It’s been nine weeks and a day since I’ve had the time and focus to sit down and write this. My life has changed significantly over the past month. The last time I blogged, my life was fairly simple and uncomplicated, as I wore the hats of only a daughter, sister, wife, niece, granddaughter, cousin and friend. Since then, though, I’ve come to wear a new one – one that trumps all of the others.
Now I wear the hat of a mother.
Transitioning to this role was no simple task. After carrying my pregnancy to full term at 40 weeks on June 1st – my daughter’s estimated due date – I woke up that morning with sensations I’d never felt before. I remember opening my eyes that morning and staring out the window after having tossed and turned for 30 minutes and trying to sleep through the soft surges of pain radiating periodically in my lower back. I finally gave up the sleep idea and got up, thinking to myself, could this be it? Though I’d always known my due date was June 1st, I’d argued with my husband and everyone else my baby would not be coming on her due date; in my heart, I figured she was coming on my husband’s birthday, the 5th. He’d argued she’d be coming as early as the last week in May, but he obviously lost.
Still, I was feeling pretty good about what was happening. I went into the living room as to not wake him, and began texting my mother and best friend that I thought I was in the beginning stages of labor. I eventually called my midwife about two hours later just to let her know what was going on, and from that point, I just waited for things to progress. I was scheduled to have my hair braided that morning and, since my “contractions” were quite bearable and irregular, I kept that commitment. The beautician and her daughter showed up to my house that morning at 11am. While braiding my hair, the mother asked when I was due, and I told her, “Today. I’m actually in labor right now.” Both her and her daughter’s mouths fell open. I told them to calm down and that I was fine. If anything, that definitely motivated them to work faster, and they were done by 4pm.
During that time, the contractions began to wane, and by 5pm, they were gone, and I was sitting on my couch with a horrible headache. I was so disappointed, realizing perhaps I’d jumped the gun a little bit. That night, my sister-in-law came by to drop off more essentials for the baby (she’s such a great auntie) and took off. When my husband came home, I told him that, sadly, the baby was showing no signs of coming that night. With my headache, all I wanted to do was get back in bed and sleep it off.
After taking a long hot shower, I was under the covers before I knew it, watching a TV show about the Kennedy family when my midwife called to tell me she and her apprentice were on the way to my place. They showed up at 3am. They gave me a massage, told me to relax and sent me back to bed as they spent the rest of the night sleeping on the sofa.
Soon, the Saturday sun was up, and so was I, as the contractions had come back. This time, hubby woke up, too, and we slipped outside to walk the neighborhood, trying to encourage the contractions to take on a sense of regularity. Though they never got on a definite pattern again, they did pick up in intensity. Surprisingly, though, the “worse” ones were still manageable. After about an hour of this, we came back into the house where he got ready for work, and I sat with the midwives. After he left, we sat and watched TV until the apprentice had to leave. From that point, it was just me and my head midwife. We both ended up falling asleep on the couch while watching old movies on TBS. Again, my contractions had never picked up speed but, instead, just died off completely. I was becoming frustrated, but I remembered something my midwife had told me at the beginning of my pregnancy – the one thing I’d learn about being in labor is that I am not in control; I had to learn to be reactive and just go with my body.
That was a foreign concept to a control freak like me, though, lol.
This sort of thing went on for the rest of the week. My midwife told me that my daughter was taking her sweet time to “emerge gracefully”. Tuesday was hubby’s birthday, and it came and went with, again, a lot of contractions and no baby. After that, he called into work every day thinking it was finally time, only for us to end up sitting there, looking at one another and no baby. On Wednesday, we were sure the time had come, as my contractions had finally picked up intensity a great deal and were coming every 5-10 minutes. My midwife, who had spent the night before, told me it was time to grab my birth kit and prepare the bed, so we took out our supplies – two sets of sheets and a shower curtain – and used them to prepare the bed for birth. We took the necessary supplies out of the birth kit and set them up on the nightstands and then grabbed the sterilized towels from the baby’s room, along with the clothing she was to wear after she was delivered. I was excited the time finally seemed to be there. My midwife even checked me to see if my cervix had dilated. She reported she could actually feel the baby’s head already engaged, but that my uterus was tilted back, so she had difficulty feeling the dilation.
I had to pull out my birthing ball in the living room and use it to get thru the contractions. Admittedly, the ball, itself, didn’t help much with the pain. It was deep breathing and exhaling; it was actually very effective for coping with the pain. Also, when a contraction would hit me, either my midwife or her apprentice would be over to me in a flash, applying counterpressure to my tailbone; that was like heaven for each 30-second shot of lower back pain. This went on to the late afternoon when, like always, the contractions began to die off again. The midwives had gone off to a nearby spa to give hubby and I some time alone, but I’d grown so disappointed by the way things were going, I only wanted to sleep. Hubby left to get dinner, and, after he returned, I gobbled it down and passed out in bed.
Thursday was hell for me. After going thru the false starts for six whole days, on this seventh day, I just gave up, determined not to get my hopes up anything was going to happen. Of course, the contractions had come back, as always, and they were getting stronger, but I didn’t care. My hubby must have been stressed, too, as he took the day to go shoot hoops at a local rec center. My mother offered to come over to help me get my mind off things, but we quickly got in a fight when she finally made it to my place, as the first words out of her mouth were, “I’m going to help you get that baby out today.” Eventually, we’d make up with the help of my brother, who’d come along as well. We went out to get some Mexican food, and I drove and ate, all the while with contractions hitting me on and off. My best friend dropped by to give me another gift she’d gotten for me and the baby – a glider. I was so happy about that, as well as just having someone else to talk to besides my mother, that I stayed outside with her for a bit while my brother lugged the chair up to our place. A couple of contractions hit me while we were talking, and she started looking concerned like everyone else. I told her like I’d told them – I wasn’t dying…I was just in labor, sort of. She spent a few more minutes over before leaving, and I went to pick up hubby and drop my mother and brother back off. After getting home, I started reading about women with tilted uteruses again (I’d done it on Wednesday night, too, once the midwives left), and began getting sadder. Internet info suggested it was nearly impossible for women to have “easy” labor with this “condition”. I had to back away from the computer. At one point, I ended up talking to my midwife again, and she asked me if I was having any emotional issues, explaining that they can inhibit the progress of a woman’s labor. I told her I was growing frustrated of always having to call her and her assistant over to my house, only to have them sit there all night and have nothing happen. I told her I felt like I was wasting their time, as they were trekking to my house either right before sunrise or right after sunset. She then told me that was the nature of the job and that it was totally fine, that I needn’t feel any obligation to “do” anything (labor-wise) when they got there, and they were willing to do this as often as needed until the baby came. When she told me that, I felt something in me relax and let go…it was like I’d been holding on to this deep fear the entire week, and it was instantly released. That night, the two of them did return for a short while to give me some evening primrose pills. I’d read these pills are usually inserted in the cervix and help with dilation. After they set me up, they left for the night, and I decided to get some sleep.
When midnight on Friday, June 8th rolled around a few hours later, I woke up with contractions again. However, these contractions were worse than anything I’d been feeling the entire week. They lasted at least 1 minute each, and, unlike before, I was not able to sleep through them. I tried getting on my knees and kneeling on the side of the bed to cope with them. When one would hit, I’d try my breathing and burying my face deep down into the mattress, but nothing helped; I only wanted to sleep. From 12am to 6am, I tried taking a hot shower and letting the water run on my back and soaking in a hot bath to relax. Neither one slowed down the contractions or dulled the sensation. I didn’t know what was going on. It’s funny to admit now that, after having had false hope for the seven days prior, it didn’t even occur to me that I had finally entered active labor. At 6am, I was about to call my midwife when I received a text from her, asking how I was doing. I explained what was going on, and she simply replied, “I’m on the way.”
I don’t remember how long it took her to get there, though it seemed like she was at my side before I knew it. She checked my cervix when she got there, and, much to my shock, reported it was open, meaning I was indeed in labor. We began getting the bedroom back in shape; all of the supplies still lay around the room from our episode on Wednesday. At one point, hubby, who’d been sleeping in the living room, came into the bedroom. I don’t remember how things transpired from that point though, only that he left the room and, soon, I was laying in my bed in my “laboring clothes”, surrounded by him, my midwife, and her apprentice, who had arrived at some point. He was feeding me grapes, dry bread, fruit snacks and water as I went from lying down to standing up to kneeling to leaning over the bed, working through my contractions. I kept waiting for them to become excruciating (per the description of labor by all of the women who’d told me I was crazy for attempting labor at home without drugs), but they never did (I was very adamant throughout my pregnancy not to let anyone give me an “expectation” of what labor would be like…I was actually looking forward to being surprised). They just felt like menstrual cramps gone terribly awry, but nothing that made me want to cuss out anyone, lol. I went back and forth between my bedroom and the baby’s room, my midwife trailing me with drop clothes for the floor to protect the carpet. This went on for hours, it seemed, as the labor progressed. At some point, I lost my clothes but I was too exhausted to feel any shame about it. I was feeling overcome with sensations in my back, and I was growing tired. It was to the point that after each contraction, I’d doze off for the 3-5 minutes in between. Having had no real sleep the night before (hell, the whole week before), those few minutes of sleep were what would eventually save me and help me endure my labor.
Hours passed, and I’d totally lost track of time. Eventually, I hit another phase of labor, where the baby had descended so far down the birth canal, I kept feeling the urge to push. This was where things started to get interesting. Again, it was not entirely painful, just tiring. The process of moving a baby down the birth canal took a lot of energy, and I tried to use gravity as much as possible to help. I varied positions again, going from laying on my back to standing and leaning on my husband to getting on my hands and knees and clutching the headboard of my bed. After a few minutes in that position, I was ordered to do something else, as all of my supporters were in agreement that I would rip it clear out of the screws of the bedframe with the force I was using to bear the contractions. It didn’t seem that way at all from my point-of-view, but I imagine they saw a side of me I was unable to. At that point, I was just focused on getting the baby down and out. The sensation of pushing, or, rather, wanting to push was unlike anything I’d ever felt. They compare it to “the biggest bowel movement you’ll ever have in your life”…that was putting it lightly.
My pushing, in my mind, was taking every ounce of energy I had, but my midwife began chastising me I was not pushing correctly. She explained I was against pushing against the baby instead of with her, resulting in me pushing her back into me as she was trying to push her way out. She explained if I kept it up, I could put the baby in distress. Hearing that, I immediately regained focus. I knew in having a home birth, I could not afford to stress the baby out and endanger her; plus, I knew that just as I was experiencing this labor, so was she. I got myself together real fast and started focusing on my pushing again.
Soon thereafter, the midwife said she could see the head of the baby emerging from within; she even invited my husband to take a look. From his view, he saw only what looked like a head of curls. I wanted to cry from excitement she was so close, yet she still seemed so far. After about a while of pushing more, I could tell she was closer. This was because, for the first time during the whole labor, I felt true pain – the pain that I was about to rip in two. During this time, I started letting out my first true screams. Up til then, I had only felt the need to scream once or twice, and I was trying to be considerate of my next door neighbors. However, I didn’t give a damn by this point about who could hear me. At this point, the baby was crowning, and I was experiencing the infamous “ring of fire”. The expression is certainly befitting, as I’m sure I felt something tear and burning followed; however, the baby’s head was stretching my body to make room to come out. I reached down and felt her head myself, and, thru my pain, my mind was blown that I would be meeting my child soon. When the next contraction hit me, I pushed with everything in me, not caring about tearing anything, and, within the blink of an eye, there was a long, wiggly being lying on the bed with me and my husband, who, by then, was sitting behind me.
“Oh my God!” was all I could say when I saw our daughter for the first time. Covered in the remnants of her womb home, she was the most beautiful creature I’d ever seen in my life. She let out a solid cry as the midwives did their work. After they rubbed her down in prepared towels, she was on my chest. Hubby and I took that moment to look her over. Before I knew it, he was cutting the cord, and I was trying to get the baby to nurse and keep her warm. She cried a bit as I continued to stare at her. I couldn’t believe that my baby was then in my arms. I didn’t even notice that my midwife was pulling out my placenta until she had it in a bowl in front of me. Supposedly, that is a painful part of labor, but I felt nothing. She showed me something interesting – a knot in the umbilical cord from where the baby had been “active” in the womb (i.e. flipping and turning). She remarked how blessed we’d been the knot hadn’t actually been tight because it would have cut off my daughter’s food and oxygen supply as well as her excretory function.
Soon, the baby was given to hubby as I was ushered into a prepared warm bath in our bathroom. They helped me into the water, which was full of chopped garlic, salt and herbs. I was terrified to sit in it, anticipating burning from whatever tearing I had, but it felt absolutely wonderful. After soaking for a while, I was given an icepack to sit on and was helped back into bed. This is where I would spend the rest of the night and weekend (one of the main reasons I so looked forward to having the baby at home was because I didn’t want to have to do a lot of travelling). For the next hour, I doted over my new daughter, who lay sleeping in my arms after she’d nursed again. Hubby and I sat there together, taking pictures of her, the one who’d made us a real family. In my mind, I couldn’t believe our baby had finally decided to come. I couldn’t believe that I’d gotten through labor and it was nothing like I’d expected; I felt like if I had to do it again, I certainly would because the prize was well worth it. It is true what they say – that a woman forgets everything before the baby is put into her arms. Not only had I forgotten about the week of prodromal labor and the last few hours of pushing, I seemed to forget what my entire life had been like before the moment she arrived. While staring at her in utter awe and gratefulness, the glow through my window blinds nearby indicated the sun was setting on what would be the most memorable day of my entire life – the day Rue Armani emerged from me and made my life better than I’d ever thought it could be.
I took the name “Rue” from the late actress Rue McClanahan, which older generations will know from shows like Maude, Mama’s Family and Golden Girls. Even when I was younger, I had a fondness for her name and knew I’d like to use it for a daughter of mine. “Rue” has a number of connotations, but the one I love the most is “repentance”. Hubby bestowed upon her the middle name “Armani”, which is a widely-known African term meaning “faith”. It is our prayer that she will follow in the legacy of her names – to know if she is to ever live a meaningful life, she must always be willing to be humble and to move by the spirit of her convictions.