Sunday, January 17, 2010
My Big Fat Jewish Labor Party
In the 50's, the decade my grandmother bore her children into the world, doctors sedated laboring women and put them in a laboring room, only to return when the baby was emerging and a pair of human hands was absolutely necessary. Mothers from her era remember little about birthing their children, especially the pain.
Fast-forward to the year 2009 and Grandma is horrified to see me in labor.
My water broke during the post-wedding weekend celebration of my eldest brother’s marriage. I was gossiping with my sister in a cozy hotel bed just two days before my due date when a gush of fluid began the process I was wholly unprepared for. Our hearts pumping, my husband and I called my midwives, who instructed me to labor comfortably at the hotel until the contractions were unbearable and timed close together.
News of my venture into labor quickly spread down the hotel corridors. My parents, siblings, aunts and uncles – and yes, grandmother - all came knocking to check up on me and experience a unique kind of family bonding. The room where I had lost my amniotic fluid became “My Big Fat Jewish Labor Party.”
For almost an entire day, I consciously labored with my family as witnesses. We talked about the baby, made family jokes and all got quiet when an aggressive contraction would require my full attention. As much as I wanted nothing more than to finally meet the child that had been gestating within me for way too long, I was having fun. My mother took the waning opportunity to gently stroke my belly while talking to the baby she was sure was a girl. My aunt, who was celebrating her birthday, rooted for me like an auditioning cheerleader. If the baby was born on her day, it would be the ultimate present. If born tomorrow, my child would share birthday cake with my uncle instead. Thankfully, they didn’t take any bets in my presence.
The more family visitors I had, the easier my contractions became. The funny family input was never-ending, and my entire changing body was soaking it up. At one point, my brother even started a massage-train with me at the head. I breathed, stretched, talked and –most of all- laughed my way through the pain.
The only time I got overwhelmed with the added family eyes was when Grandma was around. Considering her own sedated and erased labors, she was bewildered about my pain and, in her usual tender ever-loving grandmotherly way, wanted to help.
“Honey, you’re sick. Why are you standing up while we’re all sitting?” she begged.
“Oh, I dunno Grandma” I wanted to respond, “Maybe because I have an eight pound human-being making its way through my birth canal!”
Of course, the generational gap would never allow my grandmother to understand I had spent nine months preparing to breathe through my dream birth: a drug free experience attended by midwives in a birthing center with plush queen size beds and bathtubs.
With the help of my mother, who had birthed seven of us without one drug, my Grandmother started to get the idea that I was not “sick” but actually effectively managing the essential pain that would produce my much anticipated newborn child.
Twenty hours later, my labor was speeding up, but was ironically not as riveting to my family. Everyone slowly shuffled out of the room and wished me their best. I thanked them for already making my birth so memorable and told them they’d hear the good news soon.
As painful contractions now demanded my full focus, my husband and I began our dramatic escape to the birthing center, with parents and sisters in tow. After the most agonizing drive of my life, in which I cursed every red light and yelled bloody murder at the traffic, we pulled up to the birthing center. My husband and I felt both calm and excited to finally be where our baby would meet the world.
Or so we thought.
Now stretching into the second day of my labor, nothing was happening. No matter what technique I tried (nor how many hours I walked around the block), my body was not expanding. My dream to birth naturally with little intervention and just the wise help of my motherly midwives was fading. I was falling prey to the number one reason they transferred laboring women to the hospital: failure to progress.
Fearing the risk of dehydrating the baby, I was relocated to the nearest hospital, admitted into a birthing room, hooked up to an I.V., administered Pitocin and given an Epidural. Although it was everything that I had worked against during my pregnancy, I was more concerned with my baby’s health and, after the past 35 hours of labor, I had no energy left to tackle the pain drug free.
My sisters, having just undergone a draining night of emotionally and physically supporting my hundreds of contractions, went to rest while my husband, parents and doula kept me company. They would be called when things kicked up again. My husband and I were assured we would soon be holding our baby. My mother was elated that she would soon meet her granddaughter.
A short few hours later, I was fully dilated and felt the urge to push. My mother went to the hall to phone my sisters. I heard her say excitedly, “Girls, you want to see a baby born? Get over here!” Not a long time thereafter, I am effectively pushing with my mother, two sisters, doula and midwife holding my legs. The moment was imminent.
When the head crowned, the emotional cheering rang out. My midwife encouraged me: “Good job! You’re almost there!” My husband got my eye contact: “Mimi, you’re doing amazing. We’re going to see the baby!” My sister reported what she saw: “He has red hair!” I looked at all the faces around me, happy tears streaming down their faces. If I would ever feel lonely in my life, I would remember this moment - my family’s feminine energies holding me with the strength and love of a million mothers.
With one final valiant push, my son entered the world. “It’s a booooy!” my husband exclaimed through his tears. My mother quickly got over the shock of her first grandchild not being a girl and hugged and kissed me relentlessly. My sisters were sobbing. I held my squirmy, slimy and bloody son and couldn’t stop saying, “Oh my G-d, he’s beautiful.”
And he truly was. As my newborn son took his first deep cry, I wiped tears of genuine joy, accomplishment and gratitude.
My birth was truly a shared experience. The day after, when family visited me and the baby, we all reminisced about the crowded hotel room, the massage-train and my exuberant birth in the hospital. The nurses later told me that patients who heard the emotional sounds coming from my hospital room found themselves crying too. And apparently, my family had totally violated the hospital’s rule about the amount of family members allowed inside, but none of the nurses or doctors had the heart to enforce it.
Soon after, I spoke to my grandmother. “Oh, honey,” she was still harping, “You were in so much pain.” I assured her by sharing how I had never had such an empowering, encouraging, love-filled and spirited experience.
In the end, my birth was far more inspiring and memorable than the quick, quiet and natural experience I had planned. I labored for nearly forty hours, in three different places, in front of over thirty people and ended up being part of the one percent of mothers who give birth on their due date. The journey ended with more than a healthy baby in my arms; it awakened in me a profound admiration for my family, a deeper belief in my internal strength and the wisdom to always expect the unexpected.