Birth Story

I had a baby! My daughter was born ten days ago, a wild and intense ride, followed by a rollercoaster of a week. While it's still fresh in my mind, I wanted to share the story. And, in sharing this story, I want to own that this is my story, my set of choices, my experience. There's much I didn't say here about some intense personal struggles that I went through in my pregnancy, which I mention because it's easy to assume that what I experienced was "ideal" or "perfect." I guarantee, it was real. That said, I'm grateful for my birth, and elated with my daughter.

First, a quick note on why I chose what I chose. All my care came from my midwife, who is also a dear friend and mentor. I chose not to do any ultrasounds and because I had a healthy pregnancy, and because I was healthy I never saw a doctor. By the time I was pregnant I had taken a yearlong homebirth midwifery course and then assisted at homebirths with my midwife. I also attended somewhere around 15 births in local hospitals, and based on what I saw there and what I saw at home, I knew that I wanted to birth at home. The best way I know how to avoid unnecessary interventions is to avoid the environment where intervention is routine, and in hospitals I see far more intervening than I would personally have felt comfortable with.

In short, I knew that I would feel safer at home. I also attribute my smooth (and brief!) labor to weekly chiropractor visits for pelvic balancing, acupuncture, prenatal yoga, a great diet, and wonderful support from my friends, midwife, and doula, meaning that I invested in self care and did what I needed to do to build a supportive team.

Here are reflections I wrote during the pregnancy:

By Friday the 25th, I'd been cramping for a few days and since the baby had dropped into my pelvis a week earlier I had felt especially uncomfortable. I was very ready to have my baby and said that to everyone I talked to, broken record style. The morning of July 25th, I had a prenatal visit with my midwife and she predicted from the shape of my belly that it would be soon.

The cramps grew stronger throughout the day until the afternoon, when in retrospect I realize I was having short and mild surges (contractions), about twenty seconds long. We went to a Ramadan iftar (dinner) and it got to the point where I'd have to really focus on a spot on the table and breathe. Still, mild.

I'd had a cold and poorly slept for the past week so I wasn't really game for having a baby until I rested, so I took a warm bath (bathing in early labor spaces out surges, just be sure the water is no hotter than 99 degrees) and some Benadryl. Got into bed and listened to relaxation tracks. I fell asleep and dreamed I was in labor and that I saw some bloody mucous, a sign of the cervix opening. Woke and ha! I was in labor and saw some bloody mucous. The surges had lengthened to a minute and were coming 10 minutes apart. Over the next hour, they were more like 5 minutes apart but sometimes even more frequent...boom, boom, boom, one after another.

Here's where things get blurry, a very classic sign of labor. I was in active labor by 1:30 am and could no longer speak to my husband through the surges. I had to concentrate on breathing, and the surges were growing in intensity. At some point he texted my midwife, and at some point he called my doula; she arrived at 4:00 to find me naked on the floor in the hallway outside my bathroom. Yep, modesty out the window, that's labor.

What worked. Water. The bath. Hot water sprayed on my lower back was my very, very best friend. Touch. My husband lightly and rapidly rubbing my lower back in a circle, not massaging but really just lightly moving the sensation through my pelvis. Labor is weird; I don't have a better way of describing what I mean, other than that when no one was rubbing my back the pain just stayed in my pelvis. Wax on, wax off. Being on my hands and knees. Letting my attention rest on my breath. Gentle reassurance. Getting my head out of the way. My wonderful doula. My doula saying "let it be intense." My wonderful midwife, who raced to the birth arriving within the final hour. Focusing on keeping my pelvic floor muscles loose, no matter how much I wanted to tighten them. Remembering a line from the relaxation track, "your only job is to relax your vagina, and all your muscles..." Keeping my jaw loose. Shoulders loose. Having people remind me to keep them loose. Vomiting. Vomiting felt great.

What it was like. A hurricane. My body was a faultline and an earthquake rocked me. Natural, powerful phenomena. My cervix was like the ring of Saturn, a thin flat disc orbiting in the darkness of space, expanding and expanding. I was like a cowgirl, staying loose and limp and riding the wildest blackest smoke-snorting cosmic bronco through the storm, and the looser I was the better I rode. It was the most intense physical experience of my life. I've ridden that pony, women have been riding it for millennia, and you can too, so giddyup cowgirls.

Pushing. At transition, my surges changed from opening to pushing. Suddenly, I felt an unstoppable urge to push. I hadn't been making any sounds until that point, and really all of a sudden there were noises coming out of me that I have never made before in my life. I let them come, and they really helped. Things like unnnng and GUH and GRAAAAARRRRRR and even some roaring. It was sort of awesome. I felt my water break (underwater) with a grand pop and then the baby's head rapidly coming down. I hadn't had any vaginal exams, but at one point I did check myself and felt that her head was right there. That was pretty incredible. Not crowning, but just on the other side of my pubic bone.

As she descended, I started to feel the burn. My midwife had arrived by this point and kept saying "let yourself stretch." This was hard, but I worked on keeping those pelvic muscles as loose as possible. The baby's head took some time rocking under my pubic bone, slowly stretching out my perineum. I moved into a deep squat with my arms hanging over the side of the tub, my face pressed into my husband's leg, sort of napping between surges. My doula was in the room, and my midwife was standing outside in the hallway looking in. I loved how hands off everyone was, no one ever told me what to do or how to do it; I was able to completely trust and follow my body.

Crowning. I could feel the sliver of head opening me. That sliver kept growing and growing and growing, like a waxing moon. I wasn't afraid for either me or for her and at no point did I think that my body couldn't handle it, but there was some part of my brain that kept thinking "HOW IN GOD'S NAME IS THIS GOING TO FIT." Thinking is counter-productive. Do your best to not think. Just be. Ride that pony.

Actual photo of me at my birth.

Actual photo of me at my birth.

I supported her head as she was emerging. Crazy feeling. That moon just kept getting bigger. I slowed down my pushing by panting to give myself a little more time to stretch. At one point, my midwife told my husband to get ready to catch her and he touched me and I'm pretty sure I roared at him not to; anyone else touching me at that point was extremely uncomfortable. I am told that I looked a little freaked out, which does not surprise me, but I felt, er, primal.

Then, 6:20 am, her head was born. Amazing. Amazing. Amazing. Her shoulders came out with the next push, she was like a little seal underwater. My husband reached down and picked her up, I took her into my arms. and planted a kiss on her wet, purple head. I spotted her labia and said "she's a girl!" and then, looking a little wildly at everyone, said "I love her so much! I love her so much!" She didn't cry, just looked and blinked and took her first breaths. My husband recited the iqama--the Muslim call to prayer--in her ear; she was quiet and dreamy as she listened.

Then my midwife came over and worked with me to help deliver the placenta, which came pretty quickly and was about as big as a hubcap, jeez (and is now sitting in our freezer next to a squirrel skin--long story. Not yet sure what I'll do with it--the placenta that is--but probably I'll take it to a forest and bury it). Husband and baby and hubcap went into the bedroom, we drained the messy water from the tub, they hosed me down with the showerhead, got me into some Depends, and we transitioned into the bedroom.

I have to say, her being born was amazing not only because the rush of intense hormones was like mainlining love, but because it felt physically fantastic to have her out. My body felt great. Weird, but great. The three of us got into bed to nuzzle, breastfeed, and bond, I was fed, I was checked (no stitches required), I was spoon-fed some scrambled eggs, my husband cut her cord (we waited about an hour), the baby had her newborn exam and perfection was declared. Everyone left, and then it was just the three of us.

Next up...the first week postpartum.

Dispatch from the Postpartum, Day 14

My life in journals