In the months leading up to Zoe's arrival, I did a lot of writing. The day I found out I was pregnant, when we realized how tiny the new life inside me was, I opened a new file on my computer and called it Letters to a Poppy Seed. I wrote letter after letter to her, telling her all about how excited I was, how she made me feel, how I couldn't wait to meet her. I might share those letters someday, I might not; I'm not sure. I wrote the last one on the Sunday afternoon when I went into labour, and it's sitting unfinished on my desktop because I didn't know how to end it. I couldn't come to grips with the fact that I was about to meet my child, and so I just stopped writing and went to spend time with my family before everything changed.
Today I will to start writing again, but not to Poppy Seed. Not to an unknown someone inside me. To my daughter. To Zoe, whose name means life.
I don't know what this blog is going to look like now; I've told you that already. I don't know if I want to become a 'mommy blogger,' and I'm unsure how much of my daughter's life I want to post online. I'm just going to take it one day at a time. I'm pretty sure that's the only way this works. But right now, with Zoe making soft little cooing noises as she sleeps on my chest, I want to share the story of her birth.
Fair warning: this will be long. It's hard to choose just a few words about the best day ever.
I loved being pregnant on the ship; I loved being part of a community at such an incredible time, loved being surrounded by people who are going to love this baby so much. But as my due date came and went, I found myself increasingly drawn inwards. Like a cat who skulks off to a hidden corner to have her kittens, I became fiercely protective of my privacy. Forget house cleaning and sewing; this was nesting.
I woke up on Sunday morning to the familiar braxton hicks contractions, but these ones continued throughout the morning. People at church speculated on when I'd deliver, telling me I hadn't dropped so it would still be a while, and the whole time I smiled and laughed and knew that they were wrong. This was different.
I spent the afternoon timing contractions and taking a walk and then we all ordered Indian food and had a feast while my back started to hurt more and more and the reality of the whole thing started to sink in. I remember sitting at the table and thinking, This is the last time I will eat butter chicken before my child is born. There was a fitting symmetry to it, to be honest, since that's the exact meal that marked the beginning of my morning sickness back in December. A whole pregnancy, neatly bookended by butter chicken.
Throughout the past nine months I'd become very set on having a natural birth. I'm a willing and active participant in the healthcare system, but I knew that I wanted to have this baby without a lot of interventions from others. So all through that long night we stayed home, timing and breathing and waiting for the morning. My mother stayed up for a few hours with me and Phil did the same, but I spent most of the time alone, pulling further and further into myself, preparing.
When the sun finally rose we called the ultrasound office to cancel an appointment I was supposed to have that morning and went to the OB's office instead. They sent us straight to the hospital, and we arrived around ten thirty on the Monday morning. It's a strange feeling when you ring the buzzer on the maternity ward, they ask you what they can do for you, and the answer is, I'm here to have a baby.
The next six and a half hours are a blur, and I spent very little of the time with my eyes even open. I was having back labour, a tidy little phrase that doesn't really come anywhere close to describing the feeling of ones tailbone being ripped out of ones lower back. Repeatedly. For hours on end. This is where it comes in handy to have a personality as stubborn as mine. Because I had spent my entire pregnancy focusing on having a medication-free birth, it never even occurred to me to ask for anything. I just went into some sort of a trance, humming through each contraction and occasionally coaching myself in an obscure Zambian tribal language, a leftover shred of knowledge from a summer spent delivering babies in a bush hospital.
It helped that the team around me was incredible. Our nurse was totally on board with the idea of a natural delivery and left me pretty much alone, hooked up to a wireless monitor so I could move around as much as I wanted. The midwife from my OB practice was the one on call that day, and she's been supportive of my plan since the first time I met her. Zoe was positioned wrong for most of the day, facing my hip rather than my back like she was supposed to be, and the midwife helped me get into different positions to help her turn the right way. My mom acted as my doula; every time another contraction would hit and I was sure I couldn't do it, her voice was in my ear. You are doing this, and so I would make it through one more. Phil was the designated back-rubber; one very specific spot on my lower back had to be rubbed in a very specific way pretty much constantly, and he got the job. For six hours.
We listened to music (Pandora's Jewel station will forever have a special place in my heart) and I breathed and hummed and for two and a half hours nothing happened. I was stuck, not dilating any further, right on the edge of transition. (Those of you who have had babies know what that means; those of you who haven't should just thank your lucky stars you don't.) My midwife eventually offered me the option of starting a very low dose of pitocin to see if it would push me through the last couple of centimetres, and my mother (a former labour and delivery nurse herself, which is why I had her in there to make decisions when I was in my labour trance) agreed.
Half an hour later I was ready to push, and half an hour after that, my mum told me to open my eyes, because Zoe was almost here. The midwife delivered her head, unwound the cord from where it had twice wrapped its way around my daughter's neck, and then she looked up at me, grinning, and this is when possibly my favourite moment of my entire life thus far happened.
Come get your baby, she said to me, and as I reached down I suddenly remembered that I didn't know if she was going to be a boy or a girl. I grabbed her body, so small in my hands, and delivered the rest of her right onto my own chest. In thinking about that moment so many times during my pregnancy, I'd pictured a big announcement. It's a girl, or something along those lines, but in reality, all I wanted to do was claim her by name.
It's Zoe! Not just a girl; Zoe, and I couldn't stop laughing and crying and speaking her name over and over. My daughter, warm on my chest and staring up at me with the darkest eyes and suddenly I was a mother and Phil with tears in his eyes was a father and all of us had just been part of a miracle and nothing will ever be the same.
I've spent the days since her birth drinking her in. I stare at her when she sleeps, amazed that she's mine. I find myself almost giddy with the joy of being a mama, exulting in every little thing she does as if she were the first baby ever to stretch or coo or lift up her head and look at me. I see Phil with her and my heart swells with a love I don't have words for; now more than ever he is the Husband of Joy, and watching him kiss her pillow-soft cheeks and change her diaper and rock her to sleep makes me love him more than I could have imagined possible.
Some girls spend their childhood planning their weddings; I spent mine planning to be a mother, decorating a thousand nurseries in my head, doodling baby names in the margins of my notebooks. Now that Zoe's here, the reality is so much richer than anything I could ever have imagined. I can't wait to share our journey together.
Right now, though, there's a hungry baby waking up on me, and I'm going to go feed her. I'm sure there will be more to post in the days to come. We've got a lot planned in the next two months, including Zoe's first trip to Canada and our first trans-Atlantic flight as we head back to the ship as a family at the end of October. For now, here are some pictures to hold you over. We're obviously biased, but we're fairly sure we've managed to produce the most beautiful baby in the history of the world.