Our new baby girl is here…and she’s three weeks old already! I want to tell the story of her birth. It was, quite probably, the best experience of my life. I finally got to have the dream birth experience that I’ve wanted so badly for so long. After Avery was born I thought I had had the fastest possible natural birth, but I was actually pretty shaken up by it after all was said and done. Having not believed I was actually in labor until I felt the baby’s head almost crowning, and even then not really “getting it”, I was a little panicked and therefore physically tense and in consuming pain, and really didn’t understand what was going on. My detailed birth plan — which included Hypnobirthing techniques and sun salutation visualizations — flew out the window before I even knew that I was fixing to have a baby. Of course, being at home, and not taking double-digit hours, it was a great experience, but it wasn’t the candlelit, mellow experience that I had hoped for.
This time around I was prepared and knew I ought to expect anything. I had vowed to go with the flow and be happy with my birth experience, however it went. We knew that a very quick birth was a possibility. Our midwives had told us that a third baby can be just as expeditious as Avery’s birth, or take even longer than Maysen’s. Third babies are wild cards, they said, so I should be careful what I wished for. I planned for a longer labor, I hoped for a longer labor, I visualized a longer labor, and you could almost even say I prayed for a longer labor. I was more worried about this baby coming faster than Avery had than anything else. More worried about the speed than the pain, or tearing, or a hospital transfer, or any of the other myriad things I could have fretted about. So I prepped Ronny and my mom, who were going to be at the birth, on everything that we needed to do. I had two doulas on call. Everyone’s jobs were assigned, everything was laid out ready to go, and the birth pool was in the living room ready to fill for weeks. We even had neighbors expecting our call if we needed hot water for the tub.
I had been having contractions for several weeks, but nothing too serious. Having been through labor twice, I knew that they weren’t “the real deal.” I wasn’t even totally sure of my due date because we had changed it from January 14th to January 8th based on my desires originally for not wanting to deal with induction, then later based on my fear that I wouldn’t make it to 37 weeks for a legal home birth before the baby decided to come.
Then, around January 5th, I started having regular contractions in the evening. They came every 5-8 minutes for several hours, but then went away when I went to bed, and though they were more than just tightness like typical Braxton-Hicks contractions, they weren’t exceptionally strong.
The same thing happened four nights in a row. On January 8th, I went to bed but had a little trouble sleeping. I just couldn’t get comfortable. At 1:00am (January 9th), as I lay in bed listening to my dear husband snore as he slept soundly, I felt a really uncomfortable sensation right in what felt like my butt. It was like a hard pokey feeling. Then I felt a little oozing sensation and I suspected right then that it was my water breaking. (Funny how I’ve done this three times and I never got that Hollywoody gush that the movies lead you to expect.) I got up and went to the bathroom, and sure enough there was a little liquid. But not enough for me to be sure. My plug had come out and cried wolf a couple of weeks before, when I wasn’t sure if my water had broken or I had peed on the floor, so I really wasn’t positive about what was going on. Turns out I had been starting to dilate before even that, and had got to about 3 cm, but stayed there for three weeks! I never got another exam after that so I have no idea where I went from there.
So I stood up and went to tell Ronny that I thought he should set up the pool. He asked, “are you sure?” and I said, “no, not really,” so he went back to sleep. I lay back down in bed just paying attention to my body, watching for signs of imminent labor. This was maybe 1:02am. (Really, this all happened very quickly. Then I felt more oozing and headed back to the bathroom. This time there was more liquid, so I got back up, went back to our bedroom, and told Ronny that I really did think this was time, and I grabbed my phone and went back to the bathroom. At 1:04 I called Sharon, my midwife, and said that I was pretty sure that my water had broken, it was probably too early to call her but I wanted to be safe, but there was no bloody show, and no contractions. Then suddenly — like right as I finished my sentence — there were contractions, and then suddenly there was bloody show, all in a matter of maybe a minute, so I told her she should probably come over.
There on the toilet, as I talked to Sharon, I suddenly started to experience super intense contractions. They just came out of nowhere. But it was like last time…no labor slowly ramping up to intensity, it was just suddenly intense. I sat there on the toilet wrapping my head around what was going on, realizing that the last four nights really had been early labor. I could hear that Ronny had gotten up out of bed and was moving around the house, so I knew he was getting set up. I just kept getting up off the toilet and putting a pad on so I could help, but then more water would come out so I would sit back down. Why I felt the need to help with (er…micromanage) setup is beyond me, but I couldn’t just sit there on the toilet and labor all by myself! This maybe happened 8-10 times, but the water wouldn’t all come out! I went through pad after pad just trying to catch this water. In the meantime I texted my doulas and my photographer, Jamie, from Pixel and Paper, and let them know that it was time.
When I had a break in the contractions, for like a minute maybe, I opened the door and Ronny had already started filling the pool, and he had woken my mom up. The frenzy of getting ready began. Even though we had been expecting this moment for so long, it still came as a surprise, but we all just flowed naturally into our own jobs.
Ronny worked on getting hot water in the pool, Mom got the plastic and regular sheets on the couch and lit the candles. I got my music going. By about 1:25 I was in very strong and active labor. I was in a cute little nightgown standing in the hallway when a killer contraction came on. It wasn’t the gentle, rolling wave I had hoped for; it was more of a tidal wave, and I seriously had to focus on breathing through it. I just bent over with my butt out and pressed my hands into the wall in front of me, in kindof a modified downward dog, breathing through the wave, stretching my back, and trying to let my belly hang. I felt like I needed to create space and length in my body, and to let my breath take over and help me to control the sensations.
I fully understood at this point that I was in labor and it was not going to be a long one. Accepting that seems obvious, but it didn’t ever happen with Avery’s birth. When that contraction passed, I walked toward the kitchen to check in with Ronny, but before I had walked five feet another surge came on. The rocking chair happened to be in front of me so I bent over with my hands on the armrests, stretched my back, hung my belly, created length in my spine, and rocked myself back and forth in rhythm with my breath through this one. I never timed any of the contractions, but they felt loooooonnngg. And very intense. Yes, they hurt, but I had really concentrated on not focusing on “pain” but rather on “intensity” and that actually worked.
Realizing that the belly-hanging, back-stretching position was working for me, as soon as that contraction passed I went to the couch and got on my elbows and knees, kindof a baby puppy / dolphin pose with my butt in the air. I thought if I could get inverted that maybe I could slow things down. Logistically, how can a baby come out if you’re upside down without laughing in the face of the universal law of gravity? I wanted my water birth this time, goshdarnit, and I’d find a way to stand on my head if I had to to make it happen. That contraction had to have lasted about 2 minutes, and as I rode it, I looked longingly at the blue plastic pool painfully slowly filling up next to me. There was maybe 8 inches’ worth of water in there, which just wasn’t enough to birth a baby in. But I didn’t care. Ronny was going to make it happen. I trusted the process. The whole process.
So when that contraction tapered off, I went in my room for my swimsuit that I had laid out a couple of weeks earlier, all ready to go. I had just enough time to get it on and get back onto the couch before another contraction came. After the next one, I realized I didn’t care how much water was in the tub, and I asked Mom to help me in. She had been so busy lighting candles and Ronny had been so busy filling the tub that I was laboring all on my own, and totally managing it. All of the breathing and mindfulness that I have been practicing as a doula and a yogi came into play, and I felt that I was able to handle these contractions perfectly. But suddenly I needed help. Mom somehow braced me to help me into the pool, and I got on my hands and knees, trying to keep my butt high, as I still had a little glimmer of hope to slow things down. It felt like warm, buttery heaven letting my belly sink into the water. I had known that the water would help, but I had no idea how good it would actually feel. That it would actually make me inadvertently say, “Mmmmmmuunnnnnngghhhhhhh.” And Ronny was filling bucket after bucket and the water was slowly rising, and Mom was heating water in the teapot and soup pans on the stove. I heard Ronny talking on the phone to the neighbor, asking them to fill us a big bucket. Everything was unfolding exactly how I had hoped, only faster.
At about 1:35 Sharon and Jamie got there. At this point, I was fully in labor, feeling intense pressure in my lower back, and telling my mom how to press her knuckles and palms into my lower sacrum to relieve the pain. She pressed as hard as she could, but it was still…so…intense. She had to remind me of my birthing affirmations, that this was what my body was meant to do, that I absolutely could do this. When I had a break between contractions, everything felt fine. Like nothing was happening except that I was taking a warm, candlelit bath in the living room.
I realized that one of my favorite yoga songs, the yogic “Invocation”, was playing.
“Om, namah shivaya gurave, Saccidananda murtaye.”
I honor the highest part of myself, the Supreme. That is full of luminous consciousness, the highest joy, and takes the form of my body and my mind.
I’m still not entirely sure what this means to me, but I love the mantra and sing it mentally often.
I asked Sharon what I could do to slow this labor down, not because I was afraid, but because I wanted to mindfully participate in my own birth experience. And, frankly, because I was a little afraid and dreading the physical sensations I knew were coming shortly. She said that being in the water was about all I could do.
I felt myself go into that savage, primal birthing mode just as Ronny took over for my mom in pressing my sacrum down. He had done his part with the tub and was ready to do his part with the labor. I couldn’t believe the relief that the counterpressure provided, but the sensations inside my body were very, very vivid and powerful. He had to remind me of my own words that I had just spoken that day, that this was my chance to be empowered and let my body do its natural work. That I had the choice to focus on the pain, or to focus on the intensity, the strength of my body doing its natural, innate work. That this was what my body was meant to do and that this was MY birth experience. I was in control of this experience, or at least of my experience of the experience. I was in control of creating my own memories of this birth. I was in this moment writing my own true birth story.
I could feel that the baby was moving down, so I felt inside my body with my finger, and I touched the top of her head. I said to Sharon, “I can feel her head,” and she asked, “is the baby coming out now?” so calmly, without seeming worried or stressed or rushed at all. She was so relaxed and laid back. Only later, when I asked how she had arrived so quickly, did she tell me that she had driven over 90 miles per hour across the San Mateo bridge to get here. “Not yet, just about an inch and a half or so,” I said. She just said “all right, baby’s coming soon then,” and kept doing her thing and letting Ronny and me do ours. There was no worry in her voice or mine, just matter-of-factness, this was what was going on.
Then suddenly, but without fanfare, everything shifted, and I felt my body not so much pushing, but ejecting the baby, even though I was still deliriously trying to slow things down. But I clearly heard my own voice change as the transition happened. I went from a quiet, introverted moaning to a deep, more primal, guttural voice, the unmistakable tone that I clearly recognize as the bearing down sound. It’s the sound of your body completely taking control of the situation and telling you to just back off and enjoy the ride.
But no matter how hard I tried, there was nothing I could do to make it slow down at all. I was reaching between my legs and could feel that her head was starting to come out; the bulge so hard and huge that I felt I was exploding from within, but I was desperately trying to press her back in, and I could hardly reach my own vagina over my ginormous contracting belly.
My own lack of control, in a situation for which I had planned and which was unfolding exactly as I had hoped, struck me as ironic and funny, but not in a “ha ha” sort of way. More in a “what-the-fuck-is-going-on-here-and-how-could-this-be-happening-so-quickly-but-hurt-so-badly-but-not-hurt-all-that-badly-really-but-is-that-a-head-coming-out-of-my-vagina-and-am-I-going-to-survive-this-and-is-this-really-labor-and-can-I-actually-do-this-and-seriously-what-the-fuck-is-going-on-here-and-oh-my-god-all-these-doula-techniques-really-work-and-oh-my-god-I-love-this-hot-water-but-seriously-what-the-fuck-is-going-on-here-is-this-baby-coming-out-seriously-this-quickly-am-I-going-to-be-a-mom-again-tonight-oh-my-god-oh-my-god-oh-my-god-there-is-a-baby-coming-out-of-my-vagina-but-what-the-fuck-is-going-on-here-and-I’m-not-sure-but-is-that-seriously-poop-floating-in-the-pool?” sort of way.
So I got up on my knees, reaching down desperately, helplessly, to press her back up and in, but the unerring law of gravity took over and she just wouldn’t stop her rapid descent. I supported my pelvic floor with my right hand and braced myself on Ronny’s shoulder with my left, realizing that I was just helplessly along for the ride in this whole birthing thing. He was reaching down into the water too, but not to slow things down. He was reaching down to help bring our daughter into the world. Last time I had held on to him to try to squeeze the pain out; this time I held on to him to support me in this crazy roller coaster ride.
At some point Ronny’s dialog shifted from supporting me to narrating what HE was experiencing. As a birthing mama in labor, you think it’s all about you. But you have to remember that he’s in this too, and he’s experiencing it for himself, in his own way, from his own perspective. He’s becoming a father. First he exclaimed surprised and excited, “I feel her head!” and I realized, finally, that I wasn’t going to be able to slow anything down at all, that she was coming whether I was ready or not. I wasn’t even pushing…She was pushing herself out.
That’s when, overwhelmed, I said “I can’t do it…I can’t” and then Ronny said, “You can…I have her ear! I can feel her ear in my hand!” Then we couldn’t get my swimsuit bottoms untied, and we had to lift my right knee to get them down at least far enough to allow access, so I was kindof in the “Captain Morgan” position, leaning on my elbows on the edge of the pool behind me, arching my back, when the rest of her head came out. I was sortof pushing into the pool trying to lift my body away from all of the pressure. It wasn’t exactly pain, and it wasn’t exactly burning, but it was intense, and it was pressure, and it was overwhelming, and it was out of control, and I felt the need to lift away from it. But it was a beautiful, magical sensation, something I wish I had the vocabulary to explain.
Then I noticed Sharon checking her watch. The baby can only be head-out under water for so long, so I asked her if I needed to hurry. In a millisecond of panic I felt that I didn’t have the strength to push the baby out the rest of the way, even though I hadn’t really done anything but hang on at this point. “Nope, she’s fine,” Sharon said cooly, nonchalantly. No problem, I felt calm in the chaos again, trusting that she would let me know if anything worth worrying about was happening.
I don’t really remember contractions happening during this time, but I’m sure they did…they have to to get the baby out, but I didn’t feel them, that I remember. All focus was on the bulging pressure, on the baby coming out of my splitting pelvis and expanding vagina. The next surge came and the baby’s first shoulder came out. Ronny hooked a finger under her armpit and then gave a gentle pull. Suddenly her whole body came slipping out, all gloopy and slippy right into Ronny’s hands. He pulled her out of the water and onto my chest, sigh-laughing-exclaiming subtly with excitement and relief. Suddenly, our baby was born! I couldn’t believe it. Time: 1:47am. I laughed and cried and tried to figure out what was going on. How it had happened so quickly, and so (relatively) easily. Right at that moment “God’s Chorus of Crickets” started playing, and continued for the next 25 minutes, casting a relaxing ambiance on the room, but completely unnoticed by anyone besides myself.
As I sat there, in a comforting, cozy pool of warm water, blood, and amniotic fluid, I heard a few knocks on the door. Diana,our assistant midwife, (who was Avery’s amazing midwife before,) arrived, and then Joyce, our doula, arrived, and then our neighbor arrived with the bucket of water. I just sat there in the “bath” totally amazed and in awe of the experience, with the baby’s umbilical cord coming out of my lovely lady parts. I could not believe how deliciously comfortable I was. More contractions started and then it was time to deliver the placenta.
I just leaned back in the pool with my new baby on my chest, and pushed the placenta out. It wasn’t easy, because of sheer exhaustion, but it pales in comparison to pushing out an entire, albeit tiny, human being. Sharon gently placed the brilliant, amazing organ into my mixing bowl and let it just float on the water for as long as I stayed there. She and Diana checked everything out, gave the baby a solid Apgar score, and just let Ronny and me revel in our new daughter, who was right there, and who had arrived so, so quickly.
We just sat there for a long time, at least an hour. (My sense of time is a little confused.) I drank water and ate a banana and handful of cashews and just marveled. I marveled at my beautiful daughter. I marveled at my beautiful husband. I marveled at my beautiful placenta. I marveled at all of the beautiful candles I had received showing birthing affirmations and support from my friends. I marveled at the music that had come on. I marveled at my beautiful, amazing body. I just marveled.
At one point, we heard a little pitter-patter in the hallway and Maysen came out from her bedroom to see what was going on. Quietly she came up to the pool and we introduced her to her little sister. She wasn’t entirely impressed, and was most concerned that the blanket draped over the baby was getting wet. Ronny carried her back to her bed, and then a few minutes later we heard another pitter-patter.
Avery came out, quietly, and then she was thoroughly unimpressed, too, as we introduced her to her little sister. She hugged onto her daddy sleepily and pressed her head into his neck. He took her back to bed. Miraculously, neither of them cried or fussed or anything.
Ronny then came out to cut the umbilical cord. He held the scissor tool and cut through our particularly thick cord, which showed a lot of Wharton’s jelly (just like Avery’s had). A thick, beautiful cord became severed, and my baby was forever released from my body. Just like that.
Sharon wrapped her in a dry blanket and then Ronny sat down to hold her on the couch. His moment of bonding as a father began, and I got out of the tub to take a nice, hot shower. Diana kept an eye on me and warned me not to be overly confident in how good I felt, that I could easily get dizzy and I was still losing blood. But I washed my hair, and brushed my teeth and soaped off the birthy water. I got out, dried off, put my hair up and my robe (and my Depends adult diaper) on, and went to lie on the couch to meet my baby.
They placed this beautiful, brand-new being on my chest, skin to skin, and I watched her, waiting. It took a few minutes, but she managed to sniff and bob and scoot her way to my breast, and then after a few more minutes, she managed to latch on for a brief suckle. I was amazed and in disbelief. We just lay there and bonded.
I sipped on a delicious fruit and placenta smoothie that my mom made for me (even though it grossed her out a little). Everyone around the room was so calm and happy, just chatting and watching over my new baby and me. I hardly even noticed the bustle of the midwives draining the pool, or the cleanup of the room, or the clicking of Jamie’s camera shutter as she captured every single delicious moment of this amazing event. I hardly even noticed when the baby pooped on me!
After a few minutes we decided to weigh and measure our new little girl. 7 pounds, 11 ounces, and 21 inches long. 13.75 inch head diameter. She was absolutely rosy-pink and perfect. No breathing issues or any other trouble at all. Sometime around 4:00am I was told to go to bed, and even though I was totally wired from this birth, I let myself get tucked in. I don’t remember who helped me to bed, but I crawled into my nice clean sheets and lay down, ready to receive my little babe. Diana had bundled her up in a cute little swaddle, and someone handed her to me…maybe Sharon? (I was probably so high on adrenaline, hormones and placenta smoothie that some of the details are a little fuzzy!)
Joyce, Jamie, Diana and Sharon all said their goodbyes when they individually saw that it was their time to go home, and then Ronny and I just ogled our little girl. I held her to my chest, so amazed by how clean and perfect she was. No vernix, no cone head, and the most perfect, rosy, soft, not-peeling-at-all baby skin. She even smelled good. Her full head of dark brown hair felt so soft, and even though her hair had who-knows-what in it, I couldn’t help but rub my lips back and forth over her little diamond shaped fontanel. She laid down all cute and bundled, right next to me in my own bed, and we tried to sleep. Ronny slept out on the couch so as to try to give us a chance to rest. Everyone in the house slept soundly for several hours, except me. I just couldn’t fall asleep.
I lay there in bed thinking about everything that had happened, and feeling such pure gratitude and amazement. I tried to think of what her middle name should be. We had already decided almost for sure what we wanted her first name to be, but the middle name was still up in the air. I thought about her birth and how we could make the whole amazing experience part of her name. All of these mellow, positive adjectives came to mind. Harmonious, gentle, candlelit, relaxed, peaceful, amazing, perfect, mellow. But the word that really struck me was Serene. As soon as the word came to my mind, I knew that that was what I wanted her name to be. But I had to wait until Ronny came in the morning to talk to him about it. Suddenly, I was able to sleep.
In the morning, Ronny came in, and we just lay there in bed getting acquainted with our new baby. She was absolutely beautiful, all squishy and sleepy. I told Ronny about the name that had come to me. For some reason I didn’t think he’d be thrilled with my idea, but he surprised me and he loved it, especially after I told him the definition.
1. calm, peaceful, or tranquil; unruffled: a serene landscape; serene old age.
2. clear; fair: serene weather.
3. (usually initial capital letter) most high or august (used as a royal epithet, usually preceded by his, your, etc.): His Serene Highness.
4. serenity; tranquillity.
5. Archaic. a clear or tranquil expanse of sea or sky.
Reflecting on my birth experience, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed with gratitude. Even though it all happened so, so quickly, it was my absolute dream birth experience. I can’t help but feel a little guilty because I’ve heard about so many other births that just didn’t go as well. I’ve experience births as a doula that didn’t go as hoped for. I wish that every woman could experience a birth as miraculous as ours.
After transition, the contractions didn’t really hurt, exactly, but everything was so inexplicably intense. There’s really no way to properly explain what it feels like to push a baby out of your lady parts, or, rather, to have her push herself out. But I’m thrilled to have experienced it again, only this time it was so much more satisfying than the first two times. I got a beautiful baby girl and became a new mother each of the three times that I gave birth. That goes without saying. But in the end, contrary to what many people say, having a healthy baby isn’t the only thing that matters. The woman’s birth experience, and the consequent memories of that birth, matter as well. Becoming a mother happens rarely in a woman’s life, so if she has the opportunity to be in relative control of the situation, why not make it beautiful? Why not make it one of the most empowering and fulfilling experiences of her life?