To Birth A Soul

This is the story of the birth of a mother.

I woke up on Sunday morning feeling off. It had been a week of low-level, go-nowhere contractions, of waiting it out and stalled progress, and that morning it felt like my heart was fluttering like a butterfly trapped in a jar. I went to the couch in the living room and tried to slow my breathing. Deep breaths in, slow breaths out, but my heart chugged on, sending delightful tingling sensations all up and down my arms.

And so we walked. All through Central Park, up craggy rocks, across bark dust paths and back, to lake views and tree views and teenagers making out views, and up and down stairs. Brandon challenged me to races up grassy hills as horrified tourists watched. My body was finally matching the pace of my heart and it felt so good.

On Monday I waited at my doctors office for over an hour. Unexpected staff meeting, and suddenly I felt the need to be seen immediately. I didn't really know why, I was still feeling slightly off, only now my appetite was gone and my tingly heart flutters felt wrong somehow. I phoned Labor & Delivery. Whether or not the contractions I'd been having for two weeks were strong enough to mean anything, I was coming in.

The nurse looked at me with narrowed eyes.

"Well, you're due in two days," she said. "You're not really Preeclamptic, but your blood pressure is high. You've been having good contractions every four minutes since you got here..."

Then she tapped the blood pressure machine and said, "Well, there's really no point in keeping you pregnant anymore, is there?" And then I said, "That's what I've been saying!"

So I called Brandon ("Really? Really. Today? Are you sure. You're sure?"), who showed up an hour later with my hospital bag and a Vogue.  You know, light labor reading.

When you are admitted to Labor and Delivery showing signs of preeclampsia (or as my nurse joked, pre-preeclampsia), they induce your labor with pitocin. I'd heard nasty things about that pitocin garbage: painfully long contractions, too-short breaks between, and the marathon of labor that accompanies. I'd always wanted to try a natural child birth, not because I was some sort of stoic about it, but just to see if I could do it. But also I knew that everyone has their limits, and pitocin seems to be its own sort of limit.

Pitocin equals epidural equals Don't Try To Be A Hero, Natalie. That sort of thing.

But also I knew my body. And I knew the bodies of the women in my family. Once my mom had her water broken during labor, things went real fast. And I knew I wanted the chance to try it on my own. I knew I could do it on my own, if my body would let me do it on my own. I really wanted to give my body that chance, just to see what it would do. 

I asked my doctor to just break my water and give me a few hours before starting the pitocin. She agreed, knowing my family history, and at 6:oo that evening I became well acquainted with a hook and the insides of my placenta. I was checked again--dilated to a five and 90% effaced.

And then, we waited.

The contraction monitor clocked my barely noticeable contractions at three- and four-minute intervals while we watched a little naked Ryan Reynolds in The Proposal. Then we channel surfed and found Pocahontas. I love Pocahontas. Labor was kind of fun. And that lemon ice was actually good.

Suddenly it was 9pm and my doctor's shift was ending.

"I am back at 8:30 tomorrow morning," she said. "I'll come check on your progress then, ok?"

"Wait, will I still be here at 8:30 tomorrow morning?" I asked. I felt incredulous. I reminded her of my family history: my mother who practically had my sister in the hospital hallway and my brother in under 45 minutes, my great aunt who had her baby in the car . . . really? 8:30?

"Well, it's your first baby, so, probably," she said. "Maybe things will go that fast with your second." And though it sounded all wrong to me, I thought, But what do I know?

The new doctor came in and introduced himself and already I didn't like him. I hated his body language, the way he folded his arms like he was trying to keep his distance, the way he avoided eye contact with me, and I wanted to ask "Isn't there anybody else?"

But after three hours of ogling expensive shoes and Ryan Reynold's nekkid backside, I was starting to really feel my contractions. Hot and heavy and tight, they'd swoop over me and I'd have to stop talking in order to focus. I looked at Brandon in excitement. Now these are contractions! And they were coming on fast, every two minutes. I breathed through them and felt alive. Brandon turned off the TV and assumed his father-to-be duty of fanning my face during hard contractions.

And then, suddenly, I was there. You know, there. That point where it is too much, too hard, and you are scared and you know you can't do it, and from everything I'd read, I knew I was in transition. Or, I knew I could be in transition. Because, what did I know? Like my doctor said as she left, this was my first baby, and I'd probably be here until Kingdom Come. The new doctor on shift came in and announced that it was time for the pitocin, and I tried to stall. I knew something was happening, but I didn't know that I knew for sure, and ouch ouch ouch, and my brain wasn't working anymore, and fan me harder Brandon!

"Can you check my progress first?" I asked, out of breath.

"You've had your water broken, I don't want to introduce infection," he told me, his arms crossed tight against his body and his eyes glued to the floor.

"But, I . . ." I stammered, and then I lost the courage to insist. After all, what did I know?

He left to get the drugs and in the short moments I had between intense contractions I asked my nurse what she thought, because somewhere in the few hours I had been there I had fallen deadly in love with her.

"Well, this is your first baby," she told me. "You're probably still at a five."

If I had hours to go, and pitocin was on its way, I knew I needed an epidural, because these contractions were making my teeth hurt, and I couldn't imagine what it would feel like if they got worse. But even as I thought the words in my head I knew they were wrong, and I knew this was it, and I knew I'd regret not trusting my instincts. I struggled to think logically as the contractions tore through me. Pitocin equals epidural equals Don't Be A Hero, Natalie, I reminded myself, while my body screamed at me that I was doing it and that it was almost over. But I didn't know who to trust, and I started to feel panicky. I was sweating and worried and I was thinking horribly irrational thoughts, like maybe I was about to die. Maybe the baby might never come out!

"Fine!" I agreed. And then another contraction hit and I couldn't sit still anymore. I needed to writhe. I scooted my bum around on the bed and swayed my knees in the air and even in the middle of the ridiculous pain I started laughing at how silly I looked.

"Are you giving the hospital bed a lap dance?" Brandon asked as I laughed, and I said back, "Do I look like a squid? Because I feel like a squid."

The nurse dutifully sent the first dose of Pitocin through my IV. "We can give you as many as 20 of these," she told me. "This first one won't really do anything, we'll go slow."

And then the anesthesiologist came in to stick the giant needle up my spine and my Holbsfanner was sent out of the room and I needed my Holbsfanner! By this point I literally could not sit still, there was no way in all the heavens and earths to hold my body in one place, and I was aware of a startling pressure that I couldn't quite describe. "If you can't stop squirming this isn't going to work!" the anesthesiologist told me sternly, and I decided I hated him, and then, just as the needle went in, I realized that I needed to push.

"I think I need to push!" I said suddenly and the anesthesiologist pulled the needle out in bit of a huff. Here I had just been stabbed for no reason, and the nurse, sensing that something was up, paged the doctor who finally came to check me.

"I need to push," I informed him as he fished around.

"Go for it," he told me.

"Well, what am I at?" I asked in frustration. I was starting to get incredibly demandy about things and it all struck me as quite funny.

He stared at the carpet. "You're at a ten."

"The pitocin won't even kick in for another half hour!" the nurse said in surprise.

I looked at the clock. It had been four hours since my water broke.

Suddenly my room was teeming with people. A giant spotlight had come out of the ceiling, it felt sort of like an alien abduction on the X-Files. Everyone introduced themselves one at a time (like I was going to be able to remember any of their names?), and I was thinking about how hysterically okay I was with the fact that all these strangers were face-first in my lady parts, until a young-looking intern with dark curly hair introduced himself as my personal cheerleader. And he was just so sweet, and so innocent looking, and I felt so weird having such a sweet face seeing all that carnage, and without thinking I introduced myself back, "I'm Natalie, this is my vagina, and I'm really sorry about this."

My labor went blindingly fast, but delivery, well delivery kind of took a while. I pushed for three hours. Huck was crowning for a full forty-five minutes. And every cliche that I said I'd never do--shouting bossy orders at my husband (fan me! ice chips! squeeze harder!), begging the doctor to just pull him out, even screaming--I did it all, and I relished it.

I felt every last shred of it. I especially liked the part where I tore in the front. Did you know that could happen? Doctors and nurses were shouting all kinds of directions at me. Relax this! Tighten that! Hold your breath! Now breathe! Now relax! Now turn this way! None of it made any sense but I did what I was told. Finally, while silently pleading with God to let the next push be my last, I realized that I was the one who should be issuing orders. Only I could bring this child into the world, and only I knew how that needed to happen. This was my body and my body and I knew what we were doing. So I gritted my teeth, tuned out the voices in the room, and breathed through a glorious, empowering push.

"Natalie, open your eyes!" the nurse said.

When I married Brandon seven years ago, I knew I wanted to have his babies. All of the babies in his family are blond, blue-eyed Holbrook clones, and I had grown to cherish the idea of my own mini-Holbs, but always, always the babies I rocked and nursed in my dreams were mine. Dark-haired, dark-skinned, with a rosebud mouth and that impossible Lovin nose. And then we struggled to even get pregnant at all, and I had to reconcile the fact that those babies probably wouldn't ever be mine. It was a mini-Holbs or nothing. I hardly even missed them, those babies of my dreams. I was so ready for my blonde skinny baby. I would have given anything for that blonde skinny baby.

But that night I locked eyes on a dark-haired, dark-skinned little lover. Complete with a perfect rosebud mouth and that crazy Lovin nose. And I was floored. It was more than I could even comprehend. He was mine. Mine in a way nothing had ever been mine before. He was mine, and I'd made him. God let me make him! I have never felt a more powerful, more tangible emotion in all of my life. I probably never will.

I like to think of those three hours of pushing as the final, exhausting, very literal physical manifestation of my three years of laboring to bring this child into the world. My struggle to trust my body's ability to labor mirrored my struggle to trust my body's ability to conceive. In the end, I didn't really do it all on my own; nobody ever does. But I felt it all, like I always do. And my stubborn body rejected all of my efforts to assist it, like it always does.

In the end, it all fell between me and my God. And we made it work.

And what we made was glorious.


  1. CONGRATULATIONS Natalie, the Holbs and sweet baby Huck...and Praise the Lord for the Glorious!

  2. This is a beautifully written piece Natalie.
    I loved the title and you had me gripped right to the end.
    Best wishes to your wonderful little family.

    Felicity x

  3. Completely beautiful, Natalie.

  4. Such a beautiful and inspiring story! Thank you for sharing! And thank you for your honesty about the whole process. It's been a joy following you through your pregnancy and now to watch you and the Holbs raise a beautiful little baby!

  5. BEAUTIFUL, MRS. Absolutely marvelous!

    And also, OUCH. You rock! : )

  6. That is a gorgeous birth story in every way. Congratulations!!

  7. What a beautiful, inspiring birth story.. Thank you so much for sharing!

  8. Somehow, you have made me more excited and simultaneously more scared than ever to have a child one day. My, what a writer are you! -- p.s. I can't believe you pushed for three hours! THREE! How in the world did you not pass out?!

  9. Required reading for first time moms...there's no explaining it until it happens to you , but this was very clear. I remember the room turning into a hazy tunnel vision and me and the baby were the only ones in it at that time, selfishly maybe, I lost focus on everyone else, it was OUR time and her dad and her were having their own as well..The we had ours together.

    You are truly beautiful!

  10. This reminded me a lot of my 1st baby's labor & delivery. My doctor left at 10pm and said he would see me in the morning. My new new that came on at 7pm and would work until 7am, said that she would not be the one delivering...it was "my first and it would be slow..."

    A few hours later...2 of which were spent PUSHING...I delivered my beautiful baby boy...3 hours before my nurse's shift ended!

    I'm so happy for you and although you don't know me and I only know you through your blog, I want to say CONGRATULATIONS and every single moment is so worth it to hold that little baby in your arms. I'm sure you quickly discovered that!

  11. This is a perfect example of how, when life seems hopeless and ugly, miracles are happening to people every minute of every day. Your child is your dream-come-true, in the flesh. Even as you and Holbsy procreate again, this one will always and forever be the first miracle you ever brought into the world. What a perfect story for a perfect baby and a perfect mama and daddy and FAMILY! Because in the end, that is all that matters. FAMILY.

    (by the way - just a funny note: schweezy just did to me what they did to you. After a two and a half hour exit interview and lots of secrets spilled to HR, I felt a bit better but am still unemployed. Awesome huh.)

  12. wow! just wow. that ending almost made me forget all about the fact that your doctor sounds like a moron!

  13. I read that post word for word, and sometimes for word again. Beautiful story. I felt like I was right there in the room, only standing behind your shoulder and letting The Holbs do the ice chip thing. Congratulations on three hours--and three years--of laboring. He is beautiful!

  14. Perfect.

    Absolutely perfect.

  15. Dear Natalie,
    So the dream of your rosebud mouth babe came true and the dream of giving birth, to your child, yours and the Holb's sweet baby....Blessings to you three, blessings to your realizing that you gave into your body's ability, that you trusted you. So many woman are afraid to give trust and I want to hug you for believing in yourself, for trying, for standing up and saying what you wanted!
    Your son, your son you longed for, you waited for he is here for you to soak up and kiss to your hearts content. How you made a move so late in your pregnancy amazes me. Having to get new Dr.s and hospital just seems daunting and scary but you did it. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story... :)

  16. Thank you for sharing this. I sit hear teary eyed and a little breathless, my heart and soul empathize so well with yours. Motherhood is the most amazing, wonderful, hardest, most disgusting, hilarious, trying, blessed thing I have every done. You will be a spectacular mother, just because you wanted it so. Congratulations, good job. Utterly and completely amazing.

  17. I love this! I also love how on the Vogue magazine you're holding up, it says "Natural Beauty Delivers!" Amazing!

  18. BEEAUUUTTTIIIFFFULLL!!! Those big sappy mama tears just welled up during that lovely story. Isn't childbirth nuts? I've never seemed to have a good old normal one (excruciating back labor that wouldn't let me sit down and made me think the f-word over and over and over with the first, and Pitocin and jack-hammer-in-the-back never-ending contractions with the second--though it only lasted, like, an hour and a half!). But seriously, if someone had actually CHECKED me during my second delivery while that crappy a-hole anesthesiologist tried to find my spinal cord (uh, dude--it's right in front of you, in that big spiney thing!!), they would have realized I was already going through transition!!! No epidural needed! Of course, Karl chose that moment to saunter back into my hospital room while I was gripping the rails and thinking expletives in his unhurried, I-just-had-a-sandwich direction, so the nurses got a bit distracted. I could totally have gone au natural and halved my doctor's bill if someone had JUST CHECKED ME!!!

    So, I totally understand all about the crappiness of some doctors. Mine wasn't even around to check me, though, which was probably good, as he's smoking HOT--rather Ryan Reynolds-y, come to think of it--and I didn't feel the desire to let him sneak a peek at the goods unless he really, really had to. Nurses, though? They're superheroes.

    And that last pic was beyond words. The emotion in your face speaks for itself!

  19. What a beautiful story. I love it. :)

    Then there was the comment you made to that intern. I think I laughed for 5 minutes straight! XD

  20. Beautiful words from a new mama. God must be smiling right now, as well. Congrats!!!

  21. I love your birthing story! It's absolutely beautiful...just like your sweet Henry August!

  22. Yay!! for the new little new yorker!! :) God bless and good luck!

  23. beautiful story! it really is incredible the blessing God has granted us- to be able to create little babies. a huge congratulations. my baby is 4 months- and man, what an incredible rollercoaster of love and emotion. there's nothing better.

  24. Oh Mama, this is just beautiful. I am SO glad you were able to trust your body and really experience childbirth. Sounds like a beautiful labor, and a difficult delivery, but that is how my first was too. Oh, and I tore in front too. OUCH.

  25. What a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing it.

  26. Oh, I was so scared that you were going to get the Petocin and epidural. Literally, I was on the edge of my seat, and I cheered when that horrid doctor was proved wrong.

    Thanks so much for telling us your story. :-)

  27. This was simply beautiful. Congratulations on your sweet Huck!

  28. I love this post. My favorite, by far. I cried with joy for you, your Holbs and your sweet Huck.


  29. Awesome, just awesome. This just took me back for years to the birth of my son and reminded me I still need to sit down and write all the details before I forget them forever. Kudos to you for knowing and trusting your body, you did great!

  30. What a beautiful story! I am sorry your 2nd doctor did not listen to you. That happened to me with my first. So I made sure the next two were with a doctor/pratice that DID listen.

    But I am sooo happy for you Nat! You have a very handsome son!

  31. Beautiful! What a lovely birth story. Thank you for sharing and

  32. Beautifully told! Congratulations!

  33. Beautiful! So happy for you!

  34. I absolutely LOVE the way you "feel" everything. Isn't it so true?! Now I wait and hope and pray that I can experience the same thing someday. But until then, I'll watch your little one grow. He is SO PRECIOUS! Congrats, mommy!

  35. What a powerful story. Thanks for making me cry. :)

  36. SO SO SO BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN!!! You made me cringe, and cry and laugh. SO very happy for you all!!!

    PS I thought I was going to die too, but I didn't and I was blessed with a son and then five years later a daughter (Jessie), who by the way is the one that told me about you. You need to publish all of this into a book.... definitely a book!


  37. I know too well how SO MUCH OF THIS feels, but now I am almost crying and quite possibly in love with you. So very lovely a birth story. .

  38. He never checked you! That is insane. I have had 4 babies and have never heard of a doctor not checking you...even after my water was broke they would check me.

    I'm so mind bogglingly blown away by that simple fact.

    "Go for it!" ???

    Ugh... please tell me you didn't decide you liked him afterward.

    Congratulations isn't it wonderful!? What a beautiful story.

    Next baby try a hot bath. I didn't until my fourth and then I cursed never using one before.

    It really helps the contractions.

  39. This is so completely insanely beautiful. I want to write like you do.


  40. Natalie, this was beautiful.

  41. Love this, love you, love the baby!

  42. I always cry when I read a birth story. So beautiful! Congratulations. He is a handsome little man! Let's take him to get his first cookie soon, k?

  43. That was glorious! Brought tears to my eyes. I'm so incredibly happy for you.

  44. Natty Nat ;) JUST getting around to reading this and it was electric. Your little Holbslet is adorable and you look FANTASTICAL! Congrats a bajillion times over.

  45. I am new to your blog, found it through a Mormon Times article, that mentioned the salon article... and now I am here and I am remembering the birth of my first child almost 16 years ago in an Italian hospital with people trying to issue instructions to me in very little english- so crazy, and so funny- later. It was the only time, in the 5 that I have delivered that I didn't have an epidural and or pitocin. But it was about an hour long thank goodness. I am always induced, I was even then- they broke my water and I got going fast. But I hope I get one more chance and hopefully I can actually experience "going into labor" on my own. I don't know if I will deliver naturally again, but I must say reading this I have much respect for you telling them to hold off. I have never really been that gutsy, but maybe next time I'll listen to my gut and my body and see what happens.
    Maybe I'll stop by your blog another day. Take care Nat.

  46. Congrats, it was fun and interesting reading as you blogged through the pregnancy. Beautiful baby!

  47. So, I love this story! I can relate all too well with the "trying to have a baby" part of your story. I guess I just wanted to say how inspired I was by you saying that you asked for help and it was given your way. It made me remember the reason that I cannot have children and why I have the most beloved brown eyed, dark skinned little big boy that for some reason looks just like me...he just came to me in a different way. I love your blog, I am so happy to have found it. I am a libra as well so I can totally relate to a lot of your posts! Lots of fun!

  48. Tears (and some snot) are all I can see now. Love it. Love your perspective. Beautiful!

  49. I just started reading your blog not too long ago, but totally just cried at reading this...beautiful, wonderful and so truthful. Heavenly Father really is something, huh?

    Please never stop writing!

  50. wow. what a great story! I had a hospital birth with my first which resulted in pitosin, epidural, 23 hours of labor, I dialated to a ten and then started dialating backwards which resulted in a c-section. I was very disapointed with my body and with the doctors.

    This time around (I'm 17 weeks along now! with my 2nd) I found a lovely doctor who does natural and water births and he has agreed to do a V-BAC for us. We love him. Hospitals freak me out though. There's so much going on and they're so busy, i'm afraid i wont get to labor in peace. Ive been praying over my delivery and pregnancy like I've never prayed so hard for it in my life!

    Your little man is so precious! thanks for sharing your story!

  51. i have never posted on your blog before, but i HAD to this time b/c you put into words EXACTLY how i felt labor should be for me! i wanted to do it on my OWN, the way my body was MADE to work! and to feel powerful and raw and present and useful.... anyway i did it that way two outta three times and would do it that way again. no going back to horrid putrid pitocin and epidurals that made my entire left leg so numb it felt wooden! (as if trying to poop after pushing out a baby isn't hard enough!)
    and huge congrats to you for getting that about yourself and actually being able to do it on your very, very first time!

  52. Beautiful!! and wonderful!!

  53. ok so.... I come back and read this from time to time because I am so SET on doing my next baby (that I'm not even going to try to get pregos with for another year) naturally. I love your attitude and wording and It just reminds me that I can do it and I just have to trust myself when that time comes.
    I know I sound like those relief society ladies that stand up and say "i love every one of you" even when you've never as much as spoken a word to her, but....
    I do I love you to death.
    thanks for writing me and reminding me daily to keep being myself :)

  54. best offing post ever. dude, this makes me want baby number 3! and i already have a 1 yr old and a 2 yr old. your making me think crazy baby thoughts! and really, those are the best kinds.

  55. Oh I love it. My firstborn turned six today and my heart! How these babies of ours break and mend our hearts over and over again.

  56. can i say that i think you look pretty good in the hospital for just having given birth? i mean, i feel like you managed to look just as cute as you do every other day... also, it was so strange reading this and thinking about your every day life WITHOUT huck. you walking through the park without him...hanging out at home without him...since i didn't start following your blog 'til after he was born, this just seems like crazy talk to me.

  57. this is simply the most beautiful (and hilarious) birth story. thank you for sharing!

  58. Oh my word. Not sure how I got to *this* post, but I sure glad I did. This is simply beautiful. Laughed and got all choked up.

  59. this post is so precious. i had my baby boy in december-i have blonde hair and blue eyes and always pictured my babies like that, but my hubby has brown hair and brown eyes...for now baby boy has dark hair and dark blue eyes-we will see who wins out for good later! i am now following your blog!


  60. I just found your blog via Sydney from The Daybook. I read your birth story with tears in my eyes, congratulations is a complete understatement. You reminded me of all the emotions rushing through my heart, my mind and my soul in an infinite circle when my little 2.4 yrs old was born... it was the most profound experience of my life. To lay eyes on his sweet perfect face for the first time, to hold him and feel his warmth, to see how he automatically stopped crying when he held me close... and he was mine, and I had made him, and I loved him more than I ever ever loved anybody before, with a kind of love that I never thought existed or was even possible... and what's even more incredible is that love from that first night is NOTHING and I mean NOTHING to how much I love him today! my heart expands, my love reaches out, my life is his life which is my life... My God.. thank you for this blessing...

    xoxo, Paula


  61. I love this birth story, its so beautiful well done! I had the same situation with the pictocin, nasty stuff. Good on you for putting your foot down about it initially, looking back I wish I had the guts to do the same. I wrote about interventions and my experience here if you wana check it out!

    Happy blogging xx

  62. My favourite part of this - apart from you introducing your vagina, is the fact you still have mascara on! You are a hero!

    Well done, and a belated congratulations.



  63. I just saw this post. It made me teary eyed. And although your baby is no longer a baby, congrats. :)

  64. I just finished reading this, and I'm crying. So beautiful.


  65. I don't even know if you'll see this comment, since it's an old post, but I have to tell you that I go back and re-read this every now and again because it's just so beautiful. I hope you get the baby you're praying for-- you are a wonderful mother.

  66. You have a wonderful way with words, I really enjoyed reading this post! :D You are one of my favourite reads, and will be my last read tonight before bed. :D Please more!! & if you dont mind stopping by my blog id appreciate it so much :D www.stephypenny.com I just started it in November and its gaining momentum :D

  67. I absolutely LOVE reading birth stories (having had 3 babies myself, and being an obsessive obsessor I am sure I have read them all) but YOURS WAS THE BEST! OH my gosh...I sat here at my desk hiding my face with my hoodie hoping it would catch all of my tears while keeping me from having to explain to my co-workers why I am crying! Thank you for writing! You have a magical way with words :)

  68. Oh dear, here I am looking through old baby posts of yours because Huck has the BEST style, and I'm so excited to dress my little guy come January, and now I'm a dithering, emotional mess. I love your words.

  69. oh goodness.
    lovely, lovely

  70. love this. perfection. made me laugh and cry.

  71. what a beautiful writer, mother and storyteller you are. thank you for sharing your life.


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