If only we could write our birth stories before the birth, you know, back when we had time for such frivolities as writing. But since that’s impossible, here I am, nearly a year post-birth, finally writing about it.
Where does this birth story begin? When I first found out I was pregnant? When I told my partner and his bliss met my nervousness? When I first felt like something was wrong? When I began to weep at the absence of signs? Was it the morning my partner left for work, and my body took over and sent me into the painful labor and delivery of what had been gestating only nine weeks? Or maybe my birth story began as the following months of hormonal overdrive shifted to real acceptance of life and how it only moves on. Of going to my partner with joy again. Maybe it was the moment I found faith in my body, and my cycle returned. Or two weeks later when I felt implantation and soon became overjoyed with nausea. Maybe it was our wedding day, when we announced our new pregnancy to everyone we loved.
Or maybe it began with the first contraction. Despite reading hundreds of birth stories, I remained oblivious to the obvious once it was happening to me. I enjoyed the feeling of what I thought was the baby arching over like a cat, stretching his back against my belly and hands and feet against my spine.
My sweet midwife, Aundria, came over for a prenatal visit on a Wednesday afternoon 11 days before my due date. With her hands on my enormous belly she said, “Well I can’t very well palpate you while you’re having a contraction,” with a great knowing grin. “Oh that’s a contraction?! Ha! Well then yea, I’ve been having lots of those lately.” She prescribed massage, chiropractic, yoga, whatever, as she noticed a hair more swelling than she’d prefer. She told my ma a good Epsom salt foot soak and rub would do me good too. And after my pee stick she said, “Now don’t get too excited, but there’s a bit of blood so things are definitely moving along.”
My ma followed the midwife’s orders, and I made an appointment for a massage the next morning. That evening my mom made the best fettuccine alfredo I have ever had and I giggled and shared every time I had a contraction. As exhausted Josh fell into bed I sat beside him, “Look! Another one! Wow you can really see and feel it tightening!” He humored me and felt my belly and looked at me with that classic look of his, meaning, that is super amazing, and completely weird. I may have laid down for awhile, but couldn’t sleep. I knew I must be over thinking the contractions due to the new knowledge that they were actually contractions, but they just kept coming. “Start doing something else” our birth instructor’s voice said in my head and see if they change, or stop. I got up and watched some silly shows online and they kept coming. I meandered around the house, futsed with stuff, and watched some more. I decided this was really happening, I was in labor, and the birthing tub was not ready. I vividly remember being huge and squatting around the trough, tearing off some duct tape with my teeth and thinking it was all very funny while having another contraction.
I knew I needed to get rest while I still could and got into bed. Sometime later, I don’t remember if I actually fell asleep, I was beginning to have more intense contractions and it woke Josh around 1am. He asked me some version of “Are you in labor?” And I responded with some version of yes. We timed them here and there, and called Aundria around 4:30am. She talked to me and Josh and basically said to keep doing what we were doing and she’d be there in a few hours. Josh made plans to go to school to drop off stuff for a sub and my mom woke up and got other things ready. She made oatmeal and I managed to eat a fair bit between contractions. At 7:45 my water broke in bed and by this point I was focused on breathing and moving though each contraction and nothing else. Somewhere in there I spent a long time in the shower. Contractions were still not very regular, and my water broke a few more times in the bathroom.
Aundria arrived at 8:45, we listened to the baby, and she listened to me. I threw up and it was all very intense and transition-like. At 9:45 she checked me and I was dilated 2cm. She was encouraging, and said this was probably still early in labor, told us to rest when possible, and call her with updates and she departed soon after. Somewhere in there Jessica, our good friend and doula, arrived with amazing labor tea. Despite her and my mother’s wonderful presence, I really only wanted Josh through most of the labor. I wanted surprisingly light touch, and just him and nearby sturdy furniture to hold as a base as I danced through each contraction.
Jessica and my ma went out for coffee, and Josh remained at my side as I labored. I got overwhelmed at times and wept. I remembered the birth stories I’d read and how they described labor as this high, out-of body- like experience. I felt none of that, and in the moment I was looking for it, but instead I felt so fucking present it was nearly unbearable. I’d never been so severely planted on earth. There was no way out but through and through was clear and real and HARD.
Jessica kept me hydrated and carefully offered suggestions like walking more and changing positions, despite my less than enthusiastic cooperation. Recognizing exhaustion beginning to set in they all managed to support me kneeling and resting on the birthing ball-that point in labor where you really can sleep between contractions. At 1pm they filled the tub, and I wanted in. Getting in the tub too soon can stall labor, so I wasn’t really supposed to get in before Aundria got back and we could reassess where we were at. But at 2 I was over what I’d been doing and got in. It seemed like I was in the tub for a long time and the contractions kept coming. They were amazingly painful and the water wasn’t lessening the intensity like I’d hoped, but it was still somehow better and I stayed. At 2:15 I puked some more, and began weeping again. It just hurt too much and I felt myself losing confidence and dipping into self-pity. They called the midwife again around then for her to return soon.
Thinking I was moving into another long stage of labor and wanting to give Josh and I some more time alone, my doula and mom got their shoes on to go for a walk. One of them, I can’t even remember which, knelt beside me and explained what they were going to do and all of a sudden I leapt half out of the water and said “I’m pushing!!” What an incredible, undeniable force! 2:35pm and suddenly it was go time. I hollered for Aundria to return and focused hard on my breath and Ina May’s horse lips. I didn’t stop my body from pushing but was able to ease the pressure ever so slightly through my breath. It felt like leaping up with a big wave in the ocean to ride with it, because you know if try to stand firm you will only be smashed down into the ground. The ocean, like the uterus, is a strong force that is better to work with than against.
The horse lips soon became very loud vocalizations and I could not ease the force of pushing any longer. After what felt like a huge one I yelled that it was coming out and to put it back in because the midwife wasn’t here yet! They said it wasn’t out yet, and that she’d be here any moment. I was so sure something was out and my body kept pushing. I saw Aundria run in and barely set things down before she was in front of me and said something about my having a beautiful labor song, and then her hand was in the water and I was yelling and pushing. I could hear Jessica’s voice and feel Josh and my mom around me. I could see Josh’s eyes widen with surprise, and they told me to look down because it was coming out and I said I didn’t want to, just get it out! And then, it was. Little arms and fingers outstretched toward the surface of the water, and then up, low on my chest as our cord was short-was a baby. My baby, our baby. It was 3pm.
Jessica excitedly blurted out that it was a little boy. The moments after he came out and became a part of life outside my body are the most difficult to remember clearly, or describe with words that could do them justice. There was awe. There was complete, true love, but it wasn’t as surprising as I’d expected, just natural. Mostly I felt quiet; I’d been one person for 28 years, then I became host to another, and now became a new individual person, a mother. A mother to this beautiful boy. Wonky-shaped head, smears of blood and vernix, swollen deep eyes, a few soft first wails of life, and his skin. Quiviut, the down of the musk ox, is the softest, lightest and warmest fiber in the world, or was until I felt the delicate softness of his newborn skin.
The second midwife arrived and they helped me waddle to the bedroom, and onto the bed where I birthed the placenta and soon they cut the cord. He latched on for the first time (our rough breastfeeding journey is another chapter altogether), Josh’s mom arrived (she was meant to be at the birth as well but we called her too late) and Josh walked around for some skin to skin with his son. Aundria did a most adorable newborn exam, and we reveled in the presence of perfection-a totally new human being.
It turns out he had a nuchal fist, which Aundria recognized when she arrived, and when she plunged her hand into the water it was to push that fist back in to allow his head to come out. I still tore a bit, but not near as much as if she hadn’t arrived when she did and I’d had to birth a head and fist at the same time. A nuchal fist can cause you to dilate less evenly, explaining why my contractions never became very regular. It’s also quite possible that the transition-y feeling time I’d had in the morning would have been the hour of his birth, had that fist not stalled things. Aundria recommended I call her at the same point in early labor next time because it will likely be a fast one.
My mom made a delicious post-birth platter that I totally devoured (birth makes you ravenous, especially with all that newly free space) and a meal for the whole incredible team. I fell into the deepest, most blissful nap and woke smiling, remembering I had my son on my chest and my dear husband at my side. It was late afternoon Thursday, March 13th, 2014. Two days later we named him Eldon Michael Frederick, our sweet rainbow baby. And the love just continues to multiply.