It was 1 a.m. on my 32nd birthday. I was 37 weeks pregnant, practiced at waking up to pee and rolling myself out of bed like a log. I was prepared for signs of my water breaking, but I wasn’t prepared for it to happen yet. It was only April 22. My due date wasn’t until May 10. I stood up. First a trickle, then a waterfall. Our dog — my loyal guardian throughout my pregnancy — bolted out of the room like she’d abruptly decided to hand in her resignation from her position as my companion. This is what it’s like to go into labor on your birthday.
“Jon!” I yelled.
“Mrrr … uhhh…” my husband said.
“I think my water just broke!”
“Your wha … your what!?”
He sat up in bed like he’d realized how much his life was about to change.
And that was it. The start of the most memorable birthday of my life.
Who doesn’t want an unforgettable birthday? I’d had a few. My 19th birthday, a trip I’d saved for years to go on: in Italy, eating chocolate cake on a park bench. My 30th birthday: in California, attempting to drink all the wine and eat all the cheese I could find.
Now, my 32nd birthday: pushing a human being out of my body.
Back home, there was chocolate cake in the fridge. My birthday cake. Right now it sounded like a better way to celebrate.
At the hospital, in early labor, I walked the halls with my husband and my doula, stopping for each tiny contraction. I had no idea what was coming. How painful the next several hours the rest of my birthday would be.
We passed the nurses’ station, where several nurses sat talking.
“Happy Birthday!” one of them yelled out. The nurses turned and smiled at me, their eyes lighting up like birthday candles.
“Thanks,” I said, giving a half-hearted smile back.
Another small contraction hit.
“Happy birthday to me,” I thought.
I rocked back and forth, thinking of all the other women who’d given birth before me. The great pain that comes before each day of birth. So this is what a birthday really is.
I’d always enjoyed my birthday, but I’d never thought deeply about the day of my birth. I knew bits about my mother’s pregnancy. I knew she'd had PUPPP rash for months, so horrible she wanted to claw her skin off. That when she was in labor she was thirsty and a nurse had offered her milk. She took a sip. The milk was chunky. But I didn’t remember much more.
Now I was about to discover what a birthday really meant.
The contractions intensified. My back felt like it was being murdered. I was experiencing back labor. I would describe the feeling later, trying to make sense of it: like being attacked by a bear; like someone chiseling away at your spine.
I got in the bathtub, seeking relief. I hadn’t necessarily planned on going without any pain medication, but with my doula’s encouragement I found myself focusing. I rocked back and forth, thinking of all the other women who’d given birth before me. The great pain that comes before each day of birth. So this is what a birthday really is.
I got out of the tub and went over to the bed. I looked at the clock. It was 12:10 a.m.
“Oh,” I said. “My birthday is over.”
Somehow the hours had passed. The room was dark, lit by LED candles my husband and doula had placed around the room.
“She’ll be born soon,” I heard someone say.
My daughter’s birthday would be the day after mine.
I stood up. Eight centimeters dilated. My doula held me on one side, and my husband on the other, as I rocked between them. With each contraction I fell to the ground, moaning and wailing. Was I about to die? It felt like it. Should I have gotten the epidural? That might have been a great birthday present. But it was too late now.
“I sound like a gremlin,” I said, coming out of a particularly painful contraction. Everyone laughed. Proof I was alive.
It was time to push.
“I can’t do it,” I said.
My doula looked at me. “You already are.”
And I was. My husband stood by my side, his hand in mine. Thirty painful minutes later, at 1:35 a.m. on April 23, my daughter was born. When I held her in my arms, I felt what my mother must have so many years ago when she’d given birth to me.
My daughter was the perfect gift.
I didn’t know it yet, but I was about to have one of the best years of my life.
A few days later, we checked out of the hospital and went home. I held my brand-new daughter in my arms as I stood at the fridge and took a fork to a piece of my birthday cake. I was tired, bleeding, and wearing a pad so big a small family could have lived on it. My nipples were already beginning to crack. I didn’t know it yet, but I was about to have one of the best years of my life. Also one of the most exhausting and challenging. But one of the best.
In a few months, I’ll turn 33. My daughter will turn 1. This year, I’m hardly thinking about my birthday (I do hope it’s not as painful as last year!). I have no desire to go to Italy (I’d just love to sleep in!). I’m more excited about my daughter’s birthday than my own. I wouldn’t change this.
When recounting the story of my birth, when talking about the rash and the pain, my mother always said, “But trust me, it was all worth it.”
I understood this now.
I stood at the fridge and ate my birthday cake. I savored every bite.