Margot's Birth Story
Not that long ago, (as in, about 15 years ago) Geoff and I were walking around the lake at Furman, and stayed awhile in the Japanese Garden after a really long version of the “ation” game. It’s a silly game we play where we come up with words ending in -ation. First person to repeat a word loses. You’d be amazed how long this game can go on.
Come to think of it, it just dawned on me this is what we’ll play in the van in future years on road trips.
I’ll want to get good prizes to give out.
Good ones for 1ST – 4th place.
And that’s kind of the line of thinking I’ve had ever since this sunny spring late afternoon passing through the garden with Geoff, thinking in fours.
That was the day we decided we wanted four children. We were 20 and 21 years old.
And ever since then, I’ve been doing things like thinking of where four little beds will go in every house we considered. Buying four matching Easter baskets, years ago. Not having any of our kids’ stuff monogrammed, because, hand-me-downs. Things like that. But I’ve never told anyone. It was just between us.
How perfect and neat it all seemed in my head, four neat little corners, four neat little sides. And of course, like many things in life, you’d think this would be the part where I tell you it didn’t exactly work out that way. But every once in awhile, something you plan for and hope for and work for and pray for actually does come true, one way or another. It’s kind of a strange feeling, getting to the place you mapped out your whole life. It’s like suddenly, OK, now what? Well, this is what: you have a different view once you reach the top of the mountain. And you realize, hopefully, that you have it pretty good, regardless of where you find yourself. I’m getting to that point in life where almost all of the kind of major facets of my life have mostly taken form: what I truly love to do, my habits, the career I love, the place where we’re permanently settled, who I married, the house we’re going to raise our children in, and finally, that one last thing – the children we’ll raise. I’m in a different place in life now than I was 8 years ago when we had our first baby. Much more established in every facet of my life, I feel like a real adult now. At 26, I had only spent 6 months in a real, actual post-graduate-school job. My life was barely getting started. I’ve grown up as much as my children in the time since then. I’m much more patient, way more compassionate, less ambitious about certain things, care little for prestige, and understand that how people feel is more important than how much they know. That view from the top of the climb for so many things for so long – for love, for a home, for a family, for finding a unique purpose – is a different view, and it’s this: gratitude for having come so far.
The true path to happiness isn’t an uphill climb, or a journey, or any of that. It’s being able to stop where you are, wherever that is, and be grateful, intensely grateful, so grateful it hurts your feet and your joints and your back and makes you thirsty and even makes it hard to breathe.
And that’s what I felt in every contraction that pulled me under into that world of the in-between, the tunnel between As It Was Before and After The Baby Was Born. But that pull started in darkness anyway, around 11:20 pm.
I had been having Braxton-Hicks contractions off and on for weeks, and a little more frequently the past day or so, though I didn’t think too much of it. With each child, the practice contractions had gotten earlier and more frequent.
We’d been undergoing a renovation in our upstairs all summer long. Despite long work on the nursery, we had only just hired movers to move our furniture upstairs Tuesday. I still had to pull newborn clothing down from the attic, wash it, set it up in the new nursery…I was far from ready and the baby was already a day overdue. But that evening, I’d sat down with Geoff and we took a look at the to-do list. I told him newborn clothes & supplies had to be a priority. I think things on his list included painting trim…
A few hours later, I was pulling teeny-tiny clothes out of the dryer, when one of the contractions let loose a small gush. I hollered upstairs to Geoff, “We’re going to have a baby tonight!”
“Are you sure?!”
Silence at first, and then:
Then I heard the paint roller resume. He continued painting. I continued folding clothes.
The first time I had a baby, and I told him that, he rushed to the bathroom and brought back a beach towel. Birth is so different than how they show it on TV!
That was the same labor that lasted 33 ½ hours. Although it’s impossible to tell, I figured this one would be around 5-8 hours, since the first was 33 ½, the second 17 1/4, the third around 10 or so. (Turned out I was right!) Each labor was roughly half of the previous one. Shorter labor is more intense, but, shorter.
This was a planned home birth, so I read my instructions about what to do when you go into labor. It said that if it was the middle of the night, try to lie down and get some rest, and maybe the contractions will stop or slow down. They were not slowing down where I was there in the kitchen, so I went upstairs to lie down. I also wanted to have Geoff help with some last-minute setup for our bedroom, like helping me plug in a lamp so I didn’t have to labor under the bright can lights. So that happened, and I laid down on my side, staring out the west side windows into the night. It was summer, but too late at night for a lot of those comforting summer insect sounds you get in the South. When I hear them, it’s like a warm blanket to me.
I never wanted to move back to the South. But when I step into this world, I’m enveloped in memories I’d forgotten. Not the specific ones you can pin up with a timestamp, but the ones that wrap you all around, with no beginning or end. The warm orange sunsets and hazy, muggy, buggy, cricket-sounding, sticky-popsicle-sleeve summery days that sizzle on the pavement until they’re cooled and chilling you, condensing around your feet all over again, pooling in the bottom of your existence, impossible to scoop up, because they spin around upside down and start all over again, a hot, wet hourglass of neverending grit you can’t rinse off, sparkling silently.
I think Southern summers left their mark on me.
And here I was again, this time on my own terms, for the most part.
I agreed to be here. I was exactly where I needed to be. No time for that now.
As contractions got deeper and more frequent, I realized there was no slowing them down. I was on my way out of the top of the hourglass and there was no escape. I would not see daylight again pregnant, unless I was still in labor. Everything upside down again soon. Sand spilling out everywhere, scoop as much as you can. As contractions fell away in soft tingling relief, I felt like a big pile of sand collapsing and spreading across my half of the mattress, into the bed frame and out of it, onto the floor and under it, making such a mess. A quiet, big, spreading-out mess. Heaven knows I’d cleaned my fair share this summer, I knew one when I saw it.
I told Geoff I felt like the contractions were getting strong, and I was going to have this baby tonight. I told him I wanted him to call the midwife for me. And I told him I felt like getting into the bathtub. He brought me my phone, and it had Amy on the other end. I think it said “1:34” on it. I felt like I sounded quiet and weak. I wanted her to come, and she said she was going to take a shower first and then come on over. I wondered why the delay at the time, and later I remembered: Amy has animals and I’m extremely allergic. We never even discussed it during this pregnancy, but she must have remembered from Eloise’s birth. I’m so glad she did.
Meanwhile, Geoff was cleaning out the bathroom that was still full of construction dust from the summer, in addition to being thigh-high with all of our stuff, being used like a storage room. You have never in your life seen a man clean a bathroom so quickly or so well. In nearly no time at all, the bathroom was sparkling and he’d cleaned and sanitized most of the items on their short trip from the bathroom to the adjacent empty bedroom.
As is true of Geoff, he was still working to perfect it when I realized I needed him with me more than I needed his assistance on anything else. Bless him.
He came to me, and tracked my contractions in the Full Term app on my phone. I’d been tracking them at some point earlier but forgot about it as I managed the pain on my own. I got to the point I wanted to move, to reposition, to do something besides lie in the bed. I couldn’t rest these out or rest them away anymore. I was fully awake, fully aware now.
I wanted to get into the tub, so Geoff drew me a bath and helped me into the tub. Much better, much more comfortable. I labored in various positions in the tub for about an hour (probably around 2 – 3 am). I started vocalizing the pain to work through it. Geoff said something that really made me laugh, which was, “I can’t help but feel responsible for this.” Hahaha! I kept laughing right through the next contraction, and it was wonderful. I rolled right on top of it and over it, as if there were no pain at all.
Although it felt great to lean back in the tub and take the pressure off my cervix, I knew that would not help things progress. And eventually, even that position wasn’t doing a whole lot for relief anyway. What was more powerful was the urge to sit up and hold on to the edge of the tub, then to turn around, hold on to the back of the tub and bear down. But making the motion to actually reposition was going to take some courage, as contractions were strong and frequent. Amy arrived around 3:05 a.m., and with Jennifer, which was a surprise. Even though I knew there are always two midwives, I was surprised to see her. I heard Amy come in, but I did not turn around and look at her. I did hear her say, however, “I’m going to do a bare bones setup in here to catch a baby.” And I thought, “Oh, no, we’re not that close. No way.” But I didn’t say so. I just felt excitement. Did I really seem that close? And there was something said about I sounded like I might be.
Each birth, I knew exactly how I wanted to counteract the pain. But it wasn’t something I could have predicted until I was in labor. With this birth, I knew immediately, suddenly, without doubt, and to the exclusion of all else that what would counteract the pain would be if someone were to squeeze my forearms. And in a pretty specific zone, too. Too close to the wrists or elbows, and I would feel like freaking out. But once in the magic zone, with lots of pressure, I could walk over the wave as if it were a bed of nails. Before my first baby, you never would have convinced me that pain could physically be managed this way, but after Eloise, I now know, it’s true.
After a few pains that would’ve sent me through the roof were it not for this pain counteraction, I decided I had to move in order to progress. I knew from previous births that my cervix slips toward the back instead of sitting directly underneath the baby’s head, making labors drag on forever. So I thought about where the cervix was and where the head was and felt around a few times and kind of figured out from moving around how to get into the best position to get as much of the pressure from the head onto the cervix as I could. And perhaps not surprisingly, that was also the position I was feeling the urge to be in: standing. Just standing! Simply standing up. That’s it. Nothing fancy, no birthing stools or balls or tubs or anything, I just felt like standing there. Weird? Maybe? I don’t know. No time for that. I kind of figured I wouldn’t birth in the tub, just because I’m more comfortable feeling in full control of my body and the water’s just not my thing for birth.
I got out of the tub but gave exactly zero concern about putting my clothes back on. If I had a thought about it, it would have been that there is no way I can put clothes on before another contraction rolls over me, so let’s not. I was kind of fearful, not of the pain itself, but just of the element of surprise, as they were coming in fast and hot now. I moved to the bedroom and to my great pleasure, Amy or Jennifer had changed our sheets and laid out some pads on the floor and bed for me. I cannot tell you how nice it is as a mother to have someone do something for you that you didn’t have to ask for, work for, plan, list, shop, bring home, put away, delegate, eventually do yourself on begged & borrowed time, then borrow more time to clean up after doing it. It. Is. Amazing. Someone did something for me that I didn’t have to ask for. And not just anything, but something specifically just for me. I was so grateful I felt like melting.
I know I smiled.
I came in to the side of the bed and leaned over on to the bed with each contraction, and then sort of left myself there, quietly resting afterwards, my arms outstretched and my hair still up and damp from the tub. The room was warm, I’m sure, so hot from the August day pressing in through the windows. You could have probably wiped it off the floor. It smelled like a combination of damp old house after a spring thaw, and fresh paint. A special smell sort of like fresh-wet pecans when you pick them off the ground and crack them open. It was like that. And if you haven’t done that and don’t know that smell, you should. It’s a smell of fresh beginnings. Fresh beginnings from meaningful things.
And then, labor seemed to be on hold. I felt like I was on a strange euphoric cloud and I could talk and converse. Things that had seemed darkened out came into the light again. But oh no, has my labor stopped? Has it slowed? I wasn’t sure, nor was I concerned with those questions at the time. But just in case I had been, Amy volunteered that sometimes labor seems to slow down right before pushing, and I think that’s what was going on here. I remember being light-hearted and saying some funny things and laughing a little bit. I don’t remember the jokes. I do remember smiling. I remember the heat. I remember pulling my hair down all of a sudden and the intensity crank up out of nowhere. I remember panting. I remember gripping and screaming and Jennifer gripping my arms for me, with Geoff, as I had told her to, and her saying to me that God is with me. I nodded, that’s all I could do. I wanted to hold her hand back and look her in the eye, and say, “thank you,” but I couldn’t. I didn’t, couldn’t, saw nothing, said nothing, could focus in no other way. I felt sudden panic, sharp and gushing pushes, and I couldn’t even make a noise if I’d tried. I felt my hips come forward and my abs clench in, and I had my forearms just lying on the bed now, no thought of them. No thoughts at all really. Just a tight, bright, grey visualization of squeezing, so briefly. I remember noticing the lights were on, the pad was under me, and Amy’s gloves. I remember the shaky feeling of just knowing the head was out, sort of scared. I still couldn’t believe it. In some way I was still in denial. Had I really made it? All along I kept wanting to know how much longer, and I never got any promises. I just kept going. I really wanted someone to tell me I was doing a good job. Was I? Is this OK? Are we OK? Am I OK? Is this all right? Is everything OK? I don’t know! I don’t know! I don’t know! Everything in rapid succession, and some Awwwwws in the room and another push and that familiar, wonderful, relieving glumpf feeling when your baby is born just sliding out is the most wonderful, world-changing, amazing feeling. Then, in a flash, the baby was in my arms!
I remember the feeling this time of the wet cord against me as I held the baby for the first time. Did I do it? Did I do a good job? I was still in shock a little bit this time. It took me a minute for it all to register. I wasn’t ready for the big moment because I didn’t realize how close I was. The pushing and birth had all happened very, very quickly, so you have to understand why I didn’t have time for big emotions so quickly; I was really just recovering, too! From shock, but also from the physical trial.
Oh, I was happy, though, of course! So happy. So, so, so, so happy. Happy only covers it like a bottle cap over the ocean. Deep breaths, all over this baby, I shook, and smiled disbelief inside. And when I held her, my left hand over her back and my right hand underneath her, I thought it seemed like a little girl.
I was right.
My daughter. My amazing, beautiful, perfect daughter. Oh my goodness, I couldn’t even see her face yet, I hadn’t looked! I was still just standing there, feeling all the feelings go back into my legs and the sand go back into the hourglass. I wanted to get my footing first. That isn’t easy on cloud nine.
I was wrapped, the baby was wrapped, the towels, the smiles, the utter relief, the big news that it’s a girl – everything all at once. But first, those few seconds on the cloud. They were ours alone.
She’d come out with her face still in her sac. And when Amy noticed a nuchal cord, she swept away the sac and slipped the cord out over around her neck. Eloise had had a nuchal cord, too, I believe, though I can’t quite remember for certain. Geoff would remember. I might be inserting this memory, but I think I almost remember Amy saying something like, Oh, wait – hang on. Cord around the neck. Let me get that.
When I finally decided to lay down on the bed, I was smiling so hard, and I brought her to me, and that’s when I could see her little face for the first time, Oh, sweet, wet little baby! Born just in time for sunrise. Her siblings came in the room about an hour after her birth. And it hasn’t been dark since.
Margaret means “child of light.”
Iris means “rainbow.”
She loves the light here on the other side, and so do I.