Note: This is safe to read if you are avoiding stories of negative birth experiences. To read the birth story of my first child, see Rosemary, In Words.
I knew he would arrive, but I didn’t know when, and each day that passed beyond his expected due date led me to believe it would be even longer. For every day that passed, I tacked on several more. (The mind of a full term pregnant woman is not to be understood or questioned.) I had made the mistake with Rosemary of expecting, or hoping, she would arrive by her due date. She didn’t, and neither did he. My womb is a safe, sacred space that is poised to hold my babies until they are very ready to enter the world.
He was born on a Monday at 4:16 p.m. But first, there was Sunday. I already forget where Mark had gone off to, but Rosemary was asleep and I felt the sudden urge to hand wash the kitchen floor and walls. In the years we’ve lived here, we have never cleaned the thick plastered kitchen walls. It occurred to me that the overwhelming nesting might be a sign that labor was imminent, but I wrote it off. Of course he was imminent, but “imminence” could still mean weeks. Later that day I went swimming in a lake my body knows well. I floated and pondered; when, when, when?
This pregnancy had been quite challenging. Hard, but healthy. Two weeks before I delivered, I spent a late night and early morning in the hospital with a G.I. virus, on a drip of fluid, and praying to God that I not go into labor from the stress my body was under. Thankfully, no — once again my womb protected my son, and I fell asleep in the maternity room to the sound of his strong heartbeat and the cries of newborn babies. For having home births and receiving my prenatal care outside of the hospital, it was very beautiful to hear the sounds of other babies and their mothers. My mom and I marveled at how soon I would hear the cries of my own little one. How quickly one forgets the utter innocence of a newborn cry.
Nighttime is a beast, both while pregnant and postpartum. It seems your body prepares you for the lack of sleep by diminishing your sleep while pregnant, which can feel like a curse. Each night Mark and I tried to go to bed early just in case the baby decided to arrive, but even with my husband by my side, it felt like my own journey through the night. I would ponder my body and how heavy it felt, how limited my mobility was. Round ligament pain rendered me almost immobile in bed, and I would have to ask Mark to help me turn from one side to the other. Even with the decreased mobility, I enjoyed the days with Rosemary and Mark and my very, very large stomach. Change was so near it made me nostalgic before he had even arrived. (By the way, we had no idea he was a He. As with Rosemary, we relish the surprise.)
On the night of the 7th, my water broke at midnight. It’s true what they say: there is no dramatic rush. It felt as if I was slowly but constantly peeing my pants. My water did not break with Rosemary until I was well into the pushing stage of labor, so this was very different. I let Mark know, but we both continued sleeping, and as contractions started to come more regularly, I noticed them but worked hard to sleep in between. I managed to sleep several hours that night — any mother will tell you that the best thing you can do in early labor is try to sleep, which is nearly impossible, so sleeping felt like a real triumph. I awoke the next morning to a sunny, temperate July day — very unlike summer in Ohio, known for its humidity and mid-nineties summers. We enjoyed coffee in our purple room while Rosemary flipped through board books to herself, and I started eating as much healthy food as I could muster, knowing it would serve me well, if indeed the baby was going to arrive that day. Avocado toast with turmeric and flake salt, a mug of bone broth, a raspberry and cacao smoothie, bananas . . . It was such a joyful day. I truly felt so calm, so peaceful, so joyful. During Rosemary’s morning nap Mark and I said a rosary together and prayed over the birth. I felt infused with grace; the day was genuinely supernatural. Later in the early afternoon, we all moseyed outside and into our garden beds. I pulled some weeds and thought to myself how I’d spent many quiet moments in pregnancy dreaming of doing that very thing. Mark and I (mostly Mark) worked so hard in the months leading up to the birth to prepare our back garden and home so that we could relax fully when the baby came. And to be weeding our beautiful garden on the very day I would deliver our son was a prayer answered.
I called my mom to come over around 1 p.m., and shortly my sister joined me, too. Eventually my sister-in-law, plus two of my nieces would join the room (ages one and seven . . . girls are never too young to witness birth!). We started filling the birth pool, and as it would turn out I would only spend an hour in there before getting out to deliver. My midwife and her team of 4 arrived shortly thereafter. My brother-in-law arrived took Rosemary to his house around 2 p.m., and at that point I was still walking around, leaning against the walls of the house to have contractions, feeling more intense but feeling total joy. I was smooching Rosemary and telling her over and over that she would soon have a baby brother or sister. There are photos of she, Mark and I around the 2 o’ clock hour, just before she left. . . and then I delivered her sibling two hours later at 4 p.m. Just mind-blowing. Different from her birth in nearly every way.
The hour in the pool was really nice. My contractions were intense, but I remembered how to center my breathing and focus my energy on truly pushing the baby downwards; on allowing them to open the gates of my womb and come onto this side of the veil. The brain can create as much resistance as we let it, and the most important commitment of labor is focusing the mind. After a while, my midwife could tell I was ready to go — and this, without ever once checking how dilated my cervix was, without ever once hooking me up to a monitor. They were frequently checking the baby’s heart tones, but that was it. Truly, there was no intervention. So when it came time to move to the bed and start pushing, I experienced some hesitation remembering how difficult it had been with Rosemary. With her, I pushed for hours and hours, never once experiencing the urge to push. It was so physically demanding, and the recovery took months. As I headed for the bed, I wondered if the same scenario would unfold. I remember choosing to let go of that fear and rest in the assuredness that I would be OK, however OK looked.
I wanted to be on my hands and knees, and it was in that position, with a pillow supporting my chest and head, that I waited to see if the urge to push would greet me. And, hallelujah, it did! I held Mark’s hand with my right, and my mom’s hand with my left, and used their strength to bolster my own through a series of pushing contractions. It was very, very challenging; I was very, very sweaty. Through this labor, I learned that hard work — the hardest work of your life — can still be gentle. I never lost my joy. In fact, I was enjoying the work, knowing this baby was going to be in my arms soon.
At 4:16 p.m., with Mark by my side and palpable love in the room, my sister, Aimee, caught our son. Just as with Rosemary, they handed him to me, cord still attached, through my legs and then onto my chest. The familiar sensations of exhaustion and adrenaline and incomparable happiness met me. Here was my child, the mystery of my womb, the familiar friend who kicked and hiccuped and grew all those months. Here he was. Oh, how I loved him. It was as if heaven was brought down, in the extraordinarily ordinary way of a baby.
We named him Leo Ioannis Spigos. He weighed 9 lb, 6 oz. and is every bit as gentle and joyful as his birth.