FIVE years EIGHT months + THREE years TWO months + THREE months
I love motherhood. I love the animal sounds coming from other rooms as women strain to meet their babies. I love the smells and gushes. I am addicted to the rush of pregnancy tests and late-night visits to the labor ward. I love looking out for my mucus plug in my knickers at 40 weeks, the attention of midnight midwives and the feel of rock-hard boobs. I recall the sleep deprivation as a kind of lucid dream state–walking through the world as if through water: slowly, still bleeding, with a baby in my arms whose skin smells of biscuits and yeast. Downy heads and toenails and milk-sour crusty crevices behind little furry ears are my catnip. I could drown in those babies.
–Jodi Bartle, excerpt from “The Best Most Awful Job”
It’s been three months since I’ve given birth. And it’s taken almost three weeks to finish this entry, a foreign amount of time when it comes to writing in this journal. I’m the busiest I’ve ever been as a mom, and have been in a thick phase of transition, as everything seemed to happen at once: Everett started kindergarten, Marion began preschool, and I brought home a newborn.
I owe this to you, though. I owe sharing these words and making them yet another permanent conversation between the two us. So finally, here’s the birth story.
Forrest Glenn Pearlman. Born August 30, 2021 at 2:41 p.m.
At my 38 week appointment, the midwife went over my ordered sonogram results, concluding that the baby seemed big. Knowing the history of my first birth, she essentially gave me three options: a scheduled cesearan, scheduled induction, or waiting for labor to begin naturally.
The bigger the baby, the higher chance of reoccurring shoulder dystocia. Statistically, there was roughly a 25% chance of repetition.
I scheduled to be induced the day I’d complete my 39th week. Not because I felt the baby had to come out early, but because I was done. I played my cards and used the dystocia in my favor: since I was considered higher risk than a non-medical elected induction, I got the first day available. I was told a nurse would call between 8 a.m. and 12 p.m. on the planned date, letting me know when to come in.
Induction day was a Sunday. I had showered and curled my hair and makeup had brightened my face by the time the sun showed hers. All my avenues had been paved and I was ready to drive forward. I felt clean and invigorated and able to breathe my nerves under control.
And then the waiting began.
At 11:30 the hospital called to say they were running behind. I learned I’d have to wait until 4 p.m. to see if any beds opened up. From then on, minutes passed like hours. My mind was wound tight with the uncertainty and I could no longer breathe myself to a calmer state. I meditated over and over, escaping into my room and away from the kids to sit and make some quiet. But the brick in my throat wouldn’t go away, neither did the worrying weight felt in the depths of my stomach, like an anchor dropped heavy.
They called again, as promised, but there still weren’t any openings. So I ate dinner and washed my face, surrendering to the fact that I wouldn’t have eyeliner and mascara on while giving birth; that this experience was already unfolding differently than my last induction.
At seven o’clock, the kids were in bed and my kitchen counters were wiped clean. The dishwasher was humming and the summer sun was softening through the curtains. All around me, the day was ending, but mine just kept continuing as the waiting remained. And it wasn’t just the phone call making my mind ache–I still had to give birth. I felt so suffocated by what was ahead, I considered cancelling the induction and waiting for baby to arrive on their own.
And then the midwives called–they had a bed. So Grandma, who was ready on stand-by with a packed overnight bag, quickly came, and Chris and I left minutes after she arrived.
We cruised on the parkway without a pause of traffic and the humid August air had finally surrendered to cooler temperatures. I tried looking for positive aspects, attempting to mold my mindset into a better mood, and when I wasn’t making great progress, I wound my window down to breathe in the whipping breeze. I saw a road sign that said “Forrest Hills Exit,” but with the car’s angle and the bordering trees alongside the road, I only saw the “Forrest” part, the boy name I’ve had stashed away since Marion claimed the girl title.
And because of this little synchronistic hint from the universe, I felt like I somehow knew who I’d be meeting in a matter of hours.
By the time I was checked-in and assigned a bed, it was 11 p.m. And honestly the whole night/early hours of the morning are just a blur of misoprostol (a pill used for cervical softening) and the beginning drips of Pitocin.
When the nurses changed shift at 7 a.m., I was shy of 4cm and still miserable, like I was hungover from the day before–not even a day, just a never-ending stretch of ticks on the clock that were still haunting my perception of time.
I had assumed since this was my third birth, a few hours after Pitocin, I’d be holding my baby. And when it became obvious this wouldn’t be the case, my fears grew greater with each cervix check. I felt I was forcing this baby out prematurely and my body wasn’t responding. I’ve heard many birth stories and witnessed labors with my own eyes that have almost ended in cesareans because of stalled progress. This is what I get. I should’ve waited. My negative self-talk was like a stallion bound in a tight bridle–I was ready to combust, and whoever had the reins within my head, needed to be bucked off.
I have never been so ill-fated when it comes to my thoughts. And this made me ashamed. I was in a puddle of muck and simply couldn’t get out.
Trying to reset (again), I put headphones in and picked the song Light and Shadow, a piano piece I always used to play when I taught yoga. I laid on my side with a peanut ball squished between my legs, closed my eyes, and without intentional effort, saw myself in the dance studio I attended as a little girl.
The walls were white and worn duct tape still lined the matte floors to equally measure spaces for each dancer. There were wooden bars drilled to the wall of mirrors, and I could see the stereo in the corner, completely unchanged. Except my teacher, Miss Kim, wasn’t standing there counting 5, 6, 7, 8!
It was just me.
I was dancing; twirling and spinning, as if I was singing with my limbs, the chords that were tuned from the freedoms of pregnancy. I was no longer carrying a baby in my belly. My body looked familiar and mine. I was beautiful and unbound and proud to be a woman whose created three children. And that pride swelled within my moving body, like I’d swallowed a visible light and was therefore glowing.
The fantasy ended when I started to feel pressure on the front of my belly and down into my groin–not butt pressure like it’s “supposed” to be before pushing. So I pressed my epidural button and waited five minutes, but the sensation didn’t subside. After another five minutes of observing these waves of demanding pressure, I opened my eyes and looked for the controller to page the nurse, wanting to request that my epidural be checked because if I was going to have drugs, I didn’t want to feel anything. But it had fallen on the floor, where my bed-ridden body couldn’t reach.
I had begun active labor less than an hour ago, a time slot in which I suggested for Chris to go get his lunch down the street. Since I had been listening to music, my phone was near, and I called him, calmly telling him he needed to come back–that I needed my pain medication adjusted.
He must’ve ran the whole way from Panera because he appeared just moments later with a nurse. When I peeked my eyes open, he looked shook, unable to believe how fast things had changed. Before I could explain why I needed help, a contraction peaked and I moaned, curling my fingers around the nearest pillow. The pains were beginning to pull me under the way I imagine a rip-tide would, except I was released each time one was over–like a cork bobbing to the surface, only to be yanked back down again moments later.
Because of Everett’s birth, I knew I was still only feeling a fraction of what my body was doing. The epidural was taking majority of the pain; I was simply getting a taste.
Moments later, I was looking straight into the midwife’s eyes with my legs spread apart and my chest elevated. I don’t remember the transition from calling Chris to getting into that position, but there I was, ready to push.
In the hours before, the midwife had gone over the risks of shoulder dystocia with Chris and I multiple times. She was prepared for the statistics to show their face, or for my history of post-birth hemorrhaging to become an issue. And because of all this, there were multiple doctors in the room, just in case. The bed was elevated and “dropped,” meaning the end was taken off, allowing her to stand right between my legs in order to maneuver more meticulously. I even had double IV’s to ensure easy access for a blood transfusion.
She reminded me this was my third baby and told me how strong I was, puffing me up with reassuring air, as if I were a pool floatie preparing for voyage. With her affirming words and my focused eyes locked on hers, it seemed she and I had joined hands, promising to do this together. And we did.
A few minutes after I began pushing, his head was out, and she visibly relaxed. Her face was full of joy, illuminated by the soft blue-hue of her scrubs and the bright hospital light. She took a breath of relief and then told me to push gently in order to get the rest of his body out. And so I did, and then felt a pop and he was there, cradled in her hands.
I saw his parts and confirmed he was a boy, as she hovered him over my deflated belly at an angle that allowed the blood to flow from his cord.
I stared and cried and touched his slimy body and then wrapped those same wet hands around Chris’ neck as I pulled him into me. I did it. We did it. Eight pounds slid out without a single hiccup, despite all the precautions and recommendations.
They laid him on my chest and I continued to cry. Nothing compares to the relief felt after birth. And since his delivery went smoothy, that relief was overwhelming, and all I could do with the overflow was let it escape through water in my eyes.
He was out…he was here…he was healthy…he was ours.
Forrest and I stared at each other and I could feel my mind imprinting the structure of his face–the little lips and open eyes and double dimples. And I was conscious of the process. I could feel my body begin to love him as I melted away into that post-birth oblivion. Chris told me good job babe, in varying ways, over and over, and would kindly pat my shoulder like I was a football buddy and not someone who just gave him his third child from the bowels of my body.
I just smiled that coy smile–the one where my lips don’t part, and nodded, saying with facial language, yes, yes I know you’re proud. And you’re welcome.
But that is Chris. He wouldn’t be the man to passionately kiss me and loudly exclaim his pride, even though I know his heart was beating too fast within his chest. I could tell in his eyes that his body was responding to Forrest and the wonder of what just happened. He just doesn’t express it in words. And as his wife, I’ve simply learned to watch him, not necessarily listen.
When he kindly declined to cut the cord, I volunteered without hesitation. And while severing the gummy tissue that still connected Forrest and I, it felt powerful to be claiming back my body as my own, like I was cutting through a silk red ribbon at a grand opening–the grand opening of me, as a mom of three.
After nine complete months of creating and carrying this human, and feeling as if I’d disappeared into the pits of pregnancy, I was done. And as I reclined into the support of the bed, it felt like my spirit had finally returned home and I was welcomed back into my own, now vacant body.
While Forrest was having his fresh-minted toes turned into digital stamps, a young nurse no older than Allison, was wiping dried blood from my naked body with a warm washcloth. I thanked her for doing what I couldn’t and apologized; I’d never been cleaned afterwards, so it was foreign and strange but I felt like a queen, in a haze of calming hormones, feeling as if I’d earned this so-called “bath.” So I just tried to own it.
Half-covering me with a sheet, in attempts to preserve any last bit of modesty that may remain, she told me it was her first day in the labor and delivery unit–that prior, she lived in New York City and instead of washing down a new mom’s body, it was an old man’s. She then laughed, saying she much preferred the former. It’s one of those moments that will stay with me–one of the things that even years from now, I’ll remember about his birth. I don’t know why.
And my main nurse, Lauren, was the best one I’ve ever had. She was confident and calm and in charge of the entire room each time she knocked and entered and ritually sanitized her hands. I felt safe with her.
When Lauren first met Chris and I, she wrote her gender guess on the whiteboard: boy. And when Forrest was born, she was so proud of her correct prediction, saying over and over that he was my bookend–that I had two boys on either side of my girl. And I smiled and nodded and thought of how good it sounded.
A few hours later, I sat upright with my fluffy comforter from home covering my legs, as if nothing had ever happened. Marinating in my pride and clean, blood-free thighs, I ate a huge bowl of Chipotle while Chris held our bundled new baby and cooed each time he looked down at him, like he had to physically see Forrest to fully believe he had just joined our world and hearts so effortlessly.
My eyes welled with triumphant tears as I scooped in heaping mouthfuls of double meat and guacamole. I was instantly free of the constant heartburn that had limited my food choices. And it felt so good to feel the weight of food settle into my stomach. As I attacked my bowl, barely getting words out because my mouth was preoccupied, Chris laughed and said something about me being back.
And I thought, hell yes I am.
For as much as I hate the way pregnancy completely arrests my body and essentially holds my brain chemistry captive, I love birth. I would do it over and over again, with or without medication–both ways bring your baby into your arms. What makes my girlfriends wince–like talk of placenta or stitches or vernix covered baby bodies, feels like common concepts for casual conversation.
Birth is normal and natural, so what’s there to be ashamed of when a twenty-seven-year-old is wiping the aftermath of birth off your body? Nothing. And because of this mind-set, I was much more confident for Forrest’s birth.
I wasn’t wondering if the nurse was watching me breastfeed and making judgements. I didn’t wonder if my belly would ever look normal or how I’d poop for the first time. Everything was comfortable and known because it had already been experienced, twice.
Just as my nurses and midwife were doing their job, I was doing mine. I know “giving birth” isn’t exactly a job description, but the entire umbrella of motherhood is my career, and I thrive under it.
If it were an option to have majored in birth and postpartum and kindergarten preparation, I would’ve done it. I didn’t end up in that hospital bed at the age of thirty with a third baby in my arms by chance; this was the life I consciously chose, long before I was even married. And that’s why each time someone from the staff asked if he was my first, a sense of triumph poured through my veins when I answered, “Nope, my third!”
With each reply, it felt like I’d arrived somewhere I didn’t know I was ever headed to, with my “bookend” finally having found its place on my shelf.
While in the hospital, we had a chicken named Maple go broody, meaning she would sit on laid eggs, hoping to hatch them with her warmth. We could see her on the coop camera, refusing to leave the nest, so we had to have Grandma and Everett go out and push her off until she eventually gave up.
And then three weeks after we brought Forrest home, right within the peak of no-sleep and adjusting to the sudden new demands of my life, one of our chickens, Chard, went broody, too. So we did what worked before; pushed her off the nest and quickly picked up the laid eggs each morning, avoiding chances for Chard to sit on them. But she’d stay in the box anyways. We’d lock her out of the coop all day, only to find her nesting in the grass. She wasn’t eating or drinking and when I’d pick her up, her body felt hot and she looked dazed, possessed by the need to hatch eggs that not only weren’t fertilized (we don’t have a rooster), but not there.
I was on Google in the midst of night, trying to hold Forrest’s bottle with one hand, while scrolling through chicken forums, trying to understand how to help Chard because she was in misery, fixated on her mission to become a mama hen. We’d already tried all of the suggestions (one of which was dipping her in cold water), except for one: giving her the chicks she so desperately wanted.
I had to research how to integrate baby chicks into an established flock and once I figured out what we needed to do, Chris hacked together a special cage to fit inside the coop, so she could have a safe and semi-private space. And with nervous fingertips, I clicked complete on an online order of three chicks, terrified that this plan wouldn’t work, and I’d inherit the burden of caring for more living things.
The next day, three peeping chicks arrived at the post-office, and I picked them up with Marion and Forrest in-tow. Following the rules of old-time farm folk, at night, Chris and I went down to the coop, guiding our way with a flashlight, and opened the nest box where Chard was sitting on nothing but her stubborn loyalty. I scooped up the chicks from my carrying bucket and snuck them under her fluffy feathers, each one immediately disappearing under her. At first I wondered if they could breathe or if she’d instantly smothered her innocent fostered offspring, but I locked the coop anyways, just hoping for the best, knowing it was out of my control; I had enough babies to worry about. The job was on Chard now.
When daylight broke and I was able to get a free moment, I ran out to see if they were alive. They of course were, and Chard was clucking sounds I’d never heard before, as if she was telling me, Look what I did! The same way I sounded the first days after Forrest was born.
Chard guides them around the yard and calls out when she’s found a worm or something good from the earth. She’s taught them how to break up food and forage and they follow her around the way ducklings would. I’ve simply provided water and crumble.
I am telling you all this because as I’ve watched this chicken mother her babies, I couldn’t help compare my backyard birds to women. Some are like Maple and some are like Chard. Some don’t have that inherit broodiness and are easily “pushed” off the nest, choosing to build a life outside of children, with careers and traveling and the life that has a freedom I sometimes fantasize about. And some are just all mother, interested in a life that involves making lunches and sleep training in lieu of office meetings.
Neither choice ends up loving their children more or less; it’s just different parenting.
I feel like there’s an on-going silent debate amongst women my age, in the prime of their child-bearing years, as to when the “best time” to have kids is. And all of my girlfriends are doing it differently, and it’s beautiful. Some choosing carreers first. A few debating whether or not to have children. Two are open to adoption. And the rest simply aren’t aching to be plump and pregnant and push a baby out of their still-the-same lady parts.
If women my age don’t have a broody fever in them, it’s okay. And if I felt the sweats at twenty, that’s okay, too.
And since Forrest, I’ve been promoted with the added responsibility of another life, but the post-birth confidence has remained, and I feel settled, like I can fall into the cushion of three children, knowing I’m creating a home life that they will remember for all their years to come, while trusting that my work of meals and monitors and laundry and tucking-in covers, is worthy of its investment.
All I can say is, I’m a Chard. And I learned it from you–the broodiest of them all.