When I am pregnant I enjoy reading pregnancy and birth stories, and dreaming of the type of birth I’d like to have. I once read a story of a woman who gave birth in a car because the baby came out much quicker than expected, and wishfully laughed, wishing I would be blessed with such an easy birth. Little did I know what G‑d had in store for me.
A day before my due date, I was chopping up vegetables for supper while chatting on the phone with my closest friend. All of a sudden I felt a pain, not a contraction, but a pulling and moderately painful sensation. When I mentioned it to my friend, she suggested that it may be the beginning of labor, but I laughed her off, as all of my previous births had been ten days to two weeks after the official due date.
My body knew exactly what it was supposed to doLater that night, contractions woke me up. I waited about forty-five minutes to see whether the contractions were steady and that labor had been established, and then called my midwife, who suggested I stay home, as the contractions were only lasting forty seconds. She said they’d have to last at least a minute and twenty seconds to warrant going to the hospital. It was 2:30 AM by then, so I decided not to wake my husband until I really needed him.
And so I labored.
During previous births I had been “blessed” with back labor, and this one was no different. However, the contractions were not as intensely painful as in previous births, which is why I did not think I was in the advanced labor stage yet. I doulaed myself: when the contractions peaked I’d apply counterpressure in the painful spots on my back with my fist, I’d breathe and count and get through them, one by one, closing my eyes and resting in between contractions.
For my first birth, which was attended by a midwife in a hospital, I brought along a doula because my mother lives overseas, so I wanted an advocate—and she was indeed very helpful. For my next births I birthed with a midwife in a hospital. I have to say that when the contractions peaked I very much depended on her, squeezing her arm, barely allowing her to move from my side during transition.
Yet here I was, doing everything alone, contracting, riding the waves, reassuring myself. And it was simultaneously so amazing and yet so completely natural. I had been blessed with the ability and power to bring a new life into this world. And while it is great to have wonderful and caring practitioners to support us, and crucially important that help be accessible when unique medical situations or emergencies arise, I discovered that my body knew exactly what it was supposed to do. So I followed its lead and did what I never thought was possible.
The longest contraction lasted forty-five seconds. I walked around the house and watered my tomato seedlings. I tried to do my Chabad.org work on the computer, but did not have the patience for it. I showered, allowing the water to soothe my aching back as the contractions peaked—and then, before I knew it, it was 6:30 AM and the kids woke up.
Reality hadn’t yet hit. I did not immediately think it could be the baby!I must have been close to transition, even though I did not realize it then, as I did not have any patience for anything. I woke my husband and updated him on the situation. He took over, taking them downstairs, feeding them breakfast and dressing them in preparation for a trip to the hospital, as we live far from family and had no one we could call at that early hour.
The contractions became more intense and painful, but still not as painful as in my past births when I was close to giving birth, and they still lasted no more than forty-five seconds. I remembered reading that going on all fours and rocking back and forth can help alleviate back labor pains. I had never tried this technique before, perhaps because I felt inhibited to do so during previous births in a hospital setting. But in the privacy of my own bedroom, on my own bed, with no one watching, I had no such compunctions. I tried it and it worked. I felt some relief and swayed back and forth, right and left for a few minutes until my waters broke.
While on the phone with my midwife, updating her on the situation, I suddenly felt the urge to push. She encouraged me not to push and to come right away. While my husband packed the kids into the car, I went to the restroom to change. All of a sudden I felt extreme pressure. Reality hadn’t yet hit. I did not immediately think it could be the baby!
But after a few seconds I realized the inevitable was happening, the baby was coming and it was coming right now! Down on the floor I went, squatting on a towel I had conveniently dropped while showering. My husband called the midwife on the phone and patrolled the hall to ensure that the children wouldn’t make an appearance. I felt the urge to push twice, but unlike my previous births where the pushing stage took enormous efforts and strength out of me and were quite painful, here I felt no pain at all. The pushing process was gentle and smooth, and out came the baby, essentially birthing herself, welcomed with one of my hands while I supported myself with the other.
The first thing I noticed was that she did not cry, probably because the cord was draped around her neck. The midwife suggested I slap her on the back, so I did, and she immediately gave a nice cry. She was still a bit blue; but fortunately by then the ambulance arrived and administered some oxygen, and waited for me to deliver the afterbirth, after which we were bundled up and brought to the hospital.
Out came the baby, essentially birthing herselfLess than ten minutes elapsed from the time my water broke to when the baby was born, so there was no time to panic, no time to be afraid or think about anything other than what was happening in the moment. But a few hours later, as I was relaxing and reliving the experience, I could not help but be amazed at the power that G‑d has given us women.
Although this was not my first birth, I never felt as empowered as I did after this unexpected, unassisted birth experience. I thought of how thankful I am that the baby’s cord was only draped and not wrapped around her neck, and that thank G‑d she was okay (did the position I tried during labor help the cord unwrap itself from around her neck?)
But most powerful was the thought I had of our Jewish ancestresses. These brave women who lived in slavery in Egypt and defied Pharaoh’s edict for the Jewish midwives to kill Jewish male babies, by giving birth on their own, squatting in the fields. As I held my baby girl and relived my miracle, all I could think was that perhaps a little bit of their strength trickled down to me.