After a failed pregnancy in a past relationship, seven years passed before I conceived again in 2013. I hadn’t had any medical insurance for those years and am glad Medicaid covered pregnant women. I immediately started fighting the push for appointments for this test and that screening. Prenatal vitamins were included, but I saw no reason to alter my healthy state or question my baby’s ability to grow within me. Yes, the baby is small, because both biological sides are small. No, I don’t want to sign that form that I don’t understand. I became very protective over her and over myself. I wanted no change to my lifestyle or any risk of compromise for a natural development for Baby.
I used homeopathic remedies for morning sickness, which is a misnomer, because I felt sick all day and every day for the first trimester. During that time, I was overextended as the only caregiver for my two adopted boys and a foster sibling group of three. After begging for extra services to help those foster children, I finally succumbed to asking they be placed in another home. It was a difficult transition to not include foster children, but it was necessary to establish a safe environment for my boys and for the pregnancy, which I did not enjoy.
The two ultrasounds were fun, but otherwise, I didn’t enjoy pregnancy. No one ever commented on my glow, so I assume I never did. The extending of my body and the hormonal changes hit me hard. I was lethargic, dealt with a lot of mood swings, and leaned heavily on my neighbor and best friend during that season. I recall trying to keep up with fitness as my body grew heavier and more cumbersome. Having been slim all of my life, the psychological effect of pregnancy developed an aversion to all things maternal. In one case, I could feel my hips spreading as I was walking on a treadmill. I had to stop for fear that Baby would come tumbling out too early. My arms bulked up, as sitting and using arm machines was the only part of fitness that I could maintain somewhat comfortably.
My daughter was due on a Saturday, and I spent that day with my boys at the park. We played rugby. We ran. We lifted heavy logs that didn’t need to be moved from their natural location. I was ready to get this birthing process started. My boys and I still laugh about strangers commenting on my swollen womb and asking, “When are you due?” I would shout, “Today! Gotta go!” and keep on speed-walking without any pause or hesitation. The reaction on their faces still amuses us. I ate watermelon and pineapple per suggestion of some Latina friends. I meditated and bounced on an exercise ball per advice from yoga contacts. I got to 10 p.m. without any signs of labor and while looking up what those signs might be, I started drinking castor oil.
My birth plan was to dig a hole in the backyard, add some hay or soft grass and pop a squat with my friends and mother attending. I had read somewhere that the child being connected to Earth was a natural beginning, a ritual observed by many Native American/First Nations tribes. Everyone said no. I declared that I would not enter a hospital if I was conscious. I later realized so much of the scenario stemmed from reproductive manipulation and abuse, and I know that plus my intent not to be coerced into a C-section is why I fought so hard to control the birth plan so adamantly. Friends helped me find a birthing center with a doula and midwife, all covered by Medicaid. While I had to drive nearly two hours to get there for a few appointments, none was as humorous as the night when the castor oil took effect and the midwife declared contractions close enough to come in. With a driver covering the distance and my lower half-nude body in the backseat, bucket nearby, I arrived at the birthing center in the wee hours of the morning. Shortly thereafter, I was joined by my best friend and her partner — my mother was already with me — and another friend who lived only a few miles from the center.
For about four hours, I started feeling all of the physical and emotional experiences of the previous nine months. I used humor to offset the discomfort, and at one point I cursed Eve for eating the fruit that led to the painful childbirth. (Referring to the Genesis account of Man’s fall leading to painful childbirth as consequence for disobedience to GOD, an account from the Hebrew Bible.) While someone ran around looking for an apple, thinking I was asking for one to eat, the midwife checked me and announced that my cervix was ready. I moved to the shower room to enjoy hot water while the bath was drawn in the birthing tub. My friend — a musical cohort — began singing, which calmed me and gave me something to help focus my mind as the pains began growing in severity and closeness. It was at the point that I was balled up in the shower floor when my mom called out to the midwife saying, “She’s pushing!” I didn’t realize I was pushing, but moms know more than daughters when it comes to birthing. Everyone began to get excited and assisted me to the tub while the songs kept sounding.
I was in heavy labor for less than two hours. I had no drugs, per my request, and at the point that I thought some might be necessary, my daughter was crowning. The castor oil had cleaned me out to the point that every stage of my daughter’s entrance into the world was captured on cellphone cameras without any obstructions or interference. The best picture of my daughter’s face out into the water is something akin to a National Geographic image. Her dark hair, thick eyebrows, and full lips were evident even then. The ripples in the water increased as I pushed and she pulled her arms out. The room fell silent when she used her arms in perfect breaststroke form to swim her way out of me at 9:45 a.m. on a Sunday morning in March. I remember in slow motion as one onlooker began reading Psalm 139, which were the first words my daughter heard as the midwife lifted my her out of the water and placed her into my arms. I saw her take her first breath. She seemed content to cuddle, and the prearranged, delayed umbilical cord cut waited another 10 minutes until the pumping ceased and the now silent room took in the fleeting moment of this new life’s entry.
Once in the bed, we cuddled some more. The next few hours were full of comments, tears, more photography, phone calls, and stitching — because I tore from pushing so hard. Baby had her tongue tie clipped. I passed out in the bathroom after announcing that I might. I had a dream of my brother and I riding motorcycles together. I never did figure out any significance to that except that I was relaxed and remembering all the happinesses I had experienced in my lifetime. That led to a time of horrible reminiscing about people who had died and abuses I had suffered; some were yet to play out. The entire time, my daughter was skin-to-skin with me as people fed me, patted her, and carried on as only the best birthing attendants do. I would learn about breastfeeding and how my inverted nipples would create humorous exchanges with other mothers and babies. I would begin to regulate my hormones, and my body would slowly, SLOWLY return to normal human size. So much would play out in the years to come, but in that moment, all that mattered was the naked girl child laying on my chest. We would later observe an earth-ceremony with just the two of us. She was worth all the manipulation, the fears, the fights to avoid “normal” birthing scenarios, the happy and sad memories, the physical changes and discomforts.
In that moment, nothing else mattered. Only she and I existed, and we did, we existed to plan a lifetime together.
By Yaki Cahoon