It is 45 minutes with good traffic from our house to Nancy’s. I was on all fours on the floor in the backseat. Jana was behind me applying pressure to my back and hips. My face was buried in a pillow on the seat and I was moaning and mooing. I heard John honk the horn once and remember thinking, we are all going to die. This is how it ends. To his credit there were very few bumps along the way and we made it perfectly safely at 9:15 AM on Monday (the day I said she would be born) June 12. Nancy’s husband was out watering his plants and as I poured out onto the concrete with another contraction he looked over and asked if we wanted a wheelchair. I distinctly thought, This man has seen it all. I shook my head and John said no as I clung to his knees from my spot on the concrete. Once we started to move inside I remember looking up at the familiar sight of Nancy’s house and feeling safe. This was exactly where I needed to be. It was going to end here.
We got inside and I promptly told Nancy that I needed to pee. She said okay and left the room to get something and upon her arrival I announced that I already had. I just peed in my pants because: labor. She had me get on the bed and she checked me for the second time. What happened next can only be described as a party at a funeral. She announced gleefully that I had made progress. I was now fully effaced, dilated to a 6, and Juniper was moving down. John and Jana were so relieved, even joyful, and I just laid back and groaned, “Noooo”. Six is not ten and ten means the baby is coming. It had taken me A DAY AND NIGHT to get to a six. I was sure at this point that I could not go on.
I must have told Jana I needed to pee because she went into the bathroom with me but instead of heading for the toilet I got into the stand-up shower and just let it rain. Nancy came in and seemed confused. She said I could use the shower if I wanted and I said no I just needed to pee. She asked if I wanted to labor in the Jacuzzi tub, and said that I could pee in there if I needed to. Was she being funny? I’ll never know. But I got into the tub and labored there for another two hours or so. It was in the tub that I first felt the urge to push and it came on so strong and so suddenly, and took me by such surprise, that I nearly lost my sanity. This—I was absolutely sure—was going to kill me. I was yelling now—or at least I thought I was. I was on my back in the water with John or Jana (they were rotating) standing behind me outside of the tub. They would lean over and grab my arms above my head so I could pull down as my contractions came. With each contraction I felt the need to push and I could literally feel (and see) my baby moving down through my body. She was forcing my bones apart as she worked her way towards the exit and all I could do was pull and thrash in the water. It should be noted that I did actually think about how the water had completely ruined my hair from the day before, so I was definitely not dead yet. I told everyone that I thought this was going to break me, and Nancy said no it would not.
Nancy asked if I wanted a water birth and I said no, so she said it was time to get out of the tub. Let it be known that this woman has a sixth sense about birth and looking back I am absolutely positive that, aside from peeing my pants, there was nothing about my birth that surprised Nancy. She knew exactly when things were going to happen, and she was always right. I said okay and that I was just waiting for a break at which point Nancy firmly announced, “There are no more breaks. You just have to decide that you are getting up, and then get up”. It was a deep Jacuzzi tub so in addition to no breaks there would also be no help. Knowing I didn’t have much time before the next agonizing contraction I shot up faster than I ever have in my life and promptly tumbled over into John’s arms. I was helped to the bed where I experienced my first real push.
I was still standing when the contraction came and I doubled over, gripping the side of the bed. For the first time I really, truly yelled without attempting to “move my sounds down” or turn it into some kind of helpful energy. I simply yelled out as I felt my baby, my body, and me all pushing down. I think it was at this point that I asked why it felt like the baby was coming out of my butt. When I first felt the URGE to push in the tub I thought, How is it possible that this is more painful than what I’ve been experiencing all day and night? How can a human being survive this? When this push came I just knew, this is when I die. This is not a pain that a person can endure. I was losing the ability to control myself in any capacity and beginning to drown in the pain.
I had had romantic visions before all of this of me delivering standing or on all fours, catching my own baby and pulling her to my chest. The instant I felt that push while I was standing I leaped onto the bed, got on my back and assumed the position. I did not have the energy or the courage to remain standing for this. With each contraction I pushed three or four times (John says less) somehow rationalizing that if I pushed hard enough THIS time it would end. It had to end because I could not do it again. But then the contraction ended and she wasn’t out so I had to do it again. For the first couple of pushes I yelled out in pain, and again Nancy was very direct, “If you yell you will lose your push. You need to take a deep breath, hold it in and push down.” I had to be reminded a couple of times.
I was also falling asleep in between contractions at this point and it was like the worst nightmare of my life. I would feel the contraction coming and start to take deep breaths until I felt the urge and pushed as Nancy counted to ten (very slowly!) and stretched my cervix around the crown of Juniper’s head. Then I would yell all of my air out, take another deep breath and do it again until there was no power from the contraction. I remember Jana telling me I had to wait for the contractions to push so when they were over I would just fall back onto the bed half asleep and rest. It felt like fifteen minutes between pushes, but within seconds I would wake to my abdomen tightening and start to say in a panic, “It’s coming, it’s coming!” as if everyone wasn’t already paying quite close attention. Nancy and John were down by all the action with my feet up on their shoulders and as I would contract they would bear their weight down on my legs to “open things up”. Jana was behind me holding my arms like she had been in the tub so I could pull as I pushed. I remember thinking, I have to get her out on this contraction because I cannot push again, and then I’d fall asleep and wake up to the realization that I was in labor and I would have to push again.
This is when I was looking to John again for reassurance that I was still on Earth, and he was amazing. He kept a soft face and never said anything except, “Wow, there she is!” He might have teared up a bit but he didn’t look scared or shocked so I knew even though I wasn’t okay, that I was okay. After about forty minutes of wondering whyyy my efforts weren’t producing a baby I felt her head finally come through, and then it all fell apart. I expected to feel relief when the biggest part of her head was through, but her shoulders quickly moved into that space and my contraction had ended so I couldn’t push. They call this impossible stretching sensation (also when a lot of women tear) “the ring of fire” and I just can’t imagine why anyone thinks that is a strong enough description for what this feels like. It was not a ring of fire, it was the absolute certainty that two body builders were each holding onto one of my legs and simultaneously pulling in opposite directions until my entire body split into two from my vagina out. It was death.
I had been able to maintain some level of self-control—enough to take and hold my breaths and focus on Nancy counting—until THIS moment. As Juniper’s body lay in my opening with no contraction to help me move her I lost my mind. I was screaming, “I can’t rest here! I have to push! Pull her out!” Nancy linked arms with John, told him they made a good team, and let him know that it was time for him to help mamma get this baby out. She knew I was tired. Jana, respecting my birth plan, told them that I wanted to catch the baby and I immediately said, “I don’t care, just get her out!” Daddy it was.
I couldn’t see and didn’t really care what they were doing down there it just needed to happen quickly. As they pulled on Juniper I tried to pull it together and give a little push and I thought, This is just like in the movies. I remember hearing John ask if what he was doing would hurt her head and thinking that this was not the time for questions. I also remember that at some point there was a lot of worry over whether or not the door was unlocked for the birth photographer who just made it in time. Everyone seemed to have a lot of capacity to worry about things other than making this end and I could not have cared less. Throughout the pushing phase Nancy asked if I wanted to see or feel the crowning and I was not interested in anything but doing my job to get this over with. As I was losing steam Nancy held up a mirror and firmly commanded me to look, as an encouragement for all the progress I’d made, and Juniper’s head was just there amongst the wreckage.
In an instant that felt like eternity someone tugged, I ripped open, and then there was a flood (literally) of relief. Physically and emotionally I was overwhelmed with relief. There was hot fluid pouring out and John was standing in front of me with a slimy, white baby. I reached down for her and pulled her onto my chest. She was hot and gooey and so bloated. Her eyes were swollen shut and she was white as a sheet. She must have been crying but I remember her looking peaceful the very first time I laid eyes on her. She was real slippery. My first thought which I may have verbalized was, “Who do you look like?” I knew her, but I had never met her, and it was so strange to see her face for the first time—especially looking like she had just survived water boarding. She had done some work too, and we were finally together. I was this person’s mother. I started to hum to her because I didn’t know what else to do and she was crying and it was kind of an insane moment.
But my job was not quite finished. Nancy asked if I wanted to continue to hold Juniper while I delivered the placenta and I said no—I was all business. I was terrified to deliver the placenta because it meant one more contraction, and one more push. I was determined that it would come out in one push because I could literally imagine nothing more impossible than me having to PUSH again. Like, it would be easier for me to lift a car than have to push like I just had. I kept asking if it would be the same kind of push and in my panic I wasn’t hearing a response, so I was prepared for battle when that next contraction came about ten minutes later. I took a deep breath, held it, and pushed with all of my might. It went black. I seized and my eyes snapped open as all of the information I had stored over the last 26+ years re-downloaded culminating in the realization that I was where I was, and that was John holding a baby, my baby, I just gave birth and OH MY GOD I THINK I PASSED OUT! Everyone was staring at me with wide eyes and I felt like I had slept for thirty years. For a moment it was the most magical, incredible reset button of my whole life, and I kept saying, “I think I just passed out! Oh my God, I just passed out!” I seemed to be the only one who found it amusing, and very quickly there were shots of Pitocen in my thigh and Cytotec pills under my tongue and in my butt (yeah, the fun just kept coming). My uterus locked up like a vault and the flood was over. I think Nancy thought I had blacked out because of bleeding, but it was because I had held my breath. John later told me I pushed so hard the placenta shot out and bounced off of the bed. Nancy caught it, like a pro.
My last memories of that experience are John holding Juniper in a chair, looking out at the lake. Being stitched up very diligently and feeling it, and thinking, But seriously, how is it STILL getting WORSE!? Shaking violently as the hormones flooded out of my system and being wrapped in so many hot towels. Laying in the bed I delivered on with my baby (!!!) on my chest and my husband next to me. We were left alone and fell asleep as a family for about an hour before we cleaned up, packed up, and headed home. I sat in the back seat with Juniper, on a diaper full of ice two hours after giving birth and texted everyone back as John drove home from Nancy’s like any other time. It was surreal.
And that’s my birth as I recall it. For the first couple of weeks I felt pretty raw and delicate about it. John and I only talked about it if I brought it up, and even then it was mostly only for John to answer my questions. I didn’t really want to talk to anyone else about it, and when visitors would come John gave the broad strokes version and I chipped in here or there with a detail. I told everyone who would listen that I would never do it again. I felt confused because I knew it had gone “well” but I was so hurt by it. I later felt a bit deceived because I thought I had gone into birth prepared and with an open mind—everyone had told me I had the perfect attitude about it, and that I would be just fine. But I had been shocked all throughout my labor and delivery by how scared I felt and how incredible the pain was. Afterwards I was surprised at how shocked I had been. How could birth have been that much bigger than I was anticipating when I had learned so much, and been told by everyone that I was ready? I thought that I would be able to handle it, and that I would feel connected to myself and empowered by my ability to bring forth life. Birth was supposed to build me up as a woman, but I felt like a fraud taking any credit when, in my mind, I had no choice. That baby was coming out of my body with or without my help, and most of the time I felt like I was giving up or being the victim of the enormity of something I could not choose to do or not do. Birth broke me down to the most vulnerable place I have ever been and I wasn’t ready for that. It is an otherworldly experience.
I feel less traumatized now that a month has passed and I am in love with my sweet girl. She smiles at us and is stunningly beautiful, and her poops make me belly laugh like I haven’t ever laughed before. The sting of birth is dulled by time and space and the sweetness of our new lives, but I haven’t forgotten. There was no magic moment of hormonal amnesia that erased the memory of that pain and struggle, and I still wonder where I will ever find the courage to do it again. Plus the first two weeks of Juniper’s life were so tender and scary for me that even if I forgot the birth I would be tentative. I am only just starting to recognize some of myself again and in many ways I am changed forever.
I’ll end with this: people keep asking me if I got pregnant again would I do it the same and I think my answer is yes. I have no regrets about Juniper’s birth. Her and I were given the best chance possible to work through that experience without unnecessarily complicating it, and as impossibly huge as it was, I still think it was supposed to be that way. The biggest lesson that motherhood has taught me so far is how I can be full of opposing emotions all at once. While I can say in full honesty that at the time it felt like the worst thing I have ever done, and probably is the single most traumatizing event of my life, giving birth is also a part of me that I feel a bit of fondness for and I can’t imagine it happening any other way. Immediately afterwards I told John that if it happened again I would go to the hospital and get an epidural, but now I can’t imagine John standing to the side while someone I barely know delivers my baby. I can’t imagine a sterile hospital room in place of Nancy’s lakeside oasis that is basically an Air BnB I’d pay a lot of money to stay in. I can’t imagine not feeling each moment, as much as I never want to feel it again. But who knows? For now I have a newborn baby to occupy my thoughts and an incapacitated vagina, anyway.