Autumn Zoe Brown was born 12 days overdue at 2:23am on Tuesday January 12, 2010. I didn’t write “late” because maybe that’s what she decided- she is a willful child. Everyone thought she was going to be early. I mean everybody except my midwives. In the beginning of December 2009 each person I met, every passerby (when you are pregnant you become an odd type of public property, open to public comment from anyone at any time) and even medical professionals (I worked in very large public hospital) said, I’d be delivering “any day now.” Many people tried to convince me that I was having twins even after I assured them, “that’s not what my sonograms show.” Indeed I was HUGE. Autumn was HUGE. No – WE were HUGE.
I stopped working on 12/24/09. I couldn’t stand squishing into subway cars during rush hour any longer and having people touching or knocking into my humongous belly. I spent 3 long weeks at home, mostly alone, alternately meditating in silence on how these were the last days I’d have to myself then amusing myself waiting for the moments when Autumn would play skin shark. I’d excitedly catch an elbow, foot or knee as it popped out, stretching my skin, moving tightly across my round tummy like a shark’s fin bobbing out of the sea of amniotic fluid.
Long days blurred into long nights. I listened to YoYo Ma play Bach every night. I played world of GOO and watched Tom play ping pong or tennis on the Wii I bought him for Christmas. I danced to Radiohead and PJ Harvey. I watched the snowfall outside our loft window. I read children’s books aloud to Autumn. I improvised melodies and songs for her as I played the finger piano, enjoying the soothing tones resonating into my belly.
Since Autumn did not arrive on schedule, New Year’s Eve, my meditative state was interrupted to go to the hospital every few days for stress tests, to make sure she was still comfortable inside. During the second fetal stress test, on the 9th day of being overdue, I was having contractions 5 minutes apart. The doctors admitted me into labor and delivery for 2 hours, to “be observed”. I knew it wasn’t time to deliver- I was way too comfortable. Although I had read about, watched videos on U-tube about, and fantasized about having an orgasmic birthing experience I knew things had to get painful first. I was nowhere near pain. I began to panic thinking if the medical team got their way they would induce my labor. I heard too many stories of friend’s birthing experiences ending with an unwanted c-section.
I wanted nothing other than a natural childbirth, for my body and my baby to communicate on our own terms, in our own time, without interference. It was bad enough I had to go deliver my child in a hospital when what I really wanted was a home birth. My “advanced maternal age” (42) and fibroids made me a “high risk” case forcing me to accept that this was not going to happen.
I let out a big sigh of relief when I talked to my midwife on the phone. She said I could go home because I was only dilated 3 cm and Autumn had not effaced. Apparently I was having a “prodromal” labor. It stopped late Saturday night. I was exhausted but relieved because one of my doulas was sick (Laura), the other not available (Barbara), and my husband had a sinus infection. Perhaps I could have been ready, but clearly Autumn, Tom, Laura, and Barbara weren’t.
My midwife told me if labor hadn’t started by Tuesday they would have to induce it. I woke up Monday morning with contractions again and called my homeopath scared of potentially being subjected to invasive medical intervention. I asked for a homeopathic remedy to help prevent another day of prodromming and to get things going more naturally.
Monday night my contractions were 4 minutes apart and finally consistently doubling me over in pain. Wanting to wait to the very last possible moment to leave home, to spend the least amount of time in the hospital, I finally agreed to let my nervous husband take Barbara, Laura, and me to the hospital at 10:00 pm.
Upon arrival at the hospital I was utterly dismayed to find out Autumn had “not yet dropped” and I was only dilated 4 cm. How could that be? I thought, “What were all those contractions doing Saturday and today if not opening my cervix?” Images of being in a surgical room, doctors cutting my abdomen open, removing my intestines, and pulling out my baby, flashed before my eyes. I cried. What chemicals would they put into my body and how would they impact my baby? What tools would they use? Would my daughter or our relationship suffer from her not having the full body experience of traveling down my birth canal? Would I be denied the opportunity to connect to my female power and to find the strength and endurance that connects me to all women who have given birth throughout the millennia?
I kept calm by telling myself to take it one step at a time, and by telling my husband, Barbara, and Laura to help me communicate to everyone that I still wanted to have a natural childbirth. After another quick call to my homeopath I began to sip my homeopathic remedy, diluted in water, every 30 minute. Thankfully by the time I was up on the delivery floor at 11:30 pm I was fully dilated.
Unfortunately my water had not yet broke and Autumn still had not dropped. So I couldn’t move to the second phase of labor. My midwife had to break my water. It gushed out. I immediately felt better and Autumn began to drop. Relieved but incredibly uncomfortable, I squatted, moved, and twisted in all different positions and places in the birthing room to get Autumn moving down my birth canal but it was not happening.
My vision of delivering Autumn in a deep squat, or on a physio-ball, or on all 4’s quickly vanished once the monitor showed my contractions reached 10. I could not stand on my feet or knees or even keep my body parallel with the floor with the support of my arms. All I could do was lay on my side in the bed/birthing table.
Between exploring new positions, passing out in pain, screaming, and vommiting I pushed – but with little effect. My midwife told me that I was possibly having a hard time pushing Autumn further down the canal due to Autumn’s extra large size, my fibroids, my uterus’ exhaustion from prodromming for 2 days and my advanced maternal age. The hospital nurse interrupted my rhythm and confused me. Following my impulse I screamed, grunted, and howled. She told me to keep my screaming down “inside”, that I needed to keep my energy down and focused on pushing- while my midwife and doulas told me to do whatever worked and to let the other women on the ward hear me scream to give them courage to push as well. So I kept screaming. Finally Autumn began to descend.
At my midwife’s suggestion I then laid on my left side with my right leg bent up to my chest, left leg straight, and Autumn started to come down further. But progress was slow. She kept suggesting I take “the smallest dose of pitocin” to help make the contractions stronger. I kept asking for more time. Finally after 2 hours, delirious with pain, in and out of sleep, I agreed to take the pitocin. It felt right as Autumn had already started her journey out, so labor was not being “induced,” my muscles just need a little more umph.
Soon Autumn was crowing. It wasn’t until I moved both my knees up into my arm pits and had both feet in the stir-ups pushing through the most incredible pain imaginable, “the ring of fire,” that I actually felt how I could connect more strongly to my core and push with more results, moving Autumn down and out. My husband and doulas could see Autumn’s brown hair. My midwife asked if I wanted to look in the mirror to see. I was so focused on coordinating my pushing and breathing – which was more like deep gutteral screaming- I didn’t want to break my concentration and said no.
My midwife stretched my perineum. I felt burning and tearing as Autumn’s head emerged and my midwife repeatedly rotated her hands around inside of me, twisting her out. Tom and my doulas yelled with excitement, “we can see her head!” I felt Autumn’s long slippery body squirm and wriggle out of my body. What I once felt as a warm round mass was now a long and boney wave with joints moving out of me. My midwife plopped Autumn onto my belly. All the pain and exhaustion vanished in a flash and transformed into the greatest rush of excitement, joy, and love I have ever experienced as I finally held my HUGE 10 pound 7 ounces, 22 inches long, baby in my arms.
They had to take Autumn out of my arms immediately to clean her up, she had a meconium. She was covered in a pumpkin-y orange goo. My midwife asked, “How are you doing?” “Freezing,” I said, shaking even as my husband and doulas were covering me in blankets. “Of course,” my midwife replied, “You just lost your internal furnace.”
I have no memory of delivering the placenta but know it happened. I got stitched-up, which I now remember as the most painful part of the process, because I had no drugs or pain-killers before or during the delivery. I got a needle with something to numb the surface just before the needle and thread went in.
Nevertheless I was transfixed as I watched the doctors and nurses clean Autumn up on a table parallel to my bed waiting, full of desire, to hold my little one again, calling out to her across the divide, “momma’s here,” as she cried. The biggest disappointment occurred when I only got to hold her wrapped up in a blanket for a few minutes before they rushed her up to the neonate floor, escorted by Tom, to prevent her from aspirating the meconium.
I waited- suspended in a hyper state of arousal -to see her again. Despite all my hard work, the days of prodromming before delivery, I could not fall asleep. I was wired and craved nothing more than to hold my infant. I waited 9 months and then almost 2 extra long weeks for this day! Even a heavy dose of opiates could not knock me out. I was excited. I was elated. I was on the highest high I ever felt. There was no sleep. All I wanted to do was to hold my baby.
After I moved to the maternity ward, Tom left exhausted, sometime around 3:30 am. My doulas left earlier. I was left totally alone in my room, something I was not expecting. I waited and waited for the nurses to bring me my baby. I did not know I’d have to wait 5 hours! All alone, the events of my labor replayed over and over in my minds eye with my midwife’s words repeating, “Congratulations, you delivered that huge baby! Now you know there isn’t anything in this world that you can’t do!” How could I sleep?