The following is an excerpt from my theatrical song-cycle, Makings of a Voice. It’s a piece about motherhood and childbirth, maternal lineage, roots and rootlessness, and about the conundrum of being a woman in the contemporary world. This excerpt tells the (very true) story of the birth of my second child.
SkirtsAfire Reimagined – Makings of a Voice
It was in the first few hours of September 22nd, on the tail end of the Autumn equinox, the balance point between light and darkness, that I went into labour with my son.
My partner and I lay wakeful in bed, the quietness of our secluded river valley neighbourhood suddenly made eerie by police car lights flashing right outside our bedroom window. No sirens, just the red and blue of the lights – flashing…flashing…flashing…. We get up, look out the window, puzzle a bit, and then think, well, we might as well try to sleep through it.
We weren’t to find out until the next day, after our new babe had emerged earth-side and was sleeping away in my arms, that the police had been tracking a predator, who had entered the home of a woman a block from our house and tried to sexually assault her, forcing her to summon all of her strength and adrenaline to defend her body and her home, and to single-handedly force him out. Which she did.
But we didn’t know any of that the night before.
We lay back down to try to sleep, and a few minutes later, the flashing stops. And a few minutes after that, my water breaks. Pop. … Gush.
And we get up, and change the sheets, and then I’m like, So what do I do now? It wasn’t like this the first time. With my daughter, I was in the advanced stages of active labour by the time my water broke. The water breaking first is the way it always happens in the movies, but it feels completely backwards. Like…ok…now what?
After five minutes or so, no contractions are forthcoming, and my mind is racing. When will the contractions start? When are they SUPPOSED to start? What if they DON’T start? What if two days go by and they still haven’t started? Will I have to go to the hospital? Will they make me go to the hospital? I don’t want to go to the fucking hospital! I want to have this baby at home!
I call my midwife even though it’s 2:30 in the morning and nothing is happening. She says, “I had a feeling you were going to call me tonight! Give it twenty minutes and they’ll start.” I don’t think so. NOTHING’S HAPPENING.
But I give it ten minutes, and there it is. That unmistakable rush rolls up and over me, like a wave rushing upon the land.
All right. Ok. I know how to do this. Let’s do this.
And I figure I’m going to be at it for a while. I actually really like this part.
I tell Matt to get a bit more rest, and I head downstairs, tidy up the kitchen, make myself a little snack. I’m walking back and forth with dishes, and eating spoonfuls of yogurt and fruit, the contractions are coming up – whhhhhhhoooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa – and passing.
I figure I’ll still be at this well into tomorrow.
A half-hour later Matt gets up because he can’t sleep, poor guy. So he gets to work inflating the birthing pool, and I get into some walking the floor, cuz the contractions are ramping up a bit. From the kitchen to the living room, back and forth, back and forth, grabbing onto whatever’s there when the rushes come – ohhhhhhhhhh – and moving on.
I go upstairs to the bedroom for some reason. And out of nowhere, a DIFFERENT KIND OF CONTRACTION. It’s not a contraction. It’s like…an opening…and a lowering. And I scream. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!
I run down the stairs, and Matt’s running up, and we meet halfway, and he leads me back down, walking backwards and supporting my weight because I am struggling to stand now, and I’m yelling, “Call Barb, call Barb, call Barb!!!!”
Barb’s the midwife.
I call my doula as well, and they’re both on their way, thank the glorious Goddess, because this is new territory. But it’s not territory at all, because the ground is crumbling beneath my feet. I have to go to the bathroom, but I’m scared to because I’m pretty sure I’m going to have this baby if I try to take a shit. But in a few minutes, it’s nothing doing, so I run upstairs, have an intense bout of diarrhea, and then come back down the stairs and throw up in the soup pot we’ve pulled out just for the occasion.
I’m on my hands and knees on the living room floor with no pants on, unable to get up, and wondering what will happen if Barb doesn’t get here soon. Through this whole pregnancy, I never gave a moment’s thought to the possibility that my midwife might not make it in time. But what if she doesn’t? Can I really do this on my own?
Suddenly the old Monty Python scene pops into my head – of the labouring woman on the hospital trolley who looks at the doctor played by John Cleese (Graham Chapman?), and says “What do I do?” And he says, “Nothing, my dear. You’re not qualified!”
I’m in transition now.
Transition is the stage of labour when the cervix has dilated completely to ten centimetres. You are literally never more open to the world than when you are in transition, and THIS is the part of labour where every woman says, “I can’t do this. Nope! I’m not doing this! I’m not having this baby!” You just want it to be done. You need it to be done. Not necessarily because of how painful it is, which it IS, but because you are so fucking vulnerable. You are also so fucking powerful. And that is the scariest thing of all. And I am there. In transition.
My doula, Lana, who is also one of my dearest friends, arrives first, and she comes in to see my bare ass up in the air. And I crane my neck round to look at her, and I say, “I want to push so bad!” She rubs my back, and reminds me to breathe. And I’m still enough in my mind to think: I know that what I’m supposed to do right now is surrender to this. And I want to so badly. An immense power, so much bigger than me, is flowing through me, there to help me bring life into the world; I am face to face with the great cosmic mystery, and I will never be here again. And I want so badly to embrace it, submit to it, let it carry me all the way to the centre of the big bang. But it’s SOOOO hard! I can’t do it. I hold on. I resist. There is something inside me saying, nonononononono, I’m not ready to see God! The midwife has now arrived, and I’m in the pool, and she just barely gets all her kit set up, and she faces me. And I look into her bright, wise eyes, and I say, “Can I push now?” And she and her backup midwife, and Lana, and Matt, all yell in unison, YES!” And I push. RRRRRROOOOOOOOOAAAAAR. And just a few pushes later, Lana says to me, ‘The head is coming out. Reach down and feel it.” And I reach down, and I feel that wrinkly bit of flesh that is me but not me, and FUCK. There she is. There’s God. No avoiding her. And I finally lose myself. And as I push my baby out of my body and into his life, my voice takes over, and I sing: AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!
Makings of a Voice by Dana Wylie plays online March 8-14 as part of SkirtsAfire Reimagined. Tickets are available now at tickets.fringetheatre.ca. For more information, visit skirtsafire.com/makings-of-a-voice
Photo credit: April MacDonald Killins (@april_mac_killins) as photographer.
Official Title of Show: “Makings of a Voice” by Dana Wylie
The performer in the photos: Dana Wylie (@danawyliemusic)
Directed by Vanessa Sabourin (@vsabs)
Set, Props, Costume Design & Projection Co-Design by Elise CM Jason (@elise.dwg)
Lighting Design & Projection Co-Design by T. Erin Gruber (@tegruber)