My ear was starting to go numb, I should've hung up but kept telling myself it would just be another minute... until 20 more had passed. By the time a human came on, I was invested, and walking away empty-handed wasn't an option. My endgame was to cut financial corners, see how to lower the monthly premium on my health insurance plan. The only suggestion they offered was to nix my maternity coverage. My intuition said “bad idea,” but my mouth said “yes.” I did it. One month later, I was pregnant. Go figure.
At my first doctor visit, the receptionist told me it would be $400 per month to see the doctor, and then whatever the hospital costs were. If you have a healthy, uncomplicated birth, you're looking at ten thousand dollars, easy. Okay, cool, so maybe if I sell the baby on the black market, I can still afford to live after that.
I sat in the examination room awaiting the doctor, alone and naked beneath the thin gown, trying to steady the split back by sitting on it. Feeling more vulnerable than ever, like I was playing a part in someone else’s life, it was the first time I’d felt ashamed of my unplanned, illegitimate pregnancy. I chose to dress and leave before he even came to the room. Something felt off, and in that moment I honored my intuition.
Driving back to work, I could feel the tears forming a veil over my eyes, brain buzzing about how to pull this off. I could do it, maybe, but I was a self-employed hairstylist, I'd have to save money for maternity leave, I'd have to save money for the birth, and I'd have to pray that I could work until the day I delivered, returning four weeks later... if I wanted to have any clients left.
The entire thing sounded preposterous and centered around way too many “what ifs.” Amidst the tears, the word home birth floated in. I knew nothing about it. I'd entertained the idea, in years past, whenever I thought about a future family, but not really. Like, it had been a very fleeting notion that I'd never actually have pursued. My visions of it were Victorian in nature- a woman in a long white gown, damp with sweat, writhing around on a four-poster bed. Yet, in this moment, it offered total relief. I knew that it was my answer.
I got back to work and started Googling, calling the first midwife, the only midwife, I found. She sounded nice enough and said she could take me on. We met at my house the next evening, she arrived looking predictably granola- long gray braids with an apropos hippie name I’ve since forgotten, everything I’d pictured a midwife to be. She informed us that she had seven other women due the same week as we were. We shot each other WTF glances, and I questioned the almost certain probability that she would be unavailable during my labor. Her solution: my now husband, then boyfriend, would “just” birth the baby. Hell. No.
Once again crushed and despairing, we were at a loss. Sean had friends who'd done a homebirth, so he called their midwife. We’d had such a runaround, by this point I was five months along. It didn’t seem likely that she’d have space for us, but she agreed to meet, and by the grace of God, was willing to birth our son. Oh yeah, and she’s amazing, the perfect combination of free spiritedness, warmth, knowledge, and professionalism. And, we were the only ones due that time of the month.
She sat with me for an hour at every prenatal appointment, in her cozy office, adorned more like your grandmother’s special spare bedroom, made just for you, than an exam room. She answered questions and told me exactly what was going on with my pregnancy at each stage. She has a calm, maternal presence and a slow, reassuring voice. I felt safe.
I spent almost all of my spare time watching women have water births on YouTube, taking cues from each video. They're all devastatingly beautiful to witness, empowering. I wasn't afraid to birth at all, any shame I’d felt had passed. I was overwrought with excitement about personally witnessing the capacity of my own body, and of course, to meet the tiny human growing inside of me.
I had something called irritable uterus when pregnant. I’d get Braxton Hicks, to the tune of 30 per hour, from month five on. By the time I'm in labor, I don't know it until I'm dilated to 6cm. We called my midwife after realizing my water had broken and, two hours later, Sage arrived.
I wasn't as serene as all of the ethereal, European women in the videos I'd obsessed over, quietly catching their own babies beneath the water. It definitely wasn't a silent birth, as my father and sister remind me anytime the topic arises (they sat on the front porch waiting), but I also assumed it was going to last 10 hours, so I wasn't psychologically managing the pain. The water of the birthing pool brought immense relief, my body rolling weightlessly through each contraction. Birth was an experience I looked upon with awe, excited to try it again someday with my now first-hand knowledge of my own body and process.
It was no surprise that my second son’s labor was speedy as well, so it was peaceful, and the atmosphere more relaxed, but there was still pain, and there was still plenty of noise (again, per my father and sister, who waited in the next room).
By the time I was pregnant with my daughter, my beloved midwife had retired. We didn't trust anyone else and our finances dictated a hospital birth. The idea of not having water to labor in during a drug-free birth left me very uneasy, as did having to drive to the hospital while potentially in transition. I spent the pregnancy being anxious about the pain and envisioning pushing my baby out in the backseat of a Volvo. Do I cover the entire car in plastic? Do I just stay home and do it on my own? I pity all of my clients, friends, and family during those nine months. Uncertainty consumed me and no one escaped talk of my what ifs. I bought drop cloths and constructed my own home birth kit, complete with medical grade gloves, clamps, and scissors I’d finagled from nurse clients. I'd become delusional, and my husband was ready to commit me if he had to sit through another talk about all of the possible outcomes, especially the one where he played doctor.
During my doomsday planning, a friend sent me a book called “Hypnobirthing" (see link below article). God bless her. If I'd been a first-time mom, I'd have read it cover to cover and practiced all of the exercises. Instead, I did the bullet point version. It outlines how to have a pain free labor. I'll be honest, I didn't completely buy into it, but this whole no water to birth in thing had me desperate enough to give it a try.
The fundamentals are:
-Keep your jaw relaxed, with your teeth separated.
-Lay on your left side, don't make fists, and breath slowly.
-As you exhale, envision the breath moving your baby down the birth canal.
-Maintaining a relaxed body is imperative, as is slow steady breathing, like in yoga. The goal is to get yourself into an almost meditative state.
-Change your verbiage. Instead of pain, substitute “sensations.” Sometimes certain words signal reactions in the body. We’re conditioned by the personal definitions of our vocabularies.
When labor "sensations" started, I was likely at six centimeters. I scurried about the house cleaning and getting my boys ready, waiting for my dad to arrive so we could head to the hospital. Every minute I'd have to stop, get on all fours, contract, and then get up and continue about my business. There was definite pain, and I wasn't yet using any of the hypnobirthing techniques.
At some point, I dismissed myself to the car, having made peace with going to the hospital and telling myself we’d make it there in time. No doomsday prepping. No Dexter style drop cloths, just a towel and a pillow. I laid in the back, on my left side, and slowed my breath, relaxing every muscle, concentrating most on my jaw and hands. Immediately, the discomfort vanished. The tightening sensation of the contractions was present, but with focus, I managed them silently and painlessly. Soon, we were off, with ocean sounds playing and me, eyes closed, quietly breathing my daughter down the birth canal, channeling one of the tribal women I'd read about, leaned against a wall, preparing to push my baby out and head back to the fields to toil, child strapped to my body. Reminding myself what a basic fact of life birthing is and has been, for all of time, minimized not only the process but also the pain. We’ve blown the birthing process into epic proportions, thus increasing our fear factor. Most of our mothers birthed without epidurals and lived to tell about it.
Once at the hospital, we parked and ran, knowing she was almost ready. My husband’s face read like a book, prompting the nurse to check me immediately. Eight centimeters in and maintaining my side lying position, I continued to breathe and stay loose. Still no distress and no sound. When I hit nine, minutes later, my body forced pushing, willfully contracting for me, and I felt pain. I found myself gesturing my hands downward with each contraction, whispering the word "down" as if that act alone would bring her to me. They hurriedly wheeled us from triage to a birthing room, and within minutes, without any voluntary pushing, I felt the immense release and relief that only childbirth can offer, as nine months of weight and waiting slid out of my body, and precious Indigo was placed upon my chest. There aren't adequate words to express the array of emotions accompanying that moment. I can only muster joy, pride, liberation, relief, excitement, accomplishment, and unconditional love.
It wasn’t my most beautiful birth, because almost nothing can top the serenity of your own home, but it was by far the most empowering. I was able to witness, first hand, my own ability to dictate how I experience physical sensations. It's been a lesson that has influenced every aspect of my life. The brain has such immense power over the body. What we believe can alter our realities. This isn't something to take lightly. Natural childbirth may not be for everyone, it requires optimal health of mother and child, outside support, and faith in your own capacity, along with belief in the body’s ability to do what it was made for. Contextually, not everyone is in a place to work with that. A healthy baby is the desired outcome of any birth, no matter how it ultimately transpires. But, the knowledge that you have power over your reactions, even physically, is information to carry with you, no matter the situation. We always have more control and strength than we give ourselves credit for.