The birth of a radiant soul: Malcolm Sylvester
It took me a month to write down this story for myself, because once he was born all I wanted to do was stare at him, hold him, smell him. And now, nearly 16 months later, I share the story with you all.
In the wee hours of Thursday morning, May 26, 2011, I awake with contractions. I was eager to keep them coming because I had thought through my whole pregnancy that I'd have given birth by "now". I was 41 weeks exactly. I fell back asleep and kept waking up each hour with a sort-of strong contraction until 5 am. At this time they picked up to 15 minutes apart.
I got up at 5:45 to meditate and practice some Asana. I walked outside in the early, early morning with Stevie, and felt certain Birth was coming. These contractions were stronger than the Braxton Hicks I'd been feeling off and on since about 25 weeks, but I could still talk through them. Phillip got up and suggested I vacuum to keep things going. I did, and I cleaned up the house a bit, but they stayed right at 15 minutes apart. I went to the bathroom and noticed bloody mucus- this was exciting to me!
I sent Phillip to work since things weren't changing quickly, and I alternated between walking around outside and resting on the couch. I called my midwife and doula and told them what was up. They were both really excited and we made plans to stay in touch.
I went for an acupuncture treatment at 1 pm for the 3rd time that week. While I sat with the needles in I felt some really strong waves of contraction. After this I was finally hungry for the first time that day so I got take out food from a favorite restaurant, Proper, then drove home eager to Birth my baby! Things had sped up to 10 minutes apart now. When I got home, I made a blueberry buttermilk cake for the impending birthday.
At 4:30 Phillip came home and we walked around outside with Stevie. Then we came inside and made love, and this was the kick-starter! Immediately afterwards contractions came on hard and fast. Strong waves washing over me. Now I couldn't talk through them, and didn't want to be left alone during them either. It was about 5:45 and the last time I'd check a clock throughout labor. I called my midwife and doula and told them to come on over.
Phillip and I got the bed ready with clean sheets and plastic sheets underneath. We turned on Stevie Wonder's "Music of My Mind" and got groovin'. I leaned over the bed rail or kitchen counter when the waves came and swayed my hips back and forth. They were 4 minutes apart now. Sierra (my doula) arrived with food in hands and the Midwife came soon after. A storm began outside almost immediately; inside there was a labor party. We played Bob Marley and I kept moving around, chatting and laughing between the waves, on hands and knees during them. My midwife checked me and I was 5 cm, 90% effaced. She called the assistant midwife and asked her to come. This was the only time I was checked during labor and I am SO thankful for that! Phillip held me and we danced to Van Morrison and Sly Stone. This part was sweet and fun.
All night I tried not to think of the time. I knew things were progressing as they should and I didn't want to become discouraged by the time. The assistant midwife arrived sometime after dark. We spent most of the the night in the living room or the floor of our bedroom. When a wave of contraction began I'd quickly get on hands and knees, or lean over the back of my bed and someone would squeeze my hips together or press hard on my sacrum. Phillip, Sierra, and the midwives rotated. In between the waves we kept talking and they were rubbing my feet. This went on for hours. My internal mantra through out labor started: "Ride those waves like a queen surfer".
At some point, (I think it was after midnight), I threw up. A lot. Everyone got me washcloths and water. After this my midwife suggested I get into the bath tub. I think I was about 7 cm, but was not checked. She dropped some Clary Sage oil in the tub and I got in. We kept the lights off and lit some candles. My midwife stayed with me and everyone else napped. I laid on my side during contractions and got on hands and knees during them. The water was soothing, but because I was in my bathtub my birth partners couldn't give me the same awesome counter pressure on my low back and hips.
Reflecting back, this is where labor really began to feel psychedelic. I had mostly surrendered to the waves, trying to surf, but my body and my baby's body had been given over to this great power of Birth, surging through us, unstoppable. So much was required of me, my full participation as vital to the process as my full release of control. I remember being in the tub and looking at Sierra saying, "I have no idea how this baby's going to come out of me!" even though I knew full well that he would!
After being in the tub for an hour, I drank some chicken broth. My midwife suggested waking up Phillip, and the moment he entered the bathroom I threw up again. Everyone helped clean up and get me water, and my midwife went to go eat and rest, "because we'll be pushing soon", she said. I labored between the toilet and tub for about a half hour more. The I decided to get out of the tub because the waves were so intense and I wanted to get used to that strong sensation on land.
The hour or so after the tub is totally blurry to me. I could tell it was near sunrise. I laid down on the bed with Phillip for a bit and kept fluctuating from extreme hot to freezing cold. The midwives came into the bedroom after awhile and set up for the Birth. I was on the floor at the end of the bed, leaning against the birth ball. They brought in 2 birth stools of different sizes and I squatted on the lower one with Phillip behind me on the higher one. My midwife suggested I try some gentle pushing if I had the urge. Contractions were really heavy now, and for the first time I was afraid of the pain, so I just barely began to push. I focused on breathing my baby down. When I pushed, I dropped all my weight on Phillip. I started groaning at this point. In between these waves Phillip and I would both pass out from fatigue until another wave come over me. It was just after 7 am.
At times my groans became high screams and the midwives would remind me to lower my voice- keep it low, guttural, primal, powerful. I'm so thankful for these reminders. Sierra cooked us breakfast in the kitchen and made the midwives coffee. My midwife knew the baby needed to come out soon, the heart rate was dropping, so she said for me to give 3 strong pushes in each wave. This was the perfect focus and direction for me. I needed to push strong into these powerful sensations taking over my body. Sierra was in front of me on the bed and in each contraction we locked eyes while she said "3 good pushes". I switched positions to squatting with one leg out to the side. Soon after, the waters broke. It soaked my midwife and splashed on the yoga mat in front of me. I knew things were happening now, and this was motivating.
The pressure in my yoni was so strong now. I wondered how much I could take and even thought "I'm never doing this again!". I could feel the baby's head lower with each push and the others could see it. Sierra asked if that was "the ring of fire" and the midwife said "no, not yet". These words at once were scary (I wasn't there yet and it felt so strong!) and motivating (I was ready to be there!). I pushed really powerfully with the next wave and felt the ring of fire - my baby's head stretched me from end to end. I only had to feel that once to push as strong as I could, roaring as the head came out. I looked down and saw a huge bulge, wet and black, emerging from my yoni. I just kept right on pushing and baby came out! One long, slippery push. We laid him down on the gauze beneath me and I sat down. He was blue and I was in shock. All I could say was "Hi, Hi, Hi", and then, "It is a little boy!". He was born at 9:14 am, May 27th, 2011.
Because the baby wasn't pinking up right away, the midwife guided me to hold him close and rub him. I needed this direction. I held my baby, breathing and stunned, amazed. His left lung had a tiny dip in it, a retraction, showing that you weren't filling it completely with air. The midwives suctioned and "bagged" his mouth, but ultimately he cleared his lungs on his own, all while I held him skin to skin, my baby boy. He pinked up within 15 minutes, and started responding to life outside himself, crying and grunting. We called my other nurse midwife at the hospital to tell her what was going on and get a second opinion on what to do (give him time to come into his breath or go to the hospital), and decided to stay home unless there was great change.
I had no urges to push again for the placenta, so after 35 minutes when the cord was no longer pulsing Phillip cut it. This didn't stimulate contractions either, so I moved up onto the birth stool again and the midwife guided me to cough. She gently tugged (I don't remember feeling it at all) while I coughed again and the placenta was born almost 1 hour after birth. I remember it feeling so strange coming out of me, all open and sore. She checked me for tears and there were 2 small labial slits near my clitoris, but nothing requiring stitches. I attempted to nurse, but the baby didn't latch, and I ate the delicious breakfast of eggs, bacon and spinach Sierra had made.
From here, I held and stared at my son. I have a son! Initially after birth I wanted to name him Theo, but we weren't decided yet, and I just called him my baby. I held him, both of us naked for that entire day. We didn't even put a diaper on until that night. Within 2 and a half hours the retractions had stopped and all was well. The midwife did the newborn exam, and my baby weighed 7 lbs 2 oz, the perfect weight I thought. In the afternoon, Phillip came out of the shower and suggested Malcolm Sylvester as his name. This, my son, is your perfect name. We had three names circling us during gestation: Malcolm, Sylvester (Sly) and Theo. Your birth made us think you were a Sly fellow. Now, every time I look at you, and every single day it is affirmed stronger, that Malcolm is your name. Malcolm Sly.
I felt like a champion, like a new person almost instantly. I was high, and thought "I can't wait to do that again!". I never wanted to set my baby down. He was beautiful and perfect. I was overwhelmed by the every day magic of Birth- that I birthed a baby and that women do it every day. So I sat. I held him. I smiled and breathed deeper than ever before. My home was a sanctuary and we all rested, riding out this incredible, and incredibly normal transition. Nursing came later, crying came later (for both of us), but for that first day we were simply together. Simply together, in awe of Birth.