After Juniper was born and we all got in the car to go home I had a lot of text messages to respond to. Family and close friends all asking the same things: How are you? How was it? How is the baby? The only response I could think of, and my mantra over the following several days was simply, “I didn’t die.”
From what I can tell Juniper’s birth was by all definitions a “good birth”. It was long, but not inordinately so. It was all natural. My baby was big, but not huge, and I pushed for less than an hour. There were no emergencies and everyone present told me how great it went for my first baby. But all I could think—literally the only thought running through my mind for days—was, I didn’t die. I was genuinely surprised that after all I had just experienced I wasn’t dead. They say that nothing can prepare you for the experience of giving birth, but I was truly unprepared in the most profound way. The following are two versions of Juniper’s birth story, one for those who like to read rambling and self-satisfying tales of woe and one for you who are already bored but just want to know what happened. Enjoy!
Just the Facts:
- I labored for a total of 31 hours beginning at 6:30 am on Sunday, June 11.
- Approximately14 of those were in “Active Labor” the stage where contractions are painful enough that you can’t walk or talk through them anymore.
- My water broke close to 11:00 PM that night starting active labor. Our doula came over soon after to help us cope.
- Around 3:00 AM on Monday, June 12 John and our doula, Jana, decided (probably with my help?) to call the midwife. She came quickly even though we all knew I was not progressed enough for anything to happen.
- When our midwife, Nancy, appeared she determined that I was 85% effaced BUT only dilated to 2 centimeters and the baby was not moving down. (A part of my soul died.)
- Nancy left with the prediction that I would not give birth until 6:00 PM and gave me the order to take 2 Extra Strength Tylenol and a Unisom and GO TO BED.
- After laboring in bed alone and trying to let John and Jana rest for 2 hours I woke my sleeping husband to tell him I was done. D.O.N.E.
- Somewhere between 7:00 and 8:00 AM John went to call Nancy to tell her I was not succeeding at home, but she got to him first. She was calling to check in, and to ask John to get serious about what needed to happen next. The decision was made to head to her house 45 minutes away.
- At 9:15 AM I poured out of the back seat of our CRV onto the concrete in front of Nancy’s house where I was promptly carried inside and checked – fully effaced! Baby moving down! AND… 6 centimeters dilated. (Whatever was left of my soul then died as my team celebrated this grim “victory”.)
- I got into the tub where I labored until I felt the urge to push which was about 2 hours. In that time I fully dilated.
- I moved to the bed where I began to push, and forty minutes later the head, neck, and some shoulders of my baby girl were out! Her shoulders were rotating as they came through which caused enough pain that I needed help, and John pulled Juniper the rest of the way with my contractions. It was 11:53 AM (NOT 6:00 PM!).
- Sometime later I felt my final contraction coming on, took a deep breath, and pushed like I was pushing a baby out. My placenta rocketed out of my cervix and I went limp, seized a little, and blacked out. I was given a lot of drugs and then sewn up.
- John, Juniper, and I took an hour nap in the bed where I delivered and then we piled into the car with Jana and headed home.
Around 6:30 AM on Sunday, June 11 I got up to go pee as I had so many times throughout my pregnancy. John was outside with Alfred who, coincidentally, was also peeing. Even though I was in the recent habit of checking constantly I almost flushed without looking, but I’m so glad I didn’t because what I found was a small amount of blood and the mucus plug that had until then kept my cervix sealed. OMG, it’s time! I ran to the slider without flushing and exclaimed to my very drowsy husband that “it’s happening!” to which he replied, “What? I’m taking Alfred potty. What do you mean what’s happening?” “No!” I said, “IT’S happening!” For me, this was the start of labor and the beginning of Juniper’s birth story.
In order to share the full scope of this story I do have to rewind a little bit. Around 11:00 PM the night before—the day after Juni’s due date—I looked over at John and said only half-joking, “I guess we can try the sex.” I never felt impatient about inducing birth until my due date came and went, and suddenly I felt like I had done my part by making it all the way to the finish line only to find there was more marathon to be run. So we just enjoyed each other not really believing it would work but also kind of excited that it might. I believe that this contributed to my labor being difficult, but I am thankful now that John and I had that time together before everything changed forever.
After telling John that things had started I went back into the bathroom, took a picture of my bloody pee, and texted my doula (Jana). John and I got back in bed to try and sleep more and he called Nancy (midwife). Within 30 minutes of going to the bathroom I started experiencing contractions and it was SO hard for us not to get too excited. We knew that it could be a long time before anything really started to happen and that it was important I not burn myself out—but STILL! Nancy said to call her back when we were at 4-1-1. The doula said to text with any updates and to call her when we needed more support. It quickly became apparent to me that we were not going to be able to sleep so I decided the next best thing was to make sure our home was in order for our homebirth, get ready, and go out. We needed to buy some maxi-pads and fruit, and I wanted one last coffee date with my husband. Plus there was going to be birth photography so I needed to do my hair. At this point I was so excited. And focused. And not at all afraid.
We finished some small chores around the house, got ready, and visited with our neighbors on our way to the grocery store. We bought grapes and apples and watermelons and maxi-pads and visited with a friend at the store. We went to Bluebeard for one last Americano and visited with more friends. All along I was having mild contractions about every ten or so minutes. I could walk and talk fine but they were more than period cramps (who comes up with this crap?). Every person we saw we told that I was “in labor, like, right now!” and almost everyone was pretty awkward about it. We were still so excited. And I was feeling extremely encouraged by how well I was handling the discomfort. We decided to grab lunch across the street at MSM because I would need the energy from food and the contractions—although more uncomfortable—were not getting closer together or even coming consistently. It was at MSM waiting for our sandwich that I first started to get too uncomfortable to stand still through a contraction. I was shuffling from one foot to the other and bending over and breathing kind of funny. There were two firefighters waiting for their food and a police officer walked in, and I thought, This is kind of hilarious, I wonder if they can tell.
After we ate I suggested we walk Alfred around the neighborhood because 1) when will the poor guy get another walk? and 2) let’s get this show on the road! It was afternoon and I was expecting a baby that day—for some reason I had a six hour labor in mind and we were beyond that point already. We walked, we chatted with neighbors, we went home to rest. I changed into comfy clothes and laid down on the couch. When I woke up I was hoping that I had been asleep for a long time and that it was going to be time to push a baby out, but it had barely been 30 minutes and my labor was slowing. I was piiiiiiiiiiissed. I was so grumpy and starting to dread going into the night without having had my baby (in hindsight I should have gone right back to bed and slept as long as I possibly could have). As I write this I think about how weeks before I had told John matter-of-factly that Juniper would be late and would probably come on Monday or Tuesday. When my labor started on Sunday I remember thinking, Man I was off by a day! Anyway, I needed to do something to change my attitude so John took me back to the store so I could bake cookies and pineapple upside down cakes. Contractions were getting stronger and longer, but still not consistent. I was getting more uncomfortable and feeling frustrated. So we went for pizza.
It was kind of late, like eight or nine-ish when we had our pizza and John suggested Joe (my brother) hit the road. I was starting to vocalize through my contractions and finding it impossible to stand still. I was wanting some privacy. Joe left and I put on sweat pants and laid down on the couch to watch a movie. John took my picture before sitting in his chair. Within minutes I felt and heard a huge snap inside my body near my crotch and it was Niagara Falls, baby. I said, “Oh my God! Oh my God!” over and over. My water broke! It was almost 11:00 PM. John helped me into the shower and stood there while I rinsed the bottom half of my body off, and suddenly I burst into tears. It was dark outside and everything is always scarier at night. I said I was scared and asked John, “What if I can’t do this?” I remember reading in one of my birth prep books that it was important to explore my fears before I got to labor so that my deep seated anxieties wouldn’t interfere with my body’s work when the time came. I have this question written in a journal, what if I can’t do it? I had studied and listened and learned and prepared, but now it was happening and I would have to labor in the dark. I felt very alone.
We called Jana and she came quickly. Most of the time between her arrival and Juniper’s arrival is just blackness. Once my water broke it was a whole new world and I was somewhere else for a lot of it. I recall at some point shortly after Jana arrived asking her if I was having “real” contractions and she told me that I was unable to walk and talk through my contractions which meant yes. It’s strange to me now that I needed to be told I was unable to walk and talk because I was so in and out of my body that I didn’t realize what I was doing. I remember feeling so nauseous and having flashbacks to my horrible early pregnancy. I was determined not to puke. I remember pooping and apologizing for it smelling badly (John has since informed me that I pooped many, many times which I do not remember BUT I did not poop on him or on the bed which I am quite proud of). I kept refusing peppermint oil and plastic bags—determined not to vomit—and later being amazed that Jana had both ready at just the right moment.
My contractions were inexplicable. How could I ever say what it felt like? I would stand out in the middle of the floor where I felt like I had the space I needed to move freely and swing my head around (my friend who labored similarly later called it the Stevie Wonder). This particular movement allowed me to loosen up JUST enough to move while my huge belly seized. I thought that if I could move my head the rest of my body would kind of follow it and if I could move through the contractions they wouldn’t swallow me up. When I was stuck it was terrifying. I had no concept of time but I have been told that my contractions were much longer, many of them almost two minutes long, but still lacking any kind of pattern. Sometimes my breaks were less than a minute, sometimes longer than ten and it went on like that until the next day. I was aware of being surprised by the intensity of the contractions both physically and mentally.
How do I describe what it was like laboring at home? When I think back I just see lots of black spots that add up to hours of time where I was just swinging my head around and mooing very loudly. In between are snippets of lucidity where I saw clearly both things I experienced alone in my private universe and here in my physical body—it was weird guys. One thing I kept seeing was this big, beautiful cow alone in a sunny field. She was laboring, too. She was swinging her head around, snorting and mooing in her aggravated state but otherwise she was still—strong and focused, doing what her body knew how to do. We were in this together and now I sort of think a part of me is that cow. At some point—it felt late—I was sitting on the birth ball unable to Stevie Wonder with my cow sister in solidarity and John was in front of me on a stool holding my hands. As a contraction came my eyes would roll back and the rest of me followed so that I was basically hanging limp with John holding me. The contraction ended and I would sit up and just look at him—this was the strangest moment of my life. You know how you catch yourself “staring off into space” and you are consciously aware of yourself but not really “seeing” what you are looking at? That is the closest thing I can relate this experience to. For what seemed forever I would stare into his face knowing somehow that as long as we were making eye contact I was still alive because John was alive and on planet Earth. He felt like a tether keeping me from floating off into oblivion. I felt the same way later when I was pushing.
There was the funny moment in the bathroom just after projectile vomiting into a peppermint laced plastic bag where I asked John and Jana if I was freaking them out because it must look like the exorcist with the heading swinging and projectile puking. I thought we all laughed but maybe it was just me. There was also getting into the shower (again) after telling John privately that I was done. I said that I knew we had talked about this moment, that all women reach this point, but that I was serious and I wanted to go to the hospital. My mind was exhausted from the enormity of labor and I had started to believe that my only hope was in that magic needle which, once inserted into my spine, could miraculously cease my pain. I was afraid that the end was somewhere far in the distance and I kept thinking, I can’t do this forever. The hot water helped for a minute, and then it didn’t so we put the ball in the shower and I sat on it and did my falling back thing which also helped… until it didn’t either. Everything we did was meant to buy us ten more minutes or get through two more contractions, but I was losing steam and I did not feel strong or empowered. It was so late and I was so tired and my stomach hurt so bad, and my contractions were still not consistent.
Someone decided to call Nancy and someone said it was around 3:00 AM on Monday. She appeared like Mary Poppins on the early morning breeze. I was on the floor in my bedroom with a powerful contraction and then there she was petting my dog and kissing my cheek. I felt the way a crying baby must feel when its mother’s face comes into view. She asked me how I was and I said dully, “Bad”. She told me to get up on the bed and she checked me—there was good news and bad news. Bad news: I was only dilated to 2.5 and Juniper was not moving down. Good news: I was 85% effaced. I was devastated. It was the kind of disappointment where you immediately go emotionally numb out of self-preservation because feeling it would probably cause some sort of irreversible psychological harm. I knew it, I thought, I am not progressing, this is not almost over, how can I go on? It had been almost 24 hours. I was done.
Nancy said take two extra-strength Tylenol and a Unisom, and go to bed. All of us needed rest. And then just as she had come, she was gone. John and Jana got me into bed struggling through contractions which felt bigger than me. Propped up next to John I said I had to pee but I couldn’t move because it would bring on a contraction so I asked for a towel and I sat in my bed and peed into towel after towel for two hours while my team tried to sleep. I dozed a bit between contractions but I could no longer move on my own, and without the help of husband or doula I sat through them until I could no longer endure.
Around 6:00 AM I woke John and said I could not do this anymore. After that it’s a bit blurry but at some point someone started talking about going to Nancy’s house and I remember that I kept saying, “But how am I going to get there!?” I was still asking to be taken to the hospital. I remember standing outside my front door leaning on the railing while John was on the phone with Nancy. I think he had gone to call her but in her mystical Mary Poppins way she got to him first. A decision was made. I simply said, “If we are going to go we need to go right now” and marched toward the car. We piled in and pulled away from my Plan A. I was actually relieved to be leaving our house. My fear and the struggle I was having had filled that space and it started to feel unsafe to me. It is significant to me that as we approached Juniper’s due date I started to tell John out of the blue that if it came down to it I really was okay with delivering at Nancy’s house. That was never an option until one day I just pictured myself heading out there and felt peaceful about it.