Birth story by Weslie Cymerman. Photography by David Hinterberg (husband).
I looked around the circle of couples in the birth class. Knowing that 1/3 of all births in the US are cesarean, I predicted that out of the 9 couples, about 3 women would have this type of birth. Maybe it would be the blond across the circle who kept asking about epidurals. From reading Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin, I knew that getting an epidural could increase the chance of having a cesarean. Or perhaps it was the over-planned couple next to us who had already prepared the “nursery,” was looking at different models of strollers on consumer reports during the breaks.
But not me. I was reading all the right books. Hippie midwives preaching of the horrors of c-sections, and the orgasmic, oxytocin-filled possibilities of natural birth, and how birth is safe and natural and filled with beauty. I didn’t need an epidural. I had chapters upon chapters of anti-intervention ammo in my heart.
My husband and I talked about all of the benefits of vaginal births: better immune systems, fewer allergies, quicker and healthier healing leading to happier moms and babies. Other practices we were super jazzed about were skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth, breastfeeding within the first hour, delayed cord cutting for more iron being transferred to the baby, and finally, ingesting the placenta in order to fully embrace our mammalian nature. I couldn’t wait to finally experience a contraction, and be a part of the billions of women who have given birth naturally for years. We were so excited to experience all of these practices that were proven to be so healthy and natural for the mom and the baby.
And then we experienced Honeybee’s birth the way it had happened.
4am. I was 9 days overdue, apparently zero centimeters dilated, and up until this day, I felt pretty good. I practiced yoga, I baked muffins, I walked my two big dogs, I was teaching elementary school up until a few weeks ago, and I felt great. Overall, it was an easy and joy-filled pregnancy.
The regular, Braxton-Hicks contractions I had been feeling for a few days had suddenly begun to hurt a bit. It woke me up. I realized I was probably in labor, and woke up my husband. “It’s all very exciting. I’m having real contractions. Ok, go back to bed.” He smiled, kissed me, and went back to bed. Over the next two hours, realizing I couldn’t go back to bed, I showered, did some yoga and began to time and record my contractions.
6:30am. Dave woke up and took over the timing and recording because it was getting more intense. Over the next four hours, I was having regular, powerful contractions. I puked. My dog, Mike, was at my side the whole time, knowing something was going on. His dog breath made me want to throw up again.
We were going to have a baby so soon! Like, maybe today! Between contractions, I finished packing my bags, tidied up, and texted my friends and housemates to watch my dog. I made a walking schedule between contractions and posted it on the back of my door.
I called the midwife and asked if we should come in. For a few hours now, contractions were regular and lasting about 45 seconds, with about 2-3 minutes in between them. The midwife said we could come in.
After a grueling car ride of contractions (it’s hard to move very much in the car), and an embarrassing and ridiculous walk from the parking garage to the triage room in labor and delivery, we were there. We made it. The nurse hooked up the heart monitor (standard procedure) and she began to monitor my contractions and check on the baby.
My midwife came in and checked me. I was only 1 cm dilated. She sat down, exhaled, and told me we could go home to continue laboring, if we wanted. Another car ride and walk through the hospital? No, thank you. She looked more closely at the monitor, and asked me to get on my hands and knees because the baby’s heart rate was dropping during contractions. Next thing I know, I was wearing nothing but an oxygen mask, on my elbows and knees, and the anesthesiologist was asking me if I’ve ever been put under before.