Every year on my birthday, my mom calls to tell me the story of my birth. It started when I was a little kid, sort of turned into a joke as I got older, and is just part of my birthday tradition now. It’s no surprise to me that I still love reading and hearing other women’s birth stories – there’s something about how childbirth is both wholly miraculous and completely universal that simply captivates me.
When it came time to birth my own baby, I drew strength from all those stories too. I could hear my mom’s words describing my entry into the world as I labored to bring forth my son, and I leaned on the knowledge that I was following in the (sweaty, bellowing, breathless) footsteps of millions of women before me.
Now that almost two years have passed since that day, I’m finding that some of the details are fading from memory. I realized that even though I’ve written a lot about motherhood, I’ve never written about the day that started it all for me. So, here it is, and I hope it finds its place in the wonderful community of birth stories to encourage generations of laboring mothers to come.
Ben’s story begins in the wee hours of the morning of October 12, 2016. Actually, let me back up – it starts the night before. I was a few days short of 39 weeks, and I was D.O.N.E. About a month before, Ben had decided to set up camp on my sciatic nerve and nothing would convince him to move. The pain was crippling – so bad that I had to use a handicapped scooter to get around the grocery store – and I wanted this baby out of my uterus and off that nerve pronto.
My due date was October 18, but I warned myself not to expect an on-time arrival. At some point during my second trimester, my husband and I jokingly placed bets on what day he’d be born. I said October 24, but my husband confidently said, “Nope, he’ll come on October 12. Just wait and see.” Fast forward to October 11: as I hauled myself into bed, complaining about the sciatica, my husband said, “Well it won’t be for much longer. You better get some rest, because the baby is coming tomorrow!” I laughed and chastised him about getting my hopes up, and then rolled over for what I assumed would be an uneventful night’s sleep.
Two and a half hours later, I woke up to some cramping. Nothing terrible, but enough for me to take notice. I moved to the couch and started timing the pains, trying in vain to get back to sleep. Around 3:30 AM, the contractions were about 5 minutes apart and lasting 30 seconds or so. They had been increasing in strength and regularity over the past two hours, so I headed back into the bedroom to let my husband know, excited and nervous about what the day would bring. I tapped him on the arm and said, “I think I’m in labor!” He groggily asked a few questions about the contractions and asked if I was okay, then said, “Is it cool if I go back to sleep?”
Do you know how difficult it is to stomp out of a room in a huff while hugely pregnant, in labor, and hobbled by severe sciatic pain? It’s tough, but I managed to do a pretty good job of it.
A few minutes later, my husband apparently woke up enough to realize his error and sheepishly came to find me. By 5:00, the contractions were strong and regular enough that I got in touch with my doula, who told me to call the midwives at the birthing center where I would be delivering. The midwife was completely unconcerned and said it wasn’t time to come in – “Keep doing what you’re doing, and call us back when things really get going.” I asked, “How will I know when that is?” She laughed and responded, “Oh, you’ll know.”
At this, I got a little panicky – I think it finally hit me that this was really happening. I decided to take a shower, and while I was in there, I went ahead and freaked all the way out. By the time I dried off, I was sobbing to my husband that we’d made a huge mistake and I had changed my mind about wanting a kid. He sweetly tucked me into bed, laid down next to me, and reminded me of all the things we were looking forward to. We talked about our hopes and dreams for this little boy, and how he would change our lives in so many wonderful ways. Then, with the next contraction and a huge gush, my water broke.
Just as the midwife promised, I knew exactly when things really got going. As soon as my water broke, the contractions kicked into full gear, and I knew it was time to head to the birthing center. We called the doula, and by the time she arrived at the house, I was so deeply in labor that I was hunched over the exercise ball and couldn’t even look up to greet her. She hustled us out the door, and we arrived at the birthing center a little after 6:00.
My memory gets a little hazy on the details here, but basically there were a lot of contractions while they were trying to check my progress and I narrowly avoided kicking a very nice nurse in the face. Turns out that I was already 7 centimeters dilated and quickly headed toward the transition phase of labor. They got me into a room and started filling the birthing tub (I didn’t plan on doing a water birth but had expressed interest in laboring in the water if possible). However, by the time I got there, the contractions were so intense that I refused to move from the edge of the bed.
This was pretty ironic in itself because I had picked a birthing center partially because I wanted to be able to move around during labor, and here I was, glued to the bed by choice. I gripped my husband’s hands with each wave of pain, and his steady strength gave me the endurance I needed to keep going. The midwife checked in periodically but basically left me alone, saying “You know what to do. I’ll be here when you need me.” I loved that she had such faith in my body’s ability to birth this baby, and it gave me such confidence when I started getting overwhelmed. I could also hear my mom’s voice, telling me how she welcomed each contraction and pictured it opening her like a flower, bringing her closer to meeting her baby. I felt surrounded by such a spirit of support and encouragement.
By 8:30 AM, I was fully dilated and making the inhuman bellowing noises that apparently indicated to the midwife that I was ready to push. She got me into a comfortable position with my husband supporting me from behind (after I finally relinquished my death grip on him and the mattress) and said again, “You know what to do!” This was by far the most intense experience of my life, and between pushes I collapsed back on my husband’s chest and said, “I can’t do this! It’s too much!” The midwife responded, “You ARE doing it! I can already see his head!”
Sure enough, the next thing I felt was the infamous “ring of fire”… oh dear lord. I will never forget that sensation, or the accidental glance I caught of my son’s head crowning – to this day, my vagina still clinches involuntarily whenever I push Ben’s head through the neck of a t-shirt. I was also 100% convinced that my butt was going to explode, but luckily I remembered reading that this was a common feeling while pushing so it didn’t scare me as much as it would’ve otherwise. All the same, I was losing steam. My midwife sternly told me, “With the next push, you are going to deliver your baby!” I gathered my energy, squeezed my eyes shut, pushed with all my might, and suddenly there was a squirmy, slimy, squalling tiny human on my chest!
I was exhausted, my face was covered in tiny ruptured capillaries, and I had a second-degree tear, but I had my son. He was beautiful and healthy and had the biggest hands I’ve ever seen on a baby, and we couldn’t believe he was actually here. I felt an overwhelming sense of peace; I had passed through a trial by fire (well, at least one ring of fire) and brought myself and my baby through safely. If I could do this, I felt that I could do anything.
It took time to completely fall in love with my son (after all, I had just met him!), but that love – wild and powerful and the most wonderful privilege of my life – raised its sweet face to the sun for the first time that day. Ben, if you ever read this, thank you for making me a mom. I can’t wait to tell you this story every year (maybe minus some of the vagina references) for the rest of my life!