When I was pregnant for the first time I did a ton of research. I really wanted a home birth, but I couldn’t convince my husband of its safety. So, I settled on a hospital instead. When my water broke and labor didn’t start, I was induced with Pitocin and labored only an hour or so before asking for an epidural. Pitocin-induced contractions were excruciating.
So, when I found out I was pregnant with my second child, I immediately called a homebirth midwife. The pregnancy was uneventful. I was healthy, baby was healthy. I loved my visits with my midwife, who spent an hour with me each month. She was dedicated to me having the birth I envisioned.
My due date came and went, but I had taken a hypnobirthing class and was totally blissed out. I convinced myself that I’d likely be quite overdue. When labor started, I didn’t even recognize it. I was expecting the level of pain I experienced with my son, and these contractions were barely noticeable by that measure. In fact, I’d had menstrual cramps that were more intense. I spent almost a whole day and night in early labor, continuing to work, cook, clean, and even have sex.
Late that evening, we took our dog for a walk while my best friend stayed with my son. She used to be my midwife’s apprentice before she had her own child and was on deck as labor support, as well. I had several strong contractions during the walk. After we got home, she timed a few for me. They were about five minutes apart and only slightly more intense than what I’d been feeling all day. She thought we should just relax, start filling the birth tub, and call her in an hour to check in. I was in utter denial; this wasn’t labor, and I would spend days in this state.
And so it begins
Just as she was about to leave, my water broke. I felt a strong pop, squealed like a little girl, and I started laughing. I went upstairs to ensure that the fluid was clear and odorless. When I sat down on the toilet, I had a monster contraction. I was moaning through it. When my friend heard me, she knew things were happening quickly.
I had already stripped my clothes and waddled to the birth tub, which had less than a foot of water in it. I burst into tears because I knew I needed it to be full. The contractions were lasting about 60 seconds with almost no break in between. They were wracking my body with an amount of pain I never thought I could endure. I was already making a lot of noise, and losing control of myself. I was embarrassed and scared. I was shaking and feeling nauseated, but I didn’t believe I could be in transition already. I was trying to get my now whale-sized body down under the very shallow water, to no avail.
I felt my body starting to push on its own. I pushed passively for about a half hour, emitting low grunts, feeling for her head. It was right there. How could this be so hard? The contractions were unreal. The midwife arrived and the tub was finally full. When she checked me and determined that I was completely dilated, I was in disbelief. One hour of what I considered true labor and I was complete, and pushing.
When you’re in pain, time is ethereal. It could have been minutes or hours from the start of labor, but at some point I had stopped making progress and my midwife suggested I get out of the tub and on my hands and knees in the bed. The thought of moving out of the tub terrified me, but I did it. Trying to time it between contractions, my husband and friend lifted me out of the tub. In the most awkward moment of my life, I walked about 25 feet to the next room with a human head hanging halfway out of my vagina.
Why didn’t I feel ecstatic?
Her whole head was born with the next contraction. Gravity was doing its thing and it felt like someone had a blow torch to my lady bits. I expected relief once her head was out, but her shoulders were the worst part. Nine pounds and nine ounces of giant baby passed through me, and it seemed like it was happening to someone else. They say there is nothing like the euphoria and relief of those first few moments after childbirth, but I was in shock. Shrieking obscenities, like the lady I am, I demanded to know why I didn’t feel absolutely ecstatic.
I took an herbal bath and ate a snack. It was 4 a.m. by this point, and I was finally high on endorphins; exhausted, but unable to sleep. My husband took to the couch and I snuggled up with my squishy little girl, just staring at her – listening to her breathing in the moonlight.
Yes, things were intense and my birth certainly wasn’t pain-free, but it empowered me in a way that nothing else in my life has or ever will. I have never been so entirely me – so utterly primal as I was during those three hours.
The knowledge of how to birth my daughter was inside of me. Not in a book. It was not gliding from the mouths of medical professionals. I feel more connected now to all mothers, across time; to my ancestors who gave birth in huts, squatting over beds of straw. In an unabashedly modern world, I have shared something ancient with them.
I feel so much comfort knowing that my daughter was born onto our bed and cradled in my arms first. No one poked, prodded, suctioned, or forced us along. It was painful. Hell, it was the most agonizing experience of my life. And it was perfect.
– Clare Juen