Labor with my first baby began with my water breaking on a Wednesday night, at 40 weeks 5 days; she arrived the following afternoon. I had been waiting in agony for labor to begin, trying everything I could imagine to encourage the arrival of my baby. In retrospect its hard to believe she was born at just 40 weeks 6 days, as each of those overdue days felt like a week of agony. All the walking and spicy food and even castor oil in the world didnt make her come any earlier. Id just had to wait. When I was pregnant again I swore to wait patiently for my baby to come when (s)he was ready. I could not put myself through the mental torture of attempting to induce labor on my own. I told myself throughout that pregnancy that baby would be 2 weeks late and when I started getting contractions a week before he was due, I ignored them. The contractions came irregularly for days until I got a sweep from the midwife 3 days before his due date. To my surprise and delight, labor started the next morning and he was born swiftly and without complication 2 whole days before his due date. With this pregnancy, my third baby, I had the same strategy: assume Id be pregnant for the full 42 weeks, dont attempt any old wives tales induction techniques, and wait patiently until baby decided to arrive. Deep down, I assumed that if I went into this pregnancy with the same mindset, Id be blessed with another early baby. This pregnancy was my easiest. My mood was stable, I was active and energetic until the last month, and I had no aches and pains until I was just weeks from my due date. I was due August 26, and while Id read story after story of the wild card third baby arriving the latest of all, I didnt really believe Id go past my due date. And if I did, I thought for sure Id have an August baby, despite insisting outwardly that Id be pregnant until September. With my due date approaching, my mom booked a trip to stay with us from August 15-September 3rd, so that she could stay with the older kids when we needed to go to the hospital. I had some mild anxiety that baby wouldnt show up by September 3rd, but I didnt really believe Id be pregnant that long. September 3rd meant 41 weeks 1 day there was no way, not really. Technically, but not really. The days passed and my moms visit was a godsend. I had hit the final stage, and I was overwhelmed with exhaustion on a daily basis. Simple daily tasks spent me absolutely. I was overwhelmed with fatigue; suddenly, daily, and without warning. And she was there, to be with my older kids and go grocery shopping and cook and clean. I will always remember and be grateful for that time I had to stock up on sleep and rest before the gauntlet of labor and delivery and those early postpartum days. As invaluable as those rest days, were, as my due date got closer and closer, and then landed, and then unthinkably passed, I found myself increasingly irritable and desperate. As much as I swore I wouldnt attempt any outside or home measures to encourage labor, I began forcing myself to take walks, eat food spicier than I really wanted, bounce on the dumb yoga ball I was not being patient. I was getting obsessive. 2 days, 3 days, 4 days past my due date and nothing. Not a twinge, not a sign. I went to acupuncture. I went to acupuncture again. And again. And again. Nothing. How could this be? August turned to September and I was in despair. Now I was not counting down days until my mom left; I was counting down hours. I was 40 weeks 5 days, the day my water broke with my first. I was 40 weeks 6 days, the day my first was born. And then. I woke up and was 41 weeks pregnant, and my mom was leaving the next day, and I was still pregnant. I was, impossibly, still pregnant. My mind warped and edged towards insanity. Instead of feeling a day closer to meeting my baby, every day I woke up felt like a day farther away from meeting my baby. It was impossible but indisputable. My body wasnt doing anything. I started having thoughts like, maybe I miscarried and got pregnant again so fast that this baby isnt actually due for a month or 2. Maybe this baby doesnt want to come until 43 weeks. My friend had her baby 18 days after her due date, this is a thing that happens, it can just go on and on forever. Maybe my mom will leave and my in-laws will get here and leave on September 10 and I will be 42+1 and still pregnant. I couldnt handle it, I cried to Paddy every night. How can I have no idea when my baby is coming? How could this be my longest pregnancy? I went to my appointment at 9:45 and as soon as the midwife sat down and asked how I was doing, I began to cry. I couldnt believe I was sitting there at my 41-week appointment. I just could not believe it. She decided to check my dilation and found I was 3 cm already; this was good news at least, and she did a sweep, and sent me to my NST. The nightmare of the NST and following ultrasound is one I wont describe in detail. I was contracting regularly and they found an arrhythmia and said, its either nothing or congestive heart failure and we wont know for sure until your baby is born. It took everything I had not to break down. Hours in the waiting room before they could fit me in, an hour waiting for results, which suggested baby was fine and 9.5 pounds. No way was this baby 9.5 pounds! I guessed maybe 8.5 pounds, tops. The awful ultrasound was over and I was still contracting but I was no longer excited or relaxed. I was anxious, I needed to get out of that awful hospital, I needed to go home. At home I still felt uneasy, unsettled, strangely anxious and overwhelmed with what felt like homesickness. Something was wrong, I felt off, but nothing could make it better. I was so tired. My mom was leaving the next day and there was no time to rest, but I had to rest. This baby was not coming tonight. Miraculously, I slept, and woke at 6 to find myself still pregnant. My mom was leaving in a few short hours, it was too late, she was going to miss the baby. So I didnt have to worry about it anymore; it had happened. I would go to my next appointment and NST on Tuesday, and then I would be induced on Friday, and that was the story of this third pregnancy. My son stirred and turned over in bed and began to nurse. Around 6:15 I was hit with a contraction so deep and powerful I had to consciously breathe through it. Nevermind, this would probably happen a lot over the next week. Then a few minutes later, another one, just like the first. Maybe? No dont get your hopes up today is not the day. I closed my eyes and waited, admittedly a little excited, trying to talk myself down. A few minutes passed, and another contraction. I reached over and grabbed Paddys hand and he opened his eyes and when our eyes met I knew: today was the day. The light was just filtering in when we all got up and Paddy took the kids. I stayed in our room with the shades drawn and the light out, and only the orange salt lamp on, sitting on the yoga ball and timing contractions. I worried they would stop coming, but another one always came, strong and consistently 40-50 seconds long. My mom was up and making food, Paddy was with the kids, and I was just waiting for the right time to go to the hospital. I didnt know if I would know for sure when that time would be; with my last baby we showed up less than 10 minutes before he was born, and it was harrowing. But I didnt want to show up too early and be there all day, or be sent home, or have labor stall. After about 3.5 hours of contractions I began to think we should just head over, despite the fact that the contractions werent coming much closer together yet. They were very strong, but not overwhelming. But I was so focused on the needs of the older kids that I didnt think my labor would progress much further unless we got settled at the hospital. I just couldnt stop checking to make sure they had eaten, theyd gone potty, theyd brushed teeth I could not get them off my mind while I was in the same house. So I finally just set a time: at 10am we would leave for the hospital. A few minutes to 10 I told Paddy we just needed to go. The contractions were very strong and I was ready. I thought I was ready. We drove through an overcast, cool morning to the hospital, and as we pulled in to the parking lot I felt nervous that it was too early. I could still walk and talk and contractions were bearable enough that I knew this was still early labor and could stall if I didnt feel 100% comfortable. And no hospital feels 100% comfortable, so what was I walking in to? We checked in and I had a contraction, I turned and put my hand on the wall and vocalized quietly, and breathed heavily, and as Paddy ran out to put the permit in the car a nurse named Suzi came and said Ill be your escort! and took me back to get weighed. She chatted about parking on the weekends, and how we probably didnt even need that permit, and how my weight on the scale would be in kilograms so I wouldnt get a complex it was a lot of small talk, and I wasnt in the mood. At the moment it was ok, but I was not in the mood. As I stepped off the scale Paddy came in and we went to triage to be monitored. I got into the hospital gown and lay on the table and was able to stay remarkably still through contractions, though I did need to move a little and breathe and vocalize. The midwife checked my progress and found I was 4cm. Id been having contractions for 24 hours and I was 4cm? I tried not to go to a place of doom and despair, but I also didnt see how this baby would arrive that day or any time soon. Furthermore, just that morning my mom had booked a later flight, leaving that evening at 5pm; I thought there was no way I would be having a baby by 5pm, or even by midnight. It was going so slowly. Still, I was admitted, and within a few minutes found out that I had to have continuous monitoring because of the babys heart arrhythmia. What the fuck?!? Didnt we just deal with this yesterday? Why is this anxiety back now? I was insistent on intermittent monitoring with a Doppler, why was this happening? They attached the stupid monitors to my belly and they were attached with wires to this stupid box that Paddy would have to schlep around if I wanted to move and it was too much. I was only 4cm and the hospital room was too bright and the fucking nurse was too chatty and my babys heart was maybe not ok, and I just turned towards the wall and wept. Topless with those god awful monitors and some stupid tube top thing to hold them in place I just wept. And the nurse just stood there, didnt leave even for a moment, and I didnt want her there and didnt want to cry in front of her, or do anything in front of her, or even be there at all. I said to Paddy, this is a terrible place to have a baby. Theres no way my labor can progress under these circumstances. I dont want to be here. We should have just paid out of pocket for the birth center. It was an awful moment. I felt doomed. I didnt want to be there but I couldnt go home. I moved into the tub, just for a change, and the nurse still stayed in the room, sitting at the computer, making small talk, showing us the map, talking about her relatives in Pennsylvania how was this possible? How could I have a baby under these circumstances? I looked at Paddy with pleading eyes and said this is all wrong, I dont want her here, I dont want to be here, and he said Its just you and me and the baby. It doesnt matter where we are. Focus on me. Its just you and me. We could be here, we could be in a birth center, we could be a million miles away floating in outer space. I am here and its just us. And that set the scene. Within an hour the nurse finally got up and mentioned going out and I said I am happy to be alone with Paddy. She seemed a little surprised but responded enthusiastically and, blessedly, left the room. I stayed in the tub and noticed contractions began to intensify. I had to writhe and move and tell myself just this one, just this one, just this one. Paddy held my hand and talked me through them. And when I got the urge to close my eyes, I decided instead to look at him. It would be impossible to articulate the power of locking eyes with Paddy through those contractions. I had always kept my eyes closed through past labors, and gone inside, and felt supported but also like I was going through this altered and exquisitely painful reality by myself. Paddy could watch but he could not join me. Now, as contractions began to consume me and I felt my mind edge towards panic, I focused on his eyes and knew he was With Me. He had come to that place with me. I was not alone. It was overwhelming; transcendent, beautiful beyond words. I also believe that keeping my eyes open and staying connected with Paddy allowed my labor to progress quickly. The contractions began to take on an edge and a power that would have overtaken me had Paddy not been there, his eyes focused on mine. Soon I had to get out of the tub and move around; between contractions, Paddy helped me out. Soon after I left the tub, the midwife Angela (who had checked us in) came in to let us know that Sharen, the midwife Id been seeing regularly, was at the hospital that day and could deliver my baby. I could have cried finally good news! Sharen came in to say hi and to let us know we could decline any monitoring. By then I realized I didnt even care about the monitor on my belly; I barely noticed it. Between contractions I was more relaxed than Id ever been in my entire life. By focusing on Paddy and saying yes and just this one and come on baby, I believe I allowed the contractions to do their full work without resistance, which allowed the rest periods to be just as complete. And the power of that matched the power of the contractions. I felt drugged, but not by any chemical that could be synthesized or discovered on the outside. It felt like a gift from the universe, one that I would have missed if I allowed myself to tense up and squeeze my eyes closed and beg the world to let the pain stop. I was Open and that allowed me to experience the full effects of labor and birth. There is pain, and then there is overwhelming joy, and the most pure and blissful relaxation. There is exquisite, intense, overwhelming discomfort, and then there is the mystical transport to an alternate reality where I was able to experience the deepest level of transformation possible, coupled with a profound and permanent connection to another person my Paddy, my heart and soul. Between contractions we shared tender words, tender touches, a passionate kiss. My contractions continued to progress and everybody continued to leave us alone. A midwife or nurse would come in and watch me through a contraction or 2, tell me calmly I was doing well, and leave. Despite a rocky start, everything was moving quickly and beautifully. Around 1:30 there was another shift in intensity and I could tell the baby was getting close. I could feel the head move down during contractions, something Id never been able to feel before something Id just never been able to focus on before. I began to panic a little, when a contraction began to rise in my body I felt overwhelmed before it peaked, I began to tell Paddy I couldnt get through it. I kept my eyes focused on his, and he said, how about saying come on baby again? Instead of saying no, say come on baby. So I did, and the contractions were more intense, but I could also tell they were working harder and my baby would come sooner. Time warped severely for a while; I remember looking at the clock and seeing it was roughly 1:45, then getting through what felt like 10 brutal contractions, then looking at the clock and seeing it was still 1:45. It was impossible. It was Transition. It went on and on like this, always intense, always 1:45pm, never ending. At some point Suzi, that chatty nurse, came in and watched me. I was sitting on the yoga ball at that point and swiveling my hips during contractions; after a few more, I started to push lightly at the end. I heard Suzi call Sharen and say I seemed to be starting to push; Sharen came in and asked if I wanted her to check my cervix. I couldnt imagine how that would work, how I would move, and I also didnt feel like it was quite time to push, so I said no, not yet. A few more contractions came and there was the urge to push; not as overwhelming as it had been my last two deliveries, but there. I told Sharen she could check to make sure I was fully dilated, so she did. Miraculously, I was over 9cm. The bag of water was bulging and she offered to break it, and first I said yes, hoping for anything to put an end to labor faster. But when she tried I immediately yelled at her to stop; it was too intense. I knew it would break as I was pushing, and she said the same thing, and besides, my body had started pushing already. And this is when I panicked. Pushing, for most women, is a relief, an opportunity to finally work with the body instead of just cope with contractions; its the light at the end of the tunnel. For me, pushing is The Wall. I hit it and I can not go on. I can not push this baby out. You could say to me, Katie, if you push now your baby will be out in 45 seconds. And Ill respond, I can not do this for 45 seconds. There is no way to motivate me or calm me down. I am frantic. It has to be over, and there is no way but through, and I can not go through it. Every time it is the same story; I cant go through it. And yet what choice is there? All I can think is, knock me out immediately and get the baby, because I cant. I Can Not. But there I was and the baby was coming and I had to push. I pushed with abandon and felt my water gush everywhere, more than I thought was possible (I found out later it hit the opposite wall when it broke it really was that much). Being in my body felt impossible, it had to end, I had to get out, and yet I didnt want to push. The nurse and Sharen told me to hold my legs back, but when I did my thighs began to cramp unbearably (probably because of my sudden tension and anxiety), and I couldnt do it, I couldnt do it, I couldnt do it. Paddy and the midwife and nurse cheered me on, the nurse said push out the pain, they were wonderful, but there was no getting through to me; I was hysterical. And yet, I pushed. With everything I had, I pushed, and through the most overwhelming pressure I pushed, and then there was a head out. I could feel it the head was out. Oh my god, the head was out, the worst was over, one more push. I pushed again with everything I had and felt the body slide from my own, and then there was a baby lying next to me. A dark-haired baby, so obviously one of our babies. A sweet screaming brand new beautiful baby, slightly lying to one side, just enough so I couldnt quite see Is it a boy or a girl? I asked Paddy. Calmly he looked at me and said Do you want me to tell you? Yes! Its a girl. And by then her cord was untangled and I could lift her to my chest and revel in that moment. In the moment of such pure bliss, as overwhelming as the most intense part of labor, of pushing as much bliss then as there had been pain just a couple short minutes before. And I was in ecstacy. It was an altered state. I knew it a girl I just knew it would be her. I had bought girl clothes and called her my sweet girl while she was still on the inside Id even called her by the name I hoped to use. I was that certain, and then she was there, and it was really her. Oh my god, this is the best moment of my life, and it was tied with a few others, two in particular, and still the best moment of my life. The cord stopped pulsing and Paddy cut it, and I delivered the placenta quickly and easily, and it was joy beyond measure. My girl, my sweet girl was there and I didnt have to push anymore or cope through one more contraction or wait one more moment to meet her, she was just there, and it was better than anything I could have imagined. And it was 2:45pm, and my mom wasnt gone yet. My best friend from high school was arriving that day, and within a half hour Paddy asked if my mom could come meet the baby on her way to the airport, and so she did. For a few awesome and happiest-ever moments she was there meeting my daughter, her third grandchild. Summer Bayley, my glorious 9-pound baby girl. It was perfect. And of course it was perfect, because it had happened exactly how it was meant to happen. I do not believe that our futures and fates are Written, or that theres a Plan, but after Summers birth I can see with sharp clarity how the best part of life is only accessible if you dont try to control it. I thought my baby was too late, I thought my pregnancy was too long, I thought the hospital was the wrong place. But my labor came on its own time, and I refused to drug myself out of it or shut my eyes against it, and without judgment for any womans choice or experience, I can say that fully opening to and allowing that birth to happen created an opportunity to have the most transcendent and meaningful life experience Ive had so far. Even better, Paddy got to have it with me. We were there together, fully engaged, fully present, fully embracing the intensity. And that allowed us an experience so powerful that we are both changed forever. If I had forced labor unnaturally, or anesthetized myself against the overwhelming pain, I would have missed that we would have missed that. And we would have lived the rest of our lives perfectly happy and in love, as always, not knowing what we missed. Instead, we showed up and were granted lifes greatest gift, I am certain of it. And I will never be the same.