the sweetest thing (a birth story)

Rowan has just turned three years old and I've been thinking about her birth day.

She was one of the most beautiful babies I've ever seen.

My labor with her was so different from the others. I'd never before had any sort of pre-labor signs that my body was getting ready to give birth. This time I had weeks of cramping and loss of mucus and bearing down urges that felt wonderful to oblige.

I'd also never had prodomal labor before. On a Saturday evening I started having contractions that continued all night. Sunday morning they stopped. Sunday night they started again; Monday they stopped again. I was fine with this, actually. I was not very happy with myself about being so impatient during my previous longer-than-average labor, so I'd determined to embrace this labor no matter how long it took. It felt wrong to me not to honor such an important event, and being petulant and bored seemed to me not very honoring.

When I opened myself to accepting the process, I fell into a different reality, a state of harmony and bliss. It was like being in love, except with the focus on simply living this pregnancy rather than on another person. I floated through those days. I mostly lay in bed, daydreaming under the soft glow of a string of lights, watching sunlight filter through the window onto the watercolor walls of my bedroom. Scott took care of the kids and once in a while joined me and having him close to me felt so good. I wore flowing garments and reveled in the hugeness and softness of my body. I conserved my energy in all this sleeping and dreaming so that when my uterus began working on becoming snugger and snugger around the baby I wouldn't become exhausted being kept awake from the intensity of it.

The afternoon before the birth Scott thought I'd appreciate some time to myself, so he took the kids with him to play basketball. I wish I'd had a way of contacting him because I would have called him to come home. My family had been acting as a cocoon, and I felt the absence of their love keenly. I started to get weepy and to pine. That evening when they returned my uterus became active again, and it didn't stop this time. As we went about our evening routine, the contractions became stronger and stronger. We ate dinner. The kids fell asleep watching cartoons. I paced the house in the quiet and dark, my family sleeping around me. I leaned on door frames and moved my hips around in a circle like a belly dance. I knelt in front of an upholstered recliner and buried my face in a pillow and moaned and breathed deep.

At one point while pacing the house I was passing through the dark kitchen and noted the luminescent green numbers of the stove clock, and thought to myself that the baby would be here within a few hours, but that if that didn't happen maybe I would call my friend Pam. Pam is a midwife in the truest sense of the word. She loves and respects women and their journeys, so she would be the one to call if I thought I needed extra support.

Around 2:00 a.m. it suddenly came into my awareness that the baby was going to be born in the bathroom, and I very methodically began dragging cushions from the sofa to line the floor. I didn't think about it at the time, but what I was doing was creating a nest. I lined the cushions with thick blankets and set pillows against the wall. I lit a single candle and set it in an adjacent room so a soft glow reached me, just enough to be able to make my way around without fumbling.

Shortly after I finished, labor became very intense. The baby was moving down and putting pressure on my sacrum. My back felt like it was being ripped apart. I had a fairly serious back injury many years ago and I have a congenital hip deformity that's got some scar tissue around it, and I think this has made all my births harder than they would have been naturally. This is the point in all my labors where I start wailing and swearing and throwing my body around. There's a theory that such carrying-on creates stress and tension, and perhaps that's true for some people. For me it releases it, and having done it both ways I know from experience that it's the thing that's going to bring the baby to me the fastest.

After about an hour of this I found myself pleading with whatever higher power may be, telling it that I'd had enough, that this wasn't necessary, that it had to stop now. And very abruptly, like an answer, it did stop. There was no pain and there were no contractions that I was aware of. I understood that this was the "rest and be thankful stage" that occurs sometimes when the baby drops, when the uterus needs to become snug around the baby again before it can continue efficiently contracting. To me, it felt like a miracle.

For about an hour I was in utter bliss, waves of endorphins washing over me. I'd been on my hands and knees, but now I sat back against the wall. Curious, I felt to see what was going on, and my vulva felt engorged and slick. I was very pleased about this because it was evidence that hormonally everything was proceeding normally. I was very relaxed now and fell asleep with my head cupped in my hand.

I estimate I dozed for about an hour, and then I was literally propelled back onto my hands and knees with a ferocious fast-building contraction. As soon as I was able to move again I went to the bedroom door to call for Scott. So as not to wake the kids, I said his name softly. I love this memory, because this is a man who is very difficult to wake normally, and he'd been sleeping through all the noise I'd been making, but at the murmur of his name he woke instantly and leaped up and to my side.

He came back to the bathroom with me and knelt behind me, putting pressure on my back as I directed him to do. Between contractions I leaned back against him, warmth and strength radiating from him, still half-asleep. This was an enormous comfort to me. It felt like he was inside it with me, in a very primal place, so different from the previous births where he was an observer.

It was hard. I can't imagine anything being more painful. I said I didn't want to do it anymore. He'd seen this before and knew it meant that the baby was almost here, and said so. I felt up inside for her and there was a half dollar-sized spot, round and soft. Her head, surrounded by a thin membrane. I bore down a bit and my body responded and she moved down. I bore down again with the next contraction, now with a "throwing down" sensation accompanying my efforts, and then once again, and her head was out. Scott and I said at the same time, "the head, the head!" I received a vivid vision of her turning inside me exactly as it happened moments later. A catch in my throat and a rapturously warm slosh of water, and out came the rest of her body.

I sat back and gathered her into my arms. Scott went to get a blanket to put over her. We sat and spoke to each other in low tones. Light was just beginning to come up in the sky.

After a while I began to feel chilled; Scott got my robe and put it around me, then blankets for both me and the baby. I started to feel restless, uncomfortable. My consciousness began to expand to include the room around me. It was like a sphere expanding. Whereas before I was aware only of my body and the baby and Scott, now I saw the walls of the bathroom and the hall beyond it and felt the wet blanket beneath me. This shift in consciousness occurred, I think, when the placenta separated. I wanted to get up, move around. Scott helped me, with me still holding the baby, and we walked to the living room. He put towels on the recliner for me to sit on, but I was still too restless to sit. I told him to get the scissors and that I would cut the cord, which was now cold and limp. I tied it carefully, cut, and handed the baby to him; I then squatted over a bowl, half supported by the sofa. I felt like kneading my belly lightly, so I did. It felt right. I felt like tugging on the cord a bit, so I did. It felt right. I had another "throwing down" sensation and the placenta slipped out into the bowl. I looked it over briefly and saw that it was intact, then I washed my hands and settled into the recliner with the baby, now nursing, and went to sleep.

learning all the time* (me, that is)

After our initial missteps trying to teach Jake to read, we began to understand the inherent problems with directed and coerced learning: people tend not to retain what they learn when they're not developmentally ready, when it's not of interest to them, when it has no relevance to their life, and when they have no choice in the matter. These things also make it more difficult for them and put them at risk for resenting and resisting learning. Naturally we wanted to avoid that, so we made a conscious decision to let him decide when and how it would be best for him to learn. It was not the easiest thing to sit by patiently while he went one year, two years, three years beyond the age it's commonly thought children ought to be reading at. Looking back, though, the perfection of his unique personal process is apparent. So with Noah we haven't had a second thought about it; we haven't broached the subject with him at all. He's eight, and will be nine in three months. Occasionally I notice that he's picked up a word, but aside from that haven't paid much attention to where he is in the process. It's so funny to me that it was at this same age with Jake that I can remember myself feeling some anxiety over how "long" it was taking.

Well, this morning Noah came running up to me and said excitedly, Linda, look what I just read! 'Links to Metroid Fusion For Gameboy Advance'! I was happy for him and replied, That's great sweetie, that's really wonderful!, meaning, it's great that he was able to read it. He bubbled on about it for a while before I really started listening and realizing that what he was excited about wasn't the fact that he was reading, but that the game links to his gameboy. Just to make sure I wasn't misunderstanding, I asked him. He looked at me a little funny like I was being dense, and affirmed what I'd thought I was hearing. He was taking the reading itself for granted. It looks as if it's been so gradual and natural a process that the dichotomy of not-reading/reading isn't even meaningful to him.

Wow. I'm kind of blown away. (And feeling a little sheepish about my unthinking assumption.) It's true that we haven't made learning to read an issue for him, so... it's not. Could it really be that simple? It seems so.

*alludes to the classic John Holt book, Learning All the Time