Updated: Oct 1, 2021
By Ruth Daniell
It’s impossible to think about the birth of my first baby without thinking of the birth of my second, or about the second birth without thinking of the first—each birth gestures towards the other, time bending to look backwards and forwards. Each birth happened at the end, or beginning, of a new season: autumn into winter, spring into summer, life as I knew it, and life as I didn’t. *
On Halloween Day 2017, I wake up feeling different—I can’t explain but I know the baby will come soon. I tell my husband to go to work. I am fine, nothing is happening yet, and he’s coming home early today anyhow to take me for my standing prenatal appointment at 4:00 p.m. We stand at the back patio door. He gives me a kiss and then speaks to my belly: “I love you, Baby! Hurry up, Baby!”
I slide the patio door shut and click the lock in place. The house is quiet and empty. I’m rarely alone like this; we’re staying with my parents but they’re out of town. My body is full of a tight, tingly sensation I want to describe as a kind of light, but also a heaviness, a deepness, a darkness in my abdomen. We have an agreement that we will do this together, my baby and me. After lunch, I lie down for a nap with an overwhelming sense of contentment, feeling the baby kicking inside me. I have no doubt, no questions at all, about what I want and what I will do. I want a baby. I will give birth. ** On the last day of April 2019, I wake after a night of fitful sleep. Overnight, contractions came and went. By 6 a.m., I'm too excited to try to sleep. I wake my husband. “We’re going to have a baby today!” I say. He rubs my belly and grins. I call my parents to tell them, too; we live in our own house now, and they’ll care for our daughter when it’s time for the hospital. I wait for our daughter to wake and then I nurse her. I take a blurry selfie that shows me laughing, my brown hair messy and long across the pillow, and my daughter’s brown curls on the back of her head, her face obscured from the photo as she latches her mouth onto my nipple. I have a beautiful baby. And I am about to have another. ** When I wake up from my afternoon nap on Halloween Day and waddle to the bathroom, I become suspicious that my waters have broken. There is no exciting gush like in the movies, but the fluid filling the pad inside my underwear is more than just the “bloody show.” I call my husband and ask him to come home and install the car seat before our appointment: I have a feeling that once we leave the house, we won’t be coming back until we have a baby to put into that car seat.
Our doctor confirms that my waters have broken. I ask my husband to take off his Spiderman costume before we go to the hospital, but I still wear the tank top onto which I’ve painted a pumpkin over my belly and am gratified when the nurses chuckle at it.
* It's a beautiful sunny spring day, and warm, so when my labour stalls, my husband and I walk past our neighbour’s magnolia tree and take our daughter to the park. I watch my husband take our daughter on the slide; she sits on his lap and grins and giggles. The sun pours through the leaves on the big trees and the ground is dappled with gold light and shadow. I wonder if the new baby will come today after all, or if they’re waiting—but then I’m surprised by a contraction that’s strong enough to make me glad to lean on the park’s chain fence. I lean into the feeling too, into the shadow, into the light. No part of me is afraid. * I’m not afraid of childbirth. After an anxious first trimester repeating the statistics of miscarriage to myself, I’ve since been looking forward to labour and birth. I’m more curious about what contractions will feel like than afraid. When pain comes, I am focused, pleased; I can do this. I lean into my husband, the smell of him immensely satisfying and I’m aware that I’m an animal, that there is something distinctly primal about birth. Because my waters have broken prematurely and we don’t know how long ago I started leaking, and because I’d tested positive for strep B, I’m given antibiotics and Pitocin to hurry labour along and reduce the risk of infection to the baby. I thought this might bother me, with all my hopes of an unmedicated birth, but I’ve gone into labour naturally and the synthetic hormones are only augmenting something already happening. I decline pain medication and labour progresses well. I feel strong.
I get the urge to push. I tell the nurse, who tells me that the doctor isn’t here yet and to wait a couple more contractions before pushing. Baby is so low in my pelvis that they’re worried the baby will be born before the doctor can arrive to catch them. I hold onto the nurse’s promise that I only need to wait for a “couple” more contractions; after two contractions have gone by, I ask if the doctor is here. No. I endure two more contractions and I point out I’ve gone through double the number of contractions the nurse had said. “Just hang on a bit more,” the nurse says, who must know she’s asking the impossible but is asking it anyway. I moan. I dig my head so deeply into my husband’s shoulder, breathing hard into his neck, that it almost bruises him. * We settle into the delivery room to have our second baby. As soon as the nurse comes by to introduce herself, I tell her, “Please call the doctor and tell her that I’ve checked in and I’m going to have my baby. I don’t want to wait for her this time.” The nurse seems surprised, and laughs, but I make her promise. “I already feel that heaviness low in my pelvis,” I explain. “I’m going to want to push soon.”
When she returns I ask her if she called the doctor. “Yes, I did.”
“Is she on her way?”
“Well, she wasn’t going to when I told her the patient progress report, but then when I said your name she left right away.”
I keep labouring. I once again bury my face into my husband’s shoulders and neck, breathing in the smell of him. No induction to speed along the labour this time, but everything is faster than it was before. The nurses check my dilation and tell me there’s still a bit of cervix in the way and it’s not time to push yet. I know that sometimes pushing before you’re fully dilated can bruise the cervix and make it swell shut and slow down the process, but I also know that I must push. I’m amazed I managed not to push when I was in labour with my daughter. This urge is irrepressible. I cannot help pushing; I do.
The nurse checks me again and confirms my pushing has safely moved the rest of the cervix out of the way; I’m fully dilated. It’s time to push now. “I TOLD YOU SO,” I shout, annoyed. I’m hot and sweaty and I’m ready to meet my second baby. * I check the clock inside the delivery room. It’s no longer Halloween; while I laboured the hands on the clock pushed past midnight. It’s November now. The doctor arrives and I’m so relieved to be allowed to push. Pushing is the only thing, it’s the totality of my experience, it’s what I need to do. I push. The sensation of bearing down is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced, but I don’t feel any pain. I am so grateful to push, push, push. I push. It feels good to push. The nurses were right about the timing: it doesn’t take long. After fifteen minutes the doctor is saying, “Yes, very soon now. Just a couple more pushes and we’ll have a baby!” And I hear her voice again, a moment later, incredulous: “Did you know you’re smiling?” And I think: of course I’m smiling! You just told me I’m about to meet my baby!
“I’ve never seen a labouring woman smile while her baby is crowning,” the doctor says. I don’t have time to wonder about that observation much because then I am reaching down and feeling the top of my baby’s head and her clump of wet dark hair. My baby! She’s here!
* My waters still haven’t broken, unlike my labour with my daughter. Every baby is different and precious. My babies will be different and precious. The doctor asks for my consent to break my waters, and I feel a gush of warmth between my legs. It’s time to push.
The baby’s head emerges and I feel an intense sensation that I recognize as the “ring of fire” that the pregnancy books describe. This is the moment in which I was smiling while my daughter was born, but I’m not smiling now. My baby’s head is born but his shoulders are stuck. I won’t know this until much later, but shoulder dystocia can become an emergency within about a minute because once the head is born the baby needs oxygen. Right now all I have is the fleeting impression that my best isn’t good enough. I’m reminded to push hard for the full duration of each contraction and I’m surprised by the reminder. I push. Someone presses a discreet button and suddenly a half dozen extra nurses are in the room and my husband is frightened and nurses are holding my legs, pushing them back near to my shoulders, one nurse is on top of me pushing down on my belly, and the doctor is fiercely alert. I realize that my baby’s life might depend on how hard I can push, but there is no time to worry. Instead, I push. I put all my energy into pushing, and he is born. **
I’m holding my newborn daughter in my arms. I don’t know it yet but the weather is turning outside: it was autumn when we arrived at the hospital but the season’s first snowfall comes as I hold her. I look at my baby’s wonderful face, bruised a little from birth, feel her small weight on me, and I think, “I’m definitely willing to do that again.” I’m already sure that I will do that again for another baby. ** I’m holding my newborn son. I don’t know it yet, but when we bring him home from the hospital spring will have ended. Like his sister before him, he has ushered in a new season: summer comes early and we’ll spend the next few weeks in the garden. I’m delighted that my son has blond hair; I’m astounded that my body produced someone with such different colouring than mine. And that he is a boy! When my daughter was crowning and I reached down and felt her hair, I knew, somehow, it was dark hair like mine. That made sense, but my son makes wonderful sense too. Like his sister, he will be like and unlike me. My dear baby. I hold him while the doctor stitches me up. It takes ages, almost two hours, because his shoulders tore me open. My tailbone, too, broke with the force of his arrival. It is a common childbirth injury and there is nothing to do about it but wait. I can do that. I know how to wait. I know how to push. I know my body. I know my babies.
Ruth Daniell is the author of The Brightest Thing (Caitlin Press, 2019). Recent work appears in Watch Your Head: Writers and Artists Respond to the Climate Crisis (Coach House Press, 2020) and Resistance: Righteous Rage in the Age of #MeToo (University of Regina Press, 2021). She holds a bachelor of arts degree (honours) in English literature and writing from the University of Victoria and a master of fine arts in creative writing from the University of British Columbia. She lives in Kelowna, BC. You can watch her video poem about birth, "Corpse Flower," and visit her at ruthdaniell.ca.
Don't miss the virtual Birth Sharing Circle 2021 on Zoom on October 30th at 2 p.m. (EST) Come meet the winning writers, including Ruth, who will share their birth and writing experiences. Many of the jurors and readers will be there too! It will be a unique heartwarming event! Tickets are available on Eventbrite by donation.