Having a labor that initiates itself 5 days before you actually meet your baby makes it hard to remember everything as it happened. First, there are too many days and so much waiting that it becomes difficult to remember how you filled your time. And second, by the time you actually meet your baby, you are so tired from working for so long, that it is difficult to remember the details. The things you keep replaying over and over again are the feeling of that final push, knowing you will see your baby in just a moment; the feeling of baby on your chest; that feeling of “it’s finally over” paired with “this has just begun” that leaves you bereft of speech. The rest is blurred in a haze of too many hours, coming back to you in images and sensations. Or, that’s what it was like for me. But that’s the end of the story, so where to begin?
Kiran’s birth story doesn’t begin with water breaking, contractions starting, or anything physical. Her true birth story would have to encompass all of Patrick and my story – our relationship, how we met, the last ten years of our lives; all the stops and starts along the way. Those stops and starts sent deep reverberations into how Kiran came to us. But her story also goes beyond that to how we got to be where we are. It includes our parents’ stories, our grandparents’ stories – stories of courtships, migration, things lost and things found. Without those things – the love letters Patrick and I wrote to each other from different states, different continents; the choices our families made to come to New York, leave New York – without those stories, how would Kiran have come to be? Her birth is tied to that history irrefutably. My heart is full thinking of how Patrick and I will tell Kiran all of those stories big and little, weaving the fables of our family for the rest of her life. But those stories are for another time. So I will instead find the thread of how Kiran began to come into this world, how she slowly, slowly, slowly descended, and how hard she and I worked for each other. That is the story I will tell. And I will tell it for Kiran.
Days before I was to finally go into labor with you, our midwife, K. visited. It was nearly a week past your due date and I was starting to become a bit anxious to meet you. All of the ideas I and others had had about your birth had begun to feel obsolete. I had thought you would come early for some reason, Nonna and one of my students had premonitions (separately!) that you would come on a Sunday (I thought so, too), and everyone – except your Uncle Andy – thought you couldn’t possibly be more than a week late. I had even thought I was in labor already on your actual due date, May 17th, mistaking the “practice” contractions that woke me up all night for the real thing. Your aunties and Nonna and Nana’abu had been so excited – we texted like mad, keeping track of my supposed progress, Nonna and Nana’abu bringing your dad his favorite kind of donut (chocolate cake), and then later, a delicious dinner, and when everything fizzled out in the evening, we were all a bit disappointed.
By the 4th week of May, it was clear that very little could be predicted. You were going to make your way to us in your own time, it seemed.
That’s why, during K.’s visit, we had a conversation about how my labor might go (slowly), and whether I wanted to try any “gentle” induction techniques now that we were inching towards post-dates. K. assured us there wasn’t any need for stress or rushing, but that we might want to start thinking about how to get things moving. I wasn’t ready to have that conversation yet. Touching my belly, I thought, “The baby will come when the baby is ready.” In my head, your birth was going to be calm, clear, peaceful, easy. And though it would ultimately be several of those things, it certainly was not clear, nor easy.
Despite all of the previous premonitions and predictions being proven false, before she left, K. would share with us one vision that struck me deeply. She said that her assistant, C., who would be at your birth, had had an interesting dream that week. C. had prefaced the telling of this dream to K. by stating that it was very unusual for her to have dreams like this, and not to think her crazy for it.
In the dream there was a woman following C. She followed her for quite some time before C. eventually turned to confront the woman. When she did, the woman told her that she would be called, at 9:45pm, to a magical, auspicious birth that would forever change her career and have a profound impact upon her identity as a midwife. “We shall see!” K. said, smiling, her blue eyes bright, as she finished the story.
And though C. wouldn’t be called to us until one or two in the morning a number of days later, and I never mentioned knowing about the dream to her after you were born, your birth was so magical, so auspicious, so profound. That premonition, somehow, did come true.
At 2am on Saturday, May 24th we finally received our first message that you were on your way to us. (Well, really it was 2am on Sunday May 25th – but it still felt like the 24th at the time because we will still awake. I imagine you will understand this feeling when you’re older.) Patrick (Daddy, to you), Robina (Auntie Bina), Tahira (Auntie Tah) and I had stayed up late talking. We had just been saying how silly it was to have stayed up so late when I could go into labor at any time and then we would all be exhausted, but as you will learn, we Khalid sisters find it hard to stop talking when we’re together. You will probably be like that, too, since you’re a Khalid lady. Or maybe you’ll be like your daddy and laugh at how Khalid ladies never stop talking.
Robina left first, knowing that Josie would be up and looking for her soon, and Tahira stayed behind, coming over to sit next to me on the couch, so that she could watch a video Patrick took of the upstairs apartment earlier in the day. There was a lot of talk about real estate and apartments in the weeks before and after you were born. It drove your mama a little crazy, but apparently that was just part of living in Brooklyn in the 2010s. As we sat there watching the video (or perhaps it was just after), I all at once felt a small gush of water leave my body. “I think my water just broke!” I exclaimed. Tahira looked at me with her big eyes and said “I was just thinking in my head about a gush of water.” I freaked out a little. It wasn’t the first time Tahira has displayed her uncanny ability to be in tune with something that she shouldn’t be (like the ghosts who live in our childhood home – don’t be scared, they’re friendly), but to be in tune with my water breaking was a little too much. My water breaking was a little too much. I remember asking Tahira and Patrick repeatedly to look at the crotch of my yoga pants – “You can see where it’s wet, right? I’m not just imagining this, right?” I think I said. I may have added “It’s not pee – I didn’t pee!” Tahira and Patrick assured me that they did see where it was wet, and that they believed that it wasn’t pee. It didn’t seem like as much water as I had imagined it would be, but I figured that whatever it was, it was. And if this was it, if this was your way of letting us know you were coming, we all agreed we had better get some sleep.
Earlier in the night, we had asked Josie to tell you to come out already, that we were ready for you. She had been facing away from me, playing with Patrick by the window (probably looking for MamaCat outside) and when I said this to her, she immediately turned, walked over to me, and slapped my belly, as if to say “You come out!” When my water began leaking I thought, “It worked! All you had needed was that incentive from your cousin!”
Tahira left and Patrick and I quickly got ready for bed, talking to you the whole time. “Are you on your way?” I would ask. I remember going to the bathroom to brush my teeth, Patrick and I both filled with a bit of manic energy as we went about our bedtime routine, not really saying much of anything to one another, which I remember thinking was unusual for us. In bed we faced each other, heads peeking out from under our duvet, and I don’t know if we were both thinking it or if we said it, but it passed between us that this could be the last night it would be just the two of us. We stayed in that knowledge for some time – a mix of excitement and nerves – savoring our potential last few moments as the people we knew ourselves to be. We smiled anxiously at each other – that I remember. We had tears in our eyes – that I remember, too. This is it, we both thought; we’re going to meet our baby.
I woke up the next morning and was still trickling water so I called K., who said it did sound like my water had ruptured, and that she would come over later that day. I can’t remember what we did next – if Patrick made French toast like he usually does on Sunday mornings. (When your daddy first made French toast for me, I scoffed at the fact that he put cinnamon in the egg mixture. Now I think it’s the most delicious French toast in the world.) We probably watched an episode or two of House, MD. We went about our routines with a bit more anticipation than usual, but we were both calm as I remember it. I got a text from Tahira at some point that said “According to the internet, 90% of people who experience PROM go into labor within 48 hours!” I didn’t yet know that I was one of the lonely 10. I honestly didn’t even really know what PROM (Premature Rupture Of Membranes) was, but it would come to define a lot of how your birth story goes.
Eventually K. got to us, and she was a welcome sight, as she always is. She wanted to confirm whether or not I was leaking amniotic fluid, so she gave me what can only be described as a really long Q-tip that had some kind of solution on the swab that would turn blue if it came in contact with amniotic fluid. I went into the bathroom to try to swab myself, but when I did it the test was inconclusive, so K. asked if she could test me herself to be sure. I was nervous and uncomfortable as I laid on the couch, but I wasn’t sure why. In retrospect, I realize that I had become so inward over the last few months of pregnancy, with my back injury and my body folded over in protection of the amazing things happening in my womb, that I think I just was afraid to make myself vulnerable to anyone outside. The swab didn’t turn any color I would describe as blue, but K. said that’s the color we were looking for and so we knew now, for sure, that I was experiencing PROM.
My dad would later ask if your “pool” was drying up since I was leaking, and when I answered, I recalled hearing K. tell Patrick as I was trying to swab myself in the bathroom that with PROM the amniotic fluid replenishes itself, so there is no effect on the baby’s environment. I told this to my dad, and he was relieved.
Over the following couple of days, there were a lot of conversations had just out of earshot that I wanted to be privy to. There was the feeling of not knowing what was going on with my body – why labor wasn’t progressing as it “should” – and for a while I thought that there was information I didn’t have that others did. I wanted to know where you were, why you were coming so slowly – I wanted answers, reasons, understanding. I didn’t know yet how unpredictable labor and birth can be.
I honestly can’t remember anymore what we did with the rest of that day other than wait for what seemed like an interminably long time for labor to kick in. Oh, what fools we were!
Before K. left we talked about “the clock being started,” but that we still didn’t need to worry ourselves too much. K. told us of a colleague whose client went 5-days post-PROM and had a perfectly healthy, amazing baby. Luckily I had been tested for Group B Strep and was negative, so the worry about infection was low and we had a little wiggle room to see where things would go. K. did say that she wanted us to think about trying some of the induction techniques she had talked about, like nipple stimulation with the breast pump or taking castor oil or trying acupuncture (all of which we would do later). She asked if I could try the breast pump that afternoon after she left. I so hated the thought of any kind of interventions, “gentle” or not, and for the first of what would be many, many times, I asked K., “Do I really have to do this?” “I would really like you to, yes,” she would say. And so, for the first of what would be many, many, times, I agreed, knowing that K. would take good care of us.
At our baby shower, which took place when I was exactly 35 weeks pregnant, my family set up a calendar page of the month of May where the guests were invited to place a guess as to when you would arrive, what sex you would be, and how much you would weigh. Patrick and I hung the calendar page on the wall next to the sofa I would end up laboring on for hours and hours, the couch I’m sitting on right now as I write this, and I’m glad we haven’t taken it down yet because I have to keep referring to it in the timeline of your birth story to figure out what day of the week I’m up to and what happened when.
And as I stare at the calendar, it has come to my attention that K. actually came to see us on Monday, not Sunday! I have no idea what Sunday consisted of then, and so my timeline becomes increasingly wonky.
What I do remember about Sunday in this re-thought timeline: Robina and Andy were going to Robin and Rachel’s wedding in Dumbo that evening. They were taking Wren and leaving Ilan and Josie with my parents. I remember thinking, “Oh god, everyone is busy and occupied and I am going to go into labor!” which of course, I didn’t. I remember texting with Robina while she was at the wedding, but I don’t remember what we discussed. I remember my dad calling in the late afternoon to ask us if we wanted to eat falafel from Damascus on Atlantic Avenue (our favorite) and we said yes. I thought it would be weird to eat a falafel right before labor, because it didn’t seem like something you would want to throw up in the event that you did throw up, but I ate one anyway. Before leaving for the wedding, Robina called and asked if she could borrow a pair of shoes. I told her to come on over and that she could borrow the vintagey looking t-strap ones that she likes. When she came in (everyone had a key to the apartment at this point and just let themselves in) she noticed we were eating falafel and reminded me that the last thing she had eaten before having Wren was falafel, too. We laughed at the coincidence and, for maybe the millionth time that day, wondered if this was it. This would not, in fact, be my last meal before birth. That wouldn’t be for two days yet.
Patrick and I went about the rest of our Sunday in a pretty low-key manner, I’m sure. Well, I’m not sure (as has been been previously proven), but the sensations I remember from the day are all sensations of calm. Despite the fact that I was desperate to finally meet you after being in labor for 42 hours and waiting around for days prior to that, I still feel that all the sensations around my labor were calm and patient. The environment always felt quiet and relaxed, and when I spoke with K. at one of our last visits before I had you, I expressed that I didn’t know any specifics around what I wanted my labor to look like – who I wanted to be there or where I wanted to labor, that I would feel all of that out as I went – but that I did know that when I thought of what I wanted my labor to feel like, it was very clear in my mind. I wanted peace, calm, and quiet. I remember adding a joke about how loud I normally am, and so talkative, but that when visualizing my labor, this sense of stillness kept coming to me. And that would prove to be true, in my experience of the labor at least. Quiet and stillness punctuated by exclamations attesting to the hard, hard work I was doing.
And so Patrick and I went to bed on Sunday night thinking, “Now, this really might be the last night we are alone in this bed!” – only slightly impatient for what was coming next.
On Monday afternoon, as I’ve already written, K. came over. Maybe the next time I tell you this story I will tell it in the right order, but for now, I’m going to leave Monday where it is, because that’s how I first remembered it.
A few nights before, as I was half-in, half-out of sleep, an image of labor had popped into my head. I was sitting in the upstairs living room with both of your aunties and your dad and watching Troop Beverly Hills. I knew then that I would have to watch it as soon as possible, because it would help get my labor going. For days I kept singing in my head, “It’s cookie time, it’s cookie time!” I was partially convinced that my labor hadn’t progressed because we hadn’t all been able to get together to watch the movie yet.
I told this to K. at our Monday visit and she said, “Well, you’d better get on it!” So, after she left and told me to start nipple stimulation, I immediately called Robina. I had no idea how to use a breast pump, and Robina was, and still is, my guru. Then I called Tahira and insisted that she get her butt over to the house to watch TBH. I thought, “Nipple stimulation and Troop Beverly Hills? That’s going to be one potent labor tonic!”
So we sat around the living room, watching the movie, laughing loudly, singing along like crazies and reciting lines of the movie to each other (one day, little one, you too will utter the words, “Do you know who this man is?!”)
We did as K. had told us, and began to use the breast pump. I had been reticent to try this method because it seemed as though it would be uncomfortable, and unfortunately it was even more uncomfortable in reality than I had imagined it would be. (It was later made less uncomfortable by the application of some “nipple butter” which helped ease my soreness. It was also less painful once I started leaking a huge amount of colostrum. Every time I stopped pumping and had to remove the flanges we had to get a handful of tissues ready and quickly slip them under the flanges as we lifted them off my breasts. This became a choreographed occurrence, Robina and I working as a team to get the tissues at just the right angle so as to not soak my shirt, although my shirt did get soaked some every time. I didn’t think anything of it then, but was later told that the amount of colostrum I was producing was amazing. What did I know?)
At first I was extremely self-conscious about it, not wanting anyone to be able to see my breasts, or my nipples being sucked into the too-small flanges, and I attempted to cover myself with my hands. Eventually, though, after using the breast pump for 30 minutes every hour or so, I lost that sense of self-consciousness, or at the very least, it became secondary to the goal we were trying to accomplish. It was the same for me when I started breastfeeding you. I have always been extremely self-conscious and private about my body, my cousins and Tahira teasing me when I wouldn’t join their “titty committee” when we were teenagers because I refused to pass the entrance exam of flashing them my chest, but now I’m flashing everyone with a purpose and my shame has completely melted away. I feel strong in my body now, and you gave me that.
It’s silly, but I’m going to finish talking about Monday in the same way that I finished talking about Sunday because I can’t remember anything after the movie. I can assume that my mom and dad got us dinner. I can assume that Patrick and I watched more episodes of House, MD while we ate that dinner. I can assume that I continued to text updates to Robina. I’m not sure, and I’m never going to be sure in my own mind, though I wish I was. You will quickly learn that I have a poor memory. You can probably use that to your advantage at some point, but don’t try it with your Aunties or your Nana’abu, because they all have great memories and you won’t get one over on them.
The last thing I remember is that before bed, Patrick and I discussed whether or not he should go to work on Tuesday. He luckily had had off on Monday because it was Memorial Day, but I still hadn’t gone into labor and if he took Tuesday off, he would be giving up some of his leave time for after you were born. I didn’t want him to go to work because the idea of being alone if something should happen was terrifying to me, but we decided that he should go in until noon and then come home. It was a perfect plan, as K. was coming back to check on me around then.
We went to bed, another night post-PROM. We watched you kicking your little feet inside my belly, your daddy insisting he saw a distinct outline of a foot, and asked, “Baby, why don’t you come out and meet us?”
Since I still hadn’t gone into labor as of Tuesday morning, K. decided she would like to take me to an acupuncturist who has excellent results with helping move labor along. I asked Robina if she would come with us and she agreed (her presence had become a given by then. I will forever remember the days before your birth being filled with evenings of Robina & Josie visits). She came over in the late morning/early afternoon to help me do another round of nipple stimulation and to answer the door when K. got there (my back had relapsed into being quite painful again at this point). I don’t know the particulars of what we did or said, but I remember her getting the door, I remember K. coming in, and I remember that Robina sat on the ottoman and K. sat on the floor, which she would do a lot of in the coming days. I was having a contraction here or there, especially with the help of the breast pump, but not with the consistency that anyone would have liked, so we prepared to go to the acupuncturist. I distinctly remember the sensation of hearing Patrick open the front door shortly thereafter, relief flooding me as he stepped into the living room. He gave me a kiss hello and I had never needed to see him more than I did in that moment. I remember noticing that he didn’t bring his backpack to work that day, remember asking if he had eaten lunch (he hadn’t), and making him pack a tote bag of snacks that neither of us would touch. K. kept saying that I should be eating, but I just couldn’t focus on eating when we were trying to get labor started! I do remember what was in the tote bag, though – “Happy Trekking” trail mix from Trader Joe’s, un-Ritz crackers and some slices of American cheese (also from TJs), a couple of pears. I think I offered K. a pear multiple times over the course of the few days – I don’t remember seeing her eat anything the whole time, and I think it worried me.
We got ready to leave the house, me with my cane and my entourage of husband, sister, midwife. I put on my flip-flops because they were the only shoes I didn’t have to bend down to put on, and hobbled out the door. Patrick went first to pull the car around, and K. and Robina helped me leave the house. They both asked if I needed help getting down the front stairs but I stubbornly made it down myself. This was another feature of my pregnancy/injury, and also of my labor – I could only trust my body to do what it needed to do. I didn’t want any help – just people nearby to support me in other ways. I always needed to be in control of my own body and its limitations. I alone knew how to take a step so it wouldn’t hurt, how to distribute my weight so that it wouldn’t hurt, how to turn or shift or stretch so that it wouldn’t hurt. And when everything hurt, my body alone knew what to do to, at the very least, not increase that hurt. The whole pregnancy and labor were a lesson in teaching me to listen to and trust my body. Really, you were the one who was teaching me.
We got in the car, Robina riding shotgun as I reclined in the back seat. K. surprised me by getting in with us. She said she was planning on walking home, but since there was room in the car she would ride with us. I remember being really glad that we were all going on what felt like a little adventure, and saying so. I also remember commenting on how good it felt to be out of the house. It was hot, extremely hot, but I was so happy to feel the sun on my arm as I sat in the car that I couldn’t care less that I would be sweating in minutes. Sweating in the heat of the sun had become a novelty and I was happy to do it.
I was so like a little kid, marveling at everything I was seeing; everything I had been missing since being cooped up inside with my injury. We drove down 5th Avenue and I observed everything as we went with new eyes, remarking on a man around 12th street whose pants were sagging down so low that we could see his entire pair of underwear. He was with a woman who was wearing sheer leggings as pants, so I thought they made a lovely couple. We all laughed, and K.’s reaction was a mix of surprise and amusement when she noticed him, which made me giggle even more. I remember thinking that I would write about this man’s underwear in your birth story, and how funny it was to think of all the little things that unknowingly make an impression on us and ultimately become the details that stand out to us in our memories forever.
We pulled up to the acupuncturist’s house and miraculously found parking right out front. Once you get to know Park Slope, you will understand just how miraculous this truly is. Someone said (maybe it was me), “This is your lucky day!” The previous client was just leaving the house as we walked up. Robina and K. decided they would walk the few blocks to K.’s house while I was being treated so that Robina could pick up a TENS machine in case we wanted to try it on my back later in labor. Robina would then come back to meet us when I was done. Patrick would stay with me. We stepped inside the house and the acupuncturist – whom we’ll call P. – asked us to take our shoes off, which I thought was funny, because as she walked up the stairs in front of me I noticed she was wearing shoes herself. The house looked like the Park Slope houses of some of my friends growing up – kind of cluttered, a little run-down, very lived-in. Shoes littered the downstairs hallway, coats on a rack, carpet slightly loose in some places. It was nice to see, this remnant of Brooklyn as I knew it, before millions and millions of dollars and stainless steel renovations and open concept living. We walked up those slightly creaky stairs to the second floor and went down the hall to the acupuncture area. There was a larger sitting room with a computer and a desk, where Patrick would sit for the duration of the session, and then set off to the right was a smaller room where the table was set up. P. left us as we filled out what seemed like an endless stack of forms. Once those were out of the way, P. came back in and went over some specifics with me. I can’t remember what questions she asked, but she did say something about my weight, to which I responded that I had only gained 7lbs through my whole pregnancy, which shocked her.
She started the treatment by looking at my tongue. “Can you tell anything from it?” I asked. “I can tell a lot from it,” she responded. “For instance, are you a worrier?” she smiled. She asked a bit about my back as she considered where she would put the needles. Her plan was to stimulate labor and also hopefully relieve some of my back discomfort at the same time. As she began putting the needles in, I made eye contact with Patrick across the room. He hates needles, as you will learn soon enough – even looking at them makes him cringe. He was a good sport about it, though, as I kept looking at him expecting him to be grimacing, and instead he gave me heartening smiles the whole time.
Once all the needles were placed, P. stepped aside and I tried to relax into my contractions. They began coming a bit closer, and I could tell everyone was keeping track of their proximity to one another. Every once in a while P. would come over and activate some of the needles, brushing them back and forth lightly with her finger. This would cause a new contraction within moments. After about an hour of this, P. said she thought we should stop so that I could stretch my back. She told us that my contractions had gotten to a pretty consistent 6-minutes apart, but there were a few closer and a few further apart. She removed all the needles and I began to get off the table. “Come back tomorrow. I can usually get them to come even closer together, so I’m not sure you’re there yet,” she said as I slowly put one foot on the floor. Those words stopped me in my tracks – come back tomorrow, I thought, are you kidding me? This baby better be here by then! As it turns out, she was not only right, but would come back into your birth story a second time later that same night.
I thanked P. repeatedly and made my way slowly down the hall and the stairs. At the landing, I had to stop for a contraction. It had been about 6-minutes since my last. This is definitely labor! I thought. I needed to pee, but for some reason I wanted to wait until I got home to go. If I was having this many contractions, I wanted to be home as soon as I could. Robina was sitting on a bench outside the house when we got to the entrance, and immediately asked how I was doing. I relayed that my contractions were coming about 6-minutes apart and she seemed excited. She was drinking a green juice and I was extremely covetous of it, so when we got in the car I asked if we could get one on the way home. We stopped at Auntie Adeela’s store on 5th avenue (she closed the store a few weeks after you were born, which made us all quite sad) and she made us two green juices. One for me and one that Patrick and Robina ended up sharing. While Patrick went in to buy the juice, I started having a contraction in the back seat. Auntie Adeela came out a few minutes later and as we spoke I had another contraction. I remember apologizing and feeling really bad that I was having contractions in the middle of trying to have a conversation. Strange logic, I know. Mazhar came over to say hi, too, and I remember thinking how funny it was that I was trying to say hello to my teenage cousin while I was in the middle of contracting and wondering whether he realized how bizarre that was. I asked Robina how far apart the contractions were coming, and she said that they were still a pretty consistent 6-minutes apart. Patrick asked if there was anything else we needed from my Aunt’s store. I may or may not have asked him to buy some veggie straws, which I ate a lot of in the last few months of being pregnant with you. (I liked the orange ones best.) They didn’t have any, though, to my great disappointment.
We drove those last few blocks home and I continued contracting. By the time we got settled inside it must have been close to 3pm. Robina started using a contraction tracker app on her phone to time my contractions, which we would do for the next 8 or so hours, after which we would give up on the app and just guess at how far apart they were. I would use the breast pump every hour for half an hour for the rest of the afternoon, whining about it every time. It really was unpleasant, but Patrick and Robina laughing at me, and making me laugh at myself, made it easier to get through.
The three of us talked and joked while I pumped, and Patrick fed me un-Ritz cracker and American cheese sandwiches as I held the flanges in place. This is one of my most distinct memories of labor, all of us laughing as crumbs from the crackers fell onto my chest, me gesturing again and again to Patrick to feed me more, like a little kid. There was so much excitement, so much anticipation. It felt perfect.
Though my spirits were high, it became clear that I needed a new distraction from all the painful breast-pumping. Robina or Patrick must have asked me what I wanted to do and the first thing I thought of was watching Gilmore Girls. As you will fast learn, this is my favorite show of all time. I watch the seasons over and over and it never gets old. Even your daddy likes it (although he needs a break from it after we watch it a lot). Before we lived together, I had a TV in my bedroom and would put on Gilmore Girls every night when I got in bed and watch til I fell asleep. Even now when your dad goes out of town I watch it on the computer in bed. It comforts me and makes me laugh. I can’t really explain why I love it so much, but I am really excited to watch it with you someday.
So we watched Gilmore Girls. Hours and hours of it. We got through several discs of the second season, me lying on the couch intermittently having contractions and intermittently breast-pumping, Robina on the ottoman, and Patrick on the floor or squished with me on the couch. We laughed between contractions, sometimes at Gilmore Girls, often at ourselves. And though I can’t remember exactly what we said, the image in my mind of my big sister and my husband on either side of me, full of pure love and excitement, and the feeling of absolute serenity and safety is one that I will carry with me forever. I believe that first day is what carried me through the rest of labor. That even though the exhaustion would set in so deeply as to render me almost incapable of continuing on, even deeper still was the peace those early hours had rooted within me.
Sometimes during a contraction I would feel you kicking and squirming. It felt like you were pushing off one side of my belly, trying to lower yourself down. You were my partner – I always thought of you that way. You and I were (and are) a team. We were in this together, and there you were, kicking away like you do now on the outside, ready to get moving. I always thought of us as one being, one entity, but really there were four of us sharing that space together all afternoon and all night, working for each other. In the light of this work, the space became sacred to me. During our first days as a family, we would spend all of our time in that same space we shared throughout my pregnancy and labor. We would take our first family photo on the green couch, you sleeping nestled in a blanket in the crook of my arm, your daddy and I smiling, exhausted, joy exuding out of our eyeballs.
Robina was texting updates to K. for the whole afternoon and evening, letting her know that my progress was decent – my contractions were now 3-to-4-minutes apart. I remember thinking, “Okay, this is pretty painful, but totally manageable. I can do this.” What I soon couldn’t deal with as well as the contractions was the constipation I was experiencing. I don’t know what brought it on, but I was painfully and horribly constipated. At one point I spent nearly an hour on the toilet trying to get some relief to no avail. I felt swollen and tortured by this pushing and pain that was disconnected to labor and was incessant. I continued to go back and forth to the toilet, bringing myself to tears of immense frustration and discomfort multiple times. In retrospect I can’t imagine how I coped with the dual discomforts of breast-pumping and constipation all while experiencing contractions and trying to focus on labor, and it truly seems like a cruel joke. But I did it. That sort of becomes an unofficial theme of this whole experience. I don’t know how, but I did it.
Robina let K. know that I was painfully constipated, and K. asked if she thought I would let her give me an enema. I spoke a resounding, “NO.” I didn’t want anything at all going in my body! Something was supposed to be coming out! (Several somethings, actually.) After a short while, K. decided she would visit again to check on my progress and see how I was doing overall.
Again, I don’t remember the specific conversation that was had, just K. sitting on the floor, checking your heartbeat with the doppler (which she would do constantly throughout the rest of labor, continually saying “she’s amazing” – about you and your steady, steady heartbeat. I always knew you were amazing) and asking again if I didn’t want her to give me an enema to relieve my constipation. I asked her to explain it to me and when she did it confirmed for me that, no, I was not interested in having an enema. She told us to keep using the breast pump to bring on stronger and more consistent contractions because I seemed to be wavering a bit – steady for an hour or so, and then less steady for a period – and we didn’t want labor to stall. My progress was already slow enough. Robina walked K. to the door and I wondered if there was any midwife-to-midwife exchange of information, but was probably contracting when she came back in and didn’t bother to ask.
At some point around 7pm we thought about eating something. I think K. actually texted Robina that we really ought to get some food in us. After watching so many episodes of Gilmore Girls all I really wanted to eat was greasy, delicious Chinese food. Robina and Patrick concurred. My mind was set on having an egg roll, of which I would ultimately only take a bite, because in my experience, egg rolls are the kind of thing that are way better in theory than in reality. Robina wanted to buy us a feast and I remember how lucky I felt to have her there with me for so many hours already – not because she was buying dinner, of course, but because she was taking such good care of us. I didn’t want her to leave, and she didn’t. She stayed through hours of television watching and contraction timing, making sure that we didn’t have to worry about anything except having you. So we ordered a feast from our favorite Chinese delivery place, Red Hot II: Kung Pao wheat gluten, broccoli in garlic sauce, orange tofu, cold sesame noodles, and an egg roll. We worried that by the time the food arrived I wouldn’t be hungry anymore, but when it did, I was starving. I was practically salivating watching Robina take the containers out of the bag – seriously, I don’t know if I’ve ever felt this level of hunger, even while fasting for Ramadan! I ate everything except for the Kung Pao (Patrick’s favorite, anyway) and Robina remarked how glad she was that I could eat. It was legitimately one of the most satisfying meals I have ever had. Trust me, you’re going to love it, too.
Pretty soon after eating, my contractions began to intensify and build, and I went back and forth to the bathroom a few times. I was having some more substantial bloody show, which I didn’t even really register until I showed it to K. because I was so wrapped up in my contractions. In addition to my intensifying contractions was the increasingly painful and harder-to-ignore constipation. I didn’t know how I could possible continue to labor in that state. It was then that Robina let me know that K. had left what was a called a “bullet enema” for me in case of the occurrence this very situation. This was uncomfortable to live through and somehow, despite the fact that I’m telling you all about your birth, which is messy and physical as all births are, it is still difficult for me to talk about poop. The mini-enema was basically a water bottle that I had to insert into my bottom to flush out the poo that was keeping me constipated and it was gross to have to do, although much worse in theory than in reality. Praise be that it worked. It provided so much relief I will be forever grateful to K. for thinking ahead and leaving it behind. I honestly don’t know how I would have gone on without that relief.
Eventually, around midnight or so, my contractions became extremely painful. We paused Gilmore Girls and I made my way to the bathroom once again and Patrick came with me. He sat on the edge of the tub and held my arm while I sat on the toilet, at times leaning my head against the sink. (I would do this often, and the sink would leave an indentation in my forehead every time.) Gilmore Girls would be frozen like that for hours, until K. came for good and it was finally turned off. I remember looking at the frozen screen multiple times, once wondering if we would get to press play again. I wish I could remember the picture that was on it. Was it maybe Luke walking down the street talking to Lorelai about the apartment she was encouraging him to buy? I do remember watching that episode, especially the scene where Jess accepts Lorelai’s invitation to eat leftover Chinese food with her (thus our dinner).
I was having really strong contractions now, very close together. My legs started shaking uncontrollably and I felt nauseated. I hate to vomit and I remembered Robina saying that she always got nauseated during labor but never actually vomited. This was similar to how I felt when I had morning sickness – always nauseated and never throwing up – so I hoped that I wouldn’t throw up now either. Somehow we had a bowl at the ready anyway – it was the big pink one, which would eventually be used to hold my placenta.
Based on the intensity and proximity of my contractions and the state my body seemed to be in, we thought I might be in transition. Robina poked her head in and out of the bathroom and finally said she thought it might be time to call K., so she did.
I continued to contract painfully on the toilet, my back beginning to hurt from sitting that way for so long. I rested my head against the sink in between contractions, although eventually there wasn’t any break at all. I thought to myself, “Okay, if this is transition, which is supposed to be the hardest part of labor, then I can totally do this. It sucks, but I’m already here, and I can do this.” In retrospect, the fact that I could think that way probably illustrates that it wasn’t transition, but what did I know at the time? When I did eventually go through transition, I still had thoughts that took me outside my own body, so perhaps I never fully lose that level of consciousness during labor.
K. showed up a while later, which I remember feeling very surreal at the time. Like, “Okay, I know this is what was going to happen – we’ve been preparing for this for months, but now you’re actually here, in my house, in that shirt that I think you wore to one of Robina’s births, and you are going to help me deliver my baby. Really? Is this happening?” I don’t remember much else about this period of labor because I was in so much pain. C., K.’s birth assistant showed up at some point, though she seemed very ethereal to me at the time. I remember trying to actually see her, to get a look at her face, but not being able to make it out as it seemed as though she was floating around the house. It was almost like that scene in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” when Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey and running and hiding through Jim Carrey’s memory and eventually everyone’s faces start to distort and you can’t actually see anyone’s face at all, though you can still hear their echoey voices. I do, for some reason remember noticing the shirt and leggings C. was wearing and thinking she looked like a teenager, but they are blurred in my memory now.
The house had suddenly become dark, as I remember it. Dark and quiet. Someone had turned the TV off and the only lamp that was lit was the tiny blue one that Patrick bought at the Red, White and Blue thrift store in Pittsburgh for three dollars. I hated that lamp at first, but now that it has a place in your birth story and has been moved into the room we painted for you, I have quite a bit of affection for it. Your birth made magic out of so many ordinary things – a lamp, a couch, a bowl – a woman.
Somehow I had made it to the couch and in the seconds between contractions I would peer over the back of it to glance at K. and C.’s faces, backlit and shadowy. It is hard to remember (how many times will I say this?) what happened next. I know I continued to labor, my contractions remaining strong and steady for hours that night. At some point I asked for my mom and Tahira, wondering where they were and what they were doing. I think Robina told me that they had gone to sleep earlier that night, assuming they would be woken to come over in the middle of the night. At around 3 or 4am (or was it closer to 5? Or was it the next day?) I finally asked for them to come over. I wanted them there so much – to feel them closer to what I was going through so that I could feel their support and be permeated by it. They came in to say hello and I remember trying to laugh at the insanity of being in labor – though, frankly, I don’t remember at what point in the timeline we were when they came in.
I continued to labor for the rest of the night. Tahira and my mom went downstairs to get some rest on the couches. Robina borrowed a pair of my leggings – the black and white striped ones that I bought when I was 17 – so that she wouldn’t have to leave to change and get more comfortable (which I so appreciated at that moment, not wanting her to leave for even a minute), and K. put on a pair of thick, red, blue and grey socks that I had left lying around the bedroom (I had actually thought to put them away but hadn’t gotten around to it before labor, and when I noticed them on K.’s feet hours later, it made me smile). The night soon became day, though it never really became light in the apartment to me until the morning you were born. The only sign I remember noticing of the day creeping in was a shift from true darkness to a sense of warmth spreading over us. In my mind we were locked in a space where time ceased to be of any relevance; where the earth had stopped in the midst of its orbit, where day and night were meaningless entities and wouldn’t regain their meaning until I had finished my work.
After hours and hours, my team became exhausted as well. Robina tried to nap for a while in our bed and I remember seeing her skinny, black and white striped legs when I looked over my shoulder into the bedroom. I had a feeling she wouldn’t be able to sleep well while I was contracting, and I don’t think her nap was very restful. I wondered all the time where everyone was, what they were doing, if they were hungry or thirsty or tired and wanting to leave. I worried the whole time that Patrick hadn’t eaten, and it seemed like he was locked in some kind of solidarity fast with me. At some point C. went out for coffee at a café a few blocks away. At another point my mom brought Dunkin Donuts for everyone (presumably my dad had made the actual trip). At yet another point my mom made eggs. Later she would make daal, too. (She tried to stay on the periphery for most of the labor, not wanting to be overbearing, but she was always there, nourishing us all with her busy hands and big heart.) All this happened in the space between contractions, and eventually, and unfortunately, that space began to widen. This was around noon the next day, Wednesday, May 28th.
I was exhausted and barely functional. C. suggested a foot massage with some aromatheraputic oils to stimulate some pressure points and get labor back to a point of progressing. Patrick sat at my head and C. at my feet. The massage was so relaxing that I closed my eyes and began to doze. Clearly not a good sign for my labor, but it felt incredible. I fell into a trancelike state during the massage, ready to give up contractions and labor and the lot of it just to get some shuteye. “Let’s try this again in a couple of weeks,” I was ready to declare, if only I could make my mouth work. Instead, I guiltily fell asleep. K., upon seeing how relaxed I was, suggested that Patrick and I actually attempt to get some good rest in. I looked at her questioningly. Could we really do that? Would it stall labor permanently if we gave in to rest? K. assured us that labor would start again and that it was clear I was stalled for the moment so I should take advantage of it. Though I was initially skeptical, I had and have so much faith and trust in K.’s judgment, that I knew everything would be okay. No matter what the situation, I know it will be better because she is there. This has been proven time and time again, and I really believe that her strength and patience and support are what got me through the long labor. I could relax into her care when I couldn’t relax into anything else, and that mattered so much more than I can express.
And so with K.’s blessing, your daddy and I plodded wearily to bed. And it was really, really nice. I luxuriated in the feeling of rest, the feeling of being in Patrick’s arms and the feeling of closing my eyes and drifting slowly away from my body. I remember how safe and blissful I felt being held by Patrick, his warm arms around my tired body, my big belly. He is my best friend, my partner, my true love, and I felt all of that in those moments of rest.
We slept for about two hours, and glorious hours they were. When we awoke, peacefully and calmly, I saw K. out in the living room, still in my socks, and asked her where and how everyone was. I would continue to be curious and ask after everyone for the rest of the labor. Apparently everyone had tried to get some rest while Patrick and I were resting, K. on the labor couch, my mom and Tahira downstairs, and Robina and C. both taking the opportunity to go home and say hello to their kids. I think. (I think, but really I can’t remember if this happened then or earlier or later. It doesn’t matter so much, because this is about your birth as I remember it, and memories are tricky creatures.) I was curious as to whether or not K. had been able to get any rest and whether she was comfortable or not, and I later learned that she had asked Robina where our couch was from, remarking that it was quite comfortable and she could see how I could have spent so much time on it. I am glad my little green couch served everyone well.
I don’t know the exact trajectory of the next several hours. More breast-pumping, more contracting, more exhaustion. I continued to go back and forth to the toilet because not only did I have to pee a lot from all the fluids people were providing me with (water, apple juice, red raspberry leaf iced tea, recharge – all of which I enjoyed except for the recharge which I nearly spit out but instead stuck my tongue out after drinking to signal how gross I thought it was), but then once I was on the toilet my contractions always started coming more strongly and more closely. So much so that in my exhaustion I stopped wanting to go to bathroom for fear of bringing on a new level of pain that I didn’t want to deal with.
At some point I wanted to see Tahira and my mom and I weakly said hello to them. My mom gave me a hundred kisses on my head and I tried to make some kind of joke to Tahira which made us both laugh a little. I was in undies and a red tank top and squatting with the top half of my body over the back of the couch and my knees on the cushions and I think I made some sort of comment about how my butt was in the air, but I didn’t have time to be self-conscious about it as I would have been at any other time in my life. Everyone was sending out such powerful signals of love that I felt at least a little replenished in that moment.
That contentment wasn’t to last very long though, because within a few hours I was again more tired that I have ever been, still contracting painfully, and did not appear to be making any progress. It was then that K. suggested she check me and potentially try to manually dilate my cervix. At this suggestion I immediately cried out, “No!” and began crying. I could handle all the pain my body made, I expressed, but I did not want to deal with any pain that came from an external source. I felt weak, but I needed to give in to my feelings of frustration and exhaustion in that moment. “NO, NO, NO!” I said over and over in my head. My mom, Tahira, and Robina sat on the bed in the other room looking on. Patrick held my hand. C. told me about how K. had checked and stretched her during both of her labors. She told me that it was uncomfortable, but that it was really necessary, so helpful, and over quickly. I looked at K. “Do I have to?” I asked. “I really think so,” she said. And so I nodded my head, eyes brimming with tears. It was the last thing I wanted to do, but I trusted K. and knew that if she thought it was the right thing to do, I had to be strong. For you.
I laid back on the couch, and K. looked to me to let her know when I was ready. I said okay, but kept my legs firmly together. I was trembling out of fear, out of pain. K. looked at me, waiting, patiently. I asked that someone close the door so that my sisters and mom wouldn’t be witness to the pain I knew I was about to feel. There was something about the idea of audience that I was having a hard time with; I wanted to be able to react with honesty and abandon rather than reservation, and even though I am comfortable with my family, my body told me otherwise in that moment. So the door was shut and I loosened up so that K. could do what she had to. The initial examination wasn’t physically painful but it felt emotionally painful and charged. I didn’t want to know how much I was dilated and K. never offered to tell me, which was really for the best because after laboring for well over 24 hours I wasn’t ready to hear what I would later learn, which is that I was only dilated to 2 centimeters. What followed next was excruciating pain. As I had a contraction, K. began to manually stretch my cervix. This lasted several minutes – through several contractions – and then was over. These were some of the longest minutes of my labor. The pain was worse than I can remember now, and worse than I had imagined then. In retrospect, this part of labor was much more uncomfortable than pushing, though I know rationally that pushing was much harder for me and also extremely prolonged and unbelievably painful, to the point of trauma. K. later told me that though she felt disheartened when she felt that I was only 2cm, that she felt hopeful because she was able to stretch me to around 5cm. Again, I didn’t know, or want to know, any of this during labor. I don’t think I could have survived such a blow. After all, I still had another twelve hours of labor to go.