The midwife would not travel to Hana for the birth, so I had to find a house to rent in Haiku in order to have the baby.
Most of the people who rent their homes rent short term, for vacationers. They were used to people who were out exploring all day and came back at night to sleep. I was looking for a rental house for two weeks in which to give birth. This conjured images of blood on the rugs and was not a request that was meeting with a lot of enthusiasm from homeowners.
I finally found a house in Haiku. It was a wonderful house, perched on the edge of Maliko Gulch with a beautiful, expansive view. It was a duplex and the man who owned it had just sold it. He was in it for a few more weeks and thought that a birth in the house was the perfect send off. He was a gay man, a bit on the flamboyant side.
He joyously clapped his hands together. “This will be great fun,” he said. “Do you mind if I watch the birth?”
In order to give me somewhere free to live after the baby was born, Robby reluctantly agreed to build me a small house, really more of a shack, on The Land. But he could not seem to use much of his ample free time to complete it.
I painted the inside of my house pink and it was dubbed the “pink shack.”
I was frantically trying to nest. At nine months pregnant, I was on my knees on the unfinished plywood floor peeling the backs off of cheap linoleum tiles and sticking them to the floor of my half-completed pink shack. My back hurt, my knees hurt and the toxic glue on the back of the tiles was making me nauseous.
I was frantically trying to nest. At nine months pregnant, I was on my knees on the unfinished plywood floor peeling the backs off of cheap linoleum tiles and sticking them to the floor of my half-completed pink shack. My back hurt, my knees hurt, the toxic glue on the back of the tiles was making me nauseous.
That afternoon, I was scheduled to move into the rental house in Haiku and to meet the midwife there for a check-up.
At that time, they were doing extensive roadwork on the bridges of Hana Highway. If you missed the window of opportunity when the road was open, you would be stuck on one side of the road or another for an hour and a half.
I was running late leaving Hana and drove like a maniac to get through the roadblock on time, but just missed it and got stuck on the Hana side. I had my car packed to the gills with all of my birthing supplies, new baby gear and everything I needed for moving into the rental house for a few weeks.
I amassed quite a collection of birthing books, but had been so busy making money and finishing my shack, that I had not had time to take a class or read any books.
I decided to use the time stuck at the roadblock wisely. I dug through a box marked Birth Books and pulled a book out at random.
Sitting in the car, I flipped through the book and landed on a section where the author gave instructions for a simple breathing technique—breathe through the contractions and visualize the breath opening the uterus. I was a meditator and visualizer, this was a concept that I could understand.
The roadblock opened. I resumed my fast driving around the hairpin curves and arrived at the rental house in the late afternoon, just in time for the appointment with the midwife.
“You look good,” she said. “You are not dilated at all. Another two weeks at least.”
I was exhausted. I left everything in the car except my toothbrush and flopped into bed. When I got up to go to the bathroom at about 10 pm that night, a felt a gush of liquid between my legs. I called the midwife.
“I’m not sure, but I think that my water just broke?”
“Just ride it out and see what happens. Call me later.”
The midwife was efficient and professional, but not very warm. She had already driven 45 minutes to Haiku that day for my appointment, she was not inclined to come up and hold my hand all night. I was alone and in labor.
Since he didn’t have a phone, Robby and I made a plan that I was to call his neighbors when I was having the baby and they would fetch him to the phone.
I placed the call. It was late, the phone rang quite a few times.
Hanz answered. It sounded like I woke him up.
“Hey, so sorry to bother you. Can you go get Robby for me? I’m in labor.”
“I’ll go see if he’s there. What’s your number? I’ll call you back.”
A half an hour and some mild contractions later Hanz called back.
“Robby is not here. I called around and asked some friends. He is up the mountain.”
Up the mountain was a euphemism for harvesting the marijuana crop.
Robby’s simple lifestyle was financed by growing Hawaii’s primary cash crop, pot.
“I will stay up and when I hear him come back, I will have him call you,” said Hanz.
I put in some laundry. I tried to meditate and breathe. The contractions were getting increasingly intense. I was alone and I was scared.
Good thing I got stopped at the road block and read the birthing book earlier that day. It saved my sanity that night. I only read one section of the book, but it was the perfect section to read. Labor was the most intense and focused meditation I had ever done, breathing into the contractions and opening my uterus.
I finally got a call from Robby around 1 am.
“I’ll be there as soon as I can get there. It’s been a long day, I’ve been up the mountain all day and have all this pot that needs to be dried.”
“I don’t give a shit about the pot. I’m alone. I am having the baby and need help.”
“I don’t give a shit about the pot. I’m alone. I am having the baby and need help.”
I kept calling the midwife, trying to get her to come over, and she kept telling me to breathe through it and time the contractions. I guess this was the midwife version of take two aspirin and call me in the morning.
Robby arrived at about 3 am with a carload of his marijuana crop. He proceeded to lovingly hang the pot in the closet of the bedroom to dry and then fell asleep on the bed, while I was thrashing and moaning next to him. After being in labor by myself all night, I was relieved to at least have someone there with me in case of an emergency. But even in my crazed state, it didn’t escape me that he was more concerned about taking care of the Mary Jane than taking care of me. I took the blow to my heart and screamed it out under the guise of childbirth.
The midwife took her time and didn’t arrive until about 9 am. My girlfriend Nala came over to help out, too.
“Where is your birthing kit? Your sheets?” asked the midwife.
“Kit in car. Sheets in dryer.” I gasped.
Nala came back in the house. “Where in the car? I can’t find anything, the car is jam packed with boxes.”
“Small box, says Birth Stuff.”
The midwife examined me.
“Wow. You went much faster than I thought you would. You are dilated to 10 cm. You can push.”
“I told you!” I screamed.
I had plans to do a birth ritual. Nala lit the sage to begin the ceremony by clearing the space.
“Put it out, put it out! I can’t stand the smell of the smoke, it’s making me sick. Put it out!”
Being pregnant changed my sense of smell and being in labor amplified that effect.
The pot was in the bedroom closet, but the whole house was permeated with the smell of it. I normally like the smell of pot, but on that day the skunky smell was driving me mad.
“Somebody get the pot out of here. I can’t stand it. It’s making me crazy.”
“I can’t move it,” said Robby, “It needs to dry.”
It was time to push the baby out and the midwife suggested that Robby support me from behind in the “supported squat.” It was like one of those trust exercises when you fall backwards and trust that someone is going to catch you. Except that I didn’t trust him to support me.
I had planned for a water birth, but when actually faced with the prospect of having the baby in the water, it seemed like the stupidest idea I ever had.
The birthing tub was a black Rubbermaid horse trough (never used by horses), filled up with hot water from a hose attached to the sink.
“Get in the tub,” said the midwife.
“No. No tub.”
“Get in the tub.” She said forcefully, leaving me no room for indecision.
From the tub in the middle of the living room, I had a bird’s eye view over the verdant Maliko Gulch. It was a misty, rainy day and a low-lying rainbow formed over the gulch.
The water was warm and relaxing and I gave the final pushes and the baby came out into the warm water. The midwife brought him up to the surface and floated him on his back. He was covered in white vernix and some of it came off in the black tub. It looked like he was floating in a universe of white stars at the center of a galaxy.
All of my wishing that I wasn’t pregnant dissolved the moment I saw my baby son. He was my baby boy and I loved him beyond belief. I named him Kanoe for the white misty rain that was falling over the gulch at the moment of his birth.
Giving birth is one thing, but there are all these other things that happen afterwards that I was clueless about. I had neglected to play through.
I didn’t trust that my breasts would produce milk, as they never had before. Overachiever that I am, I took double doses of alfalfa pills, breast milk tea and electrolytes leading up to birth. I produced milk, all right. My breasts swelled to four times their normal size, they were engorged. The newborn baby wasn’t drinking right away and I got a breast infection. The first few nights I was up all night putting hot compresses on my breasts, trying to squeeze out little bits of milk to relieve the pressure.
The other thing that no one had mentioned—or maybe I would have gotten to it if I had read more of the birthing book—was the contractions that you have after the birth, when your uterus returns to its previous contracted state. It was like giving birth all over again in reverse.
Then came the first diaper changing. It was the middle of the night and the baby woke up with his diaper soaked through. I knew this because the bed was wet, too. Changing a diaper sounds likes such a simple thing, but it was the middle of the night and I had a real live squirmy newborn baby, I realized that I didn’t know exactly how a cloth diaper was supposed to go on. Robby was no help. He was sleeping.
The next few weeks were a blur. I was trying to adapt to breast-feeding and diaper changing. I was receiving various friends who were stopping by with food and gifts. Robby was receiving a variety of scruffy looking people, that I didn’t want breathing on my baby, who were there to smoke and buy pot.
Every night while I slept, the strong smell of pot from the closet drifted into my dreams. I would have nightmares about the police taking away my baby.
I had a breast infection. I was sleep deprived. I was a new mother. I was out of my mind.
Excerpted from the essay Pink Shotgun Shack in God, Sex and Going Green Copyright Andrea Dean
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