Birth Story

27 Nov

The Unicorn is 12 weeks old, almost 13. It has been a few months in the making, but I have finally written our birth story. I never thought birth stories were important until I gave birth and saw how little attention such a tremendous event receives.

Birth is powerful. It impacts everyone differently. Some experience trauma, anger, frustration, pain and heartache. My birth experience was healing, transformative, invigorating, and tremendously empowering. I’ve met some people that describe their experience as simultaneously traumatic and empowering, or beautiful and terrible. Birth is complex like that.

Through the social justice world, I’ve learned a lot about the power of story telling. It can be a protest, a therapy, an art piece, historic documentation, and so much more. Story telling is how we bring important parts of our lives out of the shadows. It is how we often shed shame and embrace all the pieces of our lives. Story telling is how we can keep important things alive, even when they have to compete with all of the big horrible aspects of our world.

With that, here is the story of the Unicorn’s journey Earthside.

Labor was a process. My process began on August 15, three days before my due date. I woke up having contractions and back pain, texted my midwife and went to work. When my partner came home, we went to the grocery store and filled our kitchen with fruit bars, dark chocolate, peaches, corn on the cob, and dried mangoes. I drank a glass of wine, took a bath, told my work I was officially on leave, and went to bed expecting to wake up soon with stronger contractions.

It was not time. I fell into a frustrating limbo. I wasn’t at work, or doing any of my normal activities, but I also was not anywhere near giving birth. I struggled because I had no control. I fielded endless questions. When is that baby coming? When are they going to induce you? Are you ready to be done? Have you felt anything yet?

A few days passed, and the intensity of those feelings faded. Our midwife recommended chiropractic adjustment and regular acupuncture. Contractions came and went. I stopped answering emails, calls and text messages. My partner and I went for walks in the Botanic Gardens and farmer’s markets. I spent hours in the kitchen making peach jam, knish, macaroons, challah, and soups. Every morning I put flowers, herbs, tobacco, and a note in a dish on my front porch. We lived in a bubble and I did whatever my heart told me needed to happen. I struggle to describe these moments, but I remember they felt sweet and magical.

August 26 things changed. Contractions grew stronger. Warm baths and wine did not stall them. I called the midwife and made a decadent dinner of butternut squash ravioli with wild mushrooms, white beans and chard. I stayed awake on the couch watching Top Chef. My partner was able to get a little sleep. I called the midwife when the contractions were strong enough that I could not stay seated.

I do not remember the next 24 hours with any sort of chronological clarity. I remember the midwife arriving. We played with my cats and talked about how we believed that birth and death should both happen at home whenever possible. She brought me plates of cherries, peaches, and nuts. I dozed off in a rocking chair, she curled up on the floor. When the sun came up, she tidied up the house and let the light in. I tried to eat. I refused to go for a walk. The birth tub in my bedroom was filled, and I spend several hours floating around. I slept between contractions. My partner and our midwife brought me drinks. I left the tub and began pacing around the living room.  At some point in time we played music.

My body was full of strange sensations: heaviness, tension, cramping. I do not remember a lot of pain, just intensity. Sometimes the contractions were so strong I would laugh awkwardly. Sometimes arrows of pain would shoot through my body. The midwife thought the baby might be in an odd position, so she helped me manipulate my body to move them from my pelvis so that they could reengage in the correct manner. This involved doing a headstand off the side of my bed, lying still, and several other activities that I would say, “I can’t do that!” to. The midwife eased me through the exercises. She spooned herbs into my mouth. I remember feeling like I was dancing and doing tai chi as I wandered through my house.

The intensity built. I felt nervous for a moment. The contractions were strong and the arrows of pain were coming with greater frequency. I leaned over a chair and my partner was putting counter pressure on my hips. I started to feel a little panicked only to feel a tremendous relief as my water broke. I laughed at how much fluid there was and jumped in the shower.

When I came out, I was in the transition phase of labor. I was well aware of this fact, and that made it even more frustrating. I remember hitting the cat’s scratching post and feeling profoundly claustrophobic. I kept saying, “I can’t do this.” The midwife reminded me I was at home and without pain meds by choice. She offered to take me to a hospital. I responded with an assertive, “No!” and went to the bathroom to labor on my own.

Then it came time to push. I didn’t realize I was pushing until my midwife told me I needed to come out so she could be with me. I practically dove into the birth tub. The second midwife was called in. My partner leaned over the edge of the tub and said, “You are doing it!” I had to move out of the tub to move the head through the pelvis, and then returned to the water.

The midwives cheered me on. One said, “Take a deep breath and breathe air into all of the parts that are burning.” I was about to stop and say, “I don’t feel burning,” and then the ring of fire hit. (Sidenote: This is a moment so aptly named that you would think June Carter Cash wrote about it instead of her sinful love for the hellion Johnny Cash.)

And then, at 1:44am on August 28, there was a baby in the tub. My partner caught them first. I grabbed them immediately. The Unicorn’s eyes were open. They squawked and cried. We eventually moved to our bed. The midwives left us be for an hour. The Unicorn nursed. We called our parents. Eventually I was patched up (with such grace and skill on the part of the midwives that my greatest birth fear as a trauma survivor has blended in with other lovely memories), took some arnica and put on some clothes. The midwives left as the sun came up, and the three of us fell asleep together.

Update: A few people have asked who our midwife was. Her name is Jen Anderson Tarver of New Lead Midwifery, and she is easily one of the smartest, wisest and kindest providers I have met.


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