Friday morning I laid in bed waiting for a set of Braxton-Hicks to end, thinking that these felt different, most likely because we were getting closer and closer to my due date. I held my hand on my forehead, and Philip asked if I was okay. I was fine, just having a few contractions, but I looked at Philip's face and he knew that something was up, and said he hadn't ever seen my eyes like that. I assured him I was fine and he went to work.
Two hours later I was sitting on the toilet, cursing myself for eating so much salsa the night before. These stomach pains were coming in waves, although I didn't feel ill otherwise. Looking back now, its laughable that I was seated comfortably on the toilet, as if that's a normal place to sit and just hang out for over an hour, and was in total denial that I was in labor. Why complete denial and toilet-sitting are so common during early labor, I may never know, but there I was anyway.
After some time I realized I was bleeding a little bit, and my heart almost stopped. Ugh, this wasn't salsa-induced stomach cramping, this was labor, hopefully just a false labor? GOSH DANG IT NO! I mean, YESS!!, but NOOO!! I had told my midwife a couple months earlier when we were talking about my due date that even though many first time moms go past their due date, I just had a feeling about June 20th, which would be almost 2 weeks early. June 20th, the upcoming Monday, would have been just fine, but it was only Friday! We have reallllly big plans for the weekend. Please little baby, just wait until Monday! I started timing my contractions, and from they time they started they were never more than 4 minutes apart.
Adrienne checked me, and when she said I was doing great and at a solid THREE I didn't believe her. Are you sure you don't mean 8? You're telling me this is going to get 10 times worse before I even get to start thinking about pushing? There's no way! I've been having contractions for 6 hours! After she assured me that meconium in my water was not the death wish I had thought, (so long as it's yellow and there aren't any chunks) we drove home to wait a little while longer. I was a little discouraged that I wasn't farther along, but if only I had known then that within an hour I'd be begging to have those early contractions back! It's almost like after my midwife calmed my fears about the meconium, it let my body know to pick up laboring at full-speed ahead. My contractions were quite a bit stronger within 30 minutes, strong enough that I was no longer a peaceful birthing goddess, I was a full-blown howler monkey. When I was having a contraction, I noticed nothing going on around me and just focused on the loud mooing that seemed to come so naturally to me. I had been afraid that I would be a moo-er my whole pregnancy, and boy was I.
Philip called Adrienne, and she could tell from my noises in the background that I had progressed really well in that short hour. A few times I thought I was going to throw up, so we grabbed a puke-bucket and headed back to the birth center, and can I tell you how awful car rides are when you're in labor?? I seriously thought my vagina and pelvis were going to come flying out of my body every time we stopped, started going again, or went over a bump. After we were there, my midwife suggested that we go get something to eat, and started talking about taking some castor oil after an hour or two if things weren't progressing a little faster. I really didn't want to take the castor oil-- I couldn't imagine adding intestinal cramping and diarrhea on top of those body-shaking contractions. While all of this was going on, our realtor called us to tell us our house purchase had recorded and she had the keys for us. She ended up dropping them off at the birth center while I was laboring there. We took a little drive, got some food that I was too nauseous to really eat, and went to visit our brand new little house to kill some time, where I labored for a while. Another damn car ride and we were back at the birth center. I was so relieved to be there to hopefully stay. Walking up to the birthing suite took about 4 contractions; one where I held on the hood of our car, one at the door, one in the elevator, one in the little hallway that overlooked where we had taken our Birthing From Within class. I remember wondering what I had learned in that class because I sure as hell wasn't remembering my peaceful breathing and coping techniques now.
As soon as I made it to the suite, they had dimmed the lights and filled the big tub for me, and it's so unlike me, but I literally ripped all of my clothes off and got into the water as quickly as a girl can when there's a 20 pound bowling ball resting on her cervix. I didn't care who saw or what they thought; I wanted my damn bra off and I wanted to be in the water. I have no idea how long I labored in the water, but I remember it feeling better to brace my feet and shoulders up against the side of the tub so I was almost floating above the water. I tried connecting with my baby to let him know it was safe now. Philip held a cold washcloth to my forehead and it would almost snap me back from my own worries and thoughts and bring me back to the present moment.. Although I had imagined I would be in a deeply meditative state, I really wasn't most of the time. Two recurring thoughts were "why on earth does any woman choose to do this again, ON PURPOSE?!?" and "yep, now I understand why so many women choose to have an epidural."
A few hours passed and I had started pushing in the water. You have zero sense of time while you're in labor! Before I knew it, it was almost midnight, and I was doing everything I could to run away from my contractions. I was exhausted, and wanted a break longer than those precious seconds between contractions. At the beginning of labor, those little breaks were wonderful.. I could go through a contraction and then pick a conversation right back up once it was over. Towards the end of labor, I spent every moment between dreading the next contraction, telling myself I just needed to make it through the next one, and then I could give up and go to the hospital, or ask for a triple shot of vodka or something.. I was pushing as hard as I could, like face-shaking pushing. And I was SO annoyed, because I thought that when my body was ready, the top of my uterus would just magically push down and expel the baby, I didn't think I would have to try SO HARD, for what seemed like a thousand contractions. I kept on thinking "come on, body, any freaking day now." Within a few minutes of pushing, baby had been locked and loaded; I could feel the top of his head just 3 inches away from being born. But I couldn't seem to get him past those last few inches.
My midwife suggested I get out of the water to try some different positions and I flat out pretended like I hadn't heard her. She probably had to ask me 5 times before I got my big booty up and out of the tub.. I was a stubborn old cow, this all hurt a little more than I was expecting, and I knew that it would only get more intense if I got out of the water. I hurried out of the water to try and be seated and comfortable before the next contraction came. Adrienne suggested possibly the sling, or the stool. I can't remember every detail, but somehow I ended up on the birthing stool. I pushed through a couple of contractions, still wondering why it hurt so damn bad! I thought that once you were past transition, that pushing would almost feel better-- a girl in my class had likened it to the hurt-so-good pain of clenching your teeth after you get your braces tightened. But not for this girl. I was probably pretty close to reenacting that scene in Knocked Up, where Katherine Heigl screams "I FEEL EVERYTHING!" I kept waiting for that thing I'd read about where the tissue was stretched so thin that the nerves were numbed... but, uh.. nothing ever went numb, and it was the most powerful pain I had ever felt, there are no words.. I had spent so much of my pregnancy convincing myself that birth was so natural and wonderful, and that if I was in the right mindset and focused on my breath that there would be very little pain. I'm not sure there's a way to fully prepare yourself for something so intense, but just like other painful things, you'll find your own way to get through, even if it's not the way you had imagined.
After another contraction, Adrienne checked baby's heart rate, and it had started slowing a little more than before. Yours would too if you had been stuck in a birth canal for a half hour. But all it took was bringing the attention back to my baby-- this wasn't about me any more, this was about keeping my baby from suffering any longer than necessary. I realized that although I had honestly been pushing as hard as I possibly could, I hadn't really unclenched my entire body yet. My body was fighting against itself. I knew it was going to hurt, it might tear me in half, but I decided that I would do whatever it took to keep him from feeling any more discomfort. That moment is when I became a mother; to stop questioning sacrificing myself, and accept any amount of pain for the sake of my child. With Philip sitting behind me, I waited for the next contraction and as soon as it started I pushed with every thing I had, accepting the pain as it took over. The last few pushes I had been watching the top of his head in a mirror Adrienne was holding, but for that last one, I was pushing so hard that my eyes were closed. In an instant, his head finally came out, and before I could even open my eyes his body was born.. He literally flew all wet and messy and perfect, right into my midwife's hands! I brought my baby up onto my chest and kissed his sweet little head over and over again, and looked down at his tiny face. The moment you see your baby, it's like seeing an old friend "Oh yes, there you are. I've known you all along."
Holy Crap. Oh my gosh, he's finally here. My baby!!! MY BABY. Wow, that hurt! Ina May's hippies had lied to me when they said that their rushes were psychedelic waves of energy, and they had misled me when they said that once the baby was born you were so overcome with happiness that the pain went away. BUH-lasphemy! Or had I just been reading it wrong??
They took Cohen from me just long enough to help me stand up and climb into the big cozy bed. I was so weak I could barely move, but it was done, I finally had my baby in my arms, and we could rest now. He was placed on my chest for the most blissful discovery and cuddling ever.
At the time, I kind of wondered if I was a selfish mother for not immediately thinking the whole experience was beautiful and worth every drop of blood and stab of pain. Just a couple hours after birthing my baby, I hobbled back to the bed from the bathroom, bent over, barely able to walk, and told Philip that this would be our only child, and we never had to do this again. But it's true what they say. With time, you forget about the pain, I almost have no memory of the sensation of having my pelvis wrenched apart with each contraction, however through it all I never ceased to be completely amazed by the miracle, the power of birth, and how capable and strong my body really was and is. I did it. My birth may have not been easy and painless like I was expecting (how bad can it be? I wondered my whole pregnancy) but I birthed the exact way I was supposed to. I discovered that my most true self is very noisy and feisty.. WE WOMEN ARE WARRIORS.
My cervix was only checked that first time, which was really all that was needed -- since my water had broken and I was GBS+, they didn't want to check it more than necessary, and my midwife was experienced enough to tell where I was just by listening. I am so grateful that I chose a birth center; no unnecessary checks or fingers jabbing my cervix, I wasn't forced to have antibiotics, Pitocin, coaxed into getting an epidural, I wasn't attached to a single machine, no needles, no stainless steel, no crunchy mattress, and I was free to move around as much as I wanted (although sometimes I would hold as still as I could, barely breathing, hoping it would keep that wave of contractions from coming back) and didn't have to lay on my back to push. I never regretted having a natural labor, or wished I had an epidural. There were definitely a couple times I was hoping my midwife would say I wasn't progressing enough and suggest I go to the hospital for a c-section so it would all be over-- for a few minutes I just hoped she would give me an easy way out or the option of a different kind of pain, but I wasn't going to give up until somebody suggested it, and nobody ever did, so I didn't either. And I only had very minor little tears that didn't need stitches thanks to his head stretching everything out for 40 minutes. We were at home in our own bed within 6 hours.
Besides finally holding my sweet little baby boy in my arms, the most powerful thing that day was the care I received from Adrienne, and the birth assistant Natalie. That night was the first time in my life I can remember actually truly needing help from somebody else, and I was so weak that I consented, and just let them help me. They helped me sit up, get out of bed, slowly walk to the bathroom, and helped me into the shower. While Adrienne rinsed me off and washed my legs, I had never felt so truly cared for in my entire life, and in that deeply humbling moment I was forever changed. I was finally a mother, and that self-reliant ego of mine was finally a little broken. Because of that day, every part of me has become a little softer, and I hope to never lose that. This softness will make me a better mother, a better woman, and a better friend, and I hope I can offer that same love and care to women someday too.
Our rich American lives are so comfortable and relatively painless. We only get a handful of opportunities in life to really feel ALIVE, to be our most human selves, to experience our bodies and minds and let them do what they are designed to do. I wanted to GIVE BIRTH, not just have birth done to my body, and with the help of Adrienne, Philip, and my tough little boy Cohen Kall Koncar, that's exactly what I did. Birth is birth, no matter how it is done, but the support I had was what every woman deserves.
Cohen Kall Koncar was 7 pounds, 4 ounces, 20 inches long, born at 12:58 AM on June 18th. And he is hands down my greatest accomplishment, and always will be. In Queen Bey's words:
"My [baby] introduced me to myself."