I am one of those people that believes in manifesting things, taking herbs instead of antibiotics, and getting A’s on tests. I have always believed in my ability to influence the outcome of events in my life. I’m spiritual. I’m a healer. I’m healthy. I’m an overachiever.
My daughter’s birth turned all that on its head. All the pre-natal Pilates, yoga and acupuncture, optimal fetal positioning practices, birth classes, guided meditations, and Ina May books in the world couldn’t have prepared me for how this was going to go.
Three days past her due date, I called my doula at one in the morning. Yes, I was sure, these were no fuddy duddy Braxton-Hicks contractions. These were the real deal.
After a few hours of pacing around the house, resting on the birthing ball after each contraction, fueling up on snacks, and jotting down last minute Things To Do in my day planner, I decided it was time to make our move to the hospital.
With all the commotion of driving, of daylight breaking, and filling out hospital paperwork, my contractions slowed almost to a halt.
I put in my earbuds to listen to a guided meditation in hopes of tuning out the busy hospital environment and the regular poking, prodding and monitoring.
A subtle lift-off, but not strong enough to stimulate active labor.
My doula looked me straight in the eye and said, “If you want to go home, we have to leave now.”
I considered. No, let’s get on with it already. I’ve never known greater impatience than that of being 40 weeks pregnant.
I was about to give myself a mini acupuncture treatment to get things going, when the doctor came in to check me. “Do you want me to break your water?” he asked, wrist deep in my lady parts, which was a bit like asking someone who was hanging off the side of a 10-story building if they wanted a hand.
Whatever will get me out of this unbelievably painful and precarious position the fastest. Yes.
Suddenly, I was surrounded in warmth, and a distinct feeling of relief engulfed me. Pressure released.
Then the contractions started. With a vengeance. And into labor land I went.
People tell me I was in labor for 24 hours. I really couldn’t confirm that. Time evaporated.
I remember the nurses telling my husband that I was “double-peaking” during my strongest contractions.
Like a stormy ocean, contractions rolled in, one after the next with hardly a break in between.
As each contraction came on and intensified, I thought, “I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t do this,” and “I’m definitely asking for an epidural before the next one, this is the absolute last one I can handle,” and “fuck this fucking shit. This is such fucking bullshit.”
Then the pain would diminish, and I would feel relaxed and rejuvenated, almost like after a massage, and I would think, “That wasn’t so bad.”
And on and on it went. I never opened my eyes. I completely focused within. My internal world was huge. I don’t remember looking into my husband’s face once.
I remember my doula’s unwavering encouragement after each contraction, after each vocalization. “Good,” she would say, with such conviction that I felt stronger each time she said it.
As I transitioned into active labor, she quickly taught me to go low and deep with my sounds, instead of high like I was trying to escape out of my body.
As soon as I mimicked her low, deep sounds, and imagined the sounds going down instead of up, the pain became instantly more bearable. It was like I was meeting that fear in the face instead of panicking and running to hide. That was the most courageous I’ve ever been, and looking back, I am so proud of myself.
Active labor continued, and then it became time to push. After 3 hours, I was weak and defeated. I wore an oxygen mask because my daughter’s oxygen levels were dropping. The nurses, my doula, my husband, and the doctor surrounded my hospital bed waiting to catch the baby and coaching me to push harder. Harder?? You’ve got to be kidding. I couldn’t even wrap my head around how to push, let alone harder.
My husband told me later that watching me push was like watching one of those “power of the human spirit movies” where some guy is army-crawling across hundreds of miles of desert with no arms. “Trust me,” he said, “you were pushing hard enough.”
Days later, after we were home from the hospital, my doula described my labor as “gorgeous.” I broke into tears. Then why couldn’t I push her out? The doulas encouraged us to call our C-Section a Cesarean Birth, because even though it wasn’t what we planned, it was still a birth.
It’s true. As I was lying on the operating table, my arms strapped down on either side, spread-eagle, shaking uncontrollably, my husband holding my hand, I felt the surgeons tugging on my numb abdomen.
Suddenly, I felt a concerning amount of pressure gain and then release. There was a moment of silence and my body felt instantly lighter. Then… crying! A baby! Birth.
They immediately cleaned her off and swaddled her in a hospital blanket and cap and brought her to my chest. I couldn’t hold her since my arms were strapped down, and we just stared at each other, face to face. Rather awkwardly. She had a startled, cloudy look in her eyes. And I honestly didn’t know how to feel. It was the weirdest moment. Like I was staring at an alien.
Definitely not the idyllic birth experience I imagined.
My husband went with the doctors to weigh her and perform tests, and they wheeled me to a quiet recovery room. I was alone for what felt like a long time. I chatted with the nurses who came in and out. I even made a joke or two. I think it was the adrenaline.
More time went by, and finally my husband arrived with our daughter. They lost me, he said.
The nurse brought the baby to my chest and tried to latch her to my breast. Oh, right. Breastfeeding. I thought I just had to get through labor, and then I was done.
Izzy was inconsolable. I couldn’t feel my legs. My husband tried all the tricks we learned to quiet a baby the week before, but nothing seemed to be working. Suddenly, reality set in that we were parents and 100% responsible for this 6 pound human who clearly wasn’t happy with the job we were doing so far. All we wanted to do was sleep—for days. It was the most sobering moment of my life.
For months after my daughter’s birth, I kept telling myself that a happy, healthy baby was all that mattered. But I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that I had somehow failed because I didn’t give birth naturally. Under the full moon. In a meadow. While having an orgasm.
Now I realize that birth is life, and life is messy, unexpected and beautiful, all at once.
Every woman’s birth story is a rite of passage into motherhood. Cesarean or no Cesarean. Full moon or no moon.
And no matter what anyone says, I nailed it.