I wrote up B’s birth story when he was just 3 months old, hesitant at first because it’s an intimate, vulnerable thing to tell. But funny thing about birth stories: nobody really cares. And the further a person is removed from birth, the LESS they’re interested in your story.
And yet even knowing this, you feel compelled to tell it, need to tell it, because it’s a moment of such importance to you, such intensity of experience, the moment of physical transition from mother-to-be to actually being a mother (though some would argue that, philosophically speaking, being-a-mother is more action than condition, but that’s a tangent for another time); it’s also the acute transformation from you and your sweet internalized symbiote to you plus one (though, again, I feel like the whole first year and beyond is about the process of sorting out residual particle entanglement). In any case, the birth story, especially for that first (and, for me, likely only) child, can feel in some ways like the last great story with yourself as plucky protagonist before you shift into what will ever after only be a supporting role.
The closing of a chapter, the beginning of a new.
And anyway there’s catharsis in the telling. You tell the story for yourself, to anchor yourself to transformative events that sometimes feel like they happened to someone else. Or drawing the line of continuity from Past to Present, that you’re still you, even if you’re permanently changed. And of course there’s the celebration of the miracle of this new little person who’s somehow here despite every uncertainty encountered in the course of getting to this moment, a process which made you appreciate the crazy complexity of biology, the coordinated teamwork between your body and baby, a delicate choreography playing out over months. You feel like it’s damn miraculous that you crossed that finish line together.
I read a lot of birth stories in discussion forums while I was waiting for B to arrive. I never posted mine there, but now’s my turn, I guess.
B’s original due date was May 31, but all through my 3rd trimester I’d have bouts of intense Braxton Hicks contractions, lasting for hours, only minutes apart, I (and my Dr) assumed I’d probably end up going into labor early (though in retrospect I suspect all of the contractions were my uterus trying to wrangle an active and obstinate B into a more optimal position.) So this was cause for anxiety early on, but once I cleared 37 weeks, 38 weeks, then 39 weeks, I began to relax more and more.
Coming up on the 25th of May, I started thinking maybe, just maybe I’d go into labor a few days early for the new moon / super moon. After all, I was a new moon baby. So c’mon lunar pull. But a super new moon baby wasn’t in the cards. Instead we ended up making it all the way to the end and a little beyond as it turned out.
Here’s an account of those final days:
39 weeks + 6 days: epic flash rainstorm, theatrical proportions, sky gone dark, rain coming in horizontal sheets, lightning strikes to our building setting off the interior doorbell. One second I’m videoing the fury, filming a deck umbrella across the way ripped from its balcony tethers and flung to the flooded street below. And next minute I’m backing away from the windows with childhood tornado flashbacks thinking oh shit, should Haku and I be hiding in the bathtub right now? and then oh shit, what if I go into labor because of this, how will we get to the hospital? Visions of having to deliver my own baby alone in the bathtub with hund looking on awkwardly.
Later that night after the storm is long past, I wake up at 3am with restless backache and decided to take Haku for a quick walk around the block.
He’s game. He’s always game.
40 weeks / Due Date: T decides to work from home, says I’m making him nervous with the middle of the night hund walks. He’ll be working from home from here on out.
I start drinking my teas and eating my dates in earnest this week. And running errands, walking the hund, and cleaning house. T periodically urges me to take it easy, but then my doula tells me to be more active.
CTG at the hospital since my Dr’s office is closed for renovations. Nothing eventful. They tell me come back in 3 days for another CTG if no baby.
Meanwhile a couple of friends are betting that I’ll go into labor on the June 9th full moon, so we make interim Sunday brunch plans for the 4th, assuming of course baby doesn’t come beforehand. Har har. But seriously, the brunch place looks amazing. I’m weighing which I’m more excited about—new baby or pancakes.
40 weeks + 3 days: another hospital CTG. All good. Afterward Dr suggests I start thinking about when I’d like to induce. Oh shit. Messaging my doula afterward, she suggests no later than the 9th—report back to my friends that a full moon baby may be a real possibility.
40 weeks + 4 days: Sure enough, baby stays put so I get to keep my brunch plans (thanks, B). I’m massive. It’s a decent amount of walking there and back due to part of the Ringbahn being under construction and me not wanting to look around for the Ersatzbus. Doula would approve.
All that rich brunch food comes back to haunt me later in the afternoon with a terribly upset stomach. Wake up from a pitiful nap gagging. Doula sends me out for a walk and some fresh air (very German). At bedtime I’m feeling particularly worn out and crampy and nauseous, and generally a little emotional and low in spirits.
40 weeks + 5 days: Wake up like normal around 4:30/5am, but B’s movements seem uncharacteristically sluggish, which starts to really weird me out after consulting Dr. Google, but then B seems mostly back to normal after breakfast.
Go on to have a relatively normal day. Drink my teas, eat my figs, roll on the exercise ball. Doula suggests I use my spiky massage ball on a couple of different acupressure points around my ankles, so I do a good bit of this throughout the day.
That night T and I finish up watching the Star Trek TNG series finale. We’ve been slowly rewatching the series off and on for months and that night I feel weirdly compelled to get that completed. The entire evening it feels like B is headbutting my cervix. Not painful, just a persistent kind of knocking (rap-tap-tapping at the chamber door).
Bedtime, T checks in like he’s been doing every night the last weeks, especially since I was feeling rough the night before. The usual report: lots of Braxton Hicks and crampies, a feeling like it could be nothing, or maybe I could go off at any point—”At least I feel really good,” I tell him. “Like I’m in a really good mood.”
Famous last words.
10:30pm, I’ve been reading in bed only maybe 10min and my water spontaneously breaks.
Like wtf, I thought that only happened this way in movies. It comes without any fanfare after another painless contraction, a bizarre yet unmistakeable sensation exactly like a membrane gently popping, followed by a small warm gush.
I jump immediately out of bed, and there’s a bigger gush, so I run to the bathroom. Get a little fluid on the tile floor and it’s faint pink. Commence with shaking. Thoughts start flying. Pink, trying to remember, what did they tell us about pink in class?Am I supposed to go to the hospital now? Calm myself down, get the shaking under control, clean myself up. Pink’s fine. I’m not even having real contractions yet, so no reason to go anywhere until I do.
Emerge from the bathroom and let T know what’s going on, poking my head into the livingroom with a comical, “Sooooo …” And him snapping to attention because I only JUST said good night and why else would I be there.
Give my doula (J) a call. Game plan is to just hang out for now, wait for contractions to start, which is a bit like anticipating an earthquake, try to get some sleep. She advises me to eat something hearty since it might be my last good meal for a while, but my stomach is still kind of touchy, and the nervous excitement isn’t helping matters.
I head back to bed, but I don’t really sleep. Overnight contractions slowly pick up, during which I’m in contact with J sporadically giving progress reports via SMS.
40 weeks + 6 days: Things are starting to get painful, and my back is hurting. I don’t want to stay in bed anymore, so I get T up around 4am (poor guy slept in his clothes just in case), then call J to come over around 5am.
Labor at home a while, my perception of time compromised, trying to time contractions. For the most part it’s going pretty well, and I’m all “look at me, I can do this”, until it turns abruptly into pretty nasty back labor, contractions like 2 min apart and some even doubling up on each other to last 4-5min.
It’s been more than 12 hours since my water broke, so J gets in contact with Vivantes Friedrichshain where I’m registered, but turns out the hospital is at capacity, so she has to call around to see who else is available. I’m pretty locked into pain-world at that point and not saying much, but I remember her briefly mentioning Charite, and I let out a tortured cry of, “Not Mitte!” Haha.
So we end up deciding to head to Kreuzberg. Trying to climb down the four flights of stairs to the waiting cab between contractions is awkward and drama-filled. And on the ride over, poor cabbie’s terrified I’m going to have the baby in the car.
Arrive at the hospital to find out I’m at only 3cm. Oh good fucking grief. I am utterly unprepared for the intensity of the back labor, legit like being slow-stabbed with hot knives. I can hardly think or move, so I quickly reevaluate my no-meds plan and opt for the PDA, which I guess is different than the epidural you always hear about in the US since I can still move my legs … aaaand feel pain and increasing pressure, but at least it knocks out that crazy-making back pain and I get a little relief.
I’m not at all sure how long I’m in the bed. Not very long. They step the medication up incrementally, asking me each time to move my legs and report how I feel. Then they leave me alone for a bit, during which I experience some tripped out synesthetic perceptions of the drug in the form of a lavender-colored mist cascading through my wandering thoughts … before it starts to recede again all too quickly.
They check me and I’m now at 5cm. Go-go lavender mist, I guess. I’m feeling a lot of pressure on my cervix with contractions, and this ramps up quickly even with the medication. Comically I wasn’t prepared for this sensation, as descriptions of labor contractions talk almost exclusively about the uterus and comparisons with menstrual cramps, and meanwhile at this moment I’ve never been more aware of my cervix stretching and contorting and omg it’s just crazy. J has me do this Captain Morgan pose, standing with one leg on a step while I hold onto a rope for dear life. Get gravity working for us. Hurts so bad.
Things intensify exponentially from there. The back pain is coming back, so I asked for another dose, but it doesn’t seem to do much of anything for the pain this time.
We hit shift change for the midwives, and around this time the new crew starts obsessing about my bladder because of that note in my Mutterpass (from waaaay back when my bladder and expanding uterus got into a bizarre traffic jam at the beginning of my 2nd trimester) and wanting me to go have a pee. So an excruciating trip to the bathroom with an audience and I just can’t go, can’t even visualize where my bladder or urethra should be at this point, in too much pain, contractions too close together. They’re threatening me with a catheter, but I don’t care. Give me the f*ing catheter if you think I need one. Empty threats, it turns out.
Get back to the room and finally get them to check my cervix again, because pressure is INSANE, and I swear I felt something “pop” down there. They check, at first dubious (this seems ever my plight), but then they’re like “Oh! Baby’s here!” So I guess I progressed from 5cm to 10cm in just a couple of hours, caught everyone by surprise.
The final bit’s crazy. It’s like 4pm. I’m so exhausted by then, and it hurts so bad. Ring of Fire’s no joke. I hit kind of a raw emotional place and am sobbing, feeling like a trapped animal between waves of pain and pressure and no way to escape except to do the thing, but what if I can’t do the thing? Help me, I don’t think I can do the thing! But T’s telling me I can do it, that I’m almost done.
They have me get on all fours on the hospital bed, and T sits crosslegged at the head of the bed so I can hold onto him while I’m pushing. The room is so hot, no AC, and he’s holding an ice pack to my face between pushes and it keeps melting away. Between pushes one of the midwives keeps carefully and absurdly administering homeopathic globuli under my tongue, which I want to protest, but frankly I’m too busy protesting bigger discomforts.
And then each time pushing, the stark stillness of the room like everyone is holding their breaths, a hollow void, I’ll start to moan but then there’s the stern German voice of the Beleghebamme telling me No crying, just PUSH.
Best advice tbh.
Most intense thing I think I’ll ever do—
—And the immediate wild slippery sense of relief when I push B out.
I’m a little dazed. All of a sudden he’s on the table between my legs all bluish and crying. My brain doesn’t even have a chance to register our mutual phase change. Hands all around me stripping my shirt off and my bra, and suddenly he’s in my arms, and I don’t know if I picked him up or they gave him to me. I pull B to my chest as they help me lie down on the bed with him at my breast.
My first real coherent thought is gosh, what thick eyelashes he has, how is he so beautiful?