How Hamish Met His Mother
I almost missed my flight.
I was in Houston, visiting my best friend and soon-to-be godmother, Emily. She had just moved back to her hometown a few weeks before; in fact, while she was visiting me in Atlanta in January, she received the phone call from Rice University offering her a position, and since she had been looking for a change, she accepted. At first, the plan was that she and I would rent a U-Haul and move her stuff from Nashville to Houston. We had always wanted to experience that kind of road trip together, and as my belly grew larger every week it was becoming harder and harder to ignore it. Our friendship was going to change, and that was totally natural, but I think both of us wanted to have one last hurrah with each other as we knew ourselves to be pre offspring.
That plan devolved, as our plans tend to do. In the near decade of friendship between us, only about fifteen percent of anything we concoct ever comes to fruition. (The reason our friendship works so well is that both of us are mostly content with fifteen percent, so gangbusters is the name of the game.) I kept putting off buying plane tickets, which ended up being the smartest thing to do, in spite of the cost of flying rising with each day I waited. Emily took a few weeks longer than anticipated to settle in, and even with me departing nearly seven full weeks after we had originally planned, I still visited Emily when she possessed exactly one piece of furniture.
The trip had been a good one, albeit uncomfortable. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the apartment in Houston had but one piece of furniture. Emily was in the throes of new love at that time, and save a mattress on the floor, she had not acquired any furniture whatsoever. The flight there, though direct, was difficult. I figured I was just getting over being pregnant—I was expanding rapidly, the heat of “springtime” in the South was looming, and everything simply required so very much effort.
Emily and I visited. I met her new beau, Logan, and we watched episodes of How I Met Your Mother. The series finale was fast approaching, and I wanted to catch her up on the show before it went off the air. We also attended an exhibition by James Turrell at Rice University which allowed me to meditate on my upcoming labor and delivery. It was so peaceful, I loved being there in the warm spring sunset with Emily, enjoying the quiet and the beautiful light. The visit did have a faint tinge of melancholy, as we both knew this would be our last time seeing each other before everything in the world changed. In those quiet moments, I breathed and prayed for Emily, for her new life, for my new life, prayed she would not go away and leave me alone with a baby and a marriage and no soulmate to tether me.
A few days later, it was time to leave. She dropped me off at Hobby International (in her new car, a blue Hyundai Elantra) a long while before my flight departed. I had once missed a flight on the way to see Emily in Raleigh, and it was one of the most frustrating and expensive mistakes I’ve ever made, one I vowed never to make again. From then on, I insisted on being quite early. I took a deep breath and got out of the car, sad because I didn’t much want to return to my life in Atlanta, and sad because I was terrified our entire friendship would change in the coming weeks.
The Braxton-Hicks contractions I was having in the line for airport security were not a big deal. When it came time to go through, I requested to be searched (as I always do, pregnant or not.) The woman who was searching me walked me over to a more private area and ran through her spiel, which ended with,
“Are you currently experiencing any pain?”
“No,” I replied. “But can you wait to start until this contraction is over? It gives me with the willies to be touched when they’re going on!!!”
The TSA agent’s eyes widened and she stopped cold. “Then do you think you should be ‘bout to get on a plane?!"
I waved her off and got into position for searching, indicating that I had no intention of not flying.
“They’re just Braxton-Hicks,” I said. “I’m not in labor or anything. I’m not even 34 weeks.”
She decidedly didn’t have any more time she was willing to devote to me, so she quickly swiped all my round, curvy softness and sent me on my way.
Once I’d cleared security, I made my way to my gate. It was at the very end of the terminal, of course, and I schlepped my magazine and CocaCola all the way down with ninety minutes to spare before my flight. I sat and read quietly while the other passengers and I waited to board.
Eventually, it seemed to be my turn. The attendant attempted to scan my ticket, but looked confused; suddenly, a look of realization swept over his face. He nodded, pleased with himself.
“This is Southwest.”
I stared at him blankly.
“You’re flying Delta. You need to be at another gate.”
I checked my phone for the time. I had about three minutes before my plane—a Delta flight—would be leaving from a gate at the very opposite end of that wing of the airport.
Gathering my things, I took off my corduroy Birkenstock clogs and ran. I ran as fast and as hard as my pregnant body would allow, bounding and puffing and begging forgiveness as I cut close to wheeled bags and elbows. I could feel everything inside me jiggling and in those moments I hated the women who ran several miles a day until their due dates. As I neared the gate, I waved my magazine and yelled. I don’t know what I yelled and, frankly, I doubt it was words. But the attendants saw me, and they held the door for me.
“You had ninety seconds, ma’am, and I know, ‘cause I was countin’ ‘em down. Welcome aboard.”
The direct flight home lasted only three hours, but I’d exhausted my magazine stash on the trip out to Houston and there was no good plane pulp. To take my mind off how very badly my back was aching, I snuck peripheral peaks at my seat mate’s book. She was highlighting passages about feminism in Christianity but it seemed a farce and I remember feeling very agitated by that.
On the Über ride home, my driver spoke to me about his wife’s births. They are from Africa, where almost everyone births naturally, yet he described almost proudly that his wife required cesareans, in a way that very much glamorized the popularity of the surgery. He asked me if I planned to birth at Northside Hospital, which I thought curious considering he knew where I lived as he was taking me home, and would know I lived nowhere near there. When I told him I planned to birth at home, he laughed jovially.
He delivered me to the house after eleven. Adam received me and insisted that I rest! In fact, he insisted that I rest the entirety of the next day, Wednesday, as well. I didn’t really understand why at the time, and I don’t understand now. There wasn’t any particular reason, but he was very adamant and saw to it that I didn’t leave the bed all day. It felt so nice to rest in my own bed with my own things after being away for several days. I dozed and lounged and recuperated. I did some online chatting and even had the utter audacity to say this:
When night fell, I’d gotten a little restless, so Adam suggested we have a movie date. His pick: About Time, a film that is an episode of Doctor Who that never got made, and instead was made into a delightful film featuring one of our favorites, Bill Nighy. The movie was absolutely beautiful. It had different arcs and wonderful pacing, the performances and score were superb, the morals were valuable. We found ourselves giddy and giggling, chasing each other up to bed.
That night, Adam and I had the best sex we’ve ever had. It may be crass to say so, but it’s part of the story and it’s important. In every way, it was the perfect encounter, and I am truly grateful for it. I doubt I’ll ever forget it. We laugh now about how generous of the universe it was to allow us that last, perfect date before we became parents to our baby.
I went to the bathroom and noticed that part of my mucous plug had settled at the bottom of the toilet. I didn’t think much of it but took note, and when I went back to bed, I looked at Adam and said,
“You know, we aren’t too far off anymore. Things are definitely starting to happen.”
I didn’t mean right then, of course. Simply that it was real, we really would be parents in a few weeks, that my body was working! And as I climbed in bed and said good night to my husband around 2:30 on the morning of Thursday, March 13, my water broke.
I sat up abruptly. Climbing back over my huge body pillow I stood, leaking, for a moment before hurrying into the bathroom with my phone, muttering,
“Pretty sure my water just broke.”
The first phone call I made was to my doula. Her cell didn’t get reception in her home, and she instructs everyone to call her house phone if she doesn’t answer. Without the benefit of caller ID, she had no idea who I was when she answered. When she finally figured it out, she yelled some curse words (which woke her husband) and we determined I would call her back after I phoned Rachel, our midwife.
When I called Rachel, she asked some questions to make sure that my water was broken. But, the thing about being a doula is that I’ve smelled amniotic fluid before. Oh, so very much amniotic fluid. Its smell is distinct, and it feels slippery. I knew what was happening. We extended the phone chain to Dr. Brad Bootstaylor, our back-up obstetrician, who offered the option of waiting until his office opened for a biophysical profile to see how the baby was doing, since I was experiencing no contractions. We all agreed that I should try to lie down, and that if contractions started, I would head to Atlanta Medical Center. After phoning Shosh back and filling her in, I placed a chux pad on the bed and lay down in earnest to go to sleep.
Adam had not even gotten settled and turned off the light before I said,
Adam noted the time, and got up to grab his carry-on. He slowly started to place obvious items in, asking for my input. About three minutes later, I said it again.
“Contraction.” Adam paused, taking note of how little time had passed in between.
“You OK?” he asked
At that point I hadn’t thought about it. I took about ten seconds to evaluate myself: was I OK?
“Yeah,” I said, surprised. “I’m good. I’m OK. Feelin’ the hormones. Let’s do this!!”
I couldn't find anything suitable to labor in and so I put on Adam’s University of Alabama pajama pants and a band t-shirt. The more I moved to pack and get ready, the harder the contractions became. The longest I went between contractions the entire labor was four minutes, a small handful of times.
Adam called his mother and I called mine. We frantically figured out someone to stay at the house and get up with Paul in the morning, choosing not to wake him for several reasons: I didn’t know how I would react to him in labor, we were in a huge hurry, and we wanted him to be rested the next day and not disrupt his sleep. Matthew Tanner, one of Adam’s BFFs/bandmates/best men, flew over to the house. Adam shoved his bag into the car, we hugged Matt, and darted out the door en route to AMC.
The drive was surreal. It was then about five in the morning, still very dark and very cold. At a particularly and unnecessarily lengthy red light, Adam looked at me and said,
“Am I running this?” after hearing me breathing hard through a rough contraction!!
“No, I’m fine. Don’t break the law. It’s OK.”
As we drove by Agave, I remembered that my friend, Jamie Ravenscraft, ate there the night before she gave birth, and she takes her son back the night before his birthday each year. I knew they’d been there just hours ago, and the thought gave me comfort. My son would be born on the same date as her first son. Sooner rather than later. Having been at AMC so many times for other people’s labors, I knew where we needed to go through the emergency room to get to the Labor & Delivery unit. It felt so novel walking through the automatic doors of the ER and telling the security guard I was there to go to the second floor; typically I would be heading up to help another momma have her baby. This time, it was obvious to everyone in the reception area of the ER that it was me who was having a baby that day.
My heart kind of sunk as we walked into L&D; I didn’t see a single familiar face. I didn’t know a single nurse on the floor at that time, but I knew shift change would happen soon and I might see someone I knew then. A nurse took us to Triage Room 1 and told me to take off my clothes, put on a gown, and lie on the bed to be strapped to monitors. I matter-of-factly refused the gown and paused. Adam hugged me and held me tight. He knew I didn’t want to get on the bed, because I wanted to move and pace and labor. I collected myself and got on the bed.
The nurses and registrar asked me questions and I answered them quickly. I wanted to get through it all because I was growing keenly aware that I would not be able to provide accurate, composed answers for much longer. Our doula continued to text with us and ask for updates. She asked if we wanted her to come and call Kim, our photographer, to come, but I didn’t. Not yet. I thought that if I was going to be given terbutaline to stop my contractions, and be sent home in a matter of a few hours, I didn’t want everyone assembling. It seemed wrong. My subconscious seemed to not believe I would give birth soon. So soon.
Adam and I labored in the triage room as I was monitored and questioned. Eventually a nurse came in and said that she would be sending a swab of my leaking fluid to a lab to determine if it was, in fact, amniotic fluid. That is when we found out that, as it it just so happens, if a woman has had intercourse, that test will unfailingly come back as positive, regardless of the real result. The nurse left, saying she needed to be in contact with Dr. Bootstaylor, our overseeing obstetrician. I assumed that she would be asking him how best to stop my contractions.
At the same time, my body knew exactly what was happening without asking anydamnbody, and was working hard to open up during contractions. I directed Adam to rub my thighs and legs in a very particular way from the first twinge of a contraction to the last lilt, and though his palms became raw in the first, say, three times I begged this of him, he continued tirelessly. We waited for about an hour and a half after arriving; I was continually reassured that Dr. Bootstaylor had been called and that he would be advising any moment. At 7:00AM, Adam finally sent the doula a text message asking her to come support us. We didn’t know this at the time, but she had already left her house to make the drive for whenever we finally did get around to calling on her.
She walked in at 7:19AM. The first thing I said to her was, “YA HAIR LOOKS FAB, BITCH!” She told me she always straightened her hair for photos and asked again if we wanted her to call Kim, our birth photographer and friend. I nodded.
Very soon after, a cheerful nurse named Vanessa came to collect us. I didn’t really understand.
“Admit me…to stop my labor?” I asked.
She didn’t stop walking and said, over her shoulder, “Goodness no, hon. We’re having ourselves a baby today!”
We went to L&D Room 1. Almost immediately I began to vomit, which I had predicted long ago would happen. In the middle of throwing up that first time, I remember thinking back to the very first time I threw up from morning sickness which I was pregnant. Adam and I had just moved to our home and I screeched at him to GET DOWNSTAIRS and was mortified that he had not fully closed the door behind him before I began to throw up—with the shower running on high, and the faucet going, too. Now, I was holding a long bag to my mouth, throwing up seven inches away from him. Pregnancy does some things to a marriage, it really does.
At 8:00AM, Dr. Bootstaylor came to examine me. I had refused any cervical checks until that point, and I didn’t have a clue what to expect. He told me that I was dilated 6cm, 100% effaced, and that the baby was +2 station. I was floored. Adam and the doula were not surprised at all. I asked him again if we were going to do anything to stop the labor, and he very patiently explained that I would be having my baby within a matter of hours. We agreed that we would try to get a round of IV antibiotics in before the birth since he was early and the suspicion of infection was higher due to the rupture of membranes. Vanessa, the nurse, left to get supplies to begin a heplock and Shosh escorted me to the bathroom. That bathroom trip was the last one I would have until after Hamish was born. I remember laughing and being myself, and the doula asked,
“We never got this far in our planning: do you want to have an epidural code word?”
I told her that I didn’t feel that I needed or wanted and epidural and was emphatically against it, but that I might ask for a small amount of narcotic if I felt I needed space to get myself together emotionally. I was very clear that I might not ask for it, but that if I did, it was what I wanted in my lucid mind and that I was OK with it. I also made sure I emphasized that I did not want an epidural.
She left me in the bathroom for a moment to collect myself. I stayed in there maybe one hundred and twenty seconds. When I emerged, things were different.
Everything looked different. Things didn’t sound right, I started to feel cagey and as though I were in captivity. Suddenly, I raised my voice and told everyone in the room that I wanted an epidural—and that I wanted it NOW. I half-yelled that I knew exactly how long it would take to get one since I’d attended births at AMC so many times, and that I was saying it now so they would get the damn ball rolling. Shosh and Adam looked at each other and had no idea what was happening. Adam looked at Dr. Bootstaylor, who quietly reassured him that everything was fine, that I was fine, and that things might be closer than we all were anticipating.
According to Adam, Dr. Bootstaylor reassured him that this is what labor looked like, and that I was in the thick of it; he said that I wouldn’t have time for an epidural, so not to worry. Adam was and is vehemently opposed to epidurals for our births unless the situation becomes emergent or entirely exhaustive, and he did not want this part of our birth plan to falter after everything elsehad been thwarted.
The doula knew that I wanted things to slow down some, so she asked if I wanted to get into a gravity neutral position. I agreed and the three of us maneuvered me onto the back of the bed, leaning over it. Shosh and Adam both stood facing me, helping me through the contractions. I wanted to be stroked and held and shhhhhh’d. For whatever reason, I kept thinking that even the slightest move on Adam’s part meant he was leaving. I don’t actually know what “leaving” I felt he would be doing in what capacity, but I was terrified of his abandonment and it took a lot of convincing on his part that he was just leaning one arm down to scratch his leg.
As I reflect on why I asked for an epidural when I didn’t need the pain relief and didn’t want one, I now understand that deep down in my brain, I really believed that if I received epidural anesthesia that my labor would completely stop, and I would be able to go home. That day. In fact, I even said to Adam being entirely serious, “I want to go home.” I think I subconsciously was trying to avoid having my baby that day by asking for that intervention.
Adam told me over and over that I was doing great, that he was there with me, that I could get through this. Adam told me he loved me and that he was proud; he thanked me for doing this for our family. It didn’t seem to matter to Adam that the baby was so early. He didn’t allow that to steal his experience. Adam’s vibe the entire labor was excited, and looking back on that makes me love him even more than I already do. Vanessa eventually returned to insert my heplock. Shosh met her at the door and the two discussed my desire for a non-medicated birth in the face of my vehement and loud demands for an epidural. Vanessa had brought with her a half-dose of the lowest narcotic dose they give to laboring mothers. I kept repeating, “I just need to check out…I just need to check out…”
I have a history of sexual molestation. Before even getting pregnant, I attended a retreat called My Body Tells My Story, and that retreat was designed to help me to unyoke the heavy burden of pain from my heart so that I could give birth without the strong possibility of being triggered. The retreat was incredible, and I left feeling healed. I still feel healed. But in the moments after I left the bathroom during my labor, I began to feel out of control of my body as transition hit—and that out of control feeling was deeply triggering for me
I consented to the half-dose of Stadol, because what I wanted and needed was not actually pain relief—it was brain relief. I needed to get quiet in my head; I needed to be by myself without having to be alone. Vanessa administered the drug and I lay on my left side with my right leg propped on a table. Adam hung the bag of saline he’d been squeezing on the IV stand and took a break from that. The room quieted down, Vanessa dimmed the lights and left, and I slipped into my own experience.
The conversation I had with myself was intense. It felt like talking directly to God: wordless, profound, deeply moving. The un-talk lasted one hour. And when it was over, I was completely different. Still not talkative, still not laughing, still not the most common incarnation of myself— but I was prepared and composed.
After that hour, I became more connected with my contractions, and I got back up on the back of the bed to labor. Kim Holderman arrived and started taking photographs, quietly smiling and being a warm, ever-present glow in the corner. I loved having her there. Just a few moments later, the doula said the word, “grunty” in relation to my labor vocalizations. Vanessa wanted to check my dilation, and I consented, even though I had to get back onto my back to do so. (I know this wasn’t mandatory. I did it anyway.) To virtually no one’s shock, I was complete and the baby was down so low people started scurrying—lots of noise and people invaded my room, and I kept looking at the doula pretending not to push.
Gloria, a midwife with Intown Midwifery, came in with Anna, her apprentice, and told us that Dr. Bootstaylor was caught up and would come as soon as he could. She would stay until he arrived. After looking at me, she immediately put on gloves and decided that unless Boots was walking in the door in the next few moments, he would surely miss this birth. At one point, a woman from the NICU response team came to my side and tried to talk to me. I made it very clear that I wished she wouldn’t, but she kept making gentle attempts. Eventually, I looked her in her eyes and loudly SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH’d. I shushed a grown woman. Everyone in the room fell totally silent. When the contraction was over, I told her she had fifteen seconds and then to leave me the fuck alone. During another contraction, a NICU nurse walked in with a Harley-Davidson head covering on, saying, “Don’t mind me, I’m just here to take your baby to the Harley store and the tattoo shop.”
In spite of being in the dead middle of a big push, I grunted, “Weeeee…riiiiiiiide…T R I U M P H!” That got a big laugh from the whole room and a look of genuine surprise from the motorcycle nurse; he hadn’t heard me talk yet and I think he was shocked I’d heard him and was willing to play back.
I only pushed eight or ten times, and each time felt so empowering. I felt huge. Bigger than anyone, stronger than everyone, sacred, enormous. Finally, someone said that his head was out. That was truly very hard to believe because I felt no relief whatsoever. After just a few seconds, I yelled,
“GET HIM OUT! GET HIM OUT!”
And with that, Anna, the apprentice, reach up and caught Hamish as he slid earthside, hollering.
Adam later told me that he thought I was talking to the midwives when I yelled that.
That has always been so curious and amusing to me.
Because I wasn’t talking to them. I was talking to me. They weren’t delivering my baby. I was.
I did it.
Hamish Hughes McIntyre was born at 10:12, weighing a whopping five pounds, thirteen ounces, and eighteen inches long. He was hollering and pink and beautiful, and he was mine. Gloria held him down low as though she was cleaning him, but she was really milking his umbilical cord so that he could leave with all the blood he started out with. I was grateful, as the hawking of the NICU team was evident and such a stark contrast to the vibration of the room otherwise.
They wanted to examine him to diagnose him; we wanted to observe him to honor him. Adam cut Hamish’s cord, and went with him to a warmer where he was examined by the NICU team. Gloria and Anna checked me for tears. Nothing. Zilch. My vagina is pristine. How ‘bout them apples? With that information happily floating around my head, I pushed my placenta out just seven minutes after Hamish was born. It was veritably petite! It was preserved for Sherri Wilkerson, who was called to retrieve it for encapsulation.
Dr. Bootstaylor missed Hamish by minutes. He came in and offered a hearty congratulations and a joking “Toldja so!” to Adam.
When said he was proud of me, he meant that. I know he meant that because of how it made me feel, how it still makes me feel today.
After giving birth, I came back. Immediately. I felt great. The high was incredible, if it were a street drug I’d be hooked. I had energy for the first time in nine months, and I was ready to get the show on the road. I asked for my heplock to be removed and I went to the restroom. Hamish was taken to the NICU and I was taken to the room I would check out of only ten hours later. My mother was on her way, had just gotten inside the perimeter when Hamish was born. She came to our room while I was pumping colostrum—or trying to, but we found that I already had transitional milk! I pumped so much. We were all delighted!
Showing my son to my mother was the proudest moment of my life. I had made something truly and profoundly perfect, and I knew she was going to know, as deeply as I did, how divine this child was. That is a moment I will hold in my heart until the day I die.
I spent the day pumping milk, holding Hamish, and being congratulated. Adam and I were awash in an intense moment of our lives, and we enjoyed and tried to relish every bit of that. We knew that Hamish would not be coming home with us that night, and I felt so good physically, that I insisted on being discharged that evening. I wanted to sleep with my husband in my bed.
In the end, that was the only thing in our birth plan that we were able to keep intact: we slept in out own bed that night, the bed we created that life in, the bed we were in when we found out he was coming, the bed he would spend his first night at home with us in. It was also in that bed that he stopped breathing, on Monday, March 17, at 10:30pm. But that is another story, for another time. My brain did me a beautiful service in perfectly severing the two experiences: everything after that is a different story, and everything up until that moment is part of Hamish’s birth story, part of this story. Part of the story of how he came into this world and made our lives more magical than we had ever dreamed. Part of the story of how I became The Mother.