“Okay, I guess we should go in, then,” I said from the yoga ball I bounced on. My two friends sat, bleary-eyed at four in the morning, but watching me for signs. Signs that this was the real deal. I didn’t really know. The contractions hurt like bad cramps, coming every few minutes for the last half hour, but I could still talk through them. I walked out into the darkness of the morning. When I got to the truck, my water broke.
We’d all gone to the birth center two times that weekend, with my birth bag, older daughter, and our snacks, because of Braxton Hicks contractions coming every 5-10 minutes. Birthing my daughter had happened in four hours and without warning. I knew this one would be faster. Part of me remained a little panicked. That part screamed for a home birth, saying this whole ordeal of having to drive 15 minutes to have a baby in a home setting was ridiculous. It wasn’t the location or facility that bothered me. I carried, at all times, the schedules of about 10 people. Every morning, I notified who was on call that day and when.
I didn’t have a birth partner. I had a seven-year-old who watched birthing videos with her fingers in her ears and eyes shut tight. I had two friends whose calm, quiet presence I depended on, but their schedules didn’t always allow them to be available.
Going into labor wasn’t an act of drawing into myself and focusing on breathing in a candle-lit room with Enya playing. In my mind it was scrambling out the door while making sure my older daughter was emotionally supported.
I’d been on edge for the last month. I’d thought I’d have her early. I’d had Braxton Hicks contractions for weeks during the days of finishing college. The baby liked to lean out my front side so much that I tore an abdominal tendon. Pelvic pain made me walk around like a penguin cowboy. I thought any day could be the day. Of course I was wrong. Because she turned, settled her back along my spine, snuggled up to the placenta, and all of the contractions stopped. I spent hours on the “Spinning Babies” website and did more yoga than I had in my whole life trying to turn her to (I thought) trigger labor. Plus, I knew the risks and pains of posterior births. But with her in that position, all the abdominal and pelvic pain I’d had for months was gone.
“Maybe she turned to make you more comfortable,” the midwife said.
“I’m too jaded to believe that.”
She smiled. “Well, babies come when they’re ready,” she said. “They know when the time is right.”
I couldn’t trust a fetus to know that much. I’d been a single mom too long. I had my own day planner memorized, along with knowledge of where my daughter was, if she’d eaten, and her schedule running through my head at all times.
“Yeah, well, this weekend would be really good for me, though, because all of my support people are available,” I said. I smiled a bit to make it look like a joke. Waiting, at home, alone, with a rambunctious daughter to care for, depending on two people to get us to the birth center and stay there until it was okay to leave, was a mix of constant fear and agony.
“Oh my god, my water just broke,” I said.
“Do…do you want me to get a towel for you to sit on?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Oh god this is so gross!”
In the 15 minutes of driving, my contractions went from these almost unnoticeable cramps to waves of all-encompassing pain that left me moaning, straightened in the passenger side so my butt wasn’t even on the seat, and gasping for air. The midwife came out to meet us when we pulled in the parking lot. Within minutes, I’d stripped off my clothes and climbed into the tub while she turned on the water. By the time my other friend arrived with Mia, the baby’s head was almost crowning.
I hadn’t pushed yet. I hadn’t done much but scream through contractions that were twice as painful as I remembered. I had to be kneeling, my head ducked, mouth skimming the water’s level, my arms stretched out, fingers grasping on the edge of the tub.
The water rippled with my breath when I remembered to let it out.
Five women surrounded me: the midwife, the nurse, my two friends, and Mia. I felt them. I felt at home, almost floating, enclosed in a bubble of females. Then I heard the midwife, telling me with authority to push.
“I don’t want to push, it hurts too much!”
“She’s crowning, Stephanie, you need to push. I’ll guide her out then you need to reach down and catch her and bring her up to your chest. C’mon, now, push!”
“Why can’t you just take her out?! Just take her out! Why isn’t she coming out?”
“Oh, she’s coming out. Push, Stephanie. Just one good push and she’ll be here.”
I screamed through another contraction. I’d, so far, had no active part in this birth. This was all my body’s doing. Or maybe the baby’s. But I did finally push through the pain I’d wanted to run from. Just five hours and 15 minutes after her due date, and about 30 minutes after arriving at the birth center, my little Coraline’s head was under my nose.
She calmed me. Her head, smelling like water and raw steak, and wrinkled body, pressed to my chest, brought me back, out of the panic. I closed my eyes and rested my cheek on that head. I felt her sweet nature, her sleepy thoughts, and her instant comfort I’d get to know over the next few weeks.
My friend cut the cord. Mia held her new sister while I got situated on the bed. Everyone started drifting in and out around me—my cousin came to pick up Mia and take her to day camp, one friend went to class, and the other drove me home a few hours later. Coraline had come the morning after my cousin arrived to help out for a few days. She’d come when my support people could be there. She’d come pink, healthy, nearly nine pounds, and perfect. Even in timing.
Hear Stephanie Land in The Mamalode Podcast, Episode 1, from March 2016