Welcoming Kiran Narayan
When Jan asked me to write about Kiran’s birth for her website, I was thrilled to finally have the impetus I needed to start working on a story I’d been intending to write since before he was even born. Throughout the pregnancy, I’d read books filled with birth stories and watched hours of birth videos, all pointing me toward a road less traveled for the birth of our first child. Inspired by the experiences I read about, I followed a natural path towards pregnancy and childbirth–a path that led me to my midwife Jan and her assistant Lucky. Along the way I also met Christy, another midwife who agreed to act as my doula, and Coral, our childbirth instructor, and a whole host of other people whose commitment to a gentle beginning for every child has filled me with hope for what humanity is capable of. It has been a journey that came to be about not just me, or my husband Sandeep, or our son, but a new way of thinking about life, family, and our interconnected existence as human beings.
I knew that I needed to record the story of that journey for Kiran. But, it has been a difficult task. There has been the obvious obstacle of trying to find time to write when a fussy newborn’s needs barely leave you with time for a shower or even, on some days, a chance to go pee, much less any stretch of time long enough to string more than a sentence or two together. But, now that my son is three months old and more independent, and my own personal hygiene can be attended to regularly, I once again find time to pursue more enlightening forms of self-improvement-reading, cooking, a crossword puzzle now and then, and, yes, even writing.
Still, the project of putting Kiran’s birth story down in words has continued to be a challenge. And the heart of the problem lies not with finding time to write but with defining the parameters of a birth story. I’ve told many different parts and various versions of Kiran’s birth to many different people. Which do I write down for this particular story? Where does the story begin, and when will it end?
To the general inquirer, casual acquaintances, and the old ladies who swoon at the sight of a newborn, the story I tell is the simple, sterile, socially acceptable version. I give the facts of the day he was born, the trivial notations people tend to send out in birth announcements along with photos of the babe and an imprint of the tiny foot (or in my little man’s case, the rather colossal foot!). Kiran was born on Sunday, July 2, 2006 at 11:15am, weighing in at 8 pounds 14 ounces. He was 22 ½ inches long. He came 8 days after his due date.
With people to whom I’m more comfortable confiding, I tell a bit more. I might continue the story by adding that, while he was officially 8 days late, in my mind he was really 3 weeks late. I don’t share this with everyone because my notion that he’d come 2 weeks before his due date involves, in part, a complicated combination of my own spiritual beliefs mixed with pure wishful thinking. But mostly it was a matter of intuition, something not everyone gives credence to. I’d had two “gut-feelings” throughout my pregnancy. One was that I was definitely carrying a boy. When shopping or perusing garage sales, I was only drawn to boy clothes or neutral outfits, having no interest in anything pink or frilly. My other, more spiritual premonition was that my baby’d be born under the full moon, which happened to fall two weeks before the due date. Since both my husband and I were born two weeks early, I figured history was bound to repeat itself on what I considered a most auspicious moonlit night. When the full moon came and went, then the due date came and the 8 subsequent days creeped along, I began to doubt I had any talent whatsoever in the gut-feeling department, so I started seriously considering girl names and the color pink.My faith in my powers of intuition were somewhat restored when I held Kiran up off of my chest moments after birth, looked between his legs, and discovered I’d at least gotten one thing right.
Among highly trusted individuals (or complete strangers I know I’ll never see again), I’ll open up even more and talk about our alternative choice for birthing our baby. I’ll tell them that Kiran was born at home, in his own room. This choice seems to frighten a lot of people but was, for us, the best decision we ever made (and one that, once we let go of the cultural notion that birth is synonymous with hospitals and doctors, was the easiest, most natural decision in the world). Kiran made his way into this world in a birthing tub, swimming up to meet me and his papa, who sat behind me in the tub, supporting me through the 1 ½ hours of pushing it took to coax Kiran out.
My mom was there watching, comforting and cheering, ready to greet her first grandchild. Three midwives were also in the room, each of whose presence I count myself blessed to have had. When I talk of this version of Kiran’s birth, I gush. Those moments as a family in the tub, including the labor and the pushing, are truly indescribable. Welcoming our little boy into the serenity of our home, surrounded by loving, peaceful souls, was beyond words.
The best I can do when people ask how the birth went is to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and am looking forward to the chance to do it again. (My lighthearted attitude seems to surprise people to no end. “What? You liked it? No horror stories? No screams? You didn’t ask for drugs?) For the people nearest and dearest to me, those to whom I’m willing to literally lay myself bare, I have something beyond words to express how we experienced Kiran’s birth. I pull out the precious photos that capture his birth (and my naked self) in a state of natural grace and beauty.
The moments surrounding Kiran’s birth, as intense and wonderful as they were, are only part of a journey that began before and continues after July 2, 2006. There is, of course, the story of my late pregnancy and labor. According to records, I labored for approximately 12 hours. Even though we estimate that I officially started at 11pm on July 1st, I can’t pinpoint exactly when I went into labor. Whether it was the night before Kiran was born, when I awoke from a restless sleep feeling a little funny, or 3 weeks earlier when I began having every pre-labor symptom in the books. Considering that I believed my baby would come early, I spent those final three weeks of pregnancy feeling like every cramp and twinge, each Braxton-Hicks contraction, and all that excessive discharge were “it”.
Telling the labor story must include an account of the numerous appointments during those final weeks with Jan, my chiropractor, an acupuncturist, and my family doctor, each practitioner summoning all of their skills to get the “false” contractions to actually do something. Could I tell this story without mentioning all the walks, the belly rubs, and the more private methods Deep and I tried with the intent of getting labor started? How about the herbal supplements, teas, and mounds of eggplant I consumed to try and convince my baby that the time had come to be born? (Unless you really like eggplant, I don’t recommend eating large quantities of it in the hopes of starting labor, no matter what anyone tells you about its properties as a “down-bearing” food. The only “down” quality I discovered was the struggle it became to force it down my throat.) And there was the time-tested method of castor oil, which I toyed with consuming but always put off for “one more day”, knowing it was the last, most noxious, weapon in my labor induction arsenal. The bottle still sits in my medicine cabinet, its viscous contents reminding me to what lengths I’d have gone before allowing a doctor to give me Pitocin.
I may never figure out exactly what combination of factors can actually be credited with getting my labor going. Maybe it was the acupuncture or Jan’s thorough sweeping of the membranes or the horrid eggplant. Maybe it was the presence of my mom, down from St. Paul to wait for the birth and to keep my spirits up in the meantime. Possibly it was the szechuan pork Deep fixed for dinner on July 1st or the documentary we watched that night about the “Curse of the Kennedys” (I can only hope my son was not lured out by the illustrious exploits of the same Kennedys my schizophrenic grandmother often conversed with in her Minnesota farmhouse kitchen). Whether it was because of any of those things or in spite of them, Kiran did eventually decide the time had come (just in time to spare me the castor oil).
Labor started sometime in the night as Kiran began making his way towards his new life. The contractions are a story in and of themselves. Like my son, who from day one asserted himself as a unique individual who doesn’t play by any of the rules outlined in “How to Soothe Your Newborn” books, my contractions too had a strong will that followed none of the patterns outlined in “How Your Labor Will Progress” books. From the start of those crampy feelings on to the gut wrenching tightening up until Kiran was born, my contractions were never much more than 2 minutes apart-none of the progression starting at 10 minutes apart and gradually getting closer for this lady. By the time I knew they were the real thing, I was oblivious to the world, curled in a ball on my bed wondering how I’d managed to skip early labor.
Kiran’s birth story could include the typical reminiscing mothers inflict on newly pregnant women, with gory details about the pain, the exhausting pushing, the poop in the water (mine and Kiran’s), the vomiting (four times! I threw up four times in labor.) I could go into exhaustive detail on those subjects, but honestly they take up very little of my memory space. All of those unpleasant things happened, but I barely remember them, maybe because of the natural hormones that erase those memories and replace them with infinite love for the new human that appears in your arms. Labor and birth are not without humorous moments (in hindsight, of course), which are much easier for me to remember and more fun to talk about. Pooping and vomiting may not be pleasant, but like any sixth grader will tell you, they make for a fantastic story. Actually, throwing up around 4:30am was how I finally convinced myself, my husband, and Jan that I was truly in labor. A few hours before that, when we’d called Jan and told her I was having 30 second, crampy contractions about every 1-2 minutes, she said, “Hmm. That’s odd.” She recommended going back to sleep and waiting to see if I would develop a more regular pattern of contractions. Neither sleep nor a regular pattern ever happened, but the phone call Deep made to say I had just thrown up lasted no more than 15 seconds. I think Jan’s only words were “I’m on my way.” and she was out to her car and on the road in record-breaking time.
Then there’s the tale of the pilot light and pots on the stove. As most women who birth their babies naturally will tell you, there was a point during labor when I did think to myself, “Ah, this is why women want drugs.” I understood the inclination, yet I truly had no urge (nor the drugs) to request pain relief. This story wouldn’t be complete without mention of how I was able to make it through without drugs, relying instead on the awesome power of meditation and the relaxation techniques I’d learned from Coral, and the amazing talent of a good doula. Christy’s calm manner and her gentle, spiritual touch were like a beacon on the water, guiding me up, over, and through the onslaught of wave on top of wave. Besides that I had my own special light ahead in the tunnel-a warm, relaxing birthing tub that I knew was being set up for me. Envisioning sinking into that tub pulled me through the most difficult moments, a reward of sorts I knew I’d receive for all the hard laboring.
I was in a very hazy, inwardly focused state of mind from those initial cramps and vomiting up until the pushing stage, and honestly I don’t remember much of what anyone else around me did or said during those hours I labored, except for one vivid recollection. As I held on tightly to the thought of the cherished tub waiting to soothe me, vaguely listening as the preparations were being made in the other room, I clearly recall the perplexed tone of Jan’s voice as she asked Deep if he’d remembered to turn up our water heater. “Yeah, I made extra sure to turn it up high? Why?” “Well, the water filling the tub is sort of lukewarm”. If anything could have pulled me out of my relaxed, introspective state of mind it was the declaration that I’d be birthing in a cold tub of water! Another contraction set upon me, probably induced by my sudden fear that my light at the end of the tunnel had just been extinguished (along with the pilot light on our water heater, which I found out after the birth was the culprit in this fiasco). I’m sure there was more to the conversation between Jan and Deep, but the contraction sent me even deeper inward. I only surfaced sporadically to hear the clang of pots being put on the stovetop, and busy midwives trudging up and down the stairs to fill the tub with hot water, and clearly hearing Jan yelp out loud once when, I’m guessing, she didn’t quite make it all the way to the tub. Months earlier, when I’d jokingly asked Coral why, during television births people ran around boiling water, I certainly didn’t expect to have a birth that literally involved people running around with pots of boiling water!
While all of the details, serious and lighthearted, do make for good storytelling, they only capture a fraction of the essence of Kiran’s arrival. There is so much more, and the tricky part of writing about the beginning of your child’s life is in defining the time frame of a “birth story”. Is birth a moment in time? Or is it a process that begins hours, or weeks, or even months before the moment a child enters the world? Does Kiran’s existence in this lifetime start at his conception? Maybe Kiran’s life really began with the miscarriage of his sibling that I’d conceived exactly a year to the day (almost to the hour) before he was born. The loss of that baby for whom I grieved so deeply was in reality necessary to make room in my womb for Kiran to grow. Perhaps I even need to go back further, when we as his parents met, got married, and then began to think about having a baby.
And when does Kiran’s “birth” end? The minute he went from inside to outside the womb? What about two hours later? Would Kiran’s birth story be complete without mention of that surreal moment of suspended time during which he stopped breathing? Barely two hours old he turned away from breastfeeding and just stopped breathing. It seemed he contemplated leaving us for good, deciding momentarily that this world wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. While we cajoled and begged for him to return, he was requiring something of us that most new parents don’t have to give in the first hours of their child’s life–the absolute assurance that he was welcome. Did Kiran’s life begin anew when he was quickly resuscitated by Lucky (could her name have suited her any more than in that ultimate display of what it means to be a midwife)? Or does Kiran’s birth story conclude two weeks later when he was discharged from the hospital, where we’d taken him to make sure he wouldn’t slip away from us again?
In my mind a fitting conclusion for his birth story came about when he completed three months of age, the time period some people believe to be a “missing fourth trimester” of pregnancy. Those first three months as a fussy newborn have proved to be drastically different than the much more alert, happy, and interactive phase of infancy he’s moved into now. On a trip to Lake Superior with my mom, planned around all sorts of time constraints, was it coincidence that on the day after turning three months, Kiran and I found ourselves in the exact spot I’d envisioned throughout my pregnancy as I meditated? Sitting on the rocky shore, celebrating his arrival into true infancy, those visions came back to me. All those hours of relaxation practice spent with a mental picture of my unborn child floating in the fetal position, bobbing up and down in the womblike waters of the lake. A lake I’ve always thought of as my spiritual center. In my meditative vision, I too was there, always waiting at a particular spot on Superior’s shore, waiting for my baby to come out of the water.
And there we were, October 3, 2006. My baby was out of the water, in my arms, alive and healthy, and coming into his own as a little human being. It was as profound a moment as the one when I’d lifted him from the waters of the birthing tub three months earlier.
The reality as I see it is that birth is only part of a continuum in our existence, as individuals and as communities, and it is certainly not an event that can be truly honored simply with numbers and dates on a birth announcement. Kiran may have arrived on July 2, weighing almost nine pounds and measuring longer than your average baby, but welcoming him into this world has been an ongoing event that started long before his birthday and, for me, will continue each and every moment I am alive to celebrate his existence.