“Are you done yet?” my body asked me.
“No,” I said.
And I would continue to say no for the next 52 hours.
My first baby, a daughter named Harbor, was born October 10, 2017, at 5:27 p.m. She was born amid oxygen masks, frantic monitors, IVs, doctors, nurses, midwives, a disappearing heartbeat, and a NICU team. But this is not how I imagined she would be born.
I imagined a calm room with dim lights, perhaps a water birth. I imagined I would progress steadily through hard work and determination. I imagined I would be stretched but not beyond what I myself could handle.
On a Saturday evening I went into labor. Then, on Tuesday morning at 6 a.m., I heard these words: “Your exam has not changed. This is suffering. Something must change.” I had not dilated beyond 2cm in all that time—despite steady contractions averaging three minutes apart and one-minute-long; despite showers, baths, herbs, membrane sweeps, and belly binding; despite everything my midwives could think of and everything I could endure.
So, we transferred from our birth center to the hospital. I got an epidural and Pitocin at 7 a.m. Tuesday morning and pushed my daughter out 10.5 hours later. Harbor came out stunned blue, not breathing, with the cord wrapped around her neck. After a few long minutes she began to breathe, and she has been healthy ever since that first breath.
Though labor is over and my daughter is well now, this experience has marked me in so many ways. My body is different: my left thigh is still numb from a shot of morphine that hit a nerve; my hips still ache often; and I have scar tissue I didn’t have before. But I think the strongest mark is harder to see because it’s not on my body.
I was nearly defeated by this birth.
A long-time proponent of natural childbirth, I knew I could do this. As those around me worried about my lack of food and sleep, I did not worry. I was not done yet. I knew I could keep going. No stranger to physical pain, I was not intimidated by the prospect of days of contractions. However, in time I became delusional from exhaustion, and the searing pain was not bringing my baby any closer. Then, I was done. I needed help. I could not do it myself.
When I admitted I was done, I revealed my limits. My moment of surrender is what brought my baby—not my white knuckling or my refusal to quit. When I look at Harbor’s face, the question “Are you done yet?” doesn’t seem so indicting anymore.
Now when my husband asks me, “Are you done yet?” in an offer to help me when I’m trying to do everything on my own, I am able to say yes in a way I could not have before the birth. I can let him help me. I can, in one sense, give up, give in, give over.
I am learning to live in a way that says, “Yes, I am done now.” I am done with the ever-alluring myth that claims doing it all is better than accepting help.
As the reality of Harbor’s birth story continues to settle in, I am aware of the goodness trauma can bring. Though I am not glad for what my husband, my doula, my daughter, and I suffered, I am glad for the ways this question, “Are you done yet?” stretched me. For the ways Harbor’s birth stretched me—not to try harder, to hold on tighter, or to refuse help. Instead, this experience stretched me to stop trying and to be: to release control; to accept what was being offered; to embrace when labor becomes the good work of saying, “Yes, I am done now.”
Kellay Chapman lives in Raleigh, NC with her husband, baby girl, and faithful dog, Banjo. We are earthy city dwellers- Kombucha is always brewing in our townhouse kitchen and we compost in our tiny “backyard”, all to the music of the traffic out front and the rhythmic stops of the city bus. I have been leading abuse recovery groups since 2013, and am passionate about creating safe spaces to heal and grow for those who are often overlooked. I also love to write in my spare time. You can find more of my writing work at kellaychapman.wordpress.com
Dear Kellay, I am so very sorry for what you had to endure. I was thrilled to read of sweet Harbor’s safe arrival. I had a similar story with our firstborn daughter almost thirty years ago. My left hip was numb for twenty years (I don’t think I have ever mentioned that to anyone before!). Bless you. Bless you. Our daughter’s cord was wrapped around her neck and minutes after the doctor read the monitor an emergency c-section began being performed (before the anesthesiologist arrived). I never dilated past eight centimeters. I have always tried to be thankful for a healthy baby. But, even so many years later, I feel a tiny bit of sadness for not having successfully delivered a vaginal birth. Of course….given the choice…just a tiny bit. Bless you as you heal and hopefully, your next baby will be a vaginal birth. In my era, the AMA said that once you had a c-section…the rest must be c-sections….PS I caution you to be careful with not overdoing to ensure scar tissues heals properly. My neighbor was a nurse and fiercely made sure that I heard the call to not over do….I did.
Thank you so much for your words and your care. I cannot imagine the terror of a c section beginning before anesthesia. I too am so glad your daughter arrived safely and so sad for what you had to endure, no matter how much time has passed. I hope you can give that hip some extra love. I actually did not have a c section, my scar tissue is from a bad tear- they could not find Harbor’s heartbeat but she was too far down in the birth canal for a c section. So a nurse told me, “you have to push this baby out NOW”. I did, and so the tearing. I understand still being sad- “just be happy with a healthy baby” is not honoring of all that can happen in order for the healthy baby to arrive. For me, I feel sad (and maybe somehow ashamed) that I could not feel anything when I pushed Harbor out because of the epidural. Your post about your daughter-in-law’s birth meant so much to me. Thank you, thank you for writing, reading and caring. Look forward to seeing you in Chicago!
As a midwife, you had me from the first paragraph. You are so strong and tenacious. And you put words to such an important reality….it is in the place of utter surrender that the baby often comes. I feel sad for the fear and flurry in those first minutes. And grateful for her health. Breath is always a miracle. 💜
Thank you for sharing Habor’s birth story. I too have grappled with Asha’s birth not going as planned and breastfeeding not going as I had hoped. Your story highlights a truth to labor and delivery, that women bare intense suffering as we usher the miracle of life into this world. Your share your own story with much dignity and grace, yet I hear the agnony of holding your daughter and the knowledge of the suffering you endured. My hope and prayer is that you will allow space to continue to process all this season has brought you. You are a beautiful and courageous mama! Love, Anna
“I am done with the ever-alluring myth that claims doing it all is better than accepting help.” You articulated so powerfully the suffering that broke this myth for you…and I wonder for myself if maybe it won’t be broken without suffering…because it is such an ‘alluring’ one, as you state. Thank you for bringing your story and voice here this month.