When I was pregnant, I couldn’t read enough birth stories. I loved that they always ended the same way–with the birth of a baby–but that the journeys getting there were all so different, so unique to each woman and her child. I especially loved the stories in Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth. They were almost magical in their telling, so unlike the ideas of birth I had heard my whole life. These women were relying on their bodies to birth their babies. They emanated a total trust in the process, and the central emotion was not fear, but rather a certain kind of joy. Media shows us one way for the most part, involving frantic, emergency-like runs to the hospital, screaming, fretting women, and of course, a concerned doctor usually ordering the woman to PUSH under cold, sterile lights. Who would ever look forward to that?
When I was 21 I lived in San Luis Obispo and regularly got chiropractic treatments for migraines. My chiropractor and his wife had just had a baby and during a treatment, he told me that his wife had given birth in water. I had never heard of someone doing that, but as he went on, explaining their ideas of the birthing process, it all made perfect sense. That story hung with me and even before I got pregnant, I hoped for drug free, natural birth. For me, there were many reasons, most of them falling in line with my general belief that natural solutions are usually preferable, but as a person who has not consumed a mind altering drink or drug for going on seven years, the idea of taking a drug that would remove feeling felt scarier than just feeling it, whatever it was. I went into my pregnancy knowing that unless absolutely necessary, I didn’t want to even open the door of possibility to drugs. I knew that if I left even the smallest option for myself, in a moment of desperation I would probably take it.
So I read. I read blogs about natural birth, I read Hypnobirthing techniques, I drew pictures, channeled my inner Wolf and prayed every night that I would be able to manage the pain and rigor of labor. And in the end, nearly every meditation and chant went promptly out the window, and an animal like aura took me over. I remember pacing across the apartment, feeling intense affection for my husband and doula between contractions and being cloaked by loving hands with cool, peppermint soaked towels. As labor went on, I dreamed. I remember wanting it to stop and if I could fall asleep, maybe I would wake up with a baby. But there was no way around it. Contractions are like nothing I’ve ever felt, and even now, having experienced them, I can’t describe them accurately. What started like a mild cramp became a whole body sensation that quite literally at times, brought me to my knees.
I didn’t believe I could really be in labor. Everyone had told me that first time moms are always late. But there I was going into labor on the eve of my due date, an impossible thing. So I told Brenon to go to work. I bounced on my birth ball and listened to music. Took several baths and told myself again and again that this probably wasn’t real. Around four, my doula, Sam, happened to be in the neighborhood and she stopped by. I encouraged her to go home, rest and I’d keep her updated. Around five I told Brenon he needed to come home. In that short time I realized that I didn’t want to be in the pain alone anymore. I needed him with me.
Sam came back over a few hours later and I remember the three of us in front of the living room window noticing the sunset. It seemed nice to labor before a sunset. I wanted to make our way to the hospital. I had visions of the jacuzzi tub waiting for me, the midwife at the ready. But we stayed. We paced. I dreamed. They squeezed my hips. They said beautiful things to me. In the incredible pain, I felt waves of sheer love for my husband, radiating with such force I could almost see them streaming out of me. I had immense appreciation for the steadfastness of Sam, who never seemed to tire.
When we got to the hospital at midnight, the contractions were coming much faster. I remember pausing in the hall on our walk to the delivery room, and telling Sam and Brenon that I just wanted my daughter to know she was a “grown woman.” (After listening to Beyonce’s Grown Woman maybe 1,000 times during my pregnancy, it made sense in that moment.) What I meant, of course was not the literal, but rather that my daughter would be strong, and happy, and wholly herself. But we laughed and I breathed and wondered if Jesus was really with me, and if in the crazy way I was feeling, I would actually see Him standing there.
The next four hours were long and short and bizarre, and I am probably not the person to tell the accurate version. I got into the tub and it was lovely for a while. I got out and was hot and cold and hot and cold. I remember being offered popsicles and choosing the “red” flavor but wanting a “purple” one on standby in case. I remember Brenon always beside me. Later Sam told us he was the best birth partner she had ever seen. At the end of the four hours, I climbed up onto the bed and was done. I told them I couldn’t do it anymore. Several people told me at once “You are doing it!” Again, I wanted sleep to be the out, the way to escape the whole insane thing. And then, on its own, my body began to push.
Before this point, my water had not broken. As I pushed I almost forgot that fact, until I heard a pop and felt a surprising gush. It was like a strange treat, and I paused, feeling that I had finally accomplished something. I had read that in transition usually contractions slow and the mother gets a chance to rest before the final show. I may have gotten that in reality, but it felt like one thing after another and I know I was screaming and making sounds I had never heard before. The midwife told me my throat would be sore the next day and it seemed so comical, that in all of this, someone was concerned over my throat. But she was right, and my high pitched wailings were doing little to channel my energy downward and so I tried to produce the low, deep sounds that would push my baby out.
I’m sure I thought I had died and come back a few times. But each time I thought I couldn’t do it, someone was there to tell me I could. They said she had a lot of hair. They told me to touch her head and I did. I lay on my side in a crazy squat and they told me a few times to slow down. And then Wendy, my midwife, was telling me to take my baby. So I took her and suddenly she was on my stomach, screaming. She was perfectly pink and soft and real. No book could have prepared me for that moment, not in a million years. And the pain was gone. It left my mind and all I could see was this beautiful little soul. I had tried to imagine her so many times, and never could, and then, there she was. I pushed for twenty minutes, and I laughed when they told me. It had felt like 20 seconds, like 20 hours, like nothing and like days at the same time.
I felt each moment and now, writing this, the sensations feel impossible again. They feel mysterious and unexplainable. Harper Jewel was born at 4:20 a.m. on Friday, August 1st, her due date. My punctual Leo, her middle name after her great-grandmother. She was and is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I am in awe of what my body did, but I am also in gratitude for I know that I experienced the best case scenario in many ways. I know I was blessed and I will never forget that. Having experienced labor, I have a respect for birth and for women that stretches so much further than it did before. I have been humbled in ways I never imagined and even in the mothering of my new baby, I have understood inherently that in this role you make decisions that work for you and your child, whatever they may be. This is what worked for us, and I wouldn’t change a moment of it.