This is the birth story of me, my husband, and our baby.
At midnight I lost my mucus plug. We were watching some movie with Chris and Maryanne. It was Sunday night, April 30, 2006. I had some minor backache going. I didn’t mention it to anyone, just kept on watching the movie. I went to sleep around 2. I didn’t sleep very well because the backache continued all night. In the morning I called Hillary (our doula) and Denise (our Birthing From Within teacher, who we asked to be with us for the birth) to give them a heads up that I was having contractions but that I was fine.
May 1 was the day of the big immigrant rights protests and boycott in LA. We went to breakfast with Chris and Maryanne—the first 2 restaurants we went to were closed for the boycott. We ended up at the Long Beach Café. I was having contractions. I brought along the sheet to mark their start time and duration & wrote it down during breakfast, sort of casually noting them. They hurt but I felt they were preferable to the backache because they started and stopped. It was exciting but I also knew it could go on for some time, or it could stop. I was trying to assume it would be a long process. I was a bit nervous, too, not knowing what would happen, but very excited that something was happening! I felt cool being out and about while having these surges. I think Chris kept anticipating that we’d have to rush to the hospital at any moment.
After breakfast, Chris and Maryanne left. Billy and I both laid down to try to get some rest. I napped for a while. I listened to the hypbirth contraction CD. It was much harder to relax with contractions then it had been in practice! At noon I woke Billy up to write down the times of the contractions because I couldn’t do it anymore. I was excited and nervous. I didn’t know how long my labor would last or when we would have the baby. I couldn’t decide what to do—yoga, crochet the “labor blanket” I’d gotten yarn for, take a walk by the ocean, dance…. As usual I had too many activities lined up. I danced for a while to Swamp Mama Johnson, moving my hips. That helped the sensations be less intense, and it was fun.
At about 2, Hillary called and said she thought she’d start over to be sure to miss traffic. I thought that was good but wasn’t sure I needed her yet, and I really liked the intimacy of just me and Billy laboring together. We decided to take a walk by the ocean, thinking we better go now if we were going to go at all. We paused when I needed to pause—moving my hips at streetcorners when surges came—but mostly kept going. Billy brought the Salms’ videocamera. I danced a bit on the beach with the contractions. I felt self-conscious but hardly anyone was there and no one was paying attention. It felt very ceremonious to be at the ocean during labor, like part of a big rite of passage to which the ocean was a witness. After a while, we started back to the house. As we walked up the stairs from the beach I thought that each step I took was helping move further through labor. I went slowly but steadily.
Hillary called and said she was making better time than she had anticipated. At the house, I sat in the moon chair with my legs wide. I kept thinking my water would break so I kept arranging and re-arranging a big waterproof pad wherever I sat. When Hillary got there we talked and decided she would go tool around Long Beach for a bit and then come back. I felt good to have more time of just me and Billy together. (As I look back now, I feel like it was our last time together—it was our last time together before we became parents.)
I don’t remember exactly what we did. It was getting more intense. It hurt in my back and inside me. Later I realized that what I was feeling was my cervix! Crazy! That’s not a part of my body I had ever been aware of before. At one point Billy started helping me do non-focused awareness, asking me what I heard, what was touching me. It was hard to get my head into it. I was trying a couple different positions to see if it helped reduce the pain in my back. I was trying to be focused but the pain sensation was distracting.
Hillary came back at just the right time, about 7:00 in the evening. We got her big birth ball and Billy inflated it. I was having pain in one particular point in my back during the surges. Billy put counter-pressure there and it helped. Hillary asked me a couple times if I wanted to do the finger-drops, and I finally tuned in enough to say yes. Hillary led me into the hypbirth techniques, which really helped me relax. She led me through visualizations that I had written, of times and places that were calm and vivid, like sitting on a foggy beach, laying on a blanket in my parents’ backyard, taking a walk on the farm. Billy said later that he thought while she was describing the walk he and I took, “she’s never seen it, she’s just describing it. What does she think it looks like?”
I was vocalizing with each surge. Every time a surge started, I would open my mouth as relaxed as possible and moan, and move the sound to the lowest note I could sustain. At first I think I was a bit self-conscious, but it helped so much I got into it quickly. It loosened my body. Billy and Hillary vocalized with me. That helped so much, too, to make me feel quite normal, moaning around in the bedroom. I wondered what the neighbors thought, but as soon as I had that thought I realized I didn’t care at all. Maybe they’d think there was a cow in our bedroom!
We did that for several hours. Every visualization Hillary moved me through was helping me be physically relaxed and mentally focused inside what was happening in my body. When I thought about it later it felt like she had been driving me through labor, to get deepest into it as quickly as possible, to actively intensify the process. At times it was overwhelming and I wanted to slow it down. But I stayed focused on the visualizations and the vocalization. I’ve never been so focused in my life. I remember she asked me to visualize the circle of women standing around me, growing bigger and bigger all the time, expanding and getting bigger as more women join the circle. Sometimes I wanted the circle to stay the same size for just a minute! But I stayed in it.
At about 9:30, I began to think about when we should go to the hospital. I didn’t want to be in full-on labor in the car. I somehow didn’t realize I was already in full-on labor! I decided it was time to go. First we were going to go in the Acura, but I didn’t want to be in a car seat. So Billy emptied out the bus and I sat on the floor with the birth ball behind me. I remember walking out of our door and thinking “I’m walking on the sidewalk and I’m in labor. I’m going to give birth. But it looks the same outside as always.” I called on the cell phone to tell L&D I was coming and I was in labor. I didn’t know what to say—it seemed like I should be making an announcement or proclamation, and it sounded so mundane and yet so odd to say “I’m in labor and I’m coming in!” They didn’t seem excited as befitted the craziness of it. I also called Denise and asked her to come meet us at the hospital. She was excited.
On the drive every time we went over a bump I pushed my feet against the backs of the front seats and my back against the birth ball so I didn’t get so jarred. We took a wrong turn and went on PCH south for a minute, then turned around and went north. We hadn’t given Hillary directions so Billy called her—or maybe I did—to say how to get there. It was weird to be out in the evening after being in our own world vocalizing together in our own space.
We got to the hospital. I got out and waited while Billy parked the bus. I waited outside where the ambulances go. Someone was smoking. I had a contraction/surge and tried to play it cool so no one I didn’t know would pay attention to me. I felt shy and private. When Billy got there he was carrying stuff and I knew I’d packed more than I’d probably need. (We never did bring everything in from the car!) We walked down the hallways toward L&D. I had a contraction by the pay phones. I squatted a bit and leaned over and moved my hips. Someone asked if I was ok, a staffperson I think, and we said yes, just in labor. Did she offer a wheelchair? I don’t remember. We got into L&D. I remember that there was no obvious person or place to walk to, to announce our/my arrival. I had so much anxiety during my pregnancy about going into that department. When we went in I just wanted to be believed and given a space where I could be focused again. It was distracting to be in the bright lights with people around, trying to figure out who to talk to. I don’t think anyone said, “Welcome! Congratulations!”
They put us in a labor room. I think it was about 10:00. I had 5 copies of my birth plan with me and I first handed one to the woman who showed us the room. Immediately I was told to put on a hospital gown and get an IV. I decided not to fight the gown although I’d brought a big t-shirt. But I did refuse the IV. The nurse immediately went and told the doctor, who came and told me I had to have a hep-lock. I said ok. I just didn’t want to have my movement restricted by an IV. Then they put a fetal monitor belt around my gut and I laid down on my side on the bed. Billy was there and I always knew where he was. Denise arrived at some point. Hillary of course was there too. One of my entourage turned off the lights in the room. I think the bathroom light was on and of course the glowing face of the monitor provided some light too. I’m pretty sure Denise turned off the sound on the monitor. I tried to relax and get my head back into it and let go of everything else. Everyone vocalized with me again. I felt so safe and surrounded by people that would protect me and help me get what I wanted. We created a dim, private space where everyone was moaning together with me. It was such an amazing experience of feeling fully surround-supported. Nothing would happen that I wasn’t ok with. That was the most important feeling in the world to me. It was wonderful. I could just relax and be focused inside myself.
From here on all I can write is flashes of moments. I don’t know what came first.
At one point Billy was doing an acupressure thing on a reflex point between my first and second toes and Hillary was by my head. She switched places with him so that he was closer to me.
At one point I was having a really intense surge. I remember I vocalized very high and tight. Everyone helped me lower my tone and it helped. During the surge, Hillary said to me, “Open your eyes. Look at me.” I did, with effort, huffing foul breath at her. She said, “Liz, this is good. You’re doing it.” And after it was over she told me to look at her again. She said, “Liz, you don’t have to do that one again.”
I remember hearing Hillary and Denise start to talk to me when I was still in surge-mode, focused and intense. They thought the surge had ended, but it hadn’t. I said something and Hillary said, “You’re still feeling it, aren’t you?” I think they watched the monitor, I’m not sure, but I remember one of them saying, “Wow, that was a long one.” I remember at one point seeing them watch the monitor, and thinking how true it was that people can’t resist TVs, even people who know deeply that the real action is in the body that’s being measured.
At some point a nurse came in to draw my blood. I was in surge-mode. She was just going to walk over and poke a needle in me. Maybe she didn’t realize I was doing something. Maybe women who are in labor signify by screaming, in her world. In any case, she didn’t ask. She would’ve just done it if Hillary or Denise hadn’t said to her, “She’s having a contraction. Can you wait a minute?”
I think that I remember a nurse coming in to say the monitor wasn’t showing anything, the monitor in the nurses’ station. I tuned her out as much as I could. I think she adjusted the monitor belt. I knew I was in labor.
All during this period Hillary was giving me the most intense visualizations of circles getting bigger. It’s funny it felt like she was doing something to me, when really she was probably trying to keep pace with what my body was doing on its own.
I had to go to the bathroom once. Everybody went with me!! I normally would not be ok with that. But I needed my team around me all the time. Billy held me up from behind, straddling the toilet so I could crouch. I don’t remember what Denise and Hillary did but I know I was glad they were there. I remember they were kneeling or crouching in front of me. As I pissed and pooped my body felt good to get rid of what I didn’t need. I heard Denise say she wished she’d had a camera to take a picture of me leaning on Billy.
At 10 the doctor had checked my cervix. I really didn’t know that would hurt so much!! She said I was at some small number. At 11, after I’d been in the room an hour, she came back. I was at 9 something. No wonder it had been such an intense hour!! My whole body and self had been working hard, making up for lost progress from the trip over. I think that’s something Hillary said, that she’d bet I’d been further dilated at home than what the doctor found at 10, and it made sense to me. I’d been feeling some fear and some adrenalin and that slows labor.
I remember Hillary asking me if I wanted to be in a different position, or try some different positions. I had emphasized to her previously that I wanted to do that. But now all I wanted was to be able to relax completely between surges, and so I wanted to stay on my side. In retrospect I can’t believe how much that monitor would’ve immobilized me if I’d wanted to move. It was also easier not to have to fight that battle.
After the check at 11, the doctor said I could move to the delivery room. (I remember the pre-natal care midwife I had told me the only difference was the lighting abilities in the two rooms—doctors like to have bright lights for “their” work.) I moved to get back up on the bed, but she said I’d have to walk! I remember saying, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” But Hillary said, “Liz, it’s good. It’ll help you.” I believed her and so I did it. But I had a contraction in the bright hallway, and no one was showing me exactly which path to follow to go to the new room! I had to say to a nurse, “excuse me” as I went around her. Hello, get out of the way of the pregnant and birthing woman! I was annoyed at the disruption of my space.
In the delivery room I climbed up and got on my left side again. I had a few more contractions. Then I felt like I needed to take a shit, and with that contraction I did a light push and it felt right. So I said, “I think I’m starting to feel the urge to push.”
Again from here I don’t know the order of things. I remember seeing the doctor with a clear welding mask covering her entire face and a mask over her mouth under it, with big gloves up past her elbows, the kind I wore to do a garbage audit before we started the recycling program. She was all gowned up. She looked like she was getting ready for a poison-spewing alien to emerge straight outta my belly. She did nothing, arms crossed.
I couldn’t figure out how to do the pushing. For the surges I was just trying to get out of the way of my body. I was vocalizing to move the surges through my body. But that didn’t work with pushing. Somehow I had to do it differently. I said something out loud about not knowing how to do it. One of the nurses said I should hold my breath, that vocalizing was letting the power go. I didn’t understand and Billy said it to me again. I tried it. It helped. I tried to seize the power of the surge and grab onto it and push with it, not get out of the way but get in the middle of it and use it. I slowly figured it out. It was frustrating and I wished I had known it would be different.
At one point a nurse came in from the hallway and started shouting numbers at me. “1, 2, 3, 4, ….” One of the nurses who’d been in there said, “I don’t think she wants you to do that.” It was so weird. Why would that be helpful to me, stranger? READ MY BIRTH PLAN!!
I needed something to push against with my legs. Hillary was by my head, and I think she had the videocamera on. Denise held my left leg. Billy was on my right. I pushed at him with my foot and he asked, “Are you trying to push me away?” I or someone said no, I wanted to push against him when I push. So he held my right leg. I never wanted to push him away less in my life. I wanted him right where he was!!! He was so steady for me, always beside me, always paying attention. I loved him so intensely and appreciatively while I was laboring.
I felt that I had to be more focused. I started having a little bit of concern about whether I was “progressing” fast enough in pushing. I didn’t want to ask because I didn’t want to start the nurses or doctor thinking about that if they weren’t. But I knew there are often rules about how long someone can push. Plus, it was exhausting hard work! So I wanted to get it done! So I said, “I want this baby out!” People laughed but what I wanted was to be focused on pushing the baby out. I didn’t mean it like it sounded. I wasn’t impatient. I just wanted a mission statement for this phase, I guess.
So I pushed. It was hard. Someone (maybe me, maybe someone who knew my birth plan) asked for a mirror so I could see my vagina. I couldn’t look away. I said, “It’s mesmerizing.” I saw Jack’s head!! But it looked just like my skin. I asked someone to help me feel the baby’s head. It was so soft. So soft. It didn’t feel like a head with a skull, it felt like the head of a sweet wet soft creature. Then the nurse bumped the mirror during the next push and the angle went bad. I couldn’t get her to fix it.
I think the doctor broke my bag without asking. Or maybe it broke on its own. It gushed. It felt good, a release of pressure.
I swear that during one push, the doctor or a nurse grabbed the side of my vagina and pulled it open. It hurt!!! I screamed at that. I don’t really know if someone did that or not, but that’s what it felt like.
Then one nurse told me that in between pushes the head was going back in, so I should hold it between pushes. That seemed stupid to me because if it was happening it was probably natural, right? I think I remember Denise saying something like that. But I tried to do it anyway.
So. I pushed a tiny person out of my body. First his head. Then his body!! Then there was a baby on my belly. I was blown away. And it was a boy. I had always imagined myself the mother of a girl, and I was astonished. I said to Billy, “I guess that solves the name question.” He looked at me with his beautiful eyes, in his wide face. He looked at me in the eyes. He was so beautiful and perfect. He had little fingernails that were sort of broken off, like Nosferatu. I told him he had little vampire fingernails. It seemed inappropriate but I really didn’t know what to say.
He didn’t cry. I held him close. Billy hovered over us. We looked each other over.
His official birth time was 1:48 am, May 2, 2006. Almost a May Day baby!
I cut the umbilical cord myself. Billy didn’t want to, because it’s a stupid symbol of the dad separating the baby from the mother. I did want to. We waited til it was done pulsing. Then I cut it. It was tough, like leather. I had to saw at it a bit with the scissors.
A nurse walked up to me with an IV. I said, “What is that?” She said, “Pitocin, to help you deliver the afterbirth.” Billy said, “Do you want that?” And I said, “No. I just want to nurse my baby.” READ MY BIRTH PLAN!
Hillary helped me try to latch him on. I think we got him on both sides. I had no idea how to tell if it was a good latch or not. (Breastfeeding story—or, saga—to come later.)
I pushed out the placenta. When it was out they put it in a big metal bowl and I looked at it. I wanted to be sure to see it; I’d never seen one before. It looked like a big bloody liver. Bright, dark red.
Then a nurse was going to take Jack to wash him. Billy said, “Should I go with him?” and Denise said yes.
Someone brought me some food. I was tired and hungry and still quite shocked to have a baby.
The doctor sewed me up where I’d torn. I wanted to know how much I’d torn. She didn’t give me a straight answer. She just said, “Not bad.”
And Billy and Jack and I went out of L&D and into postpartum. It was the first thing we did as a family. Billy still hadn’t held him, which I regret! I should have handed Jack to him almost first thing. In our room, he held the baby and looked at him. I looked at them.
I had a beautiful, wonderful labor and birth. Breastfeeding was so hard for me, for us, for so long. But my pregnancy, labor, and birth were wonderful. My birth experience left me feeling strong and powerful and capable, and very proud. I’m really grateful to Denise for teaching Birthing from Within and helping create a great birth experience. I’m really grateful to the Birth Connection for connecting me to Hillary and providing Hypbirth classes. I’m really grateful to Hillary for facilitating me through a completely positive inner experience and helping to protect my space and helping Billy help me. And I am so grateful to Billy for being a wonderful partner through pregnancy, labor, and birth, and I am not surprised but so happy that he is such a wonderful daddy.