Though she’s new to poly lifestyles and still adjusting to the terminology, one might call Heidel’s living arrangement a poly-fidelitous closed triad, though she prefers to just call it her pride. Prior to discovering poly lingo, that’s what she called her family: a pride of lions. Heidel’s pride consists of one other beautiful woman, one gorgeous man, three sons, two stepsons, a step-baby on the way, one very, very old pitbull named Jones, two snakes, a bunch of lizards and toads, and one ham-eating Eastern box turtle named Gary. Heidel writes from Central California.

Previous editions of this column can be found in the Monthly Columns Archives.

A Love Reborn

Our newest family member was born November 8. We’ve spent the last couple of weeks getting to know our little son, loving him to death. But though we were prepared for Little One -- prepared for the birth and prepared for the change his birth would inevitably bring -- we were not prepared for how it would come about. Least of all were we prepared for the change it would create in all of us.


A full week after her due date, on November 6 Lioness said she’d had enough. She was swollen, bulging, a bubble of incubation rather than a human being, and she was ready for Little One to be born. So, with her doctor’s permission, we started her on black and blue cohosh drops (herbs that are used to bring on labor) in the hope that it would get things started. As her doula (a fancy word for birthing attendant), I took the day off of work to assist her in her labor and birth, thinking it would be a 24-hour process. Nine hours after we started the drops, Lioness still wasn’t feeling a thing, so we attended her regularly scheduled doctor’s appointment.

The doctor, a jovial woman well acquainted and happy with our polyamorous arrangement, was also concerned about Lioness’ lateness and size. She insisted that it was time to induce. Now, as an experienced natural-birth doula and someone who has gone through three of my own natural births, I was reluctant to advise Lioness to allow the induction. But she wasn’t sleeping – she had developed carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful condition that kept her awake at night, three months earlier. It was time for this baby to come out. It would be hours before the hospital had room for Lioness, so we agreed to the induction, figuring the cohosh would have more time to work and induction might not be necessary anyway.

A few hours later we got the call and made our leisurely way down to the hospital. Lioness was checked in and deposited in a labor room. By then it was midnight, and we’d been working at getting this labor going for 15 hours.

Once in her room, Lioness was poked and prodded and hooked up to machines, all against her anti-medical establishment will. To calm her down, I reminded her that we had agreed to the medical procedure, and at this point, needed to allow the medical staff to do what they needed to do. We had, in effect, forsaken the natural birth she and I had trained for, had planned. This was fine by Lion, who preferred that we let the doctors do their thing anyway, and who paced excitedly in the hall and rocked like a maniac in the one rocking chair they had in the room for guests. He was uncharacteristically silent. He had decided early on to leave the birthing process to the women.


After a series of Pitocin drips and insertions, Lioness’ labor finally began about 9 a.m. the next day, 24 hours after we began the cohosh. Her mother, Lion and I took turns sitting with her and running home to check on the older kids and get them off to school. A few hours later, her mother was called away to a family emergency (though none of us would tell Lioness this until after her birth), and it was up to Lion and I to stay with Lioness and juggle the school-age kids we’d left at home more than a day earlier.

Lioness’ labor began in earnest that evening, about 24 hours after she checked in to the hospital. Her pains came long and hard and pretty close together. But they were intermittent, refusing to develop a strong pattern. Lioness handled them beautifully at first. But almost 36 hours without sleep was beginning to weigh on her, as it was on all of us. She put all of her Lamaze and Bradley training to use: she moaned and sighed rather than screamed or yelled; she rocked her hips; she breathed in through her nose and gently pushed the air out through her mouth. But the pains came on stronger and stranger. And worst of all, they weren’t going anywhere. She dilated to four centimeters and sat there for hours. Her doctor suggested she take pain medication – yet another thing she’d vowed not to do in her birth plan – so that she could relax and sleep some between contractions. So her nurse loaded her up with a nearly-lethal cocktail, and Lioness fell into a deep sleep.

By this time, Lion and I had taken turns staying with Lioness while we checked on the kids, made their supper, tucked them into bed and promised them we’d be home and the baby would be there by morning. But that wasn’t to happen. That night, Lioness stopped breathing. The drugs relaxed her so well that between contractions, she’d slip into a corpse-like stillness. It began about 10 p.m. Lion dozed in the chair by the bed, and I stood at Lioness’ bedside, wiping her brow with a moist cloth, smoothing her blankets, trying to do something to keep from letting a disturbing feeling of helplessness overtake me. I noticed that she had quit breathing. I watched her lips turn a lovely lavender and then blue, her face pale and grow azure. I rubbed her sternum with a hard knuckle and called her name. “Breathe, Lioness. Take a deep breath, Love,” I said. And she did.

Concerned, I ran out into the hall and called for the nurse. “What is her respiratory rate supposed to be?” I asked. “18 to 24,” the nurse answered. “Well, there’s a problem,” I said. “It’s down to 4.” So the nurse followed me back to the room, hooked Lioness up to an oxygen sensor and put an oxygen mask over her head. It helped immediately. Her lips and cheeks pinkened and her O2 levels rose. But almost immediately, in a fit of frustration and incoherence, Lioness ripped the mask off of her face and fought the nurse and me when we tried to reapply it. In the end, we had to settle for balancing the mask on the pillow near her head, and I spent the next few hours calling her name and rubbing her chest, begging her to keep breathing, as Lion intermittently dozed and paced nervously around the room, and the night nurse was suspiciously absent.

Around midnight (15 hours into labor, 29 hours after hospital admittance), the nursing staff moved Lioness into the delivery room, a larger more comfortable space with a pull-out chair for a guest to nap in and a private bathroom. Lioness had finally progressed to five centimeters, and her nurse thought things looked like they were moving along. She wavered between moments of coherence and breathless exhaustion for the next three hours, until suddenly she sat up and said, “I feel funny. I think something is wrong.” Her coherence shocked and disturbed me. Usually, a mother will grow less and less coherent until the birth is imminent, when she’ll “come to” and get ready to push. But in this induced, drug-laden labor, Lioness’ coherence didn’t jive. We talked a little bit about where she felt she was at in her labor, what she wanted to do. Then I called for the nurse. Lioness sat up in bed and started to cry – the one and only time she lost her composure through the whole process.

“Look,” she said. “I’ve been in labor for 18 hours and nothing is happening. I don’t think it’s going anywhere and I’m exhausted and in so much pain. I think the baby has moved back up. He’s not coming down. He’s not coming out. I want you to check me again, and if I haven’t gone anywhere, I want you to call the doctor. I’m ready for a C-section.”

This was it. I knew she was at the end of her rope. None of this, not one thing that had happened was in her birth plan. And for my beautiful, strong, goddess of a girl to call for a Cesarean meant she had lost all hope. A couple of hours earlier, I had left the room to wipe away my own tears – the one and only time I allowed myself to cry. I had to be strong, even though every minute that stretched into every long, painful hour for Lioness was breaking my heart. Now, I stood at her side, holding her hand, offering what little strength I had left as she made the hardest decision of her life.

The nurse consulted with the doctor, who suggested that they stop the Pitocin drip and let the contractions subside for a few hours in the hopes that Lioness could get some much-needed rest. It might reset her uterus, the doctor suggested. She had seen it happen before, and it was worth a try before resorting to surgery. We agreed, and the nurse turned off the IV. Lion went home to catch a couple of hours of sleep before sending the kids off to school the next morning. I curled up on the pull-out bed and listened to the baby’s steady heart beat, which had remained strong throughout the whole process, as I drifted off to sleep.


Three hours later I sat up and rubbed my eyes. Sunlight streamed in through a broken slat in the blinds and threw a jagged golden glow across Lioness’ hospital gown. The machines nearby hummed and beeped with Little One’s steady beating heart. Lioness opened her eyes and smiled at me. Throughout our brief, early morning respite I had listened to her moan softly as her belly contracted every 20 minutes or so. Without the Pitocin, her body had taken on its own labor, more gentle and gently paced than the Pitocin-induced spasms that had exhausted her the day before. But she was smiling again. She was refreshed. She was ready to get on with this thing.

The morning nurse started her back on the drip at about 6 a.m. Lion’s mother arrived a couple of hours later. Lioness and I eyeballed each other but didn’t say a word. The last line on Lioness’ birthing plan had been written in all caps: DON’T LET LION’S MOTHER INTO THE DELIVERY ROOM. Later, when the mother-in-law slipped out to make a phone call, we talked about this, and Lioness shrugged: “I had to throw my birthing plan out the window last night at 3 a.m. Why worry about the last of it now.”

Lion came back to the hospital shortly after his mother, and we were able to sneak out and grab breakfast from the cafeteria while Mother-in-law sat with Lioness. Refreshed and somewhat revitalized on powdered eggs, we returned to the room. Lioness’ pains were coming faster. The nurse checked her progress. Six centimeters! Finally, something was happening. The mood was palpably lighter. Today. Today might finally be Little One’s birthday.

By 3 p.m., Lioness had progressed to eight centimeters, and her pains were coming fast and furious. She could no longer talk through contractions. She had – finally – established a labor pattern. Her doctor told the staff she’d be there soon. Within two hours, 36 hours after Lioness’ labor began and 48 hours after admittance, Lioness was pushing.

The birth was surreal, an impossible event suddenly become possible, a dream realized. At 6:17, Little Lion IV was born, a beautiful and beautifully perfect baby. We passed him around between the three of us. Mother-in-law, a terribly nosy and bossy lady who had created a nasty family war against me a year earlier, was now on her best behavior. She insisted she get a picture of the three of us together with Little One – a picture of the family, she said. We were all giddy. Doctor joked that she’d let us quibble over which parent got to cut the cord, but I let that honor go to Lion. I’d had the honor of holding this magnificent woman’s hand as she walked through the valley of the shadow of death. It was enough for me.

Hours later, after Mama and Baby were safe in the post-delivery room, washed, fed and finally sleeping, Lion and I crawled home. We built a fire, sat before it, drank a 12 pack of Guinness and held each other until our trembling stopped. It hit us: We were a family. It hit him: His wife could have died had I not been there to call her name and tell her to breathe all throughout that long, lonely night. It hit me: These were my loves. I’d almost lost one of them. And that was the scariest, emptiest feeling I’d ever experienced. Lion and I held each other until we fell asleep, content, finally, that all was well. Lioness would come home tomorrow.

Heidel is a contributing writer as well as a member of this online Community. She can be contacted here or through our message board Forums.

Heidel ; November 22, 2007


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