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Elan Vitae


  • Shena Driscoll Salvato


Cramping, familiar yet unfamiliar, roused me from my sleep. It was 3:30 a.m. We watched the sun rise, then set, then rise again. I was in and out of the tub, up and down the stairs, on and off the ball, to and fro on the sling. I was not able to sleep, only drift off for no more than four minutes at a time, first for hours, then days. After about thirty hours, I was exhausted. In all my worldly travels, never before had I journeyed so far, and I had not even left my own home. Never before had I felt so far away in such a familiar place.

Because I was feeling nauseous, I was not eating or drinking much; it was stuffy and steamy on the second floor of our old farm house. What a very short journey for all of us into this world, but the most profound any of us will ever take. My midwife, confident, yet humble, calm, yet bold, was not able to tell why the baby's head was not coming down. While my husband and I had planned to birth at home, we caravaned to a small community hospital, a drive that, in retrospect over a dozen years later, cradled us in a vortex of time and space that took us safely from hill to valley to hill beyond through the glowing blue chicory flowers on the sides of the road.

As she watches the screen during the ultrasound, our midwife says, “The baby is blowing bubbles!” Relief. I have been in the throws of discomfort for the past day-and-a-half and my baby is oblivious to what is happening with me. My first lesson in the selflessness that is born into us as mothers. I’m told, “The baby's chin is up and the head is turned to the side. Get on your knees and chest then your right side. Keep alternating positions and the baby's head will turn.” Patience.

My husband insists that we keep the fluorescent overhead lights off and just have a table lamp lit. I ask to get into the tub in the room. Ahhh. The warm water relaxes me and I voice this. My midwife knows me so well after all of our hour-long prenatal visits, where we sat in her home office, sipping tea and swapping stories. Little did I know, that through all of those hours of having tea, what she was really doing was getting to know what made me tick, identifying what I would need when my inner stamina began to wane. She said just what my challenge-oriented personality needed to hear after about thirty-six hours of labor: “You cannot relax. You have to get this baby out. You haven't even started to push and that takes some people two hours.” My reply, “This is NOT going to take me two hours.” Soon, in my peripheral vision, I see my husband jumping from side to side behind me.

Moments later, our baby glides into the warm water and waiting hands of my husband, her lucid eyes open, fixing with his for the first time. She floats toward me and I lift her to my chest for the first of countless times.

After laboring for thirty-seven-and-a-half hours before the birth of our first child, I thought, just maybe, our second child would arrive in about half that time. Eighteen hours would seem like nothing compared to seeing the sun rise not once, but twice, before the birth of our daughter. Laboring in the icy stillness of February was nothing like laboring in the stifling heat of summer. Night passed, the sun rose, and night came again. Contractions were close together but not initially as strong as I had remembered with my daughter, so I was able to get more rest this time. I thought for sure I would want to give birth in the water again, but each time I got in the tub, it felt as if things were slowing down. Another birthing journey, the same, yet different. I stayed hydrated this time. My waters had not yet broken. My midwife told me she had all the time in the world to wait for this baby. I trusted her expertise and instinct. Although I preferred to not have the labor continue for days, her sense of patience eased my mind, and consequently, my body.

The contractions became steadily stronger, hour after hour, but there was not much progress. With what we had learned in the birth of our daughter, I was convinced to try all sorts of unbelievably uncomfortable positions to encourage the baby to move into position. I visualized. My husband, the midwife, her apprentice, the nurse and I all chanted in unison. Our healthy, nine pound son slithered into the dim light of our old farm house, where babies were once born in other lifetimes. Snuggled in the warmth of the wood from our stove below, the snow glistening in the moonlight outside our windows, I was a mama bear in her cave, nursing her new baby. He did not leave my side, we did not leave our bed. We had both made the biggest trek of our lives together, right here in our own home. In this era of mistrust and instant gratification, trust and patience prevailed: trust in my body, trust in my baby, trust in my midwife, trust in the generations of other mothers who birthed babies at home, trust in the journey. Patience with myself, patience with my baby, patience with the universe and patience with time. After all, at thirty-six-and-a-half hours, this labor was shorter than my first.

Never before had I felt so supported yet so unbelievably self-reliant. Not just through my developing baby and my own subsequent physical expansion, but in my inward journey and awakening to new possibilities, I had grown more than I ever dreamed imaginable.


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