It is two in the morning. I slept for what, two hou..." /> SEVEN BIRTHDAYS by Katherine DM Clover - Mutha Magazine

Birth Stories

Published on January 20th, 2016 | by Katherine Clover


SEVEN BIRTHDAYS by Katherine DM Clover


It is two in the morning. I slept for what, two hours? For a moment I lay awake in bed, wondering why I am conscious again, and then the pain seizes me, and I know why.

Is today your birthday?

I wake up my wife (your Ma) and eventually we call our midwife. On the phone she says she thinks this is the real deal, I’m actually in labor. She listens to me have a contraction over the phone, I hear her voice change to the comforting calm of her profession.

“Keep your voice low, just breathe.”

But it’s early. I send my wife to work. Between contractions, I try to prepare the bedroom for birth and answer the endless texts from her.

“Any changes? Need me to come home?”

In the evening labor speeds up, then slows down. The midwife comes, but eventually she leaves. “You need to try to get some sleep” she says.



It is two in the morning. I slept for what, two hours? For a moment I lay awake in bed, wondering why I am conscious again, and then the pain seizes me, and I know why.

It is exactly one thousand times worse than before. I sob. I want my mom.

I call her. I wake her up. She’ll be here as soon as she can.

A couple hours later we call the midwife. She never went to bed the night before. I can hear a baby crying in the background. I can hear the smile in her voice.

“I got called to another birth. In just gonna help clean up here and I’ll be right over.”

It is the longest day of my life but it is also a complete blur. I get in and out of the shower. People keep bringing me food, whatever I want. I eat yogurt and fruit and sushi and everything I couldn’t stomach during the pregnancy. I squeeze hands, my mother’s hands, the midwife’s hands, my wife’s hands. I learn how to lean into the pain. I am brave and I am strong, they all say so.


Is today your birthday?

Time isn’t real, but at some point I hear the midwife say “I think we’re going to have a dinnertime baby!”

Only it is so slow.  At the midwife’s suggestion, I march up and down the stairs through a few contractions. The come closer and harder and deeper. I hear a strange sound. It’s me growling. Dinner time comes and goes.

Eventually my in-laws arrive.

Eventually I decide to take a bath. I do not want a birth pool, but we have a nice bathtub. In the water I feel something strange. Do I want to push? What is this? It feels too easy and too difficult at the same time.

But I don’t want to give birth in the bathtub… I’m a land creature! They get the bed ready for me, but the urge to push leaves my body as quickly as it came. The midwife says I can push if I feel like it, her guess is I’m close to transition but not there. She doesn’t like to check dilation unless the mother asks. It’s one of the things I liked about her, as a midwife. I just have to trust my body. My body knows what to do.

Something is wrong. I just know. Except I don’t know. Except I do. Except I don’t.

I finally admit I am lying, I don’t actually trust my body at all. I make her check.

An age passes between when she agrees and when it actually happens. And I am not ready for it. It is the worst feeling in the world, and I’ve been in labor for almost two days. I scream and cry and hum through it. For some reason I feel like I can hear drums in the distance, but I know that can’t be real. I know by her face that it’s bad news. My wife holds me. I go into a weird panic.

“You’re a one, barely.”

Far from transition, I’m barely dilated at all. I’m still in early labor. Everything stops. I’m in shock. Someone sends the in-laws home. Everything stops. My contractions stop too.

It must be close to midnight when they put me to bed and tell me to sleep.



It is two in the morning. I slept for what, two hours? For a moment I lay awake in bed, wondering why I am conscious again, and then the pain seizes me, and I know why.

It is worse even than the day before. I am afraid and determined. I just need to relax. I need to let myself open. Today will be different.


I finally agree to the birth pool.

I agree to everything. I march up and down the stairs. I make love to my wife in the shower. I go for a walk and cling to an old fence through a bad contraction.

My wife is touching me all day. Our bodies feel fused. I don’t know where she begins and I end. I don’t know where she ends and I begin.

The birth pool is incredible and I am sorry for being stubborn. My favorite cat, Jonah, braves the birth room, and comes right up to the pool to say hello, to check on me.

Everyone is telling me how good I am doing. Everyone is overtired. I feel weird but maybe not weird enough.

I ask the midwife to check me again.

She delays. I know she doesn’t want to discourage me. This labor is slow and hard and I am so tired and I’ve been working so hard. She wants good news to give me.

Could today be your birthday?

Finally her hand is inside of me. It hurts like hell, but not as bad as the first time.

My midwife, my calm collected midwife, she looks worried and confused. Finally she says it.

“You’re full of poop!”

I have become so constipated that there is literally no room for the baby to descend anymore. And I’m barely more dilated today than yesterday.

I was so afraid of shitting during birth, and instead I end up having my midwife give me a drugstore brand enema on my king size bed. She warns me that afterwards, the contractions might get temporarily stronger, and it might not mean anything.

I’m exhausted but afraid to sleep. I want this baby (you) out of me. I can’t work anymore and I am defeated. It’s been three days. The midwife suggests that we consider the hospital.

I completely freak out, but I agree. I am scared. I am afraid of doctors and nurses and machines. I’m afraid of a c-section but I’m also afraid that they’ll declare me not really in labor and send me home. My midwife calls ahead. She drives us there. It is so late. I don’t know what time it is. It is probably Thursday.



Is today your birthday?

We go in through triage. Almost everyone knows my midwife, and they chat amicably and she explains my situation, why we came. They are all nice and polite. They ask so politely before they stick their hands in my vagina, I almost feel like I could say no.

The nurse midwife says delicately that, because my contractions are so far apart now, and because I’m not dilated very far, they would not technically consider me to be in active labor. She’s sure I’ve really been through something, but maybe I just overreacted to Braxton Higgs contractions? Maybe I should go home and go to bed?

In my head I see the last three days.

The midwife explains that I haven’t been able to sleep, that every time I relax and doze off the contractions speed up and intensify. I can barely speak, but she talks calmly and professionally. She talks about what we tried and what we didn’t. The nurse midwife nods.

“Well, we can offer you therapeutic rest, and see how it looks in the morning.”

Therapeutic rest turns out to be morphine, which they assure me is safe for the baby, and I’ll be carefully monitored. I have an ultrasound. I have an IV. But because I’m not “in labor” they can’t transfer me to a labor and delivery room. So I stay in the triage room, on a stretcher.

They give me enough drugs to knock me out, it’s amazing. My wife sleeps on a sheet on the cold tile floor. She’s slept as little as I have through this all. We both sleep for six hours, and wake up around eleven.

My sister has arrived. I’ve never been so glad to see her face in my entire life.

The contractions start to get stronger again, and then a little closer together. Our midwife went home to sleep, she hadn’t slept in days, so my sister helps me time them.

But when a male doctor comes in, all business, and insists on a second ultrasound, I start to panic and they slow again. By the time he tells me it is too early for them to augment my labor, and he’s sending me home to “wait for labor to start,” my contractions have totally stopped. I feel sick and tired and hungover. He looks at the monitor knowingly. Because I’m not “in labor,” and I’m not “full term” yet, it would be unethical for them to do anything at all. It is Thursday. I will be full term on Friday.

This is the point when my wife totally loses her shit.

She goes off on the doctor and tells him he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. She says she was there. She says “she came to you for help because she needed it!” She holds my hand and she shouts at this tall young white man. Everyone tries to calm her down. I try to calm her down too, but I’m so proud of her. I can’t explain how safe her indignation makes me feel.

When we leave a happy family going home with their newborn tries to hold an elevator for us, but I can’t stand next to the beaming new mother.

The sun is too bright.

At bedtime I take all the herbs. I take also half a glass of wine. I somehow manage to sleep. It’s not as good as morphine, but it’s something.



My sister had come into town, with the intention of meeting the baby. But she has to go back later today, she can’t stay any longer. So we go out for pizza. We try to pretend everything is not ashes.

Everything is ashes.

The baby kicks.

At bedtime I turn to my wife.

“You know.” I say, “being in labor for that long and NOT having the baby yet is awful, and in so sad. But. BUT. If it had to be this way, I just hope I get a few days off before it starts again. I need to have my full strength next time.”

“Absolutely!” she says.

I drink my herbal concoction and go to bed.

Today is not your birthday.

But I can’t fall asleep.



I get up from laying there, wide awake next to my wife, to pee. The bed is wet under me. There are all these tiny gushes. And then big gushes. I inspect the liquid. I wake up my poor, exhausted, beautiful, wife.

“My water broke.”

We call the midwife for what feels like the thousandth time. She doesn’t believe me. The contractions come back, and it feels just like it did before. It feels like Tuesday afternoon.

Except with a mess.

The waters keeps coming in trickles and gushes. We keep thinking this is surely the end, but there’s always more. I wear pads and switch to adult diapers. I squat naked in the shower, or over absorbent pads on the bed.

The midwife’s assistant comes and sets up the birth pool, again. My mother comes back.

Is today your birthday?

I’m tired but I’m determined to give all of myself to this. I’m scared but I’m ready. We all suspect that now my water has broken, my body will speed up.

I keep making the midwife check my dilation. I need information. I can’t live without knowing. She keeps reminding me that things can move quickly and the numbers don’t necessarily mean anything.

Two centimeters.

Two and a half centimeters.

The day wears on and on. I’m sick of the sound of people saying I’m doing good. I’m sick of my body. I feel far away.

Eventually it is night again. I’m so tired. I’m so tired.

Three centimeters.

I’m in the pool and I am falling asleep. The midwife is falling asleep. My mother is falling asleep. It is dark and I am lonely but my wife is right here. I am somewhere else. I sway. I doze. I am the pain and the pain is me. It is sharp now. It is everything.

“She’s not doing good.” I hear my wife say, somewhere else.

“This might be transition.” I hear the midwife say, somewhere else.

“It isn’t.”

I climb out of the pool so she can check. It’s after midnight now.

“I want to die.” I say.

“I know honey but you’re not going to.”

Three centimeters.

Three motherfucking centimeters?

I’m done. It’s time to go back to the hospital.



There is a long talk about going to the hospital, everyone is trying to reassure me that I’m not a failure, that it’s ok. They are being kind and trying to calm my fears. But really I’m too far gone to be afraid or insecure. I’m all business. Let’s go.

“This car ride is going to really suck for you, ok? It’s going to be bad.”

I love my midwife so much.

Everything is a blur of pain and exhaustion. Eventually we are there, going through triage again, only this time I get a real room. I am standing in the hallway with a nurse who is getting me all checked in and set up. My wife is there, and I think we are holding hands. Our hands are fused now.

The nurse looks like the nicest preppy girl from high school. She is aware that I am a homebirth transfer, and she is trying to make me feel comfortable and safe. I love her.

“So, would you like me to see if we can get you a birth pool, and you can labor there for awhile and see if water helps cut the pain down enough for you, or did you want to talk about an epidural?”

I would laugh if I had the energy.

“I’ve been in a pool for days,” I say, “We came here for stuff we don’t have at home.”

She smiles “alright, I’ll tell the anesthesiologist!”

The labor and delivery room turns out to actually be beautiful. It’s actually beautiful. It’s spacious and comfortable and it has a view. And the anesthesiologist is a delightfully flaming homosexual. He comes in in a flurry of energy “Hi, I’m going to be your anesthesiologist! So, today we’re going to do an epidural!”

He’s my favorite person in the world.

The whole needle in the spine part is terrifying and awful, but then the contractions are just… gone. The force that has been ruling my life for so long, it does not exist for me anymore. Except they are still there. Other people read the monitor and tell me when I’m having a contraction, but I can’t feel it. It is morning now. The sun is rising.

When I wake up my wife is asleep on a couch. My mother is there. Everyone is so nice. Doctors and nurses and midwives come in and out of the room, and everyone wants to put their hand in me. Is it ok if we just check? I’m like, a five, or something like that.

I’m finally really progressing, but it’s still slow, it’s still a long way off.

Then the doctor comes in, and she looks nervous. She looks like she’s steeling herself for something. She says that my baby, the fetus we have been monitoring carefully this whole time, who has been handling this whole labor so beautifully, he isn’t dealing well with the pitocin. She says there are two options. They can take me off the pitocin and wait and see if the baby recovers, and then give him some time, and then reintroduce it, and see if I can delivery vaginally. However, it’s Sunday afternoon. Soon my water will have been broken for 48 hours, and they will not let me labor beyond that. The odds of my labor speeding up enough for me to be ready to push in time look bad, and with how slow everything has been moving, it looks impossible.

Or, the second option, the one that she is suggesting, is that we prep for a C-section now.

She is expecting me to say no. She knows I am a stubborn home birther who has endured almost a week of this. She is expecting me to say that I want to try, that they should give me a chance. I look around.

Is today your birthday?

I know what will happen if I say no. I’ll still end up in surgery, but it will an emergency. I say yes. The whole room looks stunned. The doctor looks relieved. My wife starts to cry.

They ask if there is any special music we would like played in the operating room. What a nice hospital.

Then, before I know it, I’m being whisked away to be prepped. My wife is being taken to change so she can come in too. No one else can be in the OR. The lights are bright and everyone is chatting all around me. They obviously all know each other, have worked together, this is just another day.

My favorite person, the anesthesiologist, comes in, and starts adjusting my meds. It takes forever. I have a cough in my throat that won’t go away. I feel like I’m going to be sick.

My wife comes in. She’s in a spacesuit made of dryer sheets.

And then it starts. I am shivering so hard that I can’t hear anything in the room over the sound of my own teeth chattering. I am watching my wife’s face to get some idea of what is going on. She keeps peaking over the curtain, she looks equal parts fascinated and disgusted. The anesthesiologist keeps wrapping warm blankets around my head. He keeps appearing out of nowhere and saying “Katherine are you about to vomit Katherine?” and I say “yes” and then he fiddles with something and the wave of nausea subsides just in time.




And then my wife’s face changes. I know the change. It is the same way her face changed the night I asked her to marry me. It is a look of wonder and joy that I can’t describe in words, that doesn’t exist in the real world, not really. And I know what must be happening. They are lifting the child up and out of my body, and she is seeing, for the first time, this being that she helped to create.

I hate the operating room and the bright lights, but this moment is perfect. This moment is your birthday.


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About the Author

Katherine is a painter, writer, activist, queer, sometimes interfaith-lay-preacher, always animal-lover, and full-time mama. She lives in beautiful Detroit, Michigan, with her wife, their baby, and three cats. Her favorite food is graham-cracker pie crust, and yes, that does count as a favorite food.

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