Seven years

Seven years ago today I gave birth on my couch.

It was supposed to be in my own bed, not on my couch (which was actually my mom’s that I got when she bought new furniture) but I couldn’t move myself there.  When labour is only three hours from start to finish, you just have to go with it.

I should back up.  I planned to have Sophie at home.  I had just my mom, my friend Karen, and my midwife Veronica there completely on purpose.  Both the boys were born in hospital, and both were inductions with lotsa drugs and epidurals.  When I was pregnant with Sophie, several of my friends had recently had homebirths, and I was rivited as they recounted their experiences to me.  I’d never seen these women so animated and passionate about something.  It was amazing; the idea that birth is an event, not necessarily a medical one, that I could be in charge of.  With the boys I gave in to so many orders that I should have rejected, just to keep from rocking the boat.  I allowed Nathan to be born early because my doctor was going on vacation.  When he was born I felt absolutely horrible that he wouldn’t nurse and so clearly wasn’t ready to be born.  He slept until his due date, and until then I put cold wet washcloths on his feet and tried to get him to wake up and nurse all the while crying and whispering to him that I was so sorry. 

I wanted something better for Sophie, even though if I thought about it too hard, I was more than a little scared.  A couple of things: at the time I lived about five minutes from a major hospital; (a level one trauma center with an amazing NICU that I learned about firsthand 20 months later when Willow was born) and my midwife had been delivering babies for over thirty years, often in rural villages in remote and impoverished areas with very little resources.  She was more experienced than most doctors, and also respectful enough to insist that a medical back up plan was in place.  She missed the days when she could deliver breech babies — she said they were the most fun births — but she also understood that birth could be dangerous and could have complications.  She just didn’t believe that that is the case most of the time.  I agree with her 100%.

With Sophie, I felt my first real contraction at 3 a.m.  I think I called my mom at about 3:01.  When she arrived, the boys were sleeping (I was a single mom at the time) and I was on my hands and knees, rocking back and forth.  The first thing my mom asked was if I’d called Veronica, and I remember saying that I hadn’t.  After we called her, and my friend Karen, we started filling up the "birthing pool."

Okay.  The birthing pool was really a Rubbermaid horse trough that I rented from a hippie couple in Morgan Hill.  I bought a brandspankingnew garden hose for the occasion, which was SUPPOSED to be along the lines of fill the tub up with hot water and float around while you’re in serious labor.  And I know that you are all: gardenhose? w t everlovin f?  Well, the gardenhose was to attach to the kitchen faucet since I had no washing machine hookup, and the hot water would be turned on and the birthing pool would fill and then I’d get in and bob around all serene like and, you know, labour. 

The reality was that the only action that birthing pool saw was from the boys climbing around in it during the couple weeks before Sophie was born.  It was all set up in my living room, in front of the fireplace, and they were understandably drawn to it.  When my mom and I tried to fill it, we ended up just laughing (for me BETWEEN contractions only) at the piddly little puny trickle of hot water coming out of the hose.  I think that my mom pointed out that the pool would be filled sometime around Sophie’s college graduation at that rate.   I could have filled it faster by spitting into it. 

I remember that I spent the whole labour on my couch, mostly on my left side.  I barfed with every single contraction, and it was hard, hard work.  My mom and Karen were incredible support, and I remember Veronica laying on a pallet in front of me in the dark with her eyes closed telling me to breathe and rest and sleep and trust myself. 

Childbirth hurts.  People who say it’s like really bad period cramps are full of shit.  Okay, in my experience they are full of shit.  Maybe they got lucky and that’s how it was for them.  LUCKY THEM.  It was odd to be so happy and feeling so good, while also struggling to not get lost in the very real pain I was having.  No orgasms, no happy place, no serene and vaseline-lensed reclining: it was the hardest physical work I’ve ever done.   There was a point where I realized that I’d made a stupid error and that there was No Possible Way I could have this child at home.  I told Veronica that I’d been wrong; that I NEEDED TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL NOW.  And she checked in on me and said, Okay, it’s time to push.  Apparently, when a mother says she’s totally over it, she’s ready to deliver.

Don’t hate me, but with two and a half pushes, Sophie was born.  My water didn’t break until she was coming into the world, so she was born all pink and clean and perfect.  Veronica laid her on my chest, and we didn’t cut the cord for a good hour, until after all the energy she needed from the placenta had a chance to travel in.   She didn’t even get (or need) a proper bath for a few weeks, and I think I sniffed her head every minute or so until she did.

After she was born, I had that thing that I’d glimpsed in other women.  I have never felt, before or since, so very capable.  Of anything.  Anything at all.  It was life changing, as dorky as that may sound.  Nothing in my life can compare, and nothing else gave me anything close to that sense of confidence, of self-assuredness.  And I can’t tell you the change it is to have a baby in a quiet room, with low lights, an open door with the 6 a.m. spring breeze coming in, no IV for me or heel sticks or eye ointment for her.  There just is not as much room for wonder and magic in the hospital.  The loud overhead speakers and beeping machines and closed-tight windows and television sets really get in the way.  It was so amazing that everyone just whispered, not wanting to break the spell.

And now Sophie is this little woman.  She’s snarky as hell, funny and smart and engaging.  In many ways she’s a lot of the things I aspire to.   I look at her now, so beautiful and here and amazing, and I am simply floored by her potential.


9 thoughts on “Seven years

  1. ellen

    We’re having our second baby in a few days, hopefully in that same quiet room. Thanks for such a great story, and happy birthday to Sophie!! (our oldest is a Sophie too).

  2. julia

    Jen, that was so lovely. My three boys were born at home too. All very different, all very painful, all very empowering. As the hospital scares the shit out of me, I knew that was out of the question – just try to bring a needle close to me without me shaking and laughng hysterically to distract you while I head for the nearest door. Birth is normal. Birth is natural. Birth is an opportunity for growth and renwal for mama and those in attendance. Thanks for reminding us all that whatever and wherever we chose for our birth experience is right. You are a super star.
    p.s. my middle boy was born in ‘the caul'(amniotic sack) and we had to tear it off as he emerged. He too smelled like… baby(?) more than either of the other two for long after he was born. What a gift

  3. Jenny

    What a beautiful birth story! I loved it! I had a hospital birth with my first one and it just kills me. I wasn’t induced, but like you said, bright lights, eye ointment, etc just destroyed my birth experience. Oh and the episiotomy. That didn’t help matters either. I’m flip-flopping between home and birthing center for the next one, with whom I am not yet pregnant, but am planning ahead.

  4. gwendomama



    i also realize how very lucky i am to have had such amazing experiences giving birth @ a hospital.

    i even took my baby home without having been bathed.

  5. jen downer

    ok, this birth story has be bawling.

    i love birthing. i had both of mine in the hospital due to the nature of our living situations at the time, but with nurse midwives and no medical interventions. i wished for homebirths, but after all was said and done they both turned blue and wouldn’t breathe soon after birth so it was probably good that we were there… who knows.
    at any rate, i LOVE yours and soph’s story.

    the beauty of those moments is palpable in your words.


  6. Elena

    can’t tell you how much I envy your home birth experience. my first was born at a teaching hospital and I have the vertical csection scar to prove it. also all the wide-eyed young deer that examined me in the days after his birth told me, “what a great job they did on your section!” yeah buddy. YOU take the scar, then, if you like it so damn much.
    so my second of course was a scheduled section ’cause no damn doctor in Backwoods, Alabama is going to take a chance with his medical malpractice insurance to help me do a VBAC.
    have you read naomi wolf’s take on home vs hospital births? or chris bohjalian’s book about the vermont midwife? both are very powerful.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *