Bangs Is Having A Baby
By: Jane Bradbury
Athy, Ireland, 1984. I’m only ten, lying in my bed warming my bum against the radiator, dreaming my way through another chilly Irish night.
I have my territory clearly cut out with a chalk line dividing the room. I get the radiator, window and two closets. My baby sister Katie, 5, with her little bangs, gets one closet and the door.
Amsterdam, Holland, 2016. And here I am lying in another bed, this time next to my sweet sister. My mind floods with the days I would put her in a suitcase and push her down the stairs, our Irish rollercoaster. Or when I made her “cotton candy” out of cotton wool and sugar. I dressed her up, read to her, protected her inside our one-bedroom kingdom, and now I would be about to protect her through the greatest adventure of her life. Because “Bangs” is having a baby.
And fortunately, she’s about to deliver in one of the best countries in the world to give birth.
Dutch maternity health care is ranked in the world’s top ten, while the U.S. is ranked 60th. And about a fifth of all Dutch births take place at home. They don’t have an instilled fear associated with it, but rather a deep confidence. Their viewpoint is that childbirth is not a medical condition, until it becomes one. They do not treat pregnant women as patients but instead encourage and support the mother to trust her own instincts. As a result, pain relief is not encouraged and giving birth naturally, and at home, remains the ideal for many Dutch women.
And that is not even the best part. Imagine coming downstairs to a lovely granola/yogurt breakfast, prepared by someone who has been sent to attend to all your medical and personal needs. To troubleshoot your sore boobs, watch your child while you sleep, and also clean your house! Meet your Kraamzorg…the Dutch word for maternity nurse, who will come to your home for the first 8 days after delivery. She’s provided by your insurance company and is the envy of every mother outside of Holland.
But of course as life is unpredictable, there is to be no home birth for my little sister…
I’m awoken by a very warm pair of toes, and a smile mixed with wonder and worry…Katie’s water has broken in the night. And though she’s had no contractions, there is a lot of meconium. Meconium is the babies first feces and when inhaled can partially or completely block the baby’s airways. And this killed the party for the home birth. So we pack our bags, and a few things more. Most people tend to come to hospitals overflowing with pillows and blankets. But Katie and her partner, Emre, both documentary filmmakers, come overflowing with production gear, cameras, lights, and a tripod.
Now…the setting may have changed, but this is not going to interrupt the beauty. So as Chet Baker and every other jazz great accompany us, we begin. The cervix needs to progress from posterior to anterior, to ripen, to efface 0–100%, and then to dilate zero to ten. Like the music, each process is majestically orchestrated…by the support of hormones such as oxytocin, adrenaline, endorphins, one naturally sedating, one organically energizing, all in rhythm…and in time…But we don’t have time when pain seems to stop the clock, so we have to take our minds on a vacation of the imagination. We go to Katie’s favorite place, the ocean. We sail around Cape Horn, visualizing each monstrous wave as it picks up the boat, speeds down the face, leaving the boat exhausted at the bottom. The contraction has passed. We rest waiting for the next wave to hit.
For each wave we do counter pressure. We execute long, deep breathing. She falls asleep for 90 seconds and wakes up again. Asleep and awake, again and again. When she sleeps, I see the precious little girl she had been. When she awakes and labors, I see the even more spectacular woman she has become.
And then Katie hits transition. The most difficult and challenging stage. It’s like the Hillary steps on Everest, she’s near her summit, but she’s also the most fatigued she’s ever been in her life.
Our eyes lock. I can see fear; a fear I’ve never seen in her before. Even when she’d gotten stampeded by wild elephants in war-torn Mozambique, or cornered by a tree full of angry baboons in Botswana. She’s on an unknown ledge and all she sees is a vastness of pain in every direction. And then I whisper…”You know how to do this, Katie. You’ve always known.”
And of course she wants to do it this way, feeling it all, challenging herself, surrounded by two cameras and her key light, and her loving partner. She clings onto me as her baby crowns. Reaching down, her fingertips gently stroke a mop of damp curls, finally making skin-to-skin contact after 9 months of secret swimming within.
And at 1:11 am, a new face of a mother was officially born. One etched with joy, wonder and yes! My sister’s final tears bleed into my niece’s first cry.
Omey Bradbury Izat.
I’m holding in my hands the future of our family, named Omey, after the island where my dad’s ashes are scattered. A paradise of wild horses and wilder waves. The Atlantic Ocean, the heartbeat for all our childhood holidays. This is our new Omey…here to carry on our family legacy. Will she learn to bake mum’s Irish soda bread, will she have big Bradbury ears, or our soft Kildare lilt? Where will her path take her? I smile, knowing all the hard work my parents and their parents did for each of us. And I feel connected to them, knowing that they’re all as much a part of me as I am a part of her. And as she looks up at me with her soul far too big to fit inside her little perfect beautiful body…I cry…because I know…
Tonight, she will sleep beside my little sister.
And protect her from now on.