I gently woke Keelan and told him that contractions had began but were not urgent, and to keep sleeping. I moved onto the couch in the living room and continued to time my contractions, which were now about a minute long, and 10 minutes apart. I slept between them, and had to get onto all fours when they came. I moved back and forth like that until the sky began to glow with blue dawn light. I texted my mom and asked her to come over. She sat with me, on the floor beside the couch, with her to-go mug of coffee in her hand. She quietly rubbed my back as I rested, and encouraging me gently as I contracted. She made sure I was drinking water to hydrate for the labor ahead. At around 7am I was beginning to need to make noise through the contractions, and my mom suggested she wake Greer and get her ready to go over to her house for the day. I agreed that it was time to get her up and out of the house, and asked that my mom wake Keelan on her way upstairs. I was sitting on the toilet when Greer came in to the bathroom. She was smiling and happy, and had no confusion or hesitation when she said goodbye to me, which brought me a huge reassurance that everything was going to fine.
As soon as I got back into the living room I reached out to my Doula and asked her to come. Soon after, Keelan called my midwife Sara and asked her to come as well. I remember hearing his voice from the other room saying to her, “Hi, yeah, can you come now?” And thinking, here we go. My doula Roxy’s presence, and her hands on my body, encouraged me and helped me to maintain a positive attitude. I knew that I could accomplish the challenging task ahead of me. After a few contractions with Roxy on the living room floor she suggested I move into the shower. After some time by myself in the shower, contracting and breathe-counting through each one, I asked for help moving into the bedroom, and onto the bed. It was on the bed that my contractions reached the next level of intensity. Peaking at a much higher level of sensation then they had before. A sensation that caused me to yell out involuntarily. They tempted me to let in fear and self-doubt, and they made resting between contractions much more challenging to accomplish.
Sara and her assistant Nathalie arrived quietly and, while I was aware of their presence, Sara remained on the perimeter, observing without making me feel watched, the way a good midwife knows how to. Many contractions of this kind peaked and ebbed, while Keelan and Roxy supported me, with their hands and their words. I remember Roxy assuring me that I was “safe in my body”, and that I was working with the contractions just right, “just like that, that’s exactly right”.
I was encouraged to move into the tub that had been filled, right beside my bed. Many contractions rocked through my body in the warm water. I could see beams of the bright, warm, spring day that shone on the other side of the dark curtains that were drawn in my bedroom windows. I reached for the hands of Keelan and Roxy as each one began. Holding onto them grounded me as I rode the powerful sensations to their peak, and back down to a place of near-relief, again and again. More intense still were the contractions that came next, causing me to need to bite down on the edge of the tub as they began, and to roar out, like I never knew I could, at their peaks. I felt at once overwhelmed and exhausted by them. But I was relieved by their presence as well, because I knew that the pushing and the birth were very near now.
I wanted to push. I wanted to be pushing, to be in the pushing stage of my labor. I wanted to push my baby out in the tub, right then, and be done. The sleepless night that had come before this day of incredible work left me absolutely exhausted. Each powerful contraction required such tremendous effort from me that, with each break, I wasn’t sure I had enough strength left for the one that was coming. But the next one always came, and I reached out for anchors, and I rode it, and I roared through it. Again and again. And then, at around 11:30 am, I began to surface from deeply meditative labor-state that I had been in, and I began speaking to my team about my need to “be done” soon. My need to rest. My need to push my baby out. They heard me. They heard my doubts and my fears and my earnestness. I was beginning to give in to the temptations of fear and self-doubt that are ever-present on the perimeters of bravery. I wanted someone to tell me it was almost over. To tell me what to do. To take over. I said “I’m pushing”, and I began to.
But, pushing a baby out is something I had never felt in full sensation. Truthfully, I could feel that my cervix had gone away. At one point, while I was in the tub, my midwife asked me where I was feeling my sensations when they peaked. I responded by telling her that I felt them in my cervix. A little later she asked me if I still felt my cervix. I told her that I did not. But that only partially informed my decision to start pushing. I decided it was time because I needed it to be. I had heard that the urge to push was undeniable and unstoppable. I was looking for a sensation that was unfamiliar to me. I was hoping that an instinctual urge would come over me, rendering me unable to do anything but to heroically push my baby out. But instead, It felt like I was making a call to go on to the next step.
I had given birth vaginally before this day came. My first labor was at home and un-medicated, all the way through transition (almost 24 hours), but it ended in a transfer to the hospital, where I received and epidural before I pushed my baby out. I didn’t really know what pushing or the “urge to push” would feel like. But I had other knowledge that was rooted in the fact that I trusted birth. I trusted my body and my baby’s body, and I trusted that together, our bodies knew how to do this. I knew that we operated on ancient, inherited wisdom. And that that wisdom would lead us to the culmination of our efforts. What I didn’t know was something I learned that day: the mind and the body work together as much as they work in opposition, The logical mind is the enemy of instinct, and uncoupling one’s self from that deep-lying wisdom, even for a moment, creates wiggle-room for the rival that seeks to dismantle it’s strength.
Many more contractions came and went and I began to feel frustrated and fearful that maybe I wasn’t as close to my daughter’s birth as I now urgently needed to be. I began to spin out about how much longer it might take, how I might not be able to weather a much longer journey. Sara asked me to get out of the tub and empty my bladder on the toilet. Thats where I was when I told her I had fears emerging about the uncertainty of my progress. She was there more than two years ago when those very fears were planted. She calmly offered me a vaginal exam. I knew that only an exam would provide the information I was feeling anxious about not having. I knew It would give us information that would help steer my decisions going forward. I told her I wanted her to do it, and was ultimately fearful that the exam would tell me what I was afraid of hearing, that there was more work ahead than I felt I could complete. The self-doubt was seeping in.
I got back on the bed. It took the full support of Keelan’s body to get me there. An uncomfortable exam presented a small cervical lip that I had been pushing against. Sara offered me options: I could allow her to assist the lip behind the baby’s head, or I could continue laboring the way I was and try to get rest between contractions. I told her I couldn’t do it anymore. I tried to give up my power. I tried to quit. I feared the intensity and its relentless need to surge through my body, over and over again, for an unknown amount of time. What had begun to dismantle my strength and determination was just that, fear. It was disguised as fear of sensation when in fact, it was an old fear that was re-emerging: fear that all of my hard work to that point had been done in vain. I was afraid that my progress would stall, like it had in my labor with Greer, and that I would continue to contract for an unknown amount of time. I was afraid that I was no where close to holding my baby. It was self-doubt and even self-pity, and I hated the taste of it in my mouth as I spoke.
Sara said something like, “I need to talk to Lenny, alone”. Roxy, Keelan, and Nathalie left. Sara presented my options to me again, calmly, while I moved around on my bed, contracting on hands and knees and collapsing back down again for the very short breaks between. I wanted an out. I knew that the only out would be an epidural; a car ride, and the hospital, and ultimately, a total surrender of control to the outcome of my child’s birth. Sara continued to be direct and clear with me: I was very close to pushing my baby out. She told me “Listen, I don’t bargain with women, I never have, but I’m about to for the first time”.
Her monk-like ability to simply allowing things to unfold gave way to a forthrightness that spoke directly to the whimpering part of me that had recently arrived. She told me that she knew I could do it, and that I was so close. She told me that I must “re-frame the sensations” that I was experiencing, within my own mind. She said that she knew it was very hard to do, but that I absolutely had to do it. She told me that with one more uncomfortable exam she could push my cervical lip over my baby’s head easily, and that together, we could work through some guided pushing. She told me I could do it, that she could help me, and that I could have the birth I wanted, soon.
I mustered what I needed to muster. I don’t know how else to describe it. I winced through the exam, and with one electrifying move, the lip was gone. Sara told me she wanted to have me sit on the toilet for a little while. She used her head lamp to observe what was happening to my bottom through the next few contractions. Keelan and Roxy were now in the bathroom with us. The dialogue I was having within myself shifted after out little talk, and at the onset of every contraction, I began to tell myself “I’m going to do this”. With each contraction I brought effort to my pushing, but wasn’t really feeling like it was accomplishing much. Sara told me to feel inside myself for my baby’s head. I felt it. “It’s right there”, she assured me. I asked why it was so soft. She smiled and shrugged.
It was right there. Just inside. A little piece of a much larger head, just inside of an impossibly small opening. There is a small window to the left of the toilet, where I was sitting, and it was open. All of a sudden, I noticed that it was a really warm, sunny spring day. Just on the other side of that little window. I heard birds singing and my neighbor’s children playing. I came back to focus on my body, in that bathroom, and exactly what needed to occur, physiologically, in order for my baby to be born. It seemed completely impossible for a moment, and then I realized that my anatomy would make way for my baby, but not without my making it so. It wasn’t going to happen to me, I had to do it.
I knew that I could, and I decided that I would. The nature of my pushing shifted as Sara put a finger in the posterior edge of my vaginal opening. “Push HERE”, she told me a few times. “Push DOWN, into your butt”. I felt the shift, and all of a sudden I knew what the ‘right kind’ of pushing felt like. At the beginning of every contraction I told myself, “I’m going to do this”, and each push took every ounce of strength within my body. My eyes had to close to access it.
I felt the muscles in my upper legs, and back begin to be exhausted with the effort. I felt my bottom opening. I heard myself roaring out! This was not the passive ‘oozing out’ kind of birth that Michelle Odant has written about. This was birth by absolute determination and force of strength. This was birth by iron will and it demanded effort from me that could not be brought at any degree below maximum. It was tempting to bring less, but I knew that I was the one who had to bring this baby out, all the way out, and that she would not be delivered without my full effort, every single time.
I could hear Sara’s calm encouragement that yes, that was it, I was doing it just right. It was empowering to know exactly what I had to do. That power gave me the strength to do it, to keep doing it, and to yell and curse the need to keep doing it. The large muscles of my legs began to give out and I needed to move off the toilet. Sara suggested assisted deep squats through some pushing, and I hung from Keelan’s neck as I bent down low from the knees and pushed. Then I moved onto the wooden birthing stool, where I contracted and pushed until the muscles of my body could no longer hold me up.
Sara had my team lay me down so that every ounce of energy could go into the work that would bring my baby out. Work that I was now doing independently and determinately. I could not be stopped from doing it, and I no longer needed anyone to tell me how to do it, or that I could. The fearful, discouraged version of myself that bad been clawing at the edges for relief and support, had slunk off. Lying on the bathroom floor, I re-found my focus with every contraction. I closed my eyes and pushed with a power that I summoned from outside of myself. So many contractions passed that way, and still there was no baby in my arms. In a brief moment of pause, as I caught my breath, I said something like, “Sara! Get her out!”
She calmly told me she was drawing up lidocaine, in case I wanted her to give me an episiotomy. In her own way, she had let me know there was an alternate option, and that was all I needed to hear. With the next few contractions I screamed out as I pushed with my eyes closed tight, and I focused on the sensations I felt as I brought my baby’s head all the way out. I pushed again, blind and dumb to the world outside my body, and I felt her entire body forced out of mine, wet and soft, and then gone.
All at once she was on my chest. My big, healthy, beautiful, gentle girl. Quiet but definitely full of life. So peaceful. And there, on the bathroom floor, our family was complete. Keelan was sitting right behind my head. He had been my physical anchor as I roared her out with force. I had been fighting a battle, and he had been my willing support. Then, in an instant, he was my tender-hearted, loving partner, and we were all-at-once a unit. Together in the same victory. A family that we had dreamed-up and brought into being, right there on the bathroom floor.
Delaney had spent almost the entire third trimester in a posterior position. Despite my best efforts for months, that is how she stayed. I assumed she would turn in labor, but it wasn’t until after she was out that Sara told me she had been born posterior. Before I moved from the bathroom floor, my doula, Roxy told me that only 5% of posterior babies ended up being born posterior; the other 95% turn into a better position during labor. It was validating to know that there was a clear, physiological reason that my pushing had required such intense effort. And I wondered, of those 5% posterior presenting babies, how many were born vaginally, and how many still at home, unmedicated.
Once I felt ready, I pushed out my placenta. Sara suggested we move me to my bed, and only then did I realize that there was no reason for me to be lying on the bathroom floor. It took every hand in the room to get me, my baby, and my placenta-in-a-bowl, to my bedroom. Once I was in my bed, with chucks pads under my bottom, and peanut butter toast in my hand, I was floating with an euphoric sense pride and gratitude. I had overcome self-doubt, and journeyed through the greatest accomplishment of my life. And there I was, on the other side of a birth I had dreamed into reality, with my chunky baby in my arms.