It’s been ten days since I went into labor, nine days since I had my (first ever) baby, Mary. It’s been a dim, warm time; muted voices, drawn shades and closed doors, almost candle-lit, with waves of feeling rolling constantly through.

In the past several years, I’ve been obsessed with other peoples’ birth stories, since I consider it a powerful feminine right-of-passage, one I wanted to go through, myself. I wanted to experience the intensity of labor and delivery so I could more fully enter that sisterhood of mothers whose lives fill humanity’s centuries, but whose stories of birth have been relegated either to “domestic histories” or to obscurity.

The life cycles of our world are honorable, and I have wanted birth to be natural, to retain its honor, where possible. Which is why I wanted a “natural” or unmedicated childbirth. I think mine counts as unmedicated, or at least un(pain)medicated, and I know it ushers me into the huge country of motherhood with clear eyes, sharpened perception, and willingness. Of course, births with pain meds—in my mind—can also retain their essential, primal, dignity & honor. But often, they don’t, or can’t, and I wanted no distractions.

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So my water broke three weeks early. Who could have possibly expected that? Pas moi. Marshall and I had spent the whole pregnancy preparing ourselves for the misery of Week 40, since I’d heard that most first-time mothers are late. Modern science knows little about what kick-starts labor, so Marshall’s theory that contorting myself into an awkward position in order to put my shoes on started it, the evening of December 6th, holds as much water (ha) as my theory that the Cold Moon or Long Night Moon (December’s full moon) had something to do with it. Regardless, I was putting my shoes on, while our friends Aaron and Brenna were over for chocolate pecan pie, and whoa. Thought process: Holy shit did I just pee my pants. Since when do I do that. Ok just kidding! So this is what it feels like! Holy shit! Everything is suddenly wet. Brenna runs for a bath towel, Aaron is grinning with excitement, Marshall is paralyzed. We hadn’t written up our birth plan yet, or finished the baby’s co-sleeper, or packed up The Bag (of stuff to take to the birth center).

Since our birth center won’t deliver babies who come before 37 weeks, and this was week 36 + 5 days, the on-call midwife apologetically told us to go to the hospital. Bummer. After throwing random things in a backpack (like a summer outfit for the baby??) we drove to UT hospital, where I started contracting, subtlely and irregularly, in triage. I also got an IV port put in, and that was kind of traumatic and I threw up. Which may have helped start contractions, I guess. The Dr. knew I wanted a natural birth, so we decided I could try to get better into labor on my own, and they would check me at 6am (it was midnight by then). If I hadn’t made significant progress, they’d start me on Pitocin, since chances for infection rise the longer you labor after water breaking. I was 2cm dilated and I think 80% effaced at that time? I think.

Long night indeed. Spent half of it dozing, half shuffling the halls of UT Labor & Delivery with Marshall. When 6am came, I was contracting more, but still very irregularly, and had just dilated one more cm. Sad. I was pretty scared of Pitocin, the synthetic oxytocin which speeds & intensifies labor so much that most women who are on it end up getting epidurals. I cried. Marshall cried. Then I got a little braver, and since they started me on a very low drip, I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the contractions at all. Then Elizabeth, our doula (and angel of mercy), arrived, and her calmness, grace, and immediate “let’s get to work” attitude returned us to ourselves.

(“…and that’s why he’s called Cliffhanger!!”)