**Danielle’s story was the first place winner in the Birth Story Contest held at our blog, Raising Kvell**
I found myself on my hands and knees in an enormous tub, naked, with four people staring down at me.
I looked up and saw my husband, Matt, to my left, sitting on the edge of the tub with a glass of cold water in one hand, and the other offering his fingers for me to squeeze. At my head was a friendly nurse I had never met and a nursing student who probably didn’t expect to see quite so much of me that morning. To my right was my gentle midwife, Sarah, who had the good sense to leave me alone in my labor. For just a moment I felt exposed, a little nervous, wondering if I had made the best decision to birth in a tub without any clothes. I imagined what these onlookers were thinking about me, moaning and growling like a crazy woman. A naked, crazy woman. But before I had the chance to worry, another contraction took over my back and the room could have been filled with a thousand people.
This was my second birth. Two years earlier I gave birth to our first daughter, Alyce, in a hospital in Toronto. I was surrounded by my husband and mother and my two wonderful midwives. There were friends nearby waiting to celebrate. This time it was different. We had moved to the U.S. shortly after Alyce’s birth and now I was giving birth alone, without a nearby community of support. Of course there were people waiting to hear the news, but there was so much distance between us. I feared this distance leading up to this birth. I worried about who would care for Alyce while her father was helping me labor; I too worried about coming home to an empty house.
Sarah stretched my membranes at my 41 week (!) appointment, so I was expecting to feel some cramping that day. But that night I was feeling a little miserable and a lot distracted, and I recognized these feelings from my first labor, an attempt, I think, to get my body focused. By 8 p.m. I knew I was in real labor and did the only thing I could think of: I baked a quiche.
We called the birth center around 10 p.m., letting them know that my contractions were about eight minutes apart. The midwife on-call suggested that I rest if I could, even though it might slow down my labor a bit. The rest would serve me well. My contractions were frequent, intense, but manageable. For a few hours I slept on and off, then waddled to the shower, where I had the hottest, longest shower of my life.
All day I had been preoccupied with what to do with Alyce. She was welcome at the birth center, but she would need someone to look after her and I didn’t want that person to be Matt. He was all mine. And though I had met a few people, I didn’t know anyone well enough to invite them to the birth (we were more at that stage of inviting them over for dinner, not to my naked water birth). In the end, our rabbi and his wife, Anne, offered to watch Alyce. These preoccupations kept my labor reasonable that night, I think. I felt my body wanting to move forward, but I held back, wanting everything to be OK for Alyce.
I decided that five was a reasonable time to wake someone up; Matt called the rabbi. Still wearing her goldfish pajamas, Alyce quietly watched me from the back seat of our car on the way to the birth center. I shuffled inside while having the biggest, baddest contraction of the night. I caught myself on the wall and waited out a couple of more contractions–they had jumped to two minutes apart by now–before I made it to my midwife.
I didn’t push long with Alyce–maybe thirty minutes. Some friends told me that they loved the pushing stage, a welcome change from labor. Me, I prefer labor. It was when I started pushing Alyce that I started to feel like I couldn’t do it. It hurt so much. But I did, and could do it again. All that tension melted when I hit the water.
Then my water broke. I felt no control over my body. I could feel my body jumping at each contraction, pushing down on my baby. I was scared, just like before. It hurt so much I didn’t want to do it anymore. I wanted to close myself up. Sarah noticed that I was actually beginning to close my legs; I had to open them. With the next push I delivered her head, under the water. I thought I was done.
Alyce was a lovely seven pound baby and when I delivered her head, the rest of her just swam out of me. But this little girl didn’t swim out of anywhere. I wasn’t done. In an act of incredible inelegance, my husband, a nurse, a nursing student, and my midwife flipped me over in the tub so that I could push in a new position. One more push, and she was out. Sarah helped me lift her out of the water and hold her against my chest. I looked down and instantly fell in love with my new little girl, head full of blond hair, quietly looking back up at me.
Shira Clementine was born nine pounds, seven ounces, on May 11, 2010. It still amazes me how full our family felt that day, even without the friendly faces of family and friends. We celebrated with a little rest, a lot of breastfeeding, and some quiche.