May 30, 2013

Luca Byrd Fiscus: our birth story

she's here. she's perfect. she's one month and four days old, and she's getting chubbier every day. I want to remember everything. Luca Byrd Fiscus, here is your birth story.

april 26, 2013

It’s 2:30am. We’re all asleep – Jim, Ellis and myself – with full bellies from the big meal I cooked earlier in the evening. It’s a full moon, a fact I’m hyper aware of every time I wake with a tight belly and bursting bladder. I’ve made this trip a few times already tonight, but it’s different this time. As I walk past Jim’s sleeping shape, I feel a trickle down both legs. My water breaking. I know it, instinctively, though there is no big pop or gush. Here we go, I think… though part of me wonders – now and for the entire labor – if this is really real.

I know not to get my hopes up. It could be urine leaking, or even if it is my water breaking, it’ll probably be hours before I’m in active labor. I touch it with my fingers and feel its sliminess. Definitely not pee. I climb back in bed – I should rest up, right? – and wake Jim to tell him. He asks if I need anything, what time it is, what I think I should do. Sleep. Only – I can’t. I get semi-comfortable on my right side (where I’ll remain for the better part of the following morning) and just feel it. Feel the contractions coming every so often. Too often for this early, I think. But what do I know? This is my first baby, my first time laboring. I’ve got to toughen up if I’m going to make it.

Out of bed and into the nursery, where I labor on my hands and knees on the bed we’ve set up in there. My old mattress, Jim’s old bedframe, the quilt my great grandmother made, the room my parents helped set up, the most peaceful room in the house. My baby girl’s room. I text my doula at 3:53am. “I’m pretty sure my water broke 2 hours ago. Didn’t smell like pee and more came out when I lifted my belly. It’s bloody. Having pretty steady contractions, pain mostly in my back.” She responds quickly: “Charlotte will come to you…are you still leaking fluid?” Charlotte is her back-up doula; Teresa is with another laboring mom. I’m disappointed – but also so out of it that it doesn’t really register.

I wake Jim at 4:30, and he takes over the communication. We speak with Charlotte, Teresa, my parents, and ring the midwives to let them know it’s starting – and that I want a room with a tub!

At this point – two and a half hours after my water breaks – my contractions are coming every 4 minutes and lasting for about 45 seconds. They’re too fast. We’ve planned to see a movie once labor starts, and I definitely can’t see a movie right now. All the while, I’m thinking to myself, “Is this real? Is this happening?” It hurts, but it passes. I’m totally zoned out, still hurting in my back, still on my hands and knees. At some point I ask for banana bread and orange sherbet. And lemonade. Energy.

Teresa tells Jim to get me in the tub. “Tub is the great tester… will speed up active labor and slow down early labor.” Jim draws a tub. The water is too hot, he tells me, and makes it cooler. UGH. I’m in the tub from 5:15 until we leave for the hospital, about an hour and a half later. I’m so cold, shaking uncontrollably. Jim wets a full-size towel and drapes it over my body, feeds me sherbet and lemonade, struggles to get information out of me – specifically when exactly the contractions start and end. Can’t you tell??? He’s on the phone more with Charlotte and the midwives. The contractions are not slowing down; they’re speeding up. I’m so cold, I want Jim to hold my hand for the duration of the contraction. I’m so out of it; I just want my mom to get here. I’m waiting for her to leave for the hospital, I don’t want to go before she arrives.

Jim is great. He handles all the logistics – including packing the hospital bag that we have not yet finished (though I’m already two days past my due date). I planned to finish it once I started laboring – I wanted tasks to keep me busy, to keep me home as long as possible. I’d expected contractions 15 minutes apart in the beginning, or at least 12. Not 5. He also finally lets me run that hot water, rewets the towel to help keep my shivers at bay and gives me lemonade, holds my hand, and communicates my progress.

My eyes are closed. The lemonade is good. The banana bread smells too banana-y. My head will have a big knot on it tomorrow from my position in the tub (laying on my right side). I consider hands and knees, but I’ll be too cold, too far out of the water. I just want my mom. Is this real?

At 7, my parents arrive. My mom and Jim coax me out of the tub, and I’m immediately on the floor to ride out another contraction. I don’t care what I wear, but it’s cold this morning (they tell me) and I guess I need to be dressed for hospital check-in. They get me into a sports bra, a gown, robe and slippers. I see my dad walking into the house. He takes one look at me and understands. No pleasantries, no kiss hello, just get me into that car. I ride the 2 miles in the backseat, my head in my mom’s lap and Jim driving. We arrive at 7:30am, and a man meets us at the car with a wheelchair. As soon as I sit, I realize I can’t. It feels like the baby’s head is already crowning, and I cannot sit in this wheelchair for the trip through the hallways and up the elevator to the third floor. I tell the nice man pushing me to stop, that I can’t sit, that I need a stretcher. He kindly ignores me and keeps pushing, but I CAN’T. I stop the chair with my feet and lunge out, back onto my right side. Right on the floor in the entrance to the hospital. I tell them I need a stretcher, and they know I’m serious. I won’t get up until I get one. My sweet mama kneels down beside me, and my sweet husband takes my picture.

I’m having contractions the whole time, holding Jim’s hand and calling for my mama. I just need to know she’s there. She’s so comforting, Jim is so strong. I don’t open my eyes until well after we’re in the room, and I don’t even think about whether or not the room has a tub until after Luca is born. The one thing that really mattered, didn’t. Of course. They put me on the bed, hands and knees. The midwife – Anna, one I’ve not met yet but my mom knows – asks if I want to be checked. Yes. She tells me I need to get off my hands and knees to get an accurate check, so I roll over. 6cm. I knew it. Then I’m down on the floor, on my right side. It seems more stable, as if it will hold me through these contractions and give me something to push back against. I labor this way for a long time – still every 2-3 minutes and super powerful. Amniotic fluid gushes out with every contraction, and I DO NOT CARE. The next time they check me – an hour? an hour and a half? later, I’m 9.5 and feeling the urge to PUSH.

I’ve been told that being checked for dilation is painful, and to avoid it if possible. But somehow I know I’m dilating fast, and while it’s uncomfortable, it doesn’t hurt. This is a relief.

By now, the midwives have had a shift change and I’m with Anna (a different one, who luckily I’d met at my last prenatal appt) and Toni, an older, calm-spirited lady that Jim and I both like. Anna tells me I can push, even though I’m not yet at 10. So I do, I PUSH. Anna tells me I need to move to the bed to deliver the baby, so I climb up there and push for a bit, then they get me on the toilet seat with my legs hunched up and my back leaning forward. I think it’s while I’m here that Luca’s head starts to show.

Anna and Toni are back and forth between me and another mom who is laboring down the hall. It throws me off when they both leave, even though I know the nurse is great. I just don’t want anything to change at this point. I’m scared, and it is throwing me off.

They’re both in and out, and they eventually have me move to the bed. For some reason, I’ve convinced myself I don’t want to deliver on my back. (I know the reason. It’s the photos in Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth of ancient women birthing. None are on their backs, so I won’t be either. Right.) I try my hands and knees, I try my side... but my back is most comfortable, and it’s how I end up delivering. They do lower the bottom part of the bed so I’m sitting up, sort of hunched over, and my feet are not in stirrups, they’re either being held by people at my side or resting on the bed. I push and push and never really think about an epidural, except for one fleeting thought that even if I did want one, it’s way too late for that. Good.

The pain doesn’t end up being a barrier. It’s the fear of ripping. Since my labor has been so fast, I’m scared my body hasn’t had time to properly open for the passage of my baby. They’re telling me to push through the pain, to meet it and use it. But I’m just scared. I keep calling out for my mama, and holding her gaze. I’m scared. Jim is so great, he coaches my breathing between every push, tells me I’m doing great, gives me water. He later tells me that at some point he stopped asking if I was thirsty or wanted water – he just shook the cup beside my face, and hearing the ice, I would open my mouth and drink.

It won’t be until my labor is over that I realize my eyes have been closed for at least 90% of the 3 hours I'm in the delivery room before Luca is born. I am SO into myself, in "labor land." I see nothing outward; I am inward and pushing with everything I’ve got.

I’ve read how to do it, to try the horse’s lips or to picture yourself as a wild animal giving birth. I told this to Jim a few days earlier, and we joke that I’ll be a mama bear. He whispers into my ear during labor, “You’re a mama bear!,” but the only purpose it serves is to make me laugh – which is not a bad thing. I’d also read that it’s helpful to make low, grunting noises, and to push like you’re having a bowel movement. I think knowing both of these things helped – but I didn’t really understand how to apply either until I was actually pushing. Anna says, “the noises you’re making are okay, but we really want you to channel that energy downward.” My pushing ends up being silent during the hardest part, with screams at the end of each. Screaming so much that my voice is hoarse for the next week.

Does it hurt? Yes, but I’m doing it! They can see the baby’s head, and I can even feel it with my fingers. I know there is an end in sight – though an hour into pushing I start to wonder where, exactly, the end is.

Toni is at my head and I tell her I need help. I need to be told how to push. I need to be comforted. She and I make eye contact, and something happens. Without speaking anything, she is telling me I can do it. There is a connection, and after that, I’m no longer scared. I’m ready.

Here is how it happens. Toni holds two ends of a bedsheet, and has me grab the middle of the sheet, the curve of the u. When I have a contraction and push, she tells me to hunch forward, tuck my chin into my chest, and PULL on that sheet as hard as I can. I’m conscious of the clock in front of me – not of what time it is – but of the fact that I want to give birth before the turn of the hour. With each contraction, Jim is there beside me. He is so strong, he has me take three deep breaths between each push. This is key – it gives me time to regroup, and keeps me from passing out from the effort and not breathing during each push. I’m PULLING as hard as I can, being told by Anna to hunch forward. Toni leaves to check on the other laboring mom, and Anna is there. She is so calm. It’s during this time that she says, “the baby just flipped!” Apparently she’d been sunny-side up the whole time – which explains the back labor/pain – and flipped just before crowning. I don’t know this at the time – it scares me when they say she flipped. Is that a good thing? What happened? What does that mean? I didn’t know babies did that. It takes me a minute to regroup, and I don’t ask them to explain until well after Luca is born. A short (long? I don’t know. I have no real sense of time here) time later, Anna is called into the other room with Toni. She hesitates, then says she isn’t comfortable leaving, that I’m close. I’ve gotten kind of discouraged – they’ve been able to see her head for so long, but I don’t know if she’s descending or how much longer I have to push to get her out. I want to be told – only 10 more pushes! – or something, but of course there is no way of knowing that. Anyway, Anna’s deciding to stay gives me strength. I'm pushing and pushing, and suddenly she’s yelling “baby coming!” and suiting up, getting gloves on and things are getting serious. I’m still scared, but IT’S HAPPENING! I can do it!

I’m pulling on the sheet so hard. The nurse has taken over for Toni holding the two ends, and I yell at her to pull the sheet harder. I’m not getting enough resistance, I am pulling SO HARD. The sheet is great; the pulling helps me hunch forward, distracts me from my fear of the pain, from the effort of pushing, and gives me something tangible that I can DO. After I yell at her to pull harder, I hear them say her head is being born. And it’s out. It hurts so bad, but it’s out! I did it. I know the body will be easy compared to her head, and it is… but Jim and I have previously decided that he would deliver Luca, and he has to put on gloves AND move from my side, where he’s been coaching me the whole time, to the end of the bed. I’m sure these two things take just a second, but it feels like an eternity. Anna tells me not to push, to wait for Jim. “HURRY” I scream in a quaky voice. He does, and he delivers her. He brings our baby girl into the world.

10:42 am, weighing 7.1 oz, 14 in head, 13 in chest and 20 in long. With just a single push, her body slides right out, and they put her right onto my chest. I’m wearing a sports bra that Jim gets my mom to quickly remove before they place her on my chest. We are skin-to-skin, mama to baby. I’m a little bit in shock and awe. This is my baby! All the vernix, all that hair! Ten fingers and ten toes. Blue eyes just like in my dream. It is so beautiful and surreal. I HAVE A BABY! Mama and Jim are with me, taking her in, soaking her up. OUR BABY GIRL. She’s here, even though up until the end I’ve wondered if this is really happening. Oh yes, mama, it’s real.

My afterbirth sucks. The placenta is easily delivered; I hardly feel it. There is lots of bleeding, which they think is coming from my uterus, so Toni puts one hand on my belly and the other up the birth canal to the press on the uterus. It hurts SO bad. It’s worse than the contractions, than the pushing. It seems like it goes on for a long time, and I’ll be sore from this more than anywhere else in the coming days. They eventually realize the bleeding is coming from two small tears, and refocus their energy. Lidocain and stitches, not so bad. But it was hard to focus on my new baby with the super pain below. After that’s over, Luca nurses. I want to hold her here forever. This is my baby, I keep thinking. My dad comes in, and Ellis and Iris and Myrlene.

We stay in the hospital for just over 24 hours, and everything is perfect. My baby, Luca Byrd Fiscus, whom we name just before checking out, is perfect. It's the beginning of a love story. Sweet little baby.

I dreamt we named her Luca, and Byrd was Jim's grandfather.


I had the birth I wanted. I never doubted that I would be able to bring my baby into this world with my own strength, and what a blessing it was to do so. I personally loved being so present, feeling what it took to bring this girl into our lives. She did her part, and I did too; we're in it together. Yes, it hurt, but I loved knowing that no drugs were being transferred to my baby during birth. She lay calmly on my chest for an hour and a half after birth, and her latch was easy. The most peaceful baby, she didn't cry until they took her to the nursery to bathe her a few hours after birth. I loved being able to walk to the bathroom and shower alone two hours later.

Why did I want it this way? Because my mom had a bad experience with an epidural with my older sister, and had my younger sister and me naturally. Because I feel it's the way it should be, it's the way women did it for centuries and how all mammals in the wild do it. Why should I be any different? And mostly, I wanted to be present for my baby girl's passage into life.

I know I'm lucky to have had a fast and easy labor. I credit a few other things, too, to being able to have a natural birth. First, I believed I could, and I had the full support of my husband. The ARMC midwives were wonderful, and everyone present in the birthing room supported my decision. I was in really good shape when I got pregnant, and stayed active throughout. And the mantras! While laying in bed each night in the last few months, I repeated a version of the following things to myself. "I will have an easy labor. I can do this. Women before me have given birth for centuries, and I can too. This is the way it's been done forever. My body was made for this. I do not need an epidural. I'm going to get huge." (That last one is courtesy of Ina May's book:). I know these sound kooky, but I started to believe them... and they worked! As with yoga, medical issues, and more, the mind has a great power over the body.


And now, a month and four days later, it just keeps getting better.


  1. Totally beautiful - totally.
    Enthralling, sensitive and true.
    Luca is lucky to have such a wonderful mother.
    With a start like that, you are going to have such a great life together, You Jim, Ellis and Luca.
    Much love, Mark.

  2. I cried. Thanks for sharing that beautiful experience.