We have shifted from late summer’s wane to early autumn’s chill over this past weekend much as I remember being the case with Liam’s debut seven years ago. Summer sure is fleet of foot around here, but-oh, apples and sweaters and cook out fires and pie. I’ll get by.
Having lived seven years as a mom, my self identifying (mid 30s, educated, white, progressive) is starting to even out in my pulse rather than maintaining it’s early roar of: What Do My Choices Say About Me, What Is Best, Who Will tell Me and What Does The World Believe It Knows of Me By My Choices? I can still remember stomping along the western edge of Central Park after dark, pounding my feet to the refrain, Who am I, Who am I? (Thank you, Yassin Bey.)
Becoming a wife and mother did not appear as well-trodden paths of tradition and culture to my younger self, though as time has gone on, I have noticed more places where my footsteps overlap with my own mother, my foremothers. It felt like I had stepped into a cultural watershed where natural birthing, breastfeeding, attachment parenting, co-sleeping, cloth diapering, elimination communication, baby-wearing, etc, etc were just being discovered, rediscovered and proselytized about. This perspective, of course, was part and parcel with living on the edge of Park Slope and Fort Green in 2008.
My choice to attempt natural births while at home has been hard to shine light on since, particularly in relation to the more challenging, medicated experiences of friends, when I want to be a supportive doula friend. The incredulous looks of strangers and family members and my own over indulgence in reading broadly on the internet: essays assuming home birth it as a practice of self harm, self hate or lack of feminism to ignore the choices provided by modern medicine.
And for sure, I have had to unwind a lot of what I got wound up in early on in my process of forging new identity: Yes, mom, of course I want a stroller now or Hell no, I am not making all your baby food, baby. I will however still be the mom asking you what screens my kids will have access to at your house and for how long, just as I will still be cajoling my boys outdoors to take walks and play in the mud.
I want to celebrate what I have experienced, the sheer weight and push of life passing through my body, not just once but twice. I know that if pain medicine was offered, I would have gladly swallowed (or exposed my lower spine as the case may be) and I am so grateful for the sense memory of the work, the labor, my body conducted. I feel the lineage of humanity in my bones for that.
My oldest little boy is seven now and childhood is fleet of foot, too. Already, he is not the one daily collecting gun and dagger shaped sticks by the armload. He did, sweetly, dip back into his costuming phase recently and took up his four year old self’s super hero toys. I wonder if it was a gesture of touching into younger childhood before stepping into the middle years. He is learning to read and write now and be brave in new friendships. He is so, so cool.
I wrote this next piece as a reflection on his birth. Having just reread it, I resist the urge to add, subtract or revise. I include it here as my own gesture of touching back in time:
The Body Decides:
The next day, my Jackie and I hung out, she fresh in from Tel Aviv;
she brought her period and my body responded with cramps, er
contractions. We walked to Prospect Park and spent a lazy day on the
lawn watching clouds, studying for doctor exams and then getting a
breastfeeding support pillow. The next two days, my body continued to
have contractions at random intervals and I walked ALOT. I was really
tired of being pregnant and trying to get the last few details in
order (says pre mom Devon). I felt unsure if this meant labor was
imminent, I did not want to jinx anything!
Wed night I began to have regularly occurring contractions a bit after
midnight and they lasted up until KC woke for work at which point I told
him “hon, I think I’ve been having contractions all night” “you
think?” was his logical response “ok, I’ve been having contractions
all night” (still not ready to own it).
I ate breakfast with him, texted my midwife and went back to sleep
until 11am, awoke to contractions still regular 20-30 min apart and
noticing that my back really hurt with each contraction.
Long story shorter, labor continued through the day, evening and
night. The back pain got increasingly miserable. I used tennis balls
to massage while I was home alone, KC got back around 4pm and took over
the back massage, we walked a bit, I ate a little more. I felt like
labor could go on all night and was unsure about telling my mom and
Jackie to come over at this point. KC started setting up the tub in
the living room (see his story for that part). I spent good time in
the shower with my yoga ball and hot water on my spine. Around 11pm my
vocalizations ranged from whimpers to screams and I was starting to
wonder where the freaking baby was. I found satisfaction in hitting my
wall during the contractions and found it really hard to relax during
them, but took the rest that I could between them at about 7 min apart.
Jackie arrived and tag teamed my back massages with KC and I put them
in charge of calling Kristen (my awesome, awesome midwife) when the
time was nigh. I had no interest in knowing times, measurements, any
numbers, but I really wanted things to progress so I could get to the
Around 1pm, I got up and made my way to the tub, hoping fervently that
if I got into it, I’d get back out with my baby. I started to feel
like I wanted to push (a strange sensation like, mmm, maybe a head
resting on your cervix). I told KC this twice and he called Kristen
who said she’d be right over. That was what I was waiting to hear! (I
had no real idea of how long it would take until one’s midwife shows up
but, really, what’s she going to do? Watch every contraction for 20
It turned out that she did not have long to wait, she arrived and I
was pretty much bellowing (ahem, vocalizing) through my contractions
while KC kept tremendous pressure on my back and he and Jackie said
nice, encouraging things. Kristen told me I could push and to try to
use some of my breath to push down. Good advice and I finally felt
like I was having productive pain. She told me to reach down and feel
what was going on and I could feel the water sac emerging and beyond
it my kid’s head. All I wanted was labor to end, so I was screaming
and pushing as hard as I could (after she reassured me it was normal
that it felt as though my asshole was going to burst) I could feel the
baby’s head come out, I thought he was biting me (his hand was next to
his face I learned, a true child of teachers, born with a question)
I had to wait a bit for contractions, but I was feeling pretty
hopeful now that I would be able to take a rest in the near future. A few more
pushes, when I heard “reach down and pick up your baby”. He was floating
and slippery, he was a baby. KC and I spent a while in the tub with
him while his cord finished pulsing and I delivered the placenta.
KC and I are very much learning how to be parents and I feel we are
off to a strong start. Breastfeeding was an initial challenge, but
we’ve made a lot of progress. I feel like I need to do more processing
of the actual birth-because it was scary, but it was beautiful and
powerful and I can’t believe I did it at all, let alone at home with
the indispensable help of my husband and best friends. I started
drawing some pictures about it today.
Liam really likes to sleep, just not at night, so that’s our biggest
challenge is trying to get enough rest.
My mom has turned out (not surprisingly) to be the world’s best post-
partum doula and has been helping us and loving us tremendously. Good
family and friends have been bringing us food. My step mom and mother
in law have been tremendous breastfeeding support, calm and
reassuring in the face of a bawling newborn.