Tell Me Something Good: Tommy Danger's Birth Story
It’s been just a little more than two weeks since I gave birth to my sweet Tommy Danger and I feel compelled to share my birth experience. I’m not entirely sure why, except that I feel I almost owe it to Mamas out there who are about to give birth themselves and I want to do my part to change the way we see labor.
I’ll be honest— for the greater part of my pregnancy I was terrified to give birth. And why wouldn’t I be? From the moment my belly was protruding, strangers were approaching me with horror stories about labor. That may sound like an exaggeration, but in my experience, a pregnant belly is the weirdest invitation to overshare. I had women tell me about their tearing, epidurals that didn’t work, c-sections that didn’t heal properly, and of course the weird favorite, pooping on tables in front of strangers. It was unfortunate that, being a first-time mom, the only context I had for what labor was really going to be like was through these unwanted tales and unrealistic depictions in the movies.
But I was determined to have my own experience, and none of those stories were the kind of birth I wanted.
So what kind of birth did I want? This was a difficult question, because how can you plan for something you know nothing about? The only thing I really did know was that I wanted to have a natural labor, both for myself and for my baby. (We even went so far as to select a birthing center where there were no options for pain meds.) I wanted to join the sisterhood of all the women who have gone before me and feel empowered when I was done. But first, I had to unpack all of the societal norms that told me labor was something to be afraid of.
In the weeks leading up to labor, I readied our “go-bag”. I packed photos of hearty-looking pioneer women, just in case I needed their strength for inspiration. My Aunt strung a bracelet for me made of beads that were gifts from important women in my life. I made a variety of playlists ranging from zen spa music to just Hanson’s “I Will Come to You” on repeat. (I also made a dance mix thinking I’d want to dance through contractions, which I now see as slightly ridiculous.) We had snacks, various massagers, candles, a deck of cards…
When contractions first started, I didn’t need any of those things. I’d done a lot of mental preparation leading up to labor, and this was the most important tool I had. I envisioned myself being a zen mama and repeated all of the positive affirmations that were hanging around the house. My midwife warned about using all of your tricks early on when contractions weren’t that bad, so I just focused on keeping my body relaxed while bouncing gently on an exercise ball and watching episodes of “The Office”.
One of the best things I did for my pregnant self was take a Hypno-Birthing class. Jen Allison of Moonbellies Designs armed my husband and me with meditations, pain coping strategies, and discussions that allowed us to really get to the bottom of our feelings about labor. I realized that in our society we celebrate so many things in big ways like weddings, Christmas, retirements… but we don’t celebrate the act of bringing someone into this world. Sure, we celebrate birthdays, but not birth itself. The whole thing has become so clinical and terrifying, that I felt we’d forgotten to focus on how miraculous it is.
At about 4 AM on September 18th, early labor was heating up. By 6 AM, I’d been having contractions for about 5 hours and they were about 4 minutes apart. “Go time”, I thought! And time to wake up my husband— mainly because I was beginning to need a back massage with each contraction.
But one of our midwives came to our house to check on me, and we still had a way to go. I don’t know if it was a mental block after that, but everything completely slowed down and were coming less than every 20 minutes. I was instructed to stay in bed and get as much sleep as possible. With each contraction I’d wake up, open an app on my phone, push the little green “start contraction” button, and breathe until I could push the red “stop” button. This continued until 10 PM when I was finally in active labor. Contractions were coming fast. Tony held an electric massager to my back with each one, as I channeled some zen version of myself and made low moaning sounds. We called the midwives and alerted our parents that things were beginning to move.
I’ll never forget the drive to the Birthing Center. I rolled down my window and stuck my head partially out into the cold, fall air. For once, Tony didn’t make fun of me for listening to Hanson in the car. (That “I Will Come to You” playlist actually did come in handy!) The heated seat felt amazing on my back. But the reason I’ll remember that drive is because I realized this would be the last time I would be making this drive— a drive I’d made so many times— as a non-parent. The next time I passed the Tudor Kaladi Brothers Coffee or that McDonalds, I’d be someone’s Mom.
When we arrived at the birthing center, the midwives were ready for us. The bed was covered in those puppy potty training pads, but it didn’t phase me. Tony plugged in our trusty back massager and I waited out a few contractions in the shower. I remember getting fixated on washing my hair, and poured shampoo into my hand just as a contraction started. In that moment, it was too much to try to work it through my hair during the surge, so I just stood there, breathing through it.
Throughout my entire pregnancy, I tried to get a read on my future son’s personality. He always seemed so quiet and never wildly kicked my like my other pregnant friends were experiencing. I decided he was a gentle soul, and wanted to give him a gentle entry into the world. Our amazing birthing instructor, Jen, talked in class about what is physically happening to your body when you are in labor, and about what panic can do to ruin the process. When you panic, she said, your body goes into fight or flight mode, which sends adrenaline coursing through your body. Blood is then sent to the necessary fight or flight parts of your body… like your arms and legs, and definitely not your uterus. I needed to stay calm for Tommy so my uterus could do its job.
I didn’t labor long. Both the midwives were surprised how fast everything was going by the time we arrived. I did reach a point where I turned to Tony and very matter-of-factly told him I wanted this kid out of me, and I wanted the midwives to check my progress. I was almost fully dilated at this point, but my water still hadn’t broken. The midwives told me they were going to break it and that things would intensify from there, and that I could plan on laboring for about another hour and then pushing for 1-2 more hours.
I’d been really paranoid about my water breaking beforehand. I knew it was nothing like in the movies. Some women described it as a trickle and others said it felt like they’d peed themselves. Since, again, I didn’t know what to expect, I was relieved when the midwives were the ones to break it. There was a warm gush onto the puppy pads, and then they told me to try to labor some in the shower.
(Sidenote here: I don’t know how Moms in the hospital labor constantly from their bed! It feels so good and natural to get up and move around!)
The contractions definitely did intensify and I used all of the visualizations I could muster for three contractions. And then that was it. Three contractions in less than 15 minutes, and I felt the urge to push. (Which really felt like the urge to poop, and is exactly what I told the midwives before they demanded I get back in bed and ready to have this baby!)
Now in my head I was prepared to push for an hour. For some reason, having a timeline really helped me, even though I knew in the back of my mind it wasn’t something I’d necessarily stick to. I started pushing and it wasn’t long before Tony told me he could see the head and a ton of black hair. (The old wives tale about heartburn and hair proved to be true in my case!)
At this point, our amazing photographer Erica Rose arrived and I heard one of the midwives say “Oh my goodness, the birthing assistant isn’t going to get here in time!” Twenty-three minutes later and a few good pushes, Tommy Danger was born.
My little zen baby entered the world at 12:50 AM on September 19th. All of the anxiety I’d felt during pregnancy about becoming a mother melted away when they put this amazing, slimy, little baby on my chest.
I’m not going to say labor wasn't hard or painful. It was. But no one tells you how amazing it feels when the contractions finally stop. And I didn’t tear, didn’t poop in front of strangers, didn’t have to rush to the hospital… I did, however, feel empowered. I finally proved to my husband that I do have a high pain tolerance. (This has been an area of contention between us for awhile.) Most importantly though, I had the kind of birth experience I wanted and didn’t let anyone else dictate how it should be for me and Tommy. I know everyone’s experience is different— and it should be— but I hope this will help some future mom out there and do a little to remove the stigma behind birth.