It all started around 10:30 am on Thursday, July 16, 2009. I wet my underpants, just a wee little bit. Looking back on it now (and the fact that my water burst out of me only about 5 minutes before the baby was born), I’m pretty sure it was just urine leaking. But, at the time, I thought, “Hmmm… I wonder if something is happening here.” This was five days before I would be at 40 weeks, so it seemed a little early, but still, I wondered.
Hours past, then I started experiencing some mild, mild surges. I wasn’t sure if they were just more Braxton-Hicks or the start of something more. Vern left at 1:45 pm to go screen from some chiropractor at an event over an hour’s drive away.
From around 2:30 pm, they seemed to get stronger and more regular. They were really short little things though (no more than 20-30 seconds, which is how it starts with all my labors), but they did seem to be coming closer together.
I was planning on making sloppy joes for supper since we had a bunch of torn up bread in the fridge (courtesy of my son) and I wanted some way to use that up. But then I started thinking that if I was indeed in labor, I didn’t want to be smelling that in the house later and I especially didn’t want to be throwing that up later as well.
So I took the kids to the local co-op and we bought some packaged cereal for supper. The two mile drive to the co-op was uncomfortable, as was the walk through the co-op because by this time I needed to somewhat stop and concentrate on each of the mini-surges.
After we ate, I elected to call Vernon and tell him to come home so he could help get the kids to bed. But by the time he got home, everything had pretty much stopped and I felt bad for dragging him away from his thing early (although he was perfectly fine with it).
So, then, Vernon got the kids to bed while I tinkered around on the internet. I went to www.contractionmaster.com (a site that times contractions for you) and entered in a couple of my pittering little things and they were around 15 seconds long now and 15 minutes apart.
After Vern got the kids to sleep, we downloaded the movie BRUNO off the internet. It was a very weird, raunchy movie, and it is unfortunate that it has gone on to become a footnote in the history of what we did on the night that our third child was born. I should just cross this part out and say we were watching CITIZEN KANE instead. Yes, that’s it. We were watching CITIZEN KANE.
By the end of the movie (10:30 pm), nothing much had been happening for well over four hours. I was having some very mucous-y vaginal discharge and some of it was tinged the very faintest shade of pink.
We went to bed, but then I never fell asleep and was up around 11:30 pm and started timing some fairly regular surges once again – averaging around 30 seconds long and 10 minutes apart.
Tried to go to sleep again at 12:15 am, but got up at 1:15 am and started timing some more surges (apparently I get a real hard-on from the act of timing surges). They were now between 30-40 seconds long and about 7 minutes apart. Vern stayed in bed, fast asleep and I started filling up the birth tub at around 1:30 am. At this point, I was hungry, so I ate some more cereal. I figured I must not have been too far along if I still wanted to eat, but I wanted to start filling the tub up anyway because I thought that it might take a long time to fill. I also made some Shepard’s Purse tea to have on hand for after the birth.
At 2:00 am, I woke Vernon up so we could start setting up our birth place. By this time, surges were coming 2-3 minutes apart and lasting for 20-30 seconds. We lit candles, keyed up our birth song on repeat (Look At Me, a surprisingly soft and meaningful hidden track off of Sum 41’s 2007 album Underclass Hero), lit incense, blessed the room with a sage stick… and continued filling the tub.
At one point, I kind of felt like I needed to poop. A voice in the back of my head was saying, “If it feels like you have to poop, it is probably your baby.” (Because having a baby feels like having to poop.) So, I had Vern come to the bathroom with me and check to make sure that it was actually poop because I didn’t want to accidentally poop my baby into the toilet. I didn’t really think I felt that far along yet, but then I thought of all those women who have given birth on their toilets because of just such an occasion, and I hoped, “Oh, maybe this will be just that easy.” (Not the case).
Vernon watches for a moment and says, “Hmm… so that’s what poop looks like when it’s coming out. That’s weird.”
Ah, yes, the intimacies of birth. It gets better every time.
So, anyway, it turns out that sometimes when it feels like poop, it really is just poop.
At 2:30 am, I stopped timing contractions and got in the tub. I wanted to labor by myself, so Vernon took a baby monitor into the other room so he could hear me if I needed anything. I went back and forth from being in the tub to being out of the tub because I was doing surprisingly well at managing the surges in both locations (plus, I would get too hot from being in the tub after awhile anyway, and would feel like getting out).
At around 3:30 am, things got tough. I was not enjoying myself so much anymore. It was at this point that I abandoned the idea of wearing my hair down and looking like a beautiful birth goddess and instead said, “Screw it,” and tied it back in a ponytail.
At 4:40 am, I threw up. I’m glad it wasn’t sloppy joes. I called Vernon into the room, not so much so he could do anything, but just so he could stand witness to the fact that I was throwing up. After I was done, I said, “You can go now.”
After that, it got really, really tough. I remember sitting there in the midst of an excruciating contraction thinking about how I’m never going to do this again. Three kids are enough. And I started thinking about all the births I have witnessed (in person as a birth photographer, or at Birth Video Nights with friends) and every single one of the women seem to handle birth with more grace and dignity that I will ever have. This is a shame because birth is something that I want to be good at more than anything. It’s weird that I’m such a natural childbirth nut when natural childbirth has kicked my butt time and time again.
This birth was not turning out to be the beautiful, spiritual experience that I had envisioned, and that I tried so hard to achieve (with affirmations, good nutrition, visualizations, relaxation, exercise, meditation). I really thought that it was going to be different this time around. But I never reached that ethereal state of labor existence that I so desired – that oneness with the universe, creation and the miracle of life. Instead, I was stuck in the harsh reality of normal existence, which happened to be very, very sucky at the moment.
I was anxious to see if the baby was anywhere close to being out yet, so I did something I never thought I would do in a million years: I stuck my fingers in my vagina to feel for a head. Anyone who knows me really well knows that I get the heebie-jeebies at the idea of having anything put inside my vagina (like tampons, gloved hands… and anything featured in the movie BRUNO). The only thing I do like put into my vagina, is, well, how I got in this position in the first place.
But desperate times called for desperate measures. There was no head and it turns out that the inside of me feels soft, weird, and kind of like what I’d imagine the inside of a pink octopus to feel like.
My legs were starting to get tired so I just kind of writhed around in the tub holding onto the edge and kicking my legs out behind me.
Then, I had the hugest contraction in the history of the world and I called for Vernon. Again, there was nothing I wanted him to do except lie witness to the fact that this contraction was indeed going to tear my body in two, and I thought he should be here to see it. Then, I started calling out to my mommy, to God, and to the souls of all women everywhere… to help me.
The plan had originally been to wake our kids up when the baby was about to be born and to turn the video camera on. But as Vern was standing there, I said, “DO NOT MOVE. DO NOT GO GET THE KIDS. DO NOT TURN ON THE CAMERA. JUST STAY WHERE YOU ARE.” I no longer wanted the kids to be there or to have it recorded because I didn’t want anyone else to see me in this agony. Only Vernon.
But it turned out that my gigantic roar through that previous monster contraction woke the kids up anyway. So they came into the room literally within seconds after I told Vern not to go get them. They settled on the bed to watch, just as we had talked about earlier. It was at this point that I finally started to get pushy. I quickly abandoned my plans to “breathe the baby down” because I just wanted to get it out of me. I felt like there was nothing else I could do to handle this internal force that was pummeling through me like an 80 ton truck then to go right along and push with it.
One push, and my aforementioned bags of waters gushed out with a burst. At first I thought (and hoped) that it was the baby flying out of me, but I quickly realized that I still had more work to do. Another push, and it felt like she slid right down my tailbone and rammed her head hard into my bottom. It felt like she was right on top of my butthole and I was thinking, “Find the right hole, baby! Find the right hole!”
I am squatting while leaning back on my hands. It feels like I’m playing a weird game of water Twister or something. I’m not in a position to catch my baby, so I tell Vern that he is going to have to do it (which is something he undoubtedly figured out on his own anyway, given how I was positioned).
Next contraction and the head is out. I feel it and tell Vernon to get ready. My eyes are closed throughout all this, and apparently Vern quickly switches the video camera on and then comes back and cups his hands around the baby’s head. He also had a flashlight, which I didn’t realize, which he gave to our daughter to hold.
One more contractions and the baby is out. Vernon swoops her into my arms, easily and effortlessly, like he has done this a million times before (which he hasn’t… this is the first of our babies that he has caught).
It is 5:22 am on Friday, July 17, 2009.
My first thought upon giving birth to this wonderful new human being is not, “Oh, you’re so beautiful.” It’s not, “Welcome to the world, baby.” No, none of that crap. Instead, my very first thought is, “I am so freaking glad that is over.”
After watching the video footage of it later (actually, I should call it the “audio” footage, given the fact that the lighting in our birth space was so low, that the camera didn’t pick up anything except random spots where the flashlight hit), I must have recovered pretty quickly because I was soon proclaiming all sorts of niceties: “I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.” “Look at this beautiful baby, you guys. Look at this beautiful baby.” And “We did it.”
Apparently I’ve forgotten everything I’ve known about how to hold a baby, because she was all slippery and wiggly and baby-like and hard to hold onto and stuff. I would try to keep her somewhat under the water so she didn’t get cold, but then I’d forget what I was doing and would bring her up, and then I’d remember, and put her body back under again.
I was saying to Vernon afterward about how I thought she looked like my dad. “You say that about all our kids. They don’t,” he says.
“Maybe it’s the fact he has such a round, baby-like head for a grown man that confuses me.”
We eventually get out of the tub and call our mini-support team. The second best thing I did with this birth (the first being giving birth at home with only my immediate family around me)… the second best thing I did was to have two of my friends come over afterward. My chiropractor friend Carrie was there to give my baby her first adjustment. And my vagina/placenta friend Sarah was there to look at my vagina and placenta.
When they first got here it was about 6:30 am and the placenta still hadn’t come out yet, so we all kind of sat around twiddling our thumbs waiting for it. Finally, after another hour (which was now a full 2 hours after the birth), it made its arrival.
Then, Sarah checked my va-jay-jay for tears. She said she would need a flashlight and a mirror. And I’m thinking, “Please don’t make me look at my vagina. Please don’t make me look at my vagina.” And meanwhile, Carrie is standing back there too, looking at my vagina, and she’s shaking her head, like, “Nah, you don’t want to see this.” So I said, “I think we can probably skip the mirror, Sarah.”
I end up having another freaking second-degree tear and lots of swelling.
After that, baby and I get adjusted, the placenta is checked, and they are on their way. I can’t even begin to describe how important it was to have them there afterward. It was so nice to have them there to ask how I was doing, to reassure me that the amount of blood that I lost was completely normal (and maybe even less than average), to clean me up afterwards, to wipe the blood off my legs, etc. Everybody needs their own personal vagina girl and chiropractor around for after their births, if you ask me.
A couple hours after the birth, Vern was standing around looking at the mess, and he says, “So this is what people have midwives for.”
The afterbirth contractions have been horrendous. For the most part, during labor, I was only having those 20-40 second contractions, but these afterbirth ones went on for, like, 4-5 minutes while she was nursing. Not wanting to succumb to the likes of ibuprofen, I had bought some crampbark for tea ahead of time. That was a lifesaver. It really succeeded in taking the edge off.
I was talking to Vern about the birth afterward, commenting on how hard it was and how I didn’t know if I would ever want to put myself through that again. He says, “I didn’t think it was that bad. I think you did amazing.” Which is a really nice thing for him to say and everything, but I’m thinking, “Man, he just doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand how hard it was.” And how can he?
And so, maybe all these other women who I’ve seen giving birth, maybe I’m not able to fully understand the depths that they’ve gone through as well.
Maybe childbirth is not supposed to be everything we expect it to be. Maybe we all have the kind of birth that we need. Maybe we need the struggle, the intensity… and the freedom to handle that in any way we can (whether it be quietly and in control like a lot of the births I’ve seen, or begging for mercy from all the gods in the universe, like I was). There is something to be said for each and every woman’s journey into the depths of her soul that somehow succeeds in making her a better and stronger mother because of it.
And maybe that’s the point of it all.