Roxanne's Birth Story
Roxanne lies on her bed, her belly filled to capacity. Another life squirms inside of her, firmly rooted there and giving no clues as to when she might choose to make the Bryant family of two the Bryant family of three. Instead of feeling the surge of energy the week of her due date, as the books confidently tell her she will, Roxanne surprises herself by feeling blue, and tired as she waits for her baby’s arrival. That the baby will be here soon is undeniable, but for now the stillness is exhausting. Bed has been home Roxanne’s home for the past two days, and still she waits.
Then, on November 17, 2005, she feels a sort of aquatic knocking at her uterus, which she later discovers to be her little Olivia Jane, asking to join her in the wider world. In response, her water bursts forth into a gushing flood. A flood that, magical, turns the blues and the fatigue into energy and ignites the start of a blissful day, a blissful life, for Roxanne, Scott, and Baby Olivia Jane. Like a child on the first day of school or on her way to the circus, Roxanne is blitzed with excitement, high from the promise of what’s to come...
Assuming that she will have hours ahead of her at home, Roxanne calls her midwife Louise, and her parents to let them know that labor has begun. At this time the contractions are a bit sporadic, as one might expect. Within fifteen minutes, however, they are a minute-and-a-half to two minutes apart—unexpectedly fast for this first birth. In her characteristically calm voice, Louise reassures Roxanne from the other end of the phone, saying, take a shower, rest, relax, and call again in a couple of hours.
Roxanne showers and, after and hour-and-a-half, makes the forty-five minute drive from Barrington, Rhode Island, to Wareham, Massachusetts with Scott at the wheel. The Bryants had lived in Marion, the town next to Wareham, at the start of her pregnancy. Life happens even in the midst of pregnancy, however, and this time around their paths brought them away from their place of conception. For Roxanne, Louise’s care is unlike any that she has ever received. In Louise’s presence she feels like a real person, not a patient. Under Louise’s care, she has been taught to see birth as a non-medical process. Normal. Natural. Everyday. After each appointment with Louise, she leaves feeling as though she has just connected with a million other women around the world, all of them hoping to birth their babies in the same, every day-way. For Roxanne, giving birth anywhere else, with anyone else, was out of the question. Place and space do not matter, just the wisdom and company of the woman who will draw her tub, rub her back, give her strength, believe in her, guide her with her eyes, and, of course, bring her baby into the world.
This is not to say, however, that the forty-five laboring minutes in the car are not without some anxiety. Roxanne is well aware that her contractions are closer together than is typical for a first birth, and close contractions never had a place in this car ride as she has dreamt it. Fortunately, any concerns or nervousness dissipate immediately upon their arrival at Louise’s office, and Roxanne is calm in her presence. To her disappointment, when Louise checks her, Roxanne discovers that she is only two centimeters dilated. Having felt such intense contractions only two minutes apart, she was certain that she had progressed further.
The car ride and your anxiety around that trip probably added to the intensity of your contractions, Louise says once she is finished checking her. She then tells Roxanne and Scott to head over to the hospital, just down the street, and as they settle in Louise makes preparations to meet them there.
The Labor and the Birth
Given how close the contractions have been from the start, it is no surprise that Roxanne’s labor begins to progress quickly once she has settled into her room.
For many women who plan to birth naturally and with a midwife, hospital is not a word that fits within their puzzle, but a word, a place, that evokes contrast to their visions of and their desires for their births. The maternity center at Roxanne’s small-town hospital, however, is small, cozy, and quiet. In her room, a woman would never know that someone else was laboring right next door. The privacy, the quiet, the dim lighting, make Roxanne feel as close to home as possible, and this setting, coupled with the midwife at her side, sets a mellow sort of tone that surrounds and comforts her throughout her labor and birth.
Roxanne’s best-laid plans for laboring calmly in the tub change in the face of labor, sometimes a very different place than the dream of it, but still a brilliantly beautiful place. In this moment, and to her surprise, she simply does not want her belly submerged in water. Instead of the tub, Roxanne chooses to get into the shower, where she labors for about an hour. The first nurse is lovely and present when necessary; there is another nurse perched on the toilet, supporting from a distance. Mostly Roxanne focuses on the water beating on her head and back and on her husband’s constant support.
They had been at Louise’s office between 9:00 and 10:00am, and around 11:00am, when Louise arrives at the hospital, Roxanne has progressed from two to five centimeters.
As she labors, the nurses are amazing, impressing upon Roxanne that they are at once there for her, but will fade into the background if she needs them to.. This is Roxanne’s experience, unless she taps on their shoulders, cutting in on their silence to invite them to join in on this beautiful dance. It is as though Roxanne is the dancer and the choreographer, a tiny glowing halo floating just above her head. Those present see that halo and respect its space, the space that she needs to practice these steps, to learn this dance and waltz her way through it.
Since they left their house, in the car and in the labor and delivery room, the music of Allison Kraus has played over and over again in the background, the repetition of the songs and the constancy of Kraus’s voice soothing Roxanne and reminding her of Scott playing his own guitar.
Throughout her labor, Roxanne carries other words with her as well, the words from Ina May Gaskin’s Guide To Childbirth and Spiritual Midwifery, which are as comforting in their repetition as the songs’ lyrics. Her belief in her body’s ability to give birth is strong as she showers, open-mouthed and making breathy noises that repeat as the refrain of her labor. An inextricable part of this strength is the power of the stories of the women before her, stories whose echoes remind her that she, too, can do this.
She remembers the people along the way who felt that by wanting to deliver naturally she was inflicting pain upon herself. “Why would you want to do that?” Was their response of disbelief when she would tell people of her plan to birth naturally. These voices lose out, though, and by the time of Olivia Jane’s pending arrival Roxanne feels a deep peace about the process, believing that her body is designed to endure the trial and power of birth, never worrying that it will be painful, but ever aware and respectful of its difficulty.
Partners Here, Partners There, Birthing Partners Everywhere...
Roxanne’s birthing partner, or one of them, anyway, other than Louise and the nurses, is her husband Scott, who, as it turns out, is much better at all of this business than she ever thought he would be. She assumed he would be squeamish, uncertain, and until now she has not been sure what she will need from him. Instead, he seems to read Roxanne’s mind, to anticipate her discomfort of oncoming contractions, touching her, his finger a point on the back of her neck, easing her body as it tightens with his tiny, gentle touches. With these touches, Scott’s finger in the perfect place, Roxanne transitions effortlessly, without the intensity she has heard about, read about, when it comes to this momentous part of labor.
“Relax”, Louise says as she reads the reflection of a contraction in Roxanne’s body language, “and let it go like a wave through you. Open through it, and ride it out.” With the soft support around her and her belief in her body, things simply progress. Before she knows it, Roxanne, standing now, hears Louise’s voice, soft, smiling, and encouraging once again: “You’re almost nine centimeters. Let’s push.”
After trying to push while standing, Roxanne sits on the birthing stool for a while, and is surprised once again by not feeling an urge to push. Instead, she stays focused on her midwife’s voice, and pushes when Louise’s words tell her to, making progress with each effort, strengthened by the cadence of phrases like “every little push counts.”
Louise carefully watches Roxanne’s movements, listens to her sounds, and considers her recent progression. After forty-five minutes on the birthing stool, Roxanne is told to try pushing on the bed. Louise knows this is what Roxanne needs; her great base of wisdom and experience, and her knowledge of the woman’s body in labor tell her so.
At these wise words, Roxanne stands up for a different kind of transition and exclaims, “Hey, wait a second, I feel something between my legs.”
“That, Roxanne, is your baby’s head,” is Louise’s simple but profound response.
At this point, Roxanne transforms from a quiet laboring woman into a strong and ferocious animal, as natural as can be, and this surge of energy is what allows her to push and progress. As her body moves with her baby, she feels her daughter moving through her birth canal. In this moment, she knows, I am going to take ownership over this, I am getting this baby out. It is with this understanding that the noises of her labor song transform to high-pitched yelps, and Louise assists her in directing those sounds lower, because a deep noise is more productive than a high one. And so embracing belief and trust in Louise, Roxanne responds, letting her sounds come forth from her core.
The contractions reach an intensity at this point that is almost visible and certainly tangible, and nature takes over, leaving Roxanne powerful and powerless at once, as a force so much greater than her little self works to bring the baby forth. A hurricane is happening inside of her, but Roxanne’s small frame--the bones, flesh, heart, and soul that carry this spirited artist--are the elements that come together to bring this newest masterpiece into the world.
Louise really gets on her game now, saying in a nice strong voice, still gentle, but so filled with confidence in what is happening, confidence in Roxanne, confidence in women, “Push, push harder, push. . ..” her brown eyes silently echoing the same.
The nurses flutter like little birds and the lights go down, like a theater at the start of a show, but matter-of fact and non-monumental, special, but normal, natural, this everyday occurrence of birth.
Everything is rolling really nicely now, and it is without question that the moment is upon them, as Roxanne hears, from the foot of the bed, “One last turn and we are there.” Then, “The head is coming…one last push…the head is out.” Suddenly there is no need to push again.
There she is, Olivia Jane, their first daughter, out, pink, beautiful, her head thrown back, held with firm tenderness by Louise’s hands at the neck and bum, arms like little trees and fingers outstretched like stars, her mouth held open in this scream. Jane is what they will call her, Jane, for the grandmother who passed the month she was conceived, whom she will never know, but whose spirit and laughter she inherits.
She’s so large, are Roxanne’s next thoughts, and she just came out of me! Then, Oh my goodness, it’s a girl, as a hundred hands work this tiny body, work it straight on up to her mama’s breast to know her and to nurse.
There’s a calm after the storm now, any pain a distant memory, gone, and a high of pride takes over. It’s so clear to Roxanne, in the peace of this moment, that by design this is what she, what we, are meant to do. Naturally.
Brief Bio of This Powerful Birthing Woman
Roxanne is an artist who currently lives in Rhode Island with her husband Scott, their daughter Jane (3) and their dog, River. She owns a fine handmade stationery company called “J is for Jane,” which she runs from her home in Barrington, RI. Roxanne does detailed pencil portraits of babies and toddlers, custom art pieces for nurseries, baby announcements, wedding and shower invitations, personalized note cards and thank you notes, each handmade with hand-painted details. She gave birth to beautiful Olivia Jane in Wareham, MA at Tobey Hospital.
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