Content And Community For Black Moms


First-time mom Vannell France’s daughter Sydney was ready to be born when her mother least expected it. France explains how she pushed through her delivery fears.

Like many first-time moms, I was terrified of giving birth. I have always been prone to worry, and even though I had a very easy and problem-free pregnancy, I could not seem to shake my extreme fear of giving birth. But that didn’t stop me from obsessively watching videos of other women give birth. In the 37 weeks leading up to labor, I watched everything from The Business of Being Born to the entire Call the Midwife series. I made every experience my own while I watched. I grunted. I screamed. I pushed down and breathed through my nose, inhaling and exhaling through the “pain.” Ariel, my boss who sits right behind me at work, was also pregnant and we would spend our days swapping horror stories we had heard, or detailing our worst-case scenarios.

The Friday after my baby shower I left work and asked my dad to take me to Ikea to get a dresser for the baby. What was supposed to be a quick in-and-out trip turned into four hours of me looking at textiles, kitchen gadgets, dream bedrooms, and making two stops to the cafeteria. When I got home that night, my already swollen feet were ready to burst. My husband Quincy had my favorite Jamaican food takeout waiting so I gobbled down my curry chicken, took a shower, and settled in for some rest. I remember telling him that we needed to devote the entire weekend to preparing for baby Sydney as we only had three weeks left until she was due. (Her due date was actually supposed to be May 17, my 30th birthday!) I wanted all her clothes washed, the apartment cleaned from top to bottom, and all the baby shower gifts put away. He told me not to worry and that everything would be fine.

Like many first-time moms, I was terrified of giving birth.

After about 30 minutes of laying down, my persistent craving for ice forced me out of bed and into the kitchen. As I pulled out the ice tray, I felt a wetness and saw a bit of liquid on the floor. Looking back now, deep down I knew that something was happening, but I ignored it. I changed my underwear and got back into bed. A few minutes later there was another trickle of liquid between my legs. I jumped up and went to the bathroom. This was it.

I yelled to my sleeping husband that my water was breaking and he mumbled something along the lines of “You have three weeks to go,” and rolled over. (He had to wake up in an hour for a DJ gig and was already exhausted from work.) Nervous, I called my twin sister Jannell and asked her what she thought I should do. “Go back to bed,” she said. “Nothing will happen for a while.” I called my mom who is a registered nurse and she said the same thing. So I changed my underwear again and got back into bed. Two minutes later the trickle of water turned into a steady flow. I got up and called my boss. After describing what was happening and that the water was a clear, slightly sweet-smelling liquid, she screamed. “Girl, you are having a baby!”

My next call was to my doctor, Dr.Brennan, who said I should start making my way to the hospital. I woke Quincy up and he could tell by my running around the apartment and the panic in my voice that it was time. I never saw a man move so slow! I had no hospital bag packed, but in all my running around like a chicken without a head, I remembered to make sure I pooped. (I read too many poop-on-the-delivery-table stories. I don’t care how many women it happens to—the embarrassment would kill me.) I also managed to call my sister to come pick us up, then got into the shower.

As the hot water ran over my body, every scary delivery I had ever seen flashed through my mind. I expected the crippling pain would hit me at any minute, so I closed my eyes and said a prayer while I lathered up again. I was stalling. I was scared. It wasn’t time yet. The place was not clean. Why is this happening so early?

I was stalling. I was scared. It wasn’t time yet.

For the first time in my adult life, I pulled on a pair of leggings with the intention of wearing them outside. I grabbed whatever I threw together and we headed downstairs to get in my sister’s car. The elevator ride down was surreal. I was still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I was going to have this baby before the weekend was through. I grabbed my husband’s hand and the look on his face told me he was thinking the same thing.

The car ride was quiet; I think both of us were overwhelmed. And I was sitting in the backseat soaking through the plastic bags I had put down. I leaked from the time we left the house, through the traffic of the closed bridge, and all the way into the lobby of Lenox Hill Hospital. I have never prayed so hard in my entire 30 years of life.

When a nurse came to get me, all I could think to say was “I am so sorry I messed up the floor.” She smiled and sat me down in the wheelchair. Everyone we met going up to the room was so friendly that I started to relax. I changed into the hospital gown and got comfy on the bed while I answered the triage questions. After the nurses left, hubby and I settled down to rest. We didn’t talk much, just held each other’s hand tightly and went to sleep. It was 1 a.m.

Three hours later, I felt the first pangs of pain. Wow, I thought. This isn’t bad. If this is how it feels, I can totally do this labor thing! An hour later, I had to get out of the bed. The pain was getting more intense and laying down didn’t help. I sat on my yoga ball and rocked my hips back and forth with Quincy supporting my back. The ball was amazing. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.

A doctor on duty came in and checked me. I think that hurt worse than the contractions. She pushed her hand so far up my uterus that I thought she was trying to pull the baby out herself! I decided I was not getting checked again after that. By 7 a.m. the pain was really picking up, but was still manageable. It felt like severe period cramps. At that point, I had been standing and rocking or sitting on the ball for over three hours and I was exhausted! All I wanted to do was get some sleep.

I turned to my husband and gave a look that can only be described as “Save me! I am scared to death!”

My nurse had asked about giving me an epidural, but I was adamant that I would try to stick it out. Another hour passed and I was begging for some sleep. I think being tired is what forces most women into getting the epidural. The pain can be handled, but pain plus exhaustion with contractions five minutes apart is too much! I gave in and requested the epidural, but the anesthesiologist all of a sudden had three patients ahead of me!

Finally, at 9 a.m., he casually strolled into my room. The nurse held my hand while the doctor prepped my back for the largest needle I had ever seen in my life. A few minutes later, I was able to fall asleep on a new high.

An hour later, my OBGYN came in. My kind, sweet, scruffy bearded Dr. Brennan. He was amazing. I let him check me and I didn’t feel a thing. “You are ready to have the baby,” he said in his jolly voice. I turned to my husband and gave a look that can only be described as “Save me! I am scared to death!”

My mom was doing her clinicals downstairs. She came up and immediately scolded me for taking the epidural. Now is not the time to argue, mommy! I thought. Please! I turned to Quincy and asked for some music while the doctor prepared the doom table, the table where they keep all those tools for cutting and pulling and other horrors. I had witnessed my younger sister give birth a few months before and the trauma of her birthing room came flashing back. I said another prayer. When the doctor was done preparing, Quincy put on my favorite Bob Marley playlist. I will be forever grateful to him and love him for knowing “Every little thing is gonna be alright” was just what I needed to hear in that moment. And then, it was time to push!

I demanded that Quincy remain up by my head for moral support while my mom held one of my legs and the nurse held the other. I remembered how long and painful my sister’s delivery was because she was not pushing correctly. When Dr. Brennan said “push” I beared down and pushed from my abdomen. “Good, good, you are doing great,” he said. This felt better. The pressure eased up when I pushed down. I pushed again and my mother said, “She has so much hair!” Dr. Brennan told me to stop pushing and relax. Then he said, “Vannell, reach down and pull out your baby.” He placed my hands under her arms and I pulled her out and onto my chest. This was it. I am a mother. I looked down at her and said “Thank you, Jesus,” while my mother yelled at Quincy to get the camera and Quincy yelled at me saying, “We did it, babe!” Ummmmmm, we? Okay…yes. We. We did this!

The nurses took Sydney away and I pushed out the placenta, which felt like such a relief. It was all over. My pregnancy was behind me and I now had a beautiful baby to love and care for.

Giving birth was the most amazingly beautiful experience of my life. My body did what it was designed to do: bring my joy into this world. It was perfect. The entire 37 weeks, the labor, the delivery, everything was perfect, and I thank God for choosing me.

Vannell France

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Vannell France lives in Brooklyn, New York, and works in Teacher Recruitment and Quality for New York’s Department of Education.


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