(Disclaimer: This post is very long, quite personal, and not directly related to the operations of Rising Sand Organics)
I woke very early Tuesday morning to the sound of my very pregnant wife, Fanni, pacing the dining room floor. “What’s up, baby?” I asked, groggily.
“It’s happening.” She replied.
Unsurprised but excited, I called into work and joined my wife on the couch in the pre-dawn stillness of our living room. Given the lighter nature of her contractions, we decided I’d try to get some more sleep before the marathon of intensity ahead of us.
This proved difficult, and I rolled around fitfully until Fanni roused me again an hour later. She informed me that her contractions had intensified and she’d called Christie, our primary midwife, who was on her way. So we waited in the living room as my wife rode out her short, powerful contractions minute-by-minute.
By the time Christie arrived, I was sure we were on our way to the shortest labor ever. I was wrong. After performing a cervical check and sensing very little dilation or thinning, Christie tempered our expectations, gracefully and gently informing us that we hadn’t really even started. “I think you are still very early on, and this can take a day or two; especially for first-time moms. Get some rest if you can, and even if this may seem outlandish, take a walk if you feel up to it, just to get out of the house for a little bit.”
“So, I’ve read that the contractions intensify as labor progresses, but is this not always true?” my wife asked, from between her gut-wrenching contractions.
“Ummm, no it’s generally true. They will get more intense, and once your body gets used to those, they will get more intense again, and this happens multiple times throughout the labor. It’s all normal. Try to get some rest, and call me again when the contractions are a minute long, and come within five minutes of each other.”
Though I couldn’t quite shake her casual delivery of the “day or two” statement, day-one was quite pleasant from there. Christie left again and we both laid down and took long naps. Wow, I thought as I rose once more from my warm bed late in the morning, labor is really the way to go. Fanni’s contractions had slowed significantly, so we took a walk, played some cards, lounged around reading, and took the time to do things we don’t often have the time to do around home. Sensing the impending demands of labor, I snacked heavily through the day: roaming around with popcorn, quesadillas, split peas and rice, chips and dried mangoes; all the while, my wife ate little.
Later in the afternoon we put on some Harry Potter, mostly to pass the time as the frequency of contractions increased. It was an odd, attention-splitting dynamic – navigating the intensity of my wife’s contractions while Harry navigated the intensity of his life — rubbing Fanni’s back through the Dark Lord’s attempted invasion of Harry’s mind; demonstrating my absolute presence to her pain while transfixed to the computer screen as Dumbledore and Voldermort locked wands.
I kept one eye on the time, and as Harry and Co. fought back the Dark Wizards from the Ministry, the contractions had come down to 4 ½ minutes apart, at a length of 1 minute, 6 seconds each. We decided to call Christie after the movie.
It was a bit strange to experience these early labor stages from the comfort of our own living room, with Harry Potter dictating our timing decisions, but I couldn’t have imagined our experience from a hospital room, nor did I care to. We called Christie back and she arrived an hour later, finding Fanni on all fours on the bed, moaning while I rubbed her back intensively. I was certain that we were well on our way by now.
Then followed another cervical exam, and gracefully-delivered reality dose. “Wow, you’ve really made some progress! You are at about 2 ½ centimeters now. Honestly, this morning you weren’t even technically in labor yet, so you’ve come a long way. This is all natural…” Given the seeming frequency and intensity of Fanni’s contractions, I’d been expecting much more progress, but tried not to let my disappointment show as the “day or two” statement rang through my head once more. It was about 5:30 pm by this point, and Christie was with us for the long haul.
From here on, the nature of time changed as our attentions drew unshakably inward: into the world of our small house, and the small woman giving birth within. We set up the birthing pool in the living room, and Fanni roamed and contracted, inside and outside of the pool, as the day turned into night. All throughout, Christie delivered subtle little hints that there was time yet to go. “We can check the cervix again if you want to, but we don’t have to yet I don’t think…
“I’m going to call in Ariel, one of the other ladies who helps us out, so she can check on the baby while I rest for a few hours. I think there’s some unfolding left to do…”
Third cervical exam, hours later. “Oh, you’re over 4 centimeters now, so that’s really good! You’re making slow, and really steady progress, which is totally normal…”
Every so often, Christie lubed up the doppler and held it to Fanni’s bulging stomach, checking the baby’s heart rate. At every check, it was strong and steady, and we shared a smile of joy and relief.
Hours passed, Ariel arrived, Christie napped, and I sat on the couch next to the birthing pool, holding my wife’s hands through every intensifying contraction, meeting her eyes and repeating a small series of mantras as she worked through the uprising within. “Flow… Flooooooow…. This is what your body was meant to do; you’ve got this. Floooowwwww….
“Open… Ooopppeennn… Open…. Just breath with it; you know exactly what you need to do…”
Clenching my hands in a death grip, she leaned back more intensely against me with each passing contraction. In these moments, her eyes locked unwaveringly on mine and I navigated the inner landscape of her agony, traversing the map of her face as the pain overtook her. I knew could not falter; could not display the smallest indication of doubt or unsteadiness.
Another baby check. Strong, steady heart rate. Shared smile. Contraction.
The night bore on, and this did not stop. At some point I found myself dozing on the edge of the pool between contractions. We moved to the bed, and I dozed mid-contraction as I rubbed her back through intensifying bursts of agony. “Keep rubbing!” I’d wake up and rub some more, falling asleep again before the contraction had ended.
At some point I woke, clothed and in bed, and it was morning. I entered the living room. Ariel was napping now; Christie worked on her papers at the kitchen table, and Fanni spanned the rest of the space: powerful and mammalian. As we’d slowed, tired and disappeared in turn, Fanni had embodied a deeper source of strength, and her journey now spanned from this world to another. There was no reaching her now, and she traveled on alone with the manifested power of her matriarchal ancestors. She roamed the kitchen floor slowly and methodically: swaying, rocking and stamping rhythmically; moaning to the beat of an otherworldly rhythm, undeniably powerful and true.
She squatted and swayed as the fever rose again; face contortedly focused through the earth-rattling contractions overtaking her body after every shortening break. She remained here for a seeming forever, as the day advanced around us, well outside the bounds of our comprehension or care.
She continued ceaselessly. Another cervical exam revealed 8 centimeters. Back to the pool, the moans intensified as she fought back the urge to begin pushing.
Another baby check. Heart rate strong and steady. Shared smile. Contraction.
The midwives were ancient, ageless and wise, allowing space for the Journey of the Woman; entering in bursts of brief solidarity when needed. “Yes, Fanni. That’s good. Things are changing.”
“Breathe through the contraction, now, Fanni. Don’t push; not yet. Just breathe… that’s good.”
Back in the tub, Fanni leveraged all her power against the urge to push through the contractions. Finally, a cervical exam revealed that the time for focused expulsion was upon us. We moved to the bed, where Fanni lied on her back, pushing mightily against every contraction rocking her skinny frame to its bones.
The midwives were power and direction. “Yes, Fanni; that’s it! Push right to here. Long pushes, long pushes.”
“Yes, that’s it Fanni; keep going! Use the power of your breath on this next one. Yes… you moved your baby!”
Baffled, overwhelmed and undercut by the gravity of the situation before me, I wept silently and uncontrollably. Fanni met my eye from her agony on the bed. “Are you okay?”
Humbled and overtaken, I could only chuckle and wipe my eyes.
Another baby check. Heart rate steady and strong. Shared smile. Expanding breath of relief. Contraction.
Fanni pushed and pushed. My optimism wavered, and I watched the body language of the midwives with hawk-like focus. Christie checked Fanni’s blood pressure, lingering on the revelation for just a moment too long. “We will check it again in a little while. Deep breaths now, Fanni…”
I started getting nervous as progress slowed to a seeming halt. Finally, the smallest crown of head manifested at the peaks of Fanni’s pushes. This remained unchanging through hours of world-rattling, vocal and volcanic contractions. We tried the shower. We returned to the bed. I observed subtle glances between Christie and Korina – the midwife who had taken Ariel’s place earlier in the afternoon. We decided to refill the pool for another round in there.
Another baby check. Heart rate healthy and strong. Sigh of relief. Shared smile. Contraction. Push.
Christie broke the news as we filled the pool. “Korina and I are mindful about putting a call in to the hospital. Everything is fine, and the baby is doing just great, but we feel it is the right step, just in case we decide that that is a direction we would like to take.”
This talk continued as we helped Fanni back toward the pool on increasingly shaky legs. “At the hospital, they have access to some methods that we do not have access to. They can intensify feelings, or minimize feelings if need be, or help you to relax. We’re trying to be aware of the fact that you have been pushing intensely now for quite a long time. We can keep on like this for now, though, if that is what you want.”
At this point, my wife underwent the last, and most profound of her transformations. Fully determined for a natural, positive home-birth since day-one of her pregnancy – in spite of her condition of systemic lupus –she had remained mindfully determined: reading testimonies and watching videos of female superhumans giving birth in all manner of settings; through all manner of conditions, complications, and impossibilities – positively visualizing and manifesting the day when she would be called upon to join their ranks.
Now was the time. Alone in the pool, she reached the precipice of her destiny. Facing her deepest fears, against the backdrop of her deepest sense of actualization and becoming, she bore down within herself and brought forth a new hope.
The midwives and I gathered again as she screamed violently, fingering herself at the inside, and drawing forth the tip of a head, visually for the first time. She pushed, moaned, screamed, shook, and pushed again, giving her absolute all to every contraction; falling breathless and weak from the effort, only to rise again moments later for the next.
Another baby check. Heart rate strong and steady. Sigh of relief. Shared smile. Earth-bending contraction.
Progress ceased again, though she gave all her strength to every passing moment. Korina leveled us another reality check. “It may be time to be mindful of what we do not know, both inside and out. I will call Dr. Hanneman again.” I resigned myself to the necessity of a hospital trip. Somewhat helpless, we decided to try the bed once more, and helped Fanni step shaky-legged from the pool.
She stepped onto the hardwood floor of the living room, paused, grabbed our hands violently and bore down once again. This time, she did not stop. “That’s it! Keep going, Fanni; keep going!”
A head protruded – a full head. Still, she did not stop. “Yes, there is your baby, Fanni; keep pushing!”
The head was followed by a shiny, wet, body, and our baby entered this world at the end of a cord tying its life to the woman in whom she’d been created. My wife had entered the pool a woman, facing the very depths of her own being, fear and doubt, and emerged a mother. My daughter, unwaveringly steady since the beginning, faced the world for the first time: eyes open, calm and steady in the arms of her mother.
Ella Bartnik was born on April 24th at 7:29 pm, in our living room, after 31 hours and 44 minutes of active labor. She was 20.5”; and weighed 8 lb, 11 oz. We are immensely grateful to the midwives of “In the Beginning” for empowering us to have this experience in our home, and to our daughter for allowing it to progress as it needed to.