Just Write (Olive’s Birth Story)

At last word count, it shows that I’ve written over 3,000 words on our third birth.  It took me three years to spill it and the third anniversary of our third baby’s due date to write it down.  11/11 is a great due date, but 10/31 suits me so much better.
Warning:  the following is a birth story.  I love birth stories, all kinds.  The unexpected, the calm, the scary, the medicated, the natural.  I’m an oral collector of sorts, remembering each one that’s been told to me.
Well, this is one of mine.

Olive, Part I

I can’t believe I have yet to write this story down, for it is the story I’ve been waiting to tell on paper for so long.  In many ways, I knew I would someday tell the story of a baby that arrived one Halloween morning; I just didn’t believe it would be my story.
I love Halloween and I always have.  I remember dressing as a hobo, a pumpkin but most of all I remember my mom wearing a cone head costume one year.  I love how she always helped me make or put together a costume and supported my trick-or-treating well into high school.
When I first met Luke in July of 1998, we spoke of what we were planning to be as he asked for my help in creating a Gumby costume.  I’m not sure why we didn’t have a Halloween wedding.  But in our first pregnancy, my best pals threw me a Halloween-themed baby shower and I dressed as a pregnant cat with Gerber bottle nipples hot glued to my tight, jersey-clad tummy.  The couple that threw the party wore Depends and tiny white tees; one dressed as our girl baby with a nametag that read Betty, and the other Rook, our boy name.  Everyone drank keg beer out of sippy cups while I sat on bed rest in the corner, eating spider cupcakes dressed as a pregnant kitty.
With our first two daughters, pregnancy did not come easily and through fertility treatment’s road I envied couples who stumbled across pregnancy when they least expected it and where the mama got to barge into a room with a stick held high with a, honey, guess what?
A day before Valentine’s Day I did a poetry reading and celebrated afterwards with two, cold PBRs [Pabst Blue Ribbons]. The next day, we took a ferry and drove three hours to ski at Mt. Baker.  I was very sick outside the lodge, declaring an apparent hang over from two beers or an allergic to beer self-diagnosis.  Well, an allergist recently diagnosed me with a yeast allergy.  No wonder I was never good at beer drinking.
Weeks went on.  My pants didn’t fit.  I started running.  Life with a two and four year old was making me very tired.  I couldn’t wait for summer so I ate all the time, but all I ate was plain yogurt with cinnamon.  Really.  At playgroup, my friend Natalia took one look at me and said, Dude, you’re so pregnant.  I ran home.  There was no way.  I tried to ignore her.
With our beautiful girls asleep later that night, I find a pregnancy test stick in the drawer.  Luke was upstairs reading a book called something like How to Sell Everything and Sail Around the World with your Two Kids and Honey and Live for $5,000 a Year.  I swung the door open, tear-stained and breathless, and I flung the pregnancy test on Luke’s book.
I can tell you it wasn’t what I pictured in the long-ago nights when I’d wished for a natural pregnancy.  I am pure panic; scared.  I called two wonderful girl friends and each tell me I will raise three children just fine and I will be, in fact just that: fine.
With the very first ultrasound we were given a due date of 11/11.  Pure luck, every wish came true on shooting stars for three children.  It was an incredible date, yet right away I tell people I’m having a Halloween baby.
Olive, Part II
I sat uncomfortable, swollen and dilating for weeks on bed rest all the while wondering if my body held a tiny boy or a tiny girl.  Our daughters always hoped for a littlest sister.  Our midwife said we just had to make it to 37 weeks, so I set my sights on Halloween.
Fall winds came steady and strong to the island in 2009 and had us holding our breath at 2 in the morning when Luke was on power outages and the winds blew too strong for Med Evac helicopters or charter flights, or too soon for a ferry.  I eased my thoughts with memories of Lucy May’s water birth at home on Whidbey Island.  A memory of birth with five hours without complications; five hours and with love, sweet tunes and an incredible circle of support in our own home with our own pets…
I began to tell myself I didn’t need help to deliver a baby and would make out just fine at the medical center.  I spoke to a marine scientist who delivered her baby in the kitchen of a seaside cottage in our island’s old growth forest.  She’d called her midwife on another island, and delivered just ten minutes after hanging up the phone.  That could be me, I told myself.  It’ll be alright, Luke would tell me.
I woke up after two miserable hours of attempted sleep, sat on an exercise ball and rocked slow in the early hours of October 30 to The Avett Brothers.  Third time around and I was so, so done.  My in-laws were in town keeping our home running smooth and happy and at bacon’s sizzle told of the market’s cashier and his warning for 70+ mph winds, high seas.  I panicked, but I had to get ready for the elementary school’s annual Halloween parade.
For the first time ever, I brought my own chair to parade’s sidewalk viewing.  I set up in front of my friend’s store and felt 100 percent miserable.
Halloween costumes a-blur, and I began to tell anyone who’d listen that I needed to get off the island since I was having a baby the very next day.  I was concerned the cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck twice.  I know, I’d say.  I pictured high seas, winds, cords that wrap around newborn necks two times.  I said, My water will break at two in the morning.
Dear friends tapped a shoulder, reminded me about the multiple times they had left the island, thinking they were in labor only to return pregnant on a ferry.  It was risky to leave the island not knowing if you were in real labor, even more so if you weren’t in labor yet, they’d each say.
I called Luke and told him we were going on the early evening boat off the island, before the gale force winds hit.
We’re going to have a baby tomorrow morning.  My water will break at 2 in the morning and I think the cord is wrapped around the neck twice, I said.
OK, so let’s just go get a hotel room, have a date and go out to dinner and be back in the morning for trick or treating with the girls, Luke said.
Um, no, because we’ll have our new baby.  We won’t be coming back.  Tell your boss you’ll be gone for a few weeks, I said.
I love you, Luke said.
We left at 5, stayed on the car deck.  Waves pounded the portholes; my contractions surged into low cramps.  The wind was blowing steady at 30 MPH and my stomach dropped just before each smash into wave’s surge.  Salt water blasted the windshield, sprayed my cheek when I rolled down the window for fresh air.
I don’t feel good; this is it, I said to Luke.  You’re just sea sick; this is a rough ride, said Luke.  He could have been right.  Lucy was one day shy of three weeks late, and we were twelve days early on the ferry.  I had just stopped my tocolytic medication to stop preterm contractions.
I wasn’t sure if the ferry was going to make the crossing near Fidalgo Island to port.  We played the car stereo loud, I closed my eyes.  It’s not often I can get Luke to listen to vintage David Bowie; labor has its perks.
As soon as our ferry made it to the dock, WSF administration cancelled all further sailings for the night.  Main Street’s flags in lamppost’s light reminded me of east coast hurricane warnings.
Luke’s brother and family lived a short drive from the terminal, and I remember crawling on my hands and knees to their bedroom.  I was so crampy.
Is this it, Luke’s brother asked from another room.  It was a rough ride, I heard Luke say.
This is it, I told my sister-in-law.
I had called our fabulous doula hours earlier and she had listened, understood and took an earlier ferry.  She was already waiting and resting at a seaside motel.  She believed in me and in the signs of a pregnant and laboring mama.
We went out for spicy Thai food, spicy, and I finished my plate feeling sick.  I straddled the restaurant chair until a tightening in my bellow reached behind to my lower back.
This baby’s going to fall out, I said.  Everyone at the table laughed.  It sure looked like it, at least that’s what I thought.  And I’m sure every mama of more than two babies feels like that.
Checked into room 201, watched Yes Man with Jim Carrey.  I felt too uncomfortable to laugh, but enjoyed the message of saying yes when it matters most.
I’m pretty sure I fell asleep crying.  I was on bed rest and had been through a too-uncomfortable too-long pregnancy.  I didn’t think I had it in me to carry our baby for another week, let alone another day.  I wanted my body back and I wanted to meet our baby.
At 1:47 AM I awoke screaming.  I had no idea what was happening.  In our other births, my water broke as I began pushing.  But that sensation at labor’s true onset is something I will never forget.  All I saw was the hotel digital clock.
It’s true!  It’s almost 2!  It’s happening, I cried as I turned to Luke.  Never mind.  I’m not ready.  I can’t do this.  I want to go home.
Yes, you can and we will go home…just, with our baby, he said.
I always knew it was true labor when I was afraid at onset and couldn’t turn it off.  Luckily, I had Luke.
We called our doula and within moments, before 2 actually, she was in our room.  I sat in the tub, looked at my Halloween-themed pedicure feet and continued to feel the rush of water breaking.  Luke put on my play list and I drank and snacked.
In the space between songs, I heard the sideways rain, slapping across the marina and all the way to our hotel window.  The wind on the flagpole outside reminded me of screaming sailboat halyards.
I needed to get off our island, I began to tell our doula.
The cord is wrapped twice around our baby and if I delivered on the island I wouldn’t be able to be flown off is something was wrong.  The storm’s too great, I said, worried.
You know, statistically,  she said, 25% of babies have a cord wrapped around their neck, some even twice.  But less than 1% of the time it causes a problem.
Well, I don’t know if it’s going to be fine.  Contractions came regularly and I walked around the hotel room.  I listened to my iPod, created my own world as I placed earphones in my ears, and darkened the lights.  Luke was lying behind me, feeling the kicks and downward descent of our babe.  Somewhere between Alexi Murdoch and Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah I fell asleep.  The peaks of contractions woke me up so I turned up the music.  It was a numbing loud, and I knew the lyrics like I knew my own breath, so I zoned.  I don’t know how she knew, but all of a sudden Lori said it was time to get to the hospital.
Once dressed, I knew I didn’t want to labor on the stairs, so I ran down to the landing and made it just in time to hang on the banister.
Luke apologized for my water breaking all over the room.  Over the course of the last few hours, the desk clerk had delivered so many stashes of linens and towels.
M’am, that’s the best thing to ever happen in that room.  Have a lovely birth and keep the key for keepsake.
We got to the emergency door and a nurse met me with a wheel chair.  I had to show identification to check in and I knew exactly where to go.  We’d just had our Labor and Delivery tour.  I think it was a mile to down the long corridor to our room.  I pushed the wheelchair myself and leaned on the handles through each transition contraction.
These are so much worse, and the lights are so bright.  I want to go back in the hotel room.  I felt so much better there, I said.
I was in transition.  Truth is, nowhere would have made me feel better.
After check in’s initial exams and tests, I was let loose into the shower.  It was dark and we had those battery-powered lights that look like real candles.  Luke kept the hand held sprayer on my lower back as I bounced on a ball.  Per my birth plan, they used a stethoscope to listen to the heartbeat and started one of those gross iv picc lines in my left hand.  I wasn’t confined to the bed.  Luke and I danced around the room, swayed hips beside the bed.  I heard our midwife had made the redeye ferry off of our neighboring island and would be there soon.
The on call OB lurked outside our door and wondered if my body, our baby, would wait for our midwife.
She’ll be here, I said as I cut off her introduction.  I’m fine.  Go, I said.  I wanted our midwife.
At this point, I was kneeling by the bedside, almost under the bed, trying to push back into the earth with each rush of contraction.
I didn’t know then that the Orcas ferry was late.  And when it docked, the pedestrian bridge was stuck.  Instead of letting the walk-ons off first, they were getting the vehicles off.
More delays as I turned nine centimeters.  I knew I was almost there.  Something about this third time told me things about myself I’d never been in touch with before.
The on call OB was standing in the doorway.  Luke, sensing my projected anger upon her, closed the curtain on rails, blocked me from view.
I had bought an armband for my iPod and could move freely with loud, loud music just like at home, just like my last birth. At this point, most of my body was under the bed.  I thought if I couldn’t rise up with my contractions, I could keep our baby in until our midwife arrived.
At this point, our midwife had ran ahead of the offloading cars and once at her mainland car, was alarmed when it stalled three times en route to the hospital.
At exactly 8:47 AM, she walked in.
I’m at ten.  I’m ready to push, I said.
Yes you are, yes you are, she said.
I won’t explain what it felt like to stand on my knees atop a bed, gripping Luke’s shoulders, staring into his eyes.  Clap Your Hands Say Yeah was so loud, but even so it wouldn’t dull the pain.  I know I was screaming at the top of my lungs.  I know Luke cried seeing me in so much pain.  I was visualizing our baby, and all I say was one outstretched horizontally, tiny feet pushing back against my coccyx.
There was no between, just contractions stacked upon one another.
This is it, I thought.  There went the threshold.  I’ve past it, past the point at which I can last.  I was certain I’d never been in more pain, never felt as much and never continued on through as much.
One earphone fell out.  The room was so quiet, my head so full of pain and rock songs I knew as well as my own heartbeat.
The other earphone fell to the sheets as our midwife whispered to hold my breath.  I remember picturing a coconut shell split upon a Caribbean rock revealing the fruit.
She’d gone in, both hands and scissors.  My hands were wrapped around Luke’s neck, my forehead against his chest.  I looked down in time to see two tiny feet tap hospital’s sheets as I felt that release, that single moment I’ve been fortunate enough to feel three times.
Having a baby leave my body is the most surreal and alive thing out there.  It’s a bit of victory, that unmedicated and totally supported birth feeling.  As the last toe leaves, it’s pure magic, a moment frozen.
I spun around, slid back into a reclined pose.  It was after nine in the morning, and through the left window I saw a rainbow.  The storm had passed and a rainbow remained.
The room was silent. I remember whispers as Luke shifted his position.  I looked to meet his eyes, glance back at the rainbow when it happened.
Our baby finally cried in the corner of the room.  I realized it was the same room I’d helped a best-friend-who’s-like-a-sister deliver her child three years prior.  Same view, this time with rainbow.
Your baby is fine.  There was no breath at first since…
I finished our midwife’s sentence.
The cord was wrapped around twice and was too short to be delivered, I said.
Yes, she said.
At this point, Luke was holding our new baby.
It’s another girl, he said with tears in the same blue shirt he’d delivered his other daughters in.
We looked at each other; we looked at her and a rainbow just past her cheek.
Olive, we both said, Olive June, we said at once.
It was as if we’d always known which names we’d pick from the list.
Happy Halloween, Happy Birthday, we said at once.
I’d never been surer of anything than how this birth would go.
It’s taken me a long time to write out the words.  It’s too much truth, too close to the heart.  I stayed in the hospital for a few days.  I’d broken my coccyx in the end of my labor.  And just two a few months into newborn hood, I came down with mastitis, then mono.  It snowballed.
It wasn’t easy, those first few months as the mama of three girls under five years old.  Finishing this proves I’m capable of so much.  There really isn’t room for self-doubt in the life that waits ahead.  There’s resilience and truth in my heart if I listen well enough.  Sometimes, there’s a path already chosen if I believe in it enough.
Just Write
It’s been a while since I free wrote, since I wrote From The Heart.
This piece is raw and honest like that one.
It feels amazing to spill from the top of my mind, unedited and unchanged.  It’s such an important activity for writers, and I’m glad to be joining today.


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