I was 37 weeks pregnant with my first child. I was mentally preparing for labor, doula on stand-by, Ina May Gaskin by my bed, well-thumbed. I allowed only empowering birth stories to be shared with me. And I absolutely, completely, totally did not want my big sister at my birth. I love her dearly, but we are not always on the same page in this book of life. I wanted the whole bowl of granola: candles, birthing tub, yoga breath. She wanted her pain meds chilled on ice, awaiting her arrival at the hospital. And she worries, my god, how she worries. Nope, I wanted nothing to do with THAT KIND OF NEGATIVE ENERGY anywhere near my child’s birth.
So instead, I invited her and my niece and nephew to come up that weekend to celebrate her birthday, rub my belly and feel like she’d gotten quality time with her future niece or nephew. Then I would gently let her know I needed to be around calming, affirming friends who understood and supported my desires for natural childbirth. We had a wonderful day together and in the evening, we headed out to celebrate my sister with sushi.
On the way out of the restaurant, I went to use the bathroom but to my horror and embarrassment, I didn’t make it. I’d peed on the bathroom floor. Oh shit. I kind of mopped it up with a bunch of TP and skedaddled out of there. We got home at 9 and said our good nights. I went up to my bathroom again and missed again. But this time it gushed. I looked at that pool of water on the floor. Water. Broken water. Oh shit. J and I looked at each other, took a deep breath and grabbed the stack of birthing books. You know, to study. We figured this could be a long wait. First births are always long, right?
By 10 pm, contractions had begun. So much for studying.
Jake went downstairs to let my sister know what was going on. Remember the sister I did not, under any circumstances, want to have at my birth? She was in my living room timing my contractions on her cell phone and biting her fingernails off one at a time.
By 11 pm, contractions were 2 minutes apart consistently. Our doula, with her own newborn in tow, arrived shortly after 11 and helped get me settled in the tub and showed J how to press my pelvis together which he did faithfully during every contraction throughout the rest of the labor. It was about an hour later when I threw up the sushi dinner. Things were moving fast.
I cannot honestly remember a lot of the next couple of hours, I was deep in laborland, contracting every couple of minutes. I would stand for every one of them, and then kneel back in the tub again. I do remember “surfacing” a couple of times to holler about how much this hurt and then retreating again to that deep, watery place. I remember too, feeling all the phases of labor sweeping over me, cold, then hot, getting to that place where I didn’t think I could take it any longer.
At that point, around 2:30 a.m., our doula suggested we go immediately if we were going to make it to the hospital. In a panic Jake threw stuff into the “Packed bag” that we hadn’t yet bothered to pack (weeks to go still, right?) and we sent the whole crazy train – doula, crying baby, moaning pregnant lady and frantic husband – down the stairs to the cold night outside. My sister was in the living room, wide awake, looking panicked too. She had been timing my contractions from downstairs, wondering why the hell we hadn’t left for the hospital hours ago but too nervous to come upstairs and get involved. Niece and nephew were fast asleep in the sunroom, oblivious to the mayhem.
At this point, I felt the need to push, so I had to Breathe. Really. Deeply. Every time the contraction came. So there I was in the backseat, trying to stand, huffing through my contractions. The baby, 10 weeks old and hating the carseat, was screaming hysterically next to me. I tried to comfort us both while our doula and J navigated their way at warpspeed to the hospital. Upon arrival, a security guard accompanied us to the labor ward, with stops every minute, it seemed, so I could lean against a wall, moan loudly and bleed all over the floor. Needless to say, we bypassed triage and went straight to a delivery room where I came down on my hands and knees and started to push immediately.
But something didn’t feel right. The midwife measured my cervix (I hadn’t wanted us to measure it previously) and I was only 6cm dilated. So this was a problem. Simply put, when my water broke, the baby’s head descended into the birth canal a little crookedly so was pressing on my cervix, hence the need to push. But my cervix still had lots of work to do so for the next couple of hours, I had to breathe through every contraction. Every two minutes, when my body screamed “PUSH” I had to just breathe it out my mouth.
I went into a place deep inside myself where I envisioned a long, long road and I was on my road bike. Every contraction was a steep hill and I comforted myself with the thought that I could coast for a couple of minutes at the top. I spent more time in the tub and then, when I reached 9cm, we moved to the bedroom. Finally, the midwife was able to push the last little lip of cervix out of the way and I was ready to get this baby out. We worked together, baby and I, for 45 minutes. I would push hard and then rest for a little and then push again. I was on fire and honestly terrified of being broken in two by the pain and pressure. I had a hard time trusting myself in that moment and it was the wisdom and kindness of our doula and midwife that got me through it. Slowly, the head emerged, facing the wrong way. J was there and saw the baby watching him in a truly surreal moment.
Then, around 6:30 a.m. the baby slipped into the world and we met our son for the first time. I remember being exhausted and finally being able to focus on the little human that was now here with us. He was quiet and robust, I was starving. At 8, my sister and her children showed up to the hospital. She just hugged me and told me I was a warrior, that she was amazed I had done this and that she would have been too scared to trust the process. She kissed and nuzzled her nephew and watching the two of them, I felt the anxiety melt away. Something bigger than us had conspired to bring us through this together as sisters and I was suddenly so grateful that she had been there after all.
We grew a little together that day, when my son came into the world.