I never thought I’d be someone’s actual mother. At 39, I’m a teacher who has taught probably hundreds of students and an aunt to three wonderful children—I considered that fulfilling enough.
When a pregnancy test indicated I was indeed pregnant, I kept telling myself that motherhood was about to happen to me. It wasn’t until my preliminary ultrasound in the fall of 2013 that the baby went from being some abstract notion to an actual living being. I called my best friend. She said, emphatically, “If you’re going to have a baby, you should have this one.” A graduate school advisor urged me to have the baby so that I wouldn’t end up as a black, childless academic. I should experience motherhood, she said.
Despite the baby’s father being unsupportive—he was 50, had grown children, a contentious relationship with their mother, and had told me that he wanted no more children—I had enough friends remind me that I’ve worked hard over the years to make a career for myself as a teacher-scholar. While it was not ideal, I could, indeed, raise a child on my own if that was what I wanted. Besides, they reminded me, I wouldn’t be on my own, exactly: I had a village of friends who were at the ready, eager to pitch in if I simply made it known that I needed them.
If you’re going to have a baby, you should have this one.
I did not know anything about labor and delivery other than what I’d seen on popular media. After I told someone I was having a baby, I would follow up with a joke about checking in and asking for an epidural. I was serious, though—I initially thought myself pain-intolerant. However, a conversation I had with a beloved family friend who is a neonatologist changed my perspective. “Humans are scared of pain,” he said. “We never know what we can handle because we are afraid to try.” He encouraged me, gently, to educate myself so that even if I decided to have an epidural, I’d be fully informed. I researched widely about natural childbirth, medical interventions, and birth stories. I was struck by how pervasive negative birth stories were, causing me to eventually stop my research when I was six months pregnant.
Nearing the end of month seven, I began searching for a doula. My family was in Kentucky and couldn’t come to Boston due to jobs and familial obligations. My Boston friends are fabulous, but are also prone to stressing me out given we are all control freaks and type-A sorts; the best option was to find someone to be my advocate and to coach me through the birth. That’s how I found Dena Carmosino from Side By Side Doulas. I liked her immediately: she was relatively no nonsense; had a great sense of humor even while she was telling me what to do; and, unbeknownst to me, taught Hypnobirthing (HB) classes. HB focuses on repeating positive affirmations, understanding the birth process, and using deep relaxation as the body does the work it instinctively knows how to do. The idea of the classes aligned quite nicely with what I wanted to believe about birthing—that our bodies are able to give birth naturally, that positive thinking would lead to a positive birth, and that I could have the birthing experience I wanted.
On May 23, 2014, the day of my routine 38 week check-up, I told my OB that I’d been having what I thought were warm-up contractions. My body was just practicing for the real thing that was two weeks away, right? She hooked me up to the fetal monitor for a while, just to be sure. A little bit later, she told me that she had some concerns about my amniotic fluid levels and ordered an ultrasound for later that day. I went to school, taught my classes, and then reported back for the ultrasound. As my OB predicted, my fluid levels were lower than she thought safe; judging neither myself nor the baby in danger at that moment, she thought it best to induce me.
Our bodies are able to give birth naturally … [and] positive thinking would lead to a positive birth.
I had a brief moment of something between disappointment and annoyance—I had fully intended to go the full 40 weeks without a C-section, but I also knew that if I remained optimistic and calm, I could still have the birth I wanted: natural, joyful, and easy. I called Dena, my doula. She said that the plan was still the same, and suggested maybe I was in labor and that the baby was simply on his way into the world. Her suggestion comforted me and I held onto that as I went home and prepared my hastily-thrown-together hospital bag.
I called a couple of friends for a ride to Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but when none of them answered, I decided that it was a beautiful day to take the subway. My contractions continued throughout the 40-minute ride and as I walked the additional 15 minutes to the hospital to check myself in.
Dena and I talked again when I checked in. Since I wasn’t in immediate labor, I told her that I was doing fine and didn’t think she needed to come to the hospital yet. When I had my first appointment that morning, I was about two centimeters dilated. Around 8:00 that evening, I was four centimeters dilated. Dena suggested I ask if I could take a nap to preserve my strength, to give my body some time to labor on its own, and to delay the onset of the Pitocin [a synthetic hormone used to aid labor]. Luckily, they were busy at the hospital, and seemed quite happy to let me take a nap for four hours.
Eventually they woke me up to start the Pitocin drip. Prior to the administration of the Pitocin, my contractions had been more annoying than painful, and I could breathe my way through them. Once the Pitocin began, though, my contractions became nearly unbearable: it was hard for me to breathe through them and my body was tense. I wondered if this was the point where I threw away all my plans of a wonderful birth.
Then, about 30 minutes in, my nurse said that I was actually in labor and that they were going to stop the Pitocin. My contractions returned to “normal”—they still were uncomfortable, but I could re-engage with my body and let it labor on its own. I called Dena again. She told me she was on her way and that I shouldn’t worry. I went back to sleep for a few more hours. When the nursing staff woke me up again for another check, they told me the baby was in position and that he was nearly ready to be born.
Thankfully Dena had arrived by that point. She reminded me to breathe and that I knew what to do, that my body knew what to do, and that I merely needed to do it. The doctor gave me some instructions about pushing as I lay on my back, but I told her that was uncomfortable for me. I wanted to push on my side, and she complied right away. Throughout that time, I kept reminding myself, “I am prepared for a calm, smooth, easy birth. I cannot wait to meet my baby. I will be so joyful. My baby is coming!” These thoughts cycled on a nonstop loop in my head.
She reminded me to breathe and that I knew what to do, that my body knew what to do, and that I merely needed to do it.
As Elliott eased his way into the world, the spirit of the room was quiet, joyful, and full of energy and love. I continued breathing him out, and every stage we went through—from the “ring of fire” (that moment when the baby’s head crowns), to him rotating his shoulders, to hearing him cry—was one I’d been prepared for. I knew, too, that I was so close to meeting him that the excitement overpowered any fear that I might have had. The doctor asked me if I wanted to watch the crowning with a mirror and I said no, but when she asked me if I wanted to touch his head before the final breath that brought him out, I assented, feeling his soft skull and knowing that I would soon be holding this little person that I wanted to meet more than I have ever wanted to meet anyone.
My active labor lasted about 45 minutes once I began to breathe the baby out. My labor was, indeed, what I had hoped: never painful, but rather joyful and wonderous. Dena had prepared me well for my delivery.
When Elliott True arrived in a quiet burst at 8:21 a.m. on May 24, weighing 6.8 pounds and measuring 19 inches, I was so happy to hold him. Though he cried, it was a cry of alertness rather than alarm, and made me break into tears of my own. I was euphoric and filled with endless gratitude: for the village of friends that held us in its arms and had become our family; for my doula who helped me hold true to the birth I wanted to have and helped me have it; and, most importantly, to this beautiful baby boy, Elliott True, who has given me the gift of motherhood. I can’t believe it took me this long, but I am truly happy to arrive. Indeed, giving birth to him was the easiest thing I’ve ever done.
If you would like to share the story of your pregnancy and child’s birth, email firstname.lastname@example.org.