Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My Best Birth

Earlier this week we celebrated Ruby's 9th birthday. I find, with all my children, that I start calling them by their coming ages a month or two before their birthdays ("almost-9"), so that when they actually reach the milestone day, it hardly feels like a change. Ruby has always had a certain maturity about her, maybe it's her second-child status, that makes her new age(s) seem inevitable, earned, and not too big of a deal.

I'm still in the first year of blogging, and I've committed to telling each of my children's birth stories on or near their birthdays. The second post that I wrote, last January, was about the importance of birth stories, and the unfortunate tendency of society to devalue those stories. I believe that hearing honest stories about birth is the best way to prepare a woman for a positive birth experience. I also think that these stories can serve as reflections on what we humans are doing here in this world: we are physical beings who live to love.

When I found out I was pregnant, I needed a local healthcare team, and I decided to see a midwife, because I wanted someone who shared my personal view of birth as a normal event. I was also excited to give birth at an in-hospital birthing center. My dream for Ruby's birth was to have minimal interventions, no separation from the baby, and be home as soon as possible after to be with Bella, who was only a year old when I became pregnant.

At my first prenatal visit with midwife Sylvie Blaustein, I was relieved when she asked me to tell her the story of my first birth and about my hopes for this birth. I was amazed by how much time she spent with me; throughout the pregnancy, the visits were emotional check-ins, not simply medical ones. I loved going to see the midwife, even though I had to shlep uptown with baby Bella on the subway.

As with my pregnancy with Bella, I went a week past my due date. I was anxious to get the show on the road and have the baby. For the first time in my life, I had acupuncture, and lying on the table in that tranquil East Village basement, tiny needles sticking from my ankles and wrists, I felt the first real contractions. The familiar pain, like menstrual cramps, made me smile. It was like my baby was waking up and getting ready to say hello. The next day, I had a pedicure in the afternoon, and that's when I was able to start timing them: ten minutes apart, then seven. Later that evening, when I started to have to "om" through the contractions, we called our doula and good friend, Allison, who came over to support us. We also called Josh's sister, Nina, who lived downstairs, and who agreed to come and stay with Bella when it was time for us to leave.

There was some concern that I might have a very quick labor, because of how the end of my first birth had gone. Since I was group-B strep positive, I had to make it to the hospital in time to get antibiotics before giving birth. So around midnight, with contractions 3-4 minutes apart, we went to the birthing center. I remember sitting between Allison and Josh in the back of a yellow taxi, "om"'ing like I was in yoga class. No taxi driver ever likes to hear that, let me assure you. He got us there fast.

We were quickly brought to a birthing room. The midwife on call that night was Barbara Sellars, at that time a 25-year-veteran midwife, with a wise and quiet presence. She checked my dilation, and announced that yes, I would have the baby tonight (phew!). A nurse put in an IV (actually, it took two nurses to get this done--I have small veins--I remember this as the hardest part of the whole labor--being stuck repeatedly, and having to hold still), and I sat on a birthing ball while the antibiotics poured through me.

After that, the labor was, as it often is, a blur. I walked, I danced, I rocked in the rocking chair. Allison and Josh rubbed my back and encouraged me. As I was well supported, Barbara got a few hours of sleep. At some point she came back, and asked if she could check me, and offered to break my water to speed things along. I agreed. The contractions picked up pace and intensity almost from that very moment. I got into the bathtub, which I had been looking forward to, as one of the privileges of being in the birthing center. But once in the water, my discomfort seemed to increase. I vomited (sorry, birth ain't pretty), and I felt like I had nothing to lean on. I had to get out.

(This goes to show that you really don't know what you will like and need as comfort measures in labor, until you are in it--which is why it's helpful to have lots of options available).

I went back to the rocking chair, and "om"ed through several very long contractions. Between contractions, I opened my eyes, and discovered that a cadre of beautiful people had gathered at my feet, watching and waiting, quietly: Josh, Allison, Barbara, a nurse, and a nursing student (whom I had given my permission to be present). No one was rushing me. No one was telling me what to do.

After one particularly intense contraction, I said, "I want an epidural." I saw concerned eyes. Then I said: "just kidding," and went right back into the hard work of the next contraction. (You see, it's a truism that all women will ask for an epidural during labor at some point. I knew this, and I didn't want to disappoint.) I made everyone laugh. In the middle of my labor!

Not long after, Barbara said, quite to my astonishment, "Where do you want to have this baby?"

I was surprised because I didn't know that it was time, and I didn't see how she knew. (Throughout the entire labor, she only checked my dilation twice: the first time when I arrived at the hospital, the second when she broke my water.)

Barbara really exemplified the caregiving philosophy that puts faith in birthing mothers' innate knowledge of what they need to do to give birth. She was so quiet, so patient, and allowed me to lead the way. She knew it was time because of the intensity and length of my contractions, indicating I was going through transition. (Note: she was watching me labor, not watching a print out or a machine.)

I moved to the large queen-sized bed, but once again, like in the tub, I felt uncomfortable. It was my prerogative to move, so move I did. I sat on a birthing chair (like a toilet seat without a toilet), with Josh sitting on the bed behind me, and supporting my back. My attendants, who were all sitting or kneeling in front of me on the floor, told me to push when and if I felt like it. So that is what I did.

Very naturally, and by naturally I mean without any coaching or assistance, and with the normal amount (i.e. quite a lot) of effort, Ruby came into the world. When she was almost out, Barbara directed my hands to her body, and told me to lift her up. I like to say that I delivered Ruby. I picked her up onto my chest, and I cried. Together, we moved to the bed and Josh and I discovered that she was a girl, and stared at her in amazement. It's always amazing to see the face of your child for the first time.

Right there in the room with us, the nurse weighed Ruby and cleaned her up a bit. Soon after, everyone left us alone. We rested, Ruby nursed, and Josh and I each took showers, and about six hours after the birth, we all went home. Ruby was born at 11:11 am, and we were all home for dinner.

Ruby is my middle child, and she came so soon after Bella that she sometimes thinks she gets short-shrift (certainly, she wears her share of hand-me-downs). But she knows, because I've always told her, that her birth was the best one.


  1. Beautiful Rachel- love hearing this story!

  2. Rachel, it was such a beautiful birth! I was so honored to be with you and Josh and all of the special birth workers. Thanks for telling this beautiful story which will surely empower women and inspire confidence. Selfishly, I thank you for bringing me back to one of the most special days in my life too! I love you woman! You couldn't write this, but I can write that you were the picture of strength, beauty and confidence as you brought sweet Ruby into this world. I was then and am still in awe of you!

  3. Rachel, I loved reading the story of Ruby's beautiful birth though I'm sure I heard most of it before. But I never knew how you joked with Barbara about wanting an epidural. Classic!


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