In Time

3:22 PM

OK, I'm carrying the twins here, but you can see I am not a petite pregnant woman!

Pregnancy is intoxicating, infused with hazy dreamlike visions of the future. I had no idea what to expect, and if I allowed myself to really go there, I knew I didn’t have any idea what I was doing.
But at least, my expectant friend Deberah, an amazing mother, made it look like Xanadu. Nirvana. While she copped to the difficulties and hardships pregnancy imposed on the female frame, and laughingly admitted to the challenges of working through finding agreement with her husband on basic child-rearing values, essentially, she made it look easy. I was elated I finally had a personal “project,” and I enlisted my mother to help me prepare the nursery while Harry and I enjoyed the process of registering for gifts, and thinking about labor and delivery.
I think he enjoyed this more than I did. At least, he had more of a sense of how he hoped it would all go. When he decided he wanted us to take a look at midwives and home birth, I did what I always do. I jumped on a raft and rode the current. I thought, why not? I have no experience with hospital birth or home birth, so I was open.
I can see it on my headstone right now. Here lies Laury Boone Browning. Awesome at going-with-the-flow.
I was happy pregnant, and blissfully uninformed about what to expect from labor and delivery. Sure, I read all of the articles about home birth, about how “labor is more about focused work, and not pain,” but until you pushed an eight pound person through an opening that has never accommodated anything of that sort, you just don’t know what you don’t know. We watched videos, too. They also made it look pretty doable: take a class, get a crib, practice breathing. I had this general idea that if my mother could have four babies, and my sisters had had a bunch of them, why couldn’t I handle it? I did what I’d always done…I put a smile on my face and faked it.
Harry and I did our homework and located the perfect midwife. Her name was Joan Dolan, and she was a pistol. We liked to refer to her as a drill sergeant, and she was certainly the perfect person to depend on in a crisis. She came off a bit…harsh…but for some reason, we trusted her absolutely.
A big woman with wild black hair and an assertive-yet-calming tone, Joan was our rock; we felt safe in her presence and followed her lead about everything as we prepared to give birth to our first child right there at our home in North Hollywood. I was huge, and as is typical of new mothers, had started to build some anxiety around how this giant mass in my belly was going to find its way out into the wide world without tearing me in two. This anxiety would lay the groundwork for a longer labor than anyone expected.
Although I can’t honestly remember my due date, I do remember that I was pretty much on schedule when the contractions started July 2nd, 1984, almost 4 years after our wedding. We had everything ready, so we called Joan, covered our bed in plastic, laid out the materials she had requested, and I called my mom and sister Debby who had planned on being present at the birth. I had also included my friend Deberah who had just become a mother and was a comforting addition to the entourage. Unfortunately, it would be a couple of days before anyone would get to wrap their arms around a baby.
The theme of the next two days: all of my contractions, so painful and just a few minutes apart, we’re producing nothing but panic. Although my body seemed to be holding it together, and the baby was showing no signs of distress, after a whole day of terrible labor, my cervix had barely opened at all. Joan wasn’t camped out at my house, which in retrospect was a little depressing and isolating. I felt like I hadn’t studied for the test.
She would come from time to time, and was certainly available, but there just wasn’t much happening, so she visited intermittently, reaching her hand deeply into my body to measure my progress. Each time, I felt invaded and tense, afraid there would be bad news, and afraid for this process to stagnate, or for that matter, to move forward. After the first full day of labor, there wasn’t any progress, leading to a palpable rise in the shared group tension; I was feeling more guilt and dread than anything else.
During the second day of labor we tried a few things. I spent a lot of time soaking in a bath, trying to relax and do the “reverse Kegel exercises” Joan had trained me to do. We walked around a little bit together, Harry and I, and more than once, we considered the option of going to the hospital to get me some drugs, and get the baby out one way or the other. Our drill sergeant, Joan, seem to have some brewing concern although she was also willing to let this ride a while longer. I was trained to stop and squat through the contractions, but once I realized how much it hurt, there seemed to be a sort of visceral resistance, a deep, inward rebellion going on in my body. If pelvic muscles could talk, they would have been saying something like, Hell, no! But, I kept my game face on, and tried to look compliant.
On the morning of July 4th, in an atmosphere of anxious despair, Joan showed up to examine me; there had still been minimal progress. That’s when she marched in and gave me a lecture neither Harry or I will ever forget.
“Do you want to have this baby at home, or at the hospital?”
I was indignant. Hurt. Terrified. Honestly, I was kind of hoping it wouldn’t hurt so much. My midwife was kind but firm; it was decision time. Although Michael seemed to be fine after two days of constant, unproductive labor, I needed to have this baby, one way or the other.
“Do you want to have this baby…?” Truthfully…? I wasn’t sure I did.
It was like this militant version of Joan was speaking another language, and I dug deeply into my awareness to try to decode the message. Is this my fault? Am I slowing things down? Could the pain and fear be inhibiting my ability to open up and let this happen?
Then, for brief moment, I understood. I knew that where there should be opening, there was tightening. And where there could have been squatting and movement, there was panic, rigidity.
I needed to shift, and I needed to do it quickly. I need it to help my son move through this moment, to quit trying to protect myself from pain, but embrace it. Welcome it to welcome him.
Right at that moment, I got off of my bed, and turned around to grab onto the bed spread while I reversed my state of resistance, and squatted, a move that was one part physically practical, one part spiritually strategic. Acceptance. My focus moved from protecting myself from the blinding, disorienting pain to helping my son make his journey to life and breath, a journey he couldn’t make without me.
It was almost as if I could suddenly see, with x-ray vision, the process that was going on between my rib cage and cervix, a video running through my brain of the muscles above the cervix pulling, straining upwards, like a garage door that is hoisted open by pulling upward on strong chains whose job it is to open and close on command. My heart was the mechanism, the motor, as the rest of my body offered itself in support. I could picture myself not just allowing this opening, but willing it, noticing the present suffering while fixated on the necessity of it. It simply wasn’t about me anymore. It was about the baby.Thankful for the light that showed up in the nick of time, I was able to surrender to this moment, and all of the stretching and tearing that came with it.
A change in course came quickly. After observing and almost immediate shift in terms of dilation of the cervix, Joan broke my water and we quickly moved through transition. I was ready.
Michael Taylor Browning was born on July 4th, healthy and in possession of all of his parts. Harry and I considered it one of the most important moments in our lives when we learned that what we choose to focus on sets the trajectory for the journey.
A lesson that I would neglect to integrate into the tough challenges that were still to come..until later.

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