People will tell you I was the most prepared person they knew.
No matter who you are, nothing can prepare you for birth.
At 5pm on Monday, November 7th, the day before both my due date and what was the unexpected coming pandemonium of the November 8th election in the US, my water broke.
Though movies like to herald a wet labor arrival, in a dramatic “whoops! splash on the sidewalk!” scene, it’s actually super uncommon to have your water break to begin.
*I* wasn’t even sure, as I was texting my midwives and doula… it was only 45 minutes later, Soul Camp sweatpants soaking wet all down one side, that we knew it was ON. They told me to take it easy and rest and keep checking in.
Baby’s Daddy was off on Long Island in a meeting and his phone was going to voicemail. No reply to texts.
We weren’t quite ready. As a first time mom, I expected to be the average ten days late. (ex. I had a $200 Fresh Direct delivery coming the next day of all the food I was going to lovingly prepare for my labor over the next week— abundant coconut water and a myriad of cut up frozen fruits, witchy labor concoctions for hydration and to ease stress… nope.)
About an hour later, the contractions started. Very mild at first; so mild I couldn’t tell if they were contractions. HA.
Soon enough, they turned more crampy and it was clearly happening. Right from the start, 3-4 minutes apart.
I took a shower and washed my hair— (Lord knows when that would happen again.) I watched Jane the Virgin (‘cause 9pm Monday, and hey, that’s a terrific show.)
Daddy got home. Around 10pm I checked in with my midwife who said, “It’s happening! Have a glass of wine, go to bed, and try to rest as much as possible.”
If there is any woman in the world that has figured out how to sleep through contractions, please send her my way, because I need to witness this next-level sorcery. At midnight, I was still tossing and turning in pain.
I had prepped with the longest Natural Childbirth class in New York, soon-to-be-daddy in tow. I took an online, Pain to Power: orgasmic birth, 12-week course. I became obsessed with natural birth: dozens of books. Countless hours in online pregnancy Facebook forums.
I was determined and wholly planned to have a home birth.
Also, acupuncture, specialized chiropractic, prenatal massage, physical therapy, every herb, tincture, hand-mixed tea blend that was recommended. A shaman blessed my apartment and belly a week before the birth. I had original art birth affirmations that I designed using a bunch of apps, plastered all over my bedroom wall.
My excellent and incredibly sweet and supportive home birth midwives had all our appointments at home. It was divine. I never stepped onto a scale or into a doctor’s office.
My chiropractor told me she wished all women took care of themselves the way I did while pregnant. That day? I rode my bike to Union Square and took a 90-minute prenatal yoga class and (yes, 40 weeks pregnant) rode my bike home. Needless to say, I kept active and developed an epic napping game in my pregnancy.
1am, and I am moaning in bed. Daddy-to-be is snoring next to me. Um, how is that even possible?
By 2am, a solid seven hours of contractions every 3-4 minutes, I can’t lie in bed anymore. It’s time to pull out ALL THE TOOLS.
I go to the bathroom and sit on the toilet. And I howl. Moan. Deep yogic ujaii breaths I’ve been perfecting for 15 years. Calling in spirits. What else was I supposed to do? Om? F that.
Growling, toning, ass on toilet, arms leaning over the sink and splashing water on my face, neck, legs.
Around 4am I decide: ok Daddy, enough sleep for you. I go to wake him up and say: I need help. It’s time to call the doula and midwife, these are strong enough that I need coaching.
Tuesday, election morning. Midwife and Doula arrive around 5am and my cervix is checked. I am ONE CENTIMETER dilated. For those who aren’t privy, this means, labor has barely started. Ten means, you are ready to push. Zero is how you walk around your entire life.
12 hours after my water has broken and I am told:
Some labors are a marathon and some are a sprint.
This is a marathon.
“Margaret, did you sleep?”
“Nope.” (Uh, remember the aforementioned contractions???)
“You need to get some rest.”
I am given Benadryl and Daddy is sent across the street to vote. (I already voted absentee ballot.) We agree to call over a magical, housecall acupuncturist who is famed to always gets labor moving.
In the next couple of hours, I sleep in and out.
9am begins what I like to call the “animal kingdom noises.”
I’m not shy. I am howling. Screaming. It’s daylight and I basically sound like someone is trying to murder me, absolutely no shame. It’s New York City, so no one flinches in the neighborhood.
There is amniotic fluid on every piece of furniture in my apartment as I move throughout it, using every wall, couch, chair, toilet as leverage to push against as the contractions wrack my body.
By the time the acupuncturist arrives at 11am, she witnesses my animal kingdom noises and is all: “Well, looks like labor is progressing!”
Me, leaning over a daybed in our front room, she sticks me with (20? 30? 40?) needles as I am instructed to “stay still” during the 10-20 contractions that come during this time.
I can’t hold still longer than 33 minutes. 40 is recommended. Good enough.
She wishes me luck; “You probably won’t need to see me again. You are well on your way.”
I get through another few hours on my own. At 2pm, I tell Daddy, call the doula. I need her. I’m done doing this alone.
I beg the doula on the phone, “When can I fill up and get into the birth pool??” She gives the ok.
One of the most disheartening moments of this entire experience was when the rented birth pool is finally blown up and filled with warm water and set in our bedroom. Said birth pool is heralded as “the natural epidural!”
I ease my body into it, with help of Daddy and a contraction surges. The birth pool does ZERO to minimize any of the pain. I’m f***ed.
My amazing doula arrives at 5pm from Brooklyn. Had I been in the care of an obstetrician, I would have been instructed to go to the hospital when my water broke. They want to have a baby born within 24 hours of water breaking. With an OB, I would of had a baby by now.
By the time Doula gets there, I tell her, “Laura, I think I’m done. I need to go to the hospital.”
She is magnificently focused and calm. Like, Jedi calm. And I am worst-version-of-Margaret-ever. And she is not phased by my worst version. #JEDI
“Let’s get through a few more together.” Over the next few hours, she takes me through levels of pain I never thought I’d be able to endure. (Have women done this for millennia??? Impossible! I’m never doing this again!) I have been naked for quite some time. Zero. Shame. I am sweating, drenched, a desperate mess.
I grasp her hands violently as I scream for all the West Village to hear. She never flinches, not once. We are all over the apartment, in every nook and cranny. She is two inches from my face, always. I interviewed a dozen doulas and in these moments I am beyond existence grateful that forces beyond me somehow knew to choose her.
I beg her, please call the midwife. I’m done. She needs to come.
The midwife tries to avert. She doesn’t want me to be disappointed that I’m not further along. I tell her to come NOW.
Midwife arrives, 9pm? I am checked again. 14 hours later and I am still only 4cm dilated. Unbeknownst to me, as she is checking, she stretches my cervix a bit, trying to get things moving. I am naked lying on my bed, my legs and body bucking her efforts. My pelvis could legit knock an eye out.
29 hours into labor, I hear 4-5cm and repeat: “I am done. Let’s go to the hospital, I need medication.”
They are relatively calm given the circumstances. Pros.
We have not had the TV on all day obviously, but murmurs are leaking through— Trump might win. Whaaaaatttt? I can’t process this. GET ME TO A HOSPITAL.
Midwife tries to give me the option of more Benedryl to sleep and and castor oil in the morning. “You need to rest, you won’t be able to push.”
NO. GET ME TO A HOSPITAL.
Daddy sits with me on the bed in the darkened bedroom. “You can do this. You want this so badly. I know you. You are so strong. You told me to tell you this… when you were at the point that you felt you couldn’t move forward…”
Yeah, the problem is, I wanted that pep talk when I was like, ready to pop a baby out. In that moment of the last (you can do it!!! almost there!!!) stretch. After all I had been through in the last 30 hours, I thought I was ready to push at that moment. Knowing I still had a road ahead, I was exhausted, spent. I had no more in me.
So, 30 hours in, we move to go to the hospital. I didn’t even have a bag packed, that’s how certain I was of my home birth. So I am having animal-kingdom-times-100 surges coursing through my body when we are like, trying to—- what??— gather socks?? where the fuck is my phone??— do I need anything else?? let’s just GOOOOOOOOOO.
We pile into my midwife’s tiny car and head to Bellevue. New York’s public hospital, which in home birth circles was considered a “friendly” place for a home birth transfer.
Had it been an emergency situation, we would have gone to NYU, what with its stellar NICU unit. But 30 hours into labor, a walk into NYU would likely have meant a walk directly into a c-section.
On the ride over, it’s 10pm and there is serious energy and talk all over the world of Trump winning the election. My midwife and Daddy are passionately chatting in the front seats about the impossibility of such a win, while my doula holds my hands in the backseat and I am screaming my face off.
We get to the labor and delivery floor of Bellevue, and it’s like a dream. No one is there.
I am admitted quickly. (I have since heard nightmare tales from fellow neighbor mothers who birthed in their private NYU <some might say, fancier> OB practices, and were left in public admitting areas for hours, wrenching in the hallways with no room in sight due to overcrowding.)
Let it be said: I personally would have probably at first have chosen the “birthing center in the wing of the hospital!” option for birth, rather than home birth. But the more and more I researched, Manhattan, with some of the most affluent zip codes in the nation, doesn’t bode well for ending up in birthing rooms, statistically.
By midnight, I gratefully receive an epidural. As soon as it “hits,” which is instantaneously, I see how much tension I have been holding in the rest of my body, as pain surges in newly discovered places.
Bellevue has a midwifery team on staff. The midwife meeting me (which could have been a complete disaster, because, let’s face it, I was basically a walk-in) is sweet and reassuring and nurturing.
The plan is to get some sleep to have the energy to push.
Daddy and doula are next to me, on chairs in the room. They get some sleep. People are coming in to check my and baby’s vitals every hour or more, but I get some intermittent sleep as well.
Morning comes. Throughout the night, we are all up here and there. News is trickling in. The doctors and staff are all talking about it. Trump is going to be the next president.
I literally could not care less at this particular moment.
There is a shift change at 8am. The next midwife on staff is also a lovely, suuuuuuper chill young woman named Nell.
I am progressing. I can delightfully report, I am feeling no pain.
Of course there’s an OB attending somewhere there that knows a woman is in labor, but I have not seen this obstetrician. Save the anesthesiologist, I’ve only thus far seen midwives, pretty remarkable this late in the game in a hospital setting.
At noon, the day after election day, 43 hours into labor, Nell tells me, “You are fully dilated! It’s time to push!”
That evening’s break of no pain in the midst of this labor so I could rest, I am immensely grateful for. I never would have made it without it. Even my doula said over and again, “this was the best transfer decision ever.”
The epidural, apparently, no longer has a use. The contractions come back and we are all “Cirque du Soleil” all over the bed, in half a dozen positions, trying to get this baby down the birth canal.
FINALLY, after two hours of pushing… I am lying on my back (ironic because in natural birth circles, this is a huge no-no) and Bo is starting to crown.
I can’t describe to you, the beyond body, beyond overwhelming feeling, of experiencing the worst pain you have ever felt in your entire life, and knowingly having to PUSH into it. Knowingly having to make that pain GREATER.
It goes against every instinct we have a human being.
At that point, comes, the “ring of fire” where the baby crowns.
For all of my studies of “breathing a baby down” “ecstatic birth” etc., all of that knowledge, not to mention an adult lifetime of spiritual study, was no where to be found. I’m told later I handled it all pretty zen. I gotta tell you, I felt not for one second, “zen.”
Somehow, at some point, apparently, I was asked if I could have students or visitors watching. Which, if you had asked me in my right, boundaried mind, would have been an emphatic NO.
So, imagine my surprise when this “ring of fire” comes upon me, and I notice 4 or 5 people at the perimeter of the room. Then, I look down to see a very young woman, staring transfixed, 10 inches from my vagina, AT my vagina, and all I can think in that moment, in my head is:
“WHO THE F*** ARE YOU!!!????”
It’s been 45 hours. Patient, kind, totally cool, totally chill Nell, all of a sudden gets super serious, down between my legs.
“Ok Margaret. You’ve been pushing for a while. This needs to happen now. Do you understand? I need you to do this, NOW.”
And with every remaining anything that is a semblance of what or who I am, I listen and trust Nell in that moment. I’m screaming, squeezing Doula and Daddy’s hands. Daddy is looking at me, marveled, “You’re doing it! You got this!”
And Bo’s head emerges. And then in the next contraction and push, thankfully, mercifully, his body comes out in one swift shot. RELIEF!
He is born.
8 pounds. 14 ounces.
I am a dramatic person, by nature. I assumed there would be bawling, epic expression.
They were the quietest, most still moments after 40 hours of animal kingdom noises.
I didn’t cry. Neither did Bo. He was placed on my chest and I looked at this little alien, this tiny person I had made. It was so simple, the most natural, easy feeling in the Universe.
It was like he had been there all along.
A month later I met with my doula to unpack the birth. I was sensitive about it. It took me a long time to process that I didn’t have the home birth that I planned for. I also had a difficult time postpartum due to the length of the labor and tearing…
But we discussed it: I asked her flat out: why do you think it was so long? I was so prepped.
And let me tell you, my doula was a champion and a Goddess in my eyes. I by no means chose the overly spiritual doula, at all. I didn’t go for woo: the woman who was coming in, leading with gurus and incense, I went for someone who felt like me, the doula version.
She spoke of Daddy. “I had never seen someone transform so much when we moved to the hospital. Suddenly he understood it. When we were at home, he couldn’t quite get a hold of what was happening. (Doula and I clutching each other… me, screaming naked in light and darkness for 20 hours)… I think that Bo wanted to be born in the hospital to make him comfortable. That they had a silent, energetic agreement.”
That shaman that I had had come bless the house for the birth? In that session, she told me that Daddy and Bo had a special relationship— they had been best friends, brothers in combat in a past life. Bo had died early in that life and was coming back to reunite the relationship. Bo was new to me, but not to Daddy.
When the Doula mentioned that energetic agreement, it all made sense. It didn’t make it easier, or less painful, but I understood an important piece of it. We all choose before this life. Bo chose his Daddy.
For all of these incredible women who were a part of my birth team, I am forever grateful.
They can be found here:
Doula: Laura Vladimirova http://naturalbirthbebe.com
Midwives: Carol Bues + Shar La Porte https://midwiferycarenyc.com
Chiropractor: Sura Shabib http://www.illuminatewellness.com
Shaman: Kristen Boyer http://www.kristenboyer.com
Endless love to my mamas before me who were so generous with their time, spirit, advice, love during my pregnancy. Extra special thanks to soul sisters Jessica Jyotika, Adriana Forte, Catherine Scherwenka.
**At the beginning of 2017 summer, Bellevue’s Midwifery Practice, which for 25 years had been providing service 24/7 at our countries oldest hospital, was cut drastically and no longer offers evening care. I would not have been able to have this birth experience, had it been six months later. The care I received from the midwifery team in place at the time, November 2016 was exemplary. Let’s champion for more midwifery care for all women and a better pre and post natal experience.
[Story taken from Margaret’s incredible blog which can be found here: http://margaretnichols.com/my-birth-story/]