I woke up with the breath caught in my chest. I felt heavy. The anxiety was crippling. I hated the vulnerability of wanting something so much.
Ascending the steep staircase, there was only a few more minutes before we would know. I was 13 weeks and at this point 6 months earlier the Doppler had fallen silent.
The early weeks of this pregnancy had proved more difficult than any other time in my life. Extreme nausea set in the back of my throat like a giant cotton ball making any attempt to eat or drink a game of chicken with my fragile gag reflex. Days became weeks in bed, postponed work deadlines, meals haphazardly thrown together, too much screentime for the kids. The side effects of so much quiet time and discomfort was a growing bargain I made with God. "I can handle this if you promise me there'll be a baby at the end of it all. "
Because last time there hadn't been.
So the fear kicked in. What if this is all for nothing.
She couldn't find the Doppler. There I was, lying on the bed with my shirt up and waistband rolled down, and it was nowhere to be found. Keep breathing, I told myself. That morning had already felt like an eternity and each minute a century more. I watched the one-year-old push around a toy car, grateful for the distraction. The midwife ran down to her car and back, squeezed the cool gel on my flat and anxious belly and turned it on. His loud heartbeat filled the room. As if he was saying, "it's OK mama, i'm here. I'm OK." Tears flowed and a thousand pounds lifted off me. He had outlived his brother, he had survived past the 13 week miscarriage mark. It had not been for nothing.
The weeks that followed gave space from my thoughts and emotions to build trust in what was happening in my body. My tummy pooched then popped, I dug out the maternity jeans I had bought for last time but not yet used, my mind filled with the future and didn't shy away from its joy.
As the nausea and exhaustion lightened up my thoughts turned toward labor. Unlike other women, each successive birth of mine had gotten more intense, not less. I found myself less prepared in general and increasingly more impatient towards the end of each labor, leaving me feeling like I had somehow done it wrong. After an intervention-heavy first hospital birth, my second, born at home, still left me feeling isolated and unsupported. My third – despite being in a birth center – left me feeling and dignified, unheard and out of control.
All three had been natural births, but it was my first where I was augmented with Pitocin and then had my placenta ripped out by the cord due to some hospital BS timeline rushing me off to her emergency D&C that still left me feeling the most badass and empowered. Was it because I hadn't known any better? Had lower expectations?
A book I came across as I hit the midway point of my pregnancy was "Birthing Freedom" – a birth memoir of a southern California woman who would overcome her fear to have fun in labor. Something about her tone and story resonated. My mind open and finally had a place to rest in creating a different experience this time, instead of only knowing what I didn't want and trying to prevent the same disempowering feelings.
As the end of my pregnancy drew near I got good at intentionally writing over my old programmed perceptions. It helped that I knew this would be my last pregnancy - the end was in sight. I wielded the power of my perception and focused on how good I felt, how lucky I was to be pregnant, how well I was sleeping. I tried to find that balance between listen to my body is cues for rest and filling my days with enough activity to keep my mind challenged and engaged and not wander into the what if's of fear.
It was night 10 of prodromal labor and a day past my due date. I had dealt with a week of the same with my third and was handling myself much better mentally. I had just voiced my feelings of the pain of waiting, the frustration of not knowing what to expect with all the logistical pieces of this labor. My parents had arrived and were on call for childcare but my biggest worry was how we would make it across town to the birth center through the busy 94 tunnel corridor and through all the lane closures and construction. 25 minutes with no traffic, I feared what laboring unsupported in the car for up to an hour would feel like. The not knowing was exhausting. Yes, I could wait another two weeks but I really didn't want to.
That night I woke up with contractions – nothing new there – went to pee and came back to bed. Checked the time, 1:30 AM. Another contraction started – ouch. Wait, could this be it!? Could I be so lucky and not have to wait any longer!? My doubt turned into collected excitement – I didn't want to jinx myself. I tried unsuccessfully to go back to sleep and started making calls and packing bags instead. The intensity picked up and we headed to the birth center at four.
One last contraction before climbing in the passenger side and – wah wah – we needed gas to make it the 10 miles to the birth center. Classic.
Soon we were sailing down 94 - woo hoo no traffic!! Andrew was hesitant to speed or go through red lights despite my insistence. My contractions slowed down, give me respite for the drive. It felt incredible to arrive at the birth center. It was finally happening! We made it. Bohemian Rhapsody played in the background as we shut off the engine.
One by one my birth team arrived and I settled into the intense contractions with a sense of peace. Everything was coming together.
The next hours went by in a blur. Contractions stayed strong although I found my mind doubting if I was "doing it right" in between. Should I walk? Should I lie on the bed? Even after the mental prep for three other natural births and the unfallible belief my body knew what she was doing, I found myself doubting. The midwives kept gently reminding me things were going great. I was doing it "right."
Around five I got in the tub. What a relief the water was, both the warmth and buoyant support allowing me to get into different positions to ease the intensity. Classic rock music played in the background, daylight strengthened outside the second-story window. The doula noticed a curious squirrel out in the trees, even making eye contact at times.
As the hours were on my thoughts became impatient. I was staying as upbeat and positive as possible, even smiling through contractions to lighten the pain. But after five more hours I was feeling angry things weren't over yet.
Somewhere around the halfway mark of labor (around 7 AM) in my impatience I tuned into the baby and kind of dared him to come out. It was then I sensed his hesitation, not wanting to hurt me, sensitive to my fear. So I resolved then and there to let all my fear go.
From that moment on I kept to myself in a place of present readiness, arms outstretched to him as if he was a kid on the playground, scared to come down the slide. I realized there was no rushing him, there was no way to make him hurry. Only joyful outstretched arms and encouragement.
My affirmations changed. "You can do it, yes just like that. Good boy. Yessssss. Just like that. Oooh that feels good." Smiles. Openness. Trust in the timing. His timing.
I felt his head go down down down. I tried to stay loose an open despite the peak of each contraction flooding my senses to white out. My impatience/excitement to be done motivated me to bear down into the intensity and bring him closer. I reached down and checked myself at one point and he was only one knuckle deep. His little head was right there. Andrew felt him there too and says this was the highlight of labor for him. Our boy was almost here.
"I'm so lucky" I heard myself say as tears welled in my eyes. So lucky to get to experience birth. To experience the edge of my strength. To participate in creation in this way.
Before I knew it he was crowning and his head was out. I was reclining in the tub and excited to catch him in this different position, all my other births were on my hands and knees. I cradled his head in my hands and let my relief flood over. "It's almost done." Then the next contraction swept over and I pushed deep, right into the center of it.
The midwife's clear voice spoke out, "Alli, turn over. Keep your bottom under the water. Plant your foot on the ground." I instantly flipped over, who knows how, as her hand slid up beside his body into me to unhook his shoulder. The next contraction barreled into me – I was splitting open – and he was finally free. After a moment to collect myself from the intensity I turned around to meet him. My leg went up and over the cord and he came into my arms. My sweet boy was here. Born just like his siblings with me on hands and knees.
Emotion exploded from every pore, the intense pain became intense everything. Joy, relief, sadness, excitement, disbelief, amazement. We had waited so long to meet this little being, to hold him and know he was OK. It was finally time. We didn't have to wait any longer.
The afterpains took my breath away and the placenta was born quickly. He latched within a few minutes and I happily swallowed all of the homeopathic remedies offered for pain. We stayed resting in the tub for a while and the midwife calmed my fears, "he's right in the perfect spot, skin to skin with you." The lack of concern and shoulds was unusual and comforting. All was well.
All in all I can't believe how incredible and healing this birth was. I met my fear head on and chose to stay open and smile instead. I am thrilled we hired a photographer so I can go back for these moments again and again. I'm surprised by my beauty and composure. I'm interested to witness my husband's and doula's hands of support in the photos and video. I'm deeply grateful to be able to walk through the birth again without being blinded by sensation.
Watch her birth video - it's like no other labor I've seen. She's so in tune with her body and connected with her baby in the most blissful way.