If there’s one thing about childbirth I know for sure, it’s this: Clear, rational thoughts do not exist for laboring women. With a broken water bag and contractions increasing in frequency and intensity, I knew one spring afternoon that my little one was on her way. So, I did the only thing that made sense in that moment: I turned on some mellow tunes, slipped on some rubber gloves, and committed to scrubbing my toilet. After all, once labor kicked into high gear, we’d need to call the doula and I didn’t want her to see the mess we’d been living in.
I’d scrub, and then I’d stop, lean over the tub and groan and breathe my way through another contraction. The more guttural the groan, the more relief I’d feel – even if I did notice the cat looking more and more worried each time. I sweated. I cried. I arched my back and got on all fours. I swayed and I sobbed until finally I felt something I never expected: My body was pushing all on its own.
“What?!” My husband shrieked, “You’re what?”
“I think I’m pushing!” I shrieked back.
“Stop! Stop pushing!” He yelled from the other side of the door as he frantically called the doula.
In a heartbeat, she was by my side, urging me to grab my bag and make my way down to the car. I rode to the hospital on all fours in the backseat, cursing at my husband for hitting every pothole on the road, and wringing out my lungs each time a contraction rolled in.
In the hospital’s triage unit, I was mean and short-tempered. Get too close and I might lash out like a wounded and frightened animal. My midwife braced herself to perform a cervical check in between contractions. I held my breath, terrified I’d be 3 centimeters with the whole journey stretched out before me. “You’re at 10!” She exclaimed, “Your daughter’s on her way!”
The hospital staff raced me to the alternative birthing center – my midwife, doula, and husband at my side. I slipped into the tub, relieved to know this would all be over soon. A couple of pushes, I thought, and I’d have my daughter in my arms.
But four hours later, there was still no sign of her. Out of the tub, I tried squatting, swaying, and leaning over the hospital bed. My midwife inserted a catheter hoping an empty bladder might encourage my little one to come. It didn’t. They urged me into the shower, onto all fours, and sitting upright in bed.
As a characteristically anxious person, I imagined myself in the throes of labor panicking my way through each contraction, overcome by the pain and the sheer uknown of it all. But instead of fear, I remember the warmth of my husband’s hand at my back. Looking back, I remember his kiss on my forehead, his encouraging whisper in my ear. I remember the tremendous awe and confidence I felt in my body to take over and do its magical thing without my brain orchestrating every move. I remember a great deal of peace.
Even a full year later, I am overcome with gratitude for my birthing experience, though it was far from what I had planned. So what happened? My daughter never came on her own. Even after hours of pushing and even after the obstetrician was called in with her forceps and vacuum. After many indignities (at one point I remember walking from bed to bathroom in only a pair of ponyhair ballet flats), I wound up on the operating table at 3 a.m., a delicious spinal block putting an end to all those soul-shaking contractions.
My husband was there at my shoulder, a sheet blocking us from the operating team on the other side. I felt a slight tugging at my belly. I counted ceiling tiles. I waited for the surgery to begin. I listened to the hospital staff sing along to Led Zeppelin on the radio. I drifted in and out of sleep, forcing myself to relish my new contraction-free body. And yet, I thought my doctor and nurses were still in pre-surgery prep. If there’s one thing you take away from my story, let it be this: I had a Cesarean section and I didn’t even know it was happening. I had no idea I’d given birth at all until I heard my daughter’s cry echoing through the room.
In retrospect, I feel fortunate for the way my daughter entered the world. While I never had that beautiful birth moment I’d dreamed of, I labored at home, on my own. I put my trust in my body, my husband, and my health care team. And while I ended up in the operating room, my little one was safe and healthy and that’s all I could have hoped and prayed for.