It is 8 days until my due date. I am ready. I can finally post this story, first because I need to, and second because today I finally listened to what my gut instinct has been telling me for MONTHS and hired the most fabulous doula to be there with me as we bring our son into the world. This is the story that is close to me, yet a world away. A story of fear and redemption, and of coming to terms, and of the things that have brought me closer to my Self than I have ever been.
I thought I’d do so many things differently. I read too much on the Internet and took on all the things that resonated with me as “The Way I Should Be.” I should: have an unmedicated, ecstatic homebirth, eat a real-food, nutrient dense diet ALL THE TIME, be super, super frugal, make EVERYTHING, cloth-diaper, be an attachment-parent model, make all the baby’s food, again- make EVERYTHING, never let her cry, co-sleep, no plastic, etc, etc.
Essentially, sacrifice every fiber of my being, be perfect, and at the same time still be open-minded, healthily critical and well-informed about everything. Add to that figuring out a way to make money from home, because on top of all the other pressures I put on myself, I felt incredibly guilty for being a stay at home parent, for “not contributing” to our family. I could not do enough, I was not, could not be enough.
I had to let go.
Once you begin daydreaming about leaving the baby outside in the cold where you can’t hear it, the time is way past that you need to seek out some help. Those were days that were filled with a steady stream of tears and milk, guilt and inadequacy. There was a constant tension in my chest, a voice unable to explain, an undying love for my daughter, a crashing loss and slow discovery of a new identity.
“I will freelance,” I said, “I will be a writer.” But I crashed as soon as I began, because I could not see a way out of the darkness I was in.
Ana’s birth was both traumatic and glorious.
The entire pregnancy I went back and forth about the type of birth I wanted- and finally switched to a homebirth practice late in the second trimester. I wanted a deep, nourishing, awesome, spiritual experience. I wanted to give birth and feel divinity all around me. I wanted it to bond John and I so, so close, I wanted to welcome Ana in a primal space, devoid of beeping machines and fluorescent lights.
Home was where I thought I needed to be.
My water broke the morning of August 20th, around 10 AM. I was lying in bed, and felt/heard a popping sound accompanied by a slow trickle of water which gushed down my legs as I jumped out of bed. I stood there, in the puddle of it, nearly jumping up and down as I called John, called the midwife, called Bess, called my mom, called more of my closest friends. The excitement was so intense; the unknown was so close to me.
The experience was finally here. Within an hour my mother and my best friends were at my house, bringing totems, helping me arrange last-minute things, sharing in the excitement, the fear, the waiting. No one knew how fast or how slow it would go.
John was pretty sure that we weren’t in a hurry, so true to form he took his time and stayed calm. We knew we just wanted it to be us, together- with as little outside interference as possible- to welcome our first baby into the world.
Everyone left, we ate snacks and watched TV. It was S L O W.
The midwife didn’t show up until after 9:00 that night. It was exciting, but disappointing- I had only met her once, and she was only two years older than me. She brought with her a trainee who had foot surgery that morning and was obviously tired and limping around.
I could not express how I felt. I wanted the woman I trusted, who had cared for me since I started going to their practice. I wanted to trust and I didn’t. Instead, I felt like I was hosting a get-together at my house and had to entertain. John was not impressed and I could feel that, too.
It’s difficult to remember all of this and it is hard to write about- the good parts are at the beginning and the end- and so I’ve focused on those for the past year. The middle is not what I like to remember, especially now that I’m about to do this all over again (in the wonderful local hospital, my friends! Where there is access to pain meds! And midwives, and doctors! And medical care! I know now that I am reassured by this. To each her own.).
I have anger from this first birth still- anger that I didn’t feel properly taken care of, anger that everything went the way it did. I am careful to avoid blame, of myself or anyone else, but I still have anger. At the midwives, at my family, at the circumstance itself. Mentally and emotionally, I got stuck. I am angry that they could not see this (but how could they? I was just a woman in labor- a common sight to them). I was angry that I would look up from the searing pain and see them playing on their phones and iPads. That was infuriating. I am still angry at how much they respected our choices (how silly does that sound?) and waited for John to make the call that something needed to change.
I know the contractions rolled in steady and progressively through the night. We ALL thought we’d have a baby in the wee hours of the morning. I know we tried all sorts of places and positions (on the ball was hands-down the best place to be). I know the tub for water birth and laboring popped, the hot water ran out, and everything just got worse and worse until I was running away from the pain and screaming, crying, with that high-pitched-ness that closes you rather than opens you. Nowhere I looked felt right and nowhere I went felt safe. I was so far away.
I kept thinking I was in my mother’s house (psychoanalyze that). I kept hearing the incessant noise of the midwife pumping breast milk in the guest room with the door closed. I hated how they consulted with one another, in low voices, as if I could not see and feel EVERYTHING.
I lost trust in myself and connection to my baby, who I no longer imagined, unless I was imagining that she was dead, or that I would be, or that I would never, ever get through this.
Around 6 or 7 AM another midwife joined the party. She was older and I liked her and I was SO GLAD she was there, but she still had not been a midwife for long and was someone I was more comfortable chatting about herbs and emotions with- though I will say that her hip presses were AMAZING.
I think it was too late, though. I was fully dialated, with “just a lip” of the cervix left, and no real urge to push. But, I lay on my bed, pushing- it must have been hours. Nothing like “transition” that I’d read about so much happened. I just kept being washed in the worst pain imaginable over and over again. And then there was the fear, and the feeling I had been lied to. I wanted to perform well in this, too, like I have in other areas of life. I wanted to have a good story to tell, I wanted to be brave.
It was afternoon, and after pushing for hours with essentially no progress- maybe we felt the baby’s head, once- and the midwife trying again and again to “make a ramp” over the lip of the cervix by jamming her hands in my vagina every time I had a contraction- I was like WTF STOP MAKING THE FUCKING RAMP! I was way too afraid of shitting myself; I was so far past a point that I was not coming back from. I was scared and unable to express anything. I felt I was feeling the pain of all the women before me. I was lost.
It was John who finally made the call to go to the hospital- what a f*ing relief. I couldn’t believe no one had said it earlier- I had wanted our wishes and privacy respected, but NOT THIS MUCH.
It was quick- we packed up, shuffled cars, and I sat in the back of the midwife’s station wagon with her next to me, monitoring the baby’s heart rate during contractions. I had two huge ice packs- one on my lower back and one on my lower abdomen. John drove- through the heat, through the rush hour traffic, through the city. The whole time I thought- if I can do this, I can do anything. The ride was bumpy and brutal- I can’t remember if I was silent or loud. When I was back at the house I was so loud I felt like I was scaring the neighbors.
I walked into the hospital begging for drugs. An endearing resident, who will always remind me of Mohinder from Heroes, was so sweet, trying to help me retain some modesty by covering me up with a gown that I promptly threw off- “No clothes.” I protested. Even in my state I could see him flush, just a little bit.
They gave me some staydol, turned down the lights, and let me rest. Somewhere in there I even snuck in a few bites of John’s (incredibly delicious) sandwich. I still felt pain, still howled through contractions that had slowed down- I almost forgot, until someone said it- that I still had to deliver this baby.
They finally came and administered an epidural (which had the effect of numbing a spot on the side of my right thigh..that’s it), and shortly after began the pitocin. The intensity and pain were fast, and finally came the awesome urge to push that I had not had that morning, even though I was being coached to do so.
This was the best part- yeah, it was painful and it sucked, but I was an Olympian, surrounded by supporters, my feet pushing on a bar above the bed, my strong arms pulling on a rope, a mirror and a spotlight pointed at my most (least?) private part of me, showing me my progress.
It took two and a half hours and everything I had in me, but finally, out she came- into the hands of the experienced midwife who (thank God) worked in that hospital. I am sure to this day that if I had gone anywhere else they would have cut me open to get her out.
But, Oh, the relief! And the baby we thought was our little boy (we never found out the gender) was actually our baby girl. Our Ana baby. It was a whirlwind of love and emotions. We were high and we were exhausted. After the commotion subsided, she slept on her daddy’s chest while I sat there, too wired to do anything but stare at these two people who were my whole world.
It is amazing to me now as I really think about all of this, and see myself and where I was coming from. How much of my pregnancy, the birth, and the first months of Ana’s life were ruled by my own expectations and the expectations of others. It is no shame to want to do it right, but to all you mama’s out there; it is a shame not to listen to your Self. I thought I was, but I know now that I wasn’t. I was listening to myself tell myself the version of how I thought I should be.
Say it with me now….FUCK THAT!
I have a pressing need to get this all out now, a year later and exactly three weeks from my due date with my second baby. I worry that I sound ungrateful, that I’ll hurt feelings, but I have to tell this one like it is, and it is this way, to me.
I have chosen a much different path this time (who am I kidding- there is very little choice involved in childbirth) and I am in a much different place in my life. I no longer read incessantly on the internet, I no longer care how anyone else does anything and compare myself endlessly to those I see around me. Oh sure, the thoughts pop in sometimes, and I’m sure they will continue to if I don’t keep them in check. But I will do things how I do things, and I won’t be sorry for it. In fact, my soul will LIGHT UP the more I listen from within. That is my path, and my struggle, and I am grateful beyond words when the ever-elusive clarity strikes.
And just to be very clear- I support homebirths, hospital births, vaginal deliveries, medicated and unmedicated births, c-sections, and all the other craziness that we go through as women to birth these incredible little creatures THAT WE GROW IN OUR BODIES. I support it all. I have so much respect for anyone who has ever had a baby in the history of the planet. I support the home birth midwives and I acknowledge that we were just not a good fit, and that’s ok. Power to them and what they stand for.
If you are a first-time mama trying to decide things in this age of over-information and a thousand decisions that can be absolutely crippling- just do what makes you glow and fuck the rest. It isn’t easy to have a baby, but it’s completely doable. Talk about your fears and your hopes. Offload the pressure. Hold tight to nothing.