DSC_0045A couple of weeks before having my second daughter, I was having a conversation with my friend, Lauren, about her three birth experiences. She told me her last one had only been three hours, and I looked at her incredulously.  I think I must have said “Three hours!?” like twelve times before it sunk in. There are many phases of labor, and even as a postpartum doula in the birth community, it was difficult for me to believe you could fit them all into three hours, but oh, it’s possible.
The night of September 24th,  , four weeks before my due date, I had been having regularly timed Braxton Hicks contractions for about three weeks, although on this day they had finally stopped. They had been coming every five minutes, night and day, and I was missing sleep desperately. I had missed one of my best friend’s weddings up north(due to recommendation from my midwife I needed to stay in town), and gone in to see the midwives at least three times just to make sure all was good because they were consistently timed and fairly close together, although never painful. The night before I went into labor, I got that huge surge of energy everyone talks about. Luckily I used this to stay up and watch Netflix till an ungodly hour and opted not to do anything  productive. I went to bed around two thirty. I woke up at 6 with a stomach ache, and at 6:30 starting having painful contractions. They came every five minutes. I was confused. I didn’t think it was labor because they started out five minutes apart which is fairly close together to get things rolling, and it didn’t feel anything like labor with my first daughter. As much as I intellectually knew different labors with the same women could vary dramatically, I was waiting for my body to have an experience it would remember, and signal to me that YES, THIS IS HAPPENING. I wouldn’t be able to tell till a little over an hour before pushing my baby out that THIS IS HAPPENING. My brain got the signal late.  I got into the tub at 6:30. This will determine if this is the real deal, I thought.
My four year old decided to hang out in the bathroom with me while I breathed through contractions. I couldn’t talk through the contractions from the very first one. They were not subsiding.  I think my preschooler knew I was in labor before I did, as she was getting increasingly nervous and wouldn’t leave me. I texted my doula at about 7 and told her I thought I might be in labor. She told me to keep her updated.  I called the midwife unit and told them I thought I was in labor. The midwife asked me to stay on the phone through a contraction. She heard me work it through and told me I needed to come in now. “I’m not totally sure I’m in labor,” I told her. “You really should come now,” she replied.  At 7:10 I knew what was going down. I called my mom and told her she needed to come get our four year old. She said she just needed to get dressed and then she would head over. Between 7:15 and 7:50, it became unmanageable. Max called our doula and let her know we were going to head to the hospital. What kind of birthing, doula-goddess was I that I couldn’t find comfort measures or talk through my contractions an hour into labor? I started packing a bag which consisted of my toothbrush, one pair of yoga pants, and about 15 pairs of underwear.
My four year old brought me toys she thought would comfort me while I groaned through contractions with my hands on the side of bed, swaying. All I could do was wave my hand to motion that I didn’t want her My Little Ponies right now. Where the hell is my mom, I thought. Things were intensifying and I knew we needed to leave NOW. “Where is my mom!?” I asked my husband, Max. “Call her!”
Max called my mom and she was just a few minutes away. She arrived, Max ran my daughter and her grandma bag of goodies outside, and came back in and we headed out the back door about 8 o’clock. My husband is an avid cyclist, hardly ever drives, and a notoriously bad driver. I was beyond terrified to get in the car, but he was pretty much my only option at this point. He got in the driver’s seat and I got in the backseat on all fours. We had about a ten minute drive. Halfway there I felt a huge urge to push and started crying. Max kept saying we were almost there, and I felt like my misery could surely be attested to his insistence on biking everywhere he goes. This labor was getting ahead of me and I felt like I couldn’t keep up. What happened to the yoga ball, massage, and quiet contractions of my first labor that took its sweet 22 hours to complete? I was also feeling ashamed because of all the intention I put into this birth and now it was running away from me.  I hounded my husband to read the g-d damned Birth Partner and we weren’t even using any of this stuff.
We got to the hospital, rushed in, and I was crying, moaning through contractions, and making a huge scene. Some woman insisted they had to take me to the birthing center in a wheelchair. I felt deflated. No way. No way. No way am I getting in that wheelchair. So I ended up in this wheelchair and getting out every two minutes to scream and hold onto Max. The ride to the midwife unity felt like an eternity. We got to the midwife unit about a quarter after 8. As soon as I got into the room, I stripped down without prompt. This baby was coming and I was going to be ready. Nudity, at least from the waist down helps. Also, I was just really freaking hot.  They checked my cervix and of course I was ready to go. “I want to get in the tub!” I screamed. They explained they had to monitor me through three contractions and then I could get into the tub. “No, no, no, no, no. I NEED to get into the tub!”
Somehow I made it through 6 minutes of contractions for their distress test, and off we went to the waterbirth room. Whenever I watch labors in movies, I get so angry when I see the women screaming, angry with their partners as to how agonizing it is for their body. I’m that crunchy mama that complains about how western culture’s image of birthing is producing fear in mothers. I still believe that, but I was totally that mama yelling and screaming, feeling totally overwhelmed with what was happening to my body. I did a drug free, long labor once, so naturally I thought this would be much easier. I guess if ease was measured in duration, than yes, this was “easier.”
I got into the tub and was screaming because of how hot the water was. The midwife felt the water and started yelling at the nurses to get all the ice they had.  People were running in and out of the room carrying bags of ice. They used all the bags of ice they had, and then nurses started carrying in styrofoam cups of ice from the ice machine to cool down the water.  I didn’t urinate in the last eight hours of my labor with my first daughter. The 3 liters of urine they collected via catheter after my birth was pushing on my uterus during labor, so I never felt “pushy.” And although I had given birth once before, the sensation that I had to…wanted to push this watermelon out of my body was freaking me out. The contractions were just coming one on top of the other, and while my husband was being very supportive, I needed some earth mama energy to calm me. My doula hadn’t arrived yet, and I kept shouting “Where’s Liz!? Where’s Liz!?” Luckily my husband didn’t take offense that he was not sufficing at the moment.
I had started pushing before my doula got there, but about five minutes before baby arrived, Liz walked in the room. Although she arrived in the last haul of it, seeing her face was like a wave of comfort and things just seemed less terrifying. At this point I was screaming through all my contractions, and the midwife told me to try to hold in my voice during the next one, and that would help the baby descend. While I really, really didn’t want to, I refrained from screaming during the next one, and I felt my little girl move down and curve through my birth canal. It was magic. It was then that I felt like I had control of my body.  I was back. I held in my shouts through one or two more contractions and she was out. It was 8:44 a.m. She was the cheesiest baby I had I ever seen. Thick vernix covered her body and she smelled amazing. Four weeks early, and over nine pounds, Maude came when she did to ensure I could birth how I wanted to.
My daughter, Bellen, was almost 5 when Maude was born. I was a single mom for a lot of Bellen’s life, and it was difficult for me to imagine loving someone else as much as her. I was seriously worried throughout my pregnancy that for this mama, it just wasn’t going to be possible. The only part of Maude’s birth that was anything like Bellen’s , was when she was lifted onto my chest. That climactic moment was exactly the same as when I met my first child. This is not to diminish Maude’s uniqueness or her birth, but the moment when I looked down at the both of them was emotionally identical. I was going to fight with my whole being to honor their unique persons, nurture their curiosities, and protect them with everything I had.
I hesitate to go much past this part because truthfully the hours and weeks following Maude’s birth were terrifying and emotional. For some babies coming four weeks early would have no effect. Maude was not fully cooked, and it seemed to impact every part of her body and development, even though my late term ‘preemie’ was nine pounds.  Over the next two months she would be scanned and tested for the following; mosaic down syndrome, retinopathy, lung malformation, heart defects, kidney and liver dysfunction, a brain tumor, and the list goes on. Almost five months later, she has been cleared on all accounts, and we are loving her up all we can every second.
I joke with people that I don’t want more children, but I want to give birth again. I am not one to gravitate towards the new age, the spiritual, or even the sentimental. While I identify as an ardent feminist, I shy away from celebrating my own power. But at least once I day, I look at my kids and say I DID THAT. Some people like to downplay the power and magic of birth “because women have been doing it forever.” It’s the forever part that makes birth crazy. Each birth is so powerful, and so many women have given birth, and the sum of all of those experiences is mindblowing. I refuse to forget that.