Each time I tell my birth story it feels like an honor. I truly enjoyed giving birth – and being pregnant, for that matter. I’m super aware that many people do not have positive birth or pregnancy experiences and I’m not trying to be one of those annoyingly self-righteous parents who judges everyone that doesn’t have an orgasmic home birth. But, my birth experience was really great and special to me, far and away the best day of my life. For my daughter’s first year I thought about her birth multiple times a day, the sweetest, strongest memory I have ever had.
So, here’s what happened. My ‘due date’ was precisely November 25th and I know this because I got pregnant the gay way – through intrauterine insemination – which is about as planful as you can get with these types of things. The due date, which happened to fall on Thanksgiving Day, came and went, which I knew it would. My entire big family was in town from various cities for the holiday and my house was full of people. Finally, a couple days later some action started to happen. That morning, a Saturday, I had an early breakfast with my family at the hotel they were staying at and then I drove one of my sisters to the airport. After that I headed home to meet up with my then- partner and current co-parent, Abby, and she went with me to acupuncture. I had a long treatment that lasted about 1.5 hours. My acupuncturist put needles in my lower back and hooked me up to some electrical current machine, so I knew she meant business. I was ready to get this labor going. My mom, sister-in-law and I decided to go get manicures. Right before we left I went to the bathroom and saw that I had some red bloody show, and lots of clear mucus. It looked like I had a bloody jellyfish in my underwear, which was probably my mucus plug. I still wasn’t noticing any really strong cramps or contractions so I decided to just go about my day as usual, and surprisingly I don’t think I even told anyone about the exciting progress my body was making with the whole mucus plug thing. When we got home from our manicures Abby and her mom were watching college football on the tv, which always just makes me want to fall asleep. I went in the bedroom and took a quick nap while they watched the game in the next room. I only slept for ten minutes or so but it was a really good power nap. I woke up and we ordered pizza for dinner.
During the whole afternoon I had been having strong practice contractions and they were starting to feel a little more crampy. By evening I had really started to notice them more. At this point, I still had a lot of family hanging out at my house, including “The Moms” (my mom and my partner’s mom) and various siblings. I mentioned to everyone that I could feel some strong crampy feelings, but I didn’t want anyone to get too excited about it because it could just be pre-labor. Everyone kept asking me if I thought I was having contractions but all I could say was that I wasn’t sure what contractions were supposed to feel like, but the feeling I was having was like medium-strong period cramps. I realized they were happening pretty regularly, about every 10 minutes, so my mom and Abby decided they would start trying to keep track of how often the cramps were coming. I really didn’t want anyone to get too excited, just in case I wasn’t really going into labor, so I didn’t think it was that great of an idea for them to start timing things. In my head I was secretly watching the clock, though, and knew they were coming pretty regularly.
The pizza got there and we sat down and ate together. This was about 6:00 p.m. That’s when I really started to notice the cramps getting stronger. I could feel them in my back and low in my front, right above my pubic bone, and it felt like my uterus getting very tight. At this point I could still talk through them, but it was getting harder to not concentrate on them. I decided that I wanted to lie down on the couch and watch TV so I did. I think at this point I realized that I was really having contractions! We started writing down the timing. They were averaging about 7 minutes apart and getting stronger. After about half an hour I decided I should probably go upstairs and be away from my family. I had Abby ask everyone to be quiet because I felt like I really needed to concentrate and the noise was distracting. Abby and I went upstairs and I put on some comfy pants. I wanted to have something on the TV that I could zone out to, so we bought “Eat, Pray, Love” and I watched that for a bit. The contractions continued getting stronger and eventually I really had to close my eyes and breathe through them. The Moms came upstairs to check on me periodically and Abby stayed with me and started getting things ready for labor. Much of my family was still hanging out downstairs quietly waiting to leave on a bus to Chicago. At some point I went downstairs to say goodbye to them because I knew that soon things would be too intense to speak. I went back upstairs and walked up and down the room with a hot pack on my back.
The contractions got stronger. I spent some time on my hands and knees on the birth ball, but that wasn’t comfortable at all. The best position was standing and walking. Leaning on things during the contractions felt good. We had some conversation about when to ask our midwives, Emme and Clare, to come over. I kept thinking that things were going to get a lot more painful and intense and that labor could last for quite a while, so we better wait. The contractions got continuously stronger but they never felt like I couldn’t handle them. As they got more intense I started making more noise and that helped them feel better. Abby called Emme and asked her to come over. I got into bed on my side and put the hot pack on my back. I stayed like this, flipping from side to side and making noises through contractions until Emme got there. At some point while I was in bed I decided that I wanted to get in the tub. Abby went to work setting up the birth tub.
During the whole labor I didn’t want anyone to touch me or really talk to me, so I think people were not sure what to do to help. I also didn’t feel like being watched, so we had to ask The Moms to go downstairs. I have no idea how much time passed while they were setting up the birth tub, but I could hear people downstairs boiling water to put in it.
Once the tub was ready to go, I got in and the first contraction in the tub felt a lot less intense. I think the contractions started spacing out a bit in the water, too. I stayed in there for a while and then started feeling really tired. All I wanted was to lay my head down and sleep. I decided to get out of the tub and lay in bed for a while. Emme tucked me into bed and I tried to rest between contractions. The contractions at this point started feeling a little different. They felt a little “pushy” and I did not like it. I noticed my body starting to make more pushy noises at the peak on the contractions. I felt inside my vagina and could feel a bit of the bulging bag of water. It felt like a slippery soft water balloon inside my vag – super weird.
At some point our other midwife, Clare, showed up. I got out of bed. During one of the contractions I was leaning up against the dresser and I could hear my mom saying “that sounds like pushing!” which was really annoying to me at the time, so I told her to shut up. I might have even told her to shut the fuck up. (She still brings this up, and it’s been years.) I didn’t want anyone or anything getting in my head. I wanted to stay in my zone and get my job done without worrying about what other people were thinking or doing.
As the contractions became pushier I decided to get back in the tub. The pushing feelings during contractions were definitely the hardest part for me. There were a few times while I was pushing that I felt like I didn’t know how I would get through this. Even though the contractions themselves actually felt less painful during pushing, the pushing reflex felt super out of control and overwhelming. The best way I can describe it is that it felt like I was projectile vomiting out of my butt…like that feeling when you know you are about to throw up and there just isn’t anything you can do to stop it. But not pushing was not an option. My body was doing it on its own and my mind was pretty much just along for the ride. At some point I realized that instead of holding back against the pushing I needed to just dive into it and it would go faster and I could be done with it. It seemed like I was pushing for hours in the tub, but I think it was actually only about 1.5 hours all together. During each contraction in the tub I would feel inside my vagina and it was really helpful to be able to feel the baby moving down as I was pushing. I could feel a little bubble, which was the bag of water, and then behind that was her head. It was really cool. Feeling her head moving down definitely helped the pushing be more tolerable. During pushing I switched back and forth between floating on my back and squatting on my knees against the edge of the tub. As she moved further down it really started to BURN when I was pushing the hardest during contractions. That hurt, bad. With each push I could feel more and more of her head. After a few very burny contractions, I was sure that I had at least a few more to go before her head would come out, but all of the sudden her head popped out! It really took me by surprise and all I could say was “Head! Head!” Everyone sort of jumped up and went behind me to see what was going on. In my own head I was very relieved because I knew that the hardest part of pushing was over. And then I started to wonder what the body coming out would feel like. Her head was out for 3 minutes before the rest of her body came, which is a pretty long time. When I finally started feeling another contraction come, I started pushing as hard as I possibly could to get her out. I could sort of feel her shoulder coming out and someone said “the shoulder is out” and then the rest of her just slid out behind me in the water. Emme pushed the baby between my legs and told me to reach down and pull her out. I looked down and saw her in the water and picked her up and put her on my chest. She started breathing right away and was squirming around and I rubbed her up and down her back and talked to her. I didn’t cry, but later I was told that I kept saying “HI, honey!” to her over and over. I was still in shock because her head came out before I expected it to and it really felt like it all happened so fast after that. I wasn’t paying much attention to what was going on around me, other than the baby. I looked up and my whole support team was surrounding the birth tub. I couldn’t believe it was done! I did it! Leona was born at 3:30 a.m. on November 28, 2010. We got out of the tub and into bed. My placenta didn’t come out for 1.5 hours and I had to get a shot of Pitocin to help it come out. It turns out I had a bit of retained placenta so I bled a lot afterwards and had to take Methergine too, to help get the bits out of my uterus. It was pretty gross, but I won’t get into the details.
I seriously felt high on my birth for at least a year. Making Leo and growing her, and actually pushing her out of my body and catching her in the water was magic, power, and love. I feel so lucky that I got to have the birth that I did. I had the loving energy and support of my whole family surrounding me during my labor and I really trusted my body to do what it needed to do. I felt strong and able, and like a baby-making champion. I love to tell this story because it brings back the feelings I had in my body and the big sweet overwhelming sense of wellbeing and love for my baby. Oxytocin is no joke.