Lauren's Water Birth Story
From the early days of my pregnancy, I wanted to feel empowered through my birth experience. Although, I wasn't quite sure what that meant. I read Ina May Gaskin's "Guide to Childbirth" which presents an alternative birth narrative to what our culture feeds us. And I had enough friends with negative and even traumatizing birth experiences to know that I wanted to do this on my terms. Although my goal was to have an unmedicated birth, I was also prepared for the possibility of interventions, I just wanted to be in control of the decision-making.
In my second trimester, I started to experience a lot of anxiety around becoming a mom - what that meant for my career and my place in society, how I would juggle this new responsibility with the rest of my life, how it would all change me. It took months of rehashing the same conversation with my friends who balanced work and kids, yoga (!!!), and lots of books about feminism and childcare for me to begin to shift my thinking. I finally came to the realization that in order for me to be empowered as a new mother I first needed to be supported.
Looking back on it now, I realize that birthing Ray was a manifestation of this idea of support leading to empowerment.
Baby Ray was pretty prompt. On the night of my due date, I was drifting off to sleep when my water broke. Thinking that it could be hours or even days before I actually went into labor, I told my husband and my dear friend Dorna (who was staying with us to help with the birth) to go to sleep. Of course, I was wide awake. I sat in bed and wrote a letter to my baby, expressing all of my excitement to meet her.
Then I felt the first pang. It was a like a light cramp, but definitely unmistakeable. I texted Jess to give her a heads up and then started timing the contractions on my phone. They were hardly painful, but started coming consistently and closer together. By 3AM they were regularly coming at only a few minutes apart, although still pretty bearable. The app started blinking red and told me to head to the hospital. I called Jess and asked her to come over, then I woke up my husband, JP and Dorna. By the time Jess got to my house, everyone was dressed and the lights were on. I was totally amped and ready to go. But instead of rushing to the car, she turned off the lights, put on my labor mix, lit a candle and helped me relax. We ended up spending the next three hours in my living room. I worked through the contractions on a yoga ball (best purchase ever) and put JP to work in the kitchen making lactation cookies and bread (he loves to bake).
As the contractions started becoming more powerful, I began vomiting, something that continued until I got to the pushing stage.
Around 7AM, the contractions were for real and I started feeling the urge to bear down. Knowing that we were about to hit rush hour, I figured if we didn't leave now, we might not make it. We loaded everything into the car and headed to the hospital. I kneeled backward in the front seat, hugging the back of the chair and looking at the floor throughout the 20 minute drive. Jess called the midwives to tell them we were on our way and they let us stay on speaker phone throughout the drive. In the background I could hear a woman pushing and then "It's a girl!" I tried to resist the urge to bear down and focused on not giving birth on the side of the George Washington Parkway.
When we got to the hospital I beelined straight for the elevator. I vomited again at the registration counter and got to skip triage. They monitored me and checked my dilation - 7 cm! After about 40 minutes on the bed, I was free to move around again.
The GW Hospital Midwife program has a couple birthing rooms with tubs. Since you can't reserve them, I hadn't specifically planned on using it, but as soon as someone asked if I wanted to labor in the tub, I was a definite hell yes. It would take some time to prepare it, and so Jess suggested that JP and I get in the shower.
We turned on the warm water, turned off the lights, and I proceeded to take the most intense 60 minute long shower of my life. There was a bar to hold onto during contractions and the sensation of water on my back was just enough to help distract me from the pain. JP fed me Coke so I'd get some energy back. It was really quite special to have that time alone with him. Until that point, I was relying much more on Jess and Dorna to guide me through contractions. I felt like he didn't really know what to do and I wasn't in the mood to guide him. But having the quiet intimacy as my labor progressed felt really special and a great preparation for the next stage of labor.
When they finally filled the tub and it was just the right temperature, I waddled over and got in. It felt amazing. I was able to squat and move around so easily in the water. Since we hadn't really been planning on using a tub, neither JP nor I thought to bring swimsuits, or even a sports bra. Instead, I spent the next few hours au natural, something I could never have imagined I'd actually be comfortable doing. I've never been super confident with my body, and to be naked in front of so many people for so long would have been terrifying in another context. But something about the experience of pregnancy and birthing changed the way I thought about my body. Even today as I am trying to lose all that baby weight, I feel more confident knowing that my body is capable of amazing things.
So, we turned on the labor tunes (I definitely recommend everyone make a playlist for their labor - mine had songs that made me feel relaxed or gave me a warm gushy feeling). Hanging out in the tub while everyone else was standing around felt sort of luxurious - like it was my private hot tub. But soon I started really feeling the urge to bear down. At some point, JP got in the tub so that I could relax against him in between contractions. Dorna sat on the other side and we put a scarf around her waist for me to hold onto when I pushed. We must have done that for an hour or so. Having something else to hold onto really helped the pushing feel more productive. And I also appreciated having others play a more active role - it felt like I wasn't going through the labor alone but I had all this active support.
One of the strangest things about labor was my experience of time. I really had no idea how long things were taking. I remember asking the midwife a couple of times if I was progressing fast enough. She just smiled and said I was doing fine and no one was on a schedule. Really, my only gauge was hearing songs from the playlist begin to repeat themselves.
Laboring in the pool was really quite special. I totally entered this zone where I was 100% active during contractions and then 100% relaxed in between. I was lucky to have long 5 minute breaks which really allowed me to let go. I felt like I was totally in control of my body and knew exactly what to do and when. I loved that feeling. In fact, I never had that feeling of "Oh my god, I can't do this" or "Where is the goddamn epidural"... until the very end. The last ten minutes were absolutely the roughest. Once I could feel the baby's head poking through I changed positions. This time, Dorna held me up from the outside of the pool so that JP could watch me push the baby out. It was all hands on deck as the nurses, midwives, and Jess all gathered around. But the last several pushes were not the same as what I had become used to at this point. I entered the Ring of Fire, as my skin stretched with each push. The burning sensation was so intense. It was the one time that I wanted to just give up and push the baby back in. Thank god for good coaching. I really needed the motivational speeches at the end to get me to just push through that burning feeling. With each push I felt the baby's head poke through a little more. And then, suddenly, the baby seemed to slip right out.
I will never forget the feeling of relief/disbelief/amazement/joy/wonder that I felt in that moment as I held my baby on my chest for the first time. It was spectacular. It was a minute or two before someone told me to check the sex. After getting the umbilical cord out of the way, I turned her around and announced that she was a girl. And just like that, all of the pain disappeared. It's amazing how in one moment I was going through the Ring of Fire and then I just forgot about it (well, almost).
I was so happy to have had the birthing experience that I did. I felt totally supported and like I had the space to have my own agency throughout. I know that I never would have felt that sort of confidence without the preparation I did in yoga and with Jess and without the support team cheering me on. Even when I was deep in the zone (eyes closed for 20 minutes at a time) and unaware of what was happening around me, I knew that I had a great team looking out for me.
Jess has talked a bit about how being a doula and prenatal yoga instructor is a feminist act and I totally get that. I grew so much as a woman throughout my pregnancy and birth. I came to understand my body differently (more positively) and tapped into a source of strength that I had never experienced before. And that sense of empowerment has continued into the fourth trimester as I now figure out how to be a mom.