One day overdue, I was awakened by the first contraction at 7:00 am. This was it! I had to moan through the contraction – “ahhhhhhhhhh” – the birthing song that I had learned during labor with my first child, Alyssa, 2 years earlier. I waited and timed another contraction. 15 minutes apart. I mumbled to John, “I’m in labor, but go ahead and sleep a while longer. It’ll probably be a long day.”
Alyssa’s birth (a planned hospital birth) had been 12 1/2 hours, cut short by a vacuum extraction after my “failure to progress” even with oxytocin augmentation. I was figuring I’d be in labor at least 5 hours for this birth.
I called a few of my friends to let them know I was in labor, stopping occasionally in mid-sentence to focus on a contraction. After a while I noticed they were getting closer together and stronger (!) so I timed a couple of contractions: 4 minutes apart?!!!? Yeeks! I got off the phone and woke John up so we could get going to the hospital. We had a 90 minute drive ahead of us. We are a military family and were living in Germany. It had taken time and divine intervention to find this fantastic alternative clinic – a birthing section of a small hospital, whose midwives and obstetricians had personal training from Michel Odent and Frederick Leboyer. My La Leche League leader, who had birthed two of her children there, had referred me to this wonderful place. I was grateful because I was definitely not going to have my baby at the military hospital, for reasons I will explain later, which left German hospitals. I had “fired” two local German obstetricians because they were setting off huge danger signals in me.
A short example of danger signs: the first one snorted at me and rolled his eyes when I told him I would like to wait until the cord stops pulsating to cut it. He said he’d do it that way if we “really” wanted to. The second kept assuring me I’d get whatever I wanted, but when I went down to the delivery area and asked the doctor on call (they rotated about seven obstetricians, so you didn’t know who you would get) some questions he said, “Well, I guess you could walk around after you’re in active labor, but we really prefer the laboring mother to stay in her bed.” Ughhh. These were definitely not people who respected and encouraged non-interventive birth. I had no reason to believe they would respect and encourage laboring mothers and newborns either!
Because of my experience with my daughter’s birth, in a German hospital in a different part of Germany, I learned how crucial it is to interview the obstetrician, the labor and delivery nurses, andthe nursery to determine if they have “practices” that are compatible with my needs and beliefs. I also learned to trust and act on my intuition while interacting with hospital personnel; it can make the difference between a deeply violating and wounding experience that haunts you, and one of the most incredibly empowering and joyful epiphanies of your life. I’ve had one of each.
John got Alyssa up and dressed (she was two years old at the time) and went to warm up the car. As I moaned through some contractions on my hands and knees, Alyssa laid one hand on my shoulder and sucked her thumb while staring at me thoughtfully. The contractions were painful and powerful. I felt my sureness of being ready to birth this baby waver, but I felt comforted knowing I was going to have safe people around me this time who respected my wishes and the wisdom of my body.
We dropped Alyssa off at a friend’s house and took off down the road. We must have been in denial since my contractions were 3 1/2 – 4 minutes apart and a full minute long. But staying at home didn’t even cross my mind; I was focused only on my contractions and the image of arriving at the hospital in Kirschheimbolanden, where my carefully chosen midwife was waiting with a huge dreamy hot bath for me to loll in while I labored. Maybe I would even decide to have the baby in the water.
Facing John, I labored sitting on my feet and leaning against a pillow. With my right hand, I held onto the handle above the window behind me. My favorite meditation music, “Christofori’s Dream,” floated from the speakers and I hummed and moaned the tunes which carried me through wave after wave of contractions. John was in his own world as well, focused solely on getting us to the hospital as quickly as possible. Wave after wave after wave – the movement of the car paired with my powerful, persistent contractions, made it feel like I was at sea! The waves thundered within me, rolling in and then ebbing out, stronger and faster until suddenly, “splash!” My true waters brought my attention back to the physical realm by rolling down my legs and crashing across the seat. We were still at least 30 minutes away even though John was going over 90 mph – we weren’t going to make it.
At that point, we were right at the exit that would have taken us to the Landstuhl American military hospital. John asked me if he should turn off. No way! A month earlier I supported a friend while she birthed her baby there: automatic i.v., internal fetal monitor, rushing from the labor room to the delivery room while the baby was crowning, whisking the baby away to the heater and then the nursery, paternalistic attitudes, etc. – a whole ensemble of traumatic procedures crowded into the last 30 minutes of her labor (we almost didn’t make it to the hospital for her birth either!). I wasn’t about to expose my baby or myself to a myriad of interventions and trauma after working so hard to find a hospital with gentle birthing practices! I was in control of what happened to us in birth this time, and being raped by machines, needles, medical fluids, and attitudes was not in my plans.
The swells were now coming so close together that it felt almost like one continuous contraction. My entire focus was within me – on the ring of fire that was slowly but surely expanding. I moaned loudly and clawed in an almost desperate manner at John’s shoulder, but inside I did not feel desperate at all – the incredibly powerful energy surging through my body was coming to a head; I was at the apex of a Tsunami. I gasped, calling out, “Oh God, oh my God!” I felt like I was about to have an incredible orgasm.
And then suddenly, the waters stilled. My heart stilled. My body stilled. I was completely open, in heart and in body. All pain stopped completely, not to return until getting stitches for a perineal tear. And slowly, out of the stillness, came an urge – a pushing, a grunting, an unstoppable force. I panted and tried to breathe deeply with a moan, which ended up as “ahhhhhh–G!” The grunt was low and from the deepest part of my being – the place where my soul connects me to Mother Earth. John noticed the shift in my labor and asked, “Should I pull over?” I didn’t answer. I didn’t hear him. I was in the world of creation. I did not actively push at all; I allowed my body to take control. It obviously knew what it was doing! I was a fascinated observer.
I felt fullness at my vulva. I reached into my pants to feel it. His head was right there – a half-dollar of hairy head at my fingertips. I explored the skin that encircled his head and was amazed to feel my incredibly strong and elastic perineal skin stretched taut – further than I had thought it could ever stretch. I panted a little and tried to breathe through some pushing contractions. They weren’t as frequent as the dilating contractions, but I could feel each one bring the baby down just a little further.
I began to massage my perineum to see if I could coax it to relax. The pressure was tremendous. My abdominal muscles were so strong – I wanted to lie on my side to slow down the descent, but I couldn’t manage with the front seat controls which you “unscrew” to lower the back of the seat slowly. Suddenly, “uh-G!” – a feeling of clearing the heights of orgasm exploded. My body took over completely and suddenly my son’s head was resting in my hand: large, wet, round and soft. It was amazing. I could feel his ears, his nose, his tiny mouth. I managed to stammer under my breath, “He’s crowning!” (a minute late and a half-dollar short!). And as John was desperately trying to find some shoulder space to pull onto (none was available – he finally found a sort of fork where a country road led off), I felt the whole baby shift, and turn. His shoulders delivered into my hands.
At the same time that his upper torso was twisting and birthing, I went into Vision:
I saw myself as a mother fox giving birth to several pups in a warm, foresty den. I saw the trees and then the vastness of the wilderness; the vastness of the universe. I became one with all – especially animals and humans, through the common experience of birthing. I finally experienced the blissful feeling of what I had heard described as “oneness” – an explosion of pure love throughout my being. This only lasted a few seconds, but I experience that sacred feeling again every time I recall the vision.
Pulling my much more roomy waistband outward with a free hand, I peered into my left pant leg, and thought, “Look! It’s a baby!” John watched ecstatically as I gently pulled the rest of the baby’s body out from within me and laid him across my lap, marveling at this miracle gift! It was 9:40 am – a 2 hour and 40 minute birth!
Zachary began breathing immediately – probably before I had even lifted him up. It didn’t even occur to me that he might have trouble breathing, or that I might need to suction his nose or mouth. There was no sense of danger whatsoever; everything was unfolding as it should. His arms and legs were grayish, but his face and torso were bright pink. I offered my breast to him, but he wasn’t interested. I think he was cold – it was the middle of winter, in the middle of the country, in a huge car. I laid him across the middle of the warm skin of my bare chest and covered him with a pink, oversized towel we had brought “just in case.” John turned the heat up to high and Zach soon calmed down.
The euphoria of Zachary’s birth was overwhelming – we sat and relished in it, welcoming this new little person into our world. We took some video and pictures and goo-gooed, kissed and loved him and each other. When I felt some pushy contractions I knew my placenta had separated, so as it delivered, I wrapped it in one end of the towel and tucked it underneath Zachary. I love placentas – they’re so colorful!
Then we decided we were ready to go on to the hospital. We were both famished, so we stopped at a bakery on the way and John got a couple of huge soft pretzels. It was so strange – people were walking by the car, and there I was, with just enough towel to cover me from breast to thigh, with an obviously brand new baby in my arms, and nobody seemed to notice. I wanted to shout,”Look at me! I just had a baby ALL BY MYSELF!!! I am a Goddess!!!”
We arrived at the hospital and John went in to get our midwife. She brought out a gurney, which struck me as absurd. I could have easily walked, though I was completely naked by then – not that I cared. She helped me onto the gurney – baby in one arm and pretzel in the other – and wheeled me past a group of amused and curious onlookers – to the room in which I had imagined, for the last few months, I would be giving birth. After I nursed Zach for a while, John gave him a Leboyer bath, and then the doctor checked Zach over: 7 pounds, 4 ounces and almost 22 inches. I did, unfortunately, tear, but it was much less traumatic than the huge mediolateral episiotomy that I had been given with Alyssa’s birth (4 1/2 years ago). I still often feel twinges of pain from the episiotomy scar, but not from my natural tear. The doctor stitched up my tear, I took a nice hot shower, then Zach and I snuggled and snoozed in a bed together for a couple of hours while John drove to a nearby military base to buy a carseat. (In our rush to get going, we had left our carseat at home – oops!)
It was our choice to check out 5 hours after we had arrived. On the return trip home, we stopped at my dear friend’s house. She was 15 years old and had followed me through my pregnancy. She held Zachary when he was 6 hours old and is now his Godmother. She is making plans to become a homebirth midwife, as I am also.
Several women, upon learning of my experience, have said, “Oh, you’re so lucky that nothing went wrong!” This makes me sad because it shows how deeply people, and especially women, fear birth, and how they expect complications. Birth has turned from a natural life experience to a medical emergency. Another comment people often make is, “Oh, so your husband caught the baby.” I get angry at this one. “No, I caught my baby.” Women giving birth are not powerless victims of nature. We were made/evolved to give birth, with or without external help. WE CAN DO IT!
If I have another baby, it will definitely be a planned homebirth, with or without a midwife. Because of Zach’s birth, I KNOW my ability to give birth: it’s natural, it’s beautiful, it’s safe!