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Welcome to the World, Little Elowyn. A Home Birth Story from a New Dad's Perspective

It was 4am on Tuesday and I couldn't sleep.

Laras due date was December 2nd. It was now December 10th. And here I was, awake in the wee hours, thinking of all manner of things like: Would she even have the baby before I had to go back to work? Is there anything wrong with the baby? Anything wrong with Lara? I mean, shed been feeling twinges for the last week. But nothing consistent, nothing sustained, and every time we'd asked our midwife, Sena, about it, she'd just smile and say, Oh, you've got very good hormones. Midwives are enigmatic like that. It makes me want to ask them if they've ever answered a straight question with a straight answer.

So I got up, went to the computer, wrote a chapter on The Heir of Autumn, then crashed again. At 9 o'clock I woke up again to find Lara puttering around the study, arranging things. I yawned, stretched, and rose. As I left the bedroom for my computer (most of my mornings begin with turning on the computer. Yes, I know I have a problem. But we all have our addictions. Some people need to quaff a six pack of beer every day. Some people have to make sure all of their socks match, neatly folded in the drawer. I have to check my email and fantasy football standings every two hours), I watched as Lara stopped and laid a hand on the wall. Her eyes closed and her mouth tightened ever so slightly. I froze.

What was that? I asked.

She smiled her secret smile. A contraction.

A random one? Or have you had more than one?

They've been going since six this morning.

Six? Six! And you didn't tell me?

You were sleeping. I didn't want to wake you. Still that smile, that beautiful smile that I fell in love with.

I knelt before the bookcase and fumbled for my stopwatch. Lets time them.

We timed contractions. They settled to about 2-5 minutes apart. After an hour and a half, I was literally bouncing off the walls. The waiting was over.

At 11:00, I jumped on the phone and called everyone on my labor list. By the time I was done, the clock said 12:30 and it was time to call Sena to see I don't know, to see what she thought.

Sena said that it sounded good, and that shed be over around 4 o'clock.

Sounded good. Sounded good? It sounded spectacular, is what it sounded like!

Lara wandered around the house, pausing in doorjambs or against chairs during contractions. I fluttered behind her with the stopwatch, recording all. Lancelot, our big blue Weimaraner, paced the both of us, watching, wondering what exactly was happening and determined to be there if something should go wrong.

Shed been having them fairly evenly, about 3 and a half minutes apart. As we neared the 3.5 minute mark after the last contraction, I grinned up at her and said, Ready? You're about to have another one.

She clenched her jaw and gave me a look, her hand resting on the doorjamb.

My grin disappeared. Right, I said, Um, sorry. I made the stopwatch disappear. I took it upstairs to my study and put it on the desk. I didn't pick it up again until a full 24 hours later. My god. I wonder what Id have done then if I had known we would still be at this in 24 hours

By 3:00pm, our two attendants, Carla and Megan, arrived and begin busying themselves with all manner of preparation. I checked the birthing pool. And checked it again. Yep, it was still upright. It was still blue. Still the shape of a heart, rather than a circle. They told me it would become a circle when it was full of water. I checked the birth supplies. I checked everything. Just as I'd left it.

Still and all, I was satisfied, if impatient. I figured that December 10th was a good birthday for our son. (Many of our friends were certain we were having a boy. At this point, I was almost completely convinced of it. Everyone else we knew was having girls, so we had to be having a boy, right? Law of averages and all that Ever see Rosencranz and Guildenstern Are Dead?)

Sena arrived and Lancelot hailed her with his hound dog bark. Lancelot is distrustful of strangers by nature, but his protective streak had reached new heights since Lara went into labor. When Sena first met Lancelot, weeks ago, he'd loved her. Now he had to be coaxed to let her into the house. Even at that, he trailed her and gave his low-rumbling growl every now and then.

Once reintroductions were made between midwife and our blue protector, Sena watched Lara for a while. She said it was a pretty fair guess that Lara might possibly be in early labor. I rolled my eyes. Midwives. If there is someone out there who can pin a midwife down and get a hard-edged, straight answer out of one of them, then they are a more cunning person than I.

Afternoon turned to night. Giles showed up and planted himself on the couch, ready to do anything, yet called upon to do nothing. Still, it was good for me, knowing he was there.

Sena left to do a few other errands, telling us to call her beeper if anything changed. Laras contractions continued at the same pace, intense and steady. Carla and Megan prepped everything that could be prepped while I followed Lara around the house, remaining close at hand for whatever she needed. I breathed with her, omed with her, hummed with her, held her hands as she stood or sat through the contractions. Carla and Megan made food, filled glasses of Recharge, made sure that it was all available. I encouraged Lara to eat, though she didnt want to. It was looking more and more like she would go into labor late, which meant a very long night. She would need her strength and she needed food for that.

Lara ate like a bird, nibbling here and there. She wasn't hungry for anything, and strong foods were repellent to her. She finally settled on eating saltine crackers and Recharge. Even at that, I could only get a few crackers an hour down her, but I kept at it. She seemed to have detached a little from the normal world. Her focus was internal. Even when she looked at me, I could tell that, in her eyes, I was merely an external part of what was happening inside her. I was another tool to get through it.

We kept waiting for a change. When she went to the bathroom, I sat on the tub holding her hand, humming through the contractions. When she sat on the couch, I sat next to her. When she walked, I walked beside her, or in front of her. I kept hoping for the contractions to speed up, for her water to break, for the colorfully named Bloody Show to arrive.

Nothing. Just the contractions. Relentless and consistent.

Sometime that evening, Lara threw up most of what wed been feeding her all day long. I felt bad about it. Id convinced her to eat, and now she was puking it back up. But Sena had said that it was better to eat something and puke it up than it was to eat nothing at all.

Sena returned around nine o'clock. As is her nature, she checked on Lara quietly and settled herself into her own personal duties. She was a serene presence, uninterfering and comforting.

Personally, I wanted her to interfere. I wanted her to tell us something, anything. Mostly I wanted her to tell us how we were right on the cusp, that something was going to change any moment, and we would begin active labor very soon. She didn't. She said nothing.

The day was grueling. Both Lara and I knew that things were moving slowly. So much for a quick labor. Wed already been at it sixteen hours. That wasn't quick by any measuring stick.

At 11:00pm, Lara decided it was time. She asked Sena to check her dilation. I got excited. Something was going to happen. Finally, we were going to find out how far along we were, how close we were to the final push. We all trouped upstairs and Lara laid down on the couch.

As Sena put on her gloves and got all her equipment laid out, I hoped for the best. Please, I thought, please don't let her tell us were only dilated 4cm or something like that. Please let it at least be 6cm or 7cm. Let her tell us she's all the way to 10cm and that baby is on the verge of coming.

Sena checked Lara. She hmmmed and nodded. With the same serene, pleasant expression, she looked up at Lara and said, Well, you're one centimeter dilated.

I saw the disappointment on Laras face, and she usually keeps her emotions off of her face. I knew she was crestfallen. So was I. I felt a wash of rage come over me.

I wanted to shout at Sena. I wanted to say, 1 centimeter! How the hell can she be at 1 fucking centimeter!? She's been at this all day long!

So, Sena continued, feeling around, Your cervix is posterior. And what is happening is that it is slowly moving forward, positioning itself anterior so the baby can come out.

It felt like some kind of rip-off. Some kind of consolation that Sena was dealing to us. Well, nothing IMPORTANT has really happened, but theres this little thing thats happening

I said nothing, though I wanted to punch somebody. If Lara was not going to complain, I could hardly do less, but I felt bitter. I couldn't stand the thought of us being nowhere. Of Lara having to go through sixteen hours of labor and have nothing to show for it. It wasn't fair.

I managed to keep my voice under control and I said, So what do we do, then? What are our next steps?

Well, said Sena, turning back to Lara, What I recommend is that you drink a glass of wine and try to get some sleep. I clenched my teeth. Get some sleep?! I thought. How about I punch you in the belly every three minutes and YOU try to get some sleep!

Lara nodded. Okay.

As I went to fetch a bottle of wine from the cellar, I tried to get a hold of my perspective. I had an expectation that the birth would happen tonight and now it wasn't. If there was one thing that Sena had assured at every birth class, it was that births were all unique, and that as soon as you thought you could predict something about how a birth would go, some laboring mother would come along and prove you wrong. I tried to look at it objectively, but the knowledge was cold comfort. I didn't care about long-lived experience or wise adages. I wanted Lara to have her baby, to be finished with this painful limbo that she was going through.

I brought the wine upstairs and prepared for bed. I kissed Lara and told her it would be all right, asked her if there was anything I could get for her. I tried to be cheerful. She could probably already feel my disappointment, though Id said nothing. There was nothing to say. How could we be happy about being at 1 centimeter when we thought, by all rights, wed be holding a baby right now? That wed be through it and be able to rest?

When she was all settled, I went downstairs to get one last thing. I didn't want to go downstairs. I didn't want to walk past Sena, who had settled herself on the couch to stay the night with us. Irrational as it was, my anger had to have a target and that target was Sena. Its always the bearer of bad tidings that gets the bad rap, even though they didn't create the bad news. I knew this, and I knew I didn't want to open myself up to the possibility of shouting at someone who had done nothing wrong.

So I marched quickly into the living room, grabbed what I was looking for and turned to leave.

Todd, Sena called from the couch.

I paused and looked at her. Bad move, lady, I thought. Shouldn't have stopped me. Should have just let me go and rage somewhere else. But you did. And Im tired. And fuck it. If you want to talk to me right now, thats your call. You should have seen the signs. If you poke me Im going to let you have all of it.

Are you okay? she asked.

I tried to loosen the muscles in my jaw, which were torqued down tight. I licked my lips and tried to speak rationally. It wasn't her fault. It wasn't her fault. It wasn't her fault.

No, I said, probably louder than I should have, Im not okay. Im disappointed. How could I not be? She's been at this all day long, and were nowhere. 1 centimeter? What the hell is that? I was thinking at the WORST we would be at 4 centimeters. I would have been disappointed at 4 centimeters. But this? What am I supposed to think?

With that same serene expression, she nodded. I knew it was coming. She studied me as she nodded, deciding what would be best to say. I knew she was going to be infuriatingly calm, say something enigmatic. I thought it would push me over the edge.

Well, her cervix has moved quite a ways, she said. That same line. I didn't want to hear about our fabricated consolation prize again.

So what? I vented, What the hell does that mean? That means nothing to me. Well, she said, still calm, apparently oblivious to the fact that I was ready to explode. It takes a lot of effort to move any part of the body to a different place. Imagine your eye. She put her fingers around her eye socket, then moved those fingers up to the edge of her hairline. moving up here.

I blinked. All of the anger drained out of my body. I stared at her hand, until she finally took it off of her forehead and put it back in her lap.

And in that moment, I got it. All at once. Like a lightning bolt. The sheer impossibility of my eye moving itself from its socket to my forehead shut me up. That visual that spoke to me. Sena had reached into her enigmatic bag of tricks and pulled out the one thing that brought my attention back where it needed to be.

I understood, not just in my head, what exactly was happening here. I felt it in my gut, in my heart, in the cells of my body. This wasn't about timetables. This wasn't about what you expected to happen. Birth was going go its own way. It wasn't going to consult you. It didn't even notice you. Birth existed for itself, for its one focused purpose. It didn't matter what I wanted. It didn't even matter what Lara wanted. She was in the grips of Birth. It went past rational thought. All of the constructs we build in our mind, throughout out our lives, all the beliefs we have that we think are so immutable, the thoughts that drive us, that wake us up in the morning, that give us inspiration or despair, that drive us to get from point A to point B, they were all as important as a twist of lint on the ground. Laras body was moving. It was changing. She had to go through this. There was no stopping. There was no speeding up. Her hormones, her tissues, her very organs were all bending their purpose towards Birth. And it would have its way in its own time.

I returned to the bedroom fatigued, physically and emotionally, but those strong, built-up parts of my mind had been razed to their foundations. Oddly, I felt better. Those constructs were fortresses of disappointment. I let them go. No matter how clever I was, I wasnt going to organize this. No matter how earnest I was, I wasn't going to bring the baby faster. No matter how loving I was, I couldn't change what Laras body needed to do. I could either run the course or get out of the way.

I resolved to run the course.

Lara told me later that the first night was the worst. Her loneliness consumed her. She wanted to sleep, but was awoken again and again with the pain of contractions each time she drifted off.

I tried to stay awake for her, but laying in the dark after being wired all day long, I succumbed to sleep. I couldn't help it. My eyelids fell shut. I jolted awake several times when she moved. I asked her if she needed anything, and why didn't she wake me, and to be sure to wake me, even if she just wanted someone to talk to. She said she would, but she never did.

In the morning, we arose together. I expected her to look haggard, exhausted. I knew she hadn't slept much at all. Instead, she looked almost possessed. Her hair was in disarray, but a fire burned hot inside her, like coals that had been banked all night and were ready to burst into flame again.

Could you do me a favor? she asked.

Sure, I answered, What do you need?

Could you put on that song that says, "let the day begin in the chorus"? she asked. "What is it called?"

I grinned. "Let the Day Begin," I said. My heart jumped excitedly. She wasn't beaten down. She was going to give it another go.

As the song played, I got Sena and she came upstairs to check Lara again. I prepared myself to hear that nothing had changed. It was easier this time. I had no expectations anymore.

Well, she said, in that same serene expression that she had last night, You're at about 4 centimeters.

Progress! I grinned again. What would have disappointed me last night was a joy to hear this morning. I smiled at Lara and she smiled back. She told me later that if she had not moved from 1 centimeter, she was going to ask to be taken to the hospital and given some drugs for the pain. She said she was that close during the night.

But we had made new progress. It was a new day. Let the day begin.

Thursday, December 11th went very much like Wednesday. Everyone was in the zone. Megan and Carla were ever-present, one or the other of them. Giles had left to sleep at his house the night before and said he would return later in the afternoon after work, if we were still at it.

Lara and I roved all over the house, breathing through the contractions. Wed given up the humming. At one point, we ended up in Laras massage room. Carla and Megan joined us and we enjoyed a moment, just sitting with Lara. The room was made up for Megan and Carla to sleep in and I laid back for a moment on the makeshift bed to rest my eyes. Lancelot, who had been anxiously following us everywhere we went, actually looked like he had rings under his eyes, too. Ive never seen my dog look so tired before. It made me feel a little bit better about how exhausted I felt to know that my familiar was taking up a little bit of the slack.

I fell asleep then, despite myself, and awoke to Lancelot's head on my shoulder, his warm body pressed up against my side. I sat up and he sat up with me. Everyone was still in the room.

How long was I out? I asked.

About a half an hour. Go back to sleep. You need it. Carla said.

I shook my head and got up. Back to work.

The day continued on and Sena arrived again that afternoon. Laras contractions had changed, lasting longer. They were more intense. Lara finally decided it was time to fill the tub.

I leapt to the task. We depleted the hot water heater in about ten minutes (should have figured on that) and spent the next few hours heating water to get it to the right temperature. Carla, Megan and I alternately ran boiling pots up to the tub as Lara paced upstairs.

At 10:30pm, Sena checked Lara. I actually got to check as well. It was bizarre to feel the head of my child before it was even out. 7 centimeters. We all nodded.

Sena watched us for a moment, and then exclaimed to the quiet, Yay! 7 centimeters!

We all looked at her and she gave us a lopsided smile. Come on. 7 centimeters. You guys are a hard crowd.

That got us chuckling. I think we were all so shell-shocked by how long it had taken already that we weren't taking any good signs at face value. What if she stayed at 7 centimeters for another 24 hours?

That was not in the cards, however. Perhaps it took Lara's body a long time to prepare itself, but once it was ready, it sprinted for the finish line.

The contractions came more quickly and more intensely. The rooms atmosphere was surreal. It was dark outside, and the only light in the birthing room were the dozen candles on either side of the birthing pool, reflecting off the water, casting flickering shadows on the white walls. Lancelot laid on the rug by the bathroom, watching our every move with solemn concern.

Sena had suggested a few tinctures Lara could take to encourage labor. She had to take them every twenty minutes. Megan took out the stopwatch again (remember the stopwatch? Its a story about the stopwatch) and made sure that Lara took them on time.

Suddenly, the contractions took on a very different feel. Lara didn't just pause during them anymore. They hit hard and fast and she made moaning sounds through them. We had plastic shower curtains over the couch and the floor between the couch and the pool, and about 12:30am, they got used.

The Bloody Show finally arrived, streaking down Lara's legs. She hardly noticed as she gripped my arms through wave after wave of contractions.

The tub, she said, I think its time to get into the tub.

In we went.

Megan came upstairs just then and said, Time for another tincture. She had it ready in hand, looked around the room and paused.

Sena knelt just on the outside of the tub. She opened her mouth to say something, and Im sure it was going to be, She doesn't need any more tinctures now, but she didnt say it. Instead, she turned to Lara and said, Do you want another tincture?

Lara shook her head, closed her eyes and let out a low moan against the next contraction. Once she was through it, she said, I don't think I need them anymore.

I caught Sena's glance and I smiled at her. All the enigmatic phrases, the curved answers to straight questions, I understood it much better in that moment. She didn't tell you straight answers because straight answers weren't honest. All births were different, and most of knowing what to do in a birth could only be known by going through it, step by step. There was no right way, and no straight answer. And she didn't tell you what you should do because it wasn't her birth, it was your birth. Ultimately, she wasn't in charge, you were. It was your birth, your baby, your decisions. It was your right and your responsibility to make those choices. That was the first time I realized that maybe she DID want to tell people what to do from time to time, and had to stop herself because she didnt feel it was right.

I like how you do business, I said and Sena and I shared a moment of private understanding. I felt a deep respect for her all at once, knowing how deftly she had navigated this entire process, how she had helped us guide ourselves. She never pushed, rarely suggested, but was always there.

Carla rejoined us and neither she nor Megan left the upstairs after that, unless it was to refill our Recharge cups and come right back. This was it. No one had to tell us about dilation anymore, and there was a sudden strength in knowing that we knew as much about what was happening now as anyone. Everyone in the room was an expert on this birth now. We had been through the previous 40 hours. That made us experts. No one had to make predictions about how long it would take. We all felt it. Lara was in the chute. All the prep work was done and we were hurtling toward the birth. Through my own fatigue and the heightened intensity all around me, I felt like we had traveled away to a different dimension, an entire dimension made up of this small white room with its slanted walls. There wasnt anything outside that window of any consequence.

Lara was also far away. I caught glimpses of her every now and then when the end of a contraction let her return for a scant moment. But the rest of the time she was a woman in the grips of the Birth. It held her and she held it. They danced together, working this new life closer and closer to its first breath.

Suddenly, Lancelot filled the room with his clarion call bark. I didn't even notice at first, I was wrapped up in Laras focus. Only when Carla called my name did I turn.

Todd, she said, Flames here.

Flame was the second midwife come to help Sena with the final stages of the birth.

Okay, I said, not understanding why she was telling me. I was busy, after all. Let her come in and do what she needed to do.

Lancelot wont let her into the room and he wont let me take him away.

I glanced over and saw Lancelot standing stock still, head low, between the tub and the doorway. He gave his rumbling growl, warning Flame to stay out of the room.

Lancelot! I called, Come here!

Reluctantly, he turned and came to the tub, casting backward glances at Flame. He put one paw on the rim of the tub and looked hopefully at me. Carla told me later that she thought he was going to hop in there with us. I made him lay down between the tub and the wall.

Lara was on all fours in the water. I sat in front of her and she pushed her head into my breastbone during contractions at first. Later, she smashed herself up against me, face and shoulders. At the very end, she stared into my eyes, breathing. Her hair was wet with sweat and water. Her eyes burned with intensity and single-minded animal purpose.

I continued my mantra. Waaaa. Waaaa. That was my job, to make sure she said Waaa. Instead of Oooo or Arrgghh! Now that we had managed to come this far and get this close, the object, as I understood it, was to go slow and easy so that there wasn't any tearing. It seemed counterintuitive to rush headlong to this moment only to pull back on the reins and slow to a walk.

Lara agreed. She knew the baby was coming and there was nothing she wanted more than to let it come. Sena encouraged her to go softly.

The head presented itself. Between contractions, Sena asked Lara if I could feel it. Lara consented and I reached down and touched the head of our baby. What an amazing sensation.

Its right there! I told her. You're doing so good. Its right there, Lara!

There was still work to do, and Lara continued pushing. Between pushes, I found myself floating free in my mind. All the previous two days came down to this, and I saw a few things so clearly. Nothing was more important than this one moment. I thought about the future and the past, the paths that led to this place and the paths that led away. I had left my expectations, my hopes and pleasant daydreams behind 24 hours ago when I realized I really had no control at all. But they all came rushing back and I knew that we were so close. Despite their enigmatic ways, I could feel the excitement of both the midwives. They knew we were almost there. Our baby was coming. Lara was going to give birth to our flesh and blood. A new life made of our two lives.

Suddenly, I began sobbing. I tried to hide it, tried to dutifully keep up with my task of Waaa, Waaa. Its amazing how hard it is to say Waaa when you're crying.

And then heard Sena say, Easy, Lara. Slowly now. Easy. She turned to Flame and in a very clipped, businesslike tone, she asked, Whats the time?

Its been 3 minutes.

I didn't know what they were talking about. What was three minutes? I hoped everything was all right.

Sena nodded and turned back to Lara. Easy. Its coming.

Lara moaned.

Waaa, I said, Waaa.

Here it comes. Easy now. Go slow. said Sena.

I saw Carla and Megan spellbound, standing behind the midwives, watching the baby come out. I couldn't see, but I didn't care. I was there. I was in the middle of it. I was a part of it.

Easy, Sena said again.

But Lara was hell bent. There was no slow anymore. There wasn't anything except getting the baby out. I don't even know if she heard Sena at all.

Waaa, I said, Waaa.

Lara gave one last cry and I felt her body let go

There it is, Sena said. I looked up through teary eyes. The little baby came up and out of the water upside-down. Sena and Flame had it swaddled and on Laras chest before I could even see what sex it was. Was it a boy? I had a brief glimpse before the first towel went around it. I couldn't tell for sure, but I didn't see any boy equipment. Was it a girl?

The baby coughed, sputtered and opened its eyes and looked around.

They turned Lara around, resting her back against my chest, and put the little one on Laras belly. I craned my neck, trying to glimpse him, trying to see what he looked like. Was he okay? Did he have all his parts? Crazily, I wondered if he was down syndrome.

Keep his head out of the water, Flame said. I adjusted my legs underneath me to prop the two of them up. His head? Was it a he?

What time? Sena asked Flame.

3:16 am Flame said.

So beautiful, Lara cooed, He's she paused, Is it a boy or a girl? she asked.

Sena shrugged, smiled. Well, you'll have to find out for yourself.

They let us lay there for a while, then got us out of the water and moved us to the couch. It was more than three hours since Lara stepped into the tub. I couldn't believe it. It seemed more like a half an hour.

Once Lara was settled, they left us alone.

Well, I said, Shall we check to see what it is?

She smiled. I already peeked. Sorry!

Cheat! Well? Don't keep me in suspense.

Its a girl.

A girl! Oh my gosh!

She's so cute.

She's perfect, I said, I cant get over how perfect she is. Her little hands, her little feet.

So what should we call her? Is she a Gwendolyn or an Elowyn? I asked. I had already decided what I thought, but I waited to hear her answer.

I think she's an Elowyn. What about you?

Definitely, I said, Definitely an Elowyn.

I leaned over her. Her big blue eyes were looking around. Did they see anything? Could she see me? Could she hear me?

Welcome, I whispered, Welcome to the world, little Elowyn.

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