My husband and I celebrated our one year wedding anniversary when I was 37 weeks pregnant. I was fatigued and nauseous and huge, but in spite of my condition I wanted to get out and do something. It was a wintry March evening and the chill kept us from venturing too far from home. The night before our anniversary, we visited a tiny Middle Eastern eatery, where we consumed the greasiest plate of shawarma and fries ever made. Afterwards, our families gathered in our one-room apartment, where we shared a double fudge chocolate torte and toasted our marriage with sparkling grape juice.
The next morning, I awoke at six am with the worst stomach pain I had ever experienced. I shook my husband awake and told him I felt ill. He said that he didn’t feel too great either, and we would never eat at that restaurant again. He dressed for work while I writhed and moaned under the covers. Before he left, he turned on some music for me to listen to (“Rock Me Gently” by Andy Kim) and joked, “If you feel like having the baby today, try to hold it in till Sunday.” It was Friday morning. We are Jewish and neither of us felt like spending Shabbat in the hospital. I laughed and said that I would try. I was not worried in the least. I was certain that my discomfort had been brought on by the unwise combination of grease and chocolate I had consumed the night before. Nothing I was experiencing felt remotely labour-like, and besides, it was three weeks before my due date.
My cavalier behaviour reflected my general attitude to this pregnancy, which was something between ignorance and denial. According to our religious tradition, I did not get an ultrasound to confirm the baby’s gender, nor did we buy a single item of baby gear in advance. I did not make a birth plan or hire a doula. I did not have a hospital bag packed. I didn’t even look up the directions to get to the hospital. I was under the misguided impression that all first babies are born at or after 40 weeks gestation, and after at least 15 hours of labour. I was woefully unprepared, but I thought I still had plenty of time.
I bravely hauled myself out of bed, got dressed, and started cooking in preparation for Shabbat. After about ten minutes, I collapsed back into bed in tears and called my mother. I told her I had food poisoning and I needed her help. She came straight over, and by the time she got there, I was firmly ensconced in the bathroom, vomiting. She stroked my hair and rubbed my back and raced to clean up the bathroom while I rested. Immediately she realized there was no way that she would be able to cook anything for me, so she called my mother-in-law and told her that I was sick, and could she please bring some food over because I wouldn’t be able to make dinner. She also called 911, explained the situation, and asked them what to do. They asked if my water had broken or if I was having contractions. When my mother said no, they told her to make me drink water when I wasn’t vomiting and stay home.
Meanwhile my mother-in-law had arrived. She and my mother discussed how to transport me to the hospital. I was still utterly unaware that I was in labour. The sole conscious thought overwhelmingly dominating my brain was that I would never leave that bathroom. The abdominal pain was excruciating and the only position that afforded me some relief was sitting on the toilet. I announced that I would not get into a motor vehicle under any circumstances and I was planning to stay in the bathroom forever. My vision was blurry and my hearing was almost gone. I could sort of hear myself screaming as my mother-in-law massaged my back and my mother knelt in front of me, telling me to breathe in and breathe out.
The breathing helped a lot. The pain lessened slightly and I focused the sum total of my consciousness on my mother. “What are you saying?” I shrieked. “I can’t hear you!” I could barely hear her as she coached me through my breathing while calling 911 again. The dispatcher told her to get me onto a bed. I refused to leave the bathroom. My mother-in-law ran out to meet the paramedics and somehow my mother wrestled me onto the bed. I heard my mother yell, “I can see the head!” Over the speaker-phone, the dispatcher told my mother to push the baby back in. My mother panicked and threw the phone to the floor. I could hear the dispatcher shouting for my mother to pick up the phone as my mother was telling me to push. I screamed louder and longer than I have ever screamed in my life, a theatrical echoing scream like the heroine of a horror movie. I felt a liquid gush and as I geared up to scream again my mother told me it was a girl.
I started laughing. At that moment the firefighters burst into the room. They cut the cord and covered my trembling legs with blankets and did a lot of other medical stuff that I didn’t look at. The paramedics came soon after that and everyone bustled around trying to look busy and heroic but there wasn’t much to do since my mother had caught the baby all by herself. I’m told that I was handed my daughter immediately for skin-to-skin contact and I nursed her, but I have no recollection of that whatsoever. The paramedics marked down the time of her birth as 2:30 pm.
My husband stumbled into the bedroom in a daze. He rushed to my side and kept asking me if I was okay. I was laughing with tears running down my cheeks, shouting, “I did it! I had the baby!” He nodded solemnly. The firefighters asked him if he was ready to hold his daughter. He sank into an armchair and gently gathered our baby girl into his arms. Later we would joke that she enjoyed the previous evening’s double fudge chocolate torte so much, she couldn’t wait to be born and get some more. My darling Dora, the sweetest 6 pound 7 ounce anniversary present ever.
Story from Aya Amurjuev. Print found here.
P.S. — Here’s a story of a baby arriving during a camping trip.
Note from Design Mom: throughout my 6th pregnancy, I posted reader-submitted advice, memories and stories about pregnancy, childbirth, adoption and growing a family. My baby is hardly a baby anymore — here’s her birth story and her newborn photos — but the series has been so popular that I’m continuing it indefinitely. You can find all the stories in this series by clicking here. Have a story you’d like to share? I’d love to read it. You can send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.