Phoenix Rosalie Krizek-Score
8 lbs. 0oz, 21 in.
The summer of Phoenix’s conception brought great change. One week after my May graduation we received a call from Luke’s mother. Sue had been living with lung cancer for fourteen months and we knew she was running out of time. “My doctor says if you want me to be able to go to the wedding you may want to move up the date.” And so our wedding was rescheduled from late July to June Seventeenth, giving us three weeks to make new arrangements.
Sue passed away six days after the wedding around nine in the morning. Luke and I were at the Michigan cabin, packing to come home from our honeymoon. We did not receive word of her death until mid-afternoon, however, that morning a strange feeling came over me. I was on my way to the car when I felt a distinct hand on my right shoulder that stopped me where I stood. It’s going to be difficult but you will get through it. Tell Luke you love him. Give him a hug. I sensed that these words referred to the birth of a child, but I dismissed the idea because Luke and I weren’t planning to have children for another couple of years. With shivers running down my back like a warm breeze through dry leaves I found Luke in the kitchen, and held him in silence for a few minutes before I whispered “I love you”.
At the funeral service Luke and I sat next to his brothers, their wives, their children as the pastor said true loss was that Luke’s and my future children would never know their Grandma Sue. Phoenix Rosalie Krizek Score was conceived that night. Five days later I woke up and rolled into Luke’s arms. “I think I’m pregnant,” I said.
“What? How would you know already? Your period’s not for another couple weeks.”
“I just have this feeling.”
As the day of my period approached I took my first pregnancy test: negative; my second: negative; my third: negative. But still I knew I was pregnant, I persisted and after anxiously waiting over the fourth urine coated stick, a very faint line appeared that meant I was pregnant. As Luke and I sat on the couch with the pregnancy test in my hand I said, “What if we name the baby Phoenix.”
My due date was March Twenty-First, the spring equinox, Good Friday and two days before Easter Sunday. On that day I sat with my friend Andrea drinking decaf Chai when I felt my uterus contract. “Andrea, feel this,” I said as I poked at my hardened belly. My voice was hoarse from a cold I had been fighting for several weeks.
“Woah you are totally contracting right now! That’s awesome,” she exclaimed with wide eyes. Twenty minutes later the muscles tightened again, and again twenty minutes after that. This continued regularly through the rest of Friday, Saturday and Easter Sunday.
Luke and I spent Easter morning with my parents and brother at The French Meadow eating croissants with organic eggs and nitrate free bacon. In the evening we gathered with friends to celebrate Easter as a day of fertility, new beginnings and rebirth. “You know when I was pregnant,” a friend said, “ I decided on a day that I wanted to go into labor and I did.”
That night I decided my labor would begin in the morning. “Tonight feels like Christmas Eve, Luke, like something great is coming tomorrow. Let’s make tomorrow Christmas. Let’s have a baby.” Although the day had been filled with gatherings and socializing, I insisted on a late evening stroll to see if I could intensify the tightenings I still felt every twenty minutes. Luke and I walked along the Kinnikinic River through the cold, wet air, and stopped beneath the street lamps as my belly grew achy and tight.
I woke near ten o’clock the next morning and pondered my breakfast options. I recalled hearing that oatmeal was the “midwife’s Pitocin”. Oatmeal it is. I fixed myself a milky, buttery bowl of oats with a dollop of maple syrup and sat down to eat as I felt for the first time something that resembled menstrual cramps. It’s working. Five minutes later the menstrual cramps returned and again five minutes after that. “Luke,” I said, my throat tight with excitement, “I think I’m having labor contractions.”
“Really!?” The smile on his face appeared a strange match for his furrowed brow. He had two classes in the afternoon. Should he go or should he stay. Another tightening: he should definitely stay. My abdomen relaxed: he can totally go to class, I’ll be fine. Another tightening: no, no, no he should definitely stay. After putting his backpack on and taking it off again several times, Luke went to class and told his teachers if he was not in class tomorrow, they knew why.
The contractions continued to last about one minute and were five minutes apart for the rest of the afternoon. Luke returned from class around three o’clock as I eased my cumbersome, stretch-marked body into our smaller than average bath. I watched the candles flicker against the wall and tried to breath myself into relaxation. I felt the tightening and cramps stretch across my lower back and toward my front, as though the world’s worst brain freeze was radiating from my sacrum. We called Paula from the bathroom to let her know that changes were happening and a baby was on the way. I spent the rest of the afternoon circling my hips on our blue birth ball.
For dinner Luke and I cooked chicken parmesan and I poured myself a tiny glass of organic Merlot. While we cooked Luke called our sister-in law Genevieve who was also our doula and Jennifer our friend who is a nurse-midwife and also our labor support. Genevieve is a massage therapist and offered to come in an hour to give me a massage. Jennifer, who was working the night shift at the hospital, told us to keep her posted. I grabbed the phone from Luke to speak with Jen for a moment and suddenly felt a stickiness between my legs. I wiped the inside of my thigh to find on my fingers a clear gooey glob. “Jen I think I just lost my mucus plug.” My voice was still quiet and strained from my cold.
“Wow. That’s great Maddy, things are changing.”
We sat down to eat and my appetite faded as my contractions increased in intensity and frequency. With my chicken dinner half eaten my abdomen tightened every two to three minutes and I could eat no more. We called Paula who told us to come on in. Luke jumped in the shower while I took my shirt off and returned to the birthing ball, swirling my hips in wide circles. Genevieve soon arrived and sat behind me to massage the taught muscles in my lower back. “Do you want me to help you get grounded?” She asked.
I nodded “yes” through a contraction. Genevieve’s soft voice helped me draw in a warm energy through the top of my head and bottoms of my feet that rolled inside my moon of a belly. I felt connected to my body as the contractions grew more intense.
Luke emerged from the bathroom with dripping hair and steps twice the size of his normal gate as he rushed through our apartment to gather our bag, pillows, towels for the car, and eggs for after the birth. I pulled on my shirt and started toward the coat rack. “We’ll meet you by the car,” Genevieve said. We worked our way out the front door and down the stairs into the night air beneath the lights of Veterans Park. This is really happening. It feels like a dream. The air felt fresh and wet in the park as I contracted on a mist-glazed bench. Genevieve stood next to me with bags dripping from her shoulders and towels in her arms. “That’s it Maddy. You’re doing great.”
The forty-five minutes from River Falls to Menomonee lapsed quickly as Luke drove through frozen rain that collected on the windshield, clouding the black country road and frosted fields. I sat in the front seat on two towels in case my water broke. Genevieve and Jennifer would join us at Morning Star when we were ready. Luke called my parents to tell them we were headed for the birth center.
Erin greeted us at Morning Star around ten o’clock on the evening of March Twenty-Fourth. The windows glowed a beautiful amber against the wet night and I felt safe like a sailor who sees the fire on shore; Morning Star was a beacon calling us to safety. Luke carried our bags into the blue room and I removed my t-shirt and pants. It feels so good to be naked. Even my clothes feel heavy.
With Paula’s arrival I grew excited for the moment when she would check my cervix. With my contractions three minutes apart for the past several hours I must be at least four maybe five centimeters.
“I’d say you are one and half maybe two centimeters, about eighty percent effaced and your baby is still pretty high at a minus three maybe four,” Paula said, her tone level and positive.
I felt my guts rise into my throat. This can’t be! I’ve been working so hard and my contractions are coming so fast and strong. “What happens now?” I rasped.
“Well you could either go home and rest for the night, and come back when things seem a bit further along or you can stay here and we will monitor you. I think your body’s going to continue to make progress, but it may take some time.”
Luke and I decided to stay at the birth center. After all, we lived nearly an hour away, which would mean an additional hour and a half to two hours of car labor. And supposing we had gone home, how would I know when to come back with contractions that came so quickly?
I mounted the bed and lay on my side with Luke curled against my back, his fist on my sacrum. It felt good to close my eyes so I kept them shut and forgot there was a world outside my body. I lay there as the back pain persisted beyond the contractions, pounding through my lower spine even after my abdomen had relaxed. I clutched the metal headboard through the tightenings and tapped my hand against the rails, letting the sound distract my body and mind. Erin and Paula returned at short intervals, rubbing clear slime on my abdomen to count Phoenix’s heartbeats.
After four hours I became restless and found reasons to stand and move even though I was supposed to be resting. Around two in the morning I used the bathroom and discovered mucousy blood on the white tissue. I returned to the chux pad covered birth ball, and rocked my hips back and forth with my forehead on the edge of the bed. My belly hung low.
“Can you check me again to see if I’ve dilated some more?” I asked Paula. Maybe the bloody show means that I have dilated another couple centimeters. Maybe I am almost there.
On the bed Paula sat at my bent knees and checked my cervix. With her eyes in the air as though she was visualizing my dilated cervix she said in a bright tone, “You are about 100 percent effaced, the baby is at a minus three station and you are a good two centimeters.”
Two centimeters! I have been working for four hours and only dilated less than half a centimeter. That’s it. I can’t take this anymore. We should just drive down the street and get an epidural or better yet a cesarean. I can’t. I can’t. The next baby will be a natural birth, but this one is just too hard. “Okay,” I said matching Paula’s positivity, “sounds good.”
I returned to the birth ball feeling beaten and cheated out of the birth I had idealized. My back was in constant pain. Where were the breaks between the contractions? I clenched my whole body through another contraction and grabbed onto Paula’s hands. How many hands has she held like this? I looked into her eyes and wept, “This is so hard!”
“It is hard,” Paula said and then paused. “Do you want to try getting in the water?”
“Yes,” I said. The water will make it better. I will be able to relax in the water. I can do this. I can.
I climbed into the water, feeling it first on my toes, then calves, then thighs and finally back. The sharp ache melted into a soft pain, like putting ice cubes on a burn. Luke squeezed into the tub behind me and continued to thrust all of his weight into my back as I contracted. Paula instructed us to lift my belly up and inward to direct Phoenix’s head to move downward into my pelvis.
While my body silently tensed and relaxed in the water my mind traveled elsewhere. Although I was very awake I found myself in a world of disconnected dreams where voices and songs played in my mind. I opened my eyes for the first time in hours to see the room filled with static: fuzzy tables, fuzzy lamps, fuzzy Erin, fuzzy Paula. There is a documentary called “Touching the Void” about a mountain climber, Joe Simpson, who drags himself five miles down a mountain with a broken leg and no food over a period of three days. On the last day Joe lies down in excruciating pain and believes himself near death when he begins hallucinating to the annoying song "Brown Girl in the Ring" by Boney M.. Days after Phoenix was born I recalled this scene in the documentary and realized it described my state of mind as I labored in the tub that night. Like Joe, my mind had retreated to the place our bodies reserve for near death experiences.
As the morning sun peaked through the window and the springtime robins began to chirp, my mind snapped into focus. Around seven o’clock Paula suggested that she check my cervix to see what progress the night had brought.
“Did you sleep?” Paula asked with a calm smile as she put on her gloves.
“I don’t know. It’s not really sleep, but there is this place I go,” I said as Paula reached between my legs.
“You’re at six centimeters,” she said enthusiastically, “ The baby’s at a minus three and you are 100 percent effaced. I can feel your bag of waters bulging.”
Six centimeters, I’m over half way there! “Thank God, thank God, thank Jesus,” I cried even though I am not a very religious woman.
It became clear at my last few prenatal appointments that I had excess amniotic fluid, or polyhydramnios, that stretched my fundal-height to an amazing 43 centimeters at 39 weeks. It was because of the extra water that Paula now suggested we artificially rupture my membranes; if they were to break on their own I was at greater risk of a prolapsed chord due to Phoenix’s high station and the stronger force behind a spontaneous breaking.
“It’s going to get a lot more intense when we break my water, right?” I asked. I’ve heard the uterus contracts even harder once the water has drained. I don’t think I could handle more pain than this.
“That’s hard to say.” Paula said. “We can wait a while if you like.”
“Let’s wait until Jen and Gen get here.”
After Luke called Genevieve and Jennifer Paula examined my cervix again. Two hours had passed since the last time she checked and I was eight almost nine centimeters dilated, with Phoenix’s head still at a minus three station and a bulging bag of waters. More progress, another victory! I lay naked on my side with eyes closed once again gripping the headboard through each tightening. The room was silent even as I contracted because my laryngitis prevented me from making noise much louder than a whisper. I can’t believe that all women go through this. Right now there are thousands of women in labor all over the world. I am not alone.
I breakfasted on slices of orange that Luke, Paula and Erin coaxed down my throat between contractions. Genevieve arrived near ten-thirty with clary sage and jasmine oils and a Chinese fan made of sandalwood with a phoenix on its blades. The fan had been a gift to Genevieve from Luke after his travels in China. By eleven o’clock I was dilated to a nine almost ten and Phoenix had reached a minus two station. Jennifer soon arrived and we prepared for Paula to break my water.
I leaned against Luke with my bottom on the edge of the bed. “Maddy, I want you to bring all of your energy down into your pelvis. Focus on bringing Phoenix down,” Jennifer whispered. The clear fluid slowly drained from between my legs onto a chux pad, and Phoenix’s head descended to a zero station, eliminating the risk of a prolapsed chord. Jen climbed onto the bed next to Luke and said softly, “I think your mom is with us Luke. Can you feel that.”
“Yeah,” I said tightening into another contraction. Sue is watching and keeping me safe. I am safe. I felt deflated and my back began to ache as though a raw nerve had been exposed. I walked naked through the upper floor of the birth center, tracing figure eights between the blue and purple rooms for two hours. The song “I’m Too Sexy” played through my head. I’m too sexy for my shirt, too sexy for my shirt, so sexy it hurts. Near one o’clock Luke and I returned to the blessed tub. I remember we kissed during some moments alone, someone fed me spoonfuls of honey, and I threw up twice.
“That’s it Maddy. Sometimes the vomiting helps move things along.” Jen encouraged. It felt so good to puke.
I left the water one hour later and climbed onto the bed to find that Phoenix was staying at a zero station, but the head was not well applied to my cervix. Paula explained that Phoenix was facing forward in my pelvis and slightly to the left, causing my back labor and making it difficult for Phoenix to descend. I’m fully dilated but still not done! This isn’t how it’s supposed to go. I’m so tired, so, so tired. I just want to go to sleep. I want to escape my body.
Luke’s arms grew numb after throwing so much force into my back for the past fourteen hours. He propped his elbows against his abdomen and began using his torso to press against my sacrum. I could hear him snoring between contractions.
“Could we do the sterile water injections in my back?” I pleaded through exhaustion. During our Handling Complications discussion Luke had listed back labor as his one and only concern for the birth. Paula said one option was to inject sterile water to relieve the back labor for about an hour by interfering with the nerve signal. I considered this option a last resort but was willing to do anything to relieve the pain I was in.
It felt as though a large bee had stung my back in four places on either side of my sacrum as Paula injected the water. It was a sharp pain entirely different from the ache of labor. I counted out loud until the sharp burning faded, “one, two, three, four,” soon I will feel relief, “nineteen, twenty, twenty-one,” my back feels warm and tingly, “twenty-nine, thirty.” I began to feel strong cramps in my abdomen with every contraction. The pain had not disappeared it only moved. I had probably been experiencing abdominal pain all along but had not noticed it through the intense back pain. With my hands clenching the underside of my white belly I rested and so did Luke.
Paula, Erin, Jennifer, and Genevieve returned an hour later near five o’clock in the evening; thirty hours had past since my first contraction. “I’d like to try a technique called the Pelvic Floor Release that should help your baby come down into your pelvis,” Paula said. Luke stayed in bed to sleep while I shuffled my naked body into the examining room. The Pelvic Floor Release came in three steps. First, I lay on the ground while Paula wrapped a turquoise fabric beneath my hips. Then, standing over me Paula lifted my hips into their air and rocked them back and forth. “Try to relax,” Paula said and I felt my ligaments loosen as I breathed deep. Next, I was instructed to climb onto the couch and lean forward off the edge until I was in a handstand, my belly hanging upside down. I remained this way through a contraction and despite the awkward position I felt a stretch that seemed to release tension in my hips. Finally, I was told to lay on the examining table where I pitched my top leg over the edge while Paula and Genevieve cradled my belly so that I would not fall over the side. “F**k! F**k! F**k!” I shouted as I grabbed Paula’s hand contracting three times on my left then right side. As soon as one contraction ended the next began to roll over my body and lying on my side greatly intensified the pain.
After the last contraction on the table Paula suggested that I move around. So I walked up and down the stairs, two at a time, swaying my hips and large naked belly in a wide gate. “I feel like a snuffleupagus,” I said.
Jennifer laughed, “I’ve heard a lot of things at births but I’ve never heard that one before,” she said.
Luke woke up and pressed against my back as I danced my hips from side to side. Each time I reached the top of the stairs, down I went only to climb them once more. I’m exhausted. I can’t do this. Why is my baby not coming down? How many women have walked these stairs in naked pain? I feel like my baby will never be here, that there isn’t even a baby inside me. I’m going to be in labor for the rest of my life. A trail of clear amniotic fluid dripped warm between my legs onto the stairs as Erin followed behind me with a towel. After several laps on the stairs Paula suggested I walk like a duck while holding onto her hands. Round and round I walked in a squat, my beach ball of a belly sandwiched between my thighs. I sat on the birth-stool and cups of amniotic fluid gushed with each contraction onto the chux pad.
“What do you think about climbing the stairs one more time?” Paula asked.
“I think that’s a really bad idea Paula!” I said in a sarcastic laugh. But I knew she was right so again I climbed the stairs. I continued to move and squat for an hour and a half until seven o’clock that night. My face was white with exhaustion. I pleaded with Paula to let me back in the tub but she knew I needed to move some more.
“Would you like to try the shower?” she asked. I nodded in agreement.
The hot thick drops of water poured over my head. I felt clean and invigorated; I felt my mind change directions. You are doing this! Don’t give up. I felt a contraction rise inside me and I willingly squatted into it as I held onto Luke who stood at the edge of the tub.
“Tell Paula I’m squatting. Tell her this one’s for her!” I said to Luke through a determined smile. The hot water ran cold and I stepped into a waiting towel. Everyone in the room smiled at me.
“That shower did you a world of difference. You look like a new woman,” Jen said twisting my wet hair into a ponytail.
“You have color in your cheeks again,” Genevieve noticed.
I returned to the birth stool where I began to feel a gentle pressure in my bottom. Paula and Erin were downstairs when Jennifer asked, “Do you want Paula to check your cervix? I think it’s time.”
“Yeah. I think I’m feeling more pressure in my butt.”
Jen went downstairs and returned with Paula who squatted in front of me. “Jennifer says you’d like me to check your cervix.”
“Yeah. What do you think?”
“Well… I’d like to wait until your body has made some noticeable changes. But it’s your decision.”
I paused looking first at Jennifer then Genevieve. “I think I’m ready. I’m starting to feel some pressure in my bottom. I’ll make you a deal. I’ll duck-walk to the bed and then you can check me.”
“Okay,” Paula said.
Luke held onto my hands as I walked in a squat and climbed onto the bed next to him; his shirt was wet from holding me in the shower. This is the moment of truth. I have done so much work since she checked me last. What if Phoenix hasn’t moved. We must be out of options. If Phoenix hasn’t dropped I’m going to need a c-section.
“You’re ten centimeters,” Paula started to smile, “and your baby is at a plus two.”
“Oh my God! Thank Jesus, thank God. We did it! We did it! Good job Phoenix!” The worst is over. My baby will soon be here. Paula pressed down on my perineum to show me where to direct my muscles when I pushed. With the next contraction I did a practice push and Paula felt Phoenix’s head move as I strained.
I stepped into the water at eight o’clock that evening and let my body go limp against the side of the tub. I attempted to push with a few contractions but it felt strange and unnatural. Luke leaned over the edge of the tub, faithfully digging his fists into the base of my spine.
“Is it okay if Luke gets in the tub with you?” Jennifer asked.
“No. I want my space.” The thought of Luke in the tub made me feel claustrophobic, however, his arms were heavily strained as he stretched over the edge of the tub.
“Are you sure? It would be easier for Luke if he were in the tub.”
“Okay,” I said as another tightening rose inside my abdomen and back. I continued to try pushing with contractions and soon felt my body take over. I began heaving Phoenix out with the rise and fall of contractions. Paula handed me the purple ropes and provided resistance as I pulled my butt into the air with each push. Jennifer and then Genevieve persuaded me into resting each foot on the upper edge of the tub, giving me even more leverage as I pushed.
“I feel like I’m water skiing,” I said gripping the handled ropes and the room chuckled. “Thanks, I’m here all night.” I said impersonating a comedian and again the room laughed.
Each time a contraction faded I let go of the ropes and went completely limp in Luke’s arms until the next tightening crept into my abdomen. I felt as though I were vomiting through my vagina as my body took charge, heaving harder and harder and harder then softer and softer and softer until the contraction disappeared. It felt so good to hurl against the contractions; I loved pushing.
“Do you want to feel your baby?” Paula asked after checking between my legs.
“No,” I said.
“Are you sure Maddy? Phoenix is right there,” Jennifer said. So I reached inside my vagina to touch Phoenix for the first time. The head felt soft and wrinkled like a cooked raisin. Luke also reached down to touch our baby. Soon the head was visible and Erin held a mirror for me to see dark hair spreading open the mouth of my vagina.
“Push Luke, push,” I said before each contraction, encouraging him to really dig into my aching back. “Come on Phoenix. Come on down baby. You can do it. You’re doing great Phoenix!” I cried through each contraction. I began loosely breathing though my lips like a horse as a woman had done in Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. Bring your head down, draw your energy to your abdomen and vagina. Work with the pain, embrace it. “Push Luke, push!” I bent my head forward the way a bull charges a red flag. Phoenix began to crown and I grunted, “It burns, and it’s good.” The head popped between my legs and we could see that Phoenix had taken an anterior presentation just in time to come out. With the last push I thrust Phoenix from my body, slippery, wet and pink into my arms at ten-fifty on March Twenty-Fifth. Phoenix made soft whimpering noises and looked first at me then Luke.
“Hello, baby. I’m your mama,” I tried to say but no sound came out. I had been able to speak only moments before but the force of the final push had stolen my voice.
“Luke do you want to see the gender of your baby?” Paula asked.
But before Luke could move I lifted Phoenix’s leg and exclaimed “It’s a girl!” in a rasp. She stared at us with large blue eyes and a furrowed brow trying to figure out what she was looking at. Her head was covered with thick dark hair and a smile that matched her cousin Dylan’s.
“Hello Phoenix,” Luke said and she stared past my shoulder into Luke’s eyes.
“Phoenix Rosalie,” I said.
I’d like to write that I felt an incredible high holding her in my arms. I’d like to say I instantly felt like her mom, but that did not come until days later. Instead I felt exhausted and numb as I smiled at the sweet girl in my arms. I felt as though I was looking at her with the same puzzled look that she was giving me.
I stared at, shushed and nursed my softly crying baby girl while Paula caught my placenta and rubbed my uterus to stop the river of blood that poured between my legs. She helped me pass a bowl full of golf ball sized blood clots and sewed up a second degree tear in my perineum. Jen and Genevieve prepared egg sandwiches on whole-wheat bagels with organic cheese, spinach and tomato. It was the best and most nourishing meal I have ever consumed.
Luke, Phoenix and I left at eight o’clock the next morning for River Falls. The morning light stunned my eyes as I stepped outside and squinted into the spring air like I was seeing the world for the first time. I shuffled to the car with Paula at my side and thought maybe I was the newborn. Thirty-six hours of back labor had changed me from the inside out; I was now a mother.