I’ve wanted another baby since I had Felipe 16 years ago. At that time, I was living in a squat in the lower East Side of Manhattan with his father, a jealous man who already had two children with a woman he was still legally married to. My parents were here in MI and his parents lived in Puerto Rico. As if that wasn’t isolating enough, he was delusionally convinced that I conceived Felipe when cheating (I hadn’t) and that I lied to him in order to get pregnant (I didn’t). So, for 8 months, I had no affection from a crazy person who screamed at me every day that I needed to get an abortion because I was ruining his life. I otherwise enjoyed being pregnant and thought, “This would be so much better with someone else.” It just took me 16 years to find someone. It was worth the wait.
As far as hospital births go, I had a pretty good one with my son in 1998. After 22 hours of labor, I showed up at the hospital at 8 cm, 100% effaced and delivered him attended by midwives with three pushes about 1 and ½ hours after I arrived. Aside from several things that made getting breastfeeding off to a good start harder than it should have been, I was satisfied with the experience, but felt overall that being there was unnecessary and the staff were just in my way. I decided then that I wanted to have my next one at home.
This time around, making it to term was my goal. Both my parents were extremely premature and my son was a month early, so I didn’t expect to make it to 40 weeks. Still, I kept scheduling activities as though my due date wasn’t real just to keep my sanity. At 38 weeks, I started getting Braxton Hicks contractions daily. I had back labor with Felipe and never felt my uterus contracting, so I really enjoyed the repetition and rhythm of these sensations. At first, we took this as a sign that something was about to happen, but after a few days it got old. After two weeks, I just ignored them so as not to alarm anyone in public and tried to forget I was pregnant.
My due date was on a Saturday. The following Thursday, I had an appointment with my midwife, Susan Wente, at her office in Newaygo. We had already discussed having her strip my membranes and I was all for it. My elderly and bedridden grandmother had come to live with me around 37 weeks and it was getting really hard to take care of her with the big belly. I had help lined up to get me through postpartum recovery, but I felt like the lives of everyone involved were on hold for this baby and I was ready to give birth. Susan has a reputation for being successful in starting labors in this way. In fact, she told me that 60% of her patients go into labor within 72 hours. I knew that I was already 100% effaced and felt like this should work. Having it done was moderately uncomfortable, but it was over quickly.
At about 6 AM the following morning, I was lying in bed when my water broke. The fluid was clear and odorless. I texted Susan and woke up Matt to get me something to put between my legs so that I could get downstairs. I spoke to Susan on the phone. The night before, her dog got in a fight with a porcupine and needed medical attention. I hadn’t had any contractions at that point, so I told her to tend to her dog and I’d keep her posted.
The moment I stood up, I started getting contractions. I had enough time to tend to my grandmother, use the bathroom and call my bestie, Rachelle, to come over before they really started to demand my full attention. Rachelle started timing the contractions, which lasted 45 seconds to 1 minute with no break in between. I kept trying to wrap my head around relentless contractions at the onset of labor. It was the kind of labors people have in movies, but not in real life. I was hoping this was real, but kept thinking it wasn’t because I knew labor wasn’t supposed to be like this. My bestie got in touch with all of the people who were supposed to be there with actual experience: my midwife, my doula (Cindy) and my doula friend (Laurie). Rachelle timed my contractions, looking scared and concerned, while I instructed Matt (my baby’s daddy) in hip squeezes and sacral massages, the only things that were even remotely helpful. I stood up for each contraction, roaring through them. When they were over, I’d get on my knees, thinking I’d get a break, only to jump right up again. I started to doubt myself: there was no way I was going to be able to keep this up for 24 more hours!
I thought I’d try the shower. I stood at the back of the tub with the water on my lower back, but ended up getting out. I was in so much pain and there were no breaks and no relief. At the height of the contractions, I felt like my hips were stretching so far apart that they were going to snap and go flying in opposite directions. I was leaning against the bathroom wall, howling at the top of my lungs, when Janis Flint, the midwife’s assistant, arrived. I told her all of the things that I hear women say at births, but never thought I’d say myself: “I can’t do this! Make it stop!” And she said the simple words that myself and other doulas have said to so many other laboring women: “Of course you can! You are doing it!” What magic there is in positive support at that moment!
Somewhere between running around to find the supplies for the birth I had stored away and supporting me, Janis told me that, due to liability, she couldn’t check me for cervical dilation, but that I should reach down and check myself to see if I could feel the baby coming. Her request made no sense to me. It was as if she was asking me to fly a plane when I had never flown before. I tried to check myself, but didn’t feel a head. How much longer could this go on? Just about then, Susan arrived. I was never so happy to see anyone in my entire life and I’m not exaggerating. Her words of, “You’re fine. Your baby’s fine. Everything is perfectly normal,” was like stardust sprinkled over my head. She wasn’t just calm, she was cheerful.
Susan checked me and I was fully dilated. She asked me where I wanted to deliver. I was naked in my bathroom and my brother, grandmother and son were in the other room. I was in intense pain and wanted to not be in labor anymore as quickly as possible. We weren’t going anywhere. How did I want to push? I tried to get into a supported squat with Matt, but that was just awkward and uncomfortable. I got on my hands and knees on the bathroom floor and, leaning against the bathtub, pushed out my baby in three pushes.
My baby was wrapped in a towel under me while I was trying to recover from that whirlwind labor. I looked down between her legs and saw she was a girl and let Matt know. Felipe came in and cut the cord. Matt took off his shirt and held Chani Alice while I delivered the placenta and got cleaned up. By then, my other support people had arrived. Janis and I measured and weighed Chani. Laurie gave me a leg massage and gave us all a tour of Chani’s heart-shaped placenta before preparing it for a smoothie. Cindy helped me with breastfeeding. Matt contacted family and friends, who started arriving. It was 10:30 PM before everyone left and the house was quiet.
That’s my birth story for my daughter who came into the world one morning in the late summer of 2014, 20 ½ inches and 7# 9 oz.