When we learned that we were expecting our first baby, we did all the typical things – imagined how we would announce the news on Facebook, called our nearest and dearest, ordered copies of books like What to Expect When You’re Expecting and whatever we could find on queer parenting. I also started dreaming about my birth plan.
I am adopted. This was something I was raised with; I still have the children’s books explaining what adoption is, with pandas and grizzlies that look more like teddy bears.
I was born to a woman of strength, whose family faced hardships I would never know. From the time I was little I wanted to meet my birthmother, just to be able to say, thank you. Thank you for making an impossible decision, because you loved me. Through a series of strange and sad events, after my mother passed, I found my adoption file. From there, Hawthorne was able to find the names of my birthmother and birthfather, and the magic of Facebook did the rest. It took time, but when I was ready, I reached out – and heard back the very next day. They’d never forgotten me. We have been in touch since, finding our way and getting to know each other as strangers with strong bonds do. I was fortunate enough to meet my birth family just weeks before Oscar was conceived.
That being said, I knew very few birth stories that didn’t have some sort of trauma associated with them. One close family member gave birth to her first son when doctors put women under “twilight sleep;” she said that she knew she had a baby because the clock on the wall was different when she woke up than it had been before. My mother who raised me had been unable to have children, the reasons behind which are buried with my parents. My birthmother had her impossible decision to make, the gift of a different life. And my mother-in-law had nothing but horror stories about my wife’s birth.
I didn’t want trauma in my birth plan.
I’m a witchy, queer, liberal feminist (there’s a reason I fit in so well in Vermont, after all!); I wanted my child’s birth to be full of love and light and song. I wanted a birth without medications, without induction or surgery. I originally wanted a home birth, and Hawthorne and I saw each other through the disappointment of my chronic high blood pressure to require a facility birth. That’s how we found our amazing care team; in a state where “you can’t get there from here,” our local (25 minute drive) hospital had a birthing center with a more holistic approach, staffed by midwives, nurses, and doctors. We worked with them to build an approach to welcoming our baby that left me feeling empowered, if not in control.
Oscar died in utero sometime in the early hours of July 17, 2018. By 11 AM, he was confirmed to be gone by ultrasound, surrounded by our care team. They had to ask me the impossible; a different impossible than my birthmother had to decide. I was asked to labor and deliver our baby into the world, where he would never take a breath.
I get angry when I hear women referred to as the weaker sex, even in historical contexts. Because I know, firsthand, the strength in women’s tears, and the depthless compassion in their hands.
In my wife, our chosen family, our nurses, midwives, and doctors, in the earth herself; even knowing that Oscar would never see me, they held me up and helped me do something that only I could – give our son a birthday.
Through the second night of induction medication, they took turns guiding me through contraction after contraction. When my blood pressure climbed, they got me into a tub, and comforted me when my water broke like a cannonshot. They kept my head out of the water when I would fall asleep between contractions. When I whispered that I can’t do this, they reminded me I could, that I was the only one who could, but I wasn’t alone. Pushing, panting, I felt the crescendo of the millions of mothers who had come before me, and those who were endeavoring with me. These women – partner, family, provider, ancestor, and earth – lifted me, holding me aloft as I bore down to bring our son into this world on July 19, 2018.
And when that crescendo faded, they remained. They tended Oscar, my wife, and me. They held us, wept with us. They helped us make memories we could keep and hold.
Giving birth to Oscar was one of the most empowering experiences of my life. Even though he was born sleeping, one of his gifts was a birth story I can find solace in.