(this is the unedited text of an email sent 6/6/2015 to Jessica Stanley and Meaghan O'Connell)
"I feel like I've been drafting this email in my mind in all these half-awake moments over the past couple of days but now I can't remember a lot of what I wanted to say. I knew that I did want to announce up front that now that I have had my cherished home birth I both understand why people become evangelical about them and also understand completely why other people do not want to have them. It was the best for me, for this time in my life, for this pregnancy and this baby. But that is a lot of variables. Oh and I also wanted to say that ha ha, I didn't understand anything about anything before w/r/t having a child. Thank you for putting up with me in my pre having a child period of my life. I had no idea! About anything!
I think I sort of knew I was in "prelabor" all day Monday (I did turn in the Comyns essay though am scared to peek at the edits -- I basically sent it to the editor with one of those annoying "I throw up my hands!" emails but in this case it felt justified.) I woke up at 4 am and starting keeping track of what at that innocent time in my life seemed to me like "painful" contractions -- they were 10 minutes apart, not getting closer or getting stronger. I sat on the couch and read Meaghan's tinyletter and reread her birth story!! I called at 7am and left a message for Martine, the midwife, who was scheduled to come for our regular appointment at 10am anyway. She called back and told me to get back in bed and stay there and try to sleep and not get up til I heard the doorbell. I followed this order and did sleep. When she came, we did the usual stuff -- she took my blood pressure, examined the baby's position and measured my uterus, and then when she was pressing on me with the doppler stethoscope so she could hear his heartbeat, I felt a slight gush and was like "oops, I think I peed?" But of course it was not pee! So my water broke around 10:35 am.
I think Keith and I were both surprised that she didn't just set up camp right then, but she told us she would go to her other appointments in Brooklyn and we should keep her posted. I called the doula to tell her what was going on and then Keith and I settled in to watch half of s1 of Silicon Valley. He made me some eggs and kasha which I ate a few bites of ... BITES I WOULD LIVE TO REGRET. Much more quickly than I would have imagined possible I was really in the thick of it. We were still watching TV but I was on my hands and knees, Keith was behind me applying counterpressure, and my contractions were barely 5 minutes apart.
I think this is when I started puking. I puked one dramatic puke that seemed to send things to the next level, and from that point on I puked with almost every contraction for a while. It was horrible but also it was kind of okay. It was something to do! It was really, really horrible. Oh and I also got the shakes and was like uncontrollably shivering between contractions. I told Keith to call Martine and the doula (inconveniently also named Emily.) I suspect this is what is called "transition." Everyone arrived including an assistant named Shara and immediately started assembling and arranging stuff all around me. Shara and Emily got to work massaging my back and extremities and trying to coax me into putting my arms up on a chair so my shoulders and elbows wouldn't TOTALLY KILL FOR DAYS (this was unsuccessful). Martine and Shara monitored the heartbeat with that same doppler stethoscope every few contractions. No one even mentioned the tub.
One of the charms (depending how you look at it, but it really worked for me) of Martine and Karen's midwifery philosophy is that they don't do internal exams at all unless there is some compelling reason to. They judge where you are based on, I guess, the timing and intensity of your contractions and some other magic. So I had no idea at this point where I was in the process and I continued never to know until way late in the game. I think Shara was maybe trying to trick me a little bit by asking things like "where's the bowl for the placenta?" conspicuously so I would think the birth was imminent when in fact it was hours away. I sort of knew this in a part of my mind but in another part I allowed myself to hope.
Oh! And also they encouraged me to pee and when peeing on the toilet was no longer an option I peed on a pad on the floor like a small dog.
Martine kept trying to get me to lick a cracker that had peanut butter on it, and people kept putting a straw in my mouth so I would drink water, both of which I would then puke up. I allowed myself to be coaxed up off the floor at some point and labored with my arms around Keith's neck, semi-squatting hanging off him and REALLY grabbing him with each contraction. This was hard on him but he bore it very well though eventually (and who knows? maybe this lasted hours! I really have no idea) he mentioned that he couldn't last much longer in that position and I said "Oh, poor you!" Then for a while we were on the bed, then I was squatting in front of Keith in a chair holding his knees. At this point I could feel the head, not quite crowning but I could feel it by reaching inside with my (I was encouraged to do this) middle finger. I was making outlandish noises. I got up to stretch my legs between contractions and was still shaking all over. When I couldn't get up to stretch my legs anymore we moved to the bed. I caught a glimpse of Shara's digital watch and was surprised that it was after 10. I had been dimly aware that it was dark out but had no idea how much time had passed, it was simultaneously forever and no time.
This was the final act and I knew it but also still didn't believe that the baby could really come out of me. It felt impossible. They had me lie on my side with one leg resting on Martine's shoulder and Keith behind me. I puked a couple more times, little pukes of faintly peanut butter-scented water. Every contraction would get the head partway out, then crap out after I was only able to get in two pushes -- so I could eke out another push, but it had no oomph. AND THEN THE HEAD WOULD SLIDE BACK IN, which was the most dispiriting feeling. Actually first the head would sit there for a long moment, which was the most uncomfortable feeling, and THEN it would slide back in. Everyone was very reassuring about this, and you know, it was for the best- gradually being stretched rather than violently torn etc. It did not seem that way at the time. A lot of complicated stuff was happening in my mind. I was trying to be strategic and at the same time to shut off my brain and let my body take over completely. Martine's directions about where to push to and Emily's directions about what to think about seemed to help. Sometimes everyone was silent during a contraction and I would think "am I doing this one wrong?" As I got more exhausted I tried once to "sit one out" which of course did not work. They were having me hold my breath to push, then sip in a little air, then push again. I was hardly making any sounds except when the head would poke out and then I would scream or say OH MY GOD IT HURTS or something equally eloquent. Keith kissed my head and I told him I would rather have encouraging pats on the shoulder like a sports teammate.
I finally hit on the image of bodysurfing and waiting for the right feeling in the wave, which even as I was having the thought seemed cliched. But I also felt like I wanted more than anything to never have another contraction and I would do anything to accomplish this so when the next contraction came I tried it and it seemed to work, I did nothing as the first smaller waves of pain came and then took a deep breath and pushed on the big one. This worked better. A scary new level of vagina splitting open sensation occurred. The head stayed out for longer this time and I tried to wiggle my leg to get another contraction going right away, but everyone said "take the break, breathe" and I think I might have even slept for ten seconds before the next one came. And then that was the one that did it, even as I still didn't believe it would or anything would ever. He splashed out of me blowing bubbles and howling. (At 11:18.)
I had been sure I would cry, I mean, I cry at this moment watching any birth video, any episode of Teen Mom or Call The Midwife, at this point in anyone's birth story. Instead Keith and I were laughing. He looked so weird! He looked like a little alien! He was our BABY? OUR baby? We had a BABY? It was so bizarre. He lay on my chest and wailed and we tried to comfort him, but of course we loved that he was crying so much, he was so alive. He had all his parts, all this hair, fingernails, everything. The only other notable thing that happened was that when Martine was massaging my uterus to get me to deliver the placenta I said "I thought we were friends, Martine" because it hurt more than I expected. I had a small tear that she deemed "cosmetic" and said would heal without stitches, but did I want a stitch? For "cosmetic" reasons? Keith and I were both like ha ha no (though I am terrified to learn what she means by this and though it's healing well I'm not allowed to sit with my legs wide apart, eye-bulging emoji.)
They gave us some privacy with him after the placenta was delivered and the cord was cut, and then Emily casually explained breastfeeding in a chummy way that made it seem like nbd and got him to latch, then heated up some Trader Joe's gluten-free pizza which everyone ate. They examined and weighed him and then left and we stared at him for hours and then tried to sleep.