Belize Survivor, part 51

The first twinges of labor hit at four o'clock on Saturday morning, six days after their arrival. From the beginning, Alexis knew it was the real thing, and from that moment on, sleep was impossible. Realizing it would be a long process, she and Max decided to take a leisurely walk and then go into Summertown to have lunch at a new organic food restaurant. By three-thirty in the afternoon, the pains had increased to the point where Alexis was ready to go back to The Farm and lie down. Soon it was dark and the long night began. One of the midwives came at nine o'clock and determined that Alexis was only dilated two centimeters. With the contractions being twenty-five minutes apart, it was unlikely that the birth would happen during the course of the night.

"I'm scared, Max," she said. "I can't believe how much it hurts and it's only just beginning. I can't believe how tired I am."

"That's why they told you to try to sleep between contractions. You should try to do that."

"Yeah, right. I'm going to push out a watermelon, and I'm supposed to catch forty winks in between." But she did manage to drop off from time to time, and at last dawn arrived. Again the midwife came, but there had been very little progress. Alexis was only four centimeters dilated and the contractions were still fifteen minutes apart. Throughout the entire course of the day, she continued to do the level one Lamaze breathing, but by dusk she was desperate and exhausted.

That second night, racked by agony, she lay on the bed staring at the twin eyes of the kerosene lamps winking at the far side of the tent. Trying to relax and concentrate, Alexis went through every meditation and breathing technique she could think of. She felt like her back was breaking, and she turned and positioned tennis balls on her sciatic nerves for counter-pressure. Max was awake much of the time; she had to give him credit for that. But after forty-eight hours, his breathing slowed in sleep. She was alone.

By dawn of the second morning Alexis felt she had reached the end. Some women died in childbirth and now she understood why. She wished for a drug to kill the pain almost as much as she wished for sleep. Yet every time her body drifted off, the next contraction brought her back. At eight o'clock, Ida May, the head midwife walked into the tent with two other attendants.

"Still in there, huh?" she said, directing her comment toward Alexis' bulging belly. "Well, it's high time that baby comes out into the world."

"What are you going to do to me?"

"Honey, if we don't get that baby out of you, you're going to have to go to the hospital to get a zipper." She flexed her fingers. "Okay, girls. Showtime."

By eleven o'clock, Alexis no longer even knew who or where she was. Her water had broken. The midwives massaged her belly and breasts to stimulate the birthing process and wiped her sweating naked body with a damp cloth. The sun shone through the red canvas roof of the tent and played colorful tricks on the walls. Sometimes she could see three Maxes and other times none. The world spun away as if she was being sucked into a funnel. In her more lucid moments, she was sure her vertebrae were shattering. Nothing could relieve the pressure, except pushing that baby out. Mohammed didn't know anything about moving mountains, she thought. Women did.

"I can see the head," said Ida May. "Okay, Alexis, bear down. Push. Push hard. Okay, girls, it's crowning. Get ready. Come on, Alexis. PUSH!" she commanded. Every fiber of Alexis' mind and soul directed itself into that one moment as the baby's head emerged from her body. "The head is out. Now, one more push for the shoulder. Come on, Alexis."

"I–can't–do–this," she gasped, as she bore down one final time. With a gush of blood and fluids, the baby was born and gave a vigorous cry.

"It's a boy!" cried Max. Just then Stephen walked in and smiled.

"Do we have a new human being here?" As he spoke, the baby's tiny penis stood up, and in the relative coolness of his new environment, he peed. Stephen laughed and spoke for the infant. "Ahhh, I've been waiting to do that for months."

Alexis stared down at the multicolored baby lying between her legs. Looking surreal, the colors swirled before her eyes. The infant appeared to be red, blue, pink, and white – all at the same time. The umbilical cord was thick and curly; it pulsated with new life. The midwives cleansed the baby and laid it on Alexis' bare body. As she touched the infant for the first time, another powerful contraction caused the placenta to be born. Holding the mass of tissue high, they waited until all the life-giving blood drained into the child's body before cutting the cord. Putting the tiny mouth to her breast, Alexis felt a delicious pang as the infant began suckling. She looked into Max's eyes and knew it was the greatest moment either of them had ever experienced. Outside their tent, the world had burst into a riot of color. Spring, too, had been born; the dogwood bloomed, shy violets peeped from the woodlands, and the sun shone brightly in the skies over Tennessee.

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