here she is
Today, our Miriam Elaine turns four weeks.
It was hardly more than that—four weeks and a day, really—that we were at Dan’s parents’ for Christmas, me still a week from my due date, his aunt telling me that my face had that flushed look of a woman about to give birth, my sister-in-law cautioning me against getting too eager. (Her daughter was almost two weeks overdue, and from what I hear, those after-due-date days are torture.)
Dan and I came home on a Sunday evening and went to bed, just the two of us, the way it has been for four and a half years, and woke up just hours later to contractions. They were low and crampy, not high and hard like the Braxton Hicks I’d been having for months. We monitored them for a couple hours, then called Kim, our blessed midwife, who recommended a bath (always a bath) to see how the contractions responded. They didn’t ease up, but they didn’t increase, either, so I texted her and climbed back into bed, sleeping off and on till morning.
I didn’t know what to make of the contractions, which were still hugging my pelvis periodically when I woke, so I emailed my supervisor and a colleague, saying that I didn’t know if this was real labor or not, but that I’d be staying home today. Then I called Kim again. Dan was lying next to me on the bed and overheard her telling me about the ice storm headed our way, about how she didn’t want us to make the hour-long trek to the birth center if the roads were as bad as the weather people were saying, how she’d stop by after her morning appointments to check my progress and drop off supplies for a home birth just in case.
Secretly I’d hoped for a home birth all these months, but we were too nervous to go for it. When I got off the phone with Kim, I looked over at Dan to see what he thought.
“Did you hear that?” I asked. He nodded, laughing at the irony. Then he drove to the grocery store to stock up on food in case this storm and the baby came and we were home-bound and without power for the next few days. I took a shower. When he got back, we played cribbage, our old standby, pausing between hands for me to lean over and rock my way through a contraction. I was still unconvinced that this was real labor. I was just pregnant and uncomfortable, as a woman who is 39 weeks pregnant usually is. These contractions would stop. I’d stay pregnant for two more weeks at least. They’d probably have to induce me at 42.
Just after lunch, Kim arrived. She brought in bins full of stuff—an inflatable pool, an oxygen tank, other things I never saw or knew she used. We all talked about the weather. I had to stop and lean against the coffee table while another contraction hit. We went up to the bedroom and she checked me. Four centimeters. I was shocked at how easily I’d gotten there.
Somewhere in these minutes, it got decided that we were not leaving the house. I have no recollection of the process of coming to that decision. It had something to do with the crazy-icy roads and the distance to the birth center and the contractions that were coming closer together and growing more intense and demanding that Dan press harder on my lower back. This baby was gonna be born at home.
For a home birth, Kim would usually come to the house at 36 weeks, to see the space and to make sure it had all the supplies for a birth. In our case, she had to assemble everything on the spot, which meant that she ran to the Walgreens on the corner.
When she got back, she and Dan pushed aside our kitchen table, inflated the pool in the middle of the floor, and started filling it. When the faucet ran cold, they heated pots of water on the stove and dumped them in one at a time. By mid-afternoon, I decided to try laboring in the pool. We turned off the lights, lit a few candles. The water was glorious—warm and soothing to the contractions gripping my hips and lower back. I took to moaning through each one: when I’d feel one coming on, I’d pause my sentence or cut off Kim’s or Dan’s or Stephanie’s, the birth assistant who had arrived, turn over, lean my head against the pool’s fat edge, sway my aching hips, and hum low and deep.
Dan and I were grateful we weren’t responsible for judging when to leave for the birth center. Our birthing class told us that a sure sign would be my attitude: if I was still smiling and laughing, we should keep laboring at home. But right up until I started to push, I was either chuckling at Dan’s jokes or attempting lamely to crack my own between contractions—and that would’ve been far too late to be driving!
It was in these early-evening hours that I learned the intensity of labor. The contractions worked on my body: I was worn out, as if I had spent the day carting wheelbarrows full of boulders. Between contractions, I drifted off, too tired to keep up with the conversation. A voice in my head told me I couldn’t keep this up. I was getting discouraged.
The hours get messy here. My memory is blurry and sharp at the same time: I recall particular moments in strong detail but have no idea about the order. I just know that the contractions were nearly unbearable now, to the point that I threw up as they hit. (The prospect of throwing up terrified me; the last time I threw up I was ten.)
“Throwing up is worth ten contractions,” Stephanie said. That’s the only thing that let me yield to it.
Kim checked me again and invited me to try pushing. I was terrible at it. People had said I’d feel the urge to push, but it was more like I forced myself to. The water wasn’t working for me anymore—I couldn’t control the pushing—so Kim and Stephanie set up a birthing stool. Someone helped me out of the water, and I straddled the stool. I leaned back on Dan between contractions, trying to summon my strength.
Pushing hurt. People told me pushing would be a relief. It was anything but. I tried to use the rest of my body to force the baby farther down, farther out. Babies—at least this one—don’t move quickly or easily. Everything was pinched and pressed and pained. It’s not poetic to say so, but what they tell you is sure accurate: pushing is like having a huge poop. Huge.
Next thing I knew, I was shuffling up to the bedroom, a step at a time, using Dan as a crutch. He helped me onto the bed, where I lay on my side and used my leg as leverage to push. I was miserable. Surely pushing would make me rip open and explode. And there were other reasons I didn’t want to push. I wasn’t ready. If I didn’t push, I could preserve our life as it was, the two of us, content and familiar. I had the power to do that, right?
Stephanie suggested that I refrain from pushing for a few contractions and let my body do its work. It was designed to push the baby out whether or not I cooperated, so I might as well relax and give it some space. Trying not to push killed me. It was a thousand times more painful to try to rest than to work with my body. I was crying by now—in pain, but also in apology to Dan. I knew he was ready to be a parent, and here I was, prolonging labor and putting off the birth.
In those moments, something shifted in my spirit. I had to work with the contractions. It might’ve been a sudden coming to terms with parenthood; it might’ve been the incentive to have her birthday be December 28 (a nicer number than 29, I thought). Even though Stephanie hadn’t given me the go-ahead, I determined to push. With the next contraction, I strained with all my might. If I thought before that I was going to explode, now for sure I would.
I moved back to the birthing stool. Kim called Dan over and told him to look: the head! I reached my hand down and poked the tiniest tip of our baby’s head. It was squishy and rough with hair. Oh, girl. You are on your way.
Her head half out of me, I waddled back to the bed, got on my hands and knees. With each contraction, I gripped the mattress and pressed my body backwards, forcing that girl farther out. I was in agony. Having a baby’s head half out of you burns. And that burning lasted for nearly half an hour while she s-l-o-w-l-y made her way out. All I can say is that those minutes were the most excruciating minutes of my life. I cried out in pain. I think I swore. I got back on my side to ease the pressure (when the pressure is that great, easing it is a joke). And then Kim slipped in a finger to make a little extra room—which then took first prize for the most excruciating moment—and suddenly everyone was saying, “The head! The whole head! Now her shoulders!” I thought the shoulders were supposed to be painless, but they were not. I cried some more and pushed, and then—
onto my chest came a squirming, slippery fish of a baby, her body still bundled and wrinkly. Hard to hold onto. Hair matted. Eyes squinting and blinking.
I was bewildered. This—this!—is what I couldn’t fathom twelve hours earlier when we were playing cribbage on the carpet. This person is who I was resisting when I should’ve been pushing. This daughter, Miriam Elaine.
I lay exhausted on the bed, bleeding, sweating, shaking, leaning on Dan. I did not experience the euphoria I had anticipated, but I did feel relief. Kim and Stephanie cleaned everything up—me, Miriam, the bed, the rest of the house—and left us, the three of us.
We slept together that night, our daughter resting on our chests.
Now she is four weeks old. She is plump and expressive, though her expressions correspond to precisely nothing yet. She smells soft and sweet; even her sour milk-breath has a sweetness to it. Sleeping is her favorite pastime, though nursing comes in close second, and her periods of wakefulness are growing longer and more purposeful. She sees us now, rather than looking through us or past us, and she’ll turn her head to hear us read or sing. When she sleeps, we listen to her quiet wheeze, watch her tiny lips and eyelashes, nuzzle her downy cheeks, stroke her small hands.
We named her Miriam after the Miriam of the Old Testament, who kept an eye on her little brother Moses as he drifted down the river in his basket, the Miriam who would later sing to the Lord after he delivered his people from slavery in Egypt. It is our prayer that our Miriam will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living and, like her biblical counterpart, will bear witness to his faithfulness. The name Miriam also means both rebellion and bitterness. We desperately hope she will not rebel against us (please not the teenage years just yet!), but we do pray that she’ll be wise enough to see what things she ought to rebel against—like the edicts of Pharaoh and captivity to evil. May she not be conformed to the pattern of this world.
And we gave her the name Elaine, which means light. It’s my middle name, as well as the middle name of my mother and both my grandmothers. We’re oh-so-aware of life’s seasons, sometimes bright, sometimes bitter, and we hope Miriam knows both and gives thanks to God in all seasons.
She is a gift to us, a gift we wanted but a gift far better than we could’ve imagined. We are grateful to God.
A special thanks to our talented friend and photographer, Ryan Humm, for taking some photos of our new family. The one of Miri and me and the one of her tiniest lips are his.