I gave birth to my third child at the only birthing center in New Jersey at 7:20am on Thursday April 12, 2018. She was born in the water with barely any assistance. I pulled her out myself and held her until I had to get out of the tub. I thought I knew what labor was all about when this day arrived. I had attended several births as a birth doula and I had already achieved two unmedicated deliveries myself. I assumed this one would be easy, but of course, each pregnancy/labor/birth/child is different.
A bit after midnight on my due date, I awoke with contractions. I had experienced a few in the previous days so I was not sure it was the real thing. When I established that the contractions were coming every ten minutes or so, I woke up my husband. I told him I was in labor and I was hungry. I asked him to cook me some eggs.
We chatted in the kitchen as I moaned and rocked through contractions. My mom and step dad arrived at 1am. We talked about what to do the next day with the boys and they went to sleep soon thereafter. Around 3am, our doula arrived. She held me through contractions and applied pressure to my back while Mark installed the car seat, packed the bag, and made a few calls to the midwives.
The three of us camped out in the living room for the next few hours. I was handling the contractions well, but I was starting to worry that I was not progressing. Since the labor with my second child was 7 hours from beginning to end, I had assumed that this one would be shorter. But apparently, third babies cannot be expected to make predictable entrances. As the sun began to rise, I worried that the boys would wake up and I would still be laboring in the living room. So Mark called the midwife again and told her we wanted to get going soon.
A wave of doubt and vulnerability replaced my confidence as we rushed to get ready to leave for the birthing center. I told my doula that I wanted to see my mom. She did not hesitate to run upstairs and wake her up. My mom came down to the living room and held me as I weeped and she told me I could do it. I felt ready. I was relieved to find some blood in my underwear as we were walking out the door.
Just after 6am, I set myself up in the backseat of our Honda CR-V facing the rear window with my upper body draped over the seat. I could not sit down with the back labor I was experiencing. Kirsten sat next to me and squeezed my hips through the contractions. I howled and moaned and met eyes with a few rush hour commuters who must have been wondering why I was hanging over my backseat.
At a certain point in the 30 minute drive, the contractions increased in intensity and there was no touch Kirsten could provide that eased the discomfort. Mark prepared me for the possibility that the midwife might not arrive at the birthing center before we did. I thought, “Oh, that’s nice. Hope we don’t have the baby in the parking lot.” Since it was a new birthing center, there was a limited staff and if the midwife was not there to unlock the door, we could only wait.
As soon as we pulled in, I crawled out of the car. It was much more bearable if I was able to move and walk. There was more blood and I remember Mark running across the parking lot to throw away some dirty tissues in a dumpster at the other end. The sensations started to intensify even more as I was pacing and circling. I looked up at the higher floors of the office building that we were below, and I wondered who might be at work early and could hear me.
At about 6:45am, our midwife arrived to unlock the birthing center. She put her freshly pumped breast milk on the counter as she rushed us in. I told her it was getting serious and she assured me it wouldn’t be long. I wanted to believe her. She began filling the tub in our room and told me to climb on to the bed while we waited for the tub, but there was no way I could do that. The contractions were other-worldly at this point. I had to be upright. My body was in charge. I did not want anyone to touch me, but without any contact, I felt like I was going to lift off. It felt like the baby was barreling her way through me. I was just an instrument for the movement of my child. Mark and I later agreed that it was like the power of the universe was moving through me. It was a feeling unlike anything I experienced in my first two births.
I stepped into the tub and the midwife explained that when I was ready to push, my body would know and that I should not have to think about it. I tried to think about it, but my thinking brain was definitely not on board so it was useless. As I was laying down in the tub, I felt the need to reach over my head and pull down on something. Mark rolled up a towel and held it above my head. I reached up and pulled it down with all my strength. I know Mark had to work equally hard to support my weight as I lifted out of the tub.
This position did not work for long so I tried squatting. She checked to make sure I was fully dilated although it seemed entirely unnecessary. We all knew it was happening. In this position, I began to push. It really felt nothing like the pushing I did with my first two children. No one was directing me and I was not in control at all. I did not focus my effort on my bottom or breathe in any particular way. It really just happened to me. I heard the midwife say, “Now that’s a push….ok, now just the shoulders and you’re done.” As she slithered out, I pulled her up to me and leaned back on the tub. I held her and shuddered.
After a few moments, I was ready to find out the gender. I lifted one leg and it was dark under the towel, so I really wasn’t sure what I was looking at. I said, “I think it’s a boy…..wait, is it a girl?” and Mark said, “It’s a girl.” We laughed and kissed and cooed and Kirsten took some beautiful pictures. As I was holding her, I remember feeling the cord tugging on me as the baby moved. I had not been aware of the cord at all when the boys were born. They asked me to give the baby to Mark so I could deliver the placenta on the bed. He held her for a minute until I was wrapped in a robe and lying comfortably. She was replaced back on my chest and another midwife helped her latch on.
It seemed so simple in that moment (but definitely not easy). I delivered a baby, held her on my chest, and she nursed. I felt complete and whole and totally certain that she was my last baby. For this birth, I surrendered to labor, mother Earth, my goddess energy - my body was completely in charge. I thought I had done that the first two times, but I learned there are always new depths to reach.