My husband, Dan, and I had been married for 5 years when we decided we should have a baby. That's probably around the normal marital age for people to start planning pregnancies. Our fifth anniversary, though, just happened to happen while we were living in Seoul, South Korea. Still, we decided we'd try for a baby, and 5 months after that anniversary, we found ourselves in need of prenatal care. I wanted a natural birth without the aid of any medically unnecessary intervention, and I wanted to be able to trust my body (and my doctor) to provide me with one.
I had found Medi Flower online before I'd gotten pregnant and tucked it away in my bookmarks as the only place my heart would let me deliver. That was made most obvious on the day Dan told me he wasn't sure we'd have enough money saved to cover the delivery costs. American through and through, we are used to payment plans and buying things before we can afford them. I cried and yelled and had a hormone-fueled meltdown. At our next appointment, Stella and Dr. C helped us work out the financial aspect of our natural birth. More than that, though, Dr. Chung intimated how important it was to him for us and for our baby to be able to have the birth experience we wanted.
It was Ina May Gaskin who made me want to give birth without medication. I read her Guide to Childbirth and couldn't, by the end of it, fathom a birth experience marred by scheduled induction and the numbing of contractions, by forceps and a routine episiotomy, by a preemptive C-Section. I spent the time leading up to my due date practicing breathing patterns every time I needed pain management. If I stubbed my toe, I'd breathe through it. If I bit my tongue, I'd breathe through it. I breathed through several all night migraines. I kept going back to those nights as proof that I could make it through a day of labor. On top of that, I practiced pre-natal yoga four times a week. I truly believe that that is what prepared my body for delivery. Squats and stretching and Kegels and focused attention.
So, my mind and body were prepared, and I needed a prepared partner. Dan read The Birth Partner and learned more about delivery than I even knew. He learned the signs and positions of labor and how to talk me through transition. Even still, we spent the month of July nursing nervous energy.
Then, on August 7th, 2011, a Sunday and my due date, I woke up at 3 AM in a puddle. Everything I had read assured me my water wouldn't break like it does in the movies, but there I was with my water broken before I'd had a single contraction. Dan was sure I was dreaming, but I had evidence, and he jumped out of bed and made phone calls while pacing the apartment. We were told to wait for strong contractions, so back to bed we went. I started feeling my first contractions around 4 AM. I did my breathing exercises just to see how that would go. I laid in bed, wide awake for another hour and a half, then decided to move to the couch and time contractions. It felt better to sit than it did to lay down. I watched the sun rise up blue through our bathroom window.
I timed my own contractions until 7 AM when I woke Dan up to help. I was doing my breathing and rocking back and forth, imagining a status bar loading from right to left as the contraction passed. I had meant to imagine waves in caves, but all I kept seeing every time was that status bar. For someone so interested in natural birth, I could not have conjured a less natural coping visualization.
So, once Dan was up and timing contractions, he decided we needed to go to the hospital. The contractions were plenty painful, and I had been thinking I might be in hard labor, but I knew I'd become overwhelmed later if I was wrong. I knew that I had to anticipate that they could get much worse in order to be able to manage what they were. I just kept my eyes closed, breathing deep, half-standing half-kneeling over the bed, and rocking from side to side.
The ambulance came, and I was on a gurney for the first time in my life. I was laying on my left side on the floor with my eyes closed. The contractions felt much less manageable laying down, but the jostling of the ambulance through traffic was helpful. We were at the Birth Center by 8:30. We got settled into our room. Our midwife came to check my progress, and I had to lay down on my back. Those were definitely the worst of the contractions. While she was checking, I felt nauseous, so I thought I might be in transition. We were all shocked to find that I was and that it was time to have the baby. Suddenly I was on a birthing stool and being told to start pushing.
Because I'd had my eyes closed for most of the morning, I remember all of this in very distinct image flashes, like a storyboard of the morning. A flash of the ambulance, then the elevator, the bathroom, then a stool in the middle of the room, my hands gripping the seat, then Dan pacing behind the midwife and doctor, the doctor looking in my eyes and telling me to push longer, then a nubby purple head, next thing a splash and out with a shiny, curled up body. I collapsed into shakes and shuddered laughter.
For me, the pushing hurt the most. It was hard to juggle pushing with breathing. I had gotten used to dealing with the earlier wave-type contractions, but they start to feel like convulsions by then, and the stinging was new and hard to get used to. The pushing part, though, is mercifully brief, and I had baby Joash Ames on my chest at 9:31, only an hour after arriving at the birth center, not enough time, even, to have considered getting medicated. It was intense from start to finish, and it is a huge effort marked with definite pain, but it's true, and it's all you can think about, after labor is love.
Everyone at the center showed us such kindness on that day. Because of the speed of our labor, we didn't know our midwife or our attending doctor, we couldn't communicate fully because of our limited Korean, but everyone presented a calming presence and cared for us so well. They genuinely shared in our joy over our son and intuited our needs for meeting his needs. We honestly don't know how the stateside births of our next children will be able to compare. We are only half-jokingly considering medical tourism when the time comes.