Long before getting pregnant was even a wisp of a possibility, I loved reading other women’s birth stories. The whole process fascinated me: how it could be so varied yet so universal. There were dramatic highs and lows and stories of babies birthed in bathrooms and others after days of arduous labor. Once I was actually pregnant myself (something that took a really long time to actually believe), I devoured these stories and sought them out in a way that bordered on obsessive. I favored Ina May Gaskin’s Spiritual Midwifery for its unusual take on the ‘hallucinogenic’ process of birth. Even when the outcomes were bad, the emphasis was on the positivity of the entire experience. I tried so hard to focus on that during any moments of anxiety and panic that hit whenever I thought about the fact that the baby would actually have to come out of me.
And so, my own birth story, to add to the chorus. A long and intimate tale this way:
It was Halloween, a week before my due date. Scott and I had a lazy Saturday at home and nothing was out of the ordinary. We ate dinner, greeted exactly two sets of trick or treaters at the door, and settled on the couch to watch a movie. About midway, I was convinced that I had peed myself, and at that point in pregnancy, it wouldn’t have been an unusual occurrence. I got up to check the damage and the fluid would not stop. It was obvious that it was not urine. And with that realization, my entire body clenched in simultaneous disbelief and excitement. It’s happening.
Contractions hadn’t started yet, so when I called my midwife, I was given the option to either come in for an induction or stay home for 24 hours to see if my body would take over. I chose the latter because I’m a procrastinator and because I had intended for this to go as naturally as possible. So I now had the knowledge that sometime very soon I would be birthing a child and then had to sit through the remainder of this movie clinging to that knowledge. We didn’t have a hospital bag packed and the car seat hadn’t been installed yet. At the conclusion of the movie, we both readied ourselves and settled in for one of the most sleepless nights of our lives.
On top of the nervous anticipation that we would be hospital-bound soon, Scott had a truly horrible cold. He had been wracked with body-shaking coughs for days and vacillated between sinus congestion and a runny nose. He was exhausted and drowsy and I was exhausted and pregnant.
My mom, my brother, and his girlfriend arrived at some point. I cannot for the life of me remember when. I remember it being dark, and throwing frantic instructions at them about how to care for our cat, and the boys running out for snacks and Gatorade on Sunday. My contractions hadn’t started on their own so we planned to go to the hospital to get things rolling.
The drive to the hospital was quiet; it was 10 PM on Sunday and the silence in the car was punctuated by Scott’s coughs and my false attempts at recognizing contractions. The entire labor and delivery wing at the hospital was still and I wondered if we were the only ones there. We had an incredible nurse who put us in a fancy triage room and administered a drug to encourage contractions. It took effect almost immediately and I realized quickly that I was having back labor. I questioned my resolve and whether or not I would cave and get an epidural. I spent most of the night awake, contorting into all sorts of positions to try and find reprieve from the pain. I guzzled water to stay hydrated and the short walk to the bathroom adjoining the room was excruciating. Every time I looked over at Scott, asleep on a cot beside my bed, he was snoring. Our angel of a nurse would come in intermittently to check my vital signs and would rub my back to relieve me of trying to do the same on my own.
When I “woke up” – because I’m not sure I ever slept that night – my midwife was going to check my progress. After all of those hours of pain, I was convinced that they would be taking me directly to the delivery room. I remember my mom arriving with Dunkin Donuts for breakfast right after I had heard I was only dilated to 3 cm. I looked into her eyes and wept as soon as I saw her, knowing that there was still a really long road ahead and not knowing if I could do it – and also hit with the overwhelming realization that she had gone through this for me. I felt sick and the pain was so bad that I could only choke down a couple of hash browns (but oh, what glorious little fried delights they were!).
I never got to write my ‘birth plan.’ I had intended to do so in the week before my birth, since most first timers run late. There were only three things it would have mandated: no Pitocin (I was scared of it from watching The Business of Being Born); no mirror near the birth zone (I didn’t need the trauma of seeing that, a view unnatural to a birthing mother anyway); and skin-to-skin contact for an hour following the birth.
My midwife recommended Pitocin to get to the next stage in labor. I was very hesitant and expressed my concerns; I didn’t want to end up with a c-section or an epidural. She said that they would give me a very tiny dose alongside a narcotic that would take the edge off of my contractions. Does my acceptance of that drug discount my process as a natural birth? I’m not sure. But things got very hazy and fast at this point.
My contractions immediately sped up and the pain felt like a band of lightning snapping across my lower back. If the drug took the ‘edge’ off of the pain, I cannot even fathom how intense it would have been otherwise. I laid on the delivery bed, unable to speak or move, occasionally yelling “contraction!” at my mom and Scott, who alternated rubbing at the pain with the most intensity they could muster.
I never understood how women knew when they had to push. And then suddenly, struck with the most extreme need to have a bowel movement, I knew. Our birth class instructor told us that birth felt like taking a giant (immensely painful) poop. And here I was. Scott was by my side, my mom across from him, each holding a leg for support. Scott had my backside and I continually assured him that he would catch a face full. I still didn’t believe that I was going to have a child at that moment. Somewhere in the mix, Scott got a nosebleed and had tissues twirled up his nose.
Instinctively, I pushed. I pushed with every bit of strength I had with two motives in mind: one, that the sooner the baby got out, the safer he would be; and that, if I did this, I could have an ice cream sundae. I don’t know how we grasp onto the things we do in times of need, but somehow, that felt like enough of a reward for pushing out a human. And so, in less than half an hour, we met our little man.
We didn’t get an hour of skin-to-skin contact. He was taken back and forth for his various exams and wipe-downs and weighings and I was stitched up and shown my in-tact placenta (not for the faint of heart, especially on an empty stomach). I remember a voracious hunger overtaking me and quickly finishing everyone’s breakfast leftovers moments after giving birth. I didn’t believe the nurses when they asked me to get myself off the bed to walk to my postpartum room. People could walk after giving birth? I soon learned that they could also shower and use the bathroom and feed a child with their own body and so many other things that I never could have dreamed.
I remember Scott never leaving my side, despite feeling so sick; seeing my mom and my mother-in-law across the room, and later my dad and brother and his girlfriend, and thinking that this was the luckiest boy in the world: born into two families that were so ready to love him. And simultaneously, that we were so lucky to have him. We waited a bit before giving him his name: Russell. Our little Rusty. This is already too long to write about motherhood and the incredible experience of watching Scott become a father and how the baby has changed our lives; that story will wait for another day. And when it comes, it will be long, too. Things have changed so much.
I still haven’t had that ice cream sundae. I’m waiting until Russell is old enough to share it with me.