A day before I went into labor, I ate Prince's Hot Chicken. I was in Nashville for the Southern Foodways Alliance's Summer Symposium, and Trae and I were staying in a hotel near Vanderbilt. On Friday night of the Symposium, dinner was provided in part by André Prince Jeffries, owner of Prince's. She gave a lively talk about her restaurant and her signature dish before dinner was served, and she mentioned she doesn't serve pregnant women hot chicken because it induces labor. I felt many eyes on me that night as I stood in the hot chicken line, nine months pregnant. When I approached the table with my plate out, Ms. Jeffries gave me a look and said, "Hold on!" eyeing my large belly. I told her I was due in one week, and she told me in that case it was okay.
Just over 24 hours later, my waters broke. It was shortly after midnight on Sunday, June 26. It felt like I had only just fallen asleep and begun to dream though we'd been in bed a couple hours. I woke Trae up and we called our midwife who said we could come over then or try and get some more rest and wait until I started having contractions. We went back to sleep, but an hour later I started to feel cramps about 10-15 minutes apart, so we slowly packed up our things, took long showers, and loaded into the car to head to Summertown.
The drive was about an hour long and my contractions were very light, about 8 minutes apart. We pulled into The Farm at about 3:00 am and parked at the birthing cabin beside one of the midwife's houses. It was pitch black and I remember thinking how peaceful the night sounds were: the hickory leaves rustling in the breeze, a whippoorwill singing nearby.
Trae unpacked our car and I got into bed to try and relax. My contractions were like surges, slowly building, peaking, then rolling away. The rolling away felt so good. Our midwife, Joanne, came over a while later and checked me. She said, "Fantastic," and I later learned I was 6 cm dilated and fully effaced, "paper thin" Joanne told me afterwards.
The surges became very intense and closer together, but I closed my eyes and found myself nodding my head at the onset of each surge. Yes, I kept thinking, let this baby down, I get to meet my baby! Is it a boy or a girl? Soon I got the urge to push, around 10 am they tell me. I left the bed and my half dream state and began the long journey of getting the baby out.
At first I didn't push hard enough. Looking back on it, It felt like a giant reversal -- the first phase letting the pain wash over me, trying not to fight it, trying to relax through it knowing it was good, and the second phase was the opposite of relaxation. It was pure force, only happening if I willed it. The contractions during this phase were much less perceptible to me.
It had been a couple hours since I began pushing and I was beginning to lose strength. Two other midwives had come over to help with the delivery. Someone mentioned that I really had to push, with all my breath and all my strength. At that point I dug in and really started pushing hard. We tried all sorts of positions and it was very difficult to find a good one. My lower back was exhausted. During the whole process, I closed my eyes between contractions. I even had dreams between them -- a waiter with a platter of cookies, the horizon and sky somewhere out west -- then snap, I was pushing again. Somewhere in all that, I looked out the window and realized it had become day. I remember thinking it seemed nice out. One of the midwives, Sara, held the center of a blanket and asked me to hold the two outer ends and squat, leaning back on Trae and pulling on the blanket when I pushed, and I remember thinking, oh all the pretty colors in this blanket. I generally felt good, pleasant, happy, even though I was so tired.
After nearly three hours of pushing, the midwives began to discuss a hospital transfer. They told me we might transfer and there were other options to help get the baby out. I hadn't realized how much time had passed and I started pushing with all my might, determined to do my damnedest before they gave up. I squatted again at Joanne's suggestion and roared, really roared. I remember thinking that the baby would be afraid of its mother, making such terrible noises (my throat was sore for days afterwards!).
Trae said it was a good thing I ate chess pie the night before. I had brought an extra slice back to him after the final SFA dinner night before and I told him it's a good thing you ate it, as I lay back against him pushing. A few more giant pushes and suddenly a mess of bright red blood. I was frightened and asked if it was normal and the midwives grinned yes. Joanne ordered them to prepare the warming blankets and I knew I was close. Another otherworldly push and the head emerged. Then another few pushes and the baby slid out, so slippery. I was still squatting, and someone caught her and rubbed her quickly with a blanket and placed her on my chest immediately. I started laughing, laughing, laughing. Laughing that it was over, laughing that I'd done it at home, laughing that she was crying like a lively baby, my baby! I had glimpsed her labia when she slid out and couldn't believe it, so I checked again -- a baby girl! I just couldn't help but laugh and kiss her, laugh that she was crying when it was the most joyous moment. She was crying and alive.
As a side note: We didn't find out the sex before she was born, so when people asked what it was and I told them we didn't know, literally everyone except for one single person during the whole nine months told me it was a boy! The day before I went into labor, Trae and I were riding the elevator down in our hotel with some other guests and one of them, a complete stranger, looked at me and announced, "That's a boy!" before leaving the elevator. My grandmother and mother-in-law had already started calling it a he. When she slid out and I saw she was a girl, I was so surprised and also secretly impressed that her very first action was to prove everyone wrong!
Trae and the midwives helped me move to the bed to lay down and rest my exhausted back. I was still holding her, attached to me by the cord. I expelled the placenta and immediately felt an overwhelming sense of relief. I even said "RELIEF!" out loud at that moment, and Joanne said, "Congratulations, you are no longer pregnant!" To be 100% honest the labor and birth wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be.
Afterwards, Joanne and Sara stitched me up -- she was eight pounds, six ounces and her left hand came out beside her head. About three and a half hours of pushing had left me very swollen and numb. I handed her to Trae when they stitched me up and I got weepy seeing Trae hold his daughter for the first time.
The first three days we stayed in the cabin. I loved how Trae kept calling her buddy. "Hey buddy," he'd say as he changed her diapers and brought her to me to nurse. The whippoorwill returned each night in the early morning hours and called out our window. I felt right at home.
When I first published this post, I didn't include this, but I want to add it because it's something I feel very strongly about. After going through the process of childbirth, I have an IMMENSE respect for anyone who has ever had a child, whether that's by a cesarean section, with or without an epidural, with forceps, or any other number of ways there are to give birth. I was very lucky to have a relatively uncomplicated birth. Not everyone experiences this, and I have an enormous amount of respect for those women who use different methods and especially those must make the incredibly difficult decision of having to give birth in a way other than they had planned. Childbirth is a TOUGH experience, and no matter how you do it, it's an incredible accomplishment.