Friends and family keep telling me that they’re eager to hear the story of my son John’s birth. I’ve been having a difficult time figuring out what to write though, because besides the arrival of another incredible child into our lives, there wasn’t much to write about outside those little details that mothers can’t help but remember, and love to ramble on about. He was born at about 9:10, the morning of July 18th, 2001. I had felt strong and regular contractions from about the time that I first began feeling little Johnny’s first kicks, but the time between my first awareness that birth was close and the actual birth itself, was fairly short.
About a week or maybe more before John’s birth, the contractions became gradually stronger, and there was one evening there where they came within minutes of each other for a few hours before they went back to being spaced a half hour or more apart. Then during the night before he was to be born, I woke up from the strength of the contractions — maybe five or six in all. I wasn’t hurting, just very aware of the intensity of the muscle action in my belly and the familiar catch in my breath, and simply couldn’t sleep through it. I woke up fully that morning when my husband’s alarm clock rang (about 7:00), and snuggled up to his warm back after he hit the snooze button. I told him then what had been going on in the night and he asked if today was going to be “the” day.
At that point I wasn’t 100% sure and said that he probably ought to stay home, at least for the morning, to see how I would feel later on. So we lingered in bed a while, snuggling and whispering. We made love, and snuggled some more, and eventually headed downstairs to get some food. I suspected weeks before, that I would want french toast and coffee for breakfast the day this baby was to be born, and sure enough that sounded just right. So John (who makes my favorite french toast) set to work at the stove, while I relaxed in a comfy chair at our kitchen table where we could chat.
I had a couple of contractions seated there at the table, while he was cooking and then while I ate, and during one of those my water broke. At some point I brought out a new shower curtain and the same flannel sheet that my third daughter Cierra was born on, and laid it at my feet on the kitchen floor. John asked me if I was really going to give birth in the kitchen and at first I thought yes — it was really cozy there between the table and stove — but after thinking how the hard floor might make my knees ache after a while, I decided no, and moved the sheets to my living room floor in front of the window bench.
The bench was just the right height for me to kneel in front of and rest my upper chest and head on. This position allowed me to relax really well while not blocking my baby’s progress, which felt important. By then the contractions were very strong, and while we never timed them, I’m quite sure they were irregularly spaced until the very end. I really didn’t want to hurt, so I focused intently on relaxing completely and opening up. My third daughter, Cierra’s birth was very quick and almost painless, but throughout it I was aware that I was resisting and not allowing it to happen as fast as I knew it could. Ever since then, I had been asking myself why I had tensed up, and wondering what I could do the next time to avoid that. I never did come up with an answer or plan, but I did know that my fear of pain had something to do with it, and that the remedy was relaxation.
So this time, relax is what I did! I didn’t do anything special, no meditations or breathing techniques, I simply thought as each contraction came on, “Okay, now I just need to relax and let this happen,” and I did. I consciously chose to focus on what was happening — my baby was moving down and coming out — and released the tension in all the muscles I could feel, over and over as each contraction came. All in all I probably had less than ten there in the living room, but time seems to stall when I’m in the middle of labor. At one point a contraction began hurting, and I told John plaintively that I didn’t want it to hurt. We talked a bit about that, and I remarked at how strange it is that I am so concerned about such a short and small amount of pain, but I am. I jokingly said that it was unfair that I had to “suffer through this” while he got to simply wait and have the joy of a baby at the end. I know some people would consider it “wimpy”, but I just don’t want to hurt!
Ironically, it was John who got tired and sore, because after that painful contraction I asked him to put pressure on my lower back. I was having back labor I guess, but once he got positioned in the right spot, his whole 190 lbs resting on those two little spots beside my tailbone, all the pain went away! I actually had the thought, “It’s like I’m cheating! I wished for it, and all the pain went to John!” I liked feeling the labor in my back even better than my other labors where any sensation of pain was focused in my belly. I had never found such a “magic spot” to put pressure on, to relieve the pain there, at least. A few times John went to shift his weight or move, and I immediately protested, “No! No, keep pushing!” until he did.
So all this happened in a matter of minutes and I had already been bearing down from before the time my water broke in the kitchen. At some point I turned sideways to the window seat and rested my hands and sometimes my head on the floor. When the baby’s head began to emerge I reached down to feel and thought sure I was touching something other than a head. What I felt was wrinkled and lumpy, and I remembered my girls’ heads all being smooth and rounded so I asked John, “What is that? It doesn’t feel like a head.” But he assured me that it was indeed a head, and I kept pushing. For some reason I felt an instinctual urgency to get the baby out at this point, though it wasn’t fear. I didn’t feel like something was wrong, just like the baby needed to come out now.
As soon as his head was all the way out to the neck I reached down with both my hands and said out loud, “Pull him out.” Then I felt a burning sensation toward my back and assumed John was indeed pulling the baby upward, so I instructed, “No, not up, pull down!” Later I asked him about this and he said that he hadn’t pulled, but tried to find an armpit to hook his finger under and that’s probably what burned. Anyway, with some gentle tugging from both of us, the rest of this warm, wet baby wiggled out. It didn’t take more than a few seconds, but it also wasn’t as slippery-quick as the way my daughters had all slid out fast after the head, and that was kind of interesting.
I don’t remember the exact order in which things happened after that, but we had rested baby right between my knees so I simply sat back. I picked him up and rested him on my chest, and John turned off the ceiling fan and brought me a towel to keep us warm. Somewhere in there, this little baby stuck his thumb right into his own mouth and started sucking like an old pro, which surprised me some at first, but then I remembered feeling an odd pressure near my pubic bone many times during the pregnancy. Two months later he still sucks his thumb, and now I suspect that he had been thumb sucking all along.
At some point John also lifted up a little leg to discover that our newborn baby was a boy! This was our Johnny — John Preston Morgan the third to be exact — who’d been named long, long ago and whom we’d felt sure was coming to us some day. We were shocked! After three beautiful baby girls, we just gave birth to a boy. And so fast! I hadn’t calculated a “due date” (knew they were no more accurate than guessing by the size of my growing belly) and right up to the night before I felt that I could easily stay pregnant another month, so the timing was a wonderful surprise as well. All week long after his birth I marveled that our baby was “already” here.
Little John’s actual birth date also turns out to be rather remarkable, because big John and the first born (all boys) of his aunt and cousin on his mother’s side, were born on the 18th of their birth months. Also, for three generations, the only boys born on big John’s father’s side of the family were on the years ending in 1 (as in, his father in 1951, his uncle in 1961, himself in 1971, and now his son in 2001), though many girls were born in the family in other years except those.
Once we snapped out of our initial reverie, we remembered that the girls were still sleeping. So John ran and woke them so that they could come meet their new baby brother. Instantly Christiana (6) and Angelica (4) bounced and bubbled down the stairs, and just about burst with excitement and joy at the sight of him. Cierra (2), our little budding actress, sat down next to me and put on a face of mild amusement. She wasn’t upset, but was and remains unimpressed about her new little brother; always hugging and kissing and cooing and protesting her love for him, but never getting quite so giddy and silly about it as the other girls.
We took some pictures then, and moved to the sofa across the room, where we snuggled and talked excitedly to and about baby Johnny. Eventually I felt contractions again, and pushed the placenta out onto the towel I was sitting on. I didn’t have anything prepared to tie the cord with, because I had sort of hoped to wait to cut it until after it was dried enough that we wouldn’t need to tie it at all. But John feels better having our babies’ cords tied, so after a few hours with the placenta sitting wrapped next to us, he convinced me to finally fish something out of my sewing box. So our beautiful little boy ended up with a pink ribbon on his belly for a few days. We left the cord stump alone and it dropped off Saturday morning, two days later.
That’s all there was to the wonderfully ordinary birth of our fourth child, our first son, John. Many friends and acquaintances have remarked to me since then, that I am “so brave” to give birth without monitoring and interference from outsiders, but I must disagree. It takes no courage to sit back and enjoy something so natural, simple and safe. What takes courage sometimes, as one of my neighbors pointed out, is to do what you know is right and best for you, despite a lack of support or understanding from friends, family, and society in general. But that is something that we all have the capacity to do, and I hope my story encourages others to do the same.