Morphing Into Motherhood

The Birth Experience

Lying on my left side, I gaze into G's waist, counting slowly from 1 to 8. As a surge builds, I roll onto my back, drawing my knees in, and push with all my might. On my side, it's just G and me, rolling in my oxytocin high, together moving towards meeting our boy. There's calm, surrender, and a sense of dignity and control. On my back, however, all the drama I've read about and desperately wished to avoid threatens us: If Dylan doesn't appear after the next push, She will bring the pump. I will not let her use the pump.

It's 26 hours after that first blissful contraction when I silently rolled off the bed with flutters in my gut and tiptoed to the bathroom. Despite my carefulness, G woke up, beaming, knowing without knowing that Dylan had announced his coming. I ran a bath and, in the tub, protected by darkness, vignetted only by the flicker of a few candles and the clouded light shimmering through the glass brick wall that divides our bedroom and bathroom, I slipped in and out of consciousness until dawn, counting, moaning, letting1.

From the early stages of my pregnancy, I was set on having a home birth. G didn't bite straight away, but after exploring the alternatives, he agreed. In Holland, home births are still the default option2, but this isn't the case in Bosnia. My decision made my parents nervous, particularly my mom. She tried to spare me her delivery stories, but the unsaid words hovering in the pause between her parting lips spoke of trauma. She must've forgotten that I already knew about the gore bits.

Mom's first delivery, the birth of my brother, had been harrowing. She endured ten stitches and was unable to sit or walk for days (later suffering from engorgement and mastitis, too). Still, it's not her experience that troubled me. It was her fear that was worrisome. The books had been clear: tension from anyone present could jeopardize an uncomplicated delivery. I never went ahead with my initial plan to have her present for the birth of her grandson. Much like on my wedding day, I'd miss her presence.

Come 8 a.m., G set off on his bike to get me a croissant from our neighborhood bakery. Those buttered layers and a cookie with oats, dates, and cinnamon are what I'd munch on throughout the day while I moved from wall to wall, tub to bed, curtains drawn. Once my surges became periodic and predictable, the midwives checked on me every few hours. And each time, I'd tell them to go home. I was handling labor stoically and cherished the space. Then, for a reason I don't remember, a midwife I had never met was sent.

The stranger midwife's hair was drenched, and her breath reeked of alcohol. As soon as she stepped inside our home, I withdrew, steadily circling away from her into the corners of our walls. I didn't want her to come close, let alone touch me. I politely refused a check and said I'd wait for my regular midwives. She left, and I thought that was that. The days after Dylan was born, though, I'd question if this encounter had stalled my labor.

I had read how women's cervixes can reverse dilation if they perceive a threat3. I can't know if that happened, but when my regular midwife returned, she noted little progress since the last time she visited. Worried that my labor was taking too long, she suggested breaking my waters. I accepted, though torn about deviating from natural progression.

Had I waited and refused the intervention, would my body have caught up once it realized the threat was gone? Could I have prevented what was coming?

Red lights swirled in front of our house. It was 5 p.m., and I remember it dark. As soon as a surge passed, I flung our front door open and ran for it, two flights down. Face to face with the paramedics, I confirmed they were there for me, gesturing up when asked where my midwife was. I wrangled myself on the stretcher while assaulted by bright lights. Then, I heard G talking from someplace to someone (the front, the driver, I filled in the blanks), his voice sounding as if coming from a well, the bass to the wailing sirens above us.

We were moving fast, bouncing over roads that seemed to have been laid on giant mattress springs. I imagined Amsterdam's infamous bikers who stop for nobody, now making way for us. A first adventure for Dylan, I thought. What would he make of the commotion? One day, not far from then, he and I will flip through his Cars & Trucks book, calling out wee-oww wee-oww. How many have imagined racing the streets in a truck straight from their childhood books? Yet, if they did, it probably wasn't for fun. I had lost blood.

G had set up the birth bath smack in our living room, like all first-time parents, I imagine, about 20 hours too early. I wouldn't dip as much as a toe in it. G would then empty it, packing it back in its box in the same tidying-up streak as he changed the bed sheets, trashed the blood-stained remains, and readied our home for our return from the hospital. But even with the evidence out of sight, I'd still have to process the blow of the delivery deviating from our plans.

After the hospital staff hooked me up to the monitors, the paramedics soon deduced Dylan was fine. His heartbeat was as strong as ever. Our home birth, however, was no more. And the stress began.

As I moved, the cords attached to the machinery kept sliding off and triggering alarms. I was directed from one birthing position to another. I moved from my side to my knees. I crouched, then strained on a birthing stool. And round again, I went for hours while the entire delivery team demanded that I push harder. Unfortunately, I recognized none of their instructions in my body. My midwife and the obstetrician met outside the room now and then, their hushed tones a premonition of yet another intervention. There were numerous internal examinations from whom not. They inserted a catheter, presuming my blatter was blocking Dylan's exit. It was not. I remember pushing so hard I thought I'd burst my rectum. I remember screaming. And then, I broke as a young nurse badgered me to try harder still, an indignant look on her face when I gave up. That was it–"No more," I said. "What do you want?" they asked. "I want him out," I replied. And with that announcement, worry was declared on all sides.

The doctor assumed I had nothing left to give. More interventions were proposed: oxytocin, an episiotomy, a vacuum, a combination of some, and all4. Unable to conceive how Dylan was to come out, overwhelmed by how dark it had all turned, and afraid it would get worse, I consented to a drop of oxytocin.

The substance hit me in seconds, quieting the chaos around me. As the next surge swept through me, I finally grasped what everyone had been demanding as I absorbed the full force of a proper contraction for the first time. With my body taking over the lead again and G at my side, I returned inward once more to a resemblance of the state I had known at home.

And then, the top of Dylan's head appeared. Everyone cheered at once. G looked up at me in amazement and hope. I was granted a few more pushes than previously sanctioned. And like that5, caught by his father (after he reminded the medical staff that he should probably wash his hands first), at 01:36 on 14 March 2022, Dylan was born67. We met on my chest.

Books I've Read and Liked

If you only read one book from the list below, make it To Have and to Hold by Molly Millwood.

On Childbirth

On Infant Care

On Parenting

On Relationships

On Motherhood


  1. I selected a few scents to mark the birth experience, choosing Marie-Stella-Maris Room Spray No.12 Objets d'Amsterdam and Byredo's Gypsy Water body cream. The former was a tribute to where I met G and the city where our boy was born. The latter served as a beloved reminder of my travels. ↩

  2. Meaning that if you want to give birth in a hospital, you have to make a case for it (or finance it yourself). Be that as it may, more women are choosing to give birth in hospitals nowadays, with only 13.85% homebirths in 2021. ↩

  3. Gaskin, Ina May. Ina May's Guide to Childbirth Chapter 4, "Sphincter Law," Section: "Sphincters May Suddenly Close When Their Owner Is Startled or Frightened," p. 304. ↩

  4. (a) Synthetic oxytocin, a hormone, is often administered in medical settings to stimulate contractions during labor. It mimics the natural hormone's role in childbirth. (b) An episiotomy is a surgical cut made in the perineum (the area between the vaginal opening and the anus). It is performed to enlarge the vaginal opening for childbirth. (c) A vacuum-assisted delivery involves attaching a soft cup to the baby's head with a vacuum to help guide the baby through the birth canal during contractions. ↩

  5. By like that, I mean like that after experiencing the most intense phase known as crowning (where the baby's head fully stretches the vaginal opening). Although I had read about crowning, I hadn't grasped that I'd need to maintain that position for one or two contractions. ↩

  6. Dylan weighed 2946 grams at birth and was born on G's parents' wedding anniversary. ↩

  7. Despite the transfer to the hospital, my delivery was as natural as possible. I had a vaginal birth without pain relief, episiotomy, or the use of a vacuum. Each intervention required explicit consent, though we had to fight hard for our wishes. Nevertheless, we had to concede several other birth preferences, such as having a home birth, a water birth, the option not to break my waters, freedom of movement, not being directed when to push, avoiding the use of oxytocin, and not undergoing continuous monitoring. ↩