This birth story has been sitting in my drafts for months. In fact, it was one of the first things I wrote (it’s originally titled, Birth Story- 4 of 100…and here it is ending up 49 of 100). I only point it out because I wrote this shortly after the actual birth, when the memory was potent. Now, it’s hazier. Or lighter, anyway. Shortly after James was born, the pain felt like a big deal. I remember vowing at some point during labor that I would never ever EVER opt for a natural birth again. Now, I’m like – yeah, it sucked, but maybe it wasn’t that bad. Maybe I would do it again after all.
I also want to send you links to my favorite birth stories by Cheryl Strayed and Michelle Tea. I think they show that no matter the outcome of your birth, birth is earth-shattering and amazing. If anyone cares about my advice for birth, I’ve included it after the story (and mostly my advice to embrace what happens! Which is why it’s after… you should never have to read anyone’s advice about this stuff).
When I found out I was pregnant, I wrote a very long letter to all four midwifery clinics in Calgary telling them why a natural birth was so important to me. Midwives are in high demand and short supply here. Astonishingly, I got a call back from a British woman named Hilary who agreed to take me on if I promised to take a natural childbirth class. Yes, yes of course I would.
I had ideas about natural childbirth. I even went as far as to hem a long Thai silk robe to be knee length and fitting of these ideas–I would be present and strong; it was something I could look good doing. I mean, I knew it was going to hurt, but it was also going to be beautiful.
In the birth class we saw videos of women in hard labor, moans of pain shuddering through their bodies in a way that made my skin crawl. At the end of it, Dan and I turned to each other, both of us with tears in our eyes. Not that-was-so-beautiful tears, but rather that-looked-fucking-painful-and-I’m-scared tears. It was then that I laid one of the ground rules for our birth: no filming, thank you very much.
The first contraction woke me up at about 1 a.m. on baby’s due date. Although I’d been wishing with all my might that baby would come on exactly that day, it seemed impossible that it would actually happen. A false start–I was sure of it. But I was giddy, got out of bed, grabbed a glass of water, downloaded a labor app and crawled into the guest bed. The contractions came in waves and I pictured myself on a beach watching the ocean, the sun breaking on my face. I rated them all mild.
At some point, Dan woke and found me there. “We should try to sleep,” he said as got into bed with me. I dozed between contractions until the sun finally came up.
We walked to the coffee shop. A woman with a small boy saw me lean back against a chair during a contraction. “Good luck,” she said with a smile. We walked around the neighborhood–a walk we’d done a hundred times in my late pregnancy when I could only walk so far.
When we got home, we watched the Theory of Everything–and I, draped over the labor ball, cried when Stephen Hawking looked at his ex-wife and pointed at their three children and said, “Look at what we created”.
Things were starting to hurt. Bad. Someone squeezing my insides with a vice.
“One more walk,” I said after the movie. We wandered into the park across the street from our house, snapped this picture
and then I realized I could hardly stand up, so we hobbled home and I fell into bed, mooing in pain. I kept trying to picture the sun breaking on face on the beach–suddenly, an extremely cruel exercise. I felt like a puppy being beaten in a back alley.
Dan said: “I’m calling your parents.”
“No!” I cried. “I don’t want to jinx it. What if it’s a false start?”
“SKY!” he said. “You ARE in labor.”
I wrapped myself in his enormous gray terry cloth robe. I mooed and mooed.
Dan called the midwife. “I’ll meet you at 6 at the birth centre,” she said. Then she heard my howler-monkey moo in the background. “Let’s make it 5:30,” she said. Dan loaded our little suitcase into the car.
When the midwife checked me she cheerily asked me how far along I thought I was. I, splayed and spent on the examination table, just shook my head. She asked Dan. I think we both kind of felt like: This isn’t a how-many-jellybeans-in-the-jar kind of moment, lady.
“She’s eight to nine centimetres!” she said. God that made me feel amazing. Eight to nine centimetres? I so had this.
Hilary handed me a raggedy sarong and I clutched it around my waist as Dan helped upstairs to our room at the birth centre. My pants- where had they gone? It didn’t matter.
My darling hemmed silk robe – ha! As ridiculous as the New Yorkers Dan had packed to what? Read? Yes- Dan’s walrus-sized terry cloth robe was much more appropriate as I flopped onto the hard bed.
Then I was in the tub, bobbing, my enormous belly peeking above the water. Dan poured warm water over my skin. This tub thing had sounded so dreamy before I actually got in. But I am here to tell you that labor hurts like fucking hell in warm water too. I kept trying to picture myself opening with every contraction – yet another cruel exercise- the contractions crushed me in every precious place.
At some point, I couldn’t take it anymore. OUT! I demanded.
The midwife checked me. Ten centimetres! she said. YES. OMG. “If I break your water, I think the baby’ll get in better position,” she said. I nodded. She checked me quickly right as she was about to break the water and said, “Oh wait. Yes. You’re back to eight centimetres.”
Which meant in the two or three hours or whatever it had been, I had made no progress at all. I wanted to cry and die and crawl away into a hole. But there was nothing to do but surrender and labor on. “Go for a walk,” she suggested.
Dan held me up like an 80 year old woman and we hobbled the 10 feet around the kitchen to the living room. I would collapse with each contraction. At some point, the midwifery student brought me a labor ball and I practically fell across it. I peed a little on the living room floor.
“You’re handling it like a boss!” Dan kept saying. But I did not feel like a boss. Every contraction sent me down a deep dark crushing hallway of pain, so lonely, so shattering. I would think I was at the peak when it would slam me five times deeper. I loathed anyone who had every said that it wasn’t that bad. Sometimes, the student at my birth would come by with some sage aromatherphy or homeopathic pellets and I felt like wringing her neck: SERIOUSLY?! I raged in my head. PELLETS AND SCENTS. IF IT’S NOT A FUCKING EPIDURAL KEEP IT TO YOUR FUCKING SELF.
The midwife finally checked me again to find that I had still made no progress. “Let’s break your water and try to move it along.” Anything, I squeaked. “I’ll check you in an hour,” the midwife said. And hour? She may as well have asked me to swim across an ocean and back.
On I went. I looked at Dan and finally shook my head: “I don’t think I can do it anymore.”
“You can,” he said. “You will. You’re taking it like a boss.” I shook my head. There was no break between contractions. I was out of my mind. I was exhausted. I was beginning to wish in some far off way that something would go just wrong enough that they’d have to take me to the hospital. The idea glimmered like an oasis. I couldn’t understand or remember why the hell I had actually chosen–nay INSISTED–that we have the birth here, at a birth ‘centre’ (guys: it was a house) with no drugs. Why?
After an hour (eternity) passed and then the midwife told me another half hour and if I had had the strength I would have charged her like a bull, but instead I wandered the back alleys of pain, alone. I made up my mind that if I wasn’t ready to push when she checked me, I would force the hospital. Finally, she checked me.
TEN CENTIMETRES. Time to push.
THANK FUCKING GOD.
So I pushed. I pushed on the bed. I pushed in the tub. They moved me to the toilet – the magic place to push! they said. Then it was back to the bed. I was on my knees, facing Dan, my arms draped around his neck. I could feel the baby’s head getting close – you know – to the end. Our birth class had called crowning “The Ring of Fire” and I could already tell that was the understatement of the century.
“Ok,” my midwife said. “Listen closely. Big push when I say. And then small push when I say.”
“Big push!” she cried and I pushed and screamed, bucked and bit down into Dan’s neck.
“It’s ok,!” Dan cried. “You can bite my neck!”
There was a moment, a small push and then my baby was between my legs – whole and perfect and crying.
I looked at Dan: “I did it?” I asked. Then I looked at the baby. “It’s a boy.”
They lay me back on the pillows and my whole body quaked they put my baby–my son–on my chest and draped a blanket over us. “Oh my god, oh my god,” I kept saying. The baby stared up at me with wide dark blue eyes.”He’s perfect,” I said. “He has hair!” It was black.
Looking at him, I felt shattered and strong. I felt sure and terrified. Something broke inside me forever – a river, a well, to the deepest, most vulnerable, pure place in me.
Then, the strange miraculous little man pooped all over my stomach.
Three hours later — around 3 in the morning–the three of us were in the Jetta, on our way home in the cold, dark February night.
“I can’t believe I did that,” I said to Dan. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
As I put our still-nameless boy in the bassinet, he felt as light as air. Fragile as a tiny sand-dollar. Love barrelled down on me. Crushing. Unbearable.
My son is wonder itself.
My advice for what it’s worth:
- Get educated. It’s a pretty crazy experience and it’s nice to know what to expect, as much as you can. We took Healthy Birth Choices in Calgary. It does have a natural child birth bent, but they recognize that interventions can be necessary and their goal for you is: Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby. Even if you’re not planning a natural childbirth, the class went into serious detail about EVERYTHING that happens in labor and birth, and the types of things that can go wrong. Dan and I definitely felt prepared – and so even though I hit the moment where I said and believed with all my emotional heart that I could not go on anymore, I knew that was ‘normal’ and I’d probably have a baby at any moment.
- Do your best to find a healthcare provider that you trust and that you feel has your desires at heart. If you can’t, maybe seek out a doula who can be your voice in that room. The point being: you don’t want to have talk anyone in or out of anything when you’re in labor.
- Set your intentions, but don’t get attached to an outcome. You just never know what’s going to happen – or how you are actually going to feel once you are in labor (You guys: I would have had an epidural if I had been in a hospital. I was ready to beg for one.) It’s ok to change your mind. It’s ok if things don’t go as planned. Little Mother’s Helper says it best: “Your birth story matters, and I believe there’s deep soul healing in telling your story. However the delivery happened-this is your story. Bring your own sense of power and autonomy into it. Take charge of your feelings about the birth. There is no perfect way to have a baby, just the way you had your baby. It’s all ok.”