For Silas Wendell – Born at home on November 18th, 9 lbs, 10 oz
The four days following your due date were long days. I wanted you to come, to be birthed into my arms. I was anxious to see you and hold you. I wondered, as the days wore on, if there was something holding me back from your birth. Kristen, our midwife, asked directly if I was afraid of labor or if there was something that was inhibiting me from going into labor. We talked through what might be in the way. On Saturday, the day before you were born, I was anxious to clear a space for you. I decided that I wasn’t going to work the following week. Your dad, brother and I went to Central Park to try to “walk you out.” We walked fast and hard and nothing happened. I was discouraged.
That night Oliver, your two-year-old brother, asked if we could have a bonfire and apple cider. We built a fire and enjoyed the night together. It was a sweet time with the family of three before we became four. Later, your dad and I watched a movie to try to take my mind off things. After watching the film, we had some moments of tenderness between the two of us, which were a gift and served to bring us together for what would be the night of your birth.
We went to sleep at 11:30 pm and I slept for about an hour. I woke freezing cold and my whole body was shivering. I thought this was strange; Soren wasn’t cold. But then I fell back to sleep and woke with a strong contraction, although I didn’t think much of it, in and of itself. I had woken so many times with contractions during my pregnancy. I started waking around every ten minutes with a contraction; they became increasingly painful. And I continued to have the chills. The chills made me realize that this might be labor. I woke your dad again around 1:00 a.m. and told him I thought it was true labor. He waited for about 15 minutes before calling the midwife and doula. The midwife, Kristen, said to call her when the contractions were around 6-8 minutes apart. I got up and turned the white noise machine on in Oliver’s room and Soren started getting things ready in the living room. Within minutes the contractions jumped to 4 minutes apart. Soren called the midwife right away. She was on her way as was Mary Esther, our doula.
I came downstairs, lit around ten candles, and Soren turned on some music. We gathered a few things on the soft wool rug in the living room. It was calm and lovely and I was calm. The contractions were frequent and intense, but not overwhelming. From the very beginning of labor I would often have an intense contraction followed by a small one. Your dad was with me for each contraction. He was present and tender and it felt like a continuation of our tender hours that evening. This intimacy felt like a precious gift. Your birth coming on the heels of a special evening with Oliver was another gift. I felt ready to welcome you into the world, though internally I still doubted whether or not this was really labor. I was worried that Kristen would arrive and labor would stall. She arrived around 2 a.m. and Mary Esther around 2:20 am. The contractions became more intense and from that point on I had to concentrate hard to remain in my body, to allow the contractions to come and roll over me.
I was really comforted by touch, by the hands of Soren, Kristen and Mary Esther. I knew the touch and bearer of each hand without even looking. And I welcomed the different ways each person touched me, offering reassurance, solidarity, empathy or tenderness.
It felt so quiet. Even the labor song I was making to carry me through the contractions felt quiet. There were very few words and the words spoken were chosen carefully. I remember your dad urging me to welcome and embrace life’s mystery. I remember Mary Esther saying, simply, “Beautiful, Camille.” Hearing my name in those moments before birth was profound.
I felt safe in the beautiful space we had carved out and in the metaphorical meadow I had worked hard to clear in the preceding months. There was a circle of people, and a circle of candles. These were the trees.
At this point in the labor, I felt overcome by grief in the quiet moments between contractions. I hadn’t wanted this to be a part of your birth – but it came, and there was nothing I could do. The urgency with which the grief came surprised me.
The grief was a mixture of a lot of things. I was worried that you, sweet one, were not ok. I wanted to hear your heartbeat, to be assured of life. Your life. I was so aware of the way that life and death are inextricably bound together in such moments, hand in hand. This was such a real vulnerability because I was grieving my sister’s loss of her premature baby, Weston Max, only months before. I was grieving my own loss of my nephew and the memory of his death. I was worried about the grief that would walk side-by-side the joy. Would I be able to hold both death and life in these small hands? Would I be able to not deny either? Would I be able to make my way through the mystery, back the concrete? I felt immersed in this mystery of life and death. I don’t remember all of what was said to me through the tears – but I do know that the grief was addressed, spoken to, and I needed to hear these things.
From this point on, labor was like a long, hard prayer taking place through a dark and cold night. It literally brought me to my knees. At times I knelt, hands clasped in front of me. I had to work hard to surrender, to open myself up to the reality of labor and pain and let it be. It was a challenge. Knowing I needed to surrender to the labor, and to your advent, I made a silent decision to open my hands. I held them open and palm up in between each contraction. I tried to keep them open as long as I could once a contraction started. This was one of the most poignant parts of your birth – this surrender. I had to keep pushing my soul in the direction of you. I needed an openness of spirit as much as of body, for my spirit was caught up in a complicated grief from the months prior. At one point, when a contraction was coming, Kristen said to me, “Camille, you need to let this be big.” How did she know that I was holding back, hesitating? I needed to surrender to the hugeness of the mystery of life and birth and yes, even death. The challenge in your birth, dear Silas, was in the soul places.
With my eyes closed and my open hands guiding me, I tried to open my heart further, accepting what had passed, and what was to come. I cried a lot of tears, tears that had loosed themselves inside of me with the start of labor. But there was space for those tears. No one around me seemed surprised by the tears except for me. Each person welcomed the grief that needed to come.
Looking back, the grief was the most intense part of the labor. And it was a tremendous grace that the labor itself, the physical part, was easier than Oliver’s labor had been. This allowed room for the emotional work that was required of me. Yes, the difficulty was in the quiet spaces in between the physical pain of contractions.
But the grief had to come, to make way for joy, to make way for you.
You were born quickly, and some time around 3:20 am, I knew that it was time to push you through your final descent. Hesitant to begin pushing, I had one contraction where I needed to push and I did not. I somehow needed everyone to know that it was time to push, so I said aloud, “I think it is time to push.” Now I no longer wanted to be touched. I had to sink deeply into my own body, to listen closely, to surrender completely, without distraction.
Kristen said simply, “Ok. Just listen to your body.” She trusted my body, which was so freeing. As I pushed, it felt natural. I was part of the pushing, as were you. I knew that the pushing was working, that you were coming down into the world. No one moved closer or moved away. No one tried to move me. I remained in the cleared meadow of a space with the freedom to move as my body wanted to move. There was complete freedom to do just as my midwife asked – to listen, and listen closely. To be. I was on my hands and knees, as close to earth as I could muster in the middle of Queens. And the transition to pushing felt seamless. I was permitted to remain in the deep cavities of my body, which were doing such brave work.
At one point during the pushing, which only lasted around 15 minutes, Kristen asked me if I could feel your head. What an amazing thing to be checking in with you, to be listening to your body as well as mine, to seek your head with my own hands. I felt the “ring of fire” and knew you were close. In one more push, I did feel your head with my hand and then in another push, your body made that wet and fleshy sound as it pushed through my flesh to breathe, to be with us.
You were born and I couldn’t believe it. You cried as soon as you emerged; I heard you before I even saw you. Your dad had wanted to catch you, but you came so quickly that he wasn’t able to. Kristen caught you and placed you on the floor, right where you had emerged. I leaned back on my heels. And there you were. Everyone else disappeared and in that moment, there was only you and me and your dad, who leaned over you as well. No one else spoke. You didn’t even cry. No one moved. And I looked down at that mystery of life that was you, my babe, wriggling and breathing in front of me. My breathing was hard after the exertion and our breaths seemed to join. In that dim light, you were sheer mystery. The beauty of that moment was in what was not. There was no rushing, no speaking, no questions. My body, emptied of you, was hovering in that mystery and drama of a first separation. The space between us so new, and innocent, even beautiful. This beginning, this hello, was also the beginning of a long goodbye.
Given that it was so dark, and you were lying on your side, we couldn’t see whether or not you were a boy or a girl. It didn’t matter in that moment. You were our miracle, our gift of life. And we beheld you. In that moment, a mother in me was re-born. Your mother was born.
You were beautiful. And there you rested on the floor in front of me, quiet, for a minute or two.
As soon as you cried again, I picked you up. I held you to me. In my exhaustion there was awe and disbelief that you were here, real, alive and ours. As soon as you were in my arms, I turned my body around and fell back into your dad’s arms. I leaned against the strength of his chest, drawing in what I didn’t have. I rested against him peacefully. You were quiet again, except for your shallow sweet breaths.
Again, everyone sat in silence. No one moved. The candles were flickering. It was very still, very sweet. All I remember of those moments, outside of our family circle, was that the midwife and doula were both sitting cross-legged on the rug nearby. Watching. Waiting. Stilled.
You, your dad and I held one another in that clearing of quiet. We caught our breath. My heartbeats slowed. Your breath deepened and evened out. The song of those still-dark moments was breath. And stillness. We stayed cocooned in this way for a long time.
You were curled so womb-like on my chest that I couldn’t see your face. The first movement that I recall was the midwife asking if I wanted her to adjust your face so I could see it, which she did, and I will never forget that second look into your face. The first look had been shrouded in fatigue and surprise and newness. The marvel of that first look was the space between us. But in this look, I was able to see your pursed full lips, the shape of our hearts, and the head of dark hair just like your brother’s. The world fell away. The grief made room for joy.
After these holy and quiet moments leaning against your dad, and looking into your beloved face, I asked you, “Should we name you?” I shifted back to my knees. Unsticking our warm bodies, I laid you on my lap. I shifted the cord and told everyone, “It’s a boy.” And we called you by name – Silas Wendell – the song of these next moments. It was at this time that I really saw you – your whole body, your luminous being. I saw you clearly. And I loved you. I told the story of how earlier that year, when we were in Flagstaff, I dreamt that I had a boy. In the dream I named the boy Silas, “Man-of-the-Forest” almost as if “Man-of-the-Forest” was going to be your middle name. We laughed.
And then it seemed you wanted to nurse. I adjusted your body and you looked, amazingly, up at me. Our eyes locked. You then tried to find the breast for a moment, but instead of persisting, you looked back up at me again. You looked right into my eyes. A moment later you pitched your head back and looked at your dad. Only then did you concentrate on nursing.
You were very determined to find your first meal. You would bop your head to the breast. When you struggled, I would pick you up and place you higher on my chest. Without hesitating, you would start heading toward the breast again. This probably happened four or five times. Finally you found the breast and didn’t leave it for almost two days.
And we rested. Your dad slept for a few minutes, his arm draped over my body. Eventually Kristen weighed you and we couldn’t believe your size, almost ten pounds. Soren held you skin-to-skin on the couch while Kristen attended to my body.
Soon we moved toward our bed, and rested for a few hours before Oliver woke in the morning to greet you and welcome you.
Silas, your birth knitted together the hands of life and death, of grief and joy. There is tremendous beauty in this, and pain, of course. Your legacy, your story is one of acceptance of the mysteries of life and death, the acceptance of joy and pain as inevitable parts of our journeys. Silas Wendell, you came in the night and brought daybreak to our hearts, and our family. You are our daybreak, our man of the forest, our meadow, and our sweet one. We love you fiercely. Love is as strong as death. Life is your mystery, for now, and ours. We enter in. We dive headlong. Together.