My labor with my baby son was one of the most inspiring things that I have ever experienced. If you had asked me before I was pregnant, or even a few months before he was born, if I thought that I’d be one to say that, I would have laughed at you.
Growing up, the “birth messages” I received were not positive. My mother had had c-sections for all 3 kids, after hours of pushing with an epidural. I always heard that people who didn’t take an epidural were “crazy masochists” and babies born vaginally were squishy and ugly anyway. Forceps and vacuums were routine. Pelvises were too small for the average woman to have a natural birth. To top it off, my first pregnancy ended in miscarriage at 12 weeks, and my belief in my body’s ability to “perform” was low. When I got pregnant with my son, I was overjoyed but anxious about labor. To my closest friends, I voiced strong fears, like “no way a baby is going to fit through!”, “what if I poop on the table?” and “but I’m going to have to be naked in front of all those people!”. When at my 22 week anatomy scan, the ultrasound technician expressed concern about a placenta problem, which would require a planned c-section at 37 weeks, Deathly-Afraid-of-Labor in me was thrilled by the excuse to skip the whole mess altogether. Later, when I found out the placenta issue was resolved, I cried because I knew it meant I’d have to try for a vaginal delivery.
Once I made my peace with it and recognized that it was really a positive thing, I signed up for prenatal classes and started reading up as much as I could about the process, and slowly but surely I started believing that I could really do it. I began actively seeking more positive birth messages, pain-management techniques, and tried to remind myself of times I had overcome pain by using breathing exercises and mental strength. The midwife who taught our prenatal classes was extremely positive, and while she didn’t dismiss necessary medical intervention, she very much promoted using natural techniques to whatever extent possible. My doula DDJ also encouraged me to do whatever it took to make myself “believe that it is possible” and she reinforced positive messages whenever she could. After prenatal classes, she reviewed different exercises and positions (Spinning Baby!) that would come in handy in labor, and I practiced them all every day. I drank raspberry tea to help tone my uterus and even ate 6 dried dates a day because my husband had read that it would soften my cervix and make effacement and dilation go faster. At a certain point, I made the decision that I wanted to try my hardest to avoid an epidural, and I asked DDJ and my husband to avoid even mentioning the word in the delivery room. I couldn’t believe how “crunchy granola” I had become about the whole thing, but I was happy my mindset about labor was shifting positively.
Thursday 10 days before my due date, I woke up at 3am with a bloody show. My doctor called later that day and predicted a “Shabbat baby”. I went about the rest of my day as productively as possible all while processing that labor was imminent.
Thursday night at about 10:30pm, I settled into bed and texted DDJ that the contractions were hard to track but that I thought I would sleep through them for a while. At some point, the pain started intensifying, and I found it more comforting to rock on all fours on my bed or over an exercise ball, but I continued to doze in between contractions. At some point, my husband told me he had called DDJ to come. I was confused because I somehow knew that things weren’t “there” yet, but when she came, she was extremely reassuring and positive, and she modeled for my husband how to encourage me even more through contractions.
Since things weren’t moving too fast, DDJ left for a bit promising to come back soon. When she returned, she came into the room and declared “Do you want to have this baby today?! Let’s get moving!” Even though I was extremely drowsy, I trusted her and I wanted labor to progress, so I did as she suggested. She had me doing all the Spinning Baby positions we had reviewed, through contractions, 3 sets at a time. This is when I really felt a shift. After an inversion, my belly started to feel different, and the contractions felt more intense but also more productive. During one contraction, DDJ put pressure on my lower back, and she said “Oh! The baby just moved down into your pelvis.” And just as I was about to do the last set of exercises - on the exercise ball - I felt my water break! After that, things moved faster. The contractions got way more intense and frequent, and the only thing I could do to get through them was sit on the ball with my arms over a chair, breathing low guttural breaths. DDJ had to help me through one contraction in the bathroom, and I remember that in this moment, I made the decision to let go of my inhibitions about being naked in front of people, as long as it helped my baby come into the world.
When DDJ had us call a cab, I suspected I was in transition, and I remember asking her, “What stage would you say I’m in? What’s going to happen in the cab ride? How will we get through it?!”. She reassured me with “I have a feeling your body will know to stall a bit,” and I just held on to that. As we I waddled our way down and up the stairs from my apartment complex. I remember thinking “Oh god I really hope I don’t bump into any neighbors right now”, and then getting down on all fours over the bench in our courtyard to get through a contraction. In the cab ride, I tried sitting with my hands around the head of the seat but then switched to all fours over DDJ’s lap. I only had 2 or 3 contractions the whole way there, and I got through the ride in a daze.
At triage, I couldn’t even stand while they took my details. I bent over a chair until they were ready to check me. Everyone was smiling and encouraging me, and just as they did my internal exam, DDJ said “You’re about to hear good news!” Then they told me I was 7 centimeters dilated and congratulated us for getting there at a good time. They asked to me make the short walk to the delivery room.
Once we got to room 3, Micky, my midwife, asked if I wanted an epidural, and she seemed pleased when I said I prefered to try without it. Next thing I knew, I felt the strong urge to push. Micky and DDJ thought it might be too early and would be an unnecessary drain, but when they checked me again, I was suddenly 9 or 9.5 centimeters! I wasn’t surprised - I knew something was different. I was mentally in the zone, but I didn’t have energy to get up from the bed, so Micky propped up my right hip and had me pushing on my back on a left-tilt. I remembered what I had read about breathing “downward” to avoid bursting blood vessels in my face, and every time a contraction came on, I breathed that way while gripping the side of the bed. Micky started calling me a sweet nickname which made me feel very loved and safe. DDJ continued to say “good!” during each breath, as she had throughout the previous contractions, and I felt confident that I was coping the “right” way.
The urges to push felt very far apart, so I took advantage and rested when I could. At some point, I noticed Micky shushing me during a push, and I felt DDJ fidgeting with the fetal monitor. In the back of my mind, I processed that they were trying hard to hear how the baby was coping through the contractions (which I found out later was because of a nuchal cord), but I didn’t feel afraid.
I knew we were close to finish line when when Micky let me reach to feel the baby’s head. Since the baby seemed to be slipping back up after each push, DDJ suggested that I rest through the next contraction, and build up energy to give a really strong push. I agreed to the plan, but when the next urge came, I had the overwhelming feeling that this was the push. I imagined the baby kicking its way out and and pushed with every ounce of strength in my body. Everyone was extremely positive and encouraging, even as they told me to “phoo” instead of pushing. I was vaguely aware that a doctor stepped into the room, and next thing I knew, I felt something wriggling out of me… I opened my eyes to see my baby coming out! His hand was up in the air and he was alert! Micky asked “Abba, do you want to tell Mommy what you had?” and he exclaimed “I don’t know what I had! A boy?! We had a boy!” At that point, I started to cry, “We did it we did it, I did it. I’m a mom. You’re an Abba! We’re parents! No epidural!” My husband cut the umbilical cord and held our son for the first time. When I got to hold him, I remember telling the baby, “We did it! We did it together!” and that I loved him. I was euphoric.
A few minutes later, DDJ helped me nurse him, and he latched on right away and sucked for a long time. Everyone in the room kept saying how impressed they were with him and me, and we were all extremely emotional. Later, Micky came over and gave me a kiss on the cheek and said that it was a pleasure helping me deliver. She also told me that DDJ was the best doula she had ever worked with. I felt overwhelmingly proud of myself and grateful to everyone who had supported me throughout the labor.
In the days after delivery, I was beaming. I was sore and tired, but my joy, pride, and gratitude outweighed all other sensations. I felt like my baby and I could accomplish anything together. In retrospect, my son’s birth made way for a positive transition into motherhood. The sense of empowerment and strength it gave me is carrying over as we adjust to life together, mother and son.