I Better Start Writing This Down, Ep. 11: Big Cleansing Breath
On February 2nd, 2015, I started a podcast. It’s called I Better Start Writing This Down. The show’s subtitle/catchphrase is “I leave a lot out when I tell the truth,” which is a line from an Amy Hempel story. IBSWTD emphasizes stories and sound design. The second aspect, the sound design, well, you’ve got to listen to the show to experience it. But the stories — I put a lot of work into them. It bummed me out to think that these fairly intricate scripts that I put days of work into would just sort of sit there unread. So I decided to put the scripts up on Medium in hopes that maybe, after seeing them, a few people might come and check out the show. We’re into our second season now. If you’ve been coming, welcome back. If you’re new, welcome.
Either way, please enjoy.
I’m Joe Stracci, and I better start writing this down.
Episode 11: Big Cleansing Breath
The birth of a baby isn’t anything like they show you in the movies.
If you’ve never attended a birth, you might not recognize the sound that’s thumping behind me. It’s a fetal heart monitor, two palm-able plastic transducers attached to wires, wires attached to a beige rectangle that spits out an endless sheet of white paper stroked with a thin black line on it. Like those things that they use to measure earthquakes. Triangles with no base. The fetal heart monitor, understandably so, is incredibly sensitive. And labor is not a dainty task. There’s a lot a thrashing and moving and shifting and each time, the fetal heart monitor picks up the movement. The resulting sound is a terrible throaty metallic feedback, like plugging an instrument into an amplifier that’s already turned on. When the nurse is repositioning the plastic pieces, it’s a sound so loud and offensive that it makes you want to jump out the nearest window.
At 10pm on August 25th, 2015, my wife, Danielle, began the process of pushing out our second daughter. This was the plan. I knew that this was the plan, that we’d start pushing at 10, after a day that had swung back and forth between peace and disorder, but I didn’t realize that this was capital-I It. I thought these were the labor equivalent of a few warmup tosses. Like when a golfer settles into their stance and swings a couple of times at the ball, but stops before they actually make contact. Nobody banged a gong and said, “Okay — this is it!” Nobody handed me a gown and mask to tie on. Honestly, nobody even told me to wash my hands.
Once I realized what was happening — that Danielle was Having The Baby — I pressed record on my iPhone’s Voice Memo app and set the phone down in the corner.
Every birth is different, just like every baby is different. So it would be silly to think that having one would prepare you for another, even though you still think it will. For me to say our birth experience this time around was not your average birth experience is obvious — it wasn’t even average for us, but especially not for most people.
Danielle is a midwife. She chose to deliver at the hospital that she works at this time, because she wanted to try for a VBAC (that’s a Vaginal Birth After Caesaren, if you’re wondering) and she knew her group gave her the best shot. As a civilian, I thought she was nuts; VBAC or not, I wouldn’t want my coworkers staring down the barrel of my genitalia. But midwives aren’t civilians. And so there we were, pushing with no fanfare, pushing without screaming (Later on, when I began editing this episode, I could easily spot the waveforms in the audio of when Danielle was pushing because there hardly was a waveform), in a room full of women, 8 or 9 of them at one point, and me. I was genuinely interested by the sight of the head emerging, not queasy at all, just trying to help keep Danielle focused by cracking jokes about punch-in-the-face smell of the coconut oil being used in ways that I refuse to describe here.
There were times during that hour when it seemed like Danielle’s vagina blew a dog whistle; the team would assemble like a pit crew in a flash. Sometimes, Danielle would utter a moan or a word that let them know that a contraction was coming. And I know that the fetal heart monitor was tracking the contractions. But they weren’t always looking. I watched. They just — knew. They could sense it coming. It had to be, because there’s no other explanation for what I saw.
Listeners of this podcast, my friends and family too, they know that t here were people missing from this labor experience. To counteract that,I kept a picture of my mother in my pocket the entire time. When Danielle’s water-broken cries of “I’m gonna die; I’m gonna die” threatened to gnash the fillings out of my teeth, I fingered the picture. For what, I don’t know. I refused to let that day, those moments, be overrun by sadness about who wasn’t there. Instead, at the end, we made our daughter’s middle name a tribute — the only link she will have to the grandmother she will never know.
For almost my entire life, I’ve cheered at sport events. I have always been and still am able to be moved by the roar of the crowd. These are gladiatorial feats — a home run in the bottom of the 9th inning; a goal scored in overtime; a perfectly executed touchdown pass. They are all met by a sound that stands the hair on your arms up. Children even know to add it to their play: and the crowd goes wild.
As I sat watching a woman in labor, it felt wrong that, usually, it is, for the most part, an act of solitude. It’s a feat that is performed for a limited audience in mostly pained silence.
This is all wrong.
If anything, it feels like this is the gladiatorial feat for which there should be a stadium cheering and stomping and whistling. We should all buy seats, wave foam fingers, yell words of encouragement through hands cupped around the mouth. Hands that, if you think about it, already crudely resemble a vagina.
And then, Marlow was there. I cut the cord, the professionals did their work. In my haste and buzz, I left to get Danielle something to eat, got in my truck, drove half way to Wendy’s, and realized that I hadn’t taken my wallet.
I am no longer the same. And not just in the obvious outward ways: the fact that I don’t have a child now. I have two daughters.
I am no longer the same after watching a room full of women — coworkers and friends and believers in the cause — cheer on a woman as she did what only a woman can do. And, gender identity politics aside for a moment, the fact that another little girl was the end result only made it that much sweeter.
Now that it’s done, I can think only about two things: how lucky I am to have witnessed it, and how I can’t wait for Marlow Jody Stracci to hear this story: her story.
For more information about I Better Start Writing This Down, visit ibetterstart.net.
If you want to support my show, there are three things you can do:
1. Pledge a dollar or two at patreon.com/ibetterstart. That’s p-a t-r e-o-n.com/ibetterstart. Once you’ve done that (and thank you so much for supporting me), you can; 2. Rate the show in iTunes. If you already have, convince a friend to. Rating the show in iTunes moves us onto and up lists and in front of new eyeballs and, hopefully, into new ears. After that, you can; 3. Spark some chatter about the show on social media. Share our Facebook posts. Tag a friend in the comments on our Instagram posts. Retweet our tweets. I know it’s stupid — hashtag: hashtags are stupid — but it helps to attract new listeners to the show.
I Better Start Writing This Down is sponsored by Audible. If you go to audibletrial.com/ibetterstart, you can get a free audiobook download, and a 30 day free trial, and help to support the show, all at the same time. That’s not nothing, you know.
Audible has over 150,000 titles to choose from. One title that I think IBSWTD listeners would enjoy is:
“Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times” by Jennifer Worth
This is volume one in the series of memoirs that the PBS series is based on. To download “Call the Midwife” for free, go to audibletrial.com/ibetterstart. Again, that’s audibletrial.com/ibetterstart to help support the show and in return, receive a free audiobook and a 30 day free trial.
I Better Start Writing This Down has a crackerjack social media presence. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr — we’re everywhere. All you need to remember, our username in all of those spaces? ibetterstart. That’s it.
Hopefully, you wrote it down.