I started going to Kate’s prenatal yoga classes at the Y when I was only about six weeks pregnant. During the rest period at the end of each class, she often read birth stories from Ina May Gaskin’s book. These stories helped me prepare for the natural birth that I was hoping to have. Kate also encourages the mothers in her class to write their own birth stories. Here’s ours….
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Looking back, I now can see the signs that I was soon to go into labor. On the morning of Tuesday, September 16 I woke up at 4:00 ridden with worries about how my life was going to change when the baby arrived. Unable to fall back to sleep, I got out of bed an hour later. With men coming that morning to finish work on our bathroom and a furniture delivery scheduled for the afternoon, I didn’t know when I would be able to get more rest. Perhaps a nap would be possible in the late afternoon … but with men tracking dust up and down the hallway and the cat catching a mouse from just under my feet, the day turned out even more chaotic than expected. I could hardly concentrate on my work, what with my fears that our apartment was no place for a baby to be. I was relieved when the furniture was delivered and the bathroom finished, and I even felt the baby drop, but nevertheless by the time my husband—we’re going to call him “Beckett,” and he knows why—returned home to clean the bathroom and hallway, I was in tears. Later that night, I suddenly felt a profound sorrow that Beckett and I would be a couple alone for only a short time longer. I kissed him and kissed him and kissed him before going to sleep. I planned to stay in bed late the next morning.
Then, when I woke at 2:18 the next morning to go to the bathroom, I felt a leak that when I stood up became a loud gush slapping down onto the hardwood floor. In distress, I let out a long “Oh!” My first thought that there was no way I could get all that water back into my belly. My second thought was that I would never sleep again. Whether or not I was ready for it, my labor was about to begin.
My worry that labor would not begin immediately lasted only a few minutes. The contractions soon came on quickly and strong. At first I was able to help Beckett pull our things together for the trip to the birthing center, but within about an hour my contractions were powerful and coming close enough that they required all my concentration. Only afterward did I realize just how marvelous Beckett was through those first few hours of my labor. Somehow he managed to pack, keep in touch with the birthing center and my dad and stepmom (who, as high school teachers, wake up before 5:00), time my contractions, and comfort me through them as they progressed from coming four minutes apart to coming less than three minutes apart.
Meanwhile, in an effort to find some comfort, I moved from kneeling on the floor on my hands and knees to sitting on the toilet to lying on my side on the bed. As a long-distance runner and Zen practitioner, I am no stranger to discomfort and pain, but I have always been a wimp about strong menstrual cramps, which, as promised, were just what my contractions felt like. I tried vocalizing but couldn’t manage the low moans we learned to do in my childbirth class, and I felt bad for any of our neighbors whom my wailing might have wakened. At the start of each contraction, I felt my cervix opening, however, so I knew, at least, that my body was doing its job.
Because I live nearby and they were in the midst of helping another woman deliver her baby, the midwives at the birthing center wanted me to hold on at home—if I could—until my contractions were coming two minutes apart. I could not. As it was, I did not know how I would keep myself together for the short cab ride from our home. Beckett and I arrived at the birthing center at 7:00, just after the birth of a baby boy. By this time, I had been in labor long enough to run a marathon and then some, but to my surprise I hardly felt spent. However, I was not managing my discomfort very well. Though I protested that I wanted to remain just where I was, curled up and moaning on the bed, the attending midwife persuaded me to get into the tub, where the warmth and buoyancy of the water was a great relief. The labor assistant then helped me to focus on my breath and to change the pitch of my vocalizations from high yelping to low moaning. At last, I settled in to my labor.
At my first measurement, I was six centimeters dilated and ninety percent effaced. Shortly afterward, when I was only seven centimeters dilated, I began to feel the urge to push. The three or so hours that followed were the most difficult part of my labor. Holding back my wild body felt not like riding ocean waves but like clinging to the back of a galloping horse. Through this time, my labor support could not have been any better. There were periods when three people breathed with me through my contractions—the attending midwife, the labor assistant, and Beckett, who gave me water sweetened with cranberry juice to sip in between my contractions.
The last centimeter was the most difficult, and the encouragement that I was “almost there” did not help. Whereas I know how far a mile is in a race, I did not know how much time or effort this last centimeter would require of me. But finally, at about 11:00, I was fully dilated and no longer required to restrain my urge to push.
My lack of sleep now caught up with me, and this stage of my labor proved to be the most frustrating, though not the most difficult. I tried many positions—squatting in the tub, kneeling with a birthing ball on the bed, squatting next to the bed—and two hours passed without much happening. Then another midwife joined us and suggested that we try “tug-of-war,” which gave me the power to get my baby out into the world. I sat on the bed, leaning back on Beckett’s chest, the labor assistant and one of the midwives each supported one of my legs, and the other midwife stood at the foot of the bed. She and I each held one end of a blanket that had been knotted to form a rope. At the peak of each contraction I lifted my legs back, pulled on the rope, and pushed.
Eventually, the baby’s head began to crown. The burning pain was just about unbearable. I whimpered, but with the encouragement of those around me, I held on for longer than I thought possible. Finally, after some dozen or so more contractions, at 2:06 in the afternoon, the little Critter was placed on my chest. I had thought that I would weep upon meeting him, but instead I was bewildered. I couldn’t believe that this wiggly bundle of arms, legs, and wide-open eyes was the baby who had been with me the past nine months.
There were times during my labor that I thought I was nuts to go without drugs, but now I know I wouldn’t have wanted to bring the Critter into the world any other way. In another environment, others might not have had the necessary patience and may have resorted to vacuum extraction or an episiotomy. But at the birthing center, no-one ever suggested that I needed anything other than to focus on my breath and trust my body. Every day now I marvel at the secret knowledge of my body, which was able to create and grow this small human being and bring him into the world, and which now continues to nourish him. As the Critter grows and his limbs uncurl, I sometimes grieve that he is forgetting the womb, where he was with me all the time. Sometimes, when I sing the little song that I composed and sang to him before he was born, I even imagine that he misses the womb, where he was always warm and never hungry. But in truth, the Critter never belonged to me alone, but to the entire universe, and I am learning that the task of a mother is not just to nurture, but at each stage, as necessary, to let go.