Birth Story, Complete with Gory Details

Behind the cut is the story of Lucas’s birth. I get nostalgic around his birthday every year. This is partly because when Lucas was born, our lives changed completely and miraculously, and partly because giving birth to him was the most empowering and out-of-this-world experiences of my entire life.

So, I’ve put the entire 3,500 word essay in this entry. Please don’t read it if you would rather not know the gory and intimate details of birth. Please don’t read it and be mad at me for grossing you out. Please be warned, in this story I don’t pull any punches.

I wrote this story in the summer of 2002 for inclusion in The Birth Center’s newsletter. But really, I wrote this story down for me, so that I would never forget it. It was damned good work I did that day.

Our Birth Story

It was only in retrospect that I realized my solitary 4 o’clock a.m. Sunday morning painting session in the nursery was the first sign that the baby was on its way. It was a great weekend. In those pre-dawn hours of April 28, I put the finishing touches on the underwater, coral reef mural that I was painting on two walls of the baby’s room. Later that same day, my husband, Ian, finished some carpentry and touching up the paint. We called it quits around 3:00 p.m., and stood back to admire our work. Finally, the nursery was done. We had reached 37 weeks of the pregnancy. My maternity leave was to begin the following day.

At 7:00 p.m. we were saying goodbye to my mother-in-law who had dropped by for a visit. I felt an unfamiliar wetness “downstairs,” but didn’t mention it. I just changed my panties. I called Ruth about an hour and a half later, after having changed my panties 5 more times. Fears of sudden incontinence gradually gave way to suspicions of a broken bag of waters, especially when a small sneeze resulted in a puddle on the kitchen chair. We were very excited and realized in a panic that all of the baby clothes and baby furniture we’d been given were all still in their baby-shower wrappings, unwashed. We started a load of baby laundry, just in case.

We met Ruth at The Birth Center at 9:00 p.m. and she confirmed it. Despite the fact that my baby’s official due date was two and a half weeks away, my water was broken and the baby’s birth was imminent. There was only one catch: no contractions.

We had a deadline now. Ideally the baby should be born within 48 hours of the bag of waters breaking. Ruth explained that I would be allowed up to 72 hours to deliver the baby at The Birth Center, but beyond that, we would have to go to UC Davis Medical Center to have labor induced. Still, we didn’t worry about that too much. We figured that we’d probably be calling Ruth by morning to tell her our labor had started. Just in case, though, we made a plan to meet at The Birth Center at 11:00 a.m. the next day to monitor the baby’s heart rate. Ruth sent us home with a tincture of blue-black cohash, an herb that has been traditionally used to stimulate labor.

So, we were back there the next morning, at 11:00, to hook up to the electronic fetal monitor for a non-stress test because there were still no contractions. The three of us watched the monitor and Ruth studied the strip of paper the machine emitted. The machine was tracking both the baby’s heart rate as well as uterine contractions. One zig-zaggy line on the paper was full of ups and downs and represented the heartbeat. Ruth said the accelerations were appropriate, but occasionally a little high. The other line on the paper was completely straight: no contractions at all.

We agreed to go home and continue using the blue-black cohash, which is really awful, by the way. Ruth wanted me to start a course of antibiotics too, because the ruptured amnio sack posed a risk of infection. Our plan was to rest and do some nipple stimulation to bring on the contractions.
So we waited…we walked and napped. We also put the new crib and the changing table together and washed more baby clothes. We did all the prescribed actions. Still nothing. It was a very anxious time.

We were back at The Birth Center on Tuesday morning, same time. By this point, Ian and I were getting worried: 40 hours had passed and still no contractions. The line on the paper strip representing uterine activity was disappointingly flat. I had a lazy uterus. Fortunately, the baby’s heartbeat was fine and well within the “safe” zone.

Ruth discussed with us the implications of the delay, and told us we should start thinking about a trip to UCD Med Center on Wednesday morning if labor didn’t start on its own soon. I asked her what kind of treatment we could expect there and didn’t really like the answer. It seems we would be something of a scandal, having waited so long to induce labor after my water broke. They’d want to keep the monitor on the whole time, and would administer a continuous drip of pitocin through an IV, so I could expect limited motion. It wasn’t the picture of the birth I wanted and had planned for all these months.

There were a few more home remedies we could try…castor oil in orange juice, and as an afterthought, Ruth suggested we could give her acupuncturist, Roxanne, a call. Maybe Roxanne could stimulate the onset of contractions with her needles. We went immediately to the drug store to buy castor oil and OJ. This was the most vile concoction I have ever swallowed in my life.

At 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, April 30, I drove to the acupucturist’s office in Roseville. I told Ian to stay home, since I would just be lying on the table for hours with needles sticking in me. Pretty boring, or so I thought.

Roxanne inserted her needles into points that are specifically forbidden to use during pregnancy because they induce labor. But that’s why I was there. She also attached tiny electrodes to each of the needles and pumped continuous stream of electricity into those acupuncture points. Forty-five minutes after the treatment began I started having contractions. At first, I was afraid to believe that they were real, that it might finally be happening. I called my husband and told him to stand by. I wanted to stay with the needles a little longer to be sure that my labor had started. I also called Ruth and described the sensation I was feeling: a tightening in my upper abdomen that intensified and moved lower in my abdomen. The contractions were coming fairly quickly, like every five or six minutes (it was hard to be sure of the time because I was lying in a darkened room with ambient music playing and no clocks). Ruth told me to go home and wait until the contractions were coming quicker, and to call her whenever I needed to or when I thought we should go to The Birth Center.

Ian picked me up from Roxanne’s office at around 5:30 p.m. with the car completely packed for our trip to The Birth Center. He was disappointed when I explained that Ruth instructed us to go home and labor there for a while.

By this time, the horrible Castor oil potion I drank earlier in the day had done its slippery work and I was forced to make several hurried trips to the restroom. We then drove the 25 minutes home in traffic, with me trying not to clench my body at each ever quickening contraction.

At home I labored in our bedroom, eventually finding that sitting or lying on the bed was the least comfortable position to be in when the wave of pain washed through me. Rather, kneeling on the bed with my elbows resting on a huge pile of pillows was the most comfortable position to weather the contractions. I was a little frightened, but also joyful that the baby was finally coming, and much relieved that a trip to the Med Center and a hospital induction would be unnecessary.

We practiced some creative visualization in between contractions, though I don’t remember what we did; I wasn’t exactly in my right mind. The contractions were coming faster and more frequently now. More like every two or three minutes. It was getting harder and harder.

Ian called our families and a friend (Lisa) who was to act as the point of contact for our large circle of friends to let them know that I was finally in labor. They had all been praying for the onset of labor and a healthy delivery at The Birth Center. He came back to me between each of the four phone calls. The contractions that came while Ian was out of the room were very painful and I began to get more frightened.

Ian later suggested that I get in the shower for a while—that perhaps the warm water would help keep my body relaxed. It did, but I found it hard to stay standing and had to sit and squat on the tile floor. I stayed in the shower for a long time. Ian sat just outside the shower on the floor of the bathroom. He held my hand through the door and brought me cool water to drink. Later, Ian came into the shower and held me close. We vocalized through the contractions, moaning and intoning Om. Being loud and hearing my voice echo against the tile walls was empowering to me. I liked moaning as loudly as I wanted without thinking of how I might sound to anyone else. Eventually, we ran out of hot water and came out of the shower. He dried me off and put my hair up.

Later, Ian called Ruth because I told him I was scared and wanted to be at The Birth Center. The contractions were coming so quickly and so hard. Ruth agreed to meet us at The Birth Center at 9:30 p.m. The car ride there was awful. Thank goodness we only live five minutes from The Birth Center.

When we arrived, I told Ruth I wanted some reassurance that everything was going OK. She checked me and announced I was 4 centimeters dilated. It seemed that I should be more dilated (and closer to the finish line) considering how painful the contractions were. I had been hoping we were further along than that.

For the first time, I met a woman named Alethea. She was there to act as Ruth’s medical assistant, but she told me that she was a trained doula and that she would be happy to help me in any way that I wanted. I say I met Alethea, but the truth is, I barely even opened my eyes for the next six hours. I came to know Alethea through her soft voice and gentle touch. Alethea was a strong, reassuring presence throughout the rest of my labor.

And so I labored. My memory of the chronology of events is really fuzzy. I have flashes of sensation and images, but nothing really orderly or coherent. The reason is by the time we arrived at The Birth Center, my contractions were coming about every two minutes; my reason had left me. The part of my mind that thinks logically had left me. My conscious self, my personality, had left me. Throughout the rest of my labor and the delivery of my baby, I operated on a deeper, more primal level.

I became an animal. I moaned, I groaned. I clenched and sweated. I changed positions several times because my body became tired or my hands fell asleep from holding any single position for too long. I labored on the bed, on my knees leaning over the birth ball. I labored in the birthing tub. I labored on the toilet. I didn’t care that I was naked. I didn’t care that I peed involuntarily during contractions, leaving little puddles on the floor.

All the while, Ian was there. I have no memory of him leaving my side for even a moment. He tells me that we used some creative visualization and pain coping techniques that we had learned in our childbirth education classes (we had only attended four of the six classes before my labor began!), but I don’t remember doing that. I do remember he told me he loved me over and over again, and that he was so proud of me, that I was doing great and he believed in me. He said he was so excited to finally meet our baby, and that he loved our baby so much. I can’t thank him enough for the constant flow of love I felt coming from him throughout the labor.

Alethea was there, too, and she provided a different kind of support. She expressed her faith that I could do it, that my body knew what to do to get my baby born safely. She was the voice of authority and experience: I learned that Alethea has birthed three children of her own. Incredulous, I asked her, “Why?” Alethea was able to tell me what I was doing right, and sometimes how to do better. Instead of telling me to relax, which would have seemed too difficult in the face of the pain I felt, with a gentle touch she instructed me to relax my forehead. When I concentrated on softening the muscles in my face, the tension in the rest of my body also eased, and I relaxed a little all over. She must have reminded me to release the tension in my forehead a thousand times.

And, of course, Ruth was there every moment. She periodically checked the baby’s heartbeat using a Doppler on my tummy. She also performed a vaginal exam a few times to check the progress of my dilation. She was quiet and professional, but also very compassionate. Ruth kept her sense of humor and that was reassuring and helped me relax. I felt confident that my baby and I were in good hands. When Ruth instructed me, I did as I was told.

The pain was softened by laboring in the tub. I was hoping to birth my baby in the warm water. I was in there a long time, leaning up against one side of the tub with my elbows hanging over the edge to keep my hand with the “heplock” tube out of the water. My hands fell asleep like this. During this time, I began to experience a huge urge to push. Without my telling it to, my body convulsed during the contractions. But Ruth checked my dilation and told me it wasn’t time to push yet. I was six centimeters dilated and we still had a long way to go. They instructed me to “blow” whenever I wanted to push. Alethea and Ruth showed me how and began “blowing” with me. Ian joined them. I blew steadily for the next several hours.
I began having very dark thoughts while “blowing” my head off in the birthing tub. My heart was flooded with fear and pain and regret. I regretted my decision to forego pain medication to have my baby at The Birth Center; I regretted not being at a hospital. Beyond that, I even regretted my pregnancy! My anxiety and fear made me wish that I could erase the last year and not have the baby. What was I going to do with a baby, anyway? I said aloud, “This was a terrible idea!” I meant the whole thing was terrible. My cheerleaders just continued to love and support me.

Then Ruth told me I had to get out of the tub. My cervix was stuck at six centimeters, but it was dilating unevenly. One side was open but the other was still very tightly closed. We had to get the cervix to open further and the baby’s head pressing on the cervix was actually causing some swelling to occur, preventing good progress. I despaired. I was wracked by the contractions and the involuntary urge to push. I felt I couldn’t get out of the tub, but Ruth said I had to. I had to walk around and open up more. It seemed impossible.

I got out. And I walked, sort of. Really I hung on to my husband and we shuffled around the room—slowly. We took one or two staggering steps between each contraction. I peed and “blew” and moaned. I drank sips of water to relieve my thirst and we “danced” around the room. When I tired, Ruth told me to sit on the toilet. She said that our bodies are accustomed to relaxing the pelvic floor muscles and opening everything up when we sit on the toilet and it would do me good.

Eventually, after what seemed like forever, Ruth told me that I was completely dilated except for a tiny lip of tissue and she thought I might be able to push past it. So I sat on the bed and pushed. The baby began to move into place and I did push the baby’s head past that obstructing tissue. It’s hard to know what muscles to use to push. Ruth coached me by telling me to push out my bottom. I didn’t expect it to feel so rectal.

We moved onto the birthing stool. Ian sat behind me on the bed and held me. I pushed and groaned. Ruth applied warm washcloths to my perineum to help it stretch. Finally, I was allowed to push as long as each contraction lasted. Ruth helped by telling me when I was doing it right so I could remember that feeling and do it again. I was so exhausted. Pushing was a tremendous amount of work and I started to worry that I couldn’t go on, but I also knew that it was almost over. My baby was coming and needed me. I couldn’t give up.

When the baby’s head started to crown, Ruth told me to reach down and feel the head. I felt lots of hair. Alethea suggested that she switch places with Ian so that he could see the baby come out, but the thought of rearranging and waiting was unbearable to me and I told him no. So he stayed where he was, supporting my back.

Ruth also told me to slow down and stop pushing. “Grunt,” she said. But I didn’t really hear or understand her at that point. I could only hear my own cries rise in pitch as my baby’s head crowned. It burned like nothing I’ve ever felt before and I didn’t stop pushing. In another minute, my baby’s body slid out of mine and Ruth had to move quickly to catch the baby. She lifted the baby up to place on my tummy, but the umbilical cord was too short and she had to rest the baby on my thigh, somewhat precariously, while I held the baby and she quickly clamped and cut the cord. It was 3:15 a.m.

There was a brief moment in all the excitement when I think I was the only one who knew the gender of the baby; my son rested against my leg. He was covered in white vernix coating and was bluish in color, but he cried right away and turned pink very fast.

They moved me and the baby to the bed. Ruth helped me deliver the placenta by tugging gently on the cord (which didn’t hurt) while I held my baby boy. With tears in his eyes, Ian got into bed with us. We gazed at our son with love and relief that he was finally here. Ian suggested that we name the baby Lucas Alexander, which was the name I preferred. I guess he felt I had earned the right to get my pick of names. We were full of joy.

My body was really shocky; I was shaking and bleeding a lot. Ruth announced that I had some pretty significant tearing in three places and that she needed to stitch me up. The local anesthetic was really painful and the stitching was frightening. Ian tried distracting me and I tried to focus on my new baby, but it was scary. After that, Ruth and Alethea and Jennifer DeLugach (our RN) cleaned us up a little, took our vital signs, and placed the baby to my breast. He sucked strongly after we achieved a good latch. It was the most satisfying feeling having my baby at my breast, realizing that the work and suffering of birth was over and he was alive and well.

After nursing, they put Lucas on Ian’s chest for some skin-to-skin warming. And then, our loving attendants melted into the background. They left us alone for several hours while we talked a little and watched the baby. He was red and wrinkled with sparkling dark blue eyes and a full head of black hair. Lucas was alert for a little while, then we all fell into an exhausted sleep for an hour or two. I felt so happy.

Later, Ian made a few phone calls. At about 8:30 a.m. Ruth got us some breakfast from Lyons and we ate in the family room of The Birth Center. Ian’s father arrived with his camera and my dad showed up soon after. Everyone else would have to wait to meet Lucas until the work day was over.
About six hours after Lucas emerged into the world, we left The Birth Center. Ruth had helped me nurse Lucas again before we awkwardly placed our 6 pound, 8 ounce baby boy into his enormous car seat. We were proud and scared and profoundly grateful to Ruth, the loving staff of The Birth Center, and to the heavens and earth for giving us a healthy baby. The adventure had only just begun.

© 2002 Sara E. Wilson

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8 Responses to “Birth Story, Complete with Gory Details”

  • dakini_grl
    April 29, 2006 at 4:25 pm

    I want to tell you I’m in awe of you. I remember the night, and the weird lopsided dreams, and this feeling that there was no way for me to ever understand — truly, in my bones — what you were going through and where you were taking yourself. I was scared I might never see you again, and I was scared I might not recognize the family that would be born in place of the friends I knew and loved.

    And there you were, tired and whole in your living room the next day with Lucas in your lap. I felt so small.

    Thank you for sharing your story of the day Lucas arrived. I am honored to read it here and send my love.


  • kittiliscious
    April 30, 2006 at 7:48 pm

    That was beautiful. And enlightening! Thank you.


  • foseelovechild
    May 1, 2006 at 12:51 pm

    Happy Birthday, baby! wow, it took me a couple days to get the courage to read this (thanks for the warning).

    Woman, you are strong, beautiful and brave.


  • sarabellae
    May 2, 2006 at 1:45 pm

    Thank you for listening. I sort of wanted the story to be saved somewhere other than my computer, just in case. I figured this was a good place: provided I placed a big WARNING on it. It’s my pleasure to share it, but I realize it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Sometimes, ya just gotta sit on the rooftop and crow.


  • sarabellae
    May 2, 2006 at 1:46 pm

    Thanks! You’re sweet. It was an enlightening experience, I’ll tell you that.


  • sarabellae
    May 2, 2006 at 1:47 pm

    It takes one to know one. I love you. Thanks for reading.


  • miss_emelia
    May 2, 2006 at 9:11 pm

    This sounds so much more beautiful than the hospital experience. I’m so glad things worked out to allow you to have your baby that way. Amazing stuff.


  • sarabellae
    May 4, 2006 at 7:48 pm

    Thanks! Yes, I was really afraid of the hospital experience. And I’m totally grateful it turned out like it did. If I ever have another baby, you can bet I will go back to The Birth Center—no doubt about it.


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  • About Sara

    Thanks for visiting! I'm Sara, editor and writer, wife to Ian, and mother of two precious boys. I am living each day to the fullest and with as much grace, creativity, and patience as I can muster. This is where I write about living, loving, and engaging fully in family life and the world around me. I let my hair down here. I learn new skills here. I strive to be a better human being here. And I tell the truth.

    Our children attend Waldorf school and we are enriching our home and family life with plenty of Waldorf-inspired festivals, crafts, and stories.

    © 2003–2017 Please do not use my photographs or text without my permission.

    "Love doesn't just sit there like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new." —Ursula K. LeGuinn

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