The morning had been the exact same for weeks. The plain gray sky, the coffee, the packed bags, the sitting at the table. The tears spilling out the sides. The only difference this morning was a plan to go to the hospital, but not in the way I wanted to. I wanted to be in labor. I wanted the music playing in my kitchen and my Doula in the dimly lit living room of my very own particular vision. Me, moaning and rocking and glowing late into the night. I wanted it many Moon signs ago. I didn’t want to be given this drug. I didn’t want to come back home without a baby in my arms. It was April 13th and unusually cold, even for Ithaca. I was relieved that at least it wasn’t snowing like it had been most mornings that week. I sat there at the table deflated, across from the next steps of the morning, the farthest I was willing my expectations to reach; my front door, the walk to the car, the parking lot, the sliding glass. As impatient as I felt, I knew that this was a time in my life to finally trust my own body. To trust this process of birth. So, when I stepped outside and felt that the air was warmer than it had been, I filled my lungs with it and walked bravely to the car. I was allowing myself to trust the day and some of the pressure lifted off my chest. Bronwen, my wife, started the car. I texted my best friend: “Going to get my cervix ripened. Fingers crossed!” After parking at the hospital we walked toward the sliding glass and into the birth unit where I immediately saw the midwife, my favorite one of the five. She was just starting her shift. She was the one I knew would pressure me the least while carefully walking me through this very small, very first step of induction.
I was twelve days past my due date, not at all dilated and I’d agreed to start Cervidil, a drug that softens the cervix and allows it to dilate. Ten percent of the time Cervidil can lead to the start of labor, but that’s probably because most people agree to it once they’re beyond their due date. Even still, it’s a small percentage.
A nurse led us to a large, bright room at the end of a hallway. It was perfectly comfortable. The unit was quiet. The first thing my nurse offered me was a hospital gown. I told her I wanted to stay in my own clothes and handed her my birth plan. She read it immediately. That felt like a good sign. She held it in her hand and asked, smiling, “What are your expectations for today?”
“I hope to go into labor.” I said with a smile of confidence.
Her smile drooped. “Oh, I wouldn’t hope for that. Cervidil will just soften your cervix and hopefully get dilation started.”
She was nice about it, but I’m sure she expected me to cave to Pitocin eventually or maybe go home that night and come back on Monday for full induction if labor didn’t start over the weekend. Bronwen and I had promised each other that we would go home that night if my labor didn’t start. I trusted both of us to keep that promise. At the same time, I loathed the thought of reversing our steps from this very warm, very comfortable place. The sliding glass, the parking lot, the car, the drive home in darkness, the cold walk to our front door. Not before giving birth. So, I swallowed a lump in my throat and nodded. Then we waited. Waited for the midwife to come in, waited for the prescription to come from the pharmacy, waited for the midwife to come back in and place it in my cervix. We were scheduled to be there at 8:30 am and it wasn’t inserted until after 10:30 am. That two- hour difference made it even harder to imagine leaving the hospital still pregnant. Cervidil needs to stay in place for 12 hours.
Bronwen and I decided to take a walk, but I was so disoriented by what was happening; being at the hospital, not in labor, way more pregnant than I ever imagined being, that we returned to the room within five minutes. It was a little after 12:00 pm. While we thought about playing cards, Bronwen’s best friend called to check in. She was with a friend who had some Craniosacral expertise and advice to offer, so we spoke with her.
She said to position two chairs facing each other. She told me to sit in one, as myself, facing the other as if the baby were sitting there. She told me to ask him if there was anything he was waiting for that he needed to let me know about. Then, she told me to sit in the other chair and speak as if I were the baby. To wait and try to feel or hear from him what might be keeping him from coming out. Normally I would have avoided doing this because it is out of my comfort zone, but she was so reassuring and I was so ready. I was totally willing to feel silly if I had to. Bronwen faced the chairs toward each other before the phone call was over. I immediately followed her advice. I told the baby that it was safe and that we couldn’t wait to meet him. I told him that after waiting for so long we just wanted him to come out. I asked him if there was anything he needed to hear from me or ask about. I waited about 30 seconds before switching seats. I sat down again, facing “myself” and I felt different, perhaps a bit wiser than I take myself to be. I spoke back to myself as the baby.
He said, “I’m not afraid to come out, I just don’t understand the rush. Why hurry? It’s nice in here. I have everything that I need. I’m not afraid to come out, it just hadn’t occurred to me that it was time yet. Is it time now?”
I switched my seat again.
“Yes,” I said. “It’s time now. I don’t know of a reason for you to stay in any longer, so unless you have a reason, please, come out.”
I switched my seat again.
“Okay.” he said, “If you are ready, I am ready.”
Not too long after that, contractions began, contractions that felt like the same ones I’d been having for weeks, therefore not very exciting. I sat on a birth ball talking and breathing through these contractions as they kept coming, not exactly regular, but consistent. I started to get that high feeling I’d had a few nights ago when I was sure labor was starting. I welcomed the feeling but wasn’t willing to allow hope that it would last. We were listening to a music playlist I’d compiled a while back, songs that Bronwen and I both love. The energy of that moment was extremely alive and exciting. I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but I was indeed in early labor and exactly where we needed to be. About 45 minutes later, I knew my contractions were progressing more intensely than I’d experienced before. I wasn’t ready to distinguish the difference to Bronwen but I could tell she knew it too. I loved the groove we were in. I felt strong and somewhat fearless. I wasn’t yet focused on the fact that it was still very early.
Eventually, around 2 pm, the midwife did come in to talk to us, but the contractions curiously seemed to calm down while she was in the room. As if the baby or some other power were regulating the situation to suit my needs. Before leaving the room, she said, “Even if this is truly the beginning of labor, the timing and irregularity of your contractions tell me we have quite a long way to go.” As much as I liked her, I was glad when she left. The reason for that is because I’d gone from feeling completely comfortable and uninhibited to choosing my words carefully and asking questions that put me in a less powerful place. At the forefront of my mind was the fact that laboring bodies react to external stimuli. Meaning you could be progressing beautifully in your own home with the curtains drawn and no one else in the room besides your partner, but if someone shows up and breaks that bubble, contractions could stop all together.
The truth is that I had been scared. Scared to be home, scared to be in the hospital, to give birth, to just not know what might happen. To surrender. I have no doubt that this baby sensed that I was scared and needed to feel protected in my own body. There was a divine intelligence at work, just waiting for all the conditions to be right. That’s the feeling I got when I “spoke” to him in the chair. Maybe I didn’t get the words exactly right from his perspective, but the feeling, in retrospect was just kind of like, “no problem, trust me, I got this Mom.” This is also how I would describe the way he makes me feel in general everyday. The middle of the night is another story… But whether it’s because of the birth I believe he orchestrated, his natal chart itself, or the smile that murders everyone who looks at him, I know this kid is magic.
Bronwen gave birth to our first son at home. I had never experienced such raw beauty. I was so happy to be home and to be so close to our midwife throughout the pregnancy. Bronwen’s labor was long but typical for a first baby. Our son, Quentin, was born healthy and strong. About two hours after his birth, Bronwen had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance for postpartum hemorrhage. Hers is not my birth story to tell, but after that experience, I centered my own birth plan around being at the hospital and avoiding intervention because I wanted it to feel as close to a home birth as possible, but without the worry of a possible transfer.
About fifteen minutes after the midwife left the room, the contractions resumed, and since the nurse knew she’d checked in with me, she didn’t come in again for a long time. Bronwen and I were alone in the room together for about two, maybe even three hours after that conversation. There was a woman in the room next to me whose labor was further along, so she was the priority. Obviously Bronwen and I didn’t feel like we wanted or needed anyone else with us. Labor was progressing. We both knew it and we were both psyched that everyone was leaving us alone. In their minds I was still just the outpatient on Cervidil at the end of the hallway. I hadn’t even filled out a single page of paperwork.
When the contractions got a lot stronger I remembered that I’d had the idea that during labor I would invoke all the women on Earth that were laboring in those moments so I could draw strength from them and send strength to them, from a place of interconnectedness. From a place of shared labor. Immediately upon remembering the idea though, the women who entered my consciousness were those who were in extreme conditions for giving birth. Lucid visions of women in Syria, in prison, alone, in warzones. I stayed with those images and there was a shift in my consciousness. I felt a distinct awareness and a bold recognition of my own intuition.
My hospital dinner arrived at about 6pm. I was halfway through with my plate when I said to Bronwen– “I can’t sit here anymore, I need to find a different position.”
Moments later the nurse came in for the first time since before we’d seen the midwife, which at this point was hours earlier, and put the monitor on me. She told me that the contractions were significant in terms of their strength but that the time in between was still too inconsistent to say whether I was in active labor or not. At this point the pain was impressive and I felt somewhat scared knowing it was only the beginning. It was about 7pm and the nurse who was training came in just before the end of her shift to check in with me. I was sitting on the birth ball again, leaning my upper body on the end of the bed. I really needed someone to tell me that I wasn’t going home that night, not until I had a baby, so I asked her if I could stay at the hospital even if I wasn’t in active labor by the time the Cervidil came out.
“Of course,” she said “ You don’t have to leave if you don’t want to.”
Want to? The idea of wanting to leave was absolutely ridiculous. By then I knew I was in labor. Bronwen knew it too.
Around 8pm, my Doula, Darcie, arrived during a contraction. She seemed surprised. We had only asked her to come within the last half hour, so she wasn’t expecting the intensity. Shortly after Darcie arrived I met the new nurse, Julie. I didn’t know at the time how deeply my love for her would grow over the course of the next several hours. I think she also came in right in the middle of a contraction and I couldn’t talk to her. I wondered if both she and Darcie thought I was a wimp, only being in early labor and unable to talk through the contractions which were still too inconsistent in terms of their timing. I just kept breathing through the waves of pressure. Darcie put some padding on the floor and suggested hands and knees position. I hated it. Then she started doing counter pressure with her thumbs on my lower back during contractions, which helped a lot, and I went back to the birth ball. After awhile I hated that position too, but the counter pressure was very effective. I remember needing to just melt into Bronwen between contractions, but I didn’t want her to touch me during them. It was so hard to articulate what I needed from her, but I think I was able to show her with body language at least 3 or 4 times before moving to the bathroom. I sat on the toilet, I remembered hearing that being on the toilet felt good to some people. I had about four more contractions there and I asked Darcie when I might be able to get in the tub. She said not until just before transition because it could slow things down. My contractions were about 3-4 minutes apart, definitely active labor but not transition yet. I managed to get off the toilet and back on the bed. Walking sucked. So did sitting, climbing up and just about everything that involved being in my particular body at that point in time. Once on the bed I got on hands and knees again, then the birth ball, then the chair. I hated all of it.
At about 10 pm the Cervidil was ready to come out and I was sitting on the toilet again. Darcie was filling the tub. I remembered she had said transition = tub, but I wouldn’t let myself believe that I was in transition because it seemed too soon to be true. I didn’t question why the tub was filling because I didn’t want anyone saying anything to me about how long or what phase I was in. I just wanted to try something new and warm water seemed like a great idea. So as soon as the Cervidil was out I got into the tub. I didn’t ask why it was okay, I just did it. It felt good to rest there. The contractions seemed to intensify and I felt scared that it was the position, or the tub, both or something else. I was not okay with the intensity of the pain, but my whole body would just completely relax in between – it would just float up and be weightless. I couldn’t imagine a better place to rest. Even though I considered moving in that split second between the end of a contraction and the beginning of a rest, as soon as the rest would start I would abandon the idea completely. Again and again this happened. The room was dim, Bronwen and Darcie were sitting by the tub and I remember being in awe of how beautiful they both were.
After what seemed like a long time the nurse came in to check the baby’s heartbeat with the doppler. She placed it pretty high up on my belly, where she’d heard him about 45 minutes earlier. This time though, we heard nothing. For awhile we heard nothing. The CNA was looking at the monitor which kept picking up my pulse but not the baby’s.
“That’s Mom.” She said a few times… but just as I really began to feel nervous, the nurse moved the doppler way down, just above my pubic bone and there he was – his heart beating fast, strong and hard. I could feel her surprise, I didn’t have to see her face.
“There he is! He really made some progress since last time!” She said.
This is when my immense love for her began. It’s a bit much, I know, but I can’t skip over this part because it was so profound. I suppose it was because when I say “just after I started to feel nervous,” I’m saying it’s really difficult to describe what I was feeling in that particular moment. It wasn’t panic but it was a very intense response to the absence of the sound of that heartbeat. I haven’t ever experienced a feeling connected to a response like that ever before. So, when we heard it and she looked at me, I loved her.
The next contraction was brutal and the subsequent ones were harder and harder to stay on top of. That’s when the images came back. Women in warzones, women alone. Women for centuries. Giving birth. This is what we are built for. With every contraction I felt the universe moving through me. I felt the force of every wind charging through me like a freight train. The Earth Mother was inhabiting my body and the sounds coming from deep down inside of me were other worldly, underworldly. I had stepped into a fierce sense of knowing that my body was absolutely powerful.
It had been just me, Bronwen, Darcie and Julie in the room for a long time. I was totally cool with that. I loved all these women and I felt completely taken care of. The midwife, who just finished delivering a baby one door down, entered the room just as I was exclaiming “FUUUUUUUUUUCK!” She calmly sat down on the floor next to the tub and said something to me, I don’t remember what it was, but I know I was glad to see her and hear her voice. During a rest I looked at her and said, “I’m not sure I want to stay in here, but I think I do, but I don’t know.
“You can stay in, you can get out. You can push in the tub. You can have a baby in the tub. Whatever you need to do we’ll do.” She said calmly.
I had never even come close to feeling my own power as solidly as I did during those next several contractions. Eventually they started to feel more like involuntary pushing. I remember looking at my doula after one and saying, “that felt like a push!”
“That sounded like a push!” she said. “That brief pushy feeling you just felt during that last contraction will last longer and longer with each one until it lasts through the entire contraction.”
That sounded both satisfying and horrifying all at once. She was right. That happened, and it kept happening and it was both. I remember outside of my direct vision seeing a bulge between my legs. I never looked directly at the bulge. I felt it and saw it like a shadow. It doesn’t make sense to say “I didn’t think about it too much.” There’s really no thinking happening. It’s just like, oh, my vagina is bulging and there’s some wormy looking things and I’m just going to accept that and not ask because what the fuck? I guess that is thinking. Kind of a thinking out of the corner of your eye though. Obscured awareness. The midwife, however, was keenly aware of the bulge. She was staring directly at it. She left the room briefly and came back with a basin and some metal tools. There was a lot of activity, more CNAS in and out of the bathroom.
Could I be close? I couldn’t let myself believe it. I knew it had only been about five or six hours since I had decided on my own that this was labor, never mind anyone else. As far as I knew, my water had not broken. The fact that I was aware of roughly how much time had passed felt like a sign that I couldn’t be close.
I’d heard so many birth stories though, and what stood out the most was how they all said that when they thought they were going to die or when they told someone they couldn’t do it anymore, they were close. Again, I brushed the hopefulness aside, confident that the dying feeling was about to last several more hours and that any doubt about it would guarantee it even more. I just kept shaking my head after each contraction and saying “No! No!” Bronwen and Darcie kept nodding their heads and saying “Yes! Yes!”
The midwife warned me that my throat may hurt the next day if I kept moaning the way I was- as if that was a valid thing to worry about in that moment. After she said it though, I shifted completely into deep, low, guttural, underworld sounds. I felt a pop during a contraction which provided a release of pressure and an opening. It felt insane. The midwife had barely spoken since she first entered the room. So when she encouraged me to push in a more directed way the next time, I did that… and it was terrifying and painful and so hard to describe beyond that it was the most monstrous sensation I’d ever felt from inside my body.
Now I was willing to believe I was close. Now my body was pushing with every fiber of its being and the baby was coming out. Each time it happened the sensation intensified and I could feel him moving through and out. On the last push he shot out like a rocket. It was 12:37 am. I reached down and felt his slippery little body and I pulled him to me. He cried right away. Bronwen says you could have knocked me over with a feather when he came out. I just couldn’t believe he was there and that it was over. He was beautiful and so present. I knew his name was Arlo when I looked at his face.
His umbilical cord was wrapped around his shoulder blades forming an X on his back.
“He’s like a Samurai warrior!” exclaimed the midwife.
It was totally safe, but we had to untangle it. It took six hands plus mine holding him. All the blood and guts were in the tub. I had to get out to deliver the placenta. Bronwen took Arlo and a CNA helped me to the bed. Blood was gushing, rushing down my leg. Puddling behind me. I liked the look of it and I loved the feeling.
The afterness of it.
I knew I never had to give birth ever again. I knew my body had just done the most extraordinary thing that bodies can do.
There was my baby, in Bronwen’s arms, on the outside of my body, surrounded in white light. Everyone in the room was surrounded by the same light. I remember feeling like it was the best place – the best feeling. I’d never felt relief like that and total gratitude and love. About two hours later I walked to my postpartum room. I was proud of that.
It was about 4:00 am and I just wanted to sleep. The nurse kept coming in to check Arlo’s temperature because it was a little on the low side. I was in and out of sleep because I knew he was okay but I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t in bed with me. Finally, as she was putting a second layer of clothing on him and about to swaddle him up again I woke myself up enough to ask – “Can’t I just hold him next to me under a warm blanket?”
She handed him to me. I took the clothes OFF and put him on my bare body. She brought a warm blanket. His temperature was up to mine in less than 20 minutes.
Do I trust you? Sure. Do I trust myself? Absolutely. Especially now.