I am woman

Somewhere around the 24-hour mark, when I was in labor with Em, I sung out “I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman” in the midst of a contraction. The room erupted in giggles as I sung, but I was in a groove. I was in pain. I was loving the pain. Not because I’m a masochist, but because my body was in the middle of its most heroic act in life, fulfilling its purpose, and totally rockin’ out with its bad self. I felt…well….strong and invincible and proud to be a woman, in that moment.

This feeling continued throughout most of labor and birth. Then there was the awe. Immediately after I gave birth, I was in awe—not just of my new baby, but of myself. When I opened my eyes after hours in a trance, after pushing my child through my body and successfully into the outside world, I felt a high like never before. Surely, part of that was the natural rush of hormones that women are blessed with after giving birth, but there was also the part that was the result of what I had just accomplished. I had survived 51 hours of labor, about 40 of which were unmedicated. I stayed awake for three days with no sleep. I made it the last 24 hours on only water, ice chips and a honey stick. I dug deep into a reserve that I was previously unaware I possessed. I overcame enormous obstacles along the way (read here, here, here, and here) yet never fully lost my spirit, my humor, or my determination. It was the hardest work I’ve ever done—emotionally, physically, and spiritually. And I did it. No one could do it for me. Damn, did I feel proud of that.

It occurred to me, in replaying the birth over and over in my head for weeks afterwards, that I had discovered what I was truly capable of. There was no way I could allow thoughts of insecurity or negativity to tarnish the experience or the feeling of pride I had in giving birth. There hasn’t been anything like that, in life, that has opened my eyes to the depth and breadth of my strength, courage, positive spirit or determination (even though I’ve surely conquered a lot). And so, I thought to myself, “what can I accomplish in life, now knowing that this reserve is here?”

Before giving birth, I often talked myself out of feeling confident or strong. I rarely did anything without a little self-doubt. I could make excuses then, I could act as if (and even believe) I could not conquer the challenges in front of me. But now, I can no longer ignore what I know is there. I am strong. I am invincible. I am woman. I can do anything.

It’s been almost four months since I gave birth, and I still find myself contemplating these thoughts amidst the chaos that is motherhood. Motherhood is challenging and will test you, much like birthing. So, it’s not surprising that when I have moments of triumph—when I make it through a difficult hour/day/week/phase, for instance—I feel that same feeling I felt in childbirth. In fact, I found myself singing “I am woman” while out for a run for the first time since before I was pregnant. I hit the pavement and immediately felt a high. It was physically painful, yet I didn’t slow down or give up. And it was a bit emotionally painful too, given I have never been more than a room away from my child since she’s been born. It was a short run, but that didn’t matter because I felt strong in it. Mostly, I was glad to suddenly remember the song I sung out in labor, because I was reminded of that reserve tank and the fact that I have all I need, right here within me, to get through motherhood (and that run!).
To read my birth story, start here.

The Birth Story: Part VI, The Hospital Birth~The push that brought life


Part I, The Homebirth~ Induction
Part II, The Homebirth~Early Labor
Part III, The Homebirth~Active Labor
Part IV, The Homebirth~The Turning Point
Part V, The Hospital Birth~Labor

Part VI.
The Hospital Birth

At about noon, on the third day of my labor, I was fully dilated and ready to push. After 48 hours of waiting, it was incredibly surreal to actually hear someone tell me that this was happening NOW. I was excited, but couldn’t help but doubt that this was it—I didn’t feel any different. I knew labor so well at that point, and had enjoyed the respite from contractions, that transitioning into a new experience with its own set of foreign sensations (that I would not be numb to) made me a bit nervous. My husband, however, was pumped! An enormous smile took over his face as the long, drawn-out anticipation reached a new peak.

Annie*, the hospital midwife, told me this part was up to me. She backed away and instructed me to push when and how it felt right to me. Just then, she was called away to another birth, and was replaced by another hospital midwife. The new midwife was one that I had actually met earlier in my pregnancy, and when I met her I loved her. Not to mention, she knew my doula and homebirth midwife, as well. The energy in the room immediately changed with her presence. This was the point where I no longer felt like I was in a hospital. I felt empowered—I had the freedom to listen to my body and figure out how to give birth in my own way and I was now completely surrounded by women I knew would honor and respect my journey.

Those first few pushes felt great. I was finally able to do something about being in labor for so long—I could focus my energy and strength into bringing it to an end. I was joyful, still laughing and talking, while trying to figure out the mechanics of my body.

labor9

After feeling nothing but pressure for hours, thanks to the epidural, I began to feel more and more with every push. The anesthesiologist had warned me that once I reached the pushing stage, I would experience pain again. Thankfully, the pain grew in intensity gradually, easing me into the most overwhelming sensation I have ever experienced in this lifetime. The more effective I became at pushing, the more I could feel the tiny being inside me, making her way down. One of the strangest sensations, was feeling baby girl “helping” me. They say birth is a dance, mama and baby work together, and that is exactly what I experienced. Baby girl never stopped moving throughout my entire labor, and now that I was pushing, she was furiously hard at work with me. She constantly moved her head from side to side, and tried to work with the contractions to move into the right position.

Throughout the sensation-filled journey that was pushing, I knew I was not alone. I may have been the one who had to do all the hard work, but there were plenty of women (and my husband!) working with me. I was never quite sure who was attending to me, and at which end of my body, but there were always a lot of hands on me. Hands that wiped the sweat from my face with cold compresses, hands that placed lavender-infused cloths on my chest, hands that reapplied lip balm to my parched lips, hands that held mine. And hands that helped my body stretch open to allow my baby to emerge.


I mentioned that during active labor I began to slip in and out of a trance-like state during contractions, and that I visited a place where I simultaneously did not exist yet felt more in my body, and in my soul, than ever before. During pushing, I was back in that trance-like state, but fell deeper and deeper into it, until reaching a point where I could not be reached, and I did not return for hours. I would say that my trance was equal parts a spiritual experience, and a dissociation from my body to deal with the immense pain. Time did not exist, I could only think and experience in contractions rather than minutes. All of the meditative visualizations I had come up with during my hypnobirthing classes faded. Instead, I focused on the moment that my child would emerge, the way it would feel to have her small, warm body against mine. I needed a reason to move toward the pain instead of away from it.

And so I pushed.

There was more to childbirth than the physical experience, though—it was also a death. Once I began to push, I was no longer myself. It had begun during labor, but, now, as I pushed, I was in the throws of dying.

I’ve been trying to put this into words for a week and a half, to explain what I mean and how that felt. I’ve written several versions of this part of the story—pushing—and none of them felt right. I even had my husband read them because I haven’t been able to get it right and hit “publish” on this post, and I don’t normally bring in an editor to write my blog. Ultimately, I’ve realized that I cannot truly explain this experience. It was not of this world thus there are no words. It was unquantifiable, and as confusing a concept to describe as infinity. But, it’s even more than that. I’m still processing it, and I’ve found that a month later I am suddenly struggling with my story. That feeling just cropped up on me in the past week while trying to write this post, and failing, and not publishing it. Part of me feels self-conscious because this is not the story I thought I’d be sharing. I expected to remain in a peaceful place where I did not experience the pain as “pain,” the place I was in during my 30+ hours laboring at home. I am mostly struggling with my experience of the pushing phase, and to be honest, am a bit traumatized by it at the moment. But, I will continue my story now.

Time seemed to slow in a never-ending vacuum. Pushing became an extension of the long labor, seeming to be without end. Hours passed by, and I was both completely aware of it yet lost in the minutes, unable to perceive them. The only measure of time I could perceive was the intensity that built within my body, and the crescendo of my moans. I knew that I had started out virtually silent and composed at the beginning of pushing, I knew that my hair was combed into a neat ponytail and I could speak in between pushes. But now, I felt loud and primal, I was pouring sweat and my hair was beginning to knot. I could speak only in hand gestures for a time, and now, not at all. I felt my baby’s head butting up against my pubic bone for an eternity. And then I felt her crowning for about an hour, which catapulted me into an entirely new level of dissociation from my body.

At one point, I began to feel my baby’s facial features—her eyelids, mouth and nose—moving against the birth canal, and that feeling coupled with the top of her head stretching me open was more than I felt I could bear in that moment. I didn’t expect this pain. Not out of ignorance, but because one cannot expect or understand what it takes to birth a child until it happens. The reality of it was overwhelming. But, there was only one way out from under all that pain and upset, so I pushed as hard as I could, which fortunately, was pretty damn hard. The words of praise from the three midwives in the room, my doula, and my husband were my solid ground. I used them as fuel, and hoped with every push that I would soon meet my baby.



A side note on the pain: I never thought I’d use the word “pain” so generously when describing birth, but it ended up being my experience. I still believe it’s possible to experience it another way. But, I had a very long, 3-day journey, and some complications along the way. I also pushed for 3 hours, which is a long time to push, because my pelvis was really resistant and was not opening up. I say this, because I don’t want to discourage anyone who is about to give birth, or hopes to someday. Every birth is different, and despite all the “pain,” this was a truly amazing birth that I wouldn’t trade for the world. And the thing is, the “pain” was not a negative, it just “was.” I would still label this a highly positive, and amazingly beautiful experience. Side note over.

Childbirth to me felt like chaos, a sensation overload. There was so much to process at once—the pressure of the contractions, the pain of a child moving through me, the stinging of skin, overwhelming emotions, a spiritual awakening, voices all around me giving me instructions, guidance and praise, the hands of two different women helping my baby’s head find its way out, the flashing of cameras, the side conversations of the 8+ people in the room. Yet, somehow I was filtering it all, and felt incredibly focused. I was in the zone. Near the end, there was nothing but a continuous loop in my head saying, “get the f*$k out of me, get the f*$k out of me.” On repeat. For probably an hour and a half. That’s not very zen of me, nor is it the beautiful, magical phrase I anticipated hearing in my head, but hey man, that’s the way it went down.

At one point, I reached down to feel the very top of my baby’s head, which was still inside of me. But, that moment quickly lost its power of encouragement as the top of her head was visible for hours before it eventually came out. When her head did finally emerge, I was once again overwhelmed with sensation as I let out a noise that will forever be seared into my memory—a shriek, a moan, a scream, a cry? It’s hard to say. My midwife suggested that I reach down and feel my baby coming out of me, but I could not. With my next push, my baby’s arm emerged, with the next her shoulders. My husband reached down, as her body slipped out, and pulled her into the world, placing her on my belly. It took me at least 30 seconds to realize that my sweet angel was actually lying on me. I was still in childbirth mode and wasn’t entirely aware of what was happening. But, there was something incredibly slippery and warm against my skin.

Looking down and seeing my child for the first time was the most surreal moment of my life. I remember trying to connect the enormous belly I carried around for ten months, and the crazy ordeal I had just endured, to the baby staring up at me. It was a tough concept to understand in that moment. And it still is.

My eyes had been closed for hours during pushing, while I straddled the line between life and a place more expansive and inexplicable than life. After opening my eyes to see my child, I looked to my left and saw my husband’s face. In that moment, I felt a greater love for him than I ever have. It was like falling in love all over again, but at a much more intense and meaningful level. All at once I realized what he had endured for 51 hours, that he had been “in it” with me and rallied through sleepless hours, lots of tears (mine), emotionally taxing moments, and remained calm and encouraging for me. He had an injured hand on account of all the squeezing I did to it during contractions, but he never complained or took his hand away. He advocated and spoke for me when I could not. He held me when I needed to borrow some of his strength. He never stopped honoring my journey. His awe and respect for me multiplied with every hour of labor, and I could see it all over his face now. And we were now connected in a way so different than before—through this experience, and through our child, now lying on my chest.

I also suddenly noticed how many people were in the room when I opened my eyes. I had been completely unaware of my audience for hours, aside from the paparazzi-like flashes I continuously saw through my closed eyelids. But, when I saw all these amazing women surrounding me, I felt a love and appreciation for them, as well. There is nothing like the bond of childbirth. I will always think of all these women, and will always be in awe of what they do for birthing mamas. It’s pretty incredible, and downright impressive.

I did it. I gave birth. It was over and now I had a precious baby in my arms. I was also on a complete high thanks to the adrenaline and endorphins that flooded my body. In fact, I was bouncing off the walls, even after my insane three-day ordeal.

It’s amazing how everything just stops once you’ve given birth. You can be totally consumed with the experience, and with the pain, but in an instant, it’s over and life resumes. I had a lot of physical healing to do at that point, but I had never felt more elated, excited, full of love, proud or awake (wide awake!). I had the most incredible reward for all I had been through. And, as epically long as the entire experience felt, from conception to carrying baby girl beyond full-term to laboring for three days to pushing for three hours, it was suddenly folded up into a neat little box that immediately went up on the shelf in my memory file and was over. All of that instantly began to fade away, and made way for a new life. Life was an entirely new experience now, with my little one in it. I was in love, and enthralled in a way I could not have imagined.

*Names changed for privacy

The Birth Story: Part V, The Hospital Birth~labor

Part I, The Homebirth~ Induction
Part II, The Homebirth~Early Labor
Part III, The Homebirth~Active Labor
Part IV, The Homebirth~The Turning Point

Part V.
The Hospital Birth~Labor

The All Natural Hippie Gets an Epidural

The purpose of going in to the hospital, for me, was to get an epidural in the hopes that it would relax my tense body enough to allow my cervix to continue dilating, and allow me to get some sleep. I had been awake for 43 hours and counting by the time I was settled in to the hospital and discussing my wishes with the on-call midwife, Annie*. As I mentioned, this discussion was not going well. Annie was incredibly skeptical of my homebirth midwives and their opinions, and she certainly didn’t seem to believe I knew what was best either. She had already been notified before I arrived that I was very anti-medical intervention and that I would not agree to take any narcotics (her plan), but she persisted in her attempt to persuade me. That moment felt every bit like the stereotypical hospital birthing experiences I had read about a thousands times and felt enraged by. So, we went a couple of rounds, and I stood my ground. It was late, I had been beaten down by labor pains, and was sitting in a dark hospital room, not my home, but I was not going to completely give in and abandon my entire belief system when it wasn’t medically necessary.

I watched as Annie mulled over my situation one more time in her head, the light from the fetal monitor bouncing off her glasses. She explained that if I was given an epidural, it would require another medical intervention—either breaking my bag of waters or administering Pitocin. Hearing this only made me panic—a domino effect is exactly what I was afraid of when it came to medical interventions. My homebirth midwives asked Annie if I could make all of these decisions when and if they became necessary. With more looks of skepticism and judgement, Annie backed off and asked me if I had any more questions about the epidural. I responded with, “Yes, can I have one?” Everyone laughed. It seemed like a cheeky comment after the awkward conversation we’d just had, but I really just wanted her to stop being vague, and tell me what the plan was. I had been in labor for an eternity, I was losing patience. I then heard what I’d been waiting to hear for over an hour, “I’ll send the anesthesiologist down.”

I couldn’t believe how hard I fought for an epidural. I was the one who chose to have a natural homebirth, I chose to put myself in a situation that would not even allow me the option of using pain medication. And though I was able to handle the pain and labor for 36 hours without help, an unforeseen situation eventually arose. It was difficult for me to resign myself to the fact that I needed some sort of medical intervention in order to give birth, but having to go through the experience gave me more perspective on the issue.

Although I believe in the innate ability of a woman to give birth naturally, I do acknowledge that there is a time and place for hospitals and doctors. We need hospitals and doctors when complications or emergencies arise (or when a hospital is simply your preference)—this was easy for me to see before giving birth. What I didn’t see was that medical interventions, when used as tools, rather than standards of care, are amazing things. I went into my pregnancy with exceptional health, and was lucky to never experience any complications, so I was a prime candidate for giving birth at home. But, given the way my labor unfolded, I ended up becoming a prime candidate for an epidural—so unexpected yet I am so grateful I had that tool available, because it was exactly what I needed. What I didn’t need was a cocktail of narcotics (although, perhaps there is a situation when that is the exact right thing, as well). I did not want to feel “drugged up” nor did I want my baby to, so I was thankful that I was able to at least avoid that situation.

Back in labor land, I lay in bed awaiting the anesthesiologist. The nurse informed me that I wouldn’t be able to eat or drink once the epidural was placed so my husband tore open our snack bag and came at me with some crackers and a Lära bar. The anesthesiologist wheeled his cart of tricks into the room just as I was about to stuff a handful of crackers down my throat. He introduced himself in a thick Polish accent and told me to take the crackers out of my mouth, which I did. I’m not entirely sure why, but this guy seemed so bad ass to me. His head was shaven bald underneath his operating cap, and he reminded me of a character from The Boondock Saints. I was equally impressed and terrified by him.

The anesthesiologist had me move over to the hospital bed and curl forward so he could scrub my back with antiseptic. I was now faced with the problem with agreeing to an epidural: I had to actually have it placed. Aside from being a natural birth enthusiast, I was also horrified by the thought of having a needle pierce my back and a catheter fed up my spinal cord. I hugged my knees and stared at the linoleum floor. Something about how bad ass this guy seemed to me made me feel less afraid. I felt a tiny prick in between my vertebrae as he shot me full of Novocain before placing the catheter, and that was the last painful feeling I felt for quite a while.

Just as I was telling the anesthesiologist that I have a history of low blood pressure, the monitor I was hooked up to began to beep. I looked up to see my husband standing in front of me, his face growing distraught—he was not comforted by the image of me in a hospital gown, monitors strapped to my belly, IV in my right arm, blood pressure band and heart monitors on my left arm, catheter in my back. This was quite different than the scene of me dancing barefoot to Phish, dressed in comfy maternity pajamas, while I labored at home earlier. As the anesthesiologist leveled out my blood pressure with more medication, my legs began to shake uncontrollably. So far, I was not feeling too good about the epidural. But, after a short while, Mr. Bad Ass got everything under control and I suddenly found myself mouthing the words “I love you” to him. And then he wheeled his cart of tricks out of my room. I could not believe that I was still contracting, because I no longer felt a thing.

The nurse turned the lights out, and my birth team headed down the hall to the lounge area to sleep. My husband climbed into his bed, relieved to be “off duty” for at least a short while. And I was left lying in my own bed, alone with my thoughts. I could breathe again, I could relax. I didn’t get much sleep at all that night, but I was at least able to rest, which is exactly what my body needed. One of my homebirth midwives periodically came in to sit with me and we’d chat about labor, and life in general, to pass the time and distract me from my myself. Being taken out of the labor flow meant being able to think again….not the best thing for an anxious gal like me.

At some point a couple of hours after receiving the epidural, Annie came by to check me. Not only had I made a lot of progress in dilating, but my water broke on its own. I was thrilled to hear this news as it pushed me closer to giving birth on my own. I continued to rest for several hours more until I was woken by the nurse who informed me that the epidural had slowed my contractions down and my labor was now stalled. I had temporarily escaped the need for Pitocin, since my water breaking had the potential to speed up the contractions naturally. But, now I needed more (medical) help. I was not pleased. When the nurse asked for my permission to start the Pitocin, I looked at her and said “epidural plus Pitocin equals C-section!” I was once again thinking about The Business of Being Born. She must have thought I was nuts, but she didn’t show it. I then asked the nurse to wake my husband so I could discuss my options with him. After several minutes of shaking him and calling his name, my husband sat up in bed. I told him about the Pitocin and asked his opinion. He looked at me in a daze, and without saying a word, got up and walked into the bathroom. It seemed that 43 hours without sleep had caught up with him—he wasn’t going to be much help. I then asked the nurse to get one of my midwives from down the hall. After a short discussion with my midwife, I realized that Pitocin was the only option I had other than lying in my hospital bed not contracting for hours until being wheeled in for a C-section.

Once again, I learned that small doses of medical interventions could work magic. The nurse started me on a low dose of Pitocin and I went back to sleep. Shortly before noon the next morning, Annie came in to see how I was doing and said it’d probably still be a while before I was ready to give birth—really, 48 hours into labor and it’d still be a while?! I asked her to check my cervix, out of curiosity’s sake, and when she did she looked up, quite surprised, and asked, “would you like to have a baby now?” I was FINALLY fully dilated, rested, and ready to give birth! Hallelujah!

Read the next part here: Part VI

**Names have been changed for privacy

The Birth Story: Part IV, The Homebirth~the turning point


Part I, The Homebirth~ Induction
Part II, The Homebirth~Early Labor
Part III, The Homebirth~Active Labor

Part IV.
The Homebirth

The Turning Point

26 hours into labor.

I had been lying in bed for close to 12 hours, with a short break in the birthing tub. I felt very attached to my bed at this point—it was safe and familiar. My midwife and doula kept trying to coax me into different positions, and different rooms, but I was not the most compliant patient. I refused to go back downstairs, balked at the idea of going outdoors for some fresh air. I unhappily agreed to try squatting again, but in the guest room—downstairs felt like a million continents away from the secluded island that was my bed.

After only a few contractions in the guest room, I whined and headed back to my bedroom. I tried getting on my hands and knees, only to whine some more. I had never felt so attached to a physical position, but during those hours of labor, all I wanted was to lie down on my left side and ride the contractions. This desire certainly had nothing to do with the position being less painful, because it seemed to cause the most powerful contractions I had had thus far. Perhaps it was because the position was the closest to fetal position I could get with such a round belly. I had crawled into my bed, on my left side, in the smallest fetal ball possible, a billion times throughout my life. It was instinctual, it was where I would go to hide when life felt too overwhelming, it was comforting.

My clinging to the bed, and hesitation to try new things, was the beginning of the end, the end of one epic tale: The Homebirth. I was not yet cognizant of the fact that there would be a second epic, but at this point it was still hours away from beginning.

Frustration began to creep into my previously positive labor flow. I had statistics running through my head. For instance: the average labor for a first time mother lasts 24 hours. My husband and I both had been thinking about that fact from the moment I began to contract. But, here I was still lying in my bed, still pregnant. I wasn’t sure what time it was, but I knew that it was several hours past that 24-hour mark. Why was this happening? Where would it lead? Those questions made it more difficult for me to surrender, and let things happen the way they were meant to happen, the way I had earlier. I wanted to control the situation now, I wanted to wish and pray to any and every deity that may hear my pleas, I wanted something to change soon so I could quiet my fears. I wanted my birth to unfold just as I had envisioned it. But, that wasn’t happening anymore.

I continued to work hard, to give labor my all, but I was tired. After two days of labor, with no sleep and no full meals, your adrenaline begins to wane and your body begins to give out. We are only capable of so much. I knew I was strong enough mentally, emotionally and physically to labor and birth without any interventions or medication—I had proven that already—but there is a wall that I believe any woman will hit if they are called upon to accomplish such a difficult task for so long. My strong will and intense determination could not force my cervix to open, my positive mindset and undeniable courage could not erase the effects of physical exhaustion.

I got up to use the bathroom at one point and while I stood looking in the mirror, I noticed that I could not see my own reflection. The room began to spin, and I grabbed my husband’s shoulder and told him so. My midwife peered in and understood that something had to change. She mentioned the option of transferring to the hospital again, and tears fell from my eyes. I wanted to give it a little more time, which she was fine with—this was not a medical emergency. She then suggested that I get back in the tub, in the hopes that the warm water would slow my labor, which might allow me the opportunity to get some sleep.

Sleep became the critical factor. If I could sleep, my body could recharge and relax. Relaxing would allow my cervix to continue to open. And so, I waited for the tub to fill, and begged for my husband to hurry.

As I waited, I suddenly found that I was not handling the contractions well anymore. For 30+ hours, no amount of pain could break my spirit or cause me to whine, but now everything felt different. Finally, the water was ready and I crawled into the tub in the dark guest room. It was about 9 p.m. I closed my eyes and tried to summon the birthing goddess I had been hours earlier. I went deeply inside of myself, but she was not there. She was sleeping and I was not. I began to cry.

My husband, doula, and the midwife’s apprentice sat around the tub in silence while my midwife consulted with our other midwives (who had yet to arrive) downstairs. I begged my husband not to leave my side, but he sensed the sudden serious shift in me and began to worry. He rushed downstairs to question my midwife, and without him there, I began to fall apart. When he came back, my doula suggested that we talk about what was going through my head and I was terrified to do so.

I will never forget the feelings I experienced in the tub that night. As I sunk down into the water, I felt myself plummet down into one of the most challenging, dark places I had ever visited. I was distraught over the sudden loss of what had been a beautiful, life-altering, soul-satisfying, spiritual 2-day experience. I could not access any of the strength I knew I needed to get through this challenge. I tried to imagine pushing a baby out into the world in my current state and it seemed unfathomable…impossible. And I was terrified and ashamed to admit where I was. But, I was also terrified of the way I was feeling so I knew I needed to share.

I answered my doula’s question, “what are you thinking right now?” with this: “I’ve been given two options—transfer to the hospital or get some sleep and catch a second wind—but the only option that seems possible is to die.” It’s difficult to explain the emotion behind that statement, but I can say that there are places you may end up visiting on your journey towards birth that you never imagined you’d visit. In that moment, the pain and defeat were so unbearable and foreign to me, that my mind seemed to leap to conclusion that this must be death.

With my admission, the birth team knew exactly how much had changed inside me. My doula went downstairs to alert my midwife who came upstairs for a conversation that became a new beginning. She still had faith in me, she had watched me labor like a strong, confident, unbreakable woman for long enough to know what I was capable of. She once again suggested that I try to get some sleep and then we could think about using some more tinctures to get things going. But, this no longer felt like an option to me. I knew that my mind could not conquer what was happening in my body—it had done so for 34 hours, but had nothing left to give now. The exhaustion was insurmountable. The pain was too intense to sleep. All I wanted was for someone to take the reigns at that point.

I had fought for control over my pregnancy, my body, my birth, my environment, for the last ten months, but now I found myself wanting to give that control away so that I would not have to make what felt like the most difficult decision of my life. I knew what I had to do, but did not want to be the one to say so. I did not want to be the one who put an end to my amazing homebirth. I did not want to be the one who insisted that I abandon my well-researched, deeply passionate beliefs about birth in general. I felt incredibly weak in that moment. I looked over at my husband and saw the concern on his face. He saw my eyes begging for him to tell me what to do, but instead he simply let me off the hook so I could make the decision myself. He said, “I don’t care where you give birth, I just want you to be alive, and for our child to be alive.” Hearing that made my decision clear. I was going to the hospital.

As much as I thought it mattered where I gave birth, as much as I believed I would carry profound feelings of disappointment with me for the rest of my life if my experience was not my version of ideal, when it came down to it what mattered the most was that I give birth to my baby and that both of us were healthy and whole. Sure, I could have accomplished this at home if the situation was slightly altered and I had gotten some sleep, but I could not hold on to a situation that “could have been.”

I sat in the tub a while longer discussing my fears about having a hospital birth, what I could expect when I got there, ways we could make it feel safer and less threatening. As reluctant as I was to make the decision to transfer, I suddenly felt relieved. I think I had known for hours that that was the right decision to make, but was embarrassed to admit what felt like defeat. I stepped out of the tub, and began to crawl out of the dark place I had temporarily lost myself in. And then the scramble began.

My midwife called the hospital and then called our second midwife. Our second midwife’s job was now to arrive at the hospital before us and make my wishes known. I had not even entertained the possibility of being transferred to the hospital during my pregnancy, for fear of jinxing my labor, so I never took a tour of the birthing center or packed a “just-in-case bag” or given any thought to what decisions I might make if I found myself there. Now I was 36 hours into labor, exhausted, delirious, and rushing around throwing things in bags at random. My husband helped me shower off 36 hours of sweat and blood, which somehow reset my labor clock. I had showered just before labor began and went into the experience feeling fresh and ready, so I felt I needed to wash away the previous hours and begin again.

By the time I was finished showering, I felt more clear-headed and noticed that my husband had temporarily shut down. This fact was evident when we noticed that all he had packed for the hospital was my purse and a bag of celery.

By the time we were in the car an hour later, I felt my spirit returning. I had expected that it would take me weeks or months to process the fact that my dreams of giving birth at home were never realized and accept that, ultimately, I chose a hospital. But, here I was, five minutes down the road and already cheerfully explaining that I had grown as a person in that birthing tub, and that I was proud of my ability to make the decision I did. I knew I did the right thing for myself and my baby given the exact situation I found myself in. I knew I needed to ask for help—something that has always been particularly difficult for me to do. I knew I had to let go of my control issues, because the Universe had made it pretty clear for the 7,605,064,884,300,283 time in my life that I was not the one in control. I knew that I could still make this a positive, empowering experience. I knew that I was far from weak for making the decision I did. I was strong, and I would grow even stronger than I could’ve imagined once I entered those hospital doors. I would just have to refocus and figure out how to birth in a hospital now.

I had spent ten months visualizing and meditating on my homebirth so it felt incredibly familiar from the very first contraction on. But, I was about to embark upon an entirely different experience that I had no script for. I would have to make decisions I felt completely unprepared to make. But, I could do this, right? I could give birth in a hospital and still have a positive experience, right? I had two midwives, an apprentice, a doula and a husband behind me. They’d have my back. They all knew how deeply anti-drug I am, they knew I’d rather have my baby pulled out of my left nostril than have a C-section. It would be okay. Besides, the hospital was placing me with the on-call midwife, not the on-call doctor. A midwife would respect my wishes, right?

We pulled up to the Emergency Room door and my midwife wheeled me up to the 3rd floor. We entered an enormous suite, and I felt like this was the beginning of a positive experience. I had always envisioned hospital rooms as small, unfriendly and far from comfortable. But, here we were in a room that had a living room area, a bathroom, a normal queen-sized bed with your standard hospital type room tucked into one corner. I met the friendly nurse assigned to me and immediately felt at ease.

Just then, the hospital midwife entered the room. She introduced herself, talked with me about what had been going on in my labor, and then asked me what I wanted to do. As I spoke, her face contorted into looks of disapproval and judgement. She suggested pumping me full of a cocktail of narcotics, at which point I began to panic. As she listed the medical interventions she would like to utilize, scenes from The Business of Being Born (a documentary about natural birth vs. hospital birth) began flashing in my head. This woman was a midwife? She had C-section written all over her, in fact she was rushing out of my room to attend one (literally) as she finished up her conversation with me. She wanted to cut me, I could see it in her eyes.

To be continued…

Read the next part here: Part V

The Birth Story: Part III, The Homebirth~active labor

Warning: There are bound to be some graphic or raw mentions of the birthing process in this series. It’s difficult to feel any squeamishness or embarrassment on my part having been through the experience. And it’s difficult to tell a birth story without any of the real details.

Part I, The Homebirth~ Induction
Part II, The Homebirth~Early Labor


Part III.
The Homebirth

Active Labor

I climbed into bed sometime during the early hours of the morning, still in good spirits and enjoying the space between contractions. But, there was an air of seriousness that came with the powerful rushes now. I began to go deeply within every few minutes, bobbing in and out of a trance-like state where the lines between life and death seemed blurred. I have yet to find the right words to explain the place I visited during active labor (and later on, during pushing). It was a place where I simultaneously did not exist yet felt more in my body, and in my soul, than ever before. It was a place where I was connected to something greater than the material world. Every time I closed my eyes, I was gone. But, the second I opened my eyes again, I would return and finish the sentence I had started before the contraction began.


I was surprised by the amount of adrenaline I still had on tap when active labor began, as my body had been working so incredibly hard without any sleep. I hadn’t gone into labor with many hours of sleep in my reserve tank either, but sleep was the farthest thing from my mind at this point in the game. I looked around at the rest of my birth team, their eyes at half mast, disappearing one by one to sneak in quick naps in various corners of our house. My husband begged for coffee, but I would not let him leave my side. I even asked him to “please just pee the bed” when he tried to get up to use the bathroom.

Someone brought Alex a cup of joe so he wouldn’t have to leave me. He happily sipped from a pink mug with a Victorian-era looking woman pictured on the side with the words “Maybe I want to look cheap” floating next to her head. There was something so hilarious about him holding that mug during labor, especially after I handed him the underwear I had been wearing up until that point and asked him to just “hold them.” He stood next to the bed drinking coffee, my undies hanging from one finger, looking a little bit cheap. For whatever reason I insisted that he keep those undies on him, as if I’d need them while laboring or pushing out a child, so he tucked them in his pocket for safe keeping.


The contractions grew stronger, and my body adopted a pattern of “double-headers” that lasted throughout labor. One wave would begin and peak, only to run directly into the next wave. The pain was unexpected, more than I could have imagined never having experienced it before. But, I continued to welcome the intensity and kept thinking to myself “I can totally handle this. The pain does not matter.” Meanwhile, I began to clutch Alex’s hand with every contraction, and nearly broke it several times. I specifically remember someone exclaiming “your pinkie, Alex! It’s turning purple!” during a particularly tough rush.

 

I watched the sun rise out my bedroom window with the feeling of my husband’s body holding me in the quiet hours of morning. Everyone there felt like my baby was coming soon. The midwives had already set up the birthing supplies the night before, preparing for the imminent eruption of life from my womb.


I lay in bed, completely unaware of time (so the exact details of my story may be off). As the contractions continued, I buried my head in my armpit only to discover how hard I had been working. I told everyone that my B.O. had reached full hippie status, and that it reminded me of the yoga retreat center I visit every summer, Kripalu, where the people all smell the same—a combination of B.O., dreadlocks, patchouli, and Indian-spiced beans. This led to a conversation about the first time I brought my husband to Kripalu and how much of a culture shock it was for him, beginning with the discovery that all of the guests there fart at will. Alex reminded me of how he was particularly grossed out when someone farted, without apology, while he was eating a banana. He then begged me not to recount the tale of the time I made him dance barefoot in the drum circle, but I couldn’t help but immediately launch into the details of how he danced so hard that he tore the skin off the bottom of his big toe and painted the floor with his blood, much to the horror of the other dancers. We all roared with laughter, intermittently interrupted by abrupt silence as I contracted.


At some point that afternoon, my midwife finally gave me the okay to get into the birthing tub—reserved for late in active labor when it’s pain-relieving qualities are most needed. It took an eternity for my husband to fill the tub and ensure that the water was the exact, right temperature. But, the wait was worth the immediate soothing effect of the warm water. I was able to relax and take what felt like a break after a hard day’s (actually day, night and another day’s) work.


Later on my midwife checked my cervix for the first time. She was very vague about what she felt and didn’t offer up the exact details of my progress, a tactic that proved quite effective for keeping my spirits up and preventing any frustration on my part. She decided to massage my cervix while I was contracting in order to help it dilate, which changed everything.

The pain I experienced, both physically and emotionally, during those cervical “massages” pushed me over the edge. Fear began to creep in, not of childbirth, but of what I might discover about myself in the final legs of this experience. I was not prepared for the pain I felt then, just as I was not prepared to have my cervix massaged during labor, so the tears began to fall. That’s the thing about labor, it’s incredibly emotional, and laughter may melt into inexplicable tears at any moment.

There were many times that I began to cry, quietly, and for a multitude of reasons, in the middle of contractions. But, during my second cervical massage, it became evident to my midwife that my tears had a story. The whole birth team—my husband, midwife, apprentice, and doula—gathered around me, placing hands of comfort on my arms and feet and in my hands, as we discussed what might be going through my head. This was one of the greatest moments of healing I’ve ever experienced in life. Issues from long ago were brought to the surface, pain expressed, fears uncovered, and ultimately, I found the courage to release what was holding me back and come back to the task at hand, empowered.


The cervical massages were a choice, my alternative being going to the hospital to receive an epidural. When those options were given to me, more tears fell. I did not want to even hear the word “hospital” during my labor or birth. I was content to pretend the hospital didn’t even exist. Choosing the massages over medication (aka, choosing more intense pain over the alleviation of any pain) seemed like the only option in my mind. But, now the possibility of being transferred to the hospital was out there, and it would continue to lurk in the dark corners of the room for the rest of my labor.

To boil my complicated situation down, the issue was that my contractions were growing to the necessary level of intensity, seemingly announcing that transition was nearby, but my cervix was not cooperating.

Somehow, that day, the morning became afternoon, and afternoon bled into night, while I was unable to perceive any of it. All I knew was dark and light, and suddenly it was growing dark again. How could this be? Two sunrises and two sunsets, and still no baby? My husband did his best to keep his cool around me, and I did my best to completely ignore his hushed voice questioning the midwife downstairs. Questions began swirling in my head, a nagging feeling in my gut that I was about to hit a turning point, but perhaps not the turning point I had been anticipating for the last thirty-some-odd hours.

 

To be continued…

Read the next part here: Part IV

The Birth Story: Part II, The Homebirth~early labor

Warning: Starting with this post in the series, there are bound to be some more graphic or raw mentions of the birthing process. It’s difficult to feel any squeamishness or embarrassment on my part having been through the experience. And it’s difficult to tell a birth story without any of the real details. 

Read the previous post here: Part I, The Homebirth~ Induction

Part II.
The Homebirth~Early Labor

Around 11:15 p.m. on Thursday night, after almost 11 hours of contracting, my midwives decided I was officially in early labor. When I heard those beautiful words—early labor—the excitement finally bubbled up past my caution and skepticism. There had been so many false alarms leading up to the day I finally went into labor that part of me truly believed I’d be pregnant forever. But, now it was happening.



I will never be able to fully understand how I managed to do it, but once I knew I was in labor, a powerful force took over my entire being. The doubt, the lack of faith in myself, the insecurity and belief that I was not strong enough, were nowhere to be found. I was overwhelmingly joyful, positive, full of life and ready to dive into the experience. When the contractions grew more painful, I smiled and said “I’m so happy that I’m in pain!” I began to ask, out loud, for my uterus to make the contractions stronger, to keep them coming. I asked my cervix to open up so I could let my baby out. I told my body to bring it on. I completely invited labor to take me over.

 

I will admit that I did, in fact, listen to Kanye’s Stronger about 14 times during those early hours (as I had joked I would many months ago). [Side note: I’m so sorry, baby girl, that that song will forever be attached to bringing you into this world. It’s wildly inappropriate, but I did at least listen to the clean version instead of the explicit.] I also listened to an amazing hip hop song written by a local rapper (again, sorry baby girl, your hippie mama has many sides) about his wife going through labor—so beautiful and so encouraging, give it a listen here (the song is called Ups Downs All Around). I can’t tell you how much these two songs pumped me up early on! I never thought I’d want to be pumped up during labor, but it really got my adrenaline moving. Little did I know how much I’d be using that reserve of adrenaline over the next three days, though.


Sometime in the middle of the night—time became an indiscernible, unfamiliar concept once labor began—I went upstairs to use the bathroom. I was using the stairs and toilet sitting to help bring the baby down and open up my pelvis, both of which are highly effective, by the way. On this trip to the bathroom, though, I was surprised by what I labeled “my first period.” I had been looking for any signs of bloody show (a sign that your cervix has begun to dilate) for over a month, so when I finally saw it I was literally shouting with excitement and called my midwives and doula upstairs to show them. I honestly felt like a preteen girl again, so proud to finally “be a woman.” Things were happening, I was having a baby, for real, as I put it to my husband who stood in the bathroom with me, equally excited about my “first period.”



I was really into squatting during contractions during early labor. Squatting is not easy, let me tell you. I’m not sure where the lower body strength came from to squat over and over for hours, but I pushed through the exhaustion, because I felt the progress (aka, pain) more intensely in that position. Squatting also led to many interesting discussions among my birth team, such as the likening of my use of the banister at the end of the staircase to a stripper pole. I felt like I was in Flash Dance and asked them to pour a bucket of water over my chest as I threw my head back during a contraction. Where were these crazy thoughts coming from while in the throws of having a baby? I will never know. But, this discussion ended in me proving that a pregnant woman can still shake her booty—sort of—which was recorded on video for good measure.

Then there was the marathon session of live Phish concerts that I suddenly needed to have on in the background. I closed my eyes and swayed to the music, transported to summer nights of concert going—this ended up to be an incredibly relaxing visualization for me, such a carefree place to be in my mind. Of course, the music then led to a discussion of our past lives, the time before any of us (in the birth team) had children and could frequent hippie shows and live free-spirited lifestyles. Those days felt so far away while I stood in my living room moving toward childbirth. I wondered if my past and future would ever co-mingle, if that girl would ever peek out from behind this new mama exterior.


As labor progressed, and the intensity grew to unbelievable heights, the house was still filled with laughter. Life continued in between contractions, and other than the pangs that rolled in waves over my abdomen, I felt like we were just hanging out, hosting a big slumber party. Close to dawn, we ascended the stairs, and I crawled into bed, needing a safe, familiar place. Unbeknownst to me, I would remain there for close to 24 hours.

 

To be continued….
Read the next part here: Part III 

The Birth Story: Part I, The Homebirth~ induction

I am going to tell my story as a series with several parts, which only makes sense given the epic length of my labor (51 hours spread out over 3 days). Telling this story is incredibly important to me, but also daunting. There were so many life-altering moments, so much humor, so much healing, and so many hours that I’m not sure I can do it justice. But, our birth stories are important. They stay with us for the rest of our lives. They define us in new ways. They are triumphs that deserve to be celebrated and acknowledged. Yet, I am sure I will leave some of the details out—partly to allow some of it to remain private and sacred, partly so as not to delve too deeply into what is a very graphic, raw experience.

Part I.
The Homebirth

Forward: The Decision

I decided halfway through my pregnancy that I wanted to give birth at home. I have always had a negative association with hospitals, but in this case, it was much more than that. I’ve been fascinated with birth for years and so have read many books and seen many documentaries, all of which have convinced me that an unmedicated, calm, quiet birth in which I would be able to make decisions for myself was what I wanted.

The hospital I was originally planning to birth in, and the midwifery practice that was going to deliver my baby, were both notorious for medical interventions and placing hospital policy above the wishes of their laboring patients. As I’ve mentioned, I decided to hire a doula to alleviate some of my fears surrounding birthing in an environment that threatened to mar the experience I had envisioned. She immediately encouraged me to explore other options and interview other midwifery practices. I was very hesitant to make drastic changes halfway through my pregnancy, but it didn’t take much reflection to realize that, in my gut and heart, I’ve always wanted to birth at home. It was the only thing that felt right to me. I simply hadn’t allowed myself to entertain the thought, believing it wasn’t a viable option for me, for whatever reason. After a few long talks with my husband, though, I quickly understood that a homebirth wasn’t something to fear, it was a way to provide myself the greatest chance of having my version of the ideal birth.

Once I made the decision, all the fear and anxieties I had about giving birth vanished. Instead, I looked forward to a meaningful, private, joyful experience that would allow me to remain 100% in my element. I put photos on the wall next to my bed to serve as a focal point during labor. I bought my favorite soothing candles and made a long, relaxing playlist of music. I felt so at ease knowing I could cozy up in all my favorite parts of the house for comfort. I was relieved that my environment wouldn’t be foreign and there wouldn’t be a parade of doctors and nurses I’d never met intruding upon the flow of my labor. I dreamt of cuddling up, as a family, in my own bed after pushing my child out, peacefully and gently.

Making the decision to do a homebirth was the most important decision I made during pregnancy, and I owe so much of my experience to the wonderful, attentive, caring, insanely talented group of midwives I hired. From the 1-hour prenatal appointments (that often went even longer) to the deep level on which they got to know and understand me to the constant support, encouragement and care I received over the 3 days I labored—they did much more than make sure my baby and I were healthy. They are special women, not of this world. And I believe my story, the one I’m about to start telling, is so meaningful and beautiful in large part thanks to them.

 

The Induction

I was a few days away from being 42 weeks, at which point I would have to be medically induced in the hospital. Given my decision to do a homebirth, I was obviously not feeling too thrilled about the possibility of ending up in that situation. Thankfully, midwives have many tricks up their sleeves, one of which is to try to push you over the edge into labor with the use of several herbal tinctures. I had been having strong contractions for weeks that would last for several hours and then (frustratingly) peter away. So, the aim was to simply nudge me along when that happened.

 

One of the midwives and her apprentice came over late morning on Thursday to start the tinctures and monitor my progress. That day was bright and lovely, full of so much hope and anticipation. I couldn’t sleep the night before, knowing there was a good chance my baby girl could be on her way the next day. It’s interesting to swing from impatiently wondering at every moment when labor will begin to suddenly taking control (or at least attempting to) by telling your body that labor is going to begin now. Alex and I were excited, yet cautiously so. We had tried the herbal tinctures a few days earlier without any luck, so I tried to temper my expectations.

We went for several long walks and I remember our neighborhood looking more beautiful than it ever has, the sun more golden and everything touched by it cast in a glow that seemed to come directly from heaven. We ate tuna fish sandwiches with avocado and I wondered if that would be my last meal for a long while.

The contractions began, but we quickly learned how slow the process of birth can be, especially when you are trying to induce (naturally). I contracted from 12:30 p.m. until 11:00 p.m. before my contractions organized and made it clear that this was actual labor. Most of those 10.5 hours was spent sitting on my birth ball while Alex tried to lift my belly (thus the baby) into a better position in the hopes that I would start to dilate. We were both amazed by how those hours passed by so effortlessly—we were so incredibly focused on doing what we had to in order to meet our baby.

 

 

By the end of this phase of labor, the humor began. Never in my life did I imagine I would be so humorous and entertaining in labor, but it was a theme that lasted until the moment my placenta was delivered (of course, there were definite periods that lacked humor, as well, but it always came back). I think part of my unexpected comedy routine, which was equally matched by Alex’s, was that the hours were beginning to wear on me. There is a whole lot of waiting involved in labor and birth, and after 10.5 hours of simply waiting for contractions to organize before officially labeling it “early labor,” we were definitely getting a little bit nutty. I realized Alex was losing it when he took out a box of animal crackers and began performing a show that involved a mountain goat who climbed the rough terrain of my swollen belly only to break both his front legs, a buffalo would received CPR from a pig with heart-shaped ears, and an elephant who lost his tusk to a camel who was trying to sell us said tusk on the black market. Yes, this was the official beginning of labor, and the official beginning of the insanity/entertainment/challenges that took place over the course of three days.

 

To be continued…

Read the next part here: Part II

Emerson Winter

Emerson Winter (Baby Em, Emmie)
Born May 12, 2012 at 3:08 p.m.
7 lbs 14.5 oz
21 inches long

 

My sweet baby girl entered the world with one tiny cry and an obvious aura of peace about her. I am amazed by how right on I was about her personality before she was born—the connection between mother and child during gestation is certainly powerful and mysterious. Baby E is sweet, curious, strong, determined, and gentle. She has been incredibly alert from the first moment she opened her eyes, always studying the faces in front of her in a way that pulls at your heart and creates an instant bond—it’s impossible not to love her (but, perhaps I’m a little biased).
Emmie will be one week old tomorrow, and I am just now able to detach her from my body for short spurts of time, although I still cannot be in a separate room from her. I knew I’d be pretty attached to my baby when she arrived, but the overwhelming need to feel her tiny body against mine, to smell her skin, to continue to feel intertwined and one with her, is a phenomenon I couldn’t have imagined before. For the first few days I even felt conflicted in that I was so ecstatic to finally have her here, to be able to see her face and hold her, but at the same time part of me wanted to tuck her back in my belly and not let her go.
Even more incredible than my attachment to Em, though, is her attachment to me. Nothing could’ve prepared me for the love my daughter has for her mama. It’s still hard for me to accept how important I am, how much she needs me and craves me. The night she was born, my husband and I slept with her in between us in bed, each of us holding one of her hands, all three of our faces pressed together. The next night Em scooted herself a little bit closer to me, the night after she was pressed up against my chest, and the night after that she was on top of me….where she remains today. She has a need for constant body contact, which I love, but it has certainly changed my life. Alex and I live in fear of the times I need to get up to use the bathroom, because the minute I exit the room she knows and loses her calm composure. The radar she has is unbelievable. Alex can hold her in bed with me sitting right next to her and she’ll be fine, but she knows if I am not in bed.
The animal instincts of babies just blow my mind. For example, the way they rely on their sense of smell is unreal. Em learned the smell of her amniotic fluid in utero which is the same smell my breast milk has, so she can keep track of me, whether she is asleep or awake, based on whether or not she smells me in the room. It’s crazy to see her react from across the room when there is a boob out in the open. She can sniff that milk out like a bloodhound. What breaks my heart is the look on her face when she knows I’m not there—her eyebrows are so incredibly expressive and you can tell, without a doubt, that she is truly worried, like a dog who fears his owner will never come back every time he is left.
So, this is my life right now—nursing non-stop, cuddling, not sleeping, and strategizing about how to sneak out of the room to use the bathroom (aka, the only 5 minutes I get to myself now that Em is on the scene). Parenthood is just as everyone explains it: crazy and chaotic, wonderful and life-altering, exhausting and the source of so much love, appreciation and heart-melting goodness.

The birth story is coming soon. I’m hoping to begin posting the series on Monday! Yes, it will take more than one post to tell this epic—in fact, it will take several.

To read my birth story, start here.