It was a bright, sunny, and warmer than average February morning when I called my mom to suggest she come down for the birth of my second child. She was a five hour drive away in Minnesota, and I really wanted her to be with me for this birth, just as she had been for Kiran’s birth a few years earlier. I certainly wanted her here this time around to support me and to witness the birth of this child, but above all I especially wanted her present for Kiran’s sake. In planning for my second child’s homebirth, I of course thought through all the typical stuff. A midwife I loved, check. Back-up doctor, just-in-case, check. The tub for another waterbirth, check. All the necessary supplies, check, check, check. But what I really spent the most time trying to plan was the unplannable. Birth is unpredictable, and a two and a half year old soon-to-be big brother is even more so. As far as his care and role in the event, I really could do no more than have several plans in place and hope one of them would work. The ideal scenario in my head, aka Plan A, was that my mom would drive down on February 26th, the earliest of the due dates I’d been given. (A different ultrasound estimated the due date as March 2nd, and my midwife calculated March 5th. Three different due dates and a first child who arrived 8 days overdue made it seem as if a Magic 8 Ball could have predicted this birth better than the tools of modern medicine.) In Plan A, my mom would be here by the 26th , hang out, and sometime within the next week, I’d go into labor and all would be well. In the unlikely event that I went into labor before that first due date , the ideal Plan B required everything to happen essentially the opposite of my first labor experience. This time around all I was hoping to actually know labor was beginning with at least several hours to spare. Daytime was preferable and I could do without vomit being my first sign that the baby finally decided to be born, thank you very much. This time I’d call my mom, she’d be able to leisurely make the long drive from Minnesota during the day, and I’d truly be in labor when she arrived (unlike last time’s false alarm, when I called suggesting labor might be starting, she hopped in her car probably before hanging up the phone, and arrived on my doorstep well over a week before Kiran showed up. There followed many long long long days of waiting for labor to start with no real signs of anything. My mom and I made the best of it. Had pedicures. Ate German Chocolate cake. Let my ever so easy-going husband cook us dinner. But really, I’d rather have had the baby on time than cake or Szechuan pork). Ideally, this time around my mom would arrive, check in on me and know she hadn’t made the drive in vain, and then go off to do the most important job in my mind–occupy Kiran–while I got down to the real business of bringing his sibling into the world. My ideal plan included a Kiran who was awake, but not too grumpy. He’d be excited not scared. He’d get to witness and perhaps participate in the birth. He’d be his pleasant self, not the “high-maintenance” version of himself that appeared more and more often in the final months of pregnancy. High hopes. Ridiculously high hopes. Therefore, I had LOTS of backup plans in mind, including several back-up babysitters, visions of all the various cakes and spa treatments I’d indulge in, and buckets by the bedside for the throwing up I figured was bound to happen (from labor, not the cake).
So on that sunny February morning, when I had awoken with that indescribable “feeling” of labor starting–part sensation, part intuition, part plain guesswork–instinct told me to call my mom. Even though it was almost a week to go before the first of the due dates, two weeks from the likeliest due date, and a full three weeks from the 41 weeks plus one day gestation Kiran had accomplished, I felt my body preparing for something. I certainly wasn’t about to place any bets, and I definitely did not want my mom driving down this early if the baby was going to wait another three weeks like his brother had. But this time around there seemed to be some solid reasons for summoning Mom. I’d been experiencing the lovely sounding “bloody show” for a couple of days. Contractions were gradually becoming more noticeable and regular than your run-of-the-mill Braxton-Hicks. And it was a beautiful day for driving. Warm and sunny. A Friday, so she’d have the whole weekend ahead of her. And this being February in Wisconsin, you don’t take nice days for granted. A snowstorm was actually predicted for Saturday. What if we brushed this all off as nothing. What if Mom didn’t come today and I actually was in labor by tomorrow? She’d try to drive through a snowstorm, probably ending up stuck in some snowbank on I-94, Kiran would have to be shipped off to somebody else’s house, and ideal plans A and B would be out the window.
So, I called my mom. She said I’ll be right there. I said wait. No, Mom. Mom, don’t get in the car yet. No. I’m not SURE its labor, just a feeling. Really, no, just wait. Let me call Jan. So, I called my midwife. Yep. Blood for the past few days. Yep. Strange, I know, since it is still a while before any of the due dates, but I have a feeling. Uh-huh. Contractions on and off all night long, but mostly feeling kind of crampy. Yeah, a snowstorm tomorrow. Do you think my mom should come today? Yep? Okay, I’ll call her. So, I called my mom again. She was probably already in the car before I could say, Mom, it is a beautiful day for a drive to Milwaukee. I’m pretty sure she didn’t hear me say the next part, because, well, she told me later that she didn’t hear me say it. Which was ”if, like the last time, I’m not really in labor at this moment, you could always just come down, join me at my bookclub gathering tonight, hang out for the weekend and we’ll see if I go into labor. If I don’t, you could easily go back home on Sunday, then come back as originally planned on the 26th.” But, she just heard “labor” and “beautiful day for a drive” and hit the gas, planning not to go back home until a baby showed up.
Phone calls. In this age of voicemail, email, facebook, twitter and tweets, there are still times when you need to actually talk to someone. When you need to talk to your mom. Nirav’s birth story wouldn’t be complete without mentioning another phone call to my mom that happened much earlier. The previous summer I’d marked Kiran’s second birthday by taking a pregnancy test, then surprising my mom, my husband, and my toddler with the positive results. A few steamy July days later, my first morning of a three week intensive Waldorf teacher training, I went off to class filled with excitement for the new round of training and the inner joy of knowing you’re pregnant when no one else around you knows. That first hour I shifted a lot in my chair, anxious, happy, a little queasy. The discomfort I experienced while sitting in class didn’t seem strange since I’ve always had a bit of a “nervous stomach” on big days, and I was, after all, pregnant. There was a tightening pain in an odd place, but I didn’t think too much of it. But at the break when I went to use the bathroom and gushed blood, lots and lots of blood, my mood quickly turned to dread. I’d miscarried before Kiran, a horrible, rush in the ambulance to the ER miscarriage, and I was certain it was happening again. Light-headed and already mourning for the lost babe, I made my way back upstairs and found a quiet place to lie down. Then I called my mom. We grieved a bit together. Then another phone call, to my husband, who offered to come get me but then agreed with my decision to go to his parent’s house, rest, and see what would happen. And a third call in the car, to my midwife who didn’t even know I was pregnant since I hadn’t spoken with her in months. She talked me through the entire drive to my in-laws, which I did sitting on a towel to keep from bleeding all over the seat.
The story has a happy ending. I didn’t pass out or go anywhere in an ambulance. I stopped bleeding. The subsequent blood tests and ultrasound that week all indicated a healthy embryo. A healthy little life that is now named Nirav Anand Shetty. Nirav, Sanskrit meaning quiet, or more precisely the absence of sound. The kind of stillness of creation stories, before the universe came into being when all was still and dark and calm. Nirav, who in his earliest days quietly withstood the storm of my bleeding womb. Anand means happiness in its purest form, the blissful kind. Nirav Anand, the baby I thought I lost but is now here bringing us all joy. He’s a baby, not always happy and certainly not always quiet, but his soul exudes a blissful calm.
Blissfully calm. For the most part, a fairly good way to describe the rest of the pregnancy and, actually, the birth as well. Just as Nirav the baby can’t always be quiet and happy, labor for me wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows. But I really did have my ideal birthing experience, an experience that began with calling my mother and her arriving the day before true labor began. She had a perfectly smooth drive that sunny Friday in February. We spent the afternoon assessing my “condition”, both of us feeling fairly positive that this time around we wouldn’t have days and days to occupy ourselves with decadent desserts and expensive appointments. By that evening, I was experiencing fairly strong menstrual-like cramps. Not contractions, really. Not enough to keep me from going to my bookclub gathering, even though everyone there took one look at me with my mother in tow and asked what on earth I was doing there. What else was I going to do? The spa and bakery were closed, it was too late to ask my husband to make dinner, so I might as well have been with my friends, eating good food while I waited to see if birth was as imminent as I thought.
After bookclub, feeling pretty exhausted, I went home, sat on the couch, and my first strong contractions started. The ones that make you think, okay, we’re not messing around here. But still, they were gradual and not too painful. I left my contacts in so that this time around I would actually be able to see what was happening while I labored and birthed my child (Kiran was all a hazy, very nearsighted blur). I got out the bucket, put it by the bed for the puking I was sure I’d be doing, and went to sleep. A restful sleep, but one in which I was aware of the gentle preparations my body was making. Some shifting. Some tightening. Like good stretches before a run. And I woke the next morning with an empty bucket, a clear head, and a body ready to deliver my baby. (As well as perfect vision. All the better to see you with, my dear wee one.)
I’ve never run a marathon before, but I’ve biked 100 miles in a day, hiked with a fully loaded pack more than 13 miles in one morning, and walked uphill out of the Grand Canyon faster than I walked in. Now, after having twice given birth naturally at home, I will always think of “labor” and strenuous physical exercise in a similar way. Sure labor burns and hurts, but so does biking up a really big hill. They talk about a runner’s high. For me labor is bliss in the same way that a runner hits “the wall” and comes out euphoric on the other side. And when I awoke on Saturday, February 21st, I was ready to scale any wall that would bring me to my baby.
The snow had started. I love snow. I’m a skier and typically I’m the one person in the room who will defend winter to the bitter end, no matter how cold it has been or how much snow we’ve had to clear from our driveways. But throughout this pregnancy, knowing this child picked winter for a birthday as opposed to the summer baby Kiran chose to be, I’d feared that a snowstorm would wreak havoc on my plans for a homebirth. For months I’d pondered the possibilities. How would my mom drive here if there was a snowstorm? What if Jan couldn’t make it in time or at all? What if there were complications and we couldn’t get the car out of the driveway to get to the hospital? But after my night of pre-labor warm ups, I woke up, looked out and saw the snow without any fear or worry. Just the opposite. I was calm. Everything would work out. The snow was beautiful, the world outside was calm and peaceful. My baby would be born during a snowstorm and that was a wonderful thing.
Like the steady but gently falling snow outside, my labor progressed that morning in much the same way. I checked in with Jan now and then, letting her know what my status was so she could watch the weather and choose the best time to make her long drive from Kewaskum. About noon we talked and decided that the pace was picking up and she should come. We beckoned our doula Christy as well, leaving her a message that I was in labor and we were ready for her to come.
As the contractions came and went, while waiting for Jan and Christy, I placidly made my way through the normal daily routine, having lunch, putting Kiran down for his nap, and then settling on to the couch with my mom to watch a little television. That afternoon, my husband was outside clearing snow from the driveway, Kiran was asleep upstairs, and Christy had called back to say she was finishing up assisting at another birth and would be there as soon as she could get away. A good indication of my relaxed state of mind was that, besides being engaged in fairly regular activities, I was also not fretting whatsoever about the snow, my midwife’s long drive, or my doula’s delayed arrival. When Jan came in around 2:30, I was taking everything in stride. Mom and I were still relaxing on the couch, watching of all things, “Bringing Home Baby”, a reality show which profiles a family in their first few days home with a new baby.
This show plays quite prominently in my memory of the day Nirav was born. That day’s episode profiled an Ethiopian woman who had just had a little girl. A beautiful baby girl delivered naturally, successfully breastfeeding, snuggling with her mama while she’d sleep the day away. All notable because, while in my own circle of friends that is normal parenting behavior, on that particular program the theme typically seemed to be one of overwhelmed and sleep-deprived new parents bumbling with diapers, bottles, and bassinets, while their babies made life difficult by not sleeping at convenient times and failing to breastfeed. But not this mother and baby. (A single mother, I might add.) For the first time in all the episodes I’d watched of this program, finally, on the day I was delivering my own child, I saw a mother who reflected my own preference for focusing on the beauty of birth and the joy of a newborn rather than the fear and distress so many parents unfortunately experience in the days and weeks surrounding a newborn’s arrival. Besides the camaraderie I immediately felt with this television mama for her natural mothering, the name she chose for her girl struck a chord with me as well. The name was Anaya. Now, my husband and I had settled on names for this baby several months before. Electing not to know the gender ahead of time, we’d chosen Nirav for a boy and Nayana for a girl, meaning beautiful eyes. All throughout this pregnancy nearly everyone who cared to guess suggested I was having a girl. Kiran, never wavering, also insisted the baby was a girl. My intuition told me it was a boy, but after so many months of repeatedly being told girl, my intuition faltered. And, sitting on my couch in labor, seeing that beautiful little Ethiopian baby girl with a name so similar to the Nayana we’d chosen, I felt it was a sign that the baby was indeed a girl and that her name was really meant to be Anaya. My husband looked up its meaning, found it was also an Indian name, and we decided that would be a wonderful name for the baby making her way it to this world as we spoke. Alas, the baby was not a girl and God only knows if there’s an Anaya in our future. Perhaps. But if we do have another child, I don’t think Nayana will be on the list, for although this child was a boy, our little Nirav has managed to use up the meanings of both the masculine and feminine names we’d picked out during his stay in my womb. Born with startling denim blue eyes, he is quiet Nirav by name but in essence he’s also nayana of the beautiful eyes. At six months old he still has those amazing eyes that continue to surprise us given the improbability of a blue-eyed child of Indian descent.
Of course, when Jan came in and saw me sitting amiably on the couch watching tv, all of this relating to the baby’s gender, name, and features were still pure conjecture. What wasn’t guesswork at that point was my labor. I was certainly in labor, albeit early enough that I was chatty and feeling quite comfortable in between contractions. Within the next hour or so however, I began to feel the need for a little more solitude. Kiran was probably up by then, but I don’t remember since labor had picked up pace and my focus was turning inward.
Our bedroom became my sanctuary. I faded in and out of awareness, concentrating on the push and pull of my body during contractions then resurfacing as they retreated. With each contraction, my mind turned to water, to the lull of the waves of Lake Superior. In the room, there were the soft sounds of water gradually filling the birthing tub. Gentle light filtered in through the skylights. Candlelight flickered, illuminating the beautiful images of my full pregnant belly displayed on the walls. On a table, draped in an Indian shawl from Jan, the colorful beads of my blessingway necklace and beautiful cards reminded me of the loving support encircling me and my baby–a circle of female friends and family that had come together in January to celebrate my journey towards motherhood of two. Their thoughts and prayers were a true presence as I labored in my room, retreating further and further into myself. I felt so honored to be surrounded by such powerful love and so fortunate to be able to experience giving birth yet again. I was vaguely aware of the actual presence of my husband, mother, and son, who all came in and out of the room. I knew Jan was there, busy monitoring me and the progress of the filling tub, reminding me to use the bathroom and rinse with the Hibiclens, a strong antiseptic which was the last step in a long line of proactive measures taken to ensure this baby would not be infected with the group B strep that had landed Kiran in the hospital for fourteen days immediately after his birth. The calm of this labor was not shaken by the real fear I could have allowed myself to wallow in, that this time like the last we would have to rush our baby to the hospital after birth. Somehow, despite the warnings borne of doctor’s fears and the skepticism I’m sure many people felt when I elected to birth at home again, I trusted that my midwife and I had taken even more steps than any hospital would have to ensure this baby’s health.
I was aware of Christy’s arrival, welcoming her and immediately telling her I was fine, to go rest, take a nap. I’ll need you later, I said, but now I’m good. This part I can do on my own. You rest a bit, I said, recognizing the exhaustion one would expect of a woman, herself several months pregnant, who had driven back and forth through a snowstorm to be present at not one but two births in one day.
Falon, Jan’s assistant, also arrived at some point, and her presence further bolstered my spirit. With my dream team of midwives now present and accounted for, my mother and husband waiting in the wings, and my young son happily flitting in and out to watch the baby come out of his mama’s tummy, my ideal birthing plan was becoming the reality. Kiran’s birth had been amazing. An initiation into motherhood so powerful and moving I cry every time I watch the video I compiled of our still images from that day. That day I was strong and powerful, pushing onward through the nausea and pain to bring forth a wonderful new life. But this birth, Nirav’s birth, was an experience at an entirely different level, borne of a more empowered consciousness. Carrying and birthing Kiran set me on a path of great learning and spiritual growth, and this time I was able to draw upon all that had changed within me in the intervening years. I had the strength to truly surrender to the birthing process, while at the same time I maintained a much richer, deeper level of awareness that I had not experienced the first time around. A sense of beauty.
At the blessingway in January, many women brought passages, poems, or songs to share that they felt spoke to the essence of birth and motherhood. My mom chose part of a Navajo ceremonial prayer, a reflection of our mutual interest in Native American cultures and the many profound experiences we’ve shared. With great emotion she gazed directly at me reciting “May I walk in beauty. With beauty before me may I walk. With beauty behind me may I walk. With beauty below me may I walk. With beauty above me may I walk. With beauty all around me may I walk.” The prayer was not new to me, but the connection between mother and daughter at that moment moved me deeply. A short while later, completely coincidentally, three of my friends joined together to sing a song they had chosen prior to my mom’s reading, one that is used often in Waldorf schools. It just happened to be lines from the same Navajo prayer. My mother’s recitation had moved me beyond words, but the voices of my three dear friends singing in harmony moved me to tears. And a few weeks later, birthing in my bedroom, the collective call for beauty was certainly answered. A sense of beauty all around me, all around each one of us present to witness the birth of Nirav.
By nightfall, with darkness settling and the snow tapering off, we were all cocooned within the bedroom. I was in the warm tub with my husband and son close at hand, concentrating on pushing with each contraction. All throughout, Kiran chatted happily, playing with the water, wondering aloud when the baby would come out. Just after six, my water broke with a burbly sploosh through the waters of the tub. As aware as I was of all that was going on, I somehow didn’t quite realize that the baby was much closer to arrival than I thought. With the water broken, the pushing involved very intense rectal pressure and my strength began to falter. With Kiran I had pushed for two hours with focus and determination, slowly, bit by bit, helping him descend towards delivery, his head pushing out, then receding, coming out a bit more, over and over until his arm popped through and his whole head and body were able to follow. With this birth, once I started to feel the urge to push I figured I’d be at it for a while like last time. The pressure was becoming so intense I didn’t quite know how I’d be able to hold on for a couple more hours. Then I heard my mom ask Jan when they’d see the baby’s head, since she remembered watching Kiran’s head come and go for hours. Jan laughed. With second babies, she told Mom, once you see the head, the baby will be here. Any time now, she said. I perked up. I was almost there. Really? Come on baby, let’s go. You can do it. Come to your mama.
And shortly thereafter, twenty minutes after my water had broken, twenty minutes of intense pushing worth every moment, Nirav Anand Shetty made his appearance. Saturday, February 21st at 6:34pm. Kiran was right there beside me and his papa, more than excited to welcome the newest member of our family. I brought my new baby up to my chest, settling the babe as close to my face as possible given the short umbilical cord attaching the baby to the placenta within. A quick feel between the legs, assuming everyone else had been right. A girl. It’s a girl. No wait. A more thorough check. A boy. Another boy! Its Nirav. He’s here.
Mama Bear, Papa Bear, and Toddler Bear. Our threesome suddenly, irrevocably was now a foursome with Baby Bear in our midst. Our little family huddled around the edge of the birthing pool, awestruck at the power of new life. Kiran, in toddler fashion, continued to play with the water, beam at the cameras, and comment on the sudden appearance of the baby. After some time had passed, he and his papa cut the cord, the placenta was delivered, and Nirav and I got out of the tub to begin our peaceful time cocooned in the bed a few feet away from where he was born.
Blissful and calm, snuggled together in our family bed, we spent the next several days within eyesight of his birthplace. A lot happened on the periphery of the new mother and child, phone calls and announcements were made, food was prepared and served, the new big brother was kept occupied, but I was mostly unaware. My baby was in my arms day and night. The days of a thousand kisses and constant inhalations of intoxicating baby smell. The world outside was sheathed in a soft, white blanket. My husband and eldest son were safe and nearby. My mother, in beauty, was all around us. So began our walk in beauty along the path with Nirav Anand Shetty.