“Giving birth and being born brings us into the essence of creation, where the human spirit is courageous and bold and the body, a miracle of wisdom.”
Whenever I tell our son’s birth story, I lead with the punchline. We got to the hospital at 4 am and he was born at 4:28 am.
My recollection of that day lives within my muscles and bones. The memories are choppy and out of order. Like a tidy stack of papers that have scattered across the floor, I clutch tightly to what’s in my grasp. As I pull each piece by crumpled piece, I find myself questioning if things happened as I remember?
The months leading up to our son’s birth are much clearer. I read books, listened to podcasts and made a project out of being pregnant. We hired a doula, took HypnoBirthing classes, and wrote out a birth plan. Our freezer was stocked, the car seat was professionally installed, and our hospital bags were ready.
My intention was to have an unmedicated, low-intervention birth. Being an athlete for most of my life, I was drawn to the physicality of labor and delivery. I connected with the idea that women all over the world have delivered their babies safely and that our bodies are designed to do so. I knew there could be reasons why an epidural, cesarean, or other intervention would be the best (or safest) choice. I was open to what would be while maintaining a fierce focus on what I could control.
I resonated with the HypnoBirthing program and followed it closely. The primary philosophy is that by practicing breathing, relaxation, and visualization techniques, mothers can remove the fear and pain that’s often associated with birth, and instead cultivate a calm, meditative state for birthing. I loved the simplicity of the approach and how it reminded me of my athletic endeavors. I knew my body was capable of astonishing things when I emptied my mind and got out of my own way.
When we discussed my desires with our doctor and doula, both suggested I labor at home as long as possible. That same advice was repeated in various ways throughout my pregnancy and I took it to heart. At the last prenatal meeting with our doula, I told her I wanted to show up to the hospital pushing… and that’s exactly what happened.
At our 39 week appointment, my OB brought up the possibility of an induction. The conversation took me by surprise, even though I should have seen it coming. She wanted me to be prepared, but I wanted to focus on the present. I wasn’t tired of being pregnant or dying to get the baby out. My only complaint was feeling like a deadline was looming and being unable to influence the timeline. I wanted to go into labor when my baby and body were ready, but the clock was ticking.
When I was 40 weeks and 5 days pregnant, I woke up at 5:45 am with a contraction (or “surge” as they are called in HypnoBirthing). As the sensation eased, my thoughts turned to the day ahead. I was looking forward to my prenatal massage and acupuncture appointments that morning. Both were attempts to coax labor into action and my last chance for self-care before the baby arrived. I rolled over and promised myself I’d go if things slowed down by 8:30 am.
As my husband got ready for work, I told him about my early morning wakeup call. We agreed I should keep my plans and kissed each other goodbye like any normal day.
Throughout my pregnancy, I thought of prenatal massages as a way to practice my HypnoBirthing techniques. Before a session, I would silently count down, 3… 2… 1… 0… and then sink deep into the soft pillows supporting me. While the therapist kneaded the knots in my neck and lower back, I took deep breaths and imagined my body as a mound of purple play dough she was smoothing out. Through any discomfort, I would tell my muscles to “let go.” Over and over, I actively released tension and maintained a steady breath.
If massage was a time to focus, then acupuncture was when I zoned out. After all the needles were placed, my acupuncturist asked if I’d had any contractions earlier. I hummed, “Uh huh,” and then turned my brain off. I left the appointment with a feeling of calm confidence and randomly decided to stop by the grocery store for dried apricots. Early labor or not, I was going through the motions and enjoying my day.
In the final weeks of pregnancy, I started having silent conversations with my baby and my body. I asked them to do as much work as possible without me knowing. They had already done so much – growing a tiny speck of cells into a wiggly baby in my belly. This was a collaboration I could only witness with amazement, so I set my chair on the sidelines to cheer them along and promised I would jump in when they needed me.
When my husband came home from work, we went for a walk around the neighborhood. Like so many other afternoons that summer, we dropped the distractions of our phones and to-do lists and talked about our days. We had spaghetti for dinner and watched an episode of “Bloodline” in bed. There were no major conversations about the baby or if the contractions I’d been feeling would lead to labor. We just flowed through our normal routine, comfortable and easy.
At 9 pm something shifted. The quiet and gradual changes that were happening in my body hit me all at once. I don’t remember saying much to my husband, other than that I couldn’t pay attention to the show. I needed to get out of bed and move. He kept cool and calmly went downstairs to clean the kitchen.
My memory of next few hours is a slow-motion blur of us moving from place to place, position to position, all in an effort to find comfort and rest. We talked through a possible timeline and decided it would be best to get some sleep, but every time we got me settled, another wave would crash. I was in and out of the bed, in and out of the tub, in and out of the bathroom.
Between 11 pm and 2:30 am, the intensity picked up in a way I never anticipated. The contractions went from mild ripples of discomfort to strong and powerful undulations. The calm laboring process I envisioned turned into white knuckles and desperate moaning. Despite our attempts to keep me focused and relaxed, I found myself wavering and wondering if I’d be able to hang on.
When I was pregnant, I spent hours reading in the bathtub. It was a simple ritual, a time to rest my body and soothe my mind. I read “Expecting Better” by Emily Oster, “Homebirth in the Hospital” by Stacey Marie Kerr, “Natural Hospital Birth” by Cynthia Gabriel, “Breastfeeding Made Simple” by Nancy Mohrbacher, and “Guide to Childbirth” by Ina May. Each book bolstered my knowledge of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood.
I saved Ina May’s “Guide to Childbirth” for last because I wanted the birth stories to be fresh in my mind when I went into labor. Whenever I read about a birthing mama who ended up laboring on the toilet, I hoped and wished that wouldn’t be me. Even though I knew it was a comfortable (and productive) place for many birthing mothers, I didn’t want it to be my story… and yet that’s exactly where I ended up.
At 3:30 am, I was sitting on the toilet when I felt my body pushing the baby down. It was a different sensation than the contractions, and it signaled a shift in the birthing process. My husband called our doula (for the first time). I didn’t want to talk, so he caught her up on the past few hours and she listened to me in the background. By then I was wailing through the most intense parts, so she suggested I try to groan and flutter my lips as I exhaled.
I was hunched over, with my arms folded across the bathroom counter when I heard her say we should meet at the hospital. I snapped to reality and asked, “Are you sure?” All along we talked about making sure we didn’t get to the hospital too early. It seemed impossible that it was actually time. But after managing on our own for the past several hours, we were ready to have someone else’s input.
My husband rushed downstairs to load the car and for the first time that night, I sensed his adrenaline. I listened to him buzz and clatter about the kitchen, diligently packing our “snack bag” with drinks and healthy eats, including the dried apricots I picked up earlier. At the same time, I stood in my closet and looked at myself in the mirror. As a sense of calm rushed over me and my contractions paused. I changed into a nursing bra and cozy black t-shirt dress, put my contacts in, and tossed a few final items in my hospital bag. Ready for whatever was next, I smiled at the girl looking back at me and knew things were about to change forever.
On my way to the car, I stopped in the bathroom for another contraction. My body was pushing with each wave and I could feel the baby moving down. Before I stepped into the car, I reached between my legs and felt my bag of water. It was slippery and firm, clearly not the baby’s head, but also very clearly on its way out.
Thankfully, we live a few minutes from the hospital. We tried calling my doctor’s office on the way over, but by the time we were speaking to an actual person, we were pulling into the emergency room’s late night driveway. My husband put the car in park and I climbed out. We held hands as we walked through the double doors and up to the intake window.
When I was eight months pregnant we went on a tour of the hospital, so that night we knew exactly where to go. The woman behind the desk was slowly entering my information into the system, and then told us we had to wait for a wheelchair. Instantly, I was prepared to protest. There was no way I was going to wait around or sit in a wheelchair! As I started to explain that we’d walk ourselves to labor and delivery, the charge nurse magically appeared.
She guided us down a long hallway and then up an elevator. When the doors opened to get off, I was stuck in my tracks, gripping the frame through another intense surge. I had to stop again on the way to our room, pressing my forearms and head into the wall. The charge nurse said something to the other nurses as she led the way, and when we made it to the delivery room, a rush of people followed.
When the nurse checked my cervix, I was completely dilated. When someone asked if I wanted to change into a hospital gown, I stayed in what I was wearing. When the doctor started telling me to push, I focused on my husband’s hushed voice. In HypnoBirthing there is an emphasis on letting the mother’s body guide baby down. I did everything possible to let go and trust that my baby and my body knew what to do.
The next chunk of time is hazy. I remember a peak of intense pressure as my son’s head was born. Then a quiet pause, and his squishy wet body being placed on mine.
Our doula was walking down the hallway when she heard his cry. As she came in, the nurses took our baby to support his breathing and I called out to my husband to stay with him. The doctor repaired a small tear and I was surprised how that was one of the more painful parts of the birthing process. I don’t remember delivering the placenta, but there was concern about how much I was bleeding. The nurses were on top of it, quickly giving me a shot, and then an IV.
Through the commotion of fixing me up, I watched intently as the pediatrician examined our baby across the room. Our doula snapped a few photos of dad and his first born son. After being separated for the first time in ten months, I was grateful when my husband placed our baby in my arms.
We stayed in the delivery room for a few extra hours while the nurses monitored my bleeding. When we finally made it to the recovery room, things began to slow down and reality started to settle in. Just like a punchline that’s delivered too quickly, I was caught off guard by how our lives changed in an instant.
It took me 14 months to write and share this birth story. For the longest time, I felt apologetic that we got to the hospital when we did. If people praised my fast labor and unmedicated delivery, I brushed them off. The whole experience was a shock and it took me a long time to figure out why.
After requesting my medical records and our doula’s notes, I started to piece together a memory of what happened. I didn’t recall telling our doula that I wanted to show up to the hospital pushing. I didn’t realize how much emphasis and focus I put on laboring at home. I had the birth I wanted, down to specific details, and the whole experience still took me by surprise.
No matter how our babies arrive, we are never truly prepared. Welcoming a new family member requires bravery and humility, honesty and trust. It cracks us open so a new, magical love can spill out. Birth is just the beginning of the journey, but it paves the way for relationships that will last a lifetime.
Photo credit: Angela Doran