My contractions came on strong and steady around 6pm Saturday evening on my estimated due date. Punctual child, thank you.
I got in the bathtub with Iris, this baby’s super cool big sister, for bubble bath pleasure and pain management. She got out, and I stayed in. Daddy Todd was successful with the bedtime routine and sleep was reached by 8:30pm while I clocked my contractions about every 2 minutes for 45 seconds. In touch with Kara Engelbrecht of Mothercraft Midwifery, this seemed very real, not a false alarm. We made plans to transfer Iris to grandparents and meet Kara at UCSF Mission Bay at 11pm. Wow, these are painful! I hadn’t experienced a natural contraction before as I was induced with Iris. Maybe I thought they’d be a bit more…gentle? Guess not.
Still very grateful my body and baby were beginning the passage naturally and working together, we arrived in the triage room. The regular intake took place—blood pressure, temperature…the consensus was I was at 3 centimeters and would need to get to 6 before being admitted and given a labor and delivery room. Okay…I was looking forward to the jacuzzi to assist me on this journey but instead went downstairs with Kara to walk around and will my body to open up.
We left triage at 1am to roam the empty hallways of UCSF. Every couple minutes when the contractions came on I would double over finding support on benches, windowsills, chairs, counters, columns and walls beside signs reading “Hope. Strength. LOVE.” and “The dark makes me strong like I am inside a pyramid. Light is inside—and a rainbow moving like a wolf.”
While we walked Kara was a constant companion but not smothering, inviting me to breathe and groan. She was there offering up her neck and shoulders to me, wrapping our arms around each other swaying back and forth like companions at a junior high dance. She told me how she came to be a midwife. She delivers babies all the time! She witnesses and plays an integral role in seeing women through this most empowered and simultaneously vulnerable time. The strength and compassion Kara experiences working with mothers and welcoming newborns, it’s certainly a next level calling and career.
By now my pain was to the point I wondered how humanity kept going on. Nature’s smart. Make sex enjoyable, and the babies keep coming. But there were moments I contemplated how conscious individuals would bring this sort of intense pain into their lives. The contractions were literally taking my breath away—and I continued to pull oxygen deep into my body as my head tilted backwards and eyes rolled up towards the heavens.
Kara and I told each other the stories of how we met our mates and the journeys that lead us there. We ventured outside for fresh air and a change of scenery. Another laboring woman was making laps around with her partner, starry eyed and stopping intermittently to navigate contractions. This scene of night time wanderers reminded me of late nights and altered states at festivals…inter-dimensional epiphanies followed by violent vomiting.
Gravity, muscles, and psyche had been working diligently for two hours. Time to go back upstairs. Todd was up after catching some zzz, and at 3am after it was confirmed I had passed the 6cm mark, we were shown our room. After some more intake procedures, an IV was put in my arm. I wasn’t particularly excited about it, but it seems to go along with the hospital territory.
And to the tub I went! There was even a mood lighting option. The rainbow of rotating hot tub lights wasn’t the vibe I was into so I opted for a calming blue hue—and thus began my five or so hours of laboring in the water. After every contraction, I would rotate a quarter, from back to side to stomach to side and back again. Kara poured cups of water on me while contracting. The methodically calming streams of water on my body were just what the midwife ordered!
Every hour a nurse came in to check our baby’s heart rate. Baby was consistently clocking in at a steady and strong 156. While I was experiencing the greatest physical agony of my life, this felt like the correct pathway for me and baby. Why am I drawn towards natural birthing? Excruciating pain for 18 hours…it’s not for everyone, but if it is your trip, it just IS. I wanted to feel every moment of this life experience—and did I ever!
As I continued on my rotisserie trajectory I asked Kara to tell me some stories from the midwifery trenches. As I intermittently moaned from a deeply primal place, she regaled me with tales of true love, sacrifice, and commitment—of friends carrying babies for each other, of women finding their power through the pathway of becoming a mother. She entertained me for hours, and I honestly can’t clearly communicate any of the heroic stories—but I do know that I love Kara and her work, her mission. And I love women and the strength and stories we hold.
While at times I was in agony, I never cried from the physical pain, but as I labored on and on I wept waterfalls as my heart burst open Grinch style wider and wider. I wept for the mothers Kara spoke of, for mothers who have lost their children, for my beautiful and courageous daughter Iris, for my family, for the world. I sobbed with overwhelming love for my child on the outside and the one on the inside.
Todd was busying himself as DJ—everything from Air to Joni Mitchell to Sondre Lerche to Zero 7 to Herbie Hancock to The Beatles. As the sun rose, “Here Comes the Sun” began to play, and it was perfect. My dark watery womb world of incubation and gestation, of this pivotal time of feelings, frustrations, and euphoria—the light was shining, a new day dawning.
While I was doing just fine managing the incremental opening in the warm water, evidently Todd had a talk with Kara about getting me out of the tub. Alright…after a spoonful of yogurt and some tea, I summoned the strength to stand. OW. Laboring drug free was no joke. I classify myself as quite strong, somewhat stubborn, and with a relatively high pain threshold, but this was an almost unbelievable amount of discomfort.
Kara demonstrated holding onto the hospital bed post and squatting down to the ground as the goal was to break my waters to speed up the birth before stamina dwindled. My bag of waters broke, and brownish green liquid emerged. Meconium was present which was somewhat concerning. Todd got to get in on the action of doing a “labor dance” with me, the same swaying motion Kara and I did downstairs.
The Jane Austin prenatal partner yoga class we took was coming into effect! We danced. I did some giant “elephant steps” walking, then got on the hospital bed on all fours. Birthing is certainly not the time for modesty as everything was on full display. I worked for about an hour until my arms felt like they may collapse so during the respite between contractions (thank you thank you thank you for the lull in between) I rolled to my side. By this time midwives and nurses were clustered about observing the pushing action.
The space between contractions had increased, potentially due to the moving around and different personnel. It was suggested I lift my top leg up, bending it practically behind my head, which helped in pressing out the little one. Kara began massaging my nipples in an effort to increase contractions. An IV with fluids was turned on, and I was working my ass off. I’d ask if there was an estimate of how much longer until the big reveal and never got a straight answer. My thoughts at that point were about energy conservation and exertion.
We had gone from melodious music to my most extreme screams when heaving, ho-ing, and praying baby would soon make an appearance. I passed through what is described as the “ring of fire” and it was brutal. My whole being was flooded with an other-worldly intensity. Get this child out; baby, we must work together here. I was cracking open in ways never to go back. The head was out—and evidently my vagina around the neck. I was invited to feel my baby’s full head of hair.
My work had produced a head…now for the shoulders. I think another half hour passed. Now five or six catchers were surrounding me, trying to peel me open and ready for the worst. Pediatricians had gathered to the side by the incubator. Getting close, I was bleeding and ripping, but I found the strength to push, push, push and out spewed my baby. All seemed well, that most awesome release of human existence.
Babe on my bare chest, ahhhhh. The cord was cut–possibly a bit prematurely, but the pediatrician wanted to check our child out. 9 pounds, 9 ounces. 18 hours. All natural labor and delivery complete. Mind blowing. Heart opening. Now a couple shots to numb in order to sew multiple tears. Todd brought our baby over. “It’s a Girl.” She latched on immediately, and I held our sweet baby. Todd and Kara and Baby and I cuddled.
My placenta emerged, and the stitch sitch continued. I was transferred to a recovery room to rest, pass giant blood clots, drink unprecedented quantities of water, watch “Shark Tank,” order and eat an enormous amount of room service food, nurse and cuddle our strong, gorgeous Uma Anaïs.
Introducing Iris to Uma was one of the most amazing moments of life.
More resting and integrating…and home after two days to rest some more.