“I want to hear your birth story!” A friend says over dinner. “Birth is like this crazy battleground and I love hearing the stories. It’s just so amazing that we can make humans!”
“Well, it was definitely a war story!” I tell her, laughing and thinking about the details.
“Oh really?! What happened?” She asks.
“Well, to really understand why it was so brutal you probably need to know how I was approaching birth.” I bring my legs up under me on the chair, settling in for some good storytelling. I start by taking her all the way way to the beginning. “Well, first off, my mom had all four of her babies at home, I wasn’t vaccinated as a child, my mom had a bumper sticker on our car that read ‘Human Milk for Human Babies.’ Before a birth my mom and her friends would chant, ‘wild women, mother, mid-wife and healer…you will give birth. I want you to.’ Growing up I thought of birth as a totally normal, beautiful experience. And I was there when my younger siblings were born.”
“Oh my gosh. I love your mom. I want to meet her someday.”
“I love her too, but she is something else… On top of my mom’s experience, I read Ina Gaskin’s Guide to Natural Child birth and I totally bought into the idea that pain in childbirth is an American construct. Is it weird that the thing that surprised me most about birth was how painful it was??
Is it weird that the thing that surprised me most about birth was how painful it was??
But I just thought: labor is going to be a new sensation, but I can be like the women in Japan who don’t even consider medication.” I rolled my eyes at myself. How many women had told me it was painful? It didn’t matter because I thought I was going to be different.
I looked at my friend, who had been through a natural childbirth, and laughed. What else was there to do?
“But you know the crazy part?” I said. “There is still a part of me that thinks I could do it differently next time, like really get into the meditation of it, and it wouldn’t be painful. Next time!”
I could feel the story and all of the pre-birth emotions bubbling out of me. “Another thing you should know about the birth is that I wasn’t just planning on going all natural I didn’t even want the words pain or medication or epidural uttered in my labor and delivery room. I was gungho no pain meds. One time my husband tried to talk to me about exploring pain medication options, without even suggesting an epidural and I cried and accused him of bringing the wrong kind of energy to our birth experience. I was mad at him for a whole day because he wanted to research nitrous oxide and epidurals.” I paused again. I could still remember the raw anger. But thinking about it made me laugh.
“So there I was, expecting a zen, intimate experience and thinking I could be the women who orgasms during birth.”
The timeline and details are all below if you want to relive 34 of the most surprising hours of my life.
3am October 9th
I clicked my phone – 3am, 4 days before my due date. I’d slept 3 hours. Did a contraction wake me up? Every podcast and article I’d consumed in the last 9 months, and there were many, had told me to sleep as much as I could before labor. 15 minutes later, after barely dozing off I woke up again. 3:15am.
Through the rest of the night I washed every piece of baby clothing we had and completely reorganized the closet. When morning came I was excited to tell Colin that I thought I was in labor. I’d had contractions on and off for 3 days so I didn’t know if these would stick. 13 minutes apart, 12 minutes apart, 19 minutes apart. Then 10 minutes apart. Consistent but not very exciting. At noon we called our parents and told them it was happening. Slowly, but happening. My mom and Abby (my younger sister) started their way up to SF from San Diego.
12pm October 9th
I had stocked the house with snacks and bars for labor but I was too nauseous to eat. At lunch Colin made salmon and sweet potatoes. I ate a card deck sized portion and then threw up bits of orange and pink for the rest of the day. I sat on the medicine ball and we watched The Princess Bride. All day I was chanting things in my head like “I am ready, I am open.” or “I am huge (referring to my perineum), I can have a baby.” Over and over. And over.
4pm October 9th
The PokemonGo trend was alive and thriving throughout my pregnancy and Colin was pretty was close to Pokemon master. Around 4 in the afternoon we took a walk. Colin was pressing on my hips during contractions and we were talking about when the baby would come. A minute or two later Colin got a notification on his phone – “Ariel, I won’t go chase this Pokemon if you don’t want me to, but there is a Lapras down by the pier right now and I think I can catch it if I run. 5 minutes until it expires.” Care spread over his face as he asked how I felt about him running ahead. “Go Colin! You’re in flip-flops and the pier is further than you think!”
Walking to meet Colin my contraction came a little stronger and it felt good. I am pretty sure the folks who passed me on the street were worried I was going to give birth in front of them. Sadly, when I would stop walking my contractions would mellow and get further apart again. Also sad, Colin did not get catch the Lapras.
8pm October 9th
My contractions were stronger and 5 minutes apart. At 9pm with my contractions every 4-5 minutes we decided to make the trip to the hospital. I ate a Real Fruit Strawberry Mango popsicle from Trader Joe’s on the drive.
We parked about a quarter mile from the hospital so that we wouldn’t have to pay for parking and I thought the walking would be good for me. I had to walk slow and during a contraction on 16th street and Owens I threw up the popsicle. We got to triage.Verdict: dilated to a 4 and water not leaking. They recommended we leave and walk around since I was not planning to use pain medication.
Right after that conversation I got on all fours for a contraction. Suddenly, fluid gushed out, all over the table and floor and I simultaneously threw up orange and pink everywhere. The medical student looked surprised and the midwife kind of chuckled and said “I think we should get you checked in!”
I lowered into a wheel chair and we went to a Labor and Delivery room. After we got to the room one of the nurses recognized Colin (they went to high school together) and came into say hi. I smiled from my wheelchair and kind of forgot I was in labor. That lasted about 30 seconds.
11pm October 9th
I was getting into the bath to try and ease the contraction pain when Colin told me that my mom and Abby were at the hospital. Previously I’d decided I only wanted Colin in the room for labor. But with labor intensifying I felt like the more help we could get the better and I invited them in. For the next 3 hours my contractions came on hard every 3 or so minutes. Right when I thought a contraction was going to ease it seemed to swing right back up before unclenching. Later I found out my contractions were double peaking, which doesn’t do anything to help labor and makes it extra painful. It felt like someone was literally trying to pry my body apart. Colin pressed hard into counter pressure points. My mom massaged all over my body. Abby kept offering me sips of water. I was dripping fluids everywhere.
I had worked at Everlane up until the Friday before I went into labor. I am in charge of all our product deliveries from the factory to the warehouse. October, and November are our busiest months as we gear up for the holidays. As I paced and went through contractions I kept remembering a recent backpack delivery and thinking, “A backpack is SO. BIG. It will never fit out of me!” Then I would catch the hallucination and calm myself down by saying, “Don’t worry, a baby is smaller than a backpack. I can deliver a baby.” I also started to tell my mom, Colin and Abby about cashmere deliveries: shipment speed, potential delays… I was delirious.
Prior to labor I had imagined that I would think of every contraction as a wave.
I love the ocean and I wanted to picture myself sinking into the powerful surge of the water as a way to embrace the moment. But I never found the peaceful sink into the contractions I had hoped for… it was more of a relentless shore break.
2am October 10th
I was dilated to an 8! I was so happy to have progress. The midwife told me where the cervix needed to open and suggested a few positions to keep progressing. They said they would come back and check me again at 4am. The next two hours were rough. I tried the suggested positions and could barely take the pain.
This is the point where I wanted out. When a contraction would come I’d lost the ability to breath through it and just wanted to run away. I wanted a break from the consistent pain. I wanted to sleep. I was going on 24 awake without being able to keep food or water down. During one contraction I was on the bed on my knees facing the wall and I remember thinking, “I don’t think I want to give birth to anymore babies and if I could go back in time I don’t think I would even choose to have this one.” It was that bad.
4am October 10th
Still at an 8. I felt so discouraged and so tired. The midwife asked me to try pushing during a contraction while she tried to help clear my cervix. I gave it all I could muster and it wasn’t much. No dice. I told the room that all I wanted to do was sleep. The midwife suggested that maybe I try the laughing gas to get a little relief. What had seemed like an assault to my values now seemed like it could be my golden ticket. I agreed to nitrous oxide. I got an IV put in, and the nitrous oxide flowing. I relaxed. Colin and Abby laid down on the couch and window sill and rested. I held the mask over my face and thought, “How are they able to sleep without any laughing gas? They must be in so much pain.” I never slept completely but I did rest a bit.
6am October 10th
STILL at an 8. WTF. The midwife suggested we try some pitocin to get past 8cm. I felt overwhelmed by the idea of stronger contractions. I did not think I had the ability to make it through a contraction that was more painful than what I was already experiencing. My shoulders were slumped and I had lost my motivation to keep laboring.
I told Colin and the midwife that I wasn’t sure I could do pitocin without an epidural. Knowing that I wanted a natural birth the midwife suggested we try it and see how it went. We could always do it gradually she assured me. The very thought scared me. I told the midwife I was afraid that an epidural would make it harder for me to feel the oxytocin rush after having a baby and inhibit bonding. She assured me it wouldn’t. I thought of all the people I’d told that I wanted to have a natural birth. I thought of all my conversations with Colin about the birth I wanted. I thought of my pregnancy midwife, Sharon, who’d been insistent on going all natural, then after a day + in labor she got an epidural, slept and gave birth to a healthy baby. I asked my mom, who was my inspiration for natural births, what she thought and she was supportive. Then I asked the nurse if it was too late to get an epidural, which of course, after being at an 8 for 4 hours it was not.
With the epidural placed my contractions slowed and the nursed started a pitocin stream. I fell asleep for 4 hours.
10:30am October 10th
I woke up and I was magically at a 10. I couldn’t believe it was that easy. Colin will tell you, the person who fell asleep and the person who woke up were night and day different. The midwife checked on Gemma’s position in preparation for pushing. Gemma was chin up, and face up which wasn’t ideal for delivery. I moved around trying to position her for birth. Some kind of specialist doctor came in and kindly explained that she could reach up and move the baby and not to worry because she was very good at her job. She moved Gemma easily, but not long after Gemma flipped right back around. Luckily her chin stayed tucked, which was most critical for a safe delivery. The room started to gear up for the pushing phase! We were finally, 32 ish hours after my contractions kept me awake in the night, going to meet our baby!
11:45am October 10th
I had an amazing nurse who was kind, supportive, and knowledgable. She coached me through the pushing, helped me identify contractions, and got me a lot of apple juice. Colin kept count so I would know how long to hold the pushing sensation before breathing again. His steady voice guided me through each push.
I could feel the pressure of the baby as she moved through my body. I was able to squat and support myself. It was an incredible epidural and I am still thankful to the doctor who administered it.
I tried several positions, but in the end I liked squatting on a birthing chair the best. I pushed for an hour and a half. Gemma flipped during the pushing and was ready to come out face down, which is ideal presentation. The midwife expertly coached how strong each push should be and when. The midwife who delivered Gemma was the same midwife we first met at UCSF when we were deciding where to go for pre-natal care and delivery. Everything had come full circle.
2:14pm October 10th
As Gemma was born the midwife invited me to reach down and finish catching her. I was surprised by the invitation but it also felt so right. I pulled her up as she started to cry. I couldn’t pull her much past my belly button because her umbilical cord wasn’t long enough.
The nurse helped clean the blood off Gemma while she was on my belly. Colin looked down at us in the most tender of ways and stroked my hair while putting one finger in Gemma’s baby hand. I looked at my mom and Abby who had been through battle with us then they left us to be a family of three for the first time.
The bond between me and Colin felt like a strong sinewy muscle. His tender gaze on our baby will melt my heart forever.
After a little while I looked down at the midwife and resident working on the placenta and repairs. “Did I tear?” I asked. “No, no tears, just a few scrapes. We can do two stitches if you’d like. It will make recovery a little less painful, but the stitches aren’t really necessary.”
I had a baby on my chest, my husband at my side, and I didn’t tear. I could not have asked for anything better.