Becoming the Atmosphere
The Laborious Details of Giving the Light to Iris Luna Erskine
by Tessa Padgett Erskine, USA
At six am I felt pain behind a Braxton Hicks contraction. Six-ten, again. Six-twenty, one more. A pang of fear was swept away by reassuring ourselves that we were 41 weeks on the dot: I was ready.
I slept from around six-thirty or seven until about eight. Lenin was with his Nana and only Tim and I were in the house. The waves were light and I was able to walk around. We hit a small problem because I didn't want to brave a caffeine headache during labor but didn't really want any coffee… I drank about a third of a cup. I was also hungry and around perhaps 10 or so ate a half a cup of yogurt as we made phone calls. Later it came back up, a sign I was truly going to give the light that Sunday. However, at that point, the walking contractions were completely manageable and I didn't believe I was actually in labor. The phone calls were fun to make because we were centered. The rushes, easy as they were, kept coming…
At around two o'clock, things picked up. Close friends were here, classical music was playing and I was certainly feeling something. I was dazed in between contractions and Tim and Janice decided it was time for her and Raina to come despite my feelings that we would be in labor all night.
Three-thirty. My son showed up, rushes were strengthening but progress lingered for a moment. Maybe it was because the music was turned down, maybe because all the people were there, maybe it was because of the back pain I felt. Janice offered suggestions of changing my positions and advised me that when a laboring woman changes positions, contractions then change in force and labor progresses.
I was still drawn to my bed. During the pregnancy I did breathing exercises there and most of my thoughts about labor and calmness took place in bed. It is where we conceived and where I spent one night over the summer awake, wishing I could hold a baby who had only matured for four months in my belly and calmed only by the presence of my son. When I reflected on the mental aspect of labor, I also thought about how the process unfolds physiologically.
Describing my cervix during labor is difficult. A tiny group of muscles centered in the middle of my body were working hard to open and allow Luna to be born. If there were a sound to it, it would be a creaking rocking chair. I could feel, periodically, a small twang as I became aware that the cervix was doing its job.
I took Janice's suggestion of changing positions and tried to go to the bathroom. A contraction came in the bathroom and I knelt down over the marble countertop. Suddenly nine words from Jack Kerouac's “On the Road,” which I hadn't read in years, came to me. “The steel had an element of coolness in it.” Leaning on the marble helped the contraction pass. I climbed back into bed. Much later, I was reflecting on that moment and remembered the significance of that passage: Kerouac had reached nirvana.
Still there was no breeze but the steel had an element of coolness in it and dried my back of sweat, clotting up thousands of dead bugs into cakes on my skin, and I realized the jungle takes you over and you become it. Lying on the top of the car with my face to the black sky was like lying in a closed trunk on a summer night. For the first time in my life the weather was not something that touched me, that caressed me, froze or sweated me, but became me. The atmosphere and I became the same. (294)
I became the jungle indeed. Back in bed, I fought contractions for a little while. Janice offered me some emergen-C, and I still fondly quiver when I think about how great that tasted and how the vitamins helped me find the energy my body was wishing for. Janice suggested I look into Tim's eyes and breathe with the beginning of each contraction.
The labor from that point on was almost silent because that method worked. Energy rushed, I breathed, I held my husband and they wisped away like the trail from a shooting star lingers and passes in the night. In between, I enjoyed the hazy feeling of time stopping for my rest and my body waiting/hoping for the next wave.
Janice retreated to the corner of the bedroom as Tim, Luna and I worked together. Her presence was reassuring and very guardian-like as she sporadically checked on Luna's heart tones. She brought safety, calmness, expertise, wisdom, and most importantly, the reassurance that I was the one to deliver the baby.
I read many birth stories during this pregnancy where the women would say, “Boy, I didn't believe I was in labor, went to the bathroom and there was a head!” No way. It would never happen to me, until February 1, 2009. Suddenly I was pushing and still convinced I wasn't dilated yet and we would be there all night. Four sweeps and she was born floating in her own membrane sac, a little fish squirming toward the light. As the head and shoulders emerged, I was told, the membranes finally ruptured. I wish I wish I wish I saw it. I spent early labor telling Janice not to come because neither the plug nor my waters had broken or leaked. Both happened perhaps three minutes before my daughter came, if that.
Hazy. Vibrant. Full. Calm. Clear. Bright. My house was filled, and still is today on February fifth, with these adjectives poking out of the crevices.
On February third we made placenta prints. I have a pretty weak stomach and as we pulled the placenta out of the fridge I wasn't sure what to expect from my body. It was wrapped in disposable pads, I had gloves on, and as I lifted it from the bowl a massive wave of energy rushed through me almost as powerful as labor. I sobbed uncontrollably as I held the organ. One word came to mind: Mamatoto.
Sweeping feelings of here and there, separateness and togetherness, yin and yang, happiness and sadness thundered through me as I bent over the last piece of blood vessels that grew both of us together, mentally and physically. Now we're together as we're apart. As we grow we lose time. As she sat there in the room while we made prints, I felt so far away yet so close.
In a natural setting, a woman would have to get rid of her own placenta after childbirth. This is how it was done for thousands of years before hospitals. In this culture, there exists a mentality of “bigger better faster more, get it done and out the door.” But the human body operates far beyond what we know. The energy enveloped me as I held the placenta and realized every woman needs the choice to feel the surrender and release of feelings associated with this action.
So that's where we are. Understanding that everything comes with the opposite. Some moments are easier than others with two small children. Time passes quickly and slowly. We develop. Feelings move up and down. Pain comes with inexplicable happiness and cheers of “I love everything” afterwards. Bright and vibrant, exuberant and equipped, healing and yearning, we're ready to share our little moon with the world.