Is my birth story too profane? Not sweet enough, pretty enough, too subversive? It is MINE and I want to SHARE IT!
The shingles medication brought an uncanny order to the last week of my pregnancy: antivirals every 4 hours (I set an alarm); steroids at a diminishing dose tapering off over six days; pain meds as needed. Chocolates infused with marijuana. Rescue remedy. Flowers on the bedside table. My sister arrived from California and moved into the playroom with my nearly three-year-old daughter Matilde, who had spent about a week in that room with her daddy. As my pain made me seem scary to her she had stopped asking to nurse for the first time in her life. At our forty week appointment with our midwife, she checked my shingles lesions - they were on my butt cheek and at least on my labia - she wanted to see if there were more in my vagina. “They’re healing well but there are these two areas that really need to crust over and heal before labor.”
I dreaded the idea of staying pregnant another week, though I knew it would be physiologically feasible and possibly healthier for the baby. The 10 days or so I’d been sick already had me feeling capable of anything but also under great stress and bedrest was incredibly difficult. That night after Matilde went to sleep I stayed up with Annie and Austin. Noticing them both gazing at their phones I left the living room in a huff, turned off the lights in the bedroom and put on my hypnobirthing affirmations track. I had been listening to it quite a lot during the third trimester but even more often with the shingles. In the midst of the deep relaxation, right around midnight as it became March 31, I felt the warm flood of my amniotic fluid seep.
At first I weighed whether or not to tell my partner, Austin. I had been reading a book about unassisted birth and I was sure it was too soon to call the midwife but I quickly opted to share the news with my partner. Contractions intensified and I was excited even with a little trepidation. Throughout the pregnancy I had checked in with myself: am I worried about the extra fluid on his kidney? No. Should we have an extra ultrasound? No. One round of iron sucrose infusions prescribed because of anemia had boosted my energy and when nobody remembered to retest my iron numbers I was not concerned. After my water broke and labor kicked in, I was certain that all the affirmations on my recording and hanging on our walls were right: we were a perfect team. I was strong. I could birth beautifully.
Aust and I snuggled and I felt sexy and strong. We stayed in the dark bedroom mostly, though I also labored in the bathroom where I’d made my birth altar, set up lots of LED candles, hung the aforementioned affirmation pennants, my pregnancy weeks countdown from my midwife. I’d told Austin it was okay for him to try and get some more sleep until around 3:00 when I woke him up and told him it was time to call the midwife. I was sure that this was good and active labor and didn’t necessarily need anyone to confirm, but I wanted her to be with us. I also wrote a message to Zoe, who was planning to come and take photos. I didn’t want to wake her up just in case it ended up being a long haul, but I imagined that whenever she woke up in the morning she could check in with us and see whether we were ready for her to come over as well.
Midwives Debbie and Rachel were with us by 4:00 am, giving me the talk that I had expected from them. If we went to the hospital they would offer a cesarean. That would be the lowest risk for the baby, considering the shingles. Though there is literature on primary herpes zoster infection and labor there’s not much known about how the lesions could affect a baby, let alone with something as specific as the location of my outbreak. They offered to do a speculum exam to check out whether there were any shingles lesions on my cervix, which could give us more information if I was considering the choice of hospital and/or surgical birth, but I declined; firstly because of the agony I imagined the exam would entail but secondly and more importantly due to my certainty that I was going to give birth at home… soon.
“Okay then, let’s get this going.” Debbie said.
“It was going before you got here and said all this stuff to me!” I said, agreeing to use a topical Hibi-Clens rinse vaginally and to take the cotton root bark tincture she wanted me to take: three doses, fifteen minutes apart. The doses felt back to back and I could hardly believe how time was flying as I labored alone in the dark bathroom. I had put on the Juana Molina album “Halo,” and it was psychedelic, just what I needed. The beats are heavy, the melodies unpredictable, the Spanish lyrics easy for me to either tune into or drift from - all of it supporting trance. Debbie checked in on the baby’s heart tones occasionally, but the most memorable moment from her was a shout from the living room, “sounds good in there, Gwen!” I reminded myself to send my sounds low, energy down and out. The most primal of my doula-words came to me at all the right times.
With the onset of each contraction I was saying SHIT, FUCK or GOD. “Ooooooh shit! SHIT SHIT SHIT….” “FUCK FUCK FUCK.” “Oooooooh God…” After the fact I pointed out how funny it is to have encompassed everything that drives us with those three exclamations. When the consensus was that I was sounding pushy, we all convened in the bedroom. Rachel got Austin set up with a rebozo around his neck so I could pull on the ends as I pushed. I leaned on him in a squat. I sat on the birth stool. I pushed on hands and knees and then eventually asked Austin to sit behind me, thinking I could push out the baby with both of us having a similar viewpoint.
While I pushed that way, Zoe arrived. I felt her golden energy and a new sparkle came into my vision of how things would proceed. She set up a tripod and began taking the most amazing photos. Out came Gideon’s head - the blobby plopping feeling so surreal. I could feel he was trying to turn his head, to rotate, and I’m told he was also trying to cry while still on the perineum. I had a break between contractions. I wanted to flip over but could not imagine how. Rachel flipped me over (Austin says it was like jiu jitsu) and at 8:33 out came my beautiful son, who’d had a triple nuchal cord - oh, that cord! I had no idea until I worked with the placenta two days later but the cord was one of the longest I’ve ever seen.
Annie and Matilde came in but only stayed for a minute at first. I pushed out the placenta and everyone got me, the baby and the bed cleaned up and in order. Along with a beautiful breakfast for me, Annie and Matilde came back in for a longer visit and to see Gideon’s newborn exam. The bliss was unimpeded and it felt magnificent to be surrounded by loving support and then to have each layer of professional/friends peel away leaving our little nuclear family and the blessing of my sister. I did it! We did it! My strong, big, healthy boy was here on the last day of March: Gideon Apollo!