One year ago today I spent the day laboring my little Berlin into this world. I wrote about it for a magazine contest and had to limit myself to 1,500 words, which was almost impossible. This is not the most detailed account of her birth story, but it is close to what I ended up with for the contest (there are a few details that I just couldn’t live with leaving out, so I recently added them back in). Here, in the shortest form I could manage, is the story leading up to my life exactly one year ago today:
A Backseat Birth Story
There is one event that stands out when I think of the mile markers that make up the most important days of my life. It is significant not only because of what I experienced, but because of what I accomplished.
To start, I need to admit that my greatest fears include bees, being stranded in the ocean, and childbirth. I always wanted to have my own children, just not really have them. Every few days, in the weeks leading up to the birth of our first daughter Trynica, my husband Steve and I would have a conversation that went like this:
Me: “We are going to have a baby.”
Steve: “I know.”
Me: “It’s gonna hurt. Really bad.”
Steve: “I know.”
Me: “I don’t really want to do it.”
Steve: “I’m sorry, babe.”
In spite of my fear, I wanted to experience motherhood to its fullest extent, right down to the very last contraction. I wanted to undergo the whole experience simply to know what it was like. So I made a goal to go through labor without pain medication.
With their all-natural approach to birth, I enlisted midwives to help me achieve my goal. However, after 30 hours of labor, no sleep, and a midwife telling me I would have to endure several more hours, I could not be convinced of anything. After an epidural and a little sleep, I was almost euphoric by the time 38 hours of labor brought Trynica into the world with very little pain. I decided that epidurals were fabulous inventions. I was certain that we would become best friends in all future childbirth experiences.
When I became pregnant with our second child, I began to feel as if I had cheated myself out of something. As my due date grew closer, I asked my husband what he thought. He seemed to think it was crazy to even consider not getting an epidural. To him the options were clear: A) Have a baby with a lot of pain, or B) Have a baby with very little pain. The answer was not so obvious to me.
I had already experienced false labor twice with my second pregnancy, so when I woke up at 4:00am on February 25, with sporadic and mildly painful contractions, I was annoyed. Though I knew these contractions were different than the Braxton Hicks that had plagued me throughout my pregnancy, it was still four days before my due date, and this was the third time I’d experienced these contractions.
I continued with my regular routine of housework, laundry, playing with Trynica, babysitting for a friend, and taking a walk – none of which sped up my contractions. After a busy morning, I was actually able to lie down and take a 45-minute nap, contraction-free. We had invited some friends over for dinner so, after my nap, Steve and I made some homemade pizzas. The contractions were back, and though each contraction was painful, I knew that if it was real labor, they would progressively get stronger and closer together. At this point they were anywhere from seven to 20 minutes apart and I was more than able to hold a conversation.
For several reasons neither Steve’s nor my mom were readily available to help with the entrance of our second child, so we invited a woman who is like a second mom to both of us to be part of our experience. Though she lived two hours away she was “on call” to come help us out with our two year old and be a part of the birth experience. Kathy conveniently happened to be in town that night because she had a business meeting the next morning. Because of the activity from the day she decided to spend the night “just in case.”
Steve, Kathy, and I stayed up for awhile playing Scrabble. I sat at the coffee table on a big yellow exercise ball – similar to the kind you sit on in the hospital to help labor progress – and my contractions continued, every 7-15 minutes apart though they were now pretty painfully every time. At 11:30pm, I won our game and we decided to get ready for bed. I thought I might take a quick shower, in case we had to go to the hospital during the night, but I was pretty convinced we would not – especially since I hadn’t had a contraction for 15 minutes.
In the bathroom, I thought a bath might help me relax enough to fall asleep. As I settled into the tub, I nonchalantly suggested that my husband pack his bag.
“Do you really think we are going to go to the hospital any time soon?” he asked.
I had him rub my arm through a contraction. “I don’t know. I definitely don’t think it will be for several more hours, but it could be sometime tonight. You better, just in case.”
He left the bathroom and bam! I was suddenly struck with an intense contraction. Within minutes, wham! another. I shifted onto my side to ease the pain. Another – wow – sudden attack of the contractions. I had recently talked to a friend about her labor, and she had explained a “transition” that happened two hours before her baby was born. This was something that I did not remember about the birth of Trynica because of the epidural.
Uh-oh, this is definitely a transition. “Stephen! Can you come here? I need you.”
He came into the bathroom, mere minutes since I had told him that we would probably not have a baby that night. “It’s time to go.”
“Now? To the hospital?”
“Yes, now! I need some help.”
By this time it was getting hard to move. He pretty much lifted me out of the tub and got me dressed. A neighbor came to stay with Trynica and within minutes we were headed out the door. As I slipped on my shoes I felt a familiar balloon pop and the sensation that I was uncontrollably wetting my pants.
“Oh no! My water is breaking!” I grabbed my husband’s arm as another contraction struck. An uncontrollable urge to expel this baby from my body almost brought me to my knees, “Oh no! I have to push. We really need to go!”
I realize I was not being logical at this point. My first child took hours of intense labor and 40 minutes of pushing, not 20 minutes total. In my mind, we had at least 40 minutes to get to the hospital, which was at most 20 minutes away. I was also expecting the pain to get much worse before it was really time for the baby to come.
My husband lifted me feet first into the backseat of the car, he and Kathy jumped into the front, and off we went. I was fighting not to push with every contraction even though my body was screaming at me to do otherwise. Within four or five blocks, I was frantic. “I think the baby is coming. It feels like she’s coming right now!” Kathy turned around to look at me and I heard her say to Steve in a really low voice, “You need to pull over right now.”
So on a -6 degree February night in Minnesota, we pulled over a mere 11 blocks from home into a Walgreen’s parking lot and called 911.
I am a pretty private person. I don’t like to be the center of attention, I don’t like a lot of strangers to be a part of my personal business, and I have definitely never wanted any men other than my husband to be there as I brought our children into this world. Well, as I clutched my husband’s arm while he leaned over passenger’s seat to be near me and said, “I can’t have this baby in our car! This isn’t part of my birth plan!” I can’t say that I cared that there were seven other pairs of male eyes watching every detail. One of the firemen even climbed onto the hood of the car to get a good view as the back window spots were already taken by other firemen and two male EMTs, all wanting to see their male colleague catch my baby.
I did care that my arms were numb and I couldn’t feel my hands because I was breathing too fast. I cared that my husband was there. I cared that as she was emerging Kathy told me, “She has dark hair!” and I was glad. I cared what time it was. I kept asking Steve, “What time is it? What time is it?” until he looked at the clock. I didn’t want her arrival time to get lost in the chaos of the moment. I cared that my I saw my baby and she didn’t cry, she didn’t make a single sound. I cared that it was too cold for my baby to be born in the backseat with the door wide open. I cared that what I wanted more than anything was to grab that baby in my arms and they just whisked her away to the ambulance. I cared that I had to climb out of the car and up onto the gurney all on my own, bare from the waist down, without any shoes on, in the freezing cold.
I told them that I didn’t want to ride in an ambulance and they put me in anyway. At least I finally got to hold my baby. It seems that she was just a quiet one. I learned that she cried while they were performing the Apgar test and, though she has had many a good cry since, she didn’t cry the entire drive to the hospital. She just looked at me.
My second daughter, Berlin, was born at 12:19am on February 26, 2008. When I finally got to the hospital with Berlin in my arms, the midwife looked at me and said, “You did it. You did this all by yourself. You didn’t even need us.” I looked at her and realized yes, I did. Not only did I gain something that I had valued, I did more than I thought I ever could. At the end of the day, I felt a little bit like Superwoman.