Noah's birth story.

They say that birth is the gift you give to your child, the gift of life. That may be true but one of the pillars of the experience I had giving birth to Noah was the gift he gave me - a tangible, priceless memory that I already find myself using to motivate myself through tough days.

"I gave birth to a baby without drugs in less than 6 hours," I think. "I can do anything."


Noah was due on October 11th, but he didn't come that day. I woke up the morning of the 12th determined to get the most annoying items left on my to-do list done. I slowly waddled to the post office to mail some gifts, I picked up some books at the library, I went to the bank and closed an account. I bought an acorn squash and texted Chris in the afternoon to see if he wanted to see an 8pm showing of Argo. At this point I assumed the baby was going to hang in a few more days, though I did text my sister to tell her it felt like he was falling out of me. 

"This baby is basically crowning," I wrote to her. "Feel like he's about to fall the hell out!"

"That's good news!!!!" she wrote back. Little did we know.

Chris got home and we ate our acorn squash with maple syrup. I told him we had to leave for the movies really early, anticipating a slow 10 block walk. It was opening night and though I was dying for a seat on the aisle, there were none to be had. We squeezed in past a couple towards the front of the theater and settled in.


In the retelling of that night, I don't remember the pain. I have the memory of being in pain and being uncomfortable, but it's just that - a data point - nothing that can harm me now. Nothing I can relive. Halfway through the movie I started feeling really uncomfortable. I couldn't call them contractions, but it was more like a low stomach ache.

"Do you want to leave?" Chris whispered, as I started deep breathing. 

"I want to see how this movie ends," I said. "I'll tell you if things get bad enough." 

They got bad enough towards the end, but we waited to see if the hostages were saved and then ducked out about 5 minutes before the end. We stepped out onto the street and it was pretty chilly; our walk home was even slower than the one there. We wondered if this was it. We decided to get home and have a glass of wine and go to bed; this is what our midwives had advised us to do if we thought we were headed into labor. 

We took the elevator up to our apartment and Chris opened a bottle of rose. I stood at the kitchen table and took two sips. And then my water broke.

You have no idea if it's actually your water that broke when it breaks. Or at least I didn't. There's a lot going on down there anyway and since Noah's head was already so low, it acted like a stopper. I thought it was possible I'd peed myself. (Sexy.) "Oh!" I said and made a face and Chris jumped. "Did your water just break?!" he asked.

A trip to the bathroom confirmed that I wasn't peeing, that a baby was coming. And despite the preparation, despite the classes we took and the books I read and the furnished nursery 30 feet away, it hit me like a bag of bricks. It was 11:06pm. It was GO time. 

It was time to put my money where my mouth was and have this baby.


Nothing feels like a contraction except a contraction. For me, it was easy to know that they had arrived; they rolled through me like waves. At first it was exciting. I tracked their start and finish with an app on my iPhone in bed while Chris got in a last-minute shave. Soon enough it was clear that I couldn't press the buttons anymore, so he took over. 

"Start," I'd whisper and then a short time later, "Ok. Done." I listened to my hypnobirthing tapes, which kept me calm and gave me a familiar rhythm. We didn't like the class but those tapes were worth their weight in gold that night. 

Our midwife told us to call when our contractions were 3-4 minutes apart and lasting an hour. Within half an hour we were ranging 2-6 minutes apart, which felt strangely close based on what our classes had said. Nonetheless, we were in New Parent Mindset, which tells you that your first baby will take approximately 400 days to come out once you go into labor. I was focused on conserving my strength because we were only an hour in. 

Then the chills came on, fast and furious. My teeth clacked like one of those cartoon skeletons; Chris put me in my Muhlenberg sweatshirt, gave me socks and piled blankets on top of me. I was FREEZING. I had never been so cold in my life. 

And see, if you described that to me in a birth class, I'd say "that person is going through transition." But when you're an hour into contractions and you're foggy from the contractions yourself, there is no way you think you're already at transition. I got in a hot shower and warmed up, but felt nauseous. Again! Transition symptom! Again, denial.

Chris called the midwife again. We were 3-4 minutes apart, going on an hour. She suggested waiting another 30 minutes. When Chris came back from making the call, I couldn't speak to him anymore. I was stuck in the bathroom, dealing with contraction after contraction. I couldn't imagine how I would put clothes on or dry my hair or get to the hospital. 

"I'll just live in our shower now," I thought. "I'll work remotely from here, I'll eat dinner in here, this is where I will stay forever."

No dice. Chris pulled the plug on staying home and called the midwife to tell her we were heading in to the hospital. GOOD THING, cause if he hadn't the kid would have been born in a cab.

He ran around grabbing bags and pillows and my sandals and I slowly, slowly, painfully, put clothes on and walked carefully towards the door. I would like to say I had some kind of poignant adieu with the cats but that didn't happen. Instead I had contractions all the way down in the elevator and all the way out to the curb where a car that Chris had called awaited. Our doorman walked slowly alongside me the whole way and I had enough awareness to thank him. 

Then we were taking our last cab ride as non-parents. It was 2:30am. 


I do not remember much of the cab ride. I kept my eyes closed the whole time, focusing on breathing and visually graphing the pain of each contraction in spikes. (This is hard to explain and it's not a technique anyone taught me, it was just the way my brain tracked what was happening to me.) We took the tunnel and Chris remembers that the guy at the toll booth was asleep when our cab pulled up. Chris texted our families and someone called (I would later find out it was my sister). I remember Chris telling me someone wanted me to know they believed I could do it, but I wasn't able to take the call myself. I was in some kind of timeless pocket in the universe where I wasn't aware of any knowledge but what was happening with the spiking pain. 

The cab pulled up outside the hospital and I felt relief, if only because we had completed one of the steps I had been anxious about. A 25 minute cab ride while in labor! And yet, it had passed like nothing. I stepped out of the cab while Chris paid and looked up at the main entrance. A giant sign announced: "This entrance is closed between 10pm and 5am... please use the ER entrance around the corner between 9th and 10th avenue." 

I kind of flipped out. WHO WAS GOING TO MAKE ME WALK AN AVENUE BLOCK RIGHT NOW?? And yet when an orderly rushed out with a wheelchair, I wanted none of it. I couldn't imagine sitting right then so we plodded along towards 9th avenue, stopping every few feet to have a contraction. I was vaguely aware of the other people in the ER who watched us walk towards the elevators, but was still in my own brain.

The Birth Center where we planned to deliver was closed because of a nurse shortage. I could not have cared less! We took the elevators to the Labor and Delivery floor, where Chris filled out paperwork and I took deep breaths. Our midwife found us and brought us into our room. 

"I'm going to check you now," she said. I had heard that these checks were painful but it wasn't anything worse than what was happening in my body at the time. I remember thinking, "if I am at 4cm, then I will be ordering all the drugs in the world." I also remember thinking that this would be our one and only child because I couldn't imagine doing this again. 

"OH!" she said, pushing back her chair. "You're at 9cm! I need to go get into scrubs!"

And then I was lifted from my personal fog. I looked at Chris and we laughed. WHAT THE HELL! She came back in the room a few minutes later in scrubs and checked again; I was at 10cm. Our doula was not even there yet.

It was time to push.


Here's the thing about pushing: I had not read anything preparing me for it. With laboring, you can at least measure it. You go from 1cm to 2cm... and eventually you get to 10. There are progress markers along the way. But pushing? The only thing I'd heard was that pushing was a total relief after the stress and pain of labor.

So when our midwife said "Ok Jen, now you're going to start pushing," I got nervous for the first time in this whole thing. Chris says I actually said that I was nervous out loud several times. Our doula had arrived and was giving me sips of water between pushes and wiping my forehead. 

"You're doing it!" everyone told me, but I found that hard to believe. It wasn't until the midwife said she could see his head with hair on it that it felt like I was doing it. And even still, it sucked. Mentally I was in a bad place. I felt more trapped than I ever had in my life and I wished I could be transported to any other time in my life -- a funeral, an all-nighter of homework, whatever. 

So I told myself I had two options: get depressed about pushing OR decide to own the next push. About this time, Chris reminded me to relax and think of the hypnobirthing tapes... and once I rallied around the next push, progress happened much faster.

Noah's head came out, then after a loud push on my part his shoulders were out, and finally the rest of him slithered into the hands of the midwife. She put him on my chest; Chris was in tears and I was in shock.

It was 4:57am.


I blinked my eyes. I went to a movie and blinked my eyes and it was over. The whole challenge, the marathon, the event we'd been preparing for over nine months. A baby came out and we were different people, we had a different priority, we would never sleep 8 hours straight again.

It took me three days to emotionally connect to what had happened; I sat in our glider at home rocking Noah and I cried, full of relief and love and astonishment.

And here I stand in the kitchen, typing this post on my kitchen counter as my 5 week old son naps across the room. These past 5 weeks have been wonderful and awful, but I have never felt closer to Chris and more aligned on what we want out of our lives. We want to raise wonderful human beings. 

Every difficult thing that comes after this will be slightly less difficult because of this. This is the gift Noah brought me when he came out into the world. Because although I have had other accomplishments, there is something about giving birth that you just can't top.

I think it's because birth levels the playing field. You can't pay your way through it. You can't have your dad call someone on the board. Your degrees don't matter, your race doesn't matter, your GPA and SAT score and hourly wage are worth nothing. The birthing mama is literally naked, using whatever and whoever she is to bring her baby out. 

And I am so damn proud of myself. Forever, forever, forever, now I know; I can do anything.


Kath said...

What an awesome birth story! Glad everything went so smoothly and quickly! Love what you said about leveling the field.

Abby said...

God, Jen, this story was so beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

Audrey said...

Fantastic birth story. I'm sitting here at 28 weeks pregnant, with the impending birth very much on my mind, and it was wonderful to read this. So often, I only come across the 'horror' ones - and I know everyone is different, but it was lovely to read an overwhelmingly positive one. My partner and I have not been together long, and life is stressful - but we are united in wanting the best for this child, so I'm glad there is a positive 'after birth' with the pair of you as well. Sorry for the long comment!

Jen said...

Thank you guys... xox

@Audrey- Hang in there. There are a lot of negative stories out there, but I think you can definitely find a more positive headspace out there! Shoot me an email (feastoflove@gmail.com) if you want some reading recommendations... and good luck!!

Anonymous said...

What a great story, Jen! Audrey, I gave birth on September 15th, and I, too, was nervous beforehand. My epidural didn't take, so it was a painful and intense experience. (This was my first child so I can't compare it to an all-natural birth or one with a working epidural.) I had an episiotomy and quite a lot of tearing, and it took an hour and a half to do the stitches. Despite the pain, though, it was a wonderful, amazing experience. I know it was painful, but when I recall that day I can't feel it at all; all I feel is the love and support of everyone present: my husband, my awesome midwife, the pediatric nurse, and the nurse intern who wept as she witnessed her first birth. My water broke at 7am sharp on a Saturday after a full night's sleep. There was hardly anyone at the hospital and everything went calmly and smoothly; it really was an amazing experience. I think it's great to have a birth plan and think about how you want things to go, but it's also really important to stay flexible and open the day of. If you wanted an epidural but can't get one, it's no big deal. If you wanted an all-natural birth but have to have a c-section, it'll be fine. In my opinion any delivery that results in a healthy baby and mother is a successful one. If it's the pain you're worried about, you will rise to the occasion. Whatever happens will be part of your unique and special story. Good luck and enjoy being pregnant! It goes by so fast. ~ Casey PS. I like the new design, Jen!

Meg said...

Jen! I am soo excited that you shared your story. And what a wonderful one, too! I am so happy that things worked out for you and Chris and Tiny as you hoped. You CAN do anything. It's so funny to me that the minute you had a sip of wine your water broke.

Did your doula ever make it to the hospital?? It sounds like you guys timed things perfectly!

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