I didn’t realize how traumatic Atlas’ birth had been for me, until I experienced something remarkably better. Phoebe’s birth was a dream come true. It was fast, relatively peaceful, and — dare I say — easy.
Phoebe, like Atlas, arrived on her due date. The night before, I didn’t sleep well, and eventually got up at 4a to start timing my contractions. They were already 2.5 minutes apart, but I didn’t want to wake anyone up until it was absolutely necessary. I made a pitcher of tea, unloaded the dishwasher, and took a hot shower.
I woke Noah up at 5a. Our friend Ruth arrived at 6a to watch Atlas. When we got to the hospital, I was 7cm dilated. The nurses commented on how much I was smiling for someone so far into labor — but there were definitely tears, too.
We chose to go to a midwifery center in a hospital instead of having another home birth because it was less stressful and more affordable. I knew I wanted a natural birth, to stay fully present in my body, mind, and spirit. I also wanted a way to deal with the pain that didn’t numb me from my experience.
When I was pregnant with Atlas, I read lots of books, but giving birth is so abstract on paper. I assumed I would just listen to my body and figure it out when the time came. But during labor, I had no idea what to do. I felt like an animal, wild and hysterical. I bellowed until I was hoarse. I used Noah as my punching bag.
With Phoebe, I needed a better plan. Or at least, some kind of plan.
Some people find euphemisms effective. They call a contraction: “rush, surge, birthing wave,” they call pain: “sensation,” and hard: “challenging.” I would rather call things as I know them. Labor is actually hard. Contractions are really painful. This is what’s real to me.
But I still have choices. I can choose to be a victim and be overcome by pain. Or I can choose to be a creator, and though I am not in control of my body or my baby, I am always in control of my experience. It’s a life principle that I somehow previously never applied to birth, but once I did, it changed everything.
Whatever I focus on grows. When I focus on pain, pain increases. When I focus on something else, pain doesn’t go away, but it no longer dominates. So I concentrated on something I had power over: my breath.
I asked Noah to count my exhales, and each contraction became a dynamic meditation. For me, it was a powerful example of real-life yoga: staying present in self-awareness, intentional breathing, and the greatest union of breath and body I have ever practiced.
Inhale deeply through my nose, exhale audibly out my mouth, one. Inhale, exhale, two. After nine or ten breaths, the contraction is done. Now rest. Close my eyes. Enjoy the stillness. Gather my strength.
I never felt the primal need to scream. I never felt overwhelmed by pain. At 7:30a, when I felt a sudden onset of pressure, I turned to my midwife: “I forget the stages of labor — is this the transition? What do I do?” Jessica answered in what could either be considered very helpful or completely useless: “Just do what your body tells you to.”
It was exactly the reminder I needed to hear.
I was on my knees, gripping the side of the bathtub. The inflatable birthing tub was being filled, but I never had time to use it. After three pushes, just 15 minutes later, I felt Phoebe’s head come out, the slippery release of her shoulders, then someone was helping me lift my leg over the umbilical cord so I could sit down and hold my daughter.
I had a difficult postpartum time with Atlas. For the first several days, I couldn’t stand up unassisted without fainting. I could barely do anything. I felt lonely and isolated. I mostly stayed in my room, and didn’t leave the apartment alone with Atlas until my 6 week postpartum appointment.
After birthing Phoebe, I feel wonderful. Swollen, sore, and tired, but giddy with awe and excitement. I am stronger and more energetic than I was after Atlas’ birth, and am able to focus on simply enjoying my newborn. I had the empowering, redemptive birth experience my heart longed for and it far surpassed any expectation.
“This is how people get tricked into having more babies,” Noah observes. But I already knew I wanted a third baby, when the time comes. This birth encourages me that when I get a second chance, to believe the best for it and make the most of it.
Things can always get better, and life can surprise you with just how sweet it can be.
Photo credit: my husband. We couldn’t afford a birth photographer and I love photos more than most things, even more than NY-style pizza.