I don't know nothin bout birthin babies

{wherein I wax poetic about birth}

Oh yeah.   By a show of hands, who among us mommies felt *exactly* like Prissy in Gone With The Wind when in labor?  Yes ... all of us.  You're pregnant for 9+ months.  This is not enough time to prepare for childbirth.  And frankly even if you had the gestational period of an elephant (I googled it: it's two years holy crow), you would not be prepared when it's go time.  Birthing is unpredictable, incredible, scary, wonderful, painful, empowering, bewildering, passionate, difficult, primal, quiet, loud ... birth is, as I just demonstrated, a mixed bag of paradoxes.  

with Big on his birthday
I've birthed two babies and I did so naturally without drugs.  I did this by choice.  And, frankly, I don't care or judge if anyone does it differently.  Birth is a moment - a nanosecond - in the span of motherhood.  It is important, and I am not discounting that.  But it is just the beginning.  Now that I have an almost-7 and almost-5 year old, I look back at birth and realize that was the easy part. That said, I wouldn't trade my birthing experiences for anything in the world.  When I think back to the flash bulb moments of my most amazing, incredible life moments, top of the heap, without question or hesitation, were the days my babies were born.  Or rather, the days I birthed my babies.  I'm taking charge of that sentence and making it active and not passive.  Because anyone who has been through childbirth knows birthing is active. 

When I got pregnant with my son back in 2005, I honestly hadn't given any thought to birth.  I kind of assumed I'd get an epidural, have the baby, that would be that.  I was struck by how many women immediately shared their horror stories of birth, recovery and breastfeeding with me when I said I was pregnant.  My dear sweet friend Julia, whose close family friend is a pretty famous lamaze teacher and author, sent me a few books on natural childbirth, including Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Childbirth.  To say I read them is an understatement.  I devoured those bad boys.  For the first time, I saw the empowering, positive stories of birth.  Ina May's book turned birth, and my feelings about birth, on its head for me.  And I, the decidedly uncrunchy girl, decided I would have a natural childbirth ... or at least try.

with Little on her birthday
The more I read, the more I was convinced a natural birth was for me.  In fact, the more I read, the more I was convinced a midwifery practice at a birthing center was for me.  But, my husband was leery of this and worried about what could happen if things did not go as planned.  And while I wanted to convince him otherwise, I realized that was not fair.  He had an equal say, and I wanted to consider his feelings and his concerns.  He was on board - 100% - with my plans to have a natural, non-medicated birth.  But he really wanted it in a hospital.  Our hospital had a great reputation ... but a 96% epidural rate and something like a 30% c-section rate.  Those numbers concerned me.  

A friend of mine from college is a midwife, so I talked to her.  She strongly suggested I consider working with a doula.  I had no idea what a doula was.   A doula is, quite frankly, amazing.  Lifesaver. She is, for lack of a better description, a labor coach for the entire process: physical, spiritual, emotional.  Not just for the birthing mama, but for her partner too.  I worked with the same doula for both of my babies' births and I truly cannot imagine doing it without her.  My husband was incredible during my kids' births.  But I also needed that support of a woman who has not only helped many other women before me birth their children, but a woman who has birthed children herself.  My doula also taught natural childbirth classes, which were weeks long but so helpful.  In hindsight, there is *nothing* you can do to prepare you for birth.  It is really a mix of luck, confidence, support, love, and instinct.  

At home with Big: 3 weeks old
I lucked out with both babies that they were positioned properly in my pelvis.  I also lucked out that the nurses on duty were, for the most part, supportive of my decision to labor without drugs.  This is key.  If you are in a hospital where 96% of the women get epidurals, you will be the one loud woman.  And I will tell you: I was loud.  Loud like LOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.

Yes, like that.  Loud.  You need support too.  Your partner needs to be behind you.  I know my husband hated to see me struggle and in pain, and I will tell you that it was pain like I have never experienced, but he knew it was important to me and therefore it was important to him.  He supported me and pushed and did what he could to help.  And my doula.  She was there to reassure me and to reassure him and to intervene when needed with the nurses and to step back when needed.  She was my calming voice, my little angel to remind me that yes it hurt, yes it was hard, yes it's supposed to be hard, but you're doing great, you're doing it.  

I remember - vividly remember - birthing my kids.  That's the thing about natural childbirth: your endorphins may be on overdrive but you are aware of what the heck is happening.  I had calm moments.  I had hard moments.  I had completely out of my gourd moments.  But I remember them all. I remember strange things like the clock on the wall during Little's birth -- it said 11:15 and I had just had a contraction and I knew, having been through it before, that the contractions had to get a lot more intense and a lot closer together and I remember thinking (and probably saying) mother f*ck.  That's another thing: I cursed a lot during birth.  Yes, it was spiritual and amazing, but ok, honestly, it hurts.  I remember during Big's birth when we arrived at the hospital I had a huge contraction right in front of the hospital doors and some nice man asked if I was OK and I held up my hand and said, "SHHHHHHH" as I worked through the contraction.  Man: if you are out there, I am sorry.  

At home with Little: 3 weeks old

I remember the one thing I never read anything about was pushing and what it felt like or how you knew it was time.  I assure you: you will *know* when it is time to push.  It is unmistakable.  With Big, I pushed for almost 2 hours.  With Little, it was about 15 minutes.  With Big, I hated pushing.  I felt helpless and tired and I just wanted someone else to help me.  With Little, I was RAY TO GO and wanted her out.  It's funny how differently things worked out.

I heard a lot of analogies to birthing and marathons - that birth is much like a marathon: you need to pace yourself, it takes a while, you need to learn how to handle pain on top of pain.  I've done both twice: two marathons and two babies.  Birth is nothing like a marathon.  A marathon is a cakewalk compared to birth, only because during a marathon you know, in the very back of your mind where you would never admit to anyone, that you could walk, you could stop, you could drop out, you could go home.  It's your safety net.  With birth, no such safety net exists.  You have no choice: that baby is coming and s/he is coming out of you. Whether you like it or not, whether you're exhausted or not, that baby is coming like an unstoppable rebel force (thank you Meet the Parents for that phrase).  

For that reason, and for many others, I don't think it's fair to compare birth to anything.  Birth is its own activity, its own event.  It is unique and wonderful and amazing. It is what connects us as mothers and as women.  More accurately, the moment we hold our baby for the first time: THAT is the moment that connects us as mothers and women.  I don't care how your baby arrives: whether you birthed the baby naturally at home or in a hospital, whether you had an epidural, whether you had a c-section, whether you adopted a newborn or an infant or a toddler or a preschooler -- that moment where you look into your baby's eyes and she looks into yours ... that is when you become a mother.

Little's first day home
In any event, natural childbirth was the right choice for me.  It was hard.  Very hard.  But, birth isn't supposed to be easy.  It is the ultimate exercise in listening to, respecting, and obeying your body.  There were moments when I truly thought I could not go on, and yet, I don't recall ever thinking I should stop and get an epidural.  After the birth, I felt amazing.  Euphoric.  And starving.  I will tell you ... I can recount with excruciating detail the first meals I had after both babies were born. The hospital food was incredible.  Haha.  And after we were home and life began as a mother, when I was struggling with adjusting to the monumental change that life takes when you become a parent, thinking back to the births helped me through many a dark day.  

I have my babies on my mind: their birthdays are coming up soon.  It is hard to believe that it will be 7 years since Big was born and 5 since Little was born.  To everything turn turn turn ...

See you swoon,


  1. Love this Shanna, you are truly an inspiration. Love you!

  2. Just beautiful, Shanna. Thank you.