I have a confession to make. I made a deal with my daughter when she was still on the inside. I wrote her a letter and told her that I knew she could beat her brother’s time. You see, Max is like a super Flash Ninja baby. He came out on his due date in a record 5 hours 15 minutes. I told baby girl if she could beat him, if she could get here swiftly, like super duper fast with no complications, I would give her a little more leeway in the teenage years. I’d forgive her if she stole my car or raided my liquor cabinet or lied to me and went to see a boy instead of sleeping over her best friend’s house. I assured her that I wasn’t trying to promote any kind of bad behavior or competition between she and her brother, but I wanted her to beat him. Cause girls can and do beat boys. Cause she’s my little rock star and she’s gonna rock it right out of the park. And boy, did she ever. Here’s how it all went down.
It was a Wednesday. A perfect Wednesday morning. Miguel, Max, belly and me woke up just like any other day in the Oaxacan countryside: roosters crowing, donkeys hee hawing. The normal chaos of morning had us tripping over wooden blocks, rushing to get ready, pack bags, feed kid.
After dropping Max at preschool, we head down to Oaxaca’s center. Sunny blue skies stretch out over Santo Domingo. We find a shady spot and eat breakfast under the Jacaranda trees. Then we move to our favorite coffee shop. Computers back to back, coffees side by side, we work. A few hours slip by and it’s almost time to pick up little man.
On our way to the bus stop, I impulsively stop. “Hey Papi! If we take a taxi instead of the bus, we’ll have time to hit my favorite photography museum… Please?” It doesn’t take much to convince him. The space is all ours. Sparse rooms house beautiful black and white portraits of Oaxacans taken by Oaxacans. We pick our favorites, then snap a few shots of our own and we’re off.
When we get to Max’s school, head teacher asks me if I’ve had any contractions yet. “Nope, not yet!” Ironically the very moment I say this, I feel a strange, more intense than normal tightening of my belly and think, ‘Hmm, this isn’t the standard ‘baby breakdancing in there’ feeling I’ve been having. Could this be it? Naaah. Couldn’t be.’ I don’t mention any of this to Miguel as we moto-taxi to the bus stop. I suppose I don’t want to psyche him out.
We board a rickety old bus circa 1995. The ride is bumpy. The aisles are crowded. The sky has turned a deep grey now. It feels like it might rain. Miguel gets a seat in back and Max falls asleep in his arms. I half-sit half-squat over my metal seat up front. I don’t want to sit down, as I’m convinced that the massive potholes in the rocky-dirt road will toss me and belly hard enough to break my pelvis, or tailbone, or some other really important body part on landing. So I hold myself there, like a surfer – bracing, balancing. I try not to entertain thoughts of, “what if my water breaks right here on this little old farmer’s sandals?” and instead lose myself out the window as city turns to country.
Just before our block the driver suddenly stops the bus and gets off. No need to worry, Oaxacan bus drivers sometimes do this. They usually go to get a Coke or chat/fight with another driver. I think ours went to take a look at his tires, but who cares because – how appropriate – Sweet Child O’ Mine by Guns and Roses just came on the radio and I have this urge to sing it. Loud. I’m a pregnant Gringa and I can do that if I want. Nobody’s gonna stop me. Ooooooo yeah heaaah. I control myself at a normal Karaoke level and we get off just before I’m able to break into the air guitar solo.
Back home I realize that I better get napping if I’m gonna make it to Pre-Natal Yoga. Damn, I love Mexico. This siesta thing rocks. Papi puts Max in his room to continue his nap and we lay down together. It’s 3:15. As we snuggle into place, Miguel hugs me tight and says, “I just want you to know I’m ready for little lady to come. I’m ready to hug her and kiss her and change her diaper…and…” “Yeah yeah, I’m sleeping,” I mutter.
A few minutes pass and I’m juuuuuuuust about to fall into a deep sleep when all of a sudden I’m startled awake. VVVVVOOOOOMMMMM. An INTENSE rush of indescribable pain surges through my pelvis, belly, being. I sit up, scared, out of it. Ohmygod. Ohmygod. Miguel literally jumps out of the bed. Are you alright? Que pasó? Was that it? Is this it?!! He smiles giddy, bouncing around with excitement.
I’m still sitting on the bed. I’m nervous. Is this it? Nah. This can’t be it. Can it? That was a really intense feeling. I know that feeling. Man, I HATE that feeling! That shit hurts! Okay, no worries. Let’s just get up slowly, go get a glass of water, walk around the house. I move into the hallway and VOOM. There it is again. Oh no. Back to the bedroom. On all fours, on the bed. FUCK.
All of a sudden the phone rings. It’s Miguel’s mother who always starts the conversation these days with, “Ya? Is she in labor yet?” Miguel says yes, but I tell him, No! We’re not sure yet. Tell her you’ll call her back! The contraction subsides. I try to get back to that glass of water, but SON OF A MOTHER! There’s another one! I rush back to the bedroom. Damn, they’re coming fast.
I resign myself to the fact that this is it. It’s actually happening. I’m having. another. baby. Right now.
Miguel lays my yoga mat on the floor next to the bed. I kneel down and take myself back in my mind to the last time I was in labor. I remember it vividly. I spent a long time in the beginning resisting the pain, fighting it, clenched jaw, clenched fists, but not this time. I’ve decided that I’m going inside the pain from the start. I place my palms and fingertips slowly, purposefully on the mat. Okay baby girl. We got this. I lean over and let my forehead come down to touch the mat between my hands. Here comes the next wave. I breathe. I chant. Open open open. Come fast come fast come fast. I see myself from the outside for a moment; I look like a Muslim woman praying, bowing, folding towards Mecca. The wave passes and I slip into Child’s pose to rest.
When I open my eyes, I see them. Under the bed. Jesus, they’re everywhere. Dust bunnies. Migueeeeeeel! He runs into the room. Que pasó mi cielo? Are you alright? Papi there’s a lot of dust under the bed! I can’t look at that while I’m in labor! Can you sweep? He laughs, shakes his head and reappears with a broom. Man, I love this guy.
Just as he’s finishing up under the bed, Little Maxwell is startled awake. My bad. I’m pretty loud. Poor Miguel tries to tend to his cries and mine at the same time. After Max calms down a bit, he comes to see me. He pushes me over, plops himself down on the mat and says, “Yoga with Mommy?” God he’s adorable. He looks up at me and puts his little hand on my cheek, understanding that I’m going through something. “It’s okay Mommy?” I hug him tight and think how lucky I am. This pain is without a doubt the most intense pain I’ve ever felt in my life and I shudder just thinking that it’s coming back in a minute, but now I understand the payoff. And when I look into my kid’s eyes, I honestly feel that it’s all worth it. That said, here comes another wave and he can’t be here. I need to focus. Miguel takes him out of the room and I’m left alone.
I brave a few contractions sola, and soon feel the need to shift positions. I drape my upper body over the side of the bed, my arms stretched out and my knees on the mat. I’m in a constant conversation with myself to NOT TENSE UP and LET THE PAIN COME. I’m trying to stay open but it’s really hot in here and it fucking hurts and I wish Miguel were by my side but he can’t be here cause he’s gotta get Max’s bag ready, install the carseat in his folks’ car and keep little guy calm.
I try to find peace in the moments between contractions. I tell myself that I’m not alone. I remember, like last time, that 235,000 other women are doing this right now at this very moment. I close my eyes and imagine the woman physically closest to me. I drift up the Oaxacan hills to a small adobe hut, where I find a woman with long black braids, on her knees just like me, braving the waves. I salute her. We can do this.
It’s 4:00pm now, about 40 minutes have passed since my first contraction. Max is on his way to the grandparents’, and I’m happy to see my midwife Lauren. “How’s it going?” she asks with a hug and a smile. “It fucking hurts!” I tell her. “Well, you’re the one who wanted a fast birth!” She and Miguel pull up some floor and offer support as the contractions build in length and intensity. I’m breathing heavy and sweating A LOT. I should probably take off Miguel’s thick hoodie, but I don’t want to. It makes me feel secure.
When my water breaks, Lauren reassures me that it’s all good. I’m so thankful I chose her. She knows just when to offer reassurance, advice or a wink. And Miguel. There he is, on all fours, right next to me, literally holding me up, my right arm braced over his shoulders. God I love him. But I need a break! The contractions are coming so fast now. It seems like there’s almost no time to rest in between.
At one point, Lauren asks me if I’m pushing. I respond in a very strained Nooooooo (but I guess it sounds like I am pushing.) I explain that, No, I’m not actively pushing – it’s my body, not me! I mean, I’m not helping it, it’s just happening! You know, like Ina May says – Sphincter law? Is that okay? Of course, she says, it’s fine – your body knows. During this little exchange, I realize that I don’t even know how dilated I am, so I ask her. She replies, “Yeah you’re almost there, almost done, just a few more pushes now.”
Wait, I’m sorry, WHAT? Did you just say I’m ALMOST DONE? Miguel and I look at each other in utter disbelief. What do you mean I’m ALMOST DONE?! I JUST STARTED!! “Well, I can see the head now, so just a few pushes…” Holy mother of all that is good and gracious, HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE??!! I laugh and smile and stare at Miguel in awe. “Miranda, are you kidding me? No manches! You’re amazing! How is that possible? How did you do that??!” I don’t know, I can’t believe it! I can’t fucking believe it! Really? This pain is about to be over, and I’m getting my birth AGAIN??! I can feel the adrenaline rushing through me. I’m shocked and humbled and overjoyed and euphoric. “Papi, Kiss me!” I tell him. And we lose ourselves in the most perfect kiss.
When we’re done making out Lauren reminds Miguel, “Hey, if you want to catch the baby, you’ll need to come over here by me.” He had wanted to catch Max but it didn’t happen, and he was really looking forward to receiving Lola, but he said when it came down to it, he felt like going “over there” was a mile away, and he didn’t want to leave me. He looks me in the eyes and says, “No I want to stay here with Beth.”
Just knowing that I’m close gives me a massive boost of strength. I take a deep breath. I’m on all fours, knees on the mat, left arm on the bed, right arm over Miguel’s shoulders. I’m ready. Lauren reminds me that she can see the head, so when the next contraction comes, I should welcome it with a deep breath and push s-l-o-w-l-y. Okay, slowly. (For a change.) Got it.
I do what she says. I trust her and I trust my body. I brace myself, focus and breathe in. I push once. The head is out. (Ouch Ouch Ouch, HATE that the head is out and I have to wait for the next contraction to push again.) I breathe in. I push twice. Wait, something’s weird? Maybe I’m not positioned right? Breathe in. LAST PUSH. I give it all I’ve got, and I feel the need to stand, so I follow my instinct and push myself up. As I do, I feel a shift and our daughter spirals out into the world.
She’s here, but this all just started a minute ago. Okay, not a minute ago – 1 hour and 30 minutes ago. Our second midwife didn’t even make it here in time. How is this possible? We can’t believe it, but we’re thrilled. I’m in awe of my body and the transformational power of birth. And I’m in love with this little lady. I can’t wait to tell her how awesome she is.
Miguel goes to get us some water, and as he looks out the window, a little yellow bird flutters towards him, perches on a wire for a moment, then flies off into the Oaxacan hills.