We’d both taken Friday off work, waiting for the baby to come. He was three days past due. Davinia had had mild cramping on and off a week before, but it was inconsistent and temporary. This time the cramps started in the morning. We walked around the neighborhood as her cramps grew stronger, low in her abdomen, without regular rhythm; a couple would be four minutes apart, then nothing for twenty minutes.
We had brunch and decided to see a movie. Davinia was so quiet during the movie that I thought her contractions stopped. In fact, she was focusing on the film to distract herself. We walked home very, very slowly. She stopped to hunch during each contraction, and passersby gave us a wide berth, alarmed. Back home, we ate between contractions (she could only manage banana slices) and showered. At 8:00 p.m., we called our midwife, Cory, who cheerfully told us to sit tight, stay calm and keep her posted.
By 10:00 p.m., Davinia was lying in bed, grunting through powerful, extremely painful contractions. She no longer ate or talked much. Excitement and anxiety had given way to seriousness, concentration, and what sounded at the height of each contraction like agony. I held her hands, massaged her legs—touching her anywhere else made her nauseated—and repeated the mantra “nice and breathe.” By 11:00 p.m., her contractions were shuddering, lasting nearly two minutes with double peaks, but still 6-8 minutes apart. She said she wasn’t sure how long she could do this.
We called the midwife again. Cory said Davinia’s lying down was probably making the pain worse and recommended she try a warm bath. Davinia insisted she couldn’t move. I gently persuaded her—by simply saying we’d already agreed to try it. “Oh?” she murmured. “We did? Okay.” In the water, I placed hot compresses on her forehead, shoulders, and knees. As Cory predicted, her pain subsided somewhat. After a 40-minute soak, we lingered on the bathroom floor on all fours. This position allowed her to breathe, rock her hips, and burrow mentally into a tranquil (but still painful) place, a “not here” place.
Davinia crawled to the bedroom. While I was finishing packing, she vomited. A cycle of throwing up and cleaning up began, which sounds bad but made her feel better and kept us busy for a couple hours.
From 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. Davinia labored on our bed, crouching against a tall pile of pillows. This position allowed her to rest between contractions and ease onto all fours during them. After each, I kept to the same regimen: two sips of Vitamin water, rub her legs, soothing words, mark the time chart, rest. Sometimes I fell asleep between contractions.
By 3 a.m., the contractions were overwhelming, accompanied by chills, full-body shaking, and moaning vocalizations. Davinia kept insisting we leave for the hospital. But her contractions were still 5-8 minutes apart; remembering the “3-1-1 Rule,” I worried we’d arrive too soon and be sent home. I kept promising gently, “yes, we’ll go soon, let’s just give it a couple more here where we can rest …” At 4 a.m., to try to quicken the labor, I persuaded her to “slow dance” with me around the living room, pausing to “shake the apples from the tree.” She barely remembers this; she was deep inside herself now, following my directions without words, only communicating by squeezing my hand.
Around 4:45 a.m., she lost her remaining calm. “He’s pushing out! He HAS to come out. We have to go to the Birthing Center NOW.” We called the midwife. Cory worried that it was too soon, because her contractions were still 5-7 minutes apart. Then she heard Davinia moaning like the foghorn of a container ship leaving port in the background. “Oh my …” Cory said. “You should go to the hospital!” In fact, Davinia’s contractions—even later, during pushing—never grew closer than 5-7 minutes apart. Instead, the changes in Davinia’s behavior, especially her vocalizations, gave us signs of her labor’s progress.
I helped Davinia slowly into her coat and hat. Outside, I ran to the avenue and hailed a cab. The cabbie blanched when he saw Davinia crouched in our lobby, moaning through a contraction. But he drove carefully and swiftly. Departing at 5 a.m. had its benefits: there was no traffic and we zipped to the Birthing Center at Roosevelt Hospital in 15 minutes.
At the hospital, I wheeled Davinia to triage on the Labor & Delivery floor—this was the moment she’d feared for months. At triage, women are often turned away from the hospital’s Birthing Center, due to conditions like high blood pressure or fetal distress. She strongly preferred to deliver in the Birthing Center.
Our moment of truth went like this:
Me: “We’re here for—”
Nurse (gathering a blood pressure cuff calmly): “We know. Your midwife just got here.”
Me: “Should we head to the—?”
Davinia (moaning): “AHHHRGRHGH!!!”
Nurse (looks at her sharply): “Oh dear!”
Davinia (moaning): “AHHHRGRHGHRHWGHW!!!!”
Nurse: “She’s about to have a baby!”
Nurse (to me): “Why are you still standing there? This way! To the Birthing Center!”
Davinia (panting): “I feel like PUSHING!”
Nurse: “NOW! GO! NOW!”
So that was triage. We rushed into the empty Birthing Center. Our midwife team had changed shifts, and the new midwife, Amanda, joined us. A nurse, Shuli, took Davinia’s vitals, while Amanda checked her cervix—6 cm dilated. Amanda recommended Davinia get in the whirlpool tub. In the water, following Amanda’s instructions, she squatted with knees apart, widening her pelvis, rocking and leaning on me as I held her beneath her arms.
At 7 a.m., out of the tub, Davinia was 9 cm dilated. She’d progressed 3 cm in 40 minutes! “I want to push!” Davinia cried. “Okay, let’s try it,” Amanda said. After several weak pushing contractions, Amanda recommended Davinia squat on the bed to work with gravity. I sat behind her, holding her up. Between contractions, she rested on my lap, leaning against my chest.
The image that will most remain with me is this: Davinia squats on the bed, hands on knees; I am sitting behind her, holding her up; Amanda and the nurse, Shuli, are bracing their forearms against her knees, leaning with all their weight to give her leverage. Davinia pushes with every muscle and fiber she possesses; her skin turns fire-truck-red; veins I didn’t know she had stand out in her chest and neck and face like cables; and her naked body glows with sweat, which pours off her. It was as if we were three attendants worshipping her, and she was the queen—the Queen of the Animal Kingdom.
Outside, dawn turned the city white and gray. Snowflakes fell, slowly at first, then in a blizzard of white. Over Davinia’s shoulder, I could see her entire pelvis swelling with each push. It seemed like something was going to break out of her. Amanda inserted her finger and broke the bag of waters, eliciting a jet of fluid. Another push. One more—
Out slid our son, slippery and tiny and wrinkled and crying lustily. It was 7:55 a.m. Davinia fell back on me, limp. She wept. Amanda placed our son on her chest. “He’s here, he’s here … !” Davinia murmured dreamily. “You did it,” I said.
I watched his swollen eyes looking around the bright room. The nurse took his measurements: 7 lbs, 0 oz and 20 inches long. I held him as Amanda gave Davinia three stitches. Then he went back to Davinia and nursed within an hour of birth.
All in all, Davinia experienced birth almost exactly as she envisioned—naturally, without any drugs or interventions, laboring mostly at home, delivering in the Birthing Center, attended only by me, one nurse, and one midwife. Her labor lasted about 18 hours (12 pm to 8 am), with the serious labor lasting 12 hours. Yet we each found certain aspects of the experience different than we’d imagined. I was far calmer than I’d expected—almost detached. I absorbed myself totally in each task: packing, hydrating her, rubbing her legs, timing contractions, etc. I felt no rush of emotions until well after the process finished. Davinia was surprised at how vital social support was. She’d feel panic as each new contraction began, and if I (or later, Amanda) were not in the room, she felt abandoned—facing the contraction felt impossible. But as long as I (and later, Amanda) was there to hold her hand and encourage her, she could face and surmount them safely.
We’ve named our son Leo. We’ve had a few trials—some skitters with breast-feeding, some fussy nights—but these are easily outweighed by the joy of getting to know Leo, snuggling with him, inhaling his scent, and witnessing him become more alert and alive to the world each day.