I am excited to introduce a project worked with a friend, for a friend. Sara Parsons Photography and I present The Labor Project: A Birth in Words and Pictures. Sara’s post can be found [HERE]. Attending a birth is an honor, a privilege and a downright amazing experience. Writing a narrative alongside an artist and wonderful friend like Sara is an honor, a privilege and a downright amazing experience.
This is the story of falling in love with a baby before we even met her, the story of witnessing two friends fall deeper in love and the joy of meeting someone you just know you’ll know a lifetime in their very first second of life. This experience brought me to my knees in the end, a wreck of being awake 39.5 hours after witnessing such beauty I though my heart would explode. I wailed in happiness, and entered a place where the only logical thing to do was roll around in the grass in the sun in full, tearful joy. I forever remain grateful to be a part of this.
It’s beautiful to document beauty, to witness beauty and just downright jump inside beauty.
I believe the greatest stories are waiting to be told, but it’s extraordinarily something altogether different to stand inside a moment within a story, to stand on the spine of what’s about to unfold. I could tell the story of two friends I love dearly who fell in love in their late teens. I could describe what it’s like to watch love and the strength of a couple that fits so perfectly together and how it grows the heart just in witness.
On the very first few pages, I jumped into this story while Michelle stood at my kitchen’s counter colored unmistakably in soon-to-be-mama-to-three. I guessed it as I’d done before with good friends. I swelled beside her in happiness for nine months. Whether filling ice water or delivering tasty treats, it was clear her baby was already loved. Whether girl or boy, no one on the island could wait. Our families connected the dots of play dates on beaches, at pools and atop ski trails while we all pictured what the tiniest one to join our tribe would be like.
I believe the body remembers, the womb swells to familiar directions. The mind slows, the heart grows. All of us Mamas know these to be simple truths of pregnancy. The uterus, either in exclamation of joy or in mirror of the tiny heartbeat it carries contracts both in regularity and severity. For Michelle, early labor came early and left sudden, fooling many of us on ferry-less and foggy nights.
February 1, four o’clock in the morning brought unstopping regularity and an urgency to get stuff done. Friends close, readied bags and canceled plans for the next day. Michelle wasn’t so sure, but maybe because we wanted it to be so, we believed in a baby in the coming hours.
Labor is a force all its own and, in fact, stoppable once it starts, as she so easily reminded us. While Michelle stood in my doorway sometime before dinner was ordered, my husband cracked jokes and we waited for hers to arrive. With a new and silent intent, she planned for dinner together and a latest of boats off the island. I sat beside her, whispered code into the telephone, it is time I told our friend. Sometimes the laboring need to be lead to where they need to go.
A dark and empty evening ferry ride found us devouring Thai and Chinese takeout while Michelle walked laps around the boat. It was after ten o’clock when we pulled into the birth center; it was nearly eleven o’clock when the midwives pulled Michelle onto the bed to reveal she was only a few centimeters along, two to be exact. Sadness can come when you learn you have not traveled as far as you only a moment or two believed.
It seemed that she was some ways before the edge of true labor and diagnosed Strep B positive, so at 11:11 pm antibiotics were administered, while her bag of waters was broken.
The pleas of a laboring woman pull on hearts and I was for the first time truly aware of what my own husband felt from the place he stood throughout all three of our labors.
In between contractions she tells of a baby (yet to be born) named Sawyer. She isn’t the only one in the room convinced that babe is a boy. I believe she’s a girl. There’s so much power in not finding out, so much wonder and surprise. It’s one of life’s last true surprises.
Nearing midnight, hard contractions mirror the twap twap twap of her nearly born newborn’s heartbeat.
1:20 am brings yawns and laps in the hall, slow horizontal wall sways in pauses on the long walk to look at her babies birthed eight years, five years earlier with pictures posted on the center’s birth wall.
Aside from the most efficiently packed baby bag you’ve ever seen, Michelle brought her mother-in-law, our sweet friend and fancy photographer Sara and our wonderfully loving Pilates instructor pal, Jen.
You’ve always had a lot of people at your births, Michelle, says one of the midwives . But, this time, it seems different somehow.
This is how we do it in all our days, this is how we travel. We move in a pack. Whether we go to the beach or up to Whistler, we travel together. I mean, right now, we’re eight adults and soon-to-be eleven children. We are used to occupying a small space, we cram into places with tiny bedrooms. We travel together, we’ve even shared dinner on the floor together. This is my tribe, I guess, says Michelle.
During contraction in-betweens, Sara, Jen and I texted unwanting to make a sound. Of course, on little sleep, everything seemed funny in the spaces of Michelle’s happy silence. We told secrets, shared gossip and ate an incredible amount of candy we’d packed from her baby shower weeks earlier. After minutes of laughter and girl talk, our conversation always traveled to the baby on a journey, our worry and eager feelings.
In talks of opening and the power of movement, 2:00 o’clock in the morning’s stretching found Jen on the ground beside our laboring friend. A Pilate’s position called Cat-Cow, a little laughter over sexy cat and angry cat and which ever cat Michelle might at-that-moment connect most with.
Eyes closed and laughter fades into a harsh contraction. Michelle crawls to a ball for a bounce between the peaks of pain, a chance to open the hips before a rest.
At 2:15, we’re all tucked in and lights are dim. Asleep until 3:00 am, when couch shifting and racing minds wake us. We whisper, wonder about the decision to break the bag of waters, the reasons for her slow and uncharging labor. We hurt for the pain our friend is in, remembering the paths of our own collective eight births. We decide we’re too stressed for sleep. We wait. We watch.
3:50 am and Michelle wakes from rest in breaths deep and low. She slides out of bed, and into the pain that brings her bedside and to her knees.
When labor brings a mama low to the ground, I’ve always believed it to be a sort of invitation to transition. In the midwife’s check, at ten to four in the morning, they revealed she was not quite halfway there all the while nearly up for twenty-four hours.
4:30 am and we all had movement on our minds. Standing atop the bed, the midwife wrapped Michelle with a sheet around her torso. It’s called, Shaking the Baby Out.
Michelle: all hands and knees and a sheet, her body, stalled and sleepy.
Ben wakes, after a few hours of sleep. It must have been the island cold, or a meal unsettled, but he’d been rather knocked out for a while.
Yawn, are you ok? Ben asks Michelle.
You might be stalling my labor, she says. It’s true, we all labor best in full support, with full circle of love awake and attentive. This she knows, and now, with rest and awareness he’s ready.
7:00 o’clock in the morning welcomes a second dose of antibiotics for the Strep B that came for only this birth and not her previous ones. We all wonder how things go so differently and unplanned even when the outcome is the same.
Michelle is up and out with the sunshine for an alley walk, and back at once at a quarter to 8 in the morning. After hours on the lower side of half way we’re amazed how there isn’t much change except her urge to be outside, walking and moving.
There’s a baby at the end of this we all think, we all say, unaware of who says it first
as Michelle walks out on a foggy morning, chilly sidewalk, 8:15.
There’s been movement and lots of it, a sheet pulled taut and bounces on a ball, long walks in the hall, out into the world and its cold sidewalk. The sun has come and a new day is already underway. So when she climbs onto the bed after hours of traveling to meet this baby and the midwife reveals she’s changed a half a centimeter, it’s no wonder words fall flat in the room.
9:30 am and a rise of contractions, a squeeze of hips for a baby traveling down, and the beat-phwap, beat-phwap of the breast pump keep us all on our toes. In a hospital setting, our ears might ring from machines and the drip-drop of the pitocin IV, but here we tread on a more natural path.
In a labor that starts and stops, stalls and rests, loud laughter is hard to come by. I would imagine every laboring woman says at least once what Michelle asked Ben, midmorning:
I wish for a minute you could feel what I feel right now. Ben gave a sideways smile, a look of love and a hint of silliness we recognize from their son. Gimme those, said Ben as he reached forward for the breast pump. Connected, his head arched back in the hilarity of pain and circumstance. Let’s make it a bit more real, said Michelle as she turned it up, full force. It was amazing to see her laugh so completely and return to herself, away from the feelings and stress of labor. And then, she fell flat and onto the arch of another contraction.
Ben, I don’t want to do this, said Michelle.
You know what? If you use this pump to keep your labor going like the midwives suggest, you can name our baby whatever you want, said Ben.
And with that, Michelle was smiling and fiercely determined.
10:00 am is the silence of the room, contractions about three minutes apart. Michelle stands and sways into the peaks, deep inhales, more sway and light filtering in through cracks in the blinds. Her eyes are closed as Ben’s hand hovers over the shrouds of her shoulder. In ten fast and intense minutes, she nears transition as she feels the arch of the baby traveling down, the gentle sway off in breath with eyes clenched tight. 10:30 am and tears and pain in the lower back, sways in the swing, more and more tears as the fingers cover the eyes. It’s hard to watch as much as it feels it’s hard to help in the right way. But we are here, all of us, looking on, pressing and holding as we can.
at exactly eleven o’clock she rises from the birth stool
traces a finger along the wall
to the bathroom
regular, low breaths
Ben at the edge of the tub in
rays of sun seeping through
cracks in the curtain
looks of love in a sideways smile
half way point
a solid five
the tears come
halfway does not mean half full
a sound of defeat
unsure of a journey &
a midwife leans low to check a heartbeat
your baby is awesome
is all she says
more sways in a swing, face buried in darkness
breast pump greets contraction’s frequency.
12:20 in the afternoon finds us
in ends on the bed
in a pile of blankets
& as she leans into her side
hey, baby, you’re fresh out of room, says Ben
hand on a belly
a quick check before the tub
a space where words mean less
than the moves of a body
yet we hang on the number
you, tip to the front
stretched out on the bed, elbowed
arm & a closed eye
a rush of tub water &
mother-in-law speaks of stretching a sheep’s cervix
speaks to the satisfying movement of the cervix coming to full rest
truth told in her history on farms and in hospitals
1:50 pm, two minutes apart
2:05 pm with first steps in the tub
check of a heartbeat
low, swirls of water
loud, rush of the adding of warmer water
& sounds of bearing down
2:37 am Pearl
a tiny beauty
with the names of two islands, how ever unintentional
and the first words spoken from her Mama,
oh, she’s perfect
I love her so much already.
Pearl Marie Waldron
7 pounds, 20.5 inches