natural birthI was never against the drugs. Drugs, I thought, were for other people. For people who could tolerate long needles shoved up their spinal cords. For people who didn’t mind being confined to a bed. I didn’t have something to prove when I opted for a natural birth—I was just deeply afraid of doctor intervention. Now, I know this makes little sense when comparing the level of pain one endures during the dreaded ring of fire—the agonizing sensation that occurs when your baby stretches your vagina to its capacity—but there is a difference between the fear of the unknown and the fear of needles.

I opted for the unknown.

My mother’s own birth story probably had something to do with my decision as well. Drugged up on scopolamine, my mother didn’t remember giving birth to me in 1971. When she woke up from the drugs, her first words as a new mother were: “Did I have a baby?”

My au natural decision lead me to a birth plan that included rocking, dancing, panting, a tub, endless midwife attention and music streaming through the room. My son’s delivery would be a labyrinth, said the doula who lead my birthing class. “Some women even howl like wolves,” she said.

But after my water broke—it coincided with a contraction that felt like someone whacked my belly with an anvil—I didn’t expect to be pummeled with excruciating back. The contractions were so overwhelming that I couldn’t speak.

Once we got to the hospital, I dropped to all fours. I howled like a coyote on acid.

“Am I five centimeters yet?” I asked the nurse between contractions. My breath short and shaky, as if I had run five miles.

“I just checked you,” she said. “You were only three.”

I begged her to check again.

Five centimeters meant I could climb in the tub. The tub would magically alleviate all the pain. Like an epidural, it would wash over me. This is what they told me.

Here’s the truth. The tub was lovely. But it did not, I repeat, did not, take away the pain. I rocked myself back and forth in the water while a team of people (midwife, mother, ex-husband) took turns rubbing my back and sprinkling water over my shoulders for about an hour and a half.

And then what can only be described as a cement block, otherwise known as my baby’s skull, attempted to split my vagina in two in a wild rage of energy.

“I feel his head, oh my God, I feel his head!” I screamed.

My midwife reached down between my legs and confirmed it. “Yep. That’s his head.” she said, calmly. “Drain the tub.” (That particular hospital wouldn’t allow a tub birth.)