The conception of my daughter with my bandmate and not-boyfriend was not a planned one. I was on birth control, and diligently took my pill every day after work at exactly 3 pm. But my daughter is a taurus, bull-headed and stubborn, so it makes sense that when she decided to enter our lives, nothing was going to stand in her way. At 16 months, she already likes to call the shots. Birth control be damned, she was ready.
We, on the other hand, were a little panicked. (Excited, but panicked)
Her father and I weren’t a couple. We’d been sleeping together for a year, and while I very much adored him, I was definitely not the only girl he was seeing. We performed with a band that toured internationally, so we weren’t even used to being home or in the same city all the time. Nothing about us could be considered “stable,” and yet, here were these two lines on a stick, demanding stability. Demanding a home.
Tall order, kid.
I knew I didn’t want a hospital birth, so we made an appointment at our local birth center. The Birth Center of Jacksonville feels homey and safe as soon as you walk in. It was built inside of a renovated house, right in our beautiful historic neighborhood. They always have candles lit. They sell herbs and prenatal supplements in a room up front, so it has that health-food store smell that I love. And it was conveniently located just a few blocks from my (then) apartment. My midwife, Hope, had even delivered our drummer’s baby! It was a perfect fit.
My favorite part of being pregnant was the birth center visits.
Her father and I still weren’t a couple. We probably won’t ever be. But we decided that regardless of what went on with us, good or bad, we were going to ensure that this baby was taken care of, happy, healthy, and loved.
Sometimes we wouldn’t see each other for weeks. Sometimes he would drop by with a pizza or random healthy groceries from Fresh Market. We’d go to my ultrasound appointments together, or he might come over and just take a nap in my bed, with his ear up against my belly, listening to the mysterious creature growing inside. We discussed the possibility of him attending birth classes with me.
And then the ball dropped. The band’s spring tour dates coincided with my due date. They’d be flying overseas three weeks before the baby was expected, he’d be in Germany when our daughter was born, as would the rest of the people I would have most wanted around me.
As my family and most of my other friends lived out of state, this meant I would most likely be giving birth alone.
Being pregnant when you’re mostly by yourself can so often feel bittersweet. It’s strange feeling so hopeful and expectant and terrified and lonely, all at once.
But the baby was coming, regardless of how I felt, so I signed up to take my birth classes on my own, and a friend offered to doula for me when the time came. Another friend came in from out of town and helped me to go baby shopping and get my house prepared for its new occupant.
It seemed like everything was falling into place. I felt ready.
Pregnancy often feels eternal, and yet it’s not. Before I knew it, it was the week before my due date. My sister and her boyfriend drove into town to house-sit for some friends one night, and my boss had given me the next day off to hang out with them. This was lucky, because around 4 AM I woke up in a small puddle. My first horrified thought was, “Have I wet the bed?” My second thought was, “Has my water broken? How will I know if my water has broken?”
During this time, our singer was texting me from Germany. “What are you doing awake?” he asked. “Oh, I’m just trying to figure out whether I’m going into labor right now.”
I went into the bathroom to investigate and was suddenly met with a flood. THIS was my water breaking, in earnest. (It doesn’t feel anything like peeing, if you’re wondering.) Then the contractions started. They were super mild, so I mostly just wanted to go back to bed, but by this time it was 6 or 7 AM, and I was getting texts and phone calls from overseas. “You can’t go to bed, you have to call the midwives.” “I’m hours and hours away from needing them.” “She wants to go back to sleep.” “She can’t go back to sleep right NOW!” “Did you call your doula?” “Did you call your mom?” “I’m having my mom call to check on you.”
In retrospect, the flood of concern was nice. At the time, I felt like everyone was being ridiculous. But I gave up my dreams for sleep and called my doula and the birth center. The midwives told me my initial instinct was correct, and I probably wouldn’t need them for hours. Go back to sleep. (“Ha,” I sleepily thought, “I was right. Everyone was being ridiculous!”)
Sleep never came, but my doula did, with a smoothie and birth movies. My sister showed up with her boyfriend. We all munched on fresh fruit and watched The Business of Being Born together (“To get you into the mood!” my doula said.) While my contractions were light, it felt like a holiday. The weather was beautiful. We opened all the windows.
Friends kept calling to check in on me. At some point I decided the contractions would feel better if I danced through them, so we put on music (The White Stripes. I had all their albums on a loop for most of the day, giggling to myself over the prospect of my unmedicated birth every time “Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine” came back around), and we all went on a walk together when it came time for lunch.
By 8 PM, it was feeling much less like a party. My contractions still weren’t close enough together for me to head to the Birth Center, but they were starting to hurt. My doula switched out with a friend who had decided to drive in from out of town for the birth. My mom arrived at some point. We all tried to sleep.
Around 1 AM, my contractions were finally measuring close enough together for us to head to the birth center. I called my midwife, and she said she’d meet us there. But when we got there, she said I was only 4cm dilated, and it would probably be hours yet before the baby came. I could go back home, or wait it out there. I decided to wait it out.
They told me to try to sleep between contractions, but as they were only a few minutes apart, I wasn’t getting much rest.
At some point, the sun came up. At some point, I got into the birthing pool, where I was to remain until the baby came. At some point, my phone died. (No more White Stripes)
I started to worry that I was going to be too tired to push when the time came, or that they’d make me go to the hospital.
Then, a little after 11 AM, the contractions abruptly started feeling MUCH different. I heard an animal scream rip from my mouth, and the room was suddenly full of people. I knew it was time to push. Sometime after I started screaming, my sister held her phone in the vicinity of my face. “I have Mike and Jess on FaceTime from Germany.”
Someone had taken my glasses at some point, I couldn’t see the phone or anything else. But it made me happy knowing that, at least in this small way, my child’s father could be there to see his daughter be born. I remember hearing our drummer’s 4-year-old (the same one my midwife had delivered) yelling “I love you Stacia!” through the phone, and managing to stop screaming long enough to yell “I love you!” back. I think it was the only time I stopped screaming.
When the baby’s head started to crown, my midwife asked if I wanted to reach down and feel. I did, but I was convinced that if I let go of my grip on the tub, I wouldn’t be able to finish pushing. And I had to get this baby out. “I can’t,” I told her. “Okay, keep pushing.”
And then, just like that, it was over. At 12:07 PM, 31 hours after my water had broken, and after only 40 minutes of pushing, Fable Margaret-Rose Perez was born.
And she was perfect.
My midwife cleaned me up and let me rest. They never took my daughter away from me, and I was back home in my own bed by 4 o’clock. There’s something to be said for Birth Center births.
In the end, I didn’t wind up giving birth alone. I was surrounded by family and friends, a wonderful team of midwives, and even the people I was missing overseas managed to be there, thanks to modern technology.
Mike was home 12 days later and got to meet his daughter in person.
All was well.
Fable is almost 16 months old now, and amazes me every day. She’s stubborn, and smart, and wildly happy and loving. And while this may not be the life I planned for, and things may not always be exactly what I would have wanted, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Featured Image: Unsplash.com
All other images provided by author, used with permission.