I never thought that I would want to write about my birthing experience. I never expected it to be so profound, so completely incredible, so much so that words won't be able to truly express the experience. However, words are what I've got.
Maybe unlike the women I've been raised by who never shared their birth stories. Then again maybe I just did not make enough of an effort to ask about their experiences.
I’ve always thought that birth is something scary, something you don't really talk about. You get some brief snippets of other women's birth stories but in the environment I grew up in there were no raving tales about births. I heard that my own birth was long and difficult. That my mom was in labor for twelve hours (which in retrospect is short to me). That she lost a lot of blood and that they did not give her any food. After I was finally here she almost fainted when she tried to sit up while holding me. My dad tried to get her some food and all they had at the hospital (John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore) was a lonely vending machine, so he got her a Snickers.
My nanny's kids, who I grew up with like siblings, were born via cesarean section. She was told that she was too skinny to have them naturally, that her pelvis was not wide enough to bear them vaginally. At least so I heard through the grape vines and never asked any further
My grandma doesn't talk about giving birth. When I told her I was pregnant she said "that's courageous at your age" (I gave birth to Milan eight days before my thirty-sixth birthday). My mom passed away four years before Milan's birth and I never got to ask her anymore details about her births.
My dad remains very nervous around birth, it seems to be a big, scary thing in his memory. He preferred not to know when I was going into labor. He just wanted to hear the good news of the baby having arrived once it was here. He was very scared for me and also that something could go wrong, which again reaffirmed that birth is something terrifying.
To prepare for my birth and ease my fears it was suggested to me to read Ina May's books and especially her collected birthing stories written by the many women that she had helped deliver their babies. And so, I did read those stories. I read the words but the words did not come alive for me. I read but did not understand what the women were trying to tell me. All that I saw, even in those supposedly reaffirming stories, were the hard parts, the struggles. The story could be ninety percent about the beautifully empowering parts of a birth where the women feel an incredible trust in their strength and even ecstasy, yet all my mind caught was the parts where the women were struggling, where the experience became intense or frustrating. It was set in my mind that those were the moments to look out for and this fed my fears and insecurities around giving birth.
Then it was my turn. I gave birth and the other ninety percent of those birth stories suddenly made sense! Giving birth to Milan was the most incredible and amazing experience I ever had. It brought me to my limits and beyond. My limits stretched further and opened wider and wider as my cervix was slowly opening up. As the endorphins were flowing through my body and mind, everything around me was glowing and shimmering in a magic light.
My birth was not easy. I was in labor for eighty-two hours, forty-eight of which were active labor.
My water broke before I had any surges and the anticipatory excitement of what was to come kept me awake. In retrospect I really should have gone to sleep (as the women in the birthing stories tell you but I only remember now).
My water broke the day we had a birthing meeting at our new house that we had just moved into four days prior. During the birthing meeting I was saying how I just wanted to have this birth behind me already but that I realize that I would probably have to be patient for another couple of weeks. Little did I know Milan was listening. He decided that two weeks early was his time.
The birth meeting was done, we had moved into the new house, and he was ready. The night after the meeting I woke up feeling a warm, wet drizzle down my legs the same feeling as if my period had started but it was a clear liquid.
I had decided to give birth at home. I don't really know why I made that choice. I was scared of a home birth so hospitals seemed in many ways as the way to go. I am a nurse, I work at a hospital, I know the ins and outs of hospitals. Hospitals feel familiar to me at this point. However, maybe because of this familiarity I also knew that I would not have much agency if I was going to go that route. I usually do not want to rock the boat and would have a hard time advocating for myself in the hospital environment.
I am so glad I made this choice.
I guess somewhere deep down I knew that I needed all the support from an incredible team of amazingly strong and radical, queer women who were not afraid and felt like family. So there I was surrounded and held by my midwife Marea, Mel my friend and doula, Nora my looove, and the back-up midwife Grace who ended up spending a great chunk of time at my birth when time dragged on and Marea needed a break.
My birth was long, so long that Marea left, delivered another baby in the middle of my birth and came back to help me unite with Milan on this side of the universe.
When my water broke I first thought I was leaking pee. I hadn't been incontinent before so when it kept drizzling I started to suspect that this was it. I woke up Nora who sleep drunken told me "I'm sure it's just pee". Well, it wasn't.
When it kept dripping into the morning hours we decided to call Marea once the sun came up. She confirmed that she thought I'm in early labor which was hard to believe. However, we proceeded to cancel the housewarming party we had planned and uninvited like a hundred people. After that it felt like all of Oakland knew I was in labor...
They all kept on waiting and waiting and waiting with me.
My contractions did not start for another thirty-six hours from the time my water broke. It is hard to remember what I did during all that time. I went on walks and I tried to do things to get labor started: herbs, acupuncture, kissing, nipple stimulation, sex... the fun stuff. Then the not so fun stuff like Castor oil. However, labor did not start.
After another day and night had passed Marea suggested to kick things up a notch by massaging my cervix. That worked immediately. After that the contractions came on strong and kept coming regularly. I started laboring. I labored everywhere, in every room of our house and in many different positions. I would sit elevated on a pillow with Mel or Nora behind me, holding me, breathing with me, chanting with me. The surges kept on coming and I kept on breathing and moaning through them. I kept looking out of the windows in our house, looked at the trees that were weeping in the storm that had ensued
With the surges came the rains, and as sweat was dripping down my body raindrops dripped from the leaves of the trees and water was running down the sidewalks. It was a wet wonderland. It was magical.
When things kept going on and on we decided to set up an inflatable birthing bathtub in our entryway. This was a communal effort. Our friend and neighbor Gab came and helped set it up with my brother-in-law Doug. In the meantime people were boiling water on the stove as the water from the faucet wasn't hot enough. Everything got steamy. The surges kept coming and going and returning again and again and again.
At some point I started seeing everything through a slight fog, I was floating outside myself yet had never felt more connected to my body.
Being in the water helped. With the baby being posterior and having a lot of back labor the warm water helped me relax in between the surges and made the back pain disappear for a moment. I tried to enjoy the breaks in between surges and feel the warmth of the water. Always there with me, holding me, floating with me were Nora and Mel.
The midwives kept checking the baby's pulse. I knew he was doing fine. I always felt him there. I always felt safe.
However, another day and night were passing by and my cervix was still only slowly opening. I did not ask how open I was. I knew Marea would prefer not to tell me, would keep telling me that I progressed just the way I was supposed to, not to focus on that one aspect of measuring progress. So I did not know how slow things were going other than daylight coming and going.
I know now that Nora had a conversation with Marea at some point and wanted to know how many centimeters my cervix were. Everyone was getting tired and Nora wanted to brace herself seeing that time could stretch wider and wider and there was no arrival in sight.
At some point about forty hours into active labor Marea suggested to massage my cervix one more time and to try and do some exercises trying to change the position of the baby. I agreed to be positioned with my hips up on a foam block and my head down backwards. I was being rocked from side to side in a blanket held by Marea and Nora on each side trying to shake that baby loose. The baby wouldn't move however. He seemed to be comfortable right where he was. He is a strong baby. He held his own.
The cervix massage did work however. I opened up further and Marea suggested it was time to try and push. I did not have surges where my body was bearing down yet but pushing felt good regardless. It felt good to switch things up and be more active in the process of trying to get the baby out. So I pushed and Marea and Grace tried to help move the baby down by massaging and pressing on my belly. Some progress was made. At some point the birth team was making plans on who would catch the baby. "Catch the baby?" "So the baby is going to come soon?"
"How many pushes do you think?" I asked Marea knowing she couldn't answer those questions.
All in due time.
This was the point for me at which labor got hard. If you want to look for the frustrating parts of a birth story you will find them in the next couple of paragraphs. I pushed and pushed, Marea was coaching me, was right there with me, anticipation filled the space yet six hours later Milan was still stuck in the birth canal. They could see his head, Nora saw his dark hair peeking out my cervix but he just wouldn't make it past the pubic bone and out my vagina.
At this point I was starting to get delirious, I felt confused, I wanted a break, I wanted to nap and did not understand why the surges kept coming and I wasn't getting a break. Marea suggested I should get back into the bathtub, try and rest before we would give the
pushing another go. I didn't want to take a break, I didn't want to keep going either, I did want the baby out, I didn't know why it wasn't happening and did not really see him coming out.
My overwhelming feeling at this point was confusion and with the confusion came frustration. I wanted it to be over but I didn't know how. My moans grew into screams but Mel was there to hold me down, redirect my energy back down into my insides where I could find continued strength. I was safe, the baby was safe, this was hard but I was going to get through it, I had no doubt. I just did not know how yet.
When it was time to push again I got out of the water and Marea came back into the bedroom to give it another try. I had strong surges at that time with my whole body bearing down. I pushed again hoping this would be it but Milan stayed curled up behind that pubic bone. At this point Marea suggested to go to the hospital. Milan's pulse was still steady but after a long labor and six hours of him being in the birth canal she was hoping to see more progress. At the hospital they would be able to help with a suction tool in order to pull him out.
Milan was close to being born but we needed a change of energy. I knew that going to the hospital was where I needed to be.
And so we calmly started to trek to San Leandro Hospital. All of a sudden I felt more clear,
frustration left my body. Going to the hospital gave me peace of mind. I was tired, I needed a little extra help. The magic glow was back and while I was worried at first how I would get to the hospital with these excruciating bearing down sensations rushing through me it was surprisingly easy to get up and dressed and rally over there. Nora dressed me, walked with me to the car sat with me while her brother Doug drove us to the hospital.
The surges kept on coming and I kept on moaning and breathing through the surges while riding over Oakland street potholes that uncomfortably bounced my body.
At the hospital Marea who drove in a separate car awaited us at the entrance. I remember the very long hospital hallway and that I was having a hard time deciding whether or not to sit in a wheelchair or walk to the delivery room. It seemed strange to me to sit down when I felt a head stuck down there... It was a wheelchair in the end that delivered me to the right place.
Everyone was still with me: Nora, Mel, Marea. I just had to follow.
Once I arrived to my assigned room everything seemed to speed up. It is as if I had arrived on a movie set. Nurses in gowns were buzzing all around me. Before I laid down on the bed my hospital midwife (I forgot her name in the buzz of things) locked eyes with me. "We got this mama", she said. "Can I look what we are working with before we get the doctor in here?" "Yes" I said and was ordered on the bed with the stirrups.
After having a look at the situation my midwife looked me in the eyes again and sternly said:"Ok Mama, this is a vaginal birth, you got this, if you let me we are going to get this baby out. I'm a basketball coach I got you". After I assured her my willingness to participate in her practice she was yelling at me from the sidelines with what seemed a crowd of fans dressed in blue gear helping her chant "PUSH, PUSH, PUSH". And pushing I did. Nora who was right there by my head told me I turned blue in my face when I was pushing and waves of blue would rush down my whole skin as all the oxygen left my body. I pushed so hard. I finally felt the baby coming.
At that point I knew I got this. Maybe the pot holes on the ride over to the hospital had shaken him loose. When I got to the hospital he had apparently turned a little. Maybe the new energy in the room was what I needed. It was time to leave the slow and steady mode and give it my all, push through the finish line, sprint those last hundred meters with all I got. With the reassurance of being able to get a little help if I needed I was able to push with a new found power. At the very end the doctor came in and she helped the baby with a couple of tugs with the suction cup on Milan’s head. At that time his head had made it past the pubic bone but I did need a little extra help.
Finally it was everything combined that helped me push him out, from the long labor
that prepared my body, the steady reassurance that everything was just the way it needed to be by Marea and the birth-team, to the Oakland potholes and the basketball coach and back again to the amazing women that made up my birthing-team who never left my side, cheering me on, telling me how amazing I was doing.
Then I could feel him crowning. I felt him coming out of my vagina and it was the craziest
feeling. I felt a little burning and I could feel a tear but it wasn't painful it was just amazing that I could open up so wide and have this big little human slip out of me. And out he came.
Forty-five minutes after we got to the hospital he joined me on my chest. He squealed when he was caught by the midwife but the second he cuddled on my chest he was peaceful and curious and I talked to him and welcomed him to the world in my Swiss-German mother tongue: "Hallo chline Ma, wilkomme, so schön das du do bisch, ich ha di ganz fescht gärn!" And for a moment I felt my own mother was alive and holding me just like that.
In the aftermath of the birth I felt amazing. I have never been so comfortable before. I was
completely high and pain free for the next four days. When the nurses came by to offer me
some pain medication for potential cramps from the uterus clamping down, sore muscles after such a long labor or other general post-partum pains I declined everything. I had gone without pain medication all this time and at this point my body must have been protecting me from any further pain with its homemade pain killers. This was amazing to me. I was completely pain free, in love with my baby, Nora and everyone who was part of the birth.
When we returned back home from the hospital, Doug and Mel had cleaned the whole house, put the birthing tub away and bought a christmas tree. Milan was actually going to be here with us for christmas. I don’t usually care for christmas trees much but coming home to the smell of this special 2019 christmas tree I will never forget. Nora and I would stare at the christmas lights many sleepless nights while rocking our baby Milan Amore who seemed to enjoy looking at the colorful sparkles with us.
When it was finally time to get rid of the tree a few weeks past christmas I had a hard time letting go of the tree. It meant that my birthing experience was fading into a distant memory and I was missing it. I do not want it to fade. Maybe by writing this the experience can stay alive a little longer.
There is so much more I could write about. I guess this is only a snippet of the most profound eighty-something hours of my life. Mostly it is an invitation to Milan to learn about his birth, be curious and ask questions. I would relive this birth at any time. It was an amazing experience and I want Milan to know that if he ever has a chance to witness the birth of a loved one he can do so with an open heart, be fearless and present.