Intimate and intensely personal, Real Birth: Women Share Their Stories offers forty-five first-person narratives about the experience of giving birth. Women from a full range of socioeconomic backgrounds and circumstances recount the childbirth choices they've made and the way those choices have played themselves out in the real life contexts of their everyday lives. Readers meet women from all over the country who speak to us directly-no interviewer intrudes, no judgments intrude, and no single method of childbirth is advocated. Instead, these women off us their candid experiences, presented clearly and unflinchingly.
The narratives in this collection emerged from interviews with women who had recently given birth. For the first edition, to find those willing to speak candidly about their birthing experiences, I placed an advertisement in a national publication directed at new mothers. I received over two hundred responses, conducted seventy-six interviews, and selected thirty-six stories. For the new stories, I placed a shout-out to new moms on my Facebook page and asked friends and colleagues to do the same. I received many responses and trusted my gut, selecting those women to interview who seemed most enthused about sharing their stories and then winnowing those recorded stories down to the ones that seemed most compelling.
I have chosen stories of women from a range of socioeconomic circumstances and cultural backgrounds. There are stories from women who are well-off financially and from those who struggle to make ends meet. Some women are young; others are older. There are narratives from white women and from women of color. Some describe a first birth, others a second or third birth. Some women bring a strong religious faith to their stories; others do not. And while not all fifty states are represented, most geographic regions are.
Nearly all of the women interviewed for this book spoke to me by telephone. There were a few I could meet and interview in person. Nevertheless, each of the interviews began as formal tape-recorded dialogue with a stranger and ended as an intimate conversation with a friend.
Usually, I sat on the floor in my half-darkened bedroom, listening to the strong voices of these women. I'd have the same list of prepared questions for all my interviews, but more often than not, I didn't ask them. I quickly learned never to fill a silence with a word of my own; the women I interviewed inevitably had a word more poignant, more accurate than any I could offer. When I relaxed and allowed my natural sympathies to guide me, the women I spoke with seemed encouraged toward greater openness, and I was encouraged toward more authentic listening. Later, these conversations were transcribed, condensed to eliminate redundancy, and my own voice as interviewer was edited out. I wanted no intrusions into the stories, no editorial voice to interfere.
Frequently, the women I interviewed asked that I correct their grammar; they didn't want to "sound bad" and were often afraid that worrying about correct speech would be distracting. And so, in the end, I did correct some grammar, occasionally adding missing words or rearranging paragraphs to forge necessary connections or to include vital information. But I have done my best to stay true to the diction and speech patterns of the women whose stories are included here. Each narrative is prefaced by a brief autobiography, but I've omitted information on race, ethnicity, and religious identity to allow each woman's story to unfold naturally. When race or ethnicity becomes central to the narrative, it enters the narrative; when it is not central, that information remains unstated. Some names, locations, and identifying details have been altered at the request of the interviewees who wished to ensure their anonymity, but I have tried to preserve essential information so that the stories are consistent with each woman's recollections.
Often, while I was writing the book, curious well-wishers would question me about the veracity of the stories. They'd ask, "How do you know these women are telling the truth?" or "How can you be certain that they're remembering correctly?" My response was always the same. These women speak emotionally and credibly; they recollect details and specifics through the filters of their own psyches-but who doesn't? What we perceive to be true and what we remember as true becomes our truth. Our ongoing sense of reality depends on it.
The first edition of Real Birth, published in 2000, contained thirty-six birthing stories I had gathered in the 1990s, nearly twenty years ago, so when I agreed to gather a sampling of more recent birthing stories for this second edition, my question quickly became What's changed?
And that question propelled me into a year of listening-this time to a new generation of mothers who agreed to share the details of their intense, often life-changing birthing experiences with me and, through this book, with others.
For this second edition, I recorded twenty new birthing stories and chose to include an additional nine-a symbolic number. These stories, for the most part, feature hospital births, for today's hospitals offer more progressive care and additional options for the birthing mother. So that's changed. But what else? Well, although women come to their birthing rooms or beds with iPods rather than boom boxes and CDs, attend hyno-birth more frequently than Lamaze classes, and immerse their laboring bodies in birthing pools rather than tubs, their questions are not fundamentally different than those asked two decades ago: Should I have a natural childbirth or use medication? How much medical intervention do I want? Should I birth at home or in a hospital or birthing center? Should I use midwives or doctors? Will I need a C-section? Will my birth plan be honored? Who can I trust? Who will advocate for me? Can I handle the pain? How will my partner respond? How will my life change?
Birth remains a threshold experience, altering our identities, relationships, and responses to the world. Through the lens of motherhood, we see war, terrorism, the economy, the environment, and our marriages, partnerships, and families differently. As stakeholders, our investment in the future becomes irrevocably altered.
Bringing babies into the world takes enormous effort. And that effort invites self-reflection, which, I'm grateful to report, is much more welcome today than it was fifteen years ago when I first struggled to find a publisher for Real Birth. Back then, after sending out my manuscript to fifty-plus publishers and agents, I'd frequently be asked, quite rudely, "Who wants to read women's birthing stories?" I had one academic press, initially very interested in my book, back out after its marketing department decided that the book didn't fit clearly into any genre and, therefore, was unmarketable. "Who would be your audience?" was the question the editor-in-chief posed in his final rejection letter, thinking his question rhetorical.
But today a plethora of birthing stories are available on TV, through oral history projects, and on the Internet, and we know there is an audience. Moreover, there's a clear recognition of the value of these stories. As they become part of our herstory, they connect us to one of our most primal human moments and reveal something essential. While the first Real Birth might have been groundbreaking, the second Real Birth is firmly grounded.
Grounded. I like that. And as I look back at my own motherhood-to my son Dan, now age thirty-two, whose birth first inspired this book, and to Ben, age twenty-five, whose birth motivated me to record the first story for Real Birth-I realize that their births still ground me to the roots of my identity as a woman who did this amazing thing, who birthed babies and brought new life into the world.
And now that "first new life," my son Dan, and his wife, my daughter-in-law Jen, have their own new life in the world, and their own birth story, as I became a grandmother last year. Full circle? Yes. I am grounded again, as a new generation of my family takes shape. And I'm pleased to include that story here.
Birth represents renewal, a perspective shift as we move forward through life's stages- from child to adult, to parent, to grandparent, and, if we're lucky, beyond. These stories privilege us with insight, linking us as readers to our own life stories and providing a sense of hope, interconnectedness, and joy.
-Robin Greene, 2014
When I spoke to her, Deana was an attorney and associate counsel for the North Carolina Guardian Ad Litem Program, and her husband, Curley, was a technician who did collision repair. Deana grew up mostly in North Carolina, and the couple had one son, Nesta, who was two-and-a-half years old at the time of this interview. Deana spoke about Nesta's birth as the couple was expecting their second child.
We join Deana at the moment of Nesta's birth in a Durham, N.C. hospital...
My doctor said, "Okay. Once I get his shoulders out, I'm going to turn him to face you, and then you are going to pull him out." I said, "Okay, all right. I think I've got this."
So, on the last contraction that they had told me to wait and I told them "no," I pushed, and the doctor maneuvered the baby's head as he was crowning-that's the painful part-and they asked me if I wanted a mirror, and I said, "No. I really don't want to have that visual. I don't want to have that image in my mind." I remember thinking that Curley can have that in his mind...and my mom, too, but not me.
So, now the baby had crowned; his head was out, and the doctor kind of maneuvered the little shoulders out and then turned my son to me. I put my hands under his little arms and pulled him out of me and onto my chest. It was amazing. I mean, it was just amazing to be able to do that...and then...I had my baby.
He was next to me-I think, watching, watching the whole thing. I felt joy, amazement, success, this feeling like I did it. It was like we did it.
My son was never in fetal distress. When they monitored him through my contractions, he was never stressed. I felt like he and I did it together, and I felt this bond with my son, like we did it together. It was just...just amazement. I think that's all I have to describe it.
He was still attached with the umbilical cord when I put him on my chest. I wanted to breastfeed-that was important to me- and so was having skin-to-skin contact.
Now I should add that I had onlookers, a pediatric team, basically during the whole process. They had come because my son was only thirty-six-and-a-half weeks, a late preterm baby. They didn't know if he was going to have breathing problems. So despite the team's wanting to sort of jump on my baby, sort of swoop in and take my kid and make sure he was okay, I was able to pull him out and have my time with him. I wanted to have that one moment to bond and then have my husband cut the cord, which he was able to do. And that was amazing, for both of us.
As soon as that happened, though, the team swooped in and took him away to assess him, to make sure he was okay. There were about four or five people-doctors, nurses-and they placed my son in an incubator or a hospital bassinet. He was crying and breathing, and they did his Apgar scores. I don't remember what they were, but they were good, and it was a huge relief to know that he was fine.
Although he came early, I just know that he was ready, I was ready, and that's why he was fine. During the period I was pushing, the pediatric team was there and sort of cheering me on. I remember hearing background noise, somebody saying, "Oh, this is a natural birth," and people realized that I could move, hear them, be fully there. When I was pushing, Curley held my feet. I'm pretty flexible at my hips, and so he would like push to offer resistance. I didn't have stirrups. He would help hold me at times, just to have some additional counter-pressure, more resistance. I was in bed, but I had freedom, and I could move around. It was medical, but it wasn't your usual scenario. We were all a team.
So they were assessing him and the doctor was assessing me. I had had a little tear towards the top, and so it wasn't the perineal where he had been massaging but actually towards the top, and he was like, "Okay, we're going to put pressure on this and see if it'll stop bleeding." But it just wasn't quite stopping like the doctor wanted, so he put in a few stitches.
During this time, I was just watching in amazement. They were checking my son out and then, after stitching me up, they gave me back my baby-cleaned, swaddled up with a little hat on. They never removed him from the room, which made me happy.
Yeah, it was really great, amazing.
My next baby is due on July 21. I want to get to July, to thirty-seven weeks, because that is like the threshold for term. I've been feeling good. I'm hoping that I sort of have a similar situation- either my water breaks and labor progresses, or labor starts, my water breaks-and it all moves quickly. I feel fortunate that my labor progressed, especially for a first baby, because when people ask me how long I was in labor, I usually say about twelve hours because I count the time that I started having contractions in the late afternoon until I literally delivered at 4:00 in the morning. Pretty good for a first baby.
This one, I think, will probably come more quickly, so I probably won't do as much dilly-dallying at the house. But I guess my biggest concern right now is having somebody in place to take care of my son because I want to have my mom and my husband again; they're my team, and I need my team.
I've got call-outs to friends for help, and I need to have people on reserve who can take care of my son because I can't predict when I'll go into labor. After the birth, my mom has agreed to take care of him.
Looking back, and now pregnant again, I think that women need to make birth decisions that are right for them. I don't recommend that women go into birth, thinking, Well, I'll just see how it goes.
When I decided that I wasn't going to have an epidural nor use pain medication, I completely focused my energy in my birthing classes on developing pain management skills. It also helped to keep remembering that my pain was time-limited, that I could get through it because it wasn't going to last forever.
Also, all births require putting the right people in place to support your decisions. Women need support, people who can say, "You can do it; you can definitely do it."
When I spoke to her, Sandra was living most of the year in a tent near Billings, Montana with her husband, Mike, and their son, John, who was eighteen months old at the time. Mike was a wildlife photographer, and the family would sometimes follow him around as he recorded the life patterns of the animals he photographed. Here, Sandra talks about her all-natural birth in the honeymoon suite of a motel.
We meet Sandra as she is about to give birth to John in a hotel's honeymoon suite in Billings, Montana...
In the middle of the night I woke up; my contractions were getting stronger and stronger, closer and closer. I'd been keeping a journal, and about 3:00 in the morning I wrote, This might be it- it was my last recorded thought while being pregnant.
I just kind of lay in bed. I had too much on my mind to sleep. Mike was snoring logs and didn't wake up until around 8:00 or 9:00 the next morning. I wasn't in a hurry for the baby to be born. We kind of hung out and ate breakfast. I remember thinking, Gee, these contractions are getting stronger and stronger; I'd better go curl my hair. But my hair wouldn't curl that day; it's weird-maybe it was the hormones. Meanwhile, the contractions were so strong that I had to stop a couple of times and relax. Then I thought, I haven't shaved my legs! So I got into the tub and tried to shave my legs but couldn't reach over my belly to get my bikini line. Oh, bummer, I thought; I wanted a nice bikini line for the video. Next, I decided to put on makeup. I had bought this Maybelline waterproof mascara-I thought if I cried or sweated it wouldn't run. And it didn't-that mascara was great!
Kathleen had told me to drink and eat because labor would be one of the hardest things I'd ever have to deal with. So, after the makeup I began to eat and drink, but quickly realized that I was tired and needed some sleep.
The contractions weren't what I would call painful, but I couldn't sleep. At some point during the morning, Kathleen came over, and my water broke. I was going to the bathroom when I heard a plop, plop, which didn't sound like pee. But, I was in denial a bit and still thinking, No, no, I can't be having a baby.
Kathleen checked the fluid with litmus paper. She told me if it turned blue, it was amniotic fluid. The strip turned bright blue, and I thought, Oh my gosh! I can't be in denial now! She told me to try to sleep and that she'd be back around noon. This time, I was able to doze off.
When Kathleen came back early afternoon, she listened to the baby's heartbeat. It was doing great. Midwives don't like to do pelvics because some women fret over how far along they are. This way you can just go with the flow instead of thinking you've got to perform.
Kathleen just hung out in the living-room part of the suite. She had an assistant, Karen, with her by then. I was in my own world-the contractions were pretty strong, and I wasn't focused in on what anybody else was doing. It was like tunnel vision; I was only into myself and my body. I remember that I wanted to be in a dark corner, like a cat having her kittens. I crawled between the bed and wall. We had the lights off, and it was pretty dark down there. My husband stayed back, and I just kind of laid there, curled up in a fetal position-off like a wounded animal. I asked for the heating pad and held it next to my stomach, and I remember that I just wanted to feel pure and warm.
Then, I got this sudden burst of energy, and I got up and started cleaning the room. My husband had made a mess while I was off by myself for a couple of hours. There were banana peels and stuff everywhere. I was busy straightening up when Kathleen looked at me and said, "I think you're in transition."
I was surprised ‘cause everyone told me that was the hardest part, dilating from seven to ten centimeters. I told her that it didn't feel like transition, but she said that the herbs I'd been doing had probably helped. So, I thought, Wow, and started laughing. It's on the video-the whole scene. Kathleen said, "You're supposed to be crabby. Women in transition are crabby." And I was laughing! In fact, my whole labor was filled with me saying, "I love you," to my husband; I never got out of sorts.
At around 5:00 p.m. in the evening, Kathleen suggested I get into the bathtub. She said, "Without fail, if I put a woman in a tub of water, she'll come out dilated to ten." I got in; it felt wonderful. I had a cushion for my back and probably stayed there for an hour. When I came out, Kathleen checked me; I was at ten.
Much of this time was like a dream. Somebody got me out of the tub. Kathleen had stripped the motel room bedding off so we wouldn't get their stuff dirty. She put a pink shower curtain on the floor by the bed and had a birthing stool-a plastic step-stool like you get at Wal-Mart-with flowered pillows nearby.
All of a sudden my back hurt, and I got on my hands and knees, and started rocking, rocking. During my labor, I had on four different gowns for different parts of labor. Now, I was wearing this cute little lacy one that came down to my knees, but Mike knew I wanted to wear this antique camisole that I had bought in an antique store for the actual birth, so somebody helped me change into it. It was white, and I remember thinking, I wonder if some woman in the 1800s wore this to give birth.
I had my hair in a ponytail tied with white ribbon. I had lace and ribbon everywhere. I sat on the birthing stool off to the side. Then I got this sudden energy again, and I was out of my dream world-I came to. The contractions were like eight minutes apart, and in between them, I felt great.
I started giving orders to everybody. I told Karen, who was like a little mouse, "Okay, this camera's for this, and that camera's for that... I want you to take a picture when the head comes out." I told Mike to change to a fresh roll of film so we wouldn't run out.
Somewhere in there my in-laws arrived. We had made reservations for them to stay next door in an adjoining room. My water broke again-this time with a pop and lots of blood. I was lying down, and Kathleen had my leg over her shoulder. And this was when my mother-in-law came in to say hi. I was embarrassed she saw all that gross stuff, but she left because she knew I wanted to be alone with Mike.
I sat up Indian-style. I was at ten, but with no pushing urge. So we all just waited an hour or so, kind of joking around, talking, and I felt really good. When a contraction would come, I'd rock.
At one point, I said to Kathleen, "Doop-da-doo, when's that pushing urge going to come?" She suggested that I put my arms around Mike's neck, stand up, and give a little push to see how it felt.
I stood up and tried but felt totally uncoordinated. I couldn't feel the baby; it felt like I was four months pregnant. I told Kathleen, "This baby's not ready to come. I can't feel his head down there, and I can't push!" Then she said simply, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." It gave me courage to hear that. Kathleen had me try to push from the stool. I tried, but part of me felt like I was going to hurt the baby, crush his head. I don't know why. I wanted him to stay in my stomach, safe-and for me to be pregnant forever. I wouldn't push. I was afraid.
An hour and a half passed. Then Kathleen said that she'd put her fingers up me and that I could push toward her fingers. It felt really good. I told her to leave her fingers there, and I pushed like that for two and a half hours. She must have been really sore! My husband said she used up two tubes of K-Y jelly.
I was getting tired. Kathleen asked, "Would you like to try some oxygen?" She had a tank with her. So I tried it, and it gave me a lot of energy. I had it on for an hour. I just kept pushing, and finally Mike said, "Push, Sandy! The baby wants to see the wide open spaces of Montana." That gave me encouragement.
They all were saying nice things, and nobody hurried me. I lost track of time. I thought I'd only been pushing for thirty minutes or so. Later, they said, "No, Sandy, you pushed for two and a half hours!"
I was standing, and Mike was holding me up under my armpits. He noticed my feet were turning blue, but I felt fine so Kathleen told me to keep going. I pushed, and his head crowned. Then his face slid down, and Kathleen said to him, "Oh, you're looking at me-I'm the first person you see, poor thing!" My eyes were closed for this last part. They had a big mirror, but I didn't want to see myself opening up like that. Kathleen had me feel the baby's head, but I didn't like it-it was freaking me out to have a head come out of my body. I just concentrated on pushing.
I remember Kathleen saying, "Are you ready to hold your baby? Get ready. He's going to be born!" I had my eyes closed and was so numb down there that I couldn't feel anything. He slipped out, and when I opened my eyes, the baby was on my lap. In the split second after the birth, Mike had helped me to sit back on the stool-and there he was, so slippery that I was afraid I'd drop him!
He was incredibly clean, with little blood or that white cheesy stuff. I held him by his bottom-the only part I could hang on to. Kathleen put a warm blanket over us, and we just hung around for fifteen minutes until the placenta was out. Then they cut the cord.
I asked Kathleen if it was a boy or a girl-it didn't occur to me to look. She said, "Find out yourself!" So I looked and was surprised to find it was a boy. My husband and I wanted a girl, but the minute we looked, it was like, Oh yeah, this is what we want-a boy!
His eyes and nose were clear. He was eight pounds, three ounces, and twenty-one inches long with a fifteen-inch head- the size for an eleven pound baby, Kathleen said. And lying there looking at him, I thought, He's so pink and perfect; he'll never be this perfect again. In fact, everything was perfect, and I imagined that I was Queen Victoria-I felt like the queen of the whole world, the most important person on the planet.
When I spoke with her, Julia was living with her husband, Bill, and son, Joseph, in a town of about eight thousand in Iowa. Before becoming pregnant with Joseph, who was fifteen months old at the time of this interview, Julia taught piano and voice. Bill was working as a carpenter.
We meet Julia in the hospital at the moment that the doctor tells her that she needs to have a C-section...
The doctor was the one who suggested the C-section. At the time it felt like the baby's head was just banging against the inside of my cervix. If I had been able to walk around on my feet rather than having to stay in bed-who knows? You never know what could have happened.
It was like I was in this little brick box, beating my head against the wall. I felt like, Let me out; let me out! This has to stop! I couldn't see any way out. By 4:00 in the morning, I thought I was on my way to success... that I was going to have my baby and that there was a way to finish this whole great big project. But now I was in this box, and I just could not get out. He was inside of me going, bang, bang-like this battering. When we decided to have the C-section, everything relaxed.
By about 6:00 a.m., the surgical team was all there for the C-section. The nurses and anesthetist came in first. He was really good. He very calmly and concisely explained to me what was going to happen-and I was in there screaming at him: "Okay, okay, just do it. I've made the decision, now I just want to get it over with!"
I wanted to be awake, so I had an epidural. I had heard all these stories about how it hurt, but I didn't feel it when they stuck the needle in. The doctor checked me one more time, but I still hadn't progressed. When they gave me the epidural, I could just feel this blanket of relaxation creeping up over my toes, my knees, then my stomach. I was concerned a little because I wasn't holding back anymore and assumed my body was still contracting. But the pain and mania I had before, the panic I was gripped by, just let go.
They took me into the surgery room. I didn't feel the cut or anything. It was the same feeling you have at the dentist when he's drilling your teeth. You know what's happening, you feel what's happening, but it's not painful. I just felt this little pulling feeling, and I kept trying to look over the shield that they had. But they wouldn't let me. They were talking about contaminating the field and were firm about that. As soon as they got him out, they showed him to me. Then they cleaned him up and took his Apgar scores. They were really good.
I remember when they first pulled him out. I could hear him cry-it was a gurgly sound, and my husband was there. He had a Polaroid camera-we didn't do any of that video stuff. Bill followed the doctors and nurses just to take pictures all the time, so I was able to see later what he looked like when he was first born. He was perfect, except for a little nick above his right eye-I think from the scalpel.
For about the first three months after having the baby, I was very, very depressed about the C-section. My mom was very mindful of watching for signs of postpartum depression because I'd been treated for bad depression about ten years before. It was just outpatient care and counseling I needed. And my mother had had postpartum depression when she had us. It got progressively worse with each baby, and when she had her last and third child, my sister, my mom was hospitalized for a while.
My mother's situation was different than mine; she was very isolated. But, nonetheless, I was very concerned and told everyone around me all the signs to watch for. Also, about a month after the delivery, I got a uterine infection. I was having back pain which kept getting worse and worse. Then I started running a high temperature of about 103. I went in to the doctor, and he gave me antibiotics. The infection cleared up within twelve hours.
For a while after Joey's birth, I couldn't watch or listen to the sounds of childbirth. My mom rented this movie and a baby was being born in it. I had to walk into another room-I just couldn't watch. Everybody says, "The most important thing is that the baby is okay." And that's what I kept telling myself, but it sounded so hollow.
I kept feeling that I was being selfish because I didn't feel right about the whole birth experience. I mean, it wasn't what we expected or planned for. It took me a full year to get over my feelings, to finally come to terms with my C-section. Now, it doesn't bother me much anymore.
What helped me to get over it was the realization that I was not the only person who felt that way. I read and looked for material that dealt with C-sections and VBACs. I definitely was not the only woman who felt inadequate or that I'd been cheated because I'd had a C-section. Also, I came to understand that wanting a vaginal birth wasn't a matter of being selfish and that it was okay to feel sad about the whole thing. Also, it helped to take care of Joey; I'd look at him and think, It was all worth it, no matter what I went through. And that's the bottom line. I didn't have to feel guilty about feeling guilty. It just happened, and I didn't have any control over it.
Jennifer is a third-generation Californian who at the time of this interview was living in San Dimas with her African-born husband, Stephan, and their two sons: Cameron, who was four years old and Caleb, who was seventeen months old. Her first son was born by emergency C-section, and her second son was born vaginally. Here, Jennifer describes her VBAC experience, which came after two miscarriages. Jennifer is a stay-at-home mother who used to work as a courier in Hollywood, and Stephan currently works for an oil drilling company.
We meet Jennifer in the hospital at the end of her labor as she is about to give birth vaginally, after her earlier C-section...
I went from three to ten centimeters in three hours- contraction after contraction, without a break. Every hour the nurse would tell me how far along I was. It took me like thirty hours just to get to one centimeter with Cameron, so every time she told me how far I was, I'd say, "No way!" I was like, This is incredible! But I wasn't fighting the labor. While I was saying, "No way," I was doing everything I knew to move my labor along.
The epidural still didn't do anything; I don't know why they didn't just take it out. I could have been up walking. And I was screaming so much that nurses would come in and say, "Jennifer, you're scaring the other patients on the ward-calm down!" But I didn't care. It hurt too much. It was like I went straight into transition. I had this horrible kind of pain that only goes away when you push. I kept telling Stephan, "I can't do this." And Stephan's like, "You're already at six-you're going to do this!" It was such a difference from my first labor, because then he just sat there, biting his nails a lot. With this one, I was demanding for him to stand right here and breathe with me. And he got me through it. I mean, really, if it wasn't for him, I would have said, "Give me drugs."
So three hours pass, and the nurse says, "You're almost at ten- go ahead and start pushing." I was like nine and three-quarters. Again, I said, "No way!" At first, I couldn't believe it! I was still in the labor room.
I started pushing, and right away it made things so much easier. I envisioned my stomach squishing the baby out. I was only having about twenty seconds between contractions. I couldn't believe how long they let me keep pushing before they decided to let me go into the delivery room. I wanted to sit up, but they wouldn't let me because of the epidural.
Finally, they wheeled me into the delivery room. I don't know exactly how long we were in there. I think they made me change beds, but at this point, I wasn't really cognizant of what else was going on. I remember I could see the baby's head in a mirror they had there. It was right there. I remember trying to reach down and feel his head. He was having some mild to moderate deceleration because he was crowning for so long-it must have been an hour and a half. The doctor told me he was going to use the vacuum. I still had the fetal heart beat monitor on, and I was totally focusing on the baby's heartbeat. No one told me that they'd have to detach the monitor in order to use the vacuum, so all of a sudden, there's no heart beat at all. I was like, "What happened to the baby?" Then they told me and put on an external monitor and found his heart beat again. I was able to focus back in. It was a very scary moment for me, and I yelled at the doctor, "Don't ever do anything like that to me again!"
I was pushing, and they were using the vacuum. I lost track of time. I remember how annoying the cloth that they'd draped over me was, ‘cause I was sweating and working so hard. They put oxygen on me because of the deceleration-and that felt gross.
The nurse who was helping me was awesome. She kept saying, "You're doing so good; he's almost out!" Finally, I felt his head come out and thought, "Oh, that was his head!"
The cord was wrapped twice around his neck, and that's probably why he didn't come out as readily-he was getting strangled every time he was trying to come down. Caleb was born sunny-side up-the wrong side of his head had been pushing on my cervix the whole time. I had an episiotomy, and once his head was out, I pushed one more time, and he was born.
I wanted to nurse him as soon as he was born-this was a pretty big issue for me, ‘cause with my first I had eight hours of separation. I had read about how wonderful it is to nurse right away, but Caleb didn't want to; he just lay there and kept looking around, all over the room like he was trying to find somebody. His eyes went from side to side, but he didn't want to nurse. I put him on my nipple, and he was like, Forget this!
The first thing that came to my mind after he was born was, I did it! I was crying-I was so happy. Caleb was six pounds, fifteen ounces. All these stupid doctors had told me that I wouldn't be able to deliver anything over five and a half.
I was really proud of myself, and Stephan was so excited that he wanted to run out and call his mom. But I said, "You can't call your mom now," ‘cause I wanted him to hold our brand-new baby. He didn't get a chance to cut the cord because it had been wrapped around Caleb's neck.
I watched the mirror as the doctor sewed me up. Stephan held the baby for a moment but was so excited that he had to call somebody and left. To get me out of the room, they had to put me back on my bed. I don't remember when they took the epidural out. They laid Caleb right by me-I was on my belly and up on my elbows. He was all wrapped up in his blanket, and his eyes were still rolling back and forth trying to see everything. Then, right in the hallway by the doors to Labor and Delivery, up comes my stepfather with Cameron.
I didn't know this at the time, but they had told Cameron that he had a baby brother, and he was crying and having a fit because he wanted a sister. When I said, "Cameron, this is your baby brother," he looked at me and said, "I wanted a baby sister. It's a girl, Mom, it's a girl!" And I said, "It's a boy, babe, it's a boy!"
At that moment, it was like, here are these two kids that I love more than anything on earth and want them to be happy. But Cameron was so sad. I was proud of this baby, and yet I felt torn. It was very weird.
I never had any headaches from the epidural, but my left leg stayed numb until about 3:00 in the morning. At 1:30 a.m., I finally let them take Caleb to the nursery. He'd been born at 5:00 in the evening, and it wasn't until 1:00 that morning I felt a little bit tired.
But I woke up after about two hours and realized that there were babies crying in the nursery. I didn't want anyone to give Caleb a bottle, so I got up, stumbled in there-my left leg still felt dead to the world-and tried to find him. I was looking around and really starting to get upset. You hear of all these "switched at birth" stories. But finally, I found him; they had tucked him in this little room all by himself ‘cause he was sleeping the whole time and the other babies kept waking him up. I took him back to my room, figuring that he'd want to nurse soon, anyway.
The only real problem I've had with recovery is that I felt a lot of pelvic pressure. I don't know if it's because I had an episiotomy or because Caleb's head was down there for so long and my muscles got stretched. My doctor tells me that my muscles are very, very tight down there, but I have a tendency to carry tension in my lower body-so I don't know. Some days, the pressure is so bad that I really can't stand for very long. You just don't expect this kind of thing to last sixteen months after birth.
Also, there's a period after delivery in which you're not interested in sex. I'd tell my husband, "It's not you at all. It's my hormones and nature telling me not to get pregnant because I have a nursing baby." Stephan felt bad, like I wasn't really interested in him. Not too long ago, I brought this subject up at a League meeting. I was the youngest leader there, and one leader was almost twenty years my senior. When I expressed my lack of sexual feeling and how much a problem this can become, she said, "Romance and intimacy don't always have to end in sex." And I told her, "Yeah, but you know when you're in your twenties, usually, it does."
Eden is originally from Ocala, Florida, but at the time of this interview she was living in Miami, where she was interning at a clinic as part of her internship for a master's degree in Health and Wellness, with a focus in maternal health and lactation. Eden planned to sit for the international board exam to become a lactation consultant. Eden's husband, Hector, was working as a cloud supporter for an IT company while working toward his MBA degree. When I spoke to Eden, the couple had two children, Owen and Sofie, three years old and seven months old. Eden describes Sofie's birth here.
We meet Eden in the childbirth pool, set up in the living room of her home as her midwife guides Eden toward birthing her daughter...
I was in the pool on my knees, hanging over the side. And I started moaning. I'd been quiet until that point. Then the contractions were like every minute. I just started doing this crazy tribal moan, and I was shaking my head from side to side. I remember feeling like a crazy person. So when I started making those noises, I remember Mary and her assistant sitting on the side, saying, "Those are different." And my husband-I don't know how he knew this-but he was like telling me, "It's okay, just try to relax. You're going to have a baby in your arms soon." I was just like, "Shut up. You don't know that. You don't know if it's going to be three days from now..." and he's like, "No, honey. You're going to have a baby very, very soon."
Mary hadn't checked me since that first time, and I remember looking over at her because I wanted her to do something-maybe pull the baby out or do something-after all, that's what they did in the hospital...like they were all up in my vagina, all these people, and I was on the epidural, and I didn't feel any of it. They told me what to do, and they moved me into position so I didn't have any autonomy in that process. But in this process, I had it all. No one was helping me. Eventually, I kind of understood that. I kept looking at Mary, wanting her to do something until I realized, She's not going to do anything for me; this is all on me this time. And that was a cool feeling.
And the contractions didn't stop. They blended together and felt like one long five-minute contraction, and I actually felt my baby moving down and out. I wasn't pushing at all. And I didn't say I have to push because I didn't. I mean the contractions just moved her down and out. I felt the baby coming down the birth canal, and I went from hanging over the side to just being on all fours in the pool. I remember swallowing water and looking at Mary, and I was like, "Mary, Mary..." calling her name. And she was like, "You're okay; you're okay." The only thing she did was come over to the pool with the monitor to check my belly.
I remember Sofie's head came out, and I was like "Mary, I need you!" And I was thinking, When is my midwife going to come over and do something? I thought that Sofie was going to fall out and that her head was going to hit the bottom of the pool. When I felt her head actually come out, I screamed at that point, and Mary, who was on the couch, only about three feet away, jumped over to me and reached down. I felt her push...it felt like on my butt... and she sort of pushed my butt back and said, "Reach down and pull your baby out."
And so I did. I reached down, and I felt her shoulders when I pulled her out, and I fell back in the water, leaning against the side of the pool and held my baby. And it was just like that. All by myself.
And my son and my mother-in-law were there. Earlier, when I was shaking my head from side to side, I was like no, I don't want Owen in here; he was walking around and making the pain worse because I was trying to be maternal for my unborn baby but also trying be aware of him, and that was too much. It made the pain worse. So they left the room. But when I screamed for Mary, she yelled for them, and Owen got to see me pull Sofie out of the water, which was pretty cool. Sofie was born in the water, and I pulled her out and down in between my legs, and then laid back and put her on my chest. That second, Sofie immediately started crying, and my mother-in-law was like, "Oh, my god! That's the most perfectly pink baby I've ever seen!" She had these rosy checks and was healthy and beautiful right away. And it was amazing to see that it can happen naturally, without any help. I never knew until I experienced that how physiological birth is-like pooping or peeing.
My husband was right behind me when I was giving birth, and he was crying and saying, "Oh my gosh, you are amazing!" He just kept saying, "You are amazing! You are amazing!" My toddler didn't cry or say anything. He was just staring at me with his jaw dropped. He was two and a half. I think that during the whole pregnancy he thought I was getting fat, even though I told him that there was a baby in there. At that moment though, he realized there really had been a baby.
We didn't know the sex of the baby. It was amazing to have this baby on me and feeling so in love with this human-without even knowing if it was a girl or boy, and not even caring. But, Mary and her assistant were checking her, and then Mary was checking me and the cord-doing whatever midwives do-and my mother-in-law called out, "Do you mind checking the sex of the baby because we all really, really want to know."
And I was like, "Oh yeah, I forgot. We don't even know, and I checked and saw it was a girl. We had a boy already, and really, really wanted a girl. It was huge for us. I'd only had one dating ultrasound in the beginning of my pregnancy as I became pregnant without having my period because I was nursing, and we needed to know the stage of the pregnancy. I really knew nothing about this baby. I had dreams during my pregnancy that my baby was a squid and that I was nursing a squid. Also, I was not used to letting go of all that control and not checking on the baby and getting ultrasounds and finding out all this stuff. So for us to have waited and then find out then after the birth was huge. And awesome.
A couple of minutes after I discovered the baby's sex, Mary said she saw blood in the pool and wanted me to deliver the placenta. She suggested that I move to the bed, which I did. I remember climbing out of the pool. Mary and her assistant told me to slow down, and said, "Let us help and support you."
By this time, I felt perfectly normal. I didn't feel like I'd just given birth. But they helped me to the bed, and I laid down with my baby. Mary checked the placenta and checked me. Then she asked if I'd like to nurse Sofie, and I was like, Sure. Because of my job and my passion, I wanted to nurse right away. So I put Sofie on my chest and was waiting for her to go through like the nine states that humans go through...blah, blah, blah...like everything I teach. And she bobs twice and lands on my nipple and starts feeding. I cried. I was like, Oh, my god! Babies can do this! Wow! What a different experience! And I thought, I'm not going to have to quit breast-feeding, and we're not going to have to use the nipple shield. It was awesome.
Mary then said, "Okay, now that you're nursing, I'm going need to give you a couple of quick pushes and get the placenta out," and she put a little pressure on my belly, and out the placenta came. Everything went smoothly. Mary placed the placenta on the bed and showed it to me: "This was Sofie's view, and this was where it was attached." That was pretty cool because I had never seen my placenta before, and I had an appreciation for it this time.
So it was all pretty cool. One of my really good friends was supposed to be the doula, but I never called her. I apologized to her because we're really good friends, but I never really needed her because Hector and I were just going through a good groove the whole time. And it went pretty fast. I mean the whole thing, from the first contractions at 10:30 p.m. to the time she was born at 5:17 a.m.-moved quickly, And it was only super painful from maybe 2:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m.
Knowing what I know now, I would tell pregnant women to ask their mothers and friends and get good information from all sides before making their birthing decisions. Women have choices. I don't think that any one way is right for any mother, but rather that all mothers should be able to make informed decisions. Women need to hear multiple stories. Looking back on my experiences, I'd tell women to get a lot of information and only then make decisions about what might be right, be best for them.
I had a lot of doubts and a real lack of confidence before my second labor started. I didn't know that I could do a home birth without all those medical interventions. But as soon as labor began and I could tell that it was going to be so different from my first experience, I knew it was all going to be okay.
It's interesting also that my husband has become a birth advocate-which is pretty funny. He likes to tell people about our experience and how happy it's made us. Although he recognizes there's a little bit of stigma out there about having a home birth, he tries to educate the women in his MBA program about the process, how it works. And he always surprises them because he doesn't tell them that's the way they should do it, but rather speaks about how great it worked for us and how disappointing it was in the hospital. So he's an advocate now. I think it makes him happy to see me happy, especially after this second time around.
At the time of this interview, Diane was living in Memphis, Tennessee, in a married relationship with her same-sex partner, Ginger. Diane was working very part-time as an instructor at a medical college and as a social worker. The two women had two children: Maxwell, who was two years old, and William, who was eleven months old. Each woman has birthed one son. Here Diane describes the birth of the couple's second child.
Originally Diane and Ginger had wanted a midwife-assisted birth, but because Diane had gone into early labor, her OB will now deliver her. Here we meet Diane as she says goodbye to son Max, and Ginger escorts him home before later joining Diane in the hospital for the birth of their second child...
Although I wasn't supposed to get up, I walked Ginger and Max to the elevator. We thought it would be easier for Max to say good-bye this way. Ginger told me that it wasn't until they reached the ground floor that Max figured out that I wasn't going to be there when the doors opened. She said he howled, but I couldn't hear him, of course. I walked back to my room and began to have contractions. I didn't tell anyone. I laid pretty low about it. That was around 8:00 p.m. At midnight, my bleeding picked up, and my water broke. They transferred me down to Labor and Delivery. I knew that I was going to have the baby because they weren't going to let me go too long with ruptured membranes and a chronic abruption.
In the labor room, they decided to give me Pitocin. They wanted to get the baby out. The contractions got pretty strong, and I was struggling with the labor because I felt very confined. I was tired of being there. It wasn't fun. The Pitocin contractions were overwhelming, and I became increasingly unpleasant to be around.
The room was small. And although the bed was wonderful, I couldn't get it adjusted right. I was spewing amniotic fluid and felt gross. I was tethered to many machines: I had a fetal monitor and IV with a Pitocin piggy-back. I wanted to walk, move around with the contractions, but I couldn't.
They'd called Ginger for me, and she was there. I was very cranky. I took some Stadol. The nurses, I found, had a very intense desire to completely relieve my pain, probably because pain-free patients are much easier to care for. They gave me too much Stadol, and I had to fight to stay conscious. Later, they gave me some more, and I actually did fall asleep.
When I woke, the contractions were just overwhelming. I hadn't been able to build up to them. I moaned and cried to Ginger, tried rocking and a variety of positions. She kept telling me to go with the contractions, go with the contractions. Finally, I grabbed her by the neck and told her that if she said that to me one more time, I would scream! I never got to the point of being able to do prepared breathing. I did some relaxation, but I felt my body getting more and more tense. In retrospect, I think a lot of it had to do with the physical space I was in.
Labor is overwhelming. Your body takes over, and you can't control it. You can only be a witness to the roller coaster; you can't control where it goes. I think I could have felt better if I'd been able to move with the rolls. I felt like a caged animal.
One of the nurses suggested that I have an epidural. We discussed it. The nurse was sure that it would bring relief, but I said, "No." I didn't think I needed that kind of relief because all I could see was: Oh great, premature labor, chronic abruptions-if I get this epidural, the chances of having a C-section skyrocket!
It was now Sunday morning. And just to complicate the story, a front-page article on our family had just been released. The new shift had already read it. The nurses had to keep people at bay who wanted to come in to see us because they were curious.
They sent in an anesthesiologist to speak to me about having an epidural. He had read our story and said, "I really like the article but don't know if you will." That helped, and I began to trust him. Also, the fact that he was gay. We really bonded with him. We talked about the epidural, and he felt fairly certain that he could give me one without hurting my back-I have a bad back from a car accident. I decided to have an epidural.
It didn't hurt to get it-I was very surprised. Epidurals can hit or miss-this one certainly hit. Once I had pain relief, I gave in to my exhaustion and slept. My labor progressed. They'd check on me, and when I came to, I asked them to cut back on the epidural, and they did. Every once in a while, my OB came in. He'd walk into the room and say, "I want the Pit up." I began to call them the "Pit Crew."
Sometime in there, they put me in the birthing room, and I felt better-there was more space and more light. I was unhooked from the IV and epidural. I was still fairly numb and slightly concerned about my ability to push.
I began to get urges. When my OB came in and asked, "So, I hear you want to push?" I was like, "Yeah!" I think I pushed three, maybe four times, and we had a baby.
I remember the cord was tight, and they had to cut it. The floor nurse who was assisting, quickly yelled out, "Well, ladies, it's a boy!" We all just cracked up. Then, she asked, "Well, do you have a name for him?" And we did: William.
Ginger took some pictures. I delivered the placenta-which felt great. I got to hold the baby right away and keep him in the birthing room. Everyone got to talk and laugh and enjoy the fact that this big ordeal was over.
William had some minor problems-with respiration and his bilirubin. But basically, he was great. I got a second-degree tear, but it was nothing as far as I was concerned. With all my complications, I felt incredibly lucky. William came home with me in a couple of days; my mom was there, and we all celebrated.
Robin Greene serves as Professor of English and Writing, and Director of the Writing Center at Methodist University in Fayetteville, NC. She is a past recipient of a cosponsored National Endowment of Arts and North Carolina Arts Council Fellowship in Writing, the Al Cleveland Award for Teaching, the Best Professor of the Year Award, and the McLean Endowed Chair of English.
In addition to her university teaching, Greene teaches writing at an annual writing, yoga, and meditation retreat for women in Oaxaca, Mexico. Click on www.oaxacaculture.com to learn more about this retreat.
Greene has published four books —two volumes of poetry (Memories of Light and Lateral Drift), a novel (Augustus: Narrative of a Slave Woman) and two editions of Real Birth: Women Share Their Stories. She regularly publish poems, fiction, and creative nonfiction in literary journals and has about ninety publications to her credit.
Greene received an MA in English Literature from Binghamton University and an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Art. With her husband, Greene co-founded Longleaf Press, Methodist University’s literary press www.methodist.edu/longleaf/.
Available for readings, writing workshops for pregnant women and new mothers, and for workshops and presentations on creative writing, academic writing, and grammar, Greene can be reached at email@example.com or through her website www.robingreene-writer.com.