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Happy Birth On The Farm...Except For The Cat

Dearest Baby James Barry (formerly known as Boop),

You are 22 hours old. You are slumbering next to me on the bed. You are a little miracle and a little marvel. I am relishing this time. Midwife Anne has banished me from stairs, and I am glad.  We spent the day in bed together, you and I, and will do the same tomorrow. What a gift.

Your arrival was not so different from what I imagined and hoped for. Still it is a miracle! In 2006 your big sister Elaine June arrived two weeks after her estimated due date. So I did not expect you to come on yours, May 27th. Still, one gets antsy. The days rolled by. I thought you were waiting for June, and expected you on Tuesday, June 1st. 

(Part of why I thought this is because I had dreamt you were a girl.  We thought, were you a girl born in June, it would be fun to name you May--to go with our May girl, E. June.  But you are a boy, and we're so very thrilled that you are who you are! Your dad and sister both thought you were a boy all along.) 

Anyway, on Monday night, I got out my cello. We stretched around it together, you huddled in front of course, and I played "Happy Birthday" to give you the idea, and some Bach suites, and "The Swan," then "Happy Birthday" again before I put it away.  

Tuesday, June 1 went by with more “no baby yet” comments from one and all. On Wednesday night EJ said, “I want Boop to be born on Thursday!” I agreed.

I had assumed that my labor would begin at night, since that's what happened with EJ. Thus, each awakening morning brought disappointment as I realized, yet again, NBY—No Baby Yet. I ate my breakfast yesterday morning, I felt a cramp. Just the same kind of cramp I'd felt in early labor 4 years before...

Artwork by Catie Atkinson of  Spirity Sol

Artwork by Catie Atkinson of Spirity Sol

I told Dave, and felt hopeful. But I was well aware that some women have contractions for days before their babe is born. At 7:30 a.m. I realized that your GrandmaSheena was about to leave for work. I called her off, even though I wasn't sure this was the day. She commenced to work from home. The contractions slowed. Dave went to work; I took EJ to school. The pains returned and were somewhat regular, though, every 20 minutes or so. I left a message for Anne, and called Sheena with a disappointing “no news yet” message. Back at the farm I went on a walk, and the contractions slowed down. It was a nice walk up past the pump house and around to the garden where I pulled a few weeds with the crew. I finally saw the log cabin. I returned and called Sheena again with more non-news.

Dave came home early from work. We had an appointment with Anne, in Suffern, set for 1 p.m.  I didn't want to drive there myself so long after the due date, especially with contractions! In fact I hoped we wouldn't go to Suffern at all and that we'd soon be birthing at home. But the contractions kept petering out, only to come back after a while, only to slow down again. Nothing seemed certain.

Your dad and I picked EJ up from preschool and she ate a packed lunch by the gazebo on the river. The contractions were back, and fairly regularly so, 10-15 minutes apart. I spoke with Anne and all agreed that we should head home. I looked at my early labor list...made a frittatta, moved some stuff around, and wondered when I should call Jean (your GrandmaSheena) to come be with EJ. We didn't want a crowd here waiting for things to get moving, as that would surely slow it all down. But the contractions started to be dependable. We called Jean around 2:45 p.m.  

Grandma Sheena was here by 4 p.m. and took EJ down to the lake. We were timing my contractions, which were coming 7 minutes apart, then 5, then 7. Anne said she'd like to be heading here when they were 4-6 minutes apart, but she could come anytime. Dave and I were torn: we didn't want a house full of folks just waiting too soon...a watched pot doesn't boil! But our friends had just had an accidental unassisted birth since it went so fast!  The contractions got closer together, and Anne was on her way.

Then, of course, the contractions slowed, 6-12 minutes apart. Nancy, Anne's assistant and a wonderful doula, arrived and suggested a long walk. EJ and Sheena came up from the lake, and got ready for yogurt and a bath. I don't know if she ever ate dinner! Anne came, and your dad and I left.  

Up around the farm we walked, through the gardens and the flower area. I had to tell your dad not to pull weeds. We'd stop now and then when I had a contraction, though they did seem further apart. As we descended the hill, there were dark clouds and Dave wanted to hurry. Um, no, I could not hurry! The contractions, though spaced out more, were starting to really hurt. We got home and EJ was excited. I set up a bed on the couch for her and Sheena. EJ wanted my attention and I was trying to give it to her, but the contractions were regular now, and hurting more and more. A movie distracted EJ. I finally realized I needed to settle in upstairs.

We decided to birth in Elaine June's room. She had agreed to this months ago and we'd spoken of it often. Mizoo cat kept attacking poor Anne, as had been his tradition since the home visit.  She set up all of her instruments on a sterile field which he promptly hopped upon between attacks on her.  Dave finally had to trap him downstairs in the bathroom. Patient Anne and Nancy had tried hard to bear with him, but the bugger was relentless. A couple of days later EJ coined the phrase “attackive” to describe him. (He's not like that with everyone; I don't understand! And by the time you're reading this, James, Mizoo is likely to be a mellow old dude, or remembered as such.  Funny, these felines!)

The contractions were closer and more painful but I had yet to have the bloody show or broken water or anything that felt productive. I called Dave at last and moved onto my knees in the bedroom. (I had been pacing the hall, and swaying low with the contractions.) Finally I peed and found some bloody mucous. I don't think it was long after that that I started pushing, and soon enough the water broke. I was glad things were moving on. Nancy kept checking your heartbeat; it was always good and strong. Thank you for reassuring me, sweet James!

Oh, my, I certainly had forgotten the pain! Through each contraction I would remember: breathe low and slow through the pain, stay loose and open, and—the hard one for me—do nothing extra.  It took a long time for me to give in and Do Nothing Extra.  Between each contraction I wanted to give directions on where to find things, what I wanted to drink, that I didn't care if the yoga mat got bloody, etc.  At least, before I finally got myself to shut up, I was able to tell Nancy where to find an empty trash can, as I sensed that I was going to puke. They suggested the green bowl I had there for the placenta.  But it's so dear to me and I didn't want to throw up in it!

Nancy came through, transition came on, I threw up, and at last realized that I had to stop talking and save every ounce of energy to push you out. It was agony for a while. But I pushed with all my might, knowing that I had prolonged EJ's birth by pushing with half-strength for hours. During those most painful contractions I shuddered and moaned, I prayed, and I begged you to please come down, Baby Boop, please come down now. Anne said she enjoyed hearing the horses and sounds of the farm as I labored. I heard nothing, only felt as you slowly descended. All of this time, on my knees, I was squeezing and clawing your dear Dad. He managed to hold my hands, hold a hot water bottle on my back, and massage me all at once, or so it seemed. Anne and Nancy massaged too; it felt so good and eased some of the pain.  

You were low; it was time to wake EJ. I heard her crying before Sheena brought her in. I couldn't talk. She came in crying for me, wanting to snuggle and hold my hair. After trying to calm her, Sheena took her away. Anne said “you can't force these things” and I knew she was right. All along I had known it might not work to have your sister there. I was sad, but I knew I had to let that go and move on and get you born, dear James!

Breathe, low and slow, through the pain. Stay loose and open. Do nothing extra. James, this time I was so grateful to actually feel relief, even briefly, between the contractions. EJ's birth was back labor and there was pain even between. With you there was brief, blessed rest in those middle moments. At one point I asked for the birth stool. I had the idea that squatting might make you come faster. It was awful, though--I felt so unsteady. I remember crying “I hate this stool!” and everyone scrambling to help me turn back to your father, return to my knees, and keep pushing you, and pulling and pawing your dear dad...

The door opened, and Sheena came in, carrying a quiet Elaine June. Dave opened his arms and she crawled in. I even managed, between pains, to tell her I was so glad she was here. So glad, so grateful! She watched, quietly, with the occasional “I love you Mommy, you can do it Mommy” escaping her thumb-stuffed mouth.  

I knew you were low, James, that you were close. But I also knew it could still be a long time. Thepain, though fierce, was now somehow bearable. I shuddered with dread as each contraction came on, but I knew you were coming. Anne held a warm, oiled cloth under me and I pressed into it. Your head was there, with hair. The “ring of fire” stung, but it meant you were so close. I pressed into that warmth, and you came closer each time. But how close? Finally, finally Anne said your head was coming out. Then it was out. Then, with a last surge that took my breath away, you slipped right out behind me. I'm crying even now writing about it, dear baby boy. You came out to tears and joy. I asked “boy or girl?” Anne replied, “I'm not telling!”

I was still on my knees.  Anne passed you in between my legs and I carefully picked up wonderful, slimy you. I thought you were a boy, and checked to be sure. Then I said “it's James Barry Llewellyn!” and held you for your Daddy, sister, and grandma to see. And I held you to me.

Elaine June said “I have a baby brother!”  (She wanted you to be a boy), and/or “just like I wanted”...the truth is I'm not sure. She was thrilled and could not wait to kiss you. (She had been watching birth videos for months and was not alarmed by my screeches nor your sliminess.) Your Daddy said that, when you were born, she gave him “the biggest hug she has ever given anyone”. (That is a big hug, James.) Later, to me, she said, “Mommy, remember when Boop was born, how I gave you so many kisses?!”  

I felt very unsteady and shivery, and wanted to birth the placenta. Anne and Nancy had me lay down and I held you to my chest, baby boy. The placenta came and Anne asked who wanted to cut the cord. I knew your dad didn't. I asked Sheena, and she and Anne asked if EJ wanted to.  She did. Dave asked me, “are you sure?” I said, “she loves scissors!” Anne helped your proud big sister cut the cord. You latched on a little but were really just exploring. We had to get up.

Nancy helped keep me steady for a short shower. As I left, I heard your Daddy say, “he has the beginnings of a beak!”, then he and Sheena discussing your Morrison nose! I went to bed and you were brought to me, dear Baby James. Such a marvel! Such tiny apricot ears and long wrinkly were just inside of me, and now here you were!!! Your fingernails were like daggers, we'd have to clip them soon. Your fingers were so dinosaur like—wide at the bottom and pointy at the top, wrinkly and peely. You latched on. Anne stitched me and cleaned me up some more. As she did I held you under a towel. When it was lifted it revealed what Nancy said was the biggest meconium poop she'd ever seen! We laughed briefly about James and The Giant Poop, while Nancy patiently and tirelessly cleaned us both.

Your sister came to bed -- “I want to kiss my baby brother!  I want Boop!” she said. We told her she had to be gentle on the bed. She was. She kissed you, and has been kissing you ever since. We said goodnight to her many, many times. Sheena kept bringing her down with the ploy of a movie. But that didn't hold. After 10 or 20 minutes we'd hear thumpthumpthump “I want my baby brother!” and she'd come up, climb on the bed, and kiss you and pat you and call you Baby Boop, Baby Brother, Baby James, and kiss you some more. That night she gave you her wee stuffed rooster that she had chosen for you before you were born. It's been your companion ever since.

June 11

Now you are 8 days old.  

The day after your birth Granny Annie and Aunt Suzanne came to meet you.  We all marveled at your purple, waxy peely feet and hands, your dear little ears, your masculine nose.  “His nose has salt on it!” proclaimed EJ, seeing the little white hormone zits.  I think her favorite Baby James miracle is that even your big toes are little; she mentions it daily.  She calls you Baby Brother, Baby James, Boop,  JamesBarryLlewellyn, JamesyJames, JamesyWamesy, and, most of all, Cute, as a name.  “I'm going to call him Cute, because he's cute.”  “I want to kiss Cute!”  She comforts you when I change your diapers, loves to hold you and kiss you and pat you.  She brings me water when I nurse and a burp cloth when you're done eating.  She is constantly talking about when she's older and what she'll do with you, just you: “When I'm thirteen and a half I can take Cute to Big Truck Day all by myself!”, etc and so on.  When Elaine June is asked about your birth, she tells people three things: she watched movies all night, she saw you born, and she got to cut the cord.  

Between movies on your birthday night, your dad helped Elaine June and Sheena blow up blue balloons and put them under the frog outside, so everyone coming to the farm on Friday would know you were here.  That first day we just stared and stared at you.  Dave was bemused that, like me, youbarely have any eyebrows—no hint of his uni-brow.  (“You'd think that would be dominant”, said he.)  I kept wondering how you could be so frog-like and yet so furry, all at the same time.  Your frogginess faded in just a few days as you slowly uncurled into our world.  Now you are peeling off the waxy layer left from inside of me, ever expanding.  You are still so sweetly soft and fuzzy; Daddy calls you James the Giant Peach.  Every day you change and grow.

You were born on Thursday night.  Friday EJ slept at Sheena and Poppy's.  Saturday I was nervous about when she'd crawl in bed with us and what would transpire.  But then, and each night since, it's been fine.  I got up to pee that night, and when I came back, I saw three dear souls, all curled in their own way on our bed.  Between you and EJ there was an empty space just for me, the missing piece in our family slumber puzzle.  Such a sweet, blessed gift.

You sleep most of the time, these days.  You've been merciful at night and somehow seem patient even when poopy or hungry.  If a cry can seem polite, yours does.  When you awake, your Daddy and EJ and I look at you and talk to you and marvel and wonderful, captivating you.  You do seem to smile.  You are strong, lifting your head and even pushing up from your belly.  Both Anne and the pediatrician have proclaimed you “perfect”, which of course we knew already.  

We welcome you, we celebrate you, we thank God for you, Baby James, and we love you with all our hearts.  

Sincerely, sincerely yours, dear James...

Your Mom, and also your Dad and sister too.  And Batchy and Mizoo

Art by Catie Atkinson

Art by Catie Atkinson