We're so excited to share Lisa's birth story today. I read this on a cold winter night...and cried. Her writing is beautiful. Her story is beautiful. Thank you for sharing, Lisa!
On a Tuesday in April I felt a twinge in my back. It cramped and ached, and I knew what it was. The baby boy sleeping on my chest right now was burrowing in, just a tiny clump of cells, and settling down for a nine-month wait toward a cold, windy, beautiful night in December.
He sat inside me, and I smiled to myself and held that knowledge close and safe and quiet. I waited two weeks to tell my husband, positive test in hand. And then we waited, and shared secret smiles through graduations and holidays and birthdays and anniversaries for fourteen weeks until we watched my father unwrap a tiny onesie on Father’s Day, and we let our families and friends share in our secret.
The months flew, filled with first kicks and ultrasounds, to-do lists and nursery projects, baby showers, babymoons, maternity pictures, childbirth classes, and last-minute jitters, and finally, in the last few weeks, we waited. We sat on our couch and felt the anticipation and excitement fade into stale air. Our baby stayed hidden, day after day, waiting for his moment.
At my 40-week appointment, with no dilation and no signs of labor, we scheduled an induction for December 28th, two weeks past my due date. In the span of three minutes, my midwife had said every one of my least favorite words – induction, Cytotec, Pitocin, and epidural. I cried on the way home and every day after as I felt my hopes and plans for my baby’s birth slipping through my fingers.
We had two weeks to do everything we could to make my baby come, and we did everything, day after day. Still he waited. We bought a treadmill, and I walked for hours, ignoring my aching back and swollen feet. After months of planning and preparing, I felt helpless, powerless, and desperate.
On the morning of December 21st, six days past my due date (though it felt like six weeks), I woke up with a sense of hope. I felt mild cramps in my back. Were they real contractions? Maybe, but I don’t really know, I told my husband. I started tracking them at 9 AM, mostly just for fun, and my husband left to run errands. I cleaned, straightened up, packed last-minute hospital things (just in case), and smiled to myself as my contractions got stronger and stronger and inched closer and closer together. I waited, expecting that with each next contraction, the sensation would move to my belly and out of my back, but it did not.
My husband came home at 1 PM and asked if there had been any contractions while he was gone. I told him, and he said, “Oh, wow, minute-long contractions, 35 minutes apart? That’s great.” and I said no. Not 35 minutes apart. Three to five minutes apart.
“What? Why didn’t you call me to come home? We have to go to the hospital.”
“Well, there’s no baby coming out of me, so I think we’re okay. But yeah, maybe let’s go soon.”
So we packed up the car, took out the trash, vacuumed the rug, put the dog outside, and when the house was spotless and there was nothing left to do, we drove to the hospital.
We walked into labor and delivery, and I smiled and said, “Hi, I’m in labor.” We sat in triage and waited, and I felt a rush of excitement return. There would be no induction. I could have the beautiful, calm, natural, and intervention-free childbirth that I had envisioned for so long. I waited through contractions in our tiny room, contractions that sat stubbornly and exclusively in my back, and my husband rubbed my swollen toes. I would get the birth I wanted. I could use the labor tub, the birthing ball, my secret bag of snacks, and the countless other tools and techniques that my husband and I had practiced over the previous months. A nurse checked me, and as she did, I moved from zero to three centimeters. It was just the start, but it was something. We walked the halls of the hospital for an hour, stopping once, then twice, then three times on each lap to breathe through a contraction. My husband pressed his hands into my low back through each one and held my hand as we walked.
After an hour, I had stopped dilating. I was holding tight at three and a half. The nurse called my midwife, talked for a quick minute, and handed the phone to me. My midwife told me to go home if I really wanted a shot at a natural birth. They would admit us if we wanted to stay, since I was a week late, but we knew she was right, and we drove back home, disappointed and prepared for hours of waiting.
I sat in a warm bath, sipped a cold smoothie, and took deep, slow breaths. I prayed that my water would not break, and that my contractions would move out of my back. Could I really manage the pain of back labor if my water broke early? And how would we know to go back to the hospital? We didn’t have to wait long for either answer. My bath cooled, and I got out, sat on our exercise ball for half a minute, went to the bathroom, and my water broke, decisively. Two hours after we had left, we were back at the hospital.
At 7 PM we checked back into our triage room. I had only seconds between each contraction to talk, undress, and somehow position myself on my side on the flat, three-foot-wide bed. With barely room to move, my husband stood behind me, pressing and massaging at awkward angles. A nurse checked me – roughly – and gave me the news. Four centimeters. She left before I could slap her.
We sat alone, and we waited. As the minutes ticked by, I breathed louder, then louder, and clutched the side of the bed. My husband pressed as hard as he could, until there was no amount of counterpressure that would help. I could not move. There was no room and no time. There was no calming music, no labor tub, no dimmed lights or lighthearted distractions. Just breathing and vocalizing and contraction after ever-stronger contraction. My back cramped and ached, tightened and throbbed, as we waited to be checked, waited for a room, and waited for our baby to finally be born.
After an hour and a half, I caught my breath for long enough between contractions to say those infamous words, the words that almost every woman says near the end:
“I can’t do it anymore, I need an epidural, and I need to push.”
I was in transition. But as far as I knew, I was still four centimeters. All I knew was I could not bear that level of pain for unknown hours more, and that I needed to push. And they won’t let you push at four centimeters.
My husband ran, yelled at a nurse to help, and within minutes three new nurses crowded into our room, and two stood right outside. One said, “She’s eight centimeters,” and we were off.
The nurses rushed me to a room and somehow transferred me to the delivery bed. One stayed behind to frantically call my midwife, one worked on my epidural request, and another checked me again.
I was ready. I was ten centimeters. From four to ten in an hour and a half, and no one was ready but me. My midwife was speeding through traffic, still on her way, and was there any other doctor that could catch my baby?
The nurses said I deserved a doctor to catch the baby. I laughed, on the inside at least, and said that I did not care even a little who caught my baby. I just needed to push.
But there was a doctor on her way, and I had to wait. I breathed low and loud. I heard a vague new voice past the sound of my own lungs, and I opened my eyes for a second. The doctor took a look, said I could push, and I did.
I pushed, and when I did, the pain vanished. The excruciating back labor turned to productive, manageable pressure. There was no need for an epidural, and no time for one, anyway. The excitement surged back through me, and It was, dare I say, almost fun.
My midwife swept into the room as I pushed again, and she smiled and took her seat.
She said, “Make lower sounds,” and I did.
She said, “Hold your breath when you push,” and I did.
I tilted my pelvis when she said to, focused my energy where she said to, and rested between pushes when she said to. And although she let me push when I felt the need, by myself and undirected, the rest of the direction was hers, and it made all the difference. She encouraged me, involved my husband, and told me I was doing well, and I had to trust her, because each push felt the same as the last.
And then, there was progress. After nine months and one week of waiting, twelve hours of breathing, and forty-five minutes of pushing, in one magnificent moment, my baby was born.
The feeling of my son passing from me and into the world, both the physical and the emotional sensation, is one I will never, ever forget.
They said, open your eyes, and I did, and he did.
He cried, and I breathed, and they laid him on my chest.
There is more, of course. Stitches and afterbirth and measurements and visitors, but all of that is the beginning of a different story, not the end of this one, and it’s a story that is only partially mine. It is my son’s story, too. It’s the beginning of my husband’s as a father, my parents as grandparents, and my siblings as happy aunts and uncles.
What was mine to know and feel and carry for so long is not only mine anymore. Other people hold him and feed him and dress him now. Others will play with him, take him to the zoo, cry when he cries, and smile when he smiles.
After holding him so close and waiting for his special moment for so long, he is here. And though there are diapers to wash and rugs to vacuum and freezer meals to defrost, he sleeps on my chest and I don’t put him down, not yet. Soon enough he’ll wake and cry, the dog will ask to go outside, again, and my husband will come home from work. For now, if just for a few more minutes, it can all wait, and I’ll kiss his head and feel his tiny breaths on my neck.