I wrote up the story of Lily’s birth (below the break). It’s probably not very interesting unless you’re a birth junkie, but I wrote it up because I was looking for this kind of thing when I was pregnant because I needed to hear that it was possible for birth to go well. Most “positive birth stories” seem to be about home births, but obviously it’s possible to have positive births in more typical settings, and I wanted to write about that.
I’ve kept it pretty un-graphic, but it is, y’know, the account of a birth.
My pregnancy had gone smoothly so far. My mother-in-law, Suzie, is a midwife and at the time was working at a birth center. I decided her center was too far for me to get to on public transit, so I went with the Cambridge Birth Center. It’s across the street from Cambridge Hospital. I felt confident that if I had a straightforward birth, I would get appropriate care from the midwives, and that if there were complications I could transfer across the street and get more help at the hospital.
With Suzie having been a midwife in Boston for decades, she knew a lot of the other midwives in the area. The midwife at the birth center who took me on was a friend of Suzie’s and had been present at the birth of my husband and his sisters. We didn’t know if she would be working at the time I went into labor, though. The plan was for Suzie to be my doula, so I would definitely have someone I knew helping me.
I worked until three days after my due date. On my due date (Friday), one of the officers actually told me to get off her unit because she didn’t want me going into labor under her supervision. I decided to treat that as a joke. My supervisor also told me I was not welcome to come back after my due date because I should be home resting, but I refused to give her my keys. I preferred to be doing things, and earning some pay, rather than sitting around waiting for the action to start.
On Saturday, I had Suzie strip my membranes at home. Nothing much happened.
I had a midwife appointment Monday morning. I was dilated 1 cm, which could mean labor was hours or days away. I was contracting a little bit, but nothing too uncomfortable. I went to work.
That evening, my water broke. I remember I was kneeling down in the living room – I think I might have been about to play the banjo? Anyway, it felt like a little pop, and a few tablespoons of fluid came out. I continued trickling fluid after that. That night the contractions were stronger, more painful.
The next morning Jeff and I went in to the birth center for a non-stress test. The midwife advised me that at most hospitals I would be induced within 24 hours of my water breaking, but that I could choose to wait 48 hours. She said that waiting that long would not increase my risk as long as we avoided digital exams, which could introduce infection. At that point I was having painful, but not regular, contractions. We all wanted to know how dilated I was, but we didn’t want to risk an exam. The midwife sent me home, saying I should come back in when my contractions were 4-5 minutes apart. She expected that would be later in the afternoon.
Jeff and I went home on public transit (bus to Harvard, subway to Davis, bus home). A man was singing opera in the Davis Square station and we stopped to listen, me leaning on the railing and breathing my way through a couple of contractions while we stopped. By the turnstile we ran into a friend from contra dancing. “I’m in labor,” I told him, feeling a need to explain my glazed expression. He congratulated us and told us his grandchild was due any day too.
At home, I decided to make the baby a birthday cake. I’m normally a fast cook and would have no problem putting the cake together in the time it takes the oven to preheat, but this was the slowest cake of my life. I think it took me an hour and a half to get it in the oven, both because it took conscious effort to do things like read a recipe and because I kept stopping to lean on the counter and let the contractions pass. Then I took a nap. After the cake cooled, I iced it. It was a jam cake with caramel frosting.
That night I didn’t sleep much. When the contractions hit, lying down was unbearable. Standing and leaning forward on the dresser helped, and sitting in the rocker was tolerable. But the best was bouncing on an exercise ball. So I spent the night sleeping in the rocker and getting up to bounce through each contraction. At one point I fell asleep on the ball and started to topple off, but caught myself. (Jeff says the startled sound your laboring wife makes as she falls off an exercise ball is not one you want to hear in the middle of the night.)
Jeff slept in the bed nearby. I wasn’t hungry but knew I was supposed to eat, so at one point I had him get up and bring me some pasta and a hot rice pack for my back.
By this time I was feeling scared. I wasn’t even having regular contractions yet, and this was already hard. I expected the next day I would need to get induced, which would result in stronger contractions. I was hoping to avoid an epidural, but if it got a lot worse than this I would probably go that route.
I was supposed to go in at 9 am for another non-stress test. At 8 am I looked at the clock and figured I would do another few contractions and then wake Jeff. When I next woke up, it was 9 am. I was glad to have had a solid hour’s sleep, but if the contractions had stopped for a full hour, I figured I definitely was not in progressive labor.
(As we were getting ready to go, I went to the bathroom and had urges to keep pushing even after using the toilet. At the time I didn’t recognize this for what it was.)
Suzie, Jeff, and I got in the car and drove to the birth center (me white-knuckling it through contractions, which were pretty bad sitting down). Jeff wanted to park in the parking for laboring mothers, but I thought they would kick us out because I wasn’t in real labor yet, so I made him drop us off and find street parking.
Suzie waited in the hall while Jeff and I went in for a non-stress test. I was contracting often now, with barely enough time to climb onto the table and lie down between contractions. The midwife started to hook me up to the monitor, but she saw how excruciating it was for me to lie down and asked me if I wanted to be induced this morning rather than go home to continue laboring. I said I didn’t want to go home. Given that I would soon be induced anyway, she decided to examine me to see how dilated I was.
“I just want to be absolutely sure about this,” she said, feeling around. “I don’t want to make a terrible mistake . . . no, you’re definitely nine centimeters.”
I didn’t have much energy for speech to express my satisfaction. “Sweet,” I grunted. After this, I wasn’t scared. It meant I had done the most painful part of the labor already, alone in the night. It would all be easier from here.
I waddled into the hall, where Suzie was waiting expectantly. I wanted to hold up nine fingers, but I wasn’t sure I could count them properly, so I told her, “Nine centimeters.” She let out a whoop of joy. “We’re admitting her,” the midwife told the receptionist. I was already heading up the stairs.
I went into the largest birthing room (luckily I was the only person in labor that day) and headed straight for the exercise ball. I bounced on that while the midwife ran a bath. Jeff heated up a rice pack and Suzie held it on the small of my back as I bounced. A nurse asked me some official questions from a clipboard: “Do you have guns in your house? Do you have any religious issues?” I was too dazed to puzzle out what this last was supposed to mean (it turns out they mean about blood transfusions), but told her I had no guns or religious issues.
The midwife who had been seeing me, Suzie’s friend, was not at work that day but had asked to be called when I went into labor. She came in and took over for the midwife who admitted me.
The bathroom had a large deep tub. I saw later that someone had lit those electric candles around the rim, but at the time I had no spare attention for that kind of thing. As soon as they told me the bath was full, I stripped down and climbed in. I knelt against the side so my belly was submerged, which felt good. It wasn’t long before I started wanting to push. I had read that I was supposed to wait as long as possible to push so the baby could scoot down in the birth canal, but Suzie said it was all right to go ahead. The midwife checked and confirmed that I was fully dilated, so I went ahead and started pushing.
They had me lie on my back in the deep tub. Suzie and Jeff knelt beside the tub, and Jeff held my knee in the air while I pushed. Suzie was cheerleading, “Push long and strong, long and strong, keep going, good good good good good good good!” The midwife asked if I wanted to stay in the tub for the actual birth. I said, “If it’s safe.” They told me it was, and I certainly had no desire to get out.
The midwife would put a fetal heartrate monitor to my belly sometimes between contractions. The baby’s heartrate was mostly fine, though it dipped low once. There was a nurse who took the temperature of the water and added hot water as needed to keep it around 98 F. I drank a little from my water bottle, but I was afraid I would vomit if I drank much and that they would have to drain the tub.
During all this I had very little spare attention for anything beyond pushing. My eyes were shut. I wanted to talk to Jeff about what it was like, but wasn’t really capable of speaking much.
I could feel the baby’s head start to come out. It would squeeze out during contractions, and then squeeze back up into my body while I wasn’t pushing. This went on for a while. Finally her head started staying out between contractions, with Suzie urging me to keep bearing down as long as I could. Pushing was painful, but not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. It felt like pushing out the biggest poop ever.
One useful concept for me in preparing for birth was the difference between pain and suffering. Laboring in the night had been about as painful as pushing, but was far more unpleasant. Once I knew my pain was progressing toward the goal and would be over soon, I wasn’t suffering.
After several rounds of the head going up and down the birth canal, I pushed for a long time and squeezed the head out. (Babies don’t normally breathe until they hit the air or the umbilical cord breaks, so she didn’t breathe in any water while her head was in the bath. She was just going from one fluid environment to another.) One or two more contractions brought the body out. People cheered, and Suzie brought her granddaughter up to the surface and onto my chest. The baby looked both like and unlike what I had expected: blue eyes, dark hair. She cried. She was pale and then she turned pink. It was just after noon – I had made it to the birth center around 10 am and pushed for about an hour.
I rested in the tub for a while, Jeff and I both marveling at our daughter. I had to push up a bit with my legs to keep her head out of the water. After a few minutes they helped me stand, with some people supporting me and others helping me hold the baby to my chest. They walked me over to the bed, and Jeff and I lay down.
Suzie asked what her name was. Jeff and I looked at each other – we were pretty sure of what we wanted, but had decided to meet her before confirming. “Lily,” we said.
While I lay on the bed with Jeff and Lily, the midwife told me to push one more time to get the placenta out. It came out nice and intact, but I was bleeding more than they liked, so they gave me a shot of pitocin. None of this felt anywhere near as strong as the birth. I had torn a little, so the midwife gave me a couple of stitches.
Later they helped me sit up and helped Lily latch on to my breast. (I had hoped she would do the “newborn breast crawl”, but she didn’t.) She fed a little bit and then fell asleep. Suzie went to take a rest in one of the other birthing rooms, and Jeff and I called and left messages for my parents and sister.
Eventually the nurse helped me get up and go to the bathroom (the only time Lily was out of my sight the entire time). She weighed and measured Lily – 8 lb 7 oz. I had struggled to keep weight on during the last month of the pregnancy because I kept getting sick, so I was very pleased to have a nice large baby.
In the rush of getting to the birth center, we hadn’t actually brought our car seat. So Jeff and I napped with Lily while Suzie went home for the carrier. The nurse went through the paperwork and showed us how to swaddle Lily. We went home around 8 that night.
At home, Lily’s aunts and cousins were waiting for us. We sat around on the living room floor admiring her, and then we ate her birthday cake. And then we went to bed in our room, the room where Jeff grew up. Now we are three.