40 weeks pregnant

my dream birth

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.

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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.

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atlas’ birth story

I gave birth at home after six hours of active labor, which is relatively short for a first-time mom. I lost a lot of blood, but not enough to warrant hospital transfer. I needed stitches, but I’ve healed well. For the first couple days postpartum, I couldn’t stand up without fainting, but I peed squatting in a bedpan and I love to squat-pee.

As far as births go, it was wonderful — intimate, peaceful, and free of complications. But as far as Friday afternoon activities go, it was absolutely awful. 

My original due date was December 12th, but that was based on the predictive method using a regular 28-day cycle. My periods were irregular, so I made my own calculations. I decided December 4th was a more accurate due date. My midwife agreed and updated my file.

I didn’t have any particular expectations about giving birth. I didn’t give much thought to labor positions, breathing techniques, or other strategies. I didn’t attend classes or prepare candles or music. I assumed I would listen to my body, eat my snacks, and do whatever my midwife told me.

I never thought twice about a natural birth. I wasn’t afraid of pain simply because I didn’t see the point in fearing what I couldn’t control. I believed in my body and what it was made to do.

But optimistic beliefs and the power of positive thinking only go so far. In retrospect, I completely understand why women choose epidurals, schedule c-sections, and stop after one child. Natural birth is a commitment, and easier kept at home.

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My water broke punctually at 12:45a on December 4th. I leaked for over 7 hours — not a sudden flood like in the movies. Since I tested positive for Group B Strep, I needed to go into labor within 12 hours to avoid hospital transfer. I was relieved and excited when mild contractions began at 3:00a. I knew I would be having a baby that day.

At first it was all joy and anticipation. Getting tattoos taught me to channel uncomfortable physical sensations into pleasurable experiences. I applied this to contractions in early labor and it worked successfully for several hours. I ate a hearty meal. I put on lip gloss and posed for photos. I texted friends. I instagrammed.

And then it wasn’t fun anymore.

My midwife arrived at 2:30p and I promptly ripped my clothes off. I moved around from floor to birthing tub to toilet to birthing stool to bed. I bellowed until my throat was sore. I felt frustrated and helpless. My body inexplicably and repeatedly attacked itself and nothing I did could mitigate the pain.

I felt better when it came time to push because it was active effort instead of passive endurance. Maren and Kelly encouraged me to reach in and feel his head, but I wasn’t interested. Reaching in felt counterproductive. I wanted to focus my energy on getting him out of my body.

Soon enough, I felt the pressure of his head, then shoulders — and my baby was born. He was immediately wrapped in a towel and placed on my chest. I was laying down and didn’t have the strength to lift myself up to properly see him, but I held his warm little body close against mine and it was all I needed.

I lost track of time in those first few hours, and continued to live in a daze as subsequent days and sleep-deprived nights blurred into weeks. My world instantly became very small, but it’s also expanded as my heart overflows with the purest love I’ve ever known.

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It was one year ago that I decided I was ready to be a mom.

I had dealt with personal issues, healed from childhood hurts, and processed my perspective on future generations. I was at an emotionally healthy place in my relationship with my self and with my husband. I knew I had more to learn and more to give. And I kept getting the sense that my next step was woven within the journey of motherhood.

Several months ago, Julie, a dear friend and mother-figure in my life, told me: “The world was not ready for the gift of Atlas until now.” Those words strongly resonate with me. I believe he could not have been born at a more fitting time.

Atlas will grow up knowing the story of his birth — that from the beginning, he was so wanted, so loved, so treasured. That even in the womb, he made his parents incredibly happy just being himself. That he was born in his bedroom on a quiet, cold winter evening. As far as births go, it was wonderful. And as far as babies go, he is perfect.

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Photos by Reagan Denine Photography