Alice Aria Guimarin was born on June 4th at 6:13am. Actually, to hell with the passive voice. I gave birth to Alice Aria Guimarin on June 4th at 6:13am. This is her birth story.
Ali’s birth story starts at 3am on May 24th, 11 days before she was actually born, when I woke up to strong, persistent contractions.
I was excited. Ecstatic. Gleeful. Giddy! Kind of in pain actually. Okay, these contraction things kind of hurt. And by kind of, I mean, really.
Then… shit! How do you hold a newborn?!
I rolled myself out of bed, hopped on the YouTubes, and spent the next hour frantically searching for and devouring videos detailing how to hold newborn babies. (This gem was my favorite.) Convinced I was going to mess the whole thing up anyway, I realized my contractions had subsided, Ali was in fact not coming that night, and I should probably go back to bed.
Due Date = Nothing Doing
My due date, May 31st, came and went without much happening. I had been having a few cramps here and there, but nothing I could distinctly identify as a “contraction” since the great panic attack of the 24th. On the recommendation of our doula, Michael and I had a “do date” on my “due date” and went out to our favorite sushi place. Gasp! I also did a commemorative handstand. Double gasp!
My ideal birth experience had always been an unmedicated one with as little intervention as possible, so with 10 days until my pre-scheduled, hospital-mandated, pitocin-fueled induction, my acupuncturist hooked me up with a special induction tincture to help speed things along the “natural” way. The concoction was vile. Each time I took it–mixed with a little warm water, nose held, down the hatch like a shot of cheap tequila–I gagged and prayed to the tincture gods that this licorice root-y nastiness was doing something productive.
Apparently the tincture worked its magic. Or, you know, maybe Ali was just ready. But in the early evening of June 2nd, I started to have persistent contractions every 15-20 minutes.
From everything we had learned, I knew that these types of contractions could peter out, or worse, last for days, so I played it cool. Michael and I tried to watch Chef’s Table, realized it was way too good to be watched through contractions, and settled on Iliza Shlesinger’s stand up special instead.
The contractions hurt, but they hurt in the kind of way that a stubbed toe hurts. If you just close your eyes and breathe, the pain lessens, and then dissipates. Except for the obvious fact that no one stubs their toe every 15 minutes on cue unless they’re an idiot.
That night was pretty sleepless for me, even though Michael didn’t notice a thing. (When he woke up he actually dared to ask me, “did the contractions stop?” Uh… no, sir.) I texted my doula, Alli (two L’s, not to be confused with Ali, our daughter), to let her know shit might be getting real, and she told me to be restful.
So naturally, I went on a cleaning binge. If this baby was really, truly coming, I didn’t want our house to be a mess when we brought her home!
Later that evening, with the house ship shape and over 24 hours on the clock of this prelabor bullshit, Michael and I watched the very pregnant Ali Wong’s comedy special (solidarity, sister) and I prepared myself for another long night of prelabor.
The Bun is Done
At around 10pm, I made some “paleo” muffins.
I smashed the banana and cut the apple. Then got hit with a contraction.
I cracked the eggs and added the water. Then got hit by another contraction.
I measured out the almond flour and the baking soda and the cinnamon. And got hit again.
I poured in the coconut oil and started to mix. And got hit again.
I finished mixing and poured the batter into the muffin tin. And got hit again.
I put the muffins in the oven, set a timer, and barely had enough time to unroll my yoga mat. (Taking those contractions standing was proving to be difficult.) And I got hit again.
These contractions were definitely coming more than every 15 minutes. More like every five. And they were significantly more painful than whatever I had been complaining about earlier.
While the muffins baked for 20 minutes, I had four strong contractions.
Shit’s Getting Real
“Michael… shit’s getting real over here.”
With the muffins baked, the contraction onslaught continued with a vengeance. Michael called Alli the doula, who again gave us the same advice.
Get some rest. Try to sleep. This could last for days.
So we headed to bed. But each time I settled onto my side and closed my eyes, I got hit with fierce, searing pain that I tried to pretend didn’t exist… until I could pretend no longer.
I moved back to my yoga mat in the living room, riding out the contractions on all fours and settling into child’s pose in between.
Pop Goes the Bag of Waters (TMI)
At around midnight, during a particularly strong contraction, I felt a pop.
So that’s what it feels like when your water breaks!
I was wearing a comically thin and ineffectual panty liner, but somehow managed to squeeze my inner thighs–thankfully strengthened by years of dressage–and waddle my way to the toilet without leaking everywhere.
“Michael, my water just broke.”
“Huh? Okay,” he said. Still asleep.
I texted Alli the doula again and her advice remained the same.
Get some rest. Try to sleep. This could last for days.
Making My Den
Now that I was persistently leaking (just because your water breaks doesn’t mean it’s done gushing), I moved my yoga mat set up into the bathroom.
And then hours sort of just… passed.
Around 1:30am, I started to moan through the contractions because there was no other way to bear them.
Around that same time, I vaguely remember Michael getting up to support me. He lovingly put his hands on my back during contractions, which helped me feel grounded, until it didn’t, at which point I told him not at all nicely to go away. I remember him staying anyway, or at least checking in regularly. I love him for that.
Deep in another realm, I remember looking at the clock at 3am and thinking, it’s been three hours since my water broke? How?? It felt like it had been a few minutes. A few very painful minutes.
The contractions were now hitting me every 90ish seconds, and we decided it probably made sense to get some support from our doula. Since I wanted to be at the hospital for as little time as possible, my plan was to head to St. Luke’s when I had the “urge to push,” which meant nothing to me until all of a sudden I got what it meant a whole two minutes after Alli the doula arrived at our apartment.
Off to the Hospital
We packed up quickly and were out the door five minutes after Alli had arrived. I was hit with at least three contractions on the way down to the parking garage. The security guys knew it was go time and opened all the garage gates for us before we got there.
En route, I asked Michael, “which is worse… this drive or the one where you had to drive me home from Princeton to Ithaca in the first blizzard of the winter (without snow tires) while my fever raged from the chicken pox?”
“The chicken pox drive,” he said. “I’m pretty excited right now. I get a baby at the end of this!”
Michael dropped Alli and me off at the emergency room entrance (it’s the only one that’s open at 3:30 in the morning) and Alli and I made our way to the labor and delivery floor. I had my hood up on my sweatshirt, and I remember looking straight ahead, extremely focused and yet also very dazed, just trying to get my feet to move toward the elevator. The lights felt so bright.
When we arrived in the triage room, there was a bit of a delay in getting anything checked. I don’t really remember much from this time. I was in another world.
I decided I had to pee, but when I sat on the toilet, I was hit with a contraction and learned what a true urge to push felt like. It’s kind of like throwing up– uncontrollable, instinctual, a terrific relief. It was definitely go time.
Except when Laurel, the midwife, came in to check me, she discovered some rather disappointing news. I was only 6cm dilated.
Alli spun this as good news. “Your body has already done the hardest, longest part,” she told me, all cheer.
All I heard was 10 – 6 = 4. I still have 4cms to go and I want to push this baby out now.
Not Pushing SUCKS
They moved me to a delivery room, and for the next two hours, every time I had a contraction and an urge to push, I had to not push. It was the most difficult, most uncomfortable, longest exercise in meditation of my entire life.
Alli had me stand up so gravity could help with those last four centimeters. She also had me doing this really awesome “shhhh” or “sssss” exhale hyperventilation thing that actually helped tremendously. I mostly staved off my body’s instinctual urge, but sometimes I’d have an entire contraction where my mind sort of caved to my body and I pushed anyway, which is basically like pushing a baby’s head against a brick wall… no bueno for everyone involved.
Apparently it was around this time… 5:45am or so… that the thought of an epidural floated through the room. Laurel, our midwife, figured she’d check to see how things were progressing again to help make the decision.
I was at 10cm. I could finally push.
When Laurel and Alli told me I could push after two and half hours of not pushing, I didn’t really believe them.
Wait, so now after all that time of doing this bullshit “sss” and “shh” breathing, I can just do what my body wants me to do? HELL. YES.
So with each contraction, I let my body do its thing and start to push. I was on all fours like a rice farmer, as I had been throughout my entire labor. I could feel her coming.
I also felt like it was taking longer than it should. As it turns out, somewhere on my stupid birth preferences document I checked the box that said “please allow me to listen to my body and push naturally with my own instincts.” While this sounded fantastic before I was actually trying to birth a baby, during the actual process I felt pretty lost, especially since I was facing away from the nurses and midwife and couldn’t see anyone’s faces.
“Am I doing this right?” I asked.
And then I got some coaching. Keep pushing. Hold her there. You’re almost there.
And then, after twenty minutes of pushing, she was here! It felt like her legs kept coming for days, but then she was out and Michael caught her with the midwife’s assistance, and they passed her between my legs to me to hold. (Reminder, I was still on all fours like an animal.)
She was so squishy! And kind of squished. And beautiful. And ours!
And she wasn’t crying. She was breathing, and looked a bit pissed off to be out of the womb, but she wasn’t crying.
“Talk to your baby,” they told me.
I had imagined all sorts of witty things I’d say to my baby when she finally arrived, but when she was actually here, all I could muster was, “Hi! It’s okay.” On a repeating loop like a broken record.
And then she cried, and I flipped onto my back and held her, and I didn’t break her, and I was so happy.
For the first time in hours, I was aware of the world around me again. The sun was shining in through the window. The nurses were smiling and calmly cleaning up the birthing disaster zone. I was hungry. Our baby was calm and happy. This was real.
As I sipped homemade broth (thanks, Alli!) and looked down at our baby, I said that thing every oxytocin-stricken mom everywhere says after the hell is over.
“That wasn’t so bad.”
Michael laughed. I insisted. He acquiesced.
Cult of Motherhood
On June 4th, I joined the cult of motherhood. As it turned out, I was able to have the birth experience I had wanted– unmedicated, relatively short, peaceful, empowering as hell, and one that gave me a healthy, happy baby at the end of it all. I am so grateful for the experience and to the women (and to the one dude– Michael) who helped make it happen.
I am Ali’s mom now and forever, and my heart nearly bursts with happiness every time I think about it.