I couldn't have done it without Luke, who held onto me and let me make animal sounds into his shoulder and draw blood from his arms. Every now and then he'd whisper an encouraging phrase, like "You're almost there," and "It's almost over." When my wails reached a panic high-pitch, he'd wail an octave lower, holding my eyes with his and bring me back down. Rebecca would comment later that the two of us were like one laboring unit.
Doctors would say that my final opening contraction was very good. Very effective: which is to say, monstrously painful. I cursed and screamed and pounded on Luke as Rebecca, pushed on the exact spot on my lower back where the pain was most intense. The pressure built up hideously until an explosion of amniotic fluid spilled out of me and soaked my robe, my yoga ball, and my rug.
"Push! I gotta push!" I howled, throwing off the robe and bouncing hysterically on my ball.
"If it's time to push," said Jen calmly, "then I suggest you get off the ball."
The three of them hoisted me onto the bed, where I was free to assume whatever position I needed for maximum pushing leverage.
In the hospital with Anna, they'd screamed, "Push! Push! Push!" at me and given me 30 seconds to catch my breath before starting again. It was a horrible and exhausting two hours. Midwives do it differently. It was like we were on the baby's time and no one else's.
I bore down with each contraction. Nobody screamed anything. Nobody worried about how long the baby was in the birth canal. Nobody worried that he wouldn't fit. When the head began to crown, there was no panic to get him out. Instead, Jen and Rebecca let the head push against me, stretching out what needed to be stretched out, all the while massaging me with olive oil and their fingers. The "ring of fire" women talk about lasted what seemed like a long time, but in retrospect this was good, and prevented me from tearing at all. Jen asked me if I wanted to reach down and feel my baby's head, which I did, tentatively at first, then with more genuine curiosity after feeling a hard, warm orb with hair. A few more pushes and Rebecca held up a hand mirror so I could see this orb. Jackson's head! That encouraged me to push all the harder the next contraction. Pain be damned! Suddenly, his head was out!
"Julie," said Jen, "I need you to get on your hands and knees."
I didn't know this at the time, but Jack's arm was up by his neck, blocking the exit for his shoulders. Jen knew that it would be easier for her to slip that arm out and deliver the rest of the baby in the more open hands and knees position. Luke helped me flip over, and in a matter of seconds, our son slid out into the waiting hands of our midwives.
Jackson David was born at 3:30 p.m. in the afternoon. He emerged pink and lusty, waving his arms and crying at the insult of birth. "Hey, I liked it in there, lady," he seemed to be saying. "And who the heck are all these people smiling at me?" Luke was crying. I was dazed, but accepted him onto my chest, still pink and covered with gunk, and still attached to his umbilical cord. The midwives popped a warm cap on his head and put a receiving blanket over him. The room was already very warm so the space heater was never needed. Amazingly, the placenta slid out within five minutes. The midwives put it in the biggest bowl we owned, our plastic salad bowl, and set it next to me while I gapped at Jackson, crying on my chest. Jen and Rebecca slipped out of the room a few moments later to let us have a few moments alone with our son.
My mom showed up half an hour later and started organizing the washing of the sheets, the cooking of the soup. My midwives put fresh sheets on my bed and set about examining the baby and me. Rebecca came in and fed me soup. At some point they took Jackson and let me sleep for an hour, alone in my own bedroom, on my own bed, covered in a clean quilt. The shades were drawn, but I could still hear the wind chime dancing somewhere on a neighbor's patio.
There is a seamlessness to home birth. You're going about your business at home, then suddenly you’re in labor, and then you have a baby. This morning we woke up as a family of three. Tonight we went to sleep as a foursome.