Two days before Dahlia was born I started to go a little crazy. It was a Friday and I was officially five days past my “due date.”
Despite my commitment to only sharing our baby’s “due month” with others, and internally telling Baby we were happy to wait until he or she was ready to be born, my anxiety levels rose each day with a growing fear that I may not be able to birth at home.
I needed to birth at home. I would go to the hospital if a life-threatening emergency presented itself, but home is where I am most comfortable. Home, to me, is where my baby belonged when he or she emerged into this world.
Most importantly, I wanted to be home because I wanted freedom. I wanted to eat, drink, move, sing, moan, groan, squat, crawl, wail, get into the birthing pool, get out of the birthing pool, get into the birthing pool again, or walk naked through the hallways if I so chose. I wanted to be self-indulgent. I wanted to listen to my body and its wisdom. I wanted everyone in the room to listen to my body, because I trusted my body more than anyone else in the room.
When my due date came and went I had more and more conversations with my body and my baby. Are you ready? Is today the day? What can I do? What do you need from me? How can I help? I’m afraid. Tell me what to do.
I began walking more and eating spicy foods. I drank red raspberry leaf tea religiously. I meditated, prayed, and tried yoga and nipple stimulation. Nothing was working. By Friday afternoon I was freaking out.
“We’re going for a hike,” I told my husband just as the sun started to go down Friday night. I thought I’d done all I could, but there was more I could do. Walking wasn’t enough. I needed to hike. I needed to walk uphill and downhill and uphill some more. I needed to wiggle my little baby down to my cervix and massage it open with her weight and my movement.
So hand-in-hand my husband and I walked to a nearby park and hiked the steepest hills we could find.
The weather was perfect. It was almost spring in Southern California. The night was warm but the breeze was cool enough to give us both relief as we worked up a sweat with our hiking. The neighbors were friendly. We were greeted by lots of smiles at the belly I carried, obviously read to pop.
And the contractions were glorious! As soon as I began walking uphill the Braxton-Hicks contractions I’d been feeling for weeks grew deliciously stronger. They felt like something in between menstrual cramps and a great, big bear hug. They gave me hope. Labor must be only hours away!
Those were my thoughts when I went to bed Friday night, only to wake up Saturday morning with no contractions and no baby. So I had spicy food for breakfast.
After a day of rest, we did it again. I just couldn’t go to bed feeling like there was still more I could do, so we hiked away the evening. Up, down, up, down. Poor hubby was exhausted, but I couldn’t stop. I loved the contractions. I loved the feeling of my body squeezing, tightening, bearing down, hugging my baby out.
Then we went home and after only an hour of rest my contractions disappeared. Suddenly, I was exhausted.
“I give up,” I said. “Tomorrow, I’m giving myself the day off. No more spicy foods. No labor-inducing drinks. No hiking. No nipple stimulating. No thinking about labor. Enough. I’m done. Baby will come when he or she is ready and no sooner. If we end up in the hospital a week from now, it’s okay. It’s time for me to stop trying so hard.”
And I did. I went to sleep in peace that night. The next morning around 5:30am, after going to the bathroom for the umpteenth time that night, I laid back down in bed, grabbed a tissue to blow a slightly stuffy nose…and my water broke. YES!
Soon, the real contractions started. I tried to go back to sleep after Hubby removed the wet sheets, but the contractions wouldn’t let me. By 7am they were definitely getting stronger so we called our midwife. She said to try to rest a little more and to call her back in an hour.
During this time, I was stunned by the power of the tightening of my uterine muscles. For someone who’s very aware of her body (mainly because I used to be a dancer) it was a fascinating experience to feel new and strange muscles moving with a mind of their own. Even if I tried to clench a muscle as tightly as my uterus was squeezing, I couldn’t. To realize I had no control over these contractions, or my body, was both awe-inspiring and terrifying.
By the time hubby called our midwife the second time (around 8am), time was already standing still for me. The morning light was frozen in my window. The air grew still and quiet. Anything more than 16 inches in front of me was insignificant and not worth seeing.
Labor had taken over. My husband was by my side through it all.
The one time he left my side, the only time during labor when we weren’t making physical contact, my contraction was unbelievably painful. It felt sharp and shooting. It threatened to split me open. I felt fractured by it, wounded. When hubby returned, I threatened his life if he ever left me again. Somehow, just by holding him close my labor pains were 10 times milder.
So he stayed with me. He held my hand as I labored in our 8-year-old Papasan chair. He held me up as I wandered through the house, laboring from the living room to the bathroom and back. He vocalized with me, moaning and groaning, through the hours I spent in the birthing pool.
When my midwife suggested I get out of the pool to change positions, I said, “I can’t find a more comfortable position than the one I’m currently in.”
She said, “Sometimes, it’s not about being comfortable. At a certain point, it’s about getting the baby out.”
I understood. I stood up in the water and felt the power of my body working my baby down. She was absolutely right. Labor wasn’t meant to be comfortable. I’d never felt stronger in my life than in that moment, standing in my birthing pool, my body wrapped around a power and a wisdom that would birth my baby if only I surrendered to it.
Hubby and I spent the next I-don’t-recall-how-much-time laboring in our bathroom with the door shut, in the dark. Periodically a member of our midwife’s team would come in to check the baby’s heart rate. Other than that, it was just us. Alone. In beautiful darkness. Moaning. Dancing. Hugging. Apparently, I spent the transition phase of my labor in that bathroom. For many women, it’s the most difficult phase. Thanks to the dark, the intimacy, and the love between the two of us it was the easiest for me.
Then came the pushing. I sat on a birthing chair in my bedroom, although I struggle to even call it a chair. It was barely a frame of a chair. I had support beneath my thighs and the very back of my buttocks, but otherwise it was open and uncomfortable. But, again, labor isn’t comfortable.
Pushing was such a relief! My body was ready. When my midwife said I could push, I was ready. It felt so good to push. It was wonderful to follow these waves of energy and actively participate in what until now had simply taken me over and carried me along for the ride.
Pushing was also difficult. Thankfully, when it seemed like I couldn’t push hard enough my uterus would push even harder for me and nudge me along. When baby started crowning I was shocked at how long the intervals were in between contractions, and how ridiculous it was that I had to sit there, patiently waiting, practically begging, for the next contraction so I could finally push this wonderful baby out. After hours of wishing I had more time between contractions, I was now willing them closer together.
Then she came. She emerged. She cried out. We met her. Hubby “caught” her. She was born right into his hands, into the quiet and calm of our bedroom surrounded by love and peace and tenderness. I finally noticed the light had changed. The sun had moved to the other side of the apartment, so the room was dark. It felt almost like night. It was 3:39pm in the afternoon. I’d labored for about 9 hours and pushed for 45 minutes until I gave birth to an 8lb. 6oz. baby girl.
I held her in my arms, took three steps to my bed, and reclined slowly with her on my chest. She latched and nursed almost immediately. The placenta was delivered quickly, and my midwife pushing down on my belly to expel the remaining blood and fluid was by far the most painful part in my memory.
I feel blessed every day to have enjoyed the birth of my dreams. I am thankful every day that my child’s first hours in this world were in my arms, attached to my body, the place she called home for 9 months. I wish every pregnant woman could feel as supported and loved, as strong and powerful, and as confident I did in their labor and birth.
My daughter is a year old now. She walks and talks. She’s adventurous and unafraid. She’s inquisitive and intelligent. Most of all, she is cherished, honored, and respected. Someday, should she choose to give birth to her own child, I hope she learns to trust her body as much as I trusted mine.