Norah June, A Birth Story

On my flight home from NYC last October, I started writing a poem. My world was still shaky with Bri's death and my unexpected pregnancy, but I was desperate to find solid ground and to make peace with my body and my grief. So I wrote this poem, more out of awe that I could create life at a time when I felt so empty and depleted, but also out of longing to connect to a baby who I couldn't imagine as a part of my life, let alone my body.

Life created in the barren places
is green and fierce despite the howling wind,
harsh as it crawls begging through the canyons of my body.

You came to light in a desert place,
a landscape marked by uncertainty and distance.
And you brought with you
bones and stones and endless sky --
water enough to swell and stretch.

When the earth cries for relief from its sanctification,
will the skies answer
with a crash of light, a gathering darkness,
heat that writhes in red rising flood?

Flesh on flesh
skull to pelvis
When the pounding ceases
and the horizon clears,
will we be blossoming with life,
Or will we be drowned?

It's strange to read now, to share it now, knowing what happened in the weeks and months that followed. The clubfoot diagnosis. Sela's diabetes diagnosis. Feeling like my entire life had fallen apart and I was grasping at loose threads, desperately trying to hold my old, familiar life together, and left kneeling, empty-handed.

It's so difficult to write about the darkest period of my life, to fight the instinct to brush it aside, smile, and tell you how happy we are to have Norah here, how Sela is thriving, how everything is wonderful and perfect and pretty. I like to tell happy stories and share beautiful things. I like when things work out. I like my life to be neat and tidy and comfortable for everyone, or to at least seem that way when it's not. 

It's not easy or comfortable to tell you that I know what it's like to cry every day for an entire year, to feel grief, disappointment, and fear closing in at every turn, and to lay in bed every morning holding my breath and praying that Sela will wake up too. I know what it's like to wonder if I'll love and celebrate a child born with clubfeet, to face deformity without embarrassment, anger, or shame. I know what it's like to go to a therapist every week for months because I needed someone to sit with me while I cried for hours and allow me to empty the ugliness and smallness and pettiness from the darkest parts of myself.

Norah's birth story isn't an easy one to tell, even if the actual birth is a pretty straightforward, uncomplicated one. The experiences of the months, weeks, and even hours leading up to her birth are inseparable from this story, our shared story, and I can't explain the joy and awe without showing you the pain and heartache in equal measure.

In the days leading up to Norah's birth, I was anxious, scared, and tense. I was terrified we had missed something on the ultrasound and there would be severe complications at her birth. My dreams were filled with crooked feet, babies born without breathing, and me, heavy and pregnant forever. The forgetting isn't quite as good the third time around, and I knew what I was in for. I was simultaneously dreading the pain and intensity of labor and desperate to no longer be pregnant.

 I would have strong contractions for 4 hours or so, long enough to send Cathy a quick text message and have my mom drive to our apartment, but they would slow down by nightfall. This happened for an entire week. By Thursday night, I was exhausted physically and emotionally. My hips were killing me, I couldn't sleep, and I felt like everyone was just watching and waiting for me to do something, anything. I called Cathy Friday morning in tears, telling her I was feeling so frustrated, so defeated. She said it sounded like I needed a massage (midwives are the best, right?). 

During my massage I started to cry as the massage therapist asked me why my body was so tight, my breathing so shallow. She said my muscles where knotted and tense and I seemed anxious and distracted. As she gently massaged and moved my body, I told her how I felt I had been in labor for an entire week, how my hips hurt and my back ached. I told her my baby was going to be born with clubfeet and I have a daughter with type 1 diabetes. I told her I couldn't imagine taking care of three children, and I was scared that I wouldn't be able to meet everyone's needs, including my own. I told her Briana had died, and I had loved her and cherished her and missed her so much. I told her I could remember the pain and intensity of labor, and I wasn't sure I was up for it this time around. I told her I was tired of waiting on the edge of this new life, with nothing but abstract thoughts and feelings to hold on to. By the end of my massage I felt grounded and at peace for the first time in months. 

That evening, our dear friends brought dinner, my children ran and played in the yard, and I laughed as I settled in on the couch. I went to bed early, my body feeling heavy and content.

I awoke at 3 am with deep, low contractions. I lay in the dark, feeling the power of my body in labor for awhile, keeping the secret to myself as I worked through my fears for the last time, examining each one carefully.  I woke Brian as I moved to the shower 20 minutes later, telling him to call Cathy as I shut the shower curtain and turned on the hot water. Brian poked his head in and told me Cathy will take her time packing her car, and she would be there in about an hour. Three minutes later I was in deep labor, moaning, and rocking from side to side with the hot water spraying my lower back. I told Brian to call Cathy and tell her to come RIGHT NOW.

Cathy arrived quietly 25 minutes later. She listened to heart tones, held my hand, and smiled at Brian. I had moved to the bathtub and could not stay on top of the pain. My hips and outer thighs were radiating pain, and it was a  completely new and different sensation than anything I had experienced with Sela and Graham. Nothing worked. I was constantly moving: bathtub, shower, birth ball, hands and knees, standing and rocking with Brian, repeat.  Liz arrived, and she pushed on my knees and Cathy pushed on my back. I heard Sela and Graham wake up, run down the hall, and ask my aunt for breakfast. I remember my mom taking pictures of Brian and I standing together, my arms draped around his neck. I remember Cathy telling me I could do it, that I WAS doing it. I was frustrated as the contractions continued to get harder and closer together, and Liz whispered it wouldn't be long. 

 I couldn't hold still; I had to stand, but my legs were weak and buckling from the pain. Cathy suggested the birth stool, and when I sat down I felt my pelvis push into wood hard and Norah's head drop into the birth canal. I looked right at Cathy and moaned, "Oh, man. THIS IS THE WORST." Norah's head crowned and my water broke. My mom opened our bedroom door and motioned for the kids to come in. I pushed my feet into the ground, and pushed has hard as I could.

And suddenly she was here. A baby. A daughter, MY daughter. I saw her back first, the perfect curve of her spine, as Liz handed her to me. I hugged her into my chest, all of the pain gone from my body. Cathy wrapped a towel around her and I looked into her small, wrinkled face for the first time. She looked a little like Graham and a little like Sela, but mostly like me when I was a baby. Cathy tried to get her to cry, but she just let out a little shout before furiously sucking on her hands and fingers. 

It was a full 3 hours before I even thought about her feet. I reached under her blanket and brought her crooked little feet out where I could see them and hold them. For all of the months I spent worrying and crying over those little feet, I couldn't help but love them. They were perfect.

Norah June Swan was born on the full moon the day before Easter Sunday; Briana had died the day before Easter one year earlier. I spent  much of the next few days thinking about the delicate balance between life and death and finally realized how badly I needed Norah. I needed her. I needed light and life and growth and proof that I was a strong woman who would do anything for the people I love.

And Norah gave me that, and she continues to bring nothing but joy, fulfillment, and happiness into my life.

Here she is today, with perfect, fully functioning feet:


Tree Peeps said...

Oh, Rachel, I loved reading this birth story. Thanks for sending out the link on facebook :)
I admire how much you have all triumphantly experienced this last year. Your quote "Oh, man; this is the worst!" pricked my heart and memory of birth. You did it, though!
I love you :)

Lovely Lindsay said...

norah is magic.
such a sweet little blessing.
and you are brave. and strong.
thank you for sharing this piece of you.
love, lindsay

Danielle said...

This is a beautiful post. And that is one beautiful baby girl! Thank you for writing this. While reading it brings back so many memories of heartache and worry over my little ones, I can also see how much healing has happened over the last 4 years, for which I am very grateful. Every day gets easier still.

*rOcKiN rIcHiNs* said...

You're doing it. Isn't that great?! Life sure came at you hard and quick, but you are doing it. My dearest and sincerest praise belongs to you my dear sweet friend.

It amazes me how strong the human spirit is and how ordinary people overcome extraordinary things. (however I never thought of you as ordinary :)

Thank you for the post.

Miranda said...

beautiful post <3 <3 <3
enjoy your sweet children and thank you for writing this.