My son’s second birthday is today. I’ve been thinking a lot about his birth, reflecting on how much he’s changed in the past two years, how much he’s still the same little guy he was in utero, and how much his birth and his existence have changed me.
I’m posting here my “for the public” birth story, split into three parts.
This was my second pregnancy and second birth (and most likely my last pregnancy and birth). After a fairly traumatic birth experience with my daughter, I did lots and lots to prepare for this birth. One thing I did was practice my Hypnobabies hypnosis multiple times a day from about eleven weeks gestation on. When I refer to hypnosis tracks in this birth story, they’re Hypnobabies tracks.
Oh, and in real life, we all referred to one another by our first names. I’ve taken out all names but mine for the “public” version of the story.
In the birth tub.
I decide to take a shower to speed things along, and my husband joins me to offer support—literally—during contractions. I direct the hot water at the underside of my belly, and around to my back. It helps between contractions, but during contractions, I need to hang onto something and I can’t do that holding the shower head. I want to get down on my hands and knees, but the new bath mat is really rough. It hurts the soles of my feet and leaves chevron-shaped ripples on them, so I know it won’t feel any good on my knees. My husband turns off the water and helps me out of the bath. He helps me dry off and put my clothes back on between contractions.
We move into the bedroom, and I lean my forearms on the bed with my knees on the floor while my husband tries the counterpressure and hip squeezes that felt so good when I wasn’t in labor. I’m disappointed to find that these moves do not feel good at all during labor.
I want to get lower. My midwife and my husband help me onto all fours on the floor, my arms leaning on a stack of pillows. I rock my hips and moan loudly during contractions.
I hear my doula’s voice and feel her hand on my shoulder.
“I made record time!” she exclaims in a quiet voice between contractions. “You called around 11, and it’s 11:45 now.” Her hair is darker than it was the last time we met.
“You changed your hair,” I say.
“Even in labor you notice something like that,” my midwife says.
“No, I saw that it was different in an album on Facebook,” I explain, as I feel the wave of another contraction moving over me. When it’s through I burp several times.
“I feel kind of ill,” I say.
“Pukey or just burpy?” asks my midwife.
I think for a few moments then answer, “I don’t know.” An empty trash can appears in front of me, and I lean on that during contractions.
I don’t know who makes the suggestion, but the decision is made to move to the birth tub again. My midwife and my doula help me go to the bathroom first. As I rise from the toilet, I have another contraction. I’m out of my rhythm and don’t know what to do with myself. I lean forward with my hands on the edge of the tub, then I move to hands and knees on the floor, then to my forearms.
“I want to get…under the floor,” I say. I can tell that my midwife is amused by this, and through the roar of sensation I feel a muted sense of pride.
Out in the dining room, I strip down again, as fast as I can between contractions, and everyone helps me step over the high edge of the tub. I sink down into the water and let my arms float as I did earlier in the evening. When the next contraction comes, I lean over the edge of the tub. I call out loudly.
“Low tones, Charity. Keep it low,” my doula reminds me, and I lower my voice. “Good, good.”
The sensation. There’s a big sensation in my back and a pinch in the underside of my belly, but the overriding sensation is like a very loud noise in my midsection. It’s a roar in my belly that comes out through my mouth, builds and builds and then finally recedes.
I’m loud. I know that I’m loud, but I can’t seem to keep the noise inside my body.
I start to wonder if I’m doing it wrong. I’m fixated on the idea that I’m still at 3 cm, and I’m embarrassed at how much noise I’m making so early in the game. I’ve been practicing my Hypnobabies hypnosis for months, and I’ve had a vision of riding the pressure waves with my eyes shut, maybe making some small moans at the peak, but mostly just breathing deeply. This doesn’t look like what I’d envisioned. It’s also much more intense than I’d imagined.
During contractions, I lean on the side of the tub and call out. My doula reminds me to keep my tones low. She puts her hand on my shoulders and says, “Relax,” and I do my best to let go.
“I can’t do this,” I say.
“You are doing this,” she assures me.
As a former doula, I recognize this response, and I’m a little surprised how comforting it is to hear even though I know it’s standard doula-speak.
Between contractions, she gives me sips of water or I rest on the little step we’ve made under the floor of the tub. I lie on my side with my head resting on my arm on that step, and I doze off. I worry vaguely about drowning in the tub, but that’s not a thought that takes hold. I see the flash of my doula’s camera. Once I wonder, “Why is she taking a picture of this?” But mostly the flash exists in another realm. It’s something that doesn’t concern me.
At some point, someone takes my glasses off.
I start to feel my body pushing. My midwife is sitting in the child-sized armchair against the opposite wall.
“I’m pushing,” I say. “Are you sure it’s OK to push?”
“Has the pinchy feeling gone away?” she asks, still sitting in the little chair.
“No,” I answer. And I’m carried away by another contraction. I bear down and feel the bag of waters break. I have a mental image of how it must look, shooting out behind me at high pressure.
“My water broke,” I say. I don’t hear anyone answer, although someone might have.
During contractions, I’ve been holding husband’s hand with my left hand and my doula’s with my right. I notice that my husband is gone. “He’ll be back before the next contraction,” I think, and try to relax.
The next contraction begins to build.
I ask for my husband.
“He’s in the bathroom. He’ll be back soon.” I’m disappointed and for a moment wonder how to get through a contraction without holding his hand, but I turn my mind around. This is the reality. I’ve got my doula, and of course I can do this contraction. My husband will be back soon.
I come out of a contraction and notice that my daughter’s next to the tub. She says something to me. Maybe, “Hi, Mommy.”
“Hi, Honey,” I say. I intend to kiss her and give her reassurance that I’m doing well, but I can’t quite do it. I hear my husband reassure her that Mommy’s doing fine.
Now that I’ve started pushing, the contractions are carrying me away in a different way than before. I try to go with my body, try to just ride the push.
“Let it be strong,” my doula tells me, and I try to relax and let the power move through me.
“No, no, no!” I shout.
“Yes,” my doula says, calmly but firmly. “Yes.”
“Yes!” I try to yell it with feeling, but I remain unconvinced. I think, “I am so glad I’m not in the hospital, because I would ask for an epidural, and I don’t want one.”
“Charity, you might want to try to go to the bathroom,” my midwife suggests.
“I already peed in the tub,” I admit weakly.
“Good girl.” I don’t exactly hear laughter, but I hear that amusement again. I like the amusement. It helps me feel like everything is normal. Everything is fine.
Another contraction. At the top of this one I start repeating, “Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God.” As the contraction recedes, that changes to, “Oh, my crap.”
“I just want a nap,” I’m pleading to no one in particular. “Just a little nap,” I bargain, “and then I’ll go right back to it. Just a little rest.”
Another contraction comes and goes.
“The pinchy feeling is still there,” I say in the brief calm between contractions.
“How about let’s try reclining,” my midwife suggests. “Maybe I could check you and see what’s going on?”
“OK,” I agree. Somehow I turn over. My midwife checks me.
“The head is very low,” she says. “You’re complete, but you have just a little anterior lip. That’s the pinchy feeling. On the next contraction, I can try to push it over the baby’s head.”
“If it hurts a lot, tell me and I’ll stop.” The next contraction builds, and I don’t feel anything more intense than usual.
“It’s not budging,” my midwife says. “You’ll need to push through it.”
I feel a sense of unfairness. When pushing starts, the other contraction sensations are supposed to recede. This is supposed to be my break, my triumphant time of great energy and joy. Damn that pinchy feeling.
But once again, I resolve myself to reality. This is it. Just more of the same. I’ve been doing this forever already. I can do it a little longer. I’m still somewhat unconvinced that I can possibly be this far along. It’s a strange place, labor-land. It exists outside of time. I’ve been doing this forever and ever, and yet for a very short time, too.
Somehow, my husband has joined me in the tub. He’s sitting on the little step behind me, holding me.
“If you reach down, you can feel the baby’s head,” my midwife says. I reach down, and there it is. Squishy, wrinkly.
I’m holding to two of my doula’s fingers with my left hand and touching the baby’s head with my right. That little growing patch of head has become the focus of my entire world.
With each contraction, I push and push. I start to feel lightheaded, like I’m falling.
“Oh, God! I think I’m going to pass out!” I shout. I’m squirming, trying to get away from the dizziness. “Oh, dear God, would someone please help me!” (A few days later, my daughter asks me about this. “Mommy, why did you say, “Oh, dear God, would someone please help me’?” The following day, my sister tells me that my daughter would retreat with her aunt to the kitchen every time I yelled, then return to the tub when I was quiet. My daughter tells me she was keeping her aunt company.)
“Breathe into my hand,” my doula says, and puts her hand loosely over my mouth and nose. I breathe as slowly and as deeply as I can. I realize that I’m breathing out as I push, but I’m forgetting to inhale again. My doula removes her hand, and I put my left hand over my face.
Breathing in, breathing out. Waiting for the next contraction, keeping my right hand on that little head. Feeling the next contraction build.
“Let it build up, nice and strong, then push when you can’t not push anymore.”
I let it build. I wait as long as I can and then I push. I feel a burning. The burning grows and grows. I fear it, but I also welcome it. I know I need to push into it. I know the only way is through the fire. I go slowly. I try not to push with all my might. I push until the feeling grows too intense and then I let off a little. Breathe into my hand.
“Tiny little pushes, like this,” and my midwife makes tiny little grunting noises. I try to imitate them. I end up doing something kind of like laughing. My back aches. That pinch is intense in the front of my belly. My nethers burn. I cradle that little head in my hand and feel it grow and grow until finally–relief. The baby’s head is out. I rest between contractions.
“OK, Charity,” my midwife says. “On the next contraction I want you to let it build and then push as hard as you can.”
I feel the next contraction build. I wait. It builds. I wait some more. Finally I can’t wait any longer. I put everything into this push. I’m holding my breath and my vision goes black. I can hear, but things seem far away. Suddenly I hear my midwife saying, “Pick up your baby! Pick up your baby!”
I feel my baby with my hands, I see my baby as I lift it to my chest. The baby is calm, not crying, but making little mewling noises. It looks at me, and I know this child. With my daughter, I felt a huge surge of emotion when I first held her. I cried and loved her with a bigger love than I’d ever felt before. This baby, I simply know. I recognize this child as mine.
It is 2:59am.
You can read Part 3 of the birth story here.
And if you landed here directly and missed Part 1, it’s here.