San Francisco seemed as good as any place to pee on a stick. After two weeks of driving cross-country feeling a little off, blaming car sickness and altitude changes for my nausea and exhaustion, it was time for more wine, one last cigarette and the inevitable.
I never wanted to have children. That’s not true. I never wanted to give birth. See, I’m afraid of a lot of things. Doctors, airplanes, aliens, house fires, mirrors in the dark, dentists, ghosts, aneurysms. The list goes on, but topping it at the time was childbirth.
Money, career, autonomy – all typical reasons to be scared of having a baby, but I had deeper fears that I could not articulate. I was so afraid of the process of a growing being inside of me, of doctors, of contractions, of a tiny baby head ripping me in half, of feeling helpless and alone, of bitchy nurses, of c-sections and needles; I could not talk it without tears. Then, Surprise! I got knocked up at 34 years old… by my husband.
After returning home, (via cross country train trip, which coincided with the onset of horrendous morning sickness), reality set in. I felt like I’d done something wrong, like I was sixteen. For a second, I considered my options, ruled them out and panicked. How would I do this?
I Googled “how much will labor hurt”, “can I be knocked out”, “what if I can’t”,” can I die in labor?” And I found more stuff to worry about—episiotomy, something called a mucus plug, pooping during delivery, back labor, ring of fire—but all I was looking for was someone like me, someone scared who made it through. I found countless women who were nervous and anxious, but most of them were embracing the unknown miracle of birth, the growing being inside of them, their changing body, and that just made me feel worse.
I was resolved to be a grumpy pregnant woman, who hated everything that was happening and who was terrified to go through labor and delivery. In the quietest moments, I thought, “maybe I’ll have a miscarriage”. But then, that nausea would overtake me, that little bean reminding me of its presence with bouts of queasiness and exhaustion, and I would get sad at the thought of losing it. I thought, I’m going to have to do this.
I pictured it as chaos. Screaming in wretched pain, praying for death, blood, scalpels, nurses laughing, yelling at me, a masked doctor with evil intentions and a flask of scotch. Like a slasher film, it would all happen so fast, but take so long, and there would be nothing I could do except surrender to it.
Then the baby moved, like bubbles, and it was really cool. But that only meant that it was getting bigger and in four months would want to move on out of me. So, I Googled for a way to get through it, and through some miraculous sequence of search terms, I learned I needed a doula. Someone to support me emotionally, because I had some pretty strong fucking emotions that needed supporting. I cried in every message I left, and eventually, I found her.
We could never have done it without her. Of course we could have, but see chaos theory above. For me, surrendering to the fact that my body was going to know what to do… no… granting my body permission to do what it needed was key to beginning to take charge.
My doula demystified the unknown. Labor and delivery, it turned out, was so different than I had imagined and seen on television. I learned that I had rights and choices as a laboring mother, and that I had advocates. I realized there would be two people, my husband and my doula that were there only for me.
As we got closer to his due date, I started imagining my son’s birth in a new way, in a warm room with smiling people and music. Even better is, I started to imagine my son’s life. I was getting past that terror of getting him out into the world, and I began envisioning his place in it. I just had to remember that I wouldn’t be alone. I had to remember to find my breath, (great for labor and surviving holiday shopping.)
Turned out, the labor and delivery room wasn’t a horror-show. The lights were dimmed and we had chill Christmas lights strung around. I had my rad birth mix playing. My room had an awesome shower, where I stood until the water ran cold. We had an empty hallway to ourselves where my husband and I wore a path, past gurneys and supply carts. Doctors weren’t standing by brandishing forceps. We had a cool nurse that, not only waited patiently to monitor the baby, but spent two hours looking for the aromatherapy thing that the birth room brochure claimed it had but that no one had ever asked for.
My philosophy was that once I got through one contraction, it was conceivable that I could try to get through the next one, one at a time until I just couldn’t anymore. And I did. And I didn’t die, and no one yelled at me. Contractions suck. They’re hard and they hurt, but it’s not like a knife wound or a gunshot, (which also, I’m certain, suck.) You feel it start, it increases, crests and subsides. Over and over again. It comes in waves like cramps, never a holy-fuck-what-was-that feeling. And when I was slung over a yoga ball, falling asleep between contractions that were coming every minute, that’s when I just couldn’t anymore. I got an epidural and got some sleep.
At each step, if I was scared, I said so. Sometimes, just saying that dispels fear. When it was time to push, I said, “I’m a little scared.” When the doctor said, “C-section,” I cried, said I was scared, but then was sure it was the best decision for me and for the baby. Things don’t always go according to plan. In fact, several things did not go according to plan. Including, well, let’s just say that five bananas in early labor was a bad idea, digestively-speaking. I should have been trying to clear things out early so that when it was push time… well, you know… (But, damn, all I wanted to eat were bananas.)
In the end, and despite all that did happen, I felt in charge instead of letting fear and chaos rule. It was fitting that my husband and I drove across the country to find out we were pregnant. Pregnancy and childbirth is a journey that is different for everyone. I know what that sounds like, and I want to punch myself for saying it, but it’s true.
It’s a long, bumpy road. My journey led me stumbling blind and terrified into accidental parenthood, and I’m grateful. I’m happy I was so scared. Otherwise, I would never have had to find strength or courage. In turn, I found this kick-ass mom inside of me, one who wears peep-toe wedges and her child in a sling, who breastfeeds and co-sleeps. And it seems I was afraid of becoming this person that it feels so natural to be. Surprise!