It didn't matter where I was - standing in the check out lane at the grocery store, the women's bathroom in a department store, pumping gas - mothers and grandmothers would approach me wanting to share their story. At 40 weeks pregnant, I was huge with my first child, a baby boy. And as every expectant mother surely knows, the stories that you hear most often are not encouraging. I heard so many horrific tales of 20+ hour labors and breech births and unimaginable pain that I was starting to second guess my decision to have a natural childbirth. No drugs. No epidural. Nothing. What was I thinking?!
I am not Superwoman. My husband knows this best. I am a wimp. If I cut myself just a tiny little bit, tears go coursing down my cheeks. I grab band-aids for every little nick and scratch. I am not good with blood, blisters, or pain. So why did I choose natural child birth at a birth center? Because I knew without a doubt in my mind that I wanted to be present and clearly aware for the birth of my child (now children). I didn't want pain relieving drugs to crowd out my memories of this life-changing event. And given everything that I read, I knew that some of the medical interventions currently used by hospitals actually hinder the laboring process. So as my belly grew larger, I clung to something my midwife said during one of my routine visits halfway through my pregnancy: "Remember that women have been giving birth naturally since the beginning of time. Our bodies were meant to do this. The second your baby is born, you will forget all the pain. Why else would so many women choose to have multiple children?"
I was told to expect a slow labor for my first child. First children are notoriously late and always slow in their delivery. Although logically I knew better, I expected it to be like the movies. My water would break. I would go to the birth center. This is not what happened.
I went to bed feeling a bit crampy, but since I was only two days away from my due date, this was to be expected. I thought I was having Braxton Hicks contractions. I tossed and turned for hours but did manage to fall asleep in the wee hours of the morning.
When the alarm rang at 6am, I bound out of bed with a "thank god!" Now I am not one that wakes easily, much preferring to smack the snooze button three to five times before ever considering allowing my feet to touch the floor, but not this morning. I wanted to get up, didn't want to lie still any longer. Still thinking I was headed into work, I jumped in the shower, started packing my school bag for a day of teaching. It took my husband pointing out that I was standing at my dresser mirror swaying my hips for me to begin to entertain the idea that maybe today was the day. "Hey, didn't we see this is a video? Aren't you doing the birth dance?" And it turned out that my "cramps" were four minutes apart. No water breaking. No instant pain. But I was in labor.
In our birth preparation class, we were told that beginning labor could take a while. We called the midwife to let her know my labor was started, and she suggested I try taking a walk to help my labor progress. I barely made it to the car before strong contractions had me doubled over. No time for a walk. Time to have a baby.
By the time we arrived at Bryn Mawr Birth Center, a 20-minute car ride at most, I was already in transition. There was no time for drugs even if I had wanted them. My midwives, calm and reassuring through the whole process, were not phased by my guttural screams. Everything I had learned about breathing and focal points and calming one's mind...right out the window. Less than two hours later, my son arrived. And my midwife had been right. When she lifted my little boy into my arms, still attached to me, the pain was gone, replaced by overwhelming awe. His big blue eyes became my entire world. He let out a tiny cry and instantly went in search of food.
I am not a Superwoman. And in most circumstances, I don't share my birth experiences with others. Not because I want to keep them private, but because I'm almost embarrassed that I don't have a heroic birthing story to share. My son arrived unexpectedly quick, without complications. I loved the entire experience. Feeling the pain of birth meant that I was present, aware the very moment my son arrived. I remember his birth vividly, with love. I wish someone had shared with me that labor, although honestly difficult, could also be so amazing.
I may not be Superwoman every day, but I was the day my son was born. His birth helped me realize all the strength and power I have within me.