Luna Kimberly Anderson Wexler was born on August 20th at 2:37 pm into a tub warmed to body temperature. Temperature is paramount in a water birth. It’s not the act of being born that triggers the lungs to expand and gasp for air. It’s the skin’s contact to the relative, ambient cold. Since my water never broke, Luna crowned and it looked like blowing bubble gum. A thin membrane stretched with her head in it. The midwife smiled and declared “She’s en caul!”
I pressed my chin to chest and exhaled like fogging a mirror except with every ounce of concentration. I felt her move out of me and into the tub. The midwife’s excitement dropped, “Oh, it burst right at her chest.”
Birth plans are not unlike life plans. So, naturally they get fucked up. Your due date may be August 9 and you may believe that you will deliver early because it’s “second baby” and the way you “carry.” This belief is reenforced by strangers who ask if you’re having twins, and by the inebriated grandmother at the block party who takes you aside (no relation) and informs you that there is no way the baby is staying in until August 9. She knows. She has a dozen grandchildren. Had several of her own. You will deem her a wise sage. And you are thankful in the July heat that you will not have to waddle around for much longer.
This is that precious in-between-time that I wished I could have just chilled in. When else in life do you possess a fully formed human inside your own body? But the longer she stayed in the more mental I became (See last post.) as my plans began to unravel like the fragile net cast-realities that they are. For one, my birth doula became unavailable and I had to resort to a backup doula I’d yet to meet. The birth center would only take me for a few more days until I’d have to make other arrangements. I imagined having to deliver at Woodhull with doctors and nurses who’d begin the cascade of interventions I’d worked so hard to avoid. I googled “healthy babies born at 42 weeks” and imagined having to advocate for what I wanted (again). Then I began to make contingency plans for a home birth. How soon could we hire midwives and rent a birthing tub? Would insurance pay for it? (If men could birth babies, this wouldn’t be a question.) etc. etc.
At Jed’s suggestion, I went for a walk in the Brooklyn Botanic gardens to clear my head. It was about an hour before closing and there was no line. It looked like rain. The employee at the ticket counter gave me a free pass for “next time, when the baby arrives.” She winked. I dropped my receipt on the ground and took half a minute to lean down, pick it up and grab it. I didn't want to be that person, but it was not worth the effort. Nothing was. I took out a map. Then I shoved it in my tote. Let’s be real, I’ve never used a physical map unless I was being graded on it. I decided to meander and be delighted by the unexpected. After 11ish years in Brooklyn, I’d never walked this garden. Why had it taken me so long? Oh, because Prospect Park is always free.
There were selfie-snapping tourists and stifling humidity to contend with but I was unfazed. My only goal was to walk and move the baby down. Handwritten signs beckoned visitors to be patient while certain grassy lawns were off-limits. The grass was being watered. It wasn’t ready.
I went home feeling more or less the same so I blogged, cried and got ready for bed. Then it started.
As the contractions got stronger I put on Disenchantment on Netflix because humor = laughter = endorphins. (Disenchantment is good for chuckles. The princess’ supernatural animator is not a fairy god mother but a pet demon and her Jiminy Cricket is a guileless elf actually looking for mischief.) I shut my computer once the show ceased to be a useful distraction and woke up Jed. It was 1 am and he swung into action. He timed each surge, called/texted every birth worker and family member we needed to notify. He did a lot more than that but I napped when I could so it’s a blur. I warned him not to get too excited. This could just be a false alarm. After months of false contractions that grew in intensity but hadn’t yet amounted to the real thing, I was cautious.
I’ve never found birth to be painful but more like intense, edge-of-your-life pressure. It’s strange to even intellectualize the sensation. Like cramps multiplied but with a different flavor. Like radioactive waves. Like a crack in the mind’s dominance and it’s all body, breathing, visualization and some vomiting. I feel vulnerable yet powerful. I crave privacy but I don’t want to be left alone. Unmedicated birth is my Ayahuasca.
Around 10 am, my doula said it was time to go to the birth center. I was 3-4 minutes apart. “I’m not ready,” I replied. I was afraid, I guess, not of pain (again because birth is not painful to me) but of life changing radically in a matter of hours. That is terrifying.
My month-long impatience was actually my good old friend, Anxiety. I just didn't recognize it. How would our family change? What about my creative ambitions now as a mom of two? I held my doula’s hand and we made our way to the Uber. At the curb, Jed assembled our bags and all of us looked like a family en route to a faraway place — giddy, a little dazed, prepared but not quite ready.