Regular readers know Elizabeth and I fall pretty squarely into the hippie category of parenting – we got no tv or movie watchin’, Waldorf schoolin’, grass-fed meat eatin’, raw milk swillin’ little grubbers around here. But according to my friend and Poppa Sage Lucas, we earned our true hippie stripes when we delivered our third baby on our bathroom floor before the midwives arrived.
Ida Lou – Ida for Elizabeth’s great-grandma, Lou for mine – is a week old and a dream. She’s the darling star of our family. The boys fawn over her, covering her in kisses and coos. She’s got us all wrapped around her finger and the situation could easily be permanent.
A week old and already it’s going too quickly. It doesn’t help that she’s slept almost the entirety of this time, although, of course, also it does. I joked with Elizabeth that I have a harder job on night duty with the boys. They suffer nightmares, powerful thirsts and leg cramps and Luke can anticipate a sunrise by a half-hour. Ida Lou sucks a boob once or twice and returns to her beloved oblivion, politely waiting to poop until early in the morning and then content to sleep again, more and more.
She waited to come. Ten days past her due date, which I should know by now is a real rough estimate, but still. Died in the wool socks and Berkinstocks hippies that we are, we chose homebirth for all three of the kids. The first was smooth, the second was smoother. For the third, we didn’t bother getting an official backup doctor. We liked our HMO doctor, who used to be a home birth backup but can no longer afford the insurance, and we worked with him throughout the pregnancy in conjunction with out midwives. We figured if there was any need to transfer to a hospital, it would be for emergency purposes, not because Elizabeth gets overwhelmed or exhausted during labor. She’s a birth warrior. She does all sorts of hippie prep – acupuncture, chiropractic alignment, massage, kundalini yoga. Her supplemental intake would impress a greasy bodybuilder. She goes all in.
The only problem here being post-dates. When the baby’s late, you have to do check ups to make sure that it’s alright in there. We did ours and scheduled another, but there was that nagging feeling of “what if labor just doesn’t come?” What if we scheduled another and another and at one of them, the doctor said, “Your fluid level is too low,” or “the baby is in distress.”
It was these thoughts that had Elizabeth at an early morning acupuncture session having the needler needle her good. She got her feet worked on by a reflexologist and we walked miles around the hills. Was I impressed when she started mixing castor oil in with her ice cream? Yes. Yes I was.
And so it was that at 2 am on Labor Day (such a cheap gag, Ida Lou), Elizabeth woke me up to tell me something was happening.
“Should I call the midwives?”
“Eh, not yet,” she said. “They’re really mild contractions. I can talk through them. Time them for a while for me.” I spent the next hour nodding off between odd intervals. Three minutes, five minutes, nine minutes, five minutes.
“Call the midwives?” I asked at 3:30.
“Call Jessica,” she said.
Jessica is a dear friend, and handily for us, an incredibly experienced doula and midwife assistant. She came over, told us to stop timing contractions and rest and went to crash on the couch.
At 4:30, I woke to Elizabeth getting out of bed. “My water just broke. Call the midwives,” she said. “It’s happening.”
I called our midwife Leslie who said she’d hurry and then woke up Elizabeth’s sister Emily, in town for support. Jessica tended to Elizabeth while I did the things that dads at a home birth do – I fetched coconut water, set up the video camera and changed the sheets. I was returning with a candle when I found Elizabeth in the bathroom being helped off the toilet. “The baby’s coming,” Jessica said. “Now.”
I froze. Of all the things I’d been expecting or anticipating or worrying about, an unassisted birth wasn’t even on the radar. “Clay,” Jessica said steadily. “It’s ok.” I nodded. She said it with such calm and such certainty that there was nothing to do but believe her. “Go get Otis.”
I wheeled around and plucked Otis out of his bed. Otis, who just turned five, has said from the beginning that he wanted to be there for the birth. “The baby’s coming,” I told him. “Really?” he said, picking his head up quickly. “Let’s go!”
I carried him into the bathroom and set him down behind Elizabeth, on her hands and knees, a baby’s head hanging out of her. Otis’s eyes went as big as dinner plates. “Hi honey,” Elizabeth said, as though he just walked in the house from a game of tag. “You okay?” “She’s talking to you,” I told Otis. He nodded, waved hello, and smiled weakly. Ripped from sleep and thrust into this incredibly huge situation, I gotta say, the kid made some impressive internal adjustments.
Elizabeth pushed exactly once, and Ida Lou arrived with incredible good fortune — healthy, pink and breathing easily. Elizabeth draw her up off the floor and into her arms and invited Otis around to see. A half-hour later Leslie arrived and delivered the placenta, and ten minutes after that Luke, 2.5, wandered into the room, rubbing his eyes and trying to figure out why all the lights were on and why there were so many people in our bedroom. He saw the baby and lit up. He spent the rest of the morning standing on the bed next to Elizabeth, her little guardian angel.
We spent the next several hours in bed, checking the baby (20.5 inches! 7 pounds 11 ounces! Everything normal!), loving her, loving Elizabeth, loving each other. When it was time for mama and baby to have a nap, I took the boys, Auntie Em and Jessica down to the pool for a swim. The sacred, miraculous feeling began to mix with a general giddiness. It still swirling around the house and grabbing at our hearts, sending skipping us down the hall to the bedroom where Elizabeth and Ida Lou lay in love.
The house hangs on to the joy and wonder Ida Lou came with. It’s wrapped around it like a cloud, it’s ringing with it, and so are we.