It’s already been a year since Berlin’s birth, and while I sit down to write this I realize while some of the memory is still so vivid, a lot of the details have faded. I still remember the day well, but the gory pain of it all, both during labor and recovery have seemed to subsided. I guess it’s true what they say, “ women would never have more children if they held onto the memory of the pain.”
When we discovered I was pregnant with Berlin, one of the first things Ryan and I did was watch the documentary, “The Business of Being Born.” I always knew I wanted a natural birth, but always imagined it would be in a hospital. After watching this documentary, I became obsessed with having a home birth. Ryan, on the other hand was not so convinced. He was gripped by fear that something might happen to either myself or our unborn daughter. I made several attempts to convince him otherwise, but his fear didn’t subside, and I eventually gave in and found an obstetrician. I carried on seeing the doctor month after month, all the while my gut was telling me that it wasn’t the right decision. Having our baby in a hospital felt unnatural. I was terribly frightened that I wouldn’t be allowed the freedom to move around, birth on a ball, deliver in the shower, or even squat if I felt so inclined. This fear of not being able to control the pain got the best of me at times and for many months I secretly succumbed to the idea of an epidural: especially after being told time and time again by several of my mommy friends that I “must get the epidural” and to “stop trying to be a hero”. My own doctor even told me at one point that if I wanted a “spiritual experience, then go to India.”
It wasn’t until the beginning of my third trimester, when I read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, that I became driven again to have a natural labor. Reading the women’s stories shared in Ina May’s book gave me the courage to follow my heart and go with my gut instinct, which was to deliver a baby in my home without the pressure of a clock or strangers coaching me through the delivery. From that moment on I decided not to discuss my decision with anyone. I realized that everyone had their own opinion (and fears) regarding childbirth, and it was best if I kept my decision of delivering at home to myself.
At thirty-eight weeks I finally found the courage to let Ryan in on my decision – yes, I waited until two weeks before my due date! I then met with several midwives, not clicking with any, until Ryan and I met with Nile. It wasn’t five minutes into our interview with Nile that both Ryan and I knew we found our midwife. All the hesitation and fear that Ryan had felt all these past months was squelched when he met Nile. He was suddenly behind my decision one hundred and ten percent, and was absolutely ecstatic at the idea of delivering at home.
The next two weeks were put on fast forward. I was running around like a mad woman – gathering all the supplies needed for a home birth while squeezing in multiple appointments with Nile to acquaint her with my medical history and my soon to be born baby. The two weeks leading up to my due date were exhilarating, yet intense. While we were both excited for Berlin to be born, we were quite nervous to have her arrive before we were prepared.
Then my due date arrived, and still no sign of Berlin’s arrival. Each appointment was the same news, “there is no sign of dilation and the baby has not dropped low enough.” Although my midwife assured me that Berlin would arrive when she was ready, I began to panic. For one, I was done with carrying a watermelon for a belly around, and for another, my sister, who was planning on being at the birth was leaving for a two month hiatus to Europe in mere days. So I did what all pregnant women do when they are over waddling around like an elephant: I ate spicy foods, ran/walked stairs, did squats, had acupuncture, induced nipple stimulation…you name it. I only stopped at Castor Oil, deciding to save that for an emergency situation.
On August 8th, I had what I now know to be my final checkup with my midwife. I pleaded with her to get the baby out, telling her I was desperate, and with hesitation she offered to “sweep my membranes.” I happily allowed her to do so, convinced that nothing was going to get this baby out. I actually began to fear that I may carry her for several more weeks, maybe months! Shortly after she left, I began to feel a bit of cramping, but my midwife warned me that was common, so I thought nothing of it and carried on with my day. Later that night, I woke around 3:30 am. feeling a bit off. I went to the bathroom and when I returned I felt a slight gush of water in my pants. I ran back to the bathroom, unsure of what had just happened, and discovered only a small amount of water. From what I understood when your water broke, you got a rush of water, not a trickle. So I returned to the bedroom, woke Ryan and did what every sane person does, I googled it. From then on we knew it was game time (as google told us so) and we were both incredibly excited. I attempted to lay back down and get some rest, but my excitement got the better of me and instead I got up to clean the house. For the next several hours, I cleaned each room from top to bottom, made myself a hearty breakfast, curled my hair (yes, I curled my hair!) and started to make date bars, when suddenly the contractions began taking over.
Ryan then woke shortly after (around 7 AM) to me bracing myself on the side of couch while timing my contractions on an iPhone app. He (being my husband) thought this was awesome and was joyfully calling all our family on speaker phone allowing them to hear me bear down during contractions, all the while laughing and telling them I sounded like a “dying elephant.” If I wasn’t hunched over the couch in gut wrenching pain, I most likely would have killed him.
Around 9 AM, two of my three sisters arrived, while sadly my third sister had boarded her flight for Europe that morning. Luckily, I was in good hands with my two remaining sisters as one is a trained doula while the other is a natural cheerleader and caregiver. They jumped right in guiding me through the next several hours of contractions and intense back labor. Thanks to my amazing support team (hubby included) I was able to find my inner strength and allow my breathing to guide me through the pain for the next several hours. I was apparently in such a deep trance that my sisters later told me that one of my contractions lasted 45 minutes (it was at this point they gave up on the contraction app and finally called my midwife instead). When Nile arrived, my sisters were told that they must hydrate and feed me or I was going to be put on an IV. My poor sisters and hubby attempted to feed me for the next several hours as I pushed them away refusing to take so much as a sip of water. These hours I remember as the toughest, as I jumped from room to room, bedroom floor to bed, bath to bathroom floor, attempting desperately to find my zone again. I didn’t know it then, but I was entering transition, and the end was near. But at the time one minute longer was too long and in my head I was conjuring up ways to get myself to the hospital and quickly consume all the drugs in the ward. I was daydreaming of my rescue when I blurted out to my husband “I can’t do this anymore, I need the epidural!” and he simply told me “you ARE doing it, keep it up.” With that I forgot all about the hospital, found my zone again and carried on. Shortly thereafter I began to push on all fours in the middle of our bathroom floor. My sister and my best friend (who surprised me by flying up from LA) were in the bathtub-front row seating, the midwife was behind, while my doula sister and hubby were in front of me coaching me along.
Enduring gut wrenching, terrific pain, I pushed for the next two and a half hours, but it was the most beautiful two and a half hours of my life – exactly how I imagined my labor to be. There was no pressure, there was no one telling me how and when to push, there were no strangers, there was only the love and support of my husband, sisters, friend, and midwife encouraging me on this very special birth journey, and their joy and anticipation at meeting this newest member of the family.
At my final push I heard gasps of excitement and relief from the room. Ryan reached down and caught Berlin through my legs and laid her on the floor beneath us as we wept in joy.
It wasn’t moments later and Berlin was latching on for the first time. It was so incredible to me then (and still is) what a natural and beautiful occurrence this is. I had no idea how to breastfeed or what to do but Berlin latched on her first try and her instincts lead the way.
From there the midwives lead us to our bed, placed Berlin in my arms, ushered everyone to leave the room and allowed us to be, as a family for the first time. Ryan and I sat in awe for the next hour just watching this beautiful little creature who just joined our world.
It was the perfect birth, more than I ever could have imagined. I overcame my fears, followed my intuition and trusted my body to work as it should. Yes, it was like no other pain I’ve ever encountered, but it was a spiritual journey that changed me forever (and I didn’t even have to go to India to experience it).
Photos by my amazing best friend Jessica Pell.