Growing up in the U.S., birth was a fairly common subject matter. Couples shared funny or touching stories about this or that birth even at the dinner table, especially if an expecting couple was present. Just as in a group of women swapping their birth “war stories, ” you might find the men exchanging tales about their experiences rushing to the hospital and seeing their children enter the world. For my Peruvian husband, this was new. Men attending births is still a foreign concept in Peru in smaller citie, at least. Multiple mothers labor in the same room and it’s a women-only zone; fathers are outside and wait for a doctor or nurse to come with the news.
It never occurred to me that my husband might not want or expect to be there when I gave birth, and I found Pocho’s jokes about being in the waiting room shocking. Of course husbands should want to be with their wives for this all-important, life-changing event! He warmed up to the idea as my pregnancy progressed, and got his share of fatherly birth tales from friends here. We chose to be seen by midwives at a birth center and I made the long trek there in the months up to the birth. I wanted a low-intervention, natural delivery and especially hoped for a water birth. That’s not allowed in most hospitals in the U.S. (though some will allow you to labor in water), but at the birth center they have big tubs just for that. As it turns out, the water was the most helpful part of successfully birthing my baby naturally and I’m not sure I could have done it otherwise. The whole water birth thing seemed strange to Pocho too (there may have been a joke or two about packing a snorkel in the hospital bag) but he insisted that whatever I chose was fine. We took a birthing class together, too, which gave him some information on how to help and support me during labor.
My due date was mid-December, and I was teaching first grade at the time. My students followed my expanding figure over the months and would watch with fascination as my belly danced near the end. I told them the baby could hear what we were saying, and they were delighted at the thought. I read Ina May Gaskin and everything natural birth book I could get my hands on, did yoga, took my prenatals and waited for the big day.
12:00 pm – Two days past my due date, I had been experiencing Braxton Hicks for several weeks. School had just gotten out for Christmas and I was very anxious to meet my baby and maximize my break to be with him (maternity leave in the U.S. is terrible!). At 12:00, an hour of very strong contractions started, the kind that took my breath away. They were different, because the pain spread all around to my back.. It was an exciting sign, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up. After an hour, they weakened but stayed consistent: about every 7 minutes.
8:00 pm – I kept expecting the contractions to stop, but when I went to bed they were still there. Consistent, strong, but not growing. Ugh. The whole night I woke at least every 10 minutes, hit with another contraction. It was the craziest thing– I would wake up, breathe through the contraction by going into child’s pose or my side or begging Pocho to put pressure on my back until it passed, and fall asleep again. Surely this was real, and we would be headed to the birth center soon!
8:00 am – More contractions, that wouldn’t go away and wouldn’t come faster. I called the midwives, but in their typically laid-back manner they told me to wait. I walked, tried to eat, and called my aunt, who is also a midwife. She was calm, reassuring, and took me seriously– exactly what I needed. I had just run out of my beloved Red Rasberry Tea, which can help labor progress, and my friend Rebekah drove 30 minutes just to bring it to me.
4:00 pm – Because I was in such pain but wasn’t progressing, the midwives told us to come in and met us at their empty Saturday office to check me. Barely dilated. I was given a shot of morphine, which would either stop the labor if it was false, or allow me to sleep some and have some strength left for the birth. I fell asleep on the way home, and though I could feel the contractions coming for the next five hours, I only barely woke up and the morphine took the edge off. By midnight the morphine had worn off and I was back to passing the contractions on my side, in child’s pose, whatever position I could possibly find. My back felt like it was on fire and again I woke up Pocho throughout the night to push on my back to help relieve it.
8:00 am – The pain from the contractions was much worse Sunday morning. The midwives talked to me on the phone and told me to come in. I was terrified I still wouldn’t be dilated enough and they would send me home, but I was told to stay. Finally we were making progress. My mom and Pocho were with me the whole time. I walked, sat on the birthing ball, got on all fours, whatever I could do. Janio wasn’t positioned correctly, which explained the horrible back labor. The midwives told me to do “rotisserie” movements, passing each contraction on a different side, which interestingly is what I had instinctively done the two nights before. Even in the midst of the pain, I was so glad to be in a quiet, dark place, able to move how I needed, with my husband and mom there at every moment.
3:00 pm – Progress! Finally, I got into the tubful of warm water and it was an incredible relief. I didn’t see how I could stand it all much longer and I’m not sure how I would have lasted without the water. I didn’t scream or yell, really, I was so exhausted. It came time to push, which was completely different than I’d expected and it took several waves of contractions to get the hang of it. I’d had friends describe it as a relief, but it wasn’t like that for me. I couldn’t believe the hardest part was just getting started and wanted to cry that I couldn’t do it. The midwives kept telling me I could (which made me mad– did they have ANY idea how awful this was?) but my mom just kept murmuring, “I know this is hard. I know it hurts. Hang it there honey.” She would make me make eye contact with her, to get my focus back. Pocho didn’t know what to say necessarily, but knowing that he was with me, seeing everything, part of this life-changing day, helped immensely. Close to the end, I truly thought there was no way I could get the baby out and I think I actually lost all concern for the him– I remember thinking irrationally that I would simply stay stuck there forever, and he would never be born. As it turned out, he had his fist by his face, which was making the pushing more difficult.
5:25 pm – Finally, finally, our baby son was born. He had turned, and was born normally. They handed me our beautiful son and the wave of relief and ecstasy that rushed over me as I held him the first time was indescribable. He was a big, pink baby, 9lbs. 7oz., and he snuggled up to me without a sound, fresh from the warm water. I had heard babies born in water often entered the world quietly, and peaceful was just the word to describe him.
As they helped me out of the tub, they handed Janio to Pocho and he watched his son get weighed, measured, and checked. When it was time to cut the cord, the nurse handed him a pair of scissors and all the women looked at him expectantly. Of course he couldn’t say no, even though he had said before he was not interested in doing that. They gave Janio to me and I nursed him for the first time. Pocho snuggled in with us onto the queen bed and held Janio on his chest, skin to skin, while the nurses finished with me.
Exhuasted, but so happy it was over.
Birth here isn’t always so peaceful, and supportive, and warm. I am so thankful for our midwives, and to live in a time in the U.S. when there are choices. I am thankful that Pocho was able to begin fatherhood like this. I had to go back to work part-time when Janio was still tiny, and Pocho took care of him in the mornings before working 2nd shift. He was a natural, from the start.
We’re expecting baby number 2 now, with two months to go. In a way, I feel a bit more fearful because my first birth was incredibly difficult– worse and more painful than I anticipated (who could imagine it, really?). Had I written this post a week after the birth, I think my shock at how difficult giving birth was would come through more, perhaps with a note to self not to do it ever again. (Oops.)
Here, two years later, the memories of those feelings have faded and I am left more with the beautiful parts of it. I find real strength in knowing what my body is capable of– what I am capable of– and I am a different woman because of it. After falling in love with Janio so immediately and deeply, I understand even more that nothing comes close to the goal of a healthy baby, “natural” birth included. And yet I feel so rich from having had a natural birth, surrounded by so much love, and I want that for other women, wherever they may live. Mothering– and fathering– should have the best, most loving beginning possible. I’m thankful for ours.