By Aundria Adams
Captive in my master bathroom for nearly twelve hours, I lay alone in my large oval tub. Submerged in several inches of water, I focused on the dated gold metallic trim of the faucet and the water rushing over my crimson toenails. Piercing cramps from hell consumed my body. They came every other minute, making it difficult to remain grounded in reality. I rode the melody of Asian flute music against the waves of pain. At times, my mind shutting down completely, leaving off at one flute track only to believe I was hearing it begin again moments later. Just breathe. I inhaled a sweet lavender scent of the candle that I’d lit the evening before. A small reminder of beauty amidst the torture.
There was no time to reflect on the horror stories mothers told me about their complicated births. About their cesarean sections, knotted umbilical cords and babies being too large to fit though their birth canals. My friends said I was crazy. Some called me brave. The truth was that I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into. Years of home birthing and naturopathic research, coupled with my fiercely independent personality, made the choice to birth my baby at home an easy one – but no amount of literature prepared me for what was to come.
My husband sat beside me, helpless in silence. He held my hand and looked at me with kind eyes. Eyes that wished they could take away my pain. I looked back at him, smiling between contractions. Hoping to calm him with the minuscule amount of comfort I could provide. He left every so often and a new person appeared: My doctor, her assistant or my closest girlfriend who’d come to champion me through. They rarely said anything other than, Are you alright? The expression on my face made it clear that I needed silence to mind-will myself through the pain.
Kat, my supporting midwife, was thirty-something with long, silken brown hair. She crouched beside me and smiled. Her gentle demeanor during my prenatal checkups always put me at ease.
"You're doing great," Kat said. Her words were calming and sincere.
"Really? Because I feel like I am dying," I replied, gasping for air before the onset of another contraction.
Kat reached for the washcloth on the sink and held it under the stream of warm water. She folded it into a rectangle and placed it gently to my forehead.
"You're not dying. They call it labor because it's difficult. Trust your body, it knows what to do." I returned her glance and wanting to say, I hope you're right but the contractions grew fierce. I concentrated on the flutes and clutched the sides of the bathtub, bracing myself like a passenger in a car headed for a tree.
I'm not certain how long Kat, or anyone, sat with me because amidst the pain, time stood still. Seconds ran into minutes and minutes into hours. The insurmountable agony in my uterus distracted me from everything but willing myself to survive. Visible wrenching in my abdomen sent tingling sensations down my toes. My feet went numb. Alarmed, I pressed my palms into the bottom of the tub and raised myself to the top of the water, relieving a significant amount of pressure that gravity forced upon me.
I remembered the beautiful blond woman in the birthing class video. A smiling soon-to-be-mother swirling her hips in the ocean, surrounded by three people supporting her, humming and happy. Then this perfect little creature, a baby, breaks the surface of the water held in the gentle grasp of his mother who never winced in pain. Her infant never cried. I wanted to call for my doctor. I wanted to ask, What was that bull crap, false representation of labor you showed me? Where is my ocean birth? But I didn't. She had been an incredible caregiver and this wasn't her fault. I knew my experience was my own. I shook off the negativity, met my breath again and came to terms with my relentless discomfort. I realized there was no turning back.
Of all places to find respite, the toilet was my favorite seat during late dilation. The void of a center alleviated some pressure as the baby wrenched open my cervix. Finding a window between contractions, I spent hours alternating between the bathtub and the toilet until a new uncomfortable, yet familiar, sensation bubbled inside of my abdomen. I suddenly remembered a conversation with my neighbor a few days earlier. She told me that some people say spicy food helps to stimulate labor. I told her I’d heard it was pineapple and sex. On the third day past my due date, I decided to put these rumors to the test. I ate an entire pineapple, cajoled my husband to have a quickie and ordered spicy Thai curry chicken for dinner. What some people forget to remind you as they sow their seeds of wisdom, is that spicy food going in—must come out. This small detail probably wouldn’t have mattered if I’d had an epidural, but that was not an option in my master bathroom. However, I would’ve gladly tapped into my own spine if the medication was nearby. There I sat on my porcelain throne with a fire breathing dragon in my butt hole and a wrenching uterus. After the flames subsided I felt the urge to move. As I stood up from the toilet my legs buckled from exhaustion. I wrapped my arms around my husband's neck as he braced my waist.
"Are you okay?" he asked
His question sounded ridiculous. I adored this man yet such a simple remark filled me with rage. What was happening to me? I ignored him and reminded myself to be grateful that he didn't let me fall.
"Get me on that stool." I demanded urgently. The pressure in my pelvis led my body to instinctively try to push it out before taking another step. I didn't think about it—it just happened.
My husband continued to support me as I made my way into the bedroom. The clear plastic drop cloth covering our carpet rustled under my feet. I familiarized myself with the birthing stool that looked like some kind of medieval toilet without a seat. The shiny metal felt cold against my thighs.
"They couldn't design this thing with padding?" I asked my husband.
"She's probably owned it since the 70’s." He said referring to our naturopathic doctor who was very experienced and used to her routine. My husband positioned a chair behind me and sat against my back, holding me under my arms. I braced myself on the cool metal bars.
The doctor entered the room in her coral housecoat and shaggy blonde hair with Kat close behind.
"I see you’re ready to push."
I winced. "I have to do something. I can't take this much longer."
"Let me check you and we'll see where you're at."
This periodic examination was notably more uncomfortable. I knew I was ready. My body told me to push. And so I did—for half an hour.
By 3pm I was delirious from exhaustion and questioning my ability to get the baby out. The pressure of its large head sent shooting pain into my cervix. The doctor angled a hand mirror so I could see my progress but all I noticed was that my once perfect peach of a vagina looked like an unrecognizable, swollen mess. There was no sign of a head. The thought of it coming out terrified me. How was I possibly going to get a person the size of a watermelon to exit my body through such a small hole? My body already felt as if it was turning inside out. Anxiety surged through my veins as I reflected on the possibility that I might die.
"I don't know how to push him out. I'm scared," I said.
The doctor offered her support, "The baby isn't going to stay inside forever. You can do it. You almost have your baby. Would you like to try a different position? How about hands and knees?"
I was willing to try anything. The plastic crinkled under my weight as I flopped onto the drop cloth beneath me. The position felt awkward. Uncomfortable. The pain was still there and now holding me captive in an unfamiliar way. There was nothing I could do. No escape. From the pain. From the fear. I wanted badly to get back onto the stool. I wanted something, anything to make it stop.
"I don't like this. I don't know what to do." Tears streamed down my cheeks. My husband and Kat helped me back onto the birthing stool.
The doctor didn’t seem affected by my hysteria. "You're almost there. You are at the home stretch." She reassured calmly.
With the next contraction I hoisted myself back into position. The doctor inspected my progress once again. No amount of perineum massage could have prepared my lady-parts for the wrath that was about to ensue.
"Kat, get the mirror and the flashlight." The doctor said, grinning.
"Flashlight? Why do you need a flashlight?" I asked with urgency.
"So you can see the hair color." Her enthusiasm shot through me like daggers.
"I don't give a rat’s ass what color its hair is! Just get this baby out!"
"Okay, okay. She scooted closer and rested her gloved finger at the base of my birth canal. “I want you to take a deep breath in, hold it and bear down hard into my finger."
You're either going to push for the rest of your life or you are going to get this kid out. There is no turning back. Now reach deep down and give it everything! I filled my lungs with as much air as possible and shut out all thoughts of defeat. My mind plummeted down—deep, deep down to an unfamiliar place. A place of surrender. I collected all of the energy left in my being and pushed through the raging fire between my legs with a force so great that my mind seemed disconnected from my body. My intentions so focused that I couldn't feel my body tearing apart.
"He's out! Reach down and grab your baby!" the doctor hollered with delight.
I extended my arms down as far as I could and felt my warm, slimy baby. Clutching under his arms, I pulled him up to my chest feeling the ripples of his thick lifeline pressed against our bodies. The front of my white terrycloth birthing dress now covered in red and pink as I kissed his soft head. In an instant, my pain and fear transformed with equal intensity into pure love and ecstasy. My yin and yang were in complete balance.
"Is he okay? Is he breathing?" I asked
"He's fine. Don't you hear him crying? He's breathing," said the doctor, "You did it! You have your baby!"
He was amazing. A plump little guy with blue and pink skin covered in white film. The doctor covered his dark, wet hair with a beige cotton cap. This perfect slimy creature was my son and my heart could have burst from the amount love swelling inside. Still behind me in the chair, my husband reached around my shoulders and held us. He stroked our son's cheek slowly with the back of his fingers. Gratitude rushed in and I felt like the woman in the birthing video (if you delete the ten minutes of ocean dancing happiness and replaced it with twenty hours of torture). I was smiling, holding my perfect little boy, surrounded by people who loved us.
I was not the same person whose contractions started twenty hours earlier. The essence of who I was had transformed. I reached the summit of my personal Everest and planted my flag. One that symbolized pure love and the power in letting go. It revives my inner strength and reminds me to recognize fear as a teacher, not an enemy. Some people say that mothers forget about the pains of labor. I hope I never do because arriving at my darkest place has taught me just how much light I have inside.