Mi querido Antonio,
This is the story of your departure from my womb and entry into this world, at 6:08 A.M. on Tuesday, November 22, 2005.
On Monday November 21, nine days before your due date, I was awakened by a contraction in the wee hours of the morning. Unlike the painless Braxton Hicks contractions I'd felt in late pregnancy, this one ached. When the cramping in my lower back had eased, I drifted back to sleep, until I was awakened by another surge. I lay there wondering if the contractions would continue, trying to sleep in between them.
Sometime before dawn, a combination of pain and excitement drove me from bed. I got up and went to the kitchen. When Papi emerged from the bedroom hours later and I told him I was having contractions, his eyes widened and he smiled a quizzical smile. We wondered whether he should go to work. I called our midwife, Nancy, to let her know what was going on. She suggested we go for a walk to see if the contractions would dissipate.
In San Mateo's central park, we strolled along pathways littered with autumn leaves of red and yellow, past children laughing on the monkey bars and swings. Sunlight streamed through the trees from the east, illuminating particles of mist in the air and dewdrops on the grass. How vivid the morning seemed to me. As we walked, the contractions kept coming---far apart but regular.
Papi decided to stay home though we were unsure I was really in labor. At home we prepared for the birth, cleaning the apartment and carrying loads of laundry up and down the stairs. One contraction caught me in the laundry room on the ground floor. I breathed through it, leaning against the dryer while your tiny outfits and soft receiving blankets tumbled inside.
Nancy and her apprentice, Chanti, came to check on us in the early afternoon. I was 3 centimeters dilated, so the contractions were indeed doing the work of opening my cervix to make way for you. But I knew that some women go on like that for days before giving birth. Nancy and Chanti suggested we fill the birth tub we had rented, and then left to get some rest in anticipation of a long night ahead. We had discovered that the hose to fill the tub didn't fit the tap in our kitchen sink, so we made a trip out to get a faucet adapter. There I was in the hardware store, trying to mask from the clerk that I was having a contraction.
We stopped at Trader Joe's to stock up on food. The contractions were getting harder to endure. We dashed into the store just after one had finished, and quickly filled our basket. Another contraction came upon me in the tea and coffee aisle, and I stood still for a moment, focusing on my breath while pretending to look at the tea. I decided to return to the car while Papi waited in line to pay. On my way out the door a man tried to get me to sign an anti-smoking petition. I just wagged my index finger at him and kept walking. He called after me, "You look a bit under the weather there, lady."
At home, with the faucet adapter in place, Papi could begin filling the tub. He put hot water into the tub until it ran out, waited half an hour for the tank to heat up again, then filled the tub some more. It took several hours to fill it all the way. We ate dinner and I called Kate, my dear friend in San Jose, to let her know what was going on. Kate was eager to come over (very afraid she would miss your birth), but I told her I was going to try to get some rest first. The contractions were more intense lying in bed and I couldn't rest at all. I moved to the living room couch to put my feet up there, but again the pain was intolerable. Only perched on the bright green yoga ball could I bear the pain. Papi knelt in front of me and reached around to massage the small of my back.
Around 10:30 P.M. I decided to call Kate before she went to sleep. I told her she was welcome to come up to San Mateo if she wanted to, but I warned her she might be coming for nothing. Kate didn't doubt that I was really in labor and was soon on her way. When she arrived, my contractions stopped for a while as I adjusted to her being there. We talked and joked and took a couple of photos, of Kate recording my contractions and of me sitting on the yoga ball with Papi kneeling beside me.
The contractions soon picked up and gradually came closer together. We were ready for Chanti to come over. She arrived and checked my cervix. She said it had opened a lot since they'd checked in the afternoon. The contractions were continuing to do their work. I didn't know until after you were born, but Chanti had been surprised to find me 7 centimeters dilated (10 cm is fully dilated). She told Papi and Kate that most women are unable to talk between contractions at that stage. I was still chatting and doing things like brushing my teeth.
When Chanti suggested I get into the tub, I hesitated---I had heard that being in the tub too early can slow down labor. She assured me she didn't think that was likely, so I took off my clothes, tied my hair up, and stepped into the warm water. It felt wonderfully soothing to be immersed, and I enjoyed the sensation of floating and being able to move around so easily after months of carrying the extra weight of pregnancy. I ran my hands over the curve of my belly, trying to memorize how it felt, aware that this was the last night I would feel you inside of me.
My birth music played softly in the background, the tea lamps burned atop the bookshelf, language faded away until only profound emotion remained. I motioned Papi over to the side of the tub. Tears streamed down my cheeks, and Papi stroked my hair. Then a cool gust of air caressed my face as the front door opened. Soon Nancy was kneeling beside the tub.
"Christy, open your eyes and look at me."
Slowly, slowly I pried my eyes open to see her looking at me with great compassion.
"I was so proud of you when Chanti called and told me how dilated you were. The hardest part is coming now. You are strong and I know you can do this." I nodded, glad for Nancy's grounding presence, and closed my eyes, descending into "laborland," a place deep inside me with no words or images---only sensations.
Over the hours that followed I floated in the water, gripping the side of the tub with each contraction. My only words were, "My back, my back." I felt hands on the small of my back, providing counter-pressure, massaging the muscles there---whose hands I didn't know and it didn't matter. As the contractions came closer together, they were harder to endure, until I could no longer control my breathing. I heard voices telling me to say ah in a low tone. With the next contraction I moaned, ahhhh, ahhhh, and a chorus of voices in the room said ahhhh along with me. I held the ahhhs as long as I could, until the pain washed over me and myahhhs deteriorated into something primal. Between contractions, Papi gave me water to drink through a straw, reminding me, "Your baby is coming. Antonio is almost here." Those words gave me the will to continue on.
As the pain surged through me, thoughts drifted in and out of my consciousness. When the pain seemed impossible to endure, I remembered something I had read: when the hardest part arrives, when you feel like you can no longer carry on, you are nearly at the end. I heard Nancy asking,
"Christy, it sounded like you were bearing down with the last contraction. Did you have an urge to push?"
It took moments to process the question and nod my head. She asked me to lie backward in the water and checked my cervix again. I was fully dilated---it was okay to push.
With each contraction after that I pushed, but not completely. I had it in my mind that I didn't need to, that my uterus would push you out without me having to bear down. After a while Nancy suggested I try a different position. I squatted in the tub and pushed through a few contractions that way. I didn't feel you moving down at all, and it dawned on me that I might actually have to summon my strength and push you out!
I felt another gust of air when our second midwife, Ami, arrived, and I heard whispering about a flat tire. And every few minutes I felt a gush of warm water enter the tub. I didn't know it then but the heater on the tub wasn't working and the water temperature was dropping. Kate was working hard, boiling water in the kitchen and adding it to the tub to keep me warm.
Between contractions, Nancy asked me to drift backwards so they could check your heart rate, and I grew worried about you and resolved to push harder. Ami's voice said, "Push toward the pain, push right down into the pain." Voices encouraged me after each push, Nancy's saying, "It's pain with a purpose," and Papi's reminding me, "Antonio is almost here."
After a long while of pushing, Nancy asked me to open my eyes again and look at her. She wanted me to get out of the tub to see if some different positions would help you move down. Again I felt concerned about you---perhaps the pushing was taking too long---and though I didn't want to leave the water, I agreed to get out. Nancy supported my weight on one side and Papi held me on the other. I tried to push through the next contraction standing up like that, but the pain in my back was terrible. I got down on my hands and knees and pushed, but again, in unbearable pain. Finally I lay down on my right side. Someone's hands supported my leg in the air. I don't know how long I pushed like that before I felt an intense burning sensation. The "ring of fire," which I'd heard occurs when a baby's head crowns, was unmistakable. Even as it burned, I took heart that we were almost at the end.
I stopped pushing for a moment, remembering that if I allowed the perineum to stretch before pushing your head out, the burning would turn to numbness. Nancy told me to reach down, to feel your bag bulging out of me. It hadn't broken during my pushing. I reached down and felt an unearthly balloon and I knew you were close. The voices in the room turned excited, joyful. With the next contraction, I pushed with all my heart and felt your head emerge. It was inconceivable to me that you were being born when the labor felt endless. Chanti's voice said, "If you feel like it, give another push and his body will come out." I pushed again and felt the width of your chest slide out, then your legs trailing behind. Nancy broke your bag of waters and placed you at my side.
I opened my eyes, coming back up from the depths of consciousness to see precious you lying at my side. I stroked your wet black hair and silky shoulder, with Papi looking on from where he was kneeling at my head. Soon you began to cry, ingaa, ingaa. Papi insists this is how babies cry in Peru---not waaa, waaa. When I heard you crying ingaa, ingaa, I felt everything was just as it should be at that moment. Our Antonio was finally here.
Your umbilical cord was short so I had to push the placenta out before I could hold you. It wasn't painful to push it out, but difficult because with you out of me, I couldn't figure out where to direct my pushing. I managed to bear down and the placenta emerged. When the pulsing in the cord had stopped, Ami handed the scissors to Papi and he cut the cord that had connected you to me. Finally I could hold you in my arms, at my breast. The sun had come up. Kate opened the blinds and the orange light of dawn streamed in.
You were born surrounded by love, Antonio. Ami told us how rare and special it is to be born in your bag of waters ("in the caul") and what a privilege it was for her to see it. She also said you had luscious lips! Kate, who was supporting my leg as you were born, said you grimaced at her as your head emerged, and she will always remember that grimace. Kate cooked a pot of oatmeal for all of us, everyone had a turn holding you, and finally, Papi and I took our precious boy to bed and snuggled with you there. We continue to treasure you and our memories of your peaceful birth at home.