An Unexpected Arrival
There I was, on the verge of going into labor...
This isn't just a story of life making its grand entrance into the world, though that in itself is enough to write whole chapters about. No, this is a story of people coming together for the love of a child and the support of one very lucky woman. Me.
I have this little sidebar from parenting that revolves entirely around women and birth. If I were to pinpoint my life altering moment that thrust me onto this path, it would have to be the birth of my darling Gwenyth Christian, better known by most of you as Winnie. After 2 horrifying hospital experiences where I endured everything from being shaved, to having my vagina cut open in order to make more room for a baby (if you haven't had the pleasure of an episiotomy, you haven't lived) to being whisked out a mere 12 hours after delivering without once being taught how to breastfeed my child, I turned my attention to home birthing. I'm not sure why, but there was a hole in my life from not having experienced birth the way I truly wanted to. Completely naturally. It was May 8 1998 when Winnie made her way (painfully) into the word at 12:22 am in my house in Burbank, California, and my life would never be the same.
Aside from the obvious wonderment of having a new baby, something inside of me had completely changed. I felt like a warrior; like the most powerful amazing human being that ever walked the planet. It was pure euphoria and it lasted for weeks after her birth. It was as if someone removed the fog from the lens and I was seeing myself with raw clarity. There were several people in my life who supported me in that incredible moment. The midwives from Home Birth Services and our childbirth educator, Julie, are at the top of that list. Apart from the surge of emotions running through me, another thing happened in the weeks following Winnie's entrance; I realized that I wanted to help women who were on, or wanted to be on, that very same journey. And so began my life as a childbirth educator/doula and lactation specialist. Though I haven't yet had the opportunity to put my skills to use in the way I really want to, I hope to one day open a business here in the bay area solely for the support of a woman's journey through birth. A place you can go to find classes, massage, photography and friendship, but alas, I am getting sidetracked. This story is about Avion Blue and the incredible people that stood by my side as I brought him into this world more than 2 weeks before he was expected.
Note. You need to know here that I have never delivered early. Not one day. In fact, Taren thought it was so nice and cozy in my belly that she stuck around a whole 3 weeks beyond her due date.
Ugh- Camber just got into a jar of peanut butter and painted the baby with it. Why do I blog during the day???
Ok- all clean. Where was I? Ah yes, the beginning, I believe. Let's review.
I had moved from Chicago Friday, the 21st of May and was now literally homeless and stuffed into my parents 2 bedroom house in Lake Elsinore (about 75 miles outside of Los Angeles) with 6 of my kids and an enormous belly. I had a game plan, though, and that game plan involved making it to San Francisco on the 6th of June (4 days prior to my due date) with a yet undelivered baby Blue still inside. We had a midwife from Alameda on call from the 6th of June until I delivered and I felt extremely confident that we would make it to that date just fine. In addition, just for added protection, I had a midwife near my parents ready to go just in case. But I wasn't going to have a "just in case." I was making it to San Francisco, dammit! On Monday, the 24th of May, the kids (minus Ashley who was now living in Biloxi with Nick and minus Taylor who was still acting like a piece of shit from being forced to move) and I went down to Redondo Beach to stay with one of my best friends, Jeff, for a couple of days. I love southern California with a passion. In particular, Redondo Beach. I grew up there, and everything about it still feels like home. It was a very welcome feeling during a time when everything was unsettled and home no longer existed for me. I spent the following few days running around the South Bay, visiting friends, and introducing my kids to the magnificence that is the Pacific Ocean.
And of course, Mama and her big belly...
I remember feeling slightly out of sorts and contracting a lot during this time, but mostly Braxton Hicks (practice) contractions and nothing too painful. I figured I was dehydrated and just started increasing my water intake. That evening, I met another best friend of mine, Darren, and his wife for dinner at Islands (yum yum yum, try the teriyaki burger. Vegetarian? Just ask for a meatless patty!) in Manhattan Beach. I remember really feeling out of sorts now. I think I even mentioned to him that I was concerned about "making it" much longer. We cut our night short, due in part to how I was feeling, but mostly because the kids were acting like completely unruly little assholes and the entire restaurant was giving me that "You're a shitty Mom" face. As we left, Darren said "If you need anything, I'm not working tomorrow. Anything at all." Let's pause at this moment, friends. These are things we say to each other all the time, but here I was... about to need this man more than I think I ever have in my life. I don't know that I would have called him if he hadn't said this. It's nice just to reflect. It makes me smile.
Ok- TMI- but then again this post is about a birth so if you've gotten this far you must know what you're in for. I got back to Jeff's by about 8pm and got the kids settled in for the night. I would be going back to my parents place the following day and Jeff was headed to Texas with his cousin. Once the house was quiet, I hopped in the shower and noticed that I was beginning to bleed a little bit. Uh-oh. Now, I never knew what kind of denial I was capable of, but even at this moment I was thinking "I could still have weeks" which, in general, can be true. But not for me. The only time I see anything like that is when labor begins. I decided that just in case, I would go online and find a baby friendly hospital nearby. I tried contacting the midwife near my parents. She never returned my calls.
So... where's Mark? At this point I hadn't seen Mark in over a month. He was still living in the Bay Area, and even though he had plans to come fetch us in SoCal, it wouldn't be for another 2 weeks. Instead, Mark had traveled to Chicago on Saturday, May 22 to oversee the move. He had just returned to San Francisco the evening of the 25th right around the time I was getting out of the shower at Jeff's. It was at that point that I texted him to say that I wasn't too sure I was going to be pregnant much longer. He brushed it off telling me to get more rest. After all, we have never had a baby early. Not one day.
It was about 6am the morning of the 26th when I knew it. Real labor is one of those feelings you just never replicate in life. I always tell people that if they have to ask "Is this it?" it's not. I remember trying to force myself to sleep more because it was going to be a long day. One of the unfortunate things for me is that despite my enormous family, labor tends to be long. In fact, it seems the more I have the longer it lasts. Days usually. Never really kicking into gear, so to speak. My wonderful midwife in Chicago, Sarah, once said to me that labor is like a marathon. The last month is the steady running, while labor is just the final sprint. I like that analogy. This was feeling a little different, though. By 9am I was starting to panic. It seemed pretty obvious to me now that getting back to Lake Elsinore to have a home birth at my parents place was going to be out of the question. Furthermore, the midwife in that area still had yet to return my calls. I now needed to actively look for a hospital. There was one nearby that I trusted, but without a shred of paperwork on me (labs, prenatal visits, ultrasounds etc.) I was going to be treated like I had the plague and not given many options in terms of low intervention. I was gearing up mentally to fight the system when I had an idea of who I could turn to. My childbirth educator, Julie. She would know where I should go.
Julie and I had been in touch on and off over the 12 years since Winnie's birth. By this time she had become more of a mentor to me, helping me make decisions on where to study childbirth and how to teach a class. I leaned on her from time to time for advice and support as I continued my education toward becoming a professional. We talked for a brief moment that morning about hospitals in the area, doctors we both knew, and people who might allow me to be drug free in birth. We were both concerned. Julie settled on Cedars as my best choice. Even though they weren't technically a baby friendly hospital (hospitals that believe in the mother/child bonding experience - for more- http://www.babyfriendlyusa.org/) they did have many doctors on staff who supported natural childbirth and mother/infant bonding. Then Julie paused.
"Dia, you can have your baby here.
If you can find a midwife, you can have your baby in my home."
Did someone just offer me her home to give birth in? Yes. That just happened. There was only one midwife I knew. Leslie Stewart.
"Good morning, Home Birth Services, Cheryl speaking."
"Hi Cheryl. I'm not sure if you remember me. This is Dia Smith."
"Dia Smith. Oh, I think you had me in your files as Dia O'Brien."
"DIA! How funny. We were JUST talking about you a week or so ago and the video you made for us of children at birth. How are you?"
"Well, actually, I'm in labor."
It took Cheryl (lay midwife) and Leslie about 15 questions and 15 minutes to say yes, citing the amount of home births I had since last seeing them, the fact that I was a previous client, and most importantly, Julie's willingness to allow me to use her home. If she was on board, so were they. Now I needed to ditch the kids and hitch a ride 25 miles north to Hollywood in labor.
The very next phone call I made was to Mark.
"You need to get on a plane to Los Angeles."
"What? I haven't even gone to work yet."
"Mark, this is happening."
"Ok- tell me how long we have. In terms of days."
"DAYS? Are you crazy!! Get your ass on a plane NOW!"
The next call was to Darren.
"Hey. Remember how you said that if I needed anything I could call?"
"I need you."
"I need you to go sit on the tarmac at LAX and wait for my husband. He may not make his son's birth."
I spent the next few hours getting things in order. My parents were driving in to pick up Declan, Shaylon and Camber. Winnie and Taren would be going to Julie's with me to be at the birth. My girlfriend, Sam, was driving in from Los Angeles to pick me up and get me out to Valley Village. And I was progressing. Fast.
Mark had booked a 3:30pm flight. I don't think he quite understood because he said he needed to go into the office to talk to his team. Thankfully, when he got there and told them he would be cutting out early due to his wife being in labor, one of the designers said "What the hell are you doing here?" This seemed to knock some sense into him. He booked a 12:30pm flight. He was due to arrive at 1:45.
By 11am my parents had arrived, the kids were packed into their car, and Sam was on hand loading my bags and girls into hers. Getting down the stairs was difficult. I said goodbye to Jeff and thanked him for his hospitality. We laughed. Only me. The drive was thankfully uneventful save for a few really hard contractions that sent me spinning. Los Angeles was being kind and saving its traffic jams for some other pour soul that day.
We arrived at Julie's at 12:30. After 12 years, she looked exactly as I remembered her. We embraced and laughed a little, then she took me into the bedroom she had now set up for giving birth. It was incredible. I literally had everything I needed from supplies and diapers to blankets and outfits for avion. The only thing I had with me for this moment was a hat I purchased in Barrington with a little airplane on it which I had been carrying with me since I left. But Julie had the rest. The room I was to give birth in was special. It had seen birth some 20 odd years prior when Julie herself brought her daughter, Jennifer, into the world. Everything was perfect. And so now, we waited.
Cheryl arrived at 1pm and checked me. 4cm. For those of you who don't know, you need to get to 10. Usually 4 means you have a long wait, but I could tell. Things were moving. The contractions were monsters. It wasn't going to be long.
I couldn't have been more right. By 1:30 when Mark checked in from the airport, I was 8cm. He wasn't going to make it. It was at this moment that I laid down on my left side and didn't move. I wasn't going to have this baby without Mark. Period. So I stopped "working". I became very still and kept my body as relaxed as possible, thinking to myself that Mark would make it; willing Avion to slow down.
What I didn't know was that while I was busy holding that baby in, Darren and Mark were busy getting lost. Even with a GPS, these two managed to not find the house. It seems that Julie's address exists in 2 separate parts of Los Angeles. One being the Wilshire district and the other being Valley Village. They chose to follow Darren's GPS which directed them to Wilshire rather than Mark's which would have taken them to Valley Village, and subsequently...me. Time was ticking by.
My efforts were working. After dilating 4 cm in one hour, I had managed to slow it down to only 1 cm between 2:15 and 3:15. I was now at 9. Everything was challenging. The fast and furious nature of the contractions were wearing me out. I wanted to get up, to walk, to let my body do what it knows how to do and get this baby out! Only 1 thing was missing. Mark.
He landed at 1:32 and it was now 3:15. What the hell? Every few minutes I would hear someone update me. "He's almost here." "They're 3 miles away." And yet, nothing. Leslie was allowing me to lie there in pain as long as I wanted, but it was beginning to get the best of me. Finally, I had had enough. It was time to get this baby out.
Mark walked in the door at 3:40, just as my resolve was made to start pushing. Julie and a few other people had waved them in like a 747 coming in for a landing from a few blocks away. It was a sigh of relief to see him.
"You beat the baby!"
10 Minutes later...
Avion Blue 3:52pm 5lbs 13oz
So glad he made it!
The man who got him there
The woman who got ME there
The women who got Blue there
And of course, the woman who so generously gave me the opportunity to have a home birth, who took us in for 3 days, cooking and cleaning and never once asking for anything in return..
It just so happens that Avion arrived in her home during what would have otherwise been a very difficult time for Julie. 11 years ago her son was taken from her brutally and she has missed him terribly since. Avion would arrive on Terry's birthday making Julie's home a happier place than it may have otherwise been. The universe rocks!
And there lies the story of 5 beautiful people who rallied to our sides the afternoon of May 26, making Avion's birth a reunion, a gathering, an a true homecoming. In a way I never imagined, my life had come full circle. I left Los Angeles months after giving birth to Winnie and came home to have Avion. Chicago and the 2 years of darkness were behind me. Almost.
As it so happens, the 2 years of living apart would make it more challenging to put "us" back together than I could have imagined...