“When does a birth story begin? With a positive test? In the months of growing belly and changing identity? With the evolution of a romance into parenthood? Is it ancestral; beginning with how I was mothered, how my mother was mothered, how through all of this history I found myself in the present, naked and shaking but confident that what felt like a breaking inside of me was instead the pain of becoming? Or the first cries from the vocal chords of the most perfect stranger one could ever meet? In truth I think there were many beginnings to the singular moment that welcomed my son.
For the sake of this story birth began at 3AM.
Friday morning I was awoken by the discomfort of contractions, but at only 37 weeks I thought it must just be Braxton Hicks and tried to go back to sleep. Once again I was awoken, groggy and annoyed I fell back asleep. With yet another contraction waking me up I realized I should start paying attention to what was happening. I snuck out of bed and began timing my contractions on the couch. They were mild, but obvious. A 45 second contraction. 7 minutes later a 1 minute contraction. 4 minutes later a 30 second contraction, 6 minutes and another 30 second, followed in 8 minutes by 1 minute 20 seconds, 5 minutes and a 30 second, and so it continued sporadically for the next hour. I sent the times to my midwife to see what she thought. "Sounds like early labor!" She said, to my surprise. I didn't feel like I was in labor. As the day progressed it turned out we were both kind of right.
I was experiencing what is called prodromal labor. Ben's head was resting on (aggressively pressing into) my pubic bone, so although labor queues were happening in my body (dilation, efacement, uterine contractions) he wasn't able to move fully into position. For the next week while my body and Ben worked on getting in the right position randomly throughout the day and night contractions would roll in, but then again roll out, never becoming painful, but always uncomfortable and distracting.
That first day I sent John to work "What do you mean you think you're in labor, but you want me to go to work!?" While my mom came and spent the day with me. My amazing midwife and her trainee came by to check on me when we discovered Ben's less than ideal positioning and began Spinning Babies techniques to get him moving. Soon everyone was gone and John and I were just...waiting.
It was a week full of confusion, frustration, new levels of patience, and a surprising amount of sweetness for John and I. It was like any moment could be the last that was just the 2 of us, and so we savored it all, while anxiously awaiting our mystery baby (as we had not found out the gender beforehand).
At around 11PM the following Wednesday I, for the last time during my pregnancy, was awoken by contractions. These were a bit more than "distracting". I got on my hands and knees in bed, bending and arching my back as they rolled through, focusing my breath with each one as it came. John slept peacefully next to me completely unaware. After an hour of this at almost exactly midnight, my water broke. I made a noise, nothing dramatic like in the movies, just a surprised "oh!". John rolled over and looked at me. "I don't know how you've been sleeping this whole time, I've been moving around like crazy next to you for the last hour! Also, my water just broke."
"What!?" He said, "What do I do?"
"Call the midwife."
She advised us to keep timing my contractions and let her know when they were consistently a minute long each. John began setting up the birthing tub in the kitchen while I went to the bathroom to deal with my soaked pajamas (broken waters is messy, fyi). John continued to time contractions for me as I called to him from the bathroom. They were coming rapidly, over a minute long every 2 to 3 minutes. He called Melissa, our midwife, back. She was already on her way.
I went back to the bedroom to wait for her, and for the tub to be ready. We had put multiple layers of bedding and waterproof covers on our bed in preparation and John had removed the first layer already that was soaked from my water breaking. Time becomes a blur in labor. I don't remember much of this time alone in the room, I only remember when it was interrupted when Melissa and Anneliese (her midwife in training) arrived. I don't remember my contractions being terrible at this point, but I do remember how relieved I was when Melissa said the tub was ready for me to get in.
It was glorious to be in the tub. All of the pressure inside my body was lighter and I could rest in all kinds of positions between contractions that I couldn't outside of the tub. During this time my mom arrived, setting up in a chair near the tub, and another midwife Kate snuck in as well. I barely remember their entrance. All of my focus was inside. John was a constant by my side, quick to add hot water to the tub when requested. Melissa and Anneliese would come and check the baby's vitals from time to time. The lights were dim and magical while everyone supported me in a way that gave me the space I needed to simply focus on me and my baby.
I was getting tired, the clock read 4:45AM and with the intensity my labor had progressed I thought it must be just about time for my baby to arrive. I had already vomited two or three times from the intensity of my contractions.
Melissa advised a change, moving John and I alone into our bedroom to labor in the dark. Although the tub brought me some relaxation it was not giving me the sense of grounding or power I would need when it was time to push. I had talked about this concern with Melissa before but forgot about it in the act of labor. Thankfully she was there to guide me.
In my room she did a cervical check to see where I was at. 6cm dilated out of 10. My heart dropped a little, I thought I must have been fully dilated by now. Alone with John in my bed my contractions became even more intense. There was little to no break between them. I vomited again. Melissa checked the baby's heart rate and told me the baby's head had been under pressure for some time now. Everything was ok at this time, however usually when it came time to push she let mothers listen to their own bodies and take their time, this was not an option for me. I wasn't afraid by what she said, but I understood too. It was time. There was no moment of rest. There was an ache that pierced and consumed me. John tried to read to me but I could hardly hear him. I asked him to stop. Three thoughts circled through my head during these peak moments:
1: I thought of the myth of the Goddess Khali, whose accredited with the things in the world that seem to be chaos but are actually a way of making room for life and love; wildfires that burn down forests, but clear away debris so new life can grow, the power of death that returns flesh to dust to nourish the earth. The poet Andrea Gibson says when she asked the universe about The Big Bang it said "it hurts to become." This bloody, animalistic pain was this same power of love of creation inside me. This pain is love. This pain is love. This pain is love.
2: I thought about my baby. I thought about being strong for my baby. I thought my baby may be feeling all of the pain and fear and doubt I am right now and he needs me to take care of him. I need to hold all of this for the two of us. And I did.
3: After cycling through both of those I would think "maybe something is wrong and I'll get to go to the hospital and get dugs."
But soon that thought would pass and I'd be thinking about Khali again. And then my baby. And then back to drugs.
I began to feel like pushing, but it seemed that Melissa had just informed me I was at 6cm, and I'd heard of women pushing before they were fully dilated and causing their cervix to swell under the pressure instead and delaying labor. I obviously did not want this. I reached my fingers in to feel thinking I may feel the head but instead soft insides just felt lower. I asked John to get Melissa. What I thought had only been 15 minutes had been over an hour. Melissa gave me the go ahead to push. While she was there I felt for the head again, still just the same softness. She asked if I felt the head and I told her what I felt, she informed me that during birth that is exactly what baby's heads feel like.
At this time they put a yoga ball against the wall and had John sit on the ball with his legs spread to support me squating in front of him. I held John's hands, I felt him lean forward bringing his face next to mine, I remembered what Melissa said about the pressure my baby had been under, and I fucking pushed.
Melissa was in front of me with a head lamp on in the dark room, the other two midwives to her right, I vaguely noticed Kate recording this moment and thought "oh that's nice of her but I'm never going to want to see this." I looked down and could see the tip of his head and thought "This is it!" But it was just the beginning. His head had elongated during labor, as baby heads do, and this pointed tip emerged, but there was the bulk of it still to go. I pushed and I pushed and I felt the elastic of my skin scream against the pressure that was being applied to it and I thought about what Melissa said about the pressure my baby was under and I fucking pushed.
After what somehow felt like both a very long time and no time at all with a big push his head fully emerged. I knew one more push could bring him all the way, I took a big breath and pushed his shoulders, and the rest of him out. Melissa cradled him out, and as he twisted out he turned upwards we saw he was a little boy. Healthily screaming, his tiny lungs and tiny heart beat strong.
Baby Boy born December 6th 2018 at 6:24 AM weighing 6lbs 2oz and measuring exactly 20cm long.
Those that attended my birth talked about how graceful and calm I was, my midwife Kate took a video and indeed it does look that way, but really there was a chaotic wildness ripping through me that required me to enter a meditative state to hold space for it all. When I watched the video my first thought when I saw my composed face in this incredibly raw moment in my life was "that girl is a liar!". But I did indeed end up watching the video, and I'm so glad I did. It's empowering to witness myself in this way. To feel what I see happening in the video and to know with all of my senses and soul, that I am strong enough and whole enough on my own to be this boys mother. To see the connection between John and I as this once in a lifetime moment unfolded in our laps.”