the tub to check things out. I was at 7 centimeters and in transition! It was 6:20 and it had been only 3 hours from my first real contraction.
At this point, our doula’s back up lady, Mali, arrived. I heard Lynn yell down to her that there wasn’t time to set up our birth tub. I stared at my feet in the bathroom and cursed inwardly — momentarily pissed that we were not going to have our dreamy water birth. Soon, I forgot to think anymore about control over the birth I wanted. At 7 centimeters, I became completely immersed in the birth that we were having. I let it roll over me and completely climbed inside for the ride.
It was 6:30 when I moved to the bed to labor on my side for a bit. I got lost in my transition and barely remember this time. The brain is a funny thing when recording pain.
At 6:48, Lynn checked me again and I jolted into reality when she told me I was 10 centimeters dilated, 100% effaced, and ready to push. I asked her to repeat herself. I was really, truly, completely in shock that I was complete.
At 6:48, Lynn checked me again and I jolted into reality when she told me I was 10 centimeters dilated, 100% effaced, and ready to push. I asked her to repeat herself. I was really, truly, completely in shock that I was complete. I was only 3.5 hours into labor. We pushed through a few rushes on the bed while Marion held my top leg up and Milton coached me. Pushing was painful, beyond anything I expected. My known and trusted Ujjayi breathing was long gone. I breathed however my husband told me to breathe. Pushing felt unproductive and Lynn asked if I would like to move to the birth stool.
Immediately, on the stool, pushing felt so different. The baby was moving. In between contractions, I felt almost as if I was entranced or sleeping on my husband’s shoulder. Every song that the stereo played was one that I absolutely loved, which was convenient since I made the mix myself for this very occasion. My husband was on my left hand side and Mali was on my right. I had just met this Mali, but I already needed her desperately. I reached for her hand with my right hand every time a contraction began. She became indispensable to my getting through this experience.
Between contractions, I was at the same time entranced and lucid. During contractions, I remember overhearing Mali say that I was “a monster” (in a good way). Pushing was the worst torture I’ve ever felt. I hated it so fucking much that I said as much, which I was later ashamed for. Of course it hurts. It’s labor! I told my husband at some point during the final pushing that we were never doing this again. Everyone else in the room laughed, apparently this is a common sentiment.
I can’t tell you enough how amazing the rhythm of these contractions were. Here I was, in the most horrible pain I could’ve ever imagined, and then — I was fine. At the height of a contraction, I was uncertain of my ability to sustain and survive. In between, I was gazing into my husband’s eyes and thinking about how much I love him, thinking about how the two of us are having a baby who will shape and define the rest of our lives together. I almost forgot that I was in labor in the space between these rushes. I was almost able to forget that another contraction was coming.
When the next rush came, it would start slowly and I would think “it won’t be as bad as the last.” I would grab for Mali’s hand and tell everyone, “Here it comes!” Every time it came, it was worse than the one before. I now knew what they meant when they talked about the ring of fire. I knew that it was almost over. I could feel the contour his little face low inside of me. Soon enough, I would have him in my arms. Lynn had me reach down between my legs to feel his head. It was soft and wrinkled, like the skin of a newborn kitten. Feeling him was really surprising to me and, according to Buster, I gasped, as if I didn’t expect him to be there.
In between all the rushes I called down to Katie to check on her. I wanted to make sure she was comfortable. Between one of the contractions, Buster knocked over my water. Marion went downstairs to get me some more because I can’t let go of Mali’s hand. I told Marion that I like my water with lemon, but not with rind. I hate rind! Lynn remarked to Milton that I was remarkably lucid. When downstairs, Marion tells Katie that his head is an inch out. I began another contraction, pushed, and felt madly productive. I heard Lynn yell, “Marion, get up here, I need you!”
Next thing I knew, his head was out. His body was easy after that. It slipped out as if it had no bone. I was in a daze when Lynn’s voice called through our bubble and said, “Reach down! Reach down!” Suddenly, there was this crazy looking blue and white creature in my arms! I was elated! In complete awe! I’ll never forget the first sight or sound of him.
Niko was a sunset baby. This is fitting, because a variation of his name means sunlight in Japanese. My total, runaway train, labor time clocked in at a scant 4 hours and 30 minutes.
At some point, Buster cut the cord and I delivered the placenta. Soon after, Buster took off his shirt so that he could hold his son for the first time! Immediate skin on skin contact is probably something a father and son don’t get to experience very often in the hospital. I am so thankful to have witnessed this in our bedroom.
While father and son were together, I stood up to get off of the birth stool and move to the bed… and then proceeded to hemorrhage down the side of the bed and on to the floor. It splashed impressively on to feet and ankles with a sound. I looked down and thought, “They’ll fix that right up.” Buster looked down and thought the same thing. Katie confessed later that she was worried. My doula confessed later that she started to rush from the birth she was attending in another part of the city (that woman, after pushing all day, delivered 4 minutes after I did) because they were talking about having me transferred to a hospital. Lynn gave me a shot of pitocin and put something under my tongue. The bleeding stopped, thank goodness, and I recall being very diligently monitored by Lynn and Marion for some time after while I shook and trembled my way through the shock that my body was experiencing towards the light of recovery.
After this drama, I was really curious to see my placenta. Marion offered to bring it to us to give us a little Placenta 101. This was really exciting! She gave us a stunning class on the different parts of the placenta, showing us the amniotic sac, the tree of life, and the cord. I have to say that I am really very impressed with my body. I just can’t believe I grew that thing! Or that it sustained my son for 41 weeks! Around then, our doula, Cheryl, showed up and made a placenta impression on a piece of paper. I can put both this class and the impression on my long list of things I wouldn’t have gotten to experience in a hospital.
Our son was weighed, measured, and checked for the proper reflexes. Niko was 9lbs, 2ozs, and 22.25 inches long.
After our support team left for the night, Buster, Niko, and I worked through our first hours together- figuring out that we were family, grappling with the knowledge that we are all in it for the long haul. Buster and I will never be the same sort of family we were before this little guy’s birth. We are now part of a better, bigger family. We are now parents, and sport a very worthy and excellent son.
We wouldn’t have it any other way, either. I can honestly say without a hint of irony that this is the best thing we have ever done with each other, for each other, and for our family. Parenthood is pretty awesome stuff, already. It is every emotion. It is every worry. It is every sort of elation. It is every sort of love. We welcome it, completely.
Or, more accurately: The Beginning.