Seattle's Child

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My birth story: 'For the first time, I had to surrender'

A writer describes for her son how, despite birth complications, "I was so focused on one thing — you! — that a complete calm enveloped me ..."

April 2, 2014

Dear Jack,

I am still healing, but I was happy to do it for you, my darling. Our first breathing event! Before, you hovered upside down in dark space, a jewel with cheeks hanging around your nose, now chin.

A week ago, I went into labor, a bank of deep waves of movement within. Perhaps for the first time, I had to surrender. The entire pregnancy doled out that knowledge, and a healthier appreciation for patience, but birthing compelled me to let go of any notion that I would control the process of your becoming, or my own.

I should not skim over so many hours laboring. I was overcome and overcame with a relentless response. I kept my head above it, relaxed into the surges. For many hours, I intoned vowels, mind benumbed to all but the most basic sounds. A – E – I – O – U. Again and again, I clung to breath and the letters of the languages I hold dear.

You were caught between my spine and a 12-centimeter fibroid tumor, a benign but pesky growth present in about one quarter of all women. There were five intramural fibroids in my uterus when you were conceived, fed by the same blood and hormones as you, even competing. I took extraordinary care of us. My doctor warned me that you could suffer from being growth-restricted due to the greed of the fibroids.

We were lucky your placenta attached away from the fibroids. So while they grew, you grew bigger — by the third trimester, she warned me you would be big enough to cause concern. As it turns out, fibroids may have been the culprits behind this laborious delay, not only for blocking your exit but also for dispersing the contractions’ force.

The journey began to stress you out. Throughout the day, the doctor had been watching your heartbeat decelerate in the wake of my contractions, a normal reaction but for the delays which grew longer as the afternoon wore on. After 24 hours of unmedicated back labor, spasms of contractions every two minutes, my doctor, doula and nurse/midwife agreed an epidural was the best way to allow my cervix to calm down and unswell.

The relief was immediate and astonishing. I was able to make eye contact. My modulated howls ceased. Your father and aunt laughed and joked and welcomed me back into the thinking world, as I had been beyond its reach.

If my description conjures a sense of hubbub and stress, I suppose that is true for everyone else. I was so focused on one thing — you! — that a complete calm enveloped me from start to finish, not only that day and night but from your conception to this echoing moment, as you breastfeed while I write in my journal.

As often happens in life, things moved quickly once we made the decision to proceed. Decelerations worsening, my cervix still clenched against your exit. Despite my birth plan, a Caesarean, a hard choice endorsed by my doctor, doula and midwife. Within 20 minutes, Brian and I were in the surgical room, soon laughing and crying because you were crying, and I repeating, “My son! My son!”

They weighed you — 9 pounds, 14.5 ounces — and placed you on my chest, skin to skin. To think that it was you all along fills me with joy and wonder and gratitude beyond my powers of description. I love you, you who are reading this, and you upon whom this journal is now resting, rising and falling with your breath.


Currently serving as the Prose Writer-in-Residence at Hugo House, Kristen Millares Young is the author of "Subduction," a novel forthcoming from Red Hen Press on April 14, 2020. More on her website.