a birth story with soul.
Another favourite birth story of mine, is from a dear friend in Philadelphia. We did the Birth Attendant School together in 2007 and traveled from Australia to Egypt to India for 11 months, learning the art of childbirth, palpating bellies, delivering babies. I love her story for so many reasons, just like I love her for so many reasons. Her personality shines through, and I feel as though I was right there with her when I read this. The bond created between friends present at births in a very different world is hard to break.
Bess Gerig: First baby, Birth Centre.
It was just after 12:30 in the morning on June 15th when I had my first contraction. I had been having some painful Braxton Hicks contractions so I tried not to get my hopes up. But then, 8 minutes later another one came. And another, and another– all about 8 minutes apart. The excitement in the house was palpable. For the most part I was able to sleep in between contractions and felt pretty rested by the next morning. By then the contractions were more and more painful, but still anywhere from 5-10 minutes apart. For the most part they averaged about every 7 minutes.
I spent most of the morning in our family room, over looking the garden. My contractions were much harder when I sat down so I would stand, bracing myself on the window sill “oooommmmm”ing out the open window. My friend and neighbor Amanda could hear me as she worked in the garden. My “om”s got louder and longer, but my contractions were still about 7 minutes apart. Matt, my husband, had been on the phone with the midwife a few times throughout the morning and she insisted that we wait till the contractions were 4 minutes apart, 1 minute long for 1 hour. I started to bleed a bit so Matt called again and she said we could come on in if we liked. We gathered up our things. My friend Amy packed some food, Matt grabbed the bags, the car seat, called my friends, Danielle and Lindsey and told them to meet us there.
By 2:30 pm we had the car loaded up and were on our way to Bryn Mawr Birth Center. The 30 minute drive was the most painful drive I’ve ever taken. All I could do was shout “om” with every contraction. It was awful. When we arrived at the Birth Center I got out of the car and had another contraction in the parking lot. Matt held on to me as I “om”ed loud enough for all of Bryn Mawr to hear. The midwife heard me and met us in the parking lot. She checked me once we got into the “Yellow Room” and discovered why the car ride had been so painful. I was already at 7 cm!
The next hour was spent in the tub. The 30 minutes after that was spent in the shower with someone holding the shower head on my belly and back. Danielle, Lindsey and Amy later told me that they could hardly hold back laughter because apparently I kept doing this super sexy dance while totally naked, holding my huge belly every time a contraction would come. My “om”s were louder and louder. I remarked on how the women in India did this lying down on hard metal beds (Bess was with me on the Birth Attendant School). I felt so blessed, and so overwhelmed. I started feeling self conscious on how much water we were wasting. Both Matt and the midwife assured me it wasn’t getting wasted. But I opted to try laboring on the bed for a while. Matt tried to put on the birth mix we’d spent hours making, but at the first sound of music I told him to turn it off.
When I finally made it over to the bed the midwife checked me again. All I had left was a little lip of cervix. These contractions were the hardest. I had to really concentrate on keeping my “om”s low and productive. They wanted so badly to turn into a scream. I had such strong back labor that some one would have to push on my back with all their strength with every contraction. I tried standing, I tried being on the birth ball, I tried being on the bed on all fours. Nothing was comfortable, but the contractions did their job and I was 10 cm dilated in what seemed like no time. And then it hit me. I was about to push this baby out. The whole labor I kept saying- “I’m so nervous to meet her.” I had been so overwhelmed with the desire to not be pregnant anymore, but I hadn’t thought about what that meant. I was about to have a baby.
The midwife told me I could push as soon as I felt the need. I remember many women in the birth books I had read said that pushing was such a relief. I couldn’t even imagine pushing, even though it was time. I got on all fours on the bed and held on to the iron head board. A few contractions later I understood what that “uncontrollable urge to push” was. But I found no relief in the pushing. I suppose it was a nice change from the constant waves of contractions I’d been experiencing, but pushing was completely and totally overwhelming. My growls were so loud and so primal. I’m sure I could have been heard throughout the entire Birth Center. But I didn’t care. And I didn’t care that I was exposed for all of the world to see. It was like I had tapped into my inner animal. My body completely and totally took over. After each contraction I would switch between “Oh Jesus!” “Oh Shit!” and “Oh Quinoa!” which is what we called our baby before we named her. I had never met with the midwife that was now about to deliver my baby. But I couldn’t have asked for a better woman to share this experience with. She was endlessly encouraging.
I pushed for 40 minutes with Lindsey on one side, Amy on the other taking turns massaging my back. Danielle was filming while Matt was up by my face, holding my hand. I kept saying that I felt like nothing was happening. I was pushing so hard, but I felt no progress. And then POP! My water broke all over the bed, clean and warm, and I felt the first bit of relief. Then more pushing and the momentary relief was gone. They assured me that she was coming– they could see her head. And then there it was- the ring of fire. I felt the burn and knew that she was right there. I kept picturing all of the babies I’d delivered, and what mine must look like as her beautiful little head crowned. They asked if I wanted to catch her like I had requested. I moaned “NO.” And kept pushing. They asked if I wanted to see her in the mirror. I moaned “NO.” and kept pushing. All I could think of was getting this baby out. I reached down and felt her slimy little head. Then as she was crowning they told me I needed to move onto my back because she was so far down they couldn’t get a good read on her heart beat. (Which had remained beautifully strong the whole time.) In the midst of pushing delirium I looked at them– Are you kidding me? You want me to flip over right now? The baby’s head is about to exit my vagina! But I quietly obeyed and somehow flipped over onto my left side with my right leg up in the air.
I pushed with every last bit of energy I had in me. I have never felt so overtaken in all of my life. And then another POP! This time I heard a burst of laughter. HER HEAD WAS OUT! One more push followed by the best feeling I have ever felt in my life. Beautiful sweet RELIEF. It was 6:25 pm, 18 hours after that first contraction. A split second later they laid my beautiful warm, slimy baby onto my stomach. “What the hell!” I shouted. So overwhelmed that this was mine. “My baby. My baby, I can’t believe she’s my baby!” I was totally unaware of anyone else around me. I looked at her tiny little face, and rubbed her back, like I had rubbed so many other tiny backs, and encouraged her to cry. Then out came the sweetest little cry you’ve ever heard and her little face pinked up! Her apgar scores were great, and she started nursing soon after her arrival. After about a minute I remembered Matt! I looked up at him totally overwhelmed that this was ours. He was crying and laughing looking at our little baby. In fact everyone was!
I was unaware of how much I was bleeding, but they gave me a shot of pitocin to help. Then it was time to push out the placenta. I had trailing membranes, but after a bit of help from the midwife the placenta was removed in tact. It was heart-shaped! I realized at this point that no one had told me for sure that she was a girl! The midwife told me to check. She was. My tiny little girl.
My perineum didn’t tear, thankfully, but her hand was up at her head when she came out and that left a tiny tear, so I got three stitches. I think everyone worries about tears and the possibility that your vagina will not have the elasticity it once had after birth. I’ve heard things like yoni eggs really do help strengthen your vagina and maintain elasticity after childbirth…I personally didn’t try it, but it’s something to consider if you’re worried about tearing after your labor. I was able to hold her as long as I wanted to and when I was ready they took her- did her measurements and gave her a little bath. Much to my surprise she weighed 9 lbs 3 ounces and was 20 inches long. She was the most beautiful baby I’d ever seen. Her face was really swollen, her cheeks were bruised and her right eye was totally blood shot. But I loved her.
An hour or so later we named her Veda Earlene Hazel Gerig. Veda means knowledge and truth. Earlene was Matt’s very special Grandma, and Hazel is my very special Grandma. At 6 am the next morning we took our little baby home. And our lives haven’t been the same since.
She is amazing.
And I still cannot believe she is mine.