I want you to know how you arrived. It's totally too much information. Feel free to skip it until you're ready.
NOTE TO AMI: This story is on the Internet. I am sure you will find it eventually, so I just put it here for convenience. I wrote it because I wanted to remember and I’m glad I did. the details fade fast. I shared it because a lot of women don’t understand that they are more powerful than they know.
I’m going to just start with the stats that someone considering unmedicated childbirth or the Bradley Method would want to know: I’m 36 and this is my first baby. I was a little over 41.5 weeks. One breast pump got things rolling. No bloody show. No water breaking. I was in labor for 11 hours. The part where you don’t know whether to shit or go blind was five hours. I pushed for half an hour. My water never broke. Gave birth to one 8 lb 8 oz boy completely inside his bag of waters. One teeny tear, but not in the SCARY TEAR area. No stitches. Zero pooping. We banked the cord blood.
Now, the longer version…
A documentary called “The Business of Being Born” made me decide to fight the power with my vagina. I decided to skip the OB/GYN and the hospital and go for midwives and the Austin Area Birthing Center. It’s like giving birth in a bed and breakfast. With no epidural. As long as I remained a low risk pregnancy and did not go over 42 weeks, I could stay this course. So about 41.7 weeks later, D and I were at my weekly checkup. We were two days away from a mandatory hospital induction. Not being pot watchers, we had not had a cervical exam until today.
Roswitha, one of the midwives, was giving us a considering stare. She told us that some women would kill for this cervix at this point– already at two cm and during the exam, she’d encouraged that to about three.
But we have to get things GOING or I would be at the hospital. Here is what she prescribed: Use the breast pump. Nipple stimulation apparently sends the inhabitant of your uterus a little chemical eviction notice. Have sex. Semen has the cervical thinning chemical they charge you for in the hospital. Apricot nectar, castor oil and vodka. This was a roller coaster of emotion. You get vodka–yay! But you get cramps and the runs–crap! But you will go into labor…yay? Crap?
Derrick was all for the castor oil solution, being a supplement/vitamin guy. Even though Roswitha said wait until tomorrow on that, I was afraid he was going to step on my toe and when I yelled, he’d toss the castor oil in my mouth. So we go home.
And I’m thinking that we are going to work our way through all the solutions and at the laaaaaast minute, the boy would finally make an appearance. It was Monday. I was thinking we’d see him on Wednesday. He’s been that stubborn all the way up until now, why not continue?
I’ll tell you why not. Roswitha. Roswitha is bright, friendly, wonderful and not to be screwed with. D loooooves her. He gets all smiley and actually talks for more than three sentences. Perhaps it’s the German accent, but you would want to do what she says. I think the boy saw that she was serious and if he didn’t come out, she very well might go looking for him. Actually, she kinda did – pelvic exam.
That night around six thirty, I finally get around to hooking up my breast-pumping contraption. My first task was twenty minutes on, ten off. Three times. I did the first two sets, and then, “Get. This. Thing. Off. Me.”
I couldn’t deal with the contractions with this hungry bit of machinery sucking at me. And contractions they were. I figured out that I had indeed had a few light versions of this, but I didn’t know what it was.
I ‘d just assumed that a litany of pregnant woman ailments just hit me at the same time. Round ligaments got roughed up and the baby was head butting my bladder and I got up too fast and yanked something? We began with contractions between seven and four minutes apart. Does that average to five minutes? Because I’m supposed to call the birthing center if my water broke or if I got contractions five minutes apart for an hour. D accuses me of having Tootsie Rolls in my ear canal. I say that he talks like Snake Pliskin, Rambo and Clint Eastwood coming through a drive thru speaker. Let us say that contraction tracking between the two of us was challenging.
ME: Okay. Contraction over…
ME: Whuuuut? You get that?
D: I got it.
ME: THEN CAN YOU YELL ‘ROGER THAT’ OR SOMETHING SO I KNOW YOU HEARD ME?
I was kidding. Sort of.
Anyway, we were careful with the timing, because we were determined not to go too early. So we stayed home. I ate a pint of butter pecan ice cream. AND, I was pretty sure that this was the part where I could finally have a relaxing cocktail. Two words: Frozen. Margarita.
I got in the bathtub. And that sloooooowed the contractions down. I had ten minutes between. But I knew they wouldn’t stay gone, so I thought this would be a good time to call the important people like my mom and my friend who would bring breakfast tacos. I remember being on the phone with my friend TT and saying, “Hold on, contraction… … … … … okay. I think I gotta go now.”
Even still, I thought we were far away from the Promised Land because I hadn’t gotten any of the signs that the cervical party had truly gotten started. I’d spaced out the contractions, my water had not broken, no bloody show, no mucous plug. So we decided around 11 pm to do the third set of twenty minutes on the pump. I figured I’d watch The Shield and we’d both catch a little shuteye and then maybe in the morning I’d pump again and start the contractions for real.
Not so much.
Here come contractions five minutes apart. Here comes that ice cream I ate. On the bedroom floor. I am mumbling about how I will clean it up. D is rolling his eyes and shoving me aside with his foot. Which is just as well, because here comes the three sips of delicious salty Margarita I drank. Here comes the water I drank. Here come the animal crackers I’d eaten in the fourth grade.
Then I can’t stay still. Or maybe I can. I’m leaning over the birthing ball. I’m walking. I’m on the bed. I’m flat out on the floor. I’m really not happy that the nursery isn’t finished. I don’t care about the nursery! Labor showed me the true meaning of the phrase, “I didn’t know whether to shit or go blind.”
It is now about 12:30 am and I’m mooing. Low guttural noises let you know you’re breathing correctly. High-pitched shrieky noises mean you are panicking and the air isn’t going where it should. My neighbors probably thought we were having the best. Sex. Evah.
Is this every five minutes? Has it been an hour? Close enough. Derrick calls the midwife. After a bit of his rumbling, he put his phone to my ear. I’m on the floor in the hallway. The midwife suggests a shower for relief, and if that didn’t do it, then go back in the bath, even at the risk of having them slow down the contractions. When she suggested getting back in the water, I remember wondering why I didn’t think of that. There was no rule that you can only do that once!
This, my friends, is why you will need a midwife and a coach. Because you will be stupid. “Can I just head right for the tub?” So if the water spaced them out again, then we’d have a better idea of where we were in the process. Know what the water did? Accelerated me to about THREE MINUTES between each one. I stumbled out of the tub and D put me into my fluffy white robe. I fell over on the bed and waited out the hour. Vomited more. Got worried. We weren’t very far into this. My mucous plug was still firmly in place. No bloody show. And when my water broke, the contractions were really supposed to hit. It was going to get significantly worse, and then worse again in transition. And it was already kinda bad¬–OKAY HAS IT BEEN AN HOUR OF THIS THREE MINUTE BUSINESS YET?
D calls the midwife and it is indeed, time to go to the birthing center. It is around 2 am. I now have a new worry–I don’t know if I can handle contractions in the Mustang. On a regular day my car is a small feat of contortion. I wasn’t going to be able to hug my birthing ball in there. I tell D and his shiny eyebrows head for the sky. “Well you’re gonna have to.” And he goes to pack the car.
I continue to lie on the bed in my bathrobe. I hear him get dressed. I continue to lie on the bed in my bathrobe. I hear him go warm up the car. I continue to lie on the bed in my bathrobe. He returns to the bed and I open my eyes to see that this man is rocking an OUTFIT.
D is wearing a white v-neck t-shirt, v-neck WESC sweater perfectly aligned to highlight his chest tattoos. Plus a black corduroy blazer that looked like it had no idea that I have two gigantic shedding beige mastiffs. He has on his usual crisp dark denim jeans and some rare, special edition Vans made in a skate park by monks. Does he know we are about to go the bloody, sweaty, mucousy, possibly poopy route of birth? Did I make a mistake and we going to the club? Okay. Whatever. I continue to lie on the bed in my bathrobe. “You HAVE to get dressed,” he says. And I have an epiphany.
I look up at him and say, “No I don’t.” And between contractions, up I go. Butt-naked under that robe. I went to the closet, grabbed a pair of suede, fur-lined Gucci boots but didn’t bother putting them on. I headed to the car. D, a little surprised at the sudden action, hurried to lock the house and check my sanity. I was sure I was going to vomit in the car, so I tossed the boots in the back seat, out of harm’s way. Yup. I’m still sane under there. Just naked.
When I look back now, I should have gotten a clue that this thing was charging along even without the usual signs. I was naked on the highway and I didn’t care. We get to the birthing center and Joan greets us. If she is surprised that I am barefoot and apparently naked, she hides it well. I vomit before we even make it to the suites. Joan asks which suite we wanted. These are things that you think you will care about. If you are far enough in labor, you will care less. Joan could have put me by the cash wrap at Toys R Us. As long as they turned the lights low and it was quiet. I got checked out – 6 centimeters. I was so focused on NOT getting hung up on measurements that I didn’t understand the fairly good news.
Things were moving and it didn’t seem that the car ride was going to disrupt the progress. D and Joan were trying to help me through more contractions on land. My back was a secondary annoyance, and they were applying pressure to it.
Joan then asked the question that changed the whole experience. Would you like to get in the tub? So I get in the tub at about three and I stay there for the rest of the ride. I will not get out for pelvic exams, fire alarms or a New Edition convention being held in the next room. The thing is, the jets make it hard for me to hear, so the rest of D’s coaching was a bunch of positive murmurs.
There wasn’t much to coach anyhow. I wasn’t a position changer, because I figured this jet and the water was making it as good as it was gonna get. I couldn’t imagine getting out and working through positions. The contractions hit and I tried to remember to moo with wild abandon. There were three times when I was kinda of falling apart. I knew because I would yell one offensive word at the top of my breathy lungs. This was my version of panicked high-pitched breathing. And because of Bradley, I knew I was just freaking and had to get back to my bovine breathing.
Bradley doesn’t suggest that you get an external focal point, but I did. Above the bed was a print of a lovely brown angel type woman who would have made a very poetic focal point for me. But she didn’t. I remember looking at some piece of machinery that was under a nightstand. I stared at the machine’s two knobs and the carved leg of the nightstand through almost every contraction. But I was wondering when my water was going to break. There had been no bloody show, no mucous unplugging. I was thinking that this thing was just getting popping. Until I saw some of that, I figured I was many hours away from the baby.
Later on, I would see that most of those indicators had been frothed up on the sides of the tub. In fact, I think I asked if somebody had had a milkshake in here. So I settled into the monotony of the contractions. The thing about them is that they are soooo monotonous, they make you lose track of time. When we had to time out an hour, I was always surprised at how fast it went. And when you know that it is going to be pretty much the same pain over and over again, it was easier to bear. It’s kind of like an obstacle course with one kind of obstacle. You’re probably going to get better at tackling it near the end. But I was a bit concerned about how intense things would get when my water broke.
D is still right there in a chair by the tub keeping me company. He had an incredible ability to doze when I dozed and then POP awake when I did, so I would know I’m not all by myself. So I’m in the tub and I ask for water.
Joan brings me a glass of the BEST WATER I HAVE EVAH TASTED. Where did she get this wonderful, cool, refreshing liquid? I drank it so fast, it ran out the sides of my face. People, marathon runners drink water with less gusto. Did the midwives have a spring in the back? They should sell this stuff. I mean really, is this from an untouched rainforest in the motherland? Found out later that it was plain ol’ tap water. I was just thirsty.
And I was sleepy. Remember, we thought we would sneak in a nap after that third go on the breast pump. Not so much. I was convinced that if I could just get a little sleep, I would power through this thing. And I had a few bouts of nausea in the tub. Joan and D quickly brought containers to catch it. When is my water going to break? This thing can’t happen without that.
I remember smiling, calm Joan telling me, “Well you’re in transition.” Meaning that I’m already past most of it, and I’m in the thick of things—this is the worst it’s going to get. Transition is characterized by a woman thinking that this is absolutely all she can take. And things are going to change into a pushing urge with each contraction. Are you freaking KIDDING ME? We are cooking with gas here! That’s great news.
I thought I was going to miss House that night at 7pm. I’m in transition at like, 4:30 am? That was just the right amount of encouragement at the right time. If this is as bad as it gets, then I can do this. Because I have been doing it.
I begin to think of what women have told me. My friend Chanan said it is going to feel like a big poo. I wait for that feeling. I remember that Ty said she was almost there with her son, but she wasn’t allowed to get up and walk and move. I tried to remember that a change in position could make all the difference in the world. And I believe it was Chan (our Bradley teacher) who gave me some of the most important information in the world: WHEN THEY TELL YOU TO STOP PUSHING? STOP PUSHING.
Are you one of those women who nearly fainted when they explained the episiotomy/risk of tearing? I was. But I just gave you half of the magical spell that keeps your “taint” intact. Stop. Pushing. You know? Your ‘tain’t? It ain’t your rectum, but ‘tain’t your vagina? That’s as classy as I can explain that region. So I gathered the bit that I could remember and waited for the sensation. Then I nearly drove myself nuts. Is that the urge to push? Or do I just want it to be the urge and I’m pushing it? Joan says my body will do what it is supposed to do anyway. I had a few contractions that made me pop up out of the water. I went up to my knees. And I’m getting a bit of that funny pressure that makes you feel like you have to poo.
It was not as strong as some women describe it – I could tell that the baby wasn’t coming out of my butt. And as I’m busy trying to catalog feelings and figure out what I’m supposed to do, I realize I’m doing it a little anyway. Joan? I think I’m pushing. Joan checks me (in the tub, God love her) and I still have a little cervix in the way. While she’s got her hand in there, I feel a contraction coming on and I start trying to…get away? Joan isn’t letting me move, so that she can feel what happens to my cervix during the contraction. It is retreating.
So she tells me to try pushing for real. If it hurts, stop. It doesn’t hurt. I start pushing for real. I concentrate on relaxing my muscles between pushes. I feel like Kegel type muscle clenching will scoot the boy backwards. I succeed most of the time, but a few times I swear I gave the boy a head massage.
Now, I’m thinking about the Ring of Fire. I can’t allow myself to get scared and go into pain negotiations. You know? Uh, this hurts a lot…I’m going to sliiiiiide him backwards a bit…and I’m going to take a nap. And if somebody can get me a Big Mac, then I would have enough strength to…
I can tell that things have changed. I touch my bottom area and I can feel an abnormal bulge there. I’m pushing against the contractions and I cannot tell you what style I was using. I think I pushed with my chin down, holding my breath and with my eyes closed. And I guess that things were going okay, but then Joan adjusted my squat to the exact same squat that Chan teaches in Bradley class but with my legs farther back.
She said that this would make my pushing more effective—AND BOY DID IT! Amazing. I could tell the difference. Less pain. More activity down there. This is great. I can feel the beginning of the ring of fire. That is not so great. But that means the end is coming. And I want the end to come more than I fear the ring of fire. Chan’s description of that sensation is correct.
And I would indeed call it more a sensation than the pain that the title suggests. Chan has you hook your fingers into both corners of your mouth? And pull. Not pleasant, right? While it was definitely more intense down there, as long as I knew that it was going to stop far before I split my uh, face, I knew I could make it. So let’s push ‘em out! Shove ‘em out! Waaaaay…what? Stop pushing?
And then I registered what Joan had said a second before – that I was tearing. And I stopped immediately. And I whimpered to Joan…well what am I supposed to do with him? I could feel him in the canal. My body was hitting the eject button. Hard. He couldn’t go back and he couldn’t come forward. I was afraid my body might charge ahead on its own. Joan saw that it was a small labia tear. I could carry on.
And I did. I assumed the position and concentrated on getting that head out. Joan says I pushed for half an hour but to this day, I have no real sense of time for anything.
Joan told D to get behind me. D says that he leaned over and saw the top of the baby’s head – most of the forehead. And he was in a sort of cellophane bag. Another push and D always laughs as he says Ami D shot out and sunk like a dud torpedo. He was born inside his amniotic sac.
Which explains why my water never broke. It was 5:45 am. Joan pulled him up, got him out of the bag and handed him to D right away. I was sitting, staring at the ceiling D says. And he said that he kept trying to tell me to look at the baby, but I wouldn’t. I think I might have told him to count the baby’s digits. D just dumped the baby right into my arms.
I remember thinking he was very warm and substantial feeling. His head had a pleasant oblng roundness, like an eggplant. And that he was pale. And that he had some BIG FEET that looked exactly like his father’s. I don’t know how to explain what I was feeling. It took him a while to cry – softly. So I was a little worried. And a little vulnerable with the cord attaching us – please don’t let anybody pull on that thing!
And I had short-circuited a little – is it really over? And I think I was staring at the ceiling because I was nervous about seeing what was left of me. If I looked at it my body, would I feel that pang of wrongness you get when you see a severely broken limb? It would take a few days to really look. At my belly. At my vagina. In fact, I honestly haven’t taken a mirror and given it a good look.
The best thing was D knowing to dump that boy right into my arms. I think I was at a funny critical point and feeling him on my skin was the right thing to feel to bring me back to the present. D cut the cord and I was amazed at how thick and telephone cord like it was.
Joan started collecting the blood for the Cord Blood Registry. Later, the Cord Blood folks would tell us that our cord had yielded ten times the stem cells of a normal sample. He is a special boy.
The placenta is easy to push out, even when you’re tired. That thing was HUGE and fluffy. Like a medium stuffed pizza. Joan said it was showing signs of wear, so that means he really was two weeks overdue.
I looked again at D and wondered how he escaped the night without a single fleck of humanity on him.
There were two young ladies who took care of Ami D and I after the birth. Taking vitals, giving meds, changing gigantic absorbent pads. Let me prepare you – you will need someone to stand with you in the shower and assure you that your guts are not going to slide down the drain. And to assure you that that bowl full of cranberry sauce that just fell out of you contained no vital organs. Aaaaand to convince you that even though it stings, you’re gonna have to pee. But it is more than that. Right after you give birth, simple human kindness will be a blessing. A guide into your new body from a reassuring voice will mean so very much in those first moments.
I am the queen of I. Don’t. Need. Help. Thanks. But I am humbled by the care I received when I was both the most vulnerable, and the strongest I’ve ever been.
One of my girlfriends, T, arrived with breakfast tacos for all, and a camera. She laughed when I broke out with my Nars eye shadow, a tube dress and a headband, but those pictures are gonna be around a looooong time. And did I mention that D looked like he was bucking to become America’s Next Top Model?
Anyhow, we hung out in the Santa Fe room until we got the medical go ahead to leave. Even though I had been begging for sleep a few hours ago, I couldn’t sleep a wink for like, a day. I had been watching the stars all night, from my position in the tub. After Ami D was born, the sun came up and I could see the autumn colors and sounds of the trees surrounding the Birthing Center.
My birth experience was so perfect that I would say it was like the movies. But the movies NEVER show you a non-ridiculous birth. So I’ll say it was better than the movies, and we rode off into the sunset.