Our beautiful daughter Anjali was born at 7:39 PM on Sunday, February 7th. Apparently this was SuperBowl Sunday, but I couldn't even tell you who was in the Super Bowl. No, our excitement for this date certainly had nothing to do with football, and everything to do with Anjali's expected due date. And like her parents, Anjali seems to be quite punctual. But Anjali's birth story certainly begins before the end. So, I'll recount it as best I can:
The night before Anjali was born, Madhavi and I were enjoying our usual recent nesting evening activities. Madhavi had been home from work for a little over a week and I had cleared out much of my schedule, so we spent a lot of time watching movies, reading things birthing and parenting related, and just savoring the quiet time we had together in these last days before parenthood. Madhavi was having more and more frequent "practice" contractions, or birthing waves, as we were referring to them from our Hypnobabies birthing course. We decided to time them, although frustratingly because they weren't obviously regular and we couldn't coordinate on when one began and when the next one began (kind of key in timing how far apart they are!). Madhavi said she thought it likely that our little Bun was coming tomorrow. How right she was!
4:20AM, I awoke to Madhavi asking me to grab my phone to time her birthing waves. They were keeping her up at this point and she wanted to see how far apart they were. Sure enough, with about 45 minutes of timing the birthing waves, it seemed like they were about a minute and a half long and 10 minutes apart. We were getting closer. We called Amy, our doula, perhaps with a little reservation. We certainly didn't want to have her come to the house too early if nothing was really happening. On the other hand, we just accumulated about two feet of snow (they were saying it was the worst snow storm in Philadelphia history), so the more heads-up we could give Amy and the midwives the better. Amy told us to hang out for a bit and call the midwives at 8AM to let them know what was going on.
I couldn't sleep at that point, so I went up to my room to get on the computer and get some work done. Madhavi tried to sleep but couldn't. So she joined me upstairs about an hour later. With all of the anticipation and excitement, I was actually able to concentrate and get some things done. After that, I made my way downstairs to get some breakfast together.
After we ate, we timed the birthing waves again. This time they were about a minute in length and 5-7 minutes apart. As it was definitely looking like our baby was making its way into the world today, we called the midwives Christy and Meredith and told them. We also phoned Amy. Both of the midwives and Amy estimated their arrival around 10AM. I figured that would give plenty of time for Madhavi to shower and for me to run to Whole Foods to get some items we planned on having for Christy, Meredith, Amy and ourselves during the birth--snack foods, veggies, coffee, etc.
After moving my car out front to leave spaces for Christy, Meredith and Amy in the back, I hopped in Madhavi's car and made my way down the poorly plowed streets. It had just snowed the day before, and the city was not prepared. But I had Ravi Shankar's Chants of India playing in the car which was just perfect to move me through the snow-laden streets in a somewhat meditative state of singing. I got all the stuff from Whole Foods and decided to stop at the hardware store to get rock salt to melt our poorly shoveled sidewalk.
I got back home and got Madhavi's car stuck in the snow in the tiny alley street behind our house. I was surprised because I had yet to get either of our Subarus stuck. I ran next door and grabbed a neighbor's shovel (ours got stolen the day before...I'm waiting for the person who snaked it to ignorantly knock on our door and ask if we need our cars shoveled out!) and got the car free, and just in time. Amy just arrived. I parked her car for her and just then, Meredith arrived. Getting her car parked was comical, although somewhat painful to my frozen hands. After several times getting her stuck and unstuck, digging out snow with shovel and hands, and even using cat litter for traction, we finally got her situated. Christy arrived in the meantime. Parking her car was uneventful. I really wanted to get in and see how Madhavi was doing, although I knew Amy was with her, so that was reassuring.
I got inside, made sure Madhavi was doing okay. She was, so I took the opportunity to take a quick shower and get the frozen, caked cat litter off of me. Fun.
After that I laid out some of the food for everybody and brought Madhavi some lunch. Christy and Meredith thought it best to get outof the house for coffee to give Madhavi space, at least until things started to get more intense. She, Amy and I sat on the third floor. Madhavi ate a bit, but was mostly breathing and meditating through birthing waves which were coming quite frequently and were quite strong by this point. It was tough for her to find a comfortable position, and I know this was something she had been a little anxious about in the last weeks of pregnancy; she wanted to be able to get into the most comfortable position--the one that she could work through the birthing waves with the most ease. Of course, improvisation seemed to be key. She spent several waves on her knees, leaning over the birthing ball (a yoga or exercise ball). That worked much better than lying on her side on the sofa. Occasionally she used the birthing stool which Meredith brought. Either way, through each one I, and occasionally Amy, would press my thumbs into her lower back to give some counter pressure to the waves. This seemed to help greatly, although if I was a little too high or too low, it was really uncomfortable and annoying to Madhavi. Occasionally Madhavi would quickly snap at me, "Lower!" or "Too hard!" All of this I was prepared to weather easily compared to the intensity my wife was going through.
At some point while we were on the third floor, Amy called the midwives to tell them things had shifted gears and that they should make their way back. Around that time, Madhavi was trying different things to get through the birthing waves while we listened to one of the birthing day tracks from the Hypnobabies CDs. This is about the point Madhavi was standing and swaying, almost slow dancing, while breathing and humming. She asked me to join her and we went through several waves this way, embracing and moving slowly together. It was really amazing to me, quite spiritual in a way.
It was around that point that I noticed a transformation in Madhavi. She seemed to have entered an altered state of consciousness and it all made sense to me. Her energy for direction became very concise. For example, if she was thirsty she would simply say "water." If she was tired she would just say, "tired." In fact, from here until the final moments of the birth she sometimes didn't respond to questions at all. She was basically directing all of her energy to the task at hand. Her main focus was moving through birthing waves and getting closer to birthing our baby. Everything else was peripheral. This was so inspiring to me, for one, to see my wife and soul mate's strength in this great task, and secondly because I felt like this kind of birth experience--a non-medicalized one--would be some sort of primordial triumph that woman have been experiencing since the dawn of humankind. It made me proud at many stages of the birth. But I had to stay focused and support her along the way.
We made our way downstairs as the midwives had prepared the birthing pool. Madhavi had looked forward to the pool. She knew water to be very soothing, and in some of the videos we had watched, the water births--or at least the water labors--seemed comforting. It turned out to be a bit of a let down though. I don't know how long she was in there, but it just wasn't warm enough and she got out shivering and very uncomfortable.
We went to our bedroom with the space heater cranked. She spent many birthing waves in there with me and Amy, moving from birthing chair to being on the floor leaning over the bed, and occasionally trying lying on her side on the bed. Madhavi was not a big fan of this last position. It seemed to be a nice way to rest, but made the waves more intense when they came back around. Meredith and Christy frequently checked in. All the while, by the way, Meredith and Christy would occasionally check the baby's heart rate with a doppler, and these kind of checks became more frequent in the final hour or two of the birth.
Meanwhile more water was heated up and it looked like we could give the birthing pool another go. A change of venue seemed to be in order. Whereas Madhavi wore a bathing suit and t-shirt in the tub the first time, this time she said, "Screw clothes." disrobed and got in the pool. Much better this time!
This also started our Amrita cycle. When one of the Hypnobirthing tracks ended--which is more or less a guided meditation or hypnosis with ambient music in the background--it was quiet. And with Madhavi's birthing waves become more and more intense I felt like some simple change needed to happen. I asked if she wanted to hear music. She gave me an emphatic, "Yes." She asked for the first Amrita CD which I recorded with my friend Thomas. It really was perfect, and I don't just say that because I created it. It was really soothing and put a good feeling in the room. When the CD ended, we listened to the whole thing again. We ended up listening to it four times--twice in the nursery, where the birthing pool was, and twice in the bedroom later.
There are some good photos of Madhavi in the pool. You can really see that meditative and altered state in those photos. Meredith eventually suggested that I get in as it was a bit difficult to press on Madhavi's back from outside the pool. Once in, I was a bit afraid of getting too cold. There's not much meat on my bones and of course I was also not the one in labor. But it wasn't hard to remind myself on this journey, whenever I got tired or hungry or thirsty or cold, that my job was easy compared to what Madhavi was doing.
I don't know how many hours into labor we were--I didn't look at a clock the entire time--but Madhavi was really getting tired. She asked for someone to get Christy. When Christy came Madhavi said she was so tired and that this is really hard. Then--and this is really funny in retrospect--she asked Christy if it was too late to go to the hospital. As I recall, Christy said something like, "Yeah honey, it's definitely too late to go to the hospital...An epidural at this point would really just slow things down." It was very sympathetic, but very straight. She offered to give Madhavi an exam, although I think it was more too make Madhavi feel better and to give her confidence. I don't think there was any doubt in anyone's mind that everything was fine and that we were probably getting close. The exam confirmed Madhavi was fully dilated. This was certainly no time to pack up and get in a car in attempt to navigate snowy roads. And more importantly it was completely unnecessary, as Madhavi and the baby were perfectly healthy, things were progressing well, and Madhavi was, in the end, quite capable of birthing the baby. Nonetheless, she was apparently very tired and I meditated on some relief for her.
We left the birthing pool to go into the bedroom. This is when things got really intense, then stalled, and then accelerated to the finish line.
First, the intense:
At some point Madhavi and I were on the bed with the others in the room and the first urges to push came on. This changed Madhavi's deep, meditative humming and moaning through birth waves into a guttural long grunt. When I mentioned primordial before this was really it. I think this sound would scare off a husband that wasn't ready for it. I think that's one of the many reasons a hospital birth was not right for us. It seems like, in hospitals, everyone is trying to suggest this drug or that procedure to the woman not because the woman is in real pain or because she needs to have this or that done, but because they are uncomfortable with the way she is dealing with the intensity of the birth, such as moaning or grunting or screaming. This sound Madhavi was making made so much sense to me. The sound, like this entire birth process, was confirmation that the intellect is taking a back seat and the body and its wisdom have taken over for the better.
Madhavi was alternately having pushing urges and just breathing through the birthing waves when I noticed it was dark outside. This had been a very long day and it wasn't over yet. I was getting hungry and tired myself. But again, my job was really easy in comparison. But that isn't to downplay my role. Christy suggested Madhavi sit on the toilet. Or maybe she had to go to the bathroom. I cannot remember exactly. But I remember being in the bathroom with Madhavi and she had strong urges to push with the next couple of waves. I felt like this was a good sign that we were nearing the end. But once back in the bedroom she was so tired. She sat on the edge of the bed for a while and for the next half hour or so--maybe longer--the urges to push seemed to have disappeared. I was feeling almost a bit frustrated about this because Madhavi was disinterested in returning to sitting on the hard toilet seat despite the fact that sitting in that position seemed to be conducive to progressing things along. I wanted to suggest a change of venue so badly, but felt that it needed to come from someone else with more experience. Finally, Amy suggested that maybe Madhavi change position or move somewhere else. And Christy echoed that perhaps getting in the shower would feel good and she could get in there with me. Madhavi responded to this. And so we made our way down the hall.
The finish line:
It only took a step or two down the hall for that urge to push to return. We made it down the hall after several intense waves with Madhavi pushing and making that loud, low-pitched primal grunt. I ran the shower and Madhavi and Christy made it to the bathroom. But wave after wave kept coming and Madhavi kept pushing and grunting through them. After a few minutes of this it was pretty clear we were not going to make it to the shower. Christy then reiterated something she had spoken of earlier. She told Madhavi to think of each contraction as a wave and to ride the flow of it down and out--to push with the wave. It just really made sense and reaffirmed our reason for calling them birthing waves rather than contractions. Madhavi was standing and embracing Christy so tightly with each wave and Christy was a solid foundation both physically and spiritually. With each wave Christy encouraged Madhavi until finally Meredith, who was sitting on the floor, told me to come down and look. There it was! Anjali's head of hair! I was absolutely in awe, and I knew Madhavi was almost done and that Anjali was about to be born. I also said jokingly, "Ragini was wrong." No one knew what I was talking about except Madhavi, who was in too intense a state to comprehend any humor. Ragini, Madhavi's sister told us the night before that she had a feeling we would have a boy, and a bald one at that.
Meredith told me to put my hand on the baby's crowning head. I did, but I'll admit I was a little afraid. Of what I'm not sure, but maybe that I'll mess something up. It was super warm and moist. She told me to hold the crowning head and give a little resistant push on the perineum when Madhavi pushed. That would help prevent the perineum from tearing and, I suppose, from the baby spilling to the floor. Another push and more of the baby came out. It took me a second to realize I was looking at my baby's face. The entire head was out! This was really it. We were all encouraging Madhavi that she was amazing and doing great. Madhavi needed to wait for that next wave to come to be able to push the baby fully out. This must have been so intense for her, and it must have felt a bit like an eternity for the next wave to come. But when it came, out came the baby which I caught with the help of Meredith. We quickly handed the baby to Madhavi, but she was not in a state yet to hold the baby. She and I did see that it was a baby girl! Madhavi lay down to birth the placenta and to stop the gush of fluid. She delivered it intact.
We made our way into the bedroom with the baby. At some point, as obviously Madhavi was exhausted, quite a bit sore and dizzy from some loss of fluid and fatigue, the midwives tended to her and I stayed with our newly born Anjali laying on my bare chest. From here things are a bit blurry, but I remember being so overjoyed and proud of Madhavi, so in awe of our daughter and feeling a bit like the whole thing was surreal. I also remember Amy asking if she could bring us something to eat. Yes! Madhavi suggested grilled cheese sandwiches and lentil soup and I said, "Yes, that's perfect." Amy brought us the food and a grilled cheese sandwich never tasted so good before.
What was most surreal was the quiet of our little family after everyone else was gone. We reflected on a long and intense day. We looked at Anjali with amazement. It would really take some hours before we could fully grasp that this is our daughter.
When birth partners talk about how proud they are of their partner, or how upon seeing their partner give birth they saw their partner very differently and in even higher regard, that is for real! I don't think I could say enough times how awe-inspired I am by this single act by my wife. I don't think I could ever communicate fully how proud I am of her to go through this amazing and intense physical, mental, personal and spiritual metamorphosis in order to bring life onto this Earth. Thank you Madhavi for delivering our "gift and blessing," Anjali.