A Baby Born on Wednesday: The Story of the Unassisted Birth

Author’s note: Our new baby was born at home in our bedroom a week ago this Wednesday without a birth attendant present. This is the last installment of the story of how we came to choose an unassisted birth. If you’re visiting the blog for the first time, the story begins here. JustBorn

When you’re expecting your fourth child and you’re past the due date, you become convinced that the baby will be a full-grown adult before coming into the world, which is why I pretended I wasn’t in labor for about 12 hours of regular but light contractions.

My uterus had been twitchy for days, and since the tightenings on Tuesday night were mild enough that I could sleep between them, I didn’t really think James and I would have a baby anytime soon. Besides, the squeezing feeling that woke me up was almost pleasurable.

Me: I wish I were in labor.

Myself: Maybe you are.

Me: This is way too easy. I wish real labor could be like this.

Myself: Maybe it can. Maybe labor can feel good. Maybe this is real labor.

Me: I hope I can get back to sle—


I slept better Tuesday night than I had in a long time.

Wednesday morning James bustled the kids off to school. Before they left I felt my uterus tightening so hard I had to lean against the kitchen counter to catch my breath.

“Mommy! Are you having a contraction? Wait, let me get my joke sheet,” my 8-year-old, Athena, cried.

I’d been reading about how humor can really help a woman along in labor and Athena had secretly compiled jokes for me.

“Where did seaweed go to find a job?”

My mind couldn’t focus. Seaweed? Job?

“The kelp-wanted ads!” We both cackled with laughter as the contraction subsided, mine a tad hysterical.

“Maybe you’ll be coming home from school early,” I said, kissing the three kids goodbye. “Or maybe not…”

Then they were gone. I was restless and puttered around the house doing breakfast dishes, folding laundry, tidying the bathroom. I think I even vacuumed. Then I set my camera on a tripod and took some photographs. A couple of times while I was fighting with the self-timer I felt something crampy and jagged going on in my uterus but I ignored it.

I had no inkling that in a little more than three hours I would no longer be pregnant.

James came home.

“I’m not sure what to do…” I said. “I have an article to finish…”

“We could go for a walk,” he suggested. “Or watch the romantic comedy I rented?”

I sat down by the computer and realized I couldn’t sit down.

“Do you think I’m in labor or am I just being wimpy?”

James smiled at me. “Well … I’m inclined to think you’re just being wimpy…”

Nonetheless, I emailed my editor and told her I was in early labor, maybe, and might need an extension.

That was around 8:50 a.m. I put Sadé on the stereo and took a shower, then a bath, then a shower. By now it was obvious, even to a denialist like me, that I was in full-blown labor. I oohed and aahed and breathed through contractions.
Me: This isn’t so bad, see? Mind over matter really works.

Myself: Aaahhh. Ooohhh. That was a good one.

Arms straight, I propped my hands on my knees, which allowed my belly to feel suspended, and I kept the warm water pounding on my back.

Pretty soon, though, the tightenings got really intense.

Me: This is what I wanted. This is what I wanted. This is what I wanted.

Myself: Careful what you wish for.

James made juice with garlic, ginger, kale, beets, carrots, lime, and orange. He brought me some in the shower.

“I can’t,” I sobbed. “I’m sorry.” All the sorrow in the world seemed to enter my body because I couldn’t drink the juice my husband had so kindly prepared.

By then I was starting to lose it. I could no longer ooh and aah through contractions. They weren’t coming in waves with a peak building slowly but instead slamming into my body like a truck crashing into a cement wall.

Me: If you relax your eyebrows and your mouth, your vagina will relax.

Myself: F**k off. I can’t do this. It hurts too much.

Me: What about mind over matter? This isn’t pain. These are interesting sensations you need to pay attention to.

Myself: Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow.

Me: Breathe in and expand your belly, everything is opening up.

Myself: Shut the f**k up already, will you?

James stayed in the bathroom with me. I wasn’t breathing anymore. I wasn’t groaning. I was screaming, rocking my weight onto the balls of my feet, making loud animal noises that came from some primitive place.

“Help me,” I begged him. “Help me, help me, help me.”

“There are a finite number of contractions,” he said. “You’re getting there.”

I turned off the shower.

“Should we get the kids?”

“I don’t think I want them to see me like this,” I whined, utterly miserable, during a lucid moment between contractions.

We put a pillow on the back of the toilet and I made it through a couple of contractions, gripping James’s hands for dear life.

I stood up from the toilet and a flood of fluid flecked with blood gushed down my legs onto the bathroom floor.

“I think my water broke,” I moaned.

“Oh good!” James sounded chipper.

All of a sudden I felt like bearing down. By this time I was talking to myself in an almost schizophrenic way. “You’re okay Jennifer. You’re okay. You can do this. You’re doing a good job.” I didn’t really believe it but the reassuring words helped me anyway. I was also chanting in a tight and whiney voice, “Honey, honey, honey. I don’t think I can doooo this.”

Everything felt like elbows and hard angles and cramps and my body seemed to be taking on a life of its own. But it—I mean we—were going so fast I could barely hold on.

During another lucid pause, I looked at James. “You okay?”


“You’re not worried?”

“Not at all.”

He was so focused and centered, completely unfazed by how miserable I was. Though reluctant about doing this birth by ourselves, once in the moment James was totally there, totally present, and totally calm.

After my water broke I somehow managed to walk the 10,000 miles between the bathroom and our bedroom though I’m not sure how. We put down a cloth pad and some disposable chux. I leaned against the dresser. I leaned on James. I squatted. I stood. I went on all fours. My legs were shaking. I was sweating. I was dying of thirst. I wanted to be touched. I couldn’t bear to be touched. Nothing felt right. I was pushing now with my eyes squeezed shut and the most animal-like groans coming out of me.

Pushing during my last three labors was easy and pleasurable almost—I only had to push two or three times before each baby came right out. This time felt different. I felt like I was tearing in half. The pressure was unbearable. Everything felt stuck. I was pushing so hard I felt sure the baby would emerge from my rectum. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and by far the hardest stage of this labor.

But in between the knee-weakening, body-shaking Mack truck pushes, time stopped. I was completely lucid and pain free. I could have talked about the weather, the stock market, or Obama’s health care proposal. I felt strong, healthy, in my body. It was so surreal that I wasn’t sure I was really in the bedroom squatting on chux, moaning for water (which my husband gave me sips of through a straw), trying to birth a baby.

James grabbed the flashlight. “I see the baby!” He cried, full of joy. “I see the head!! There’s tons of black hair! I’m the first one to see the baby!!!!” He sounded as happy as Etani, my 6-year-old, trick-or-treating on Halloween. His glee was contagious. I started to laugh.

After the next overwhelming, body-numbing, elephant-pressure need to push, a tuft of hair stayed out even as I felt the head retreat. On the next push the head was out. James told me later the baby, eyes closed, was frowning, moving its head from side to side disapprovingly, as if to say, “Where is this place anyway? Do I want to be here?”

“I don’t think I can do this,” I cried after the head was out and there was a lull between pushes.

“You can. It’s happening.” James was so matter-of-fact and logical. “Here comes a shoulder!”

James_and_babyIn a slippery gush after the first shoulder, the baby came out. James caught it. I was on all fours as the baby was being born and with the relief of the baby coming out, I sat down backwards. He handed the baby to me. I was laughing and crying at the same time. “Oh my god, we did it, we did it.” The baby–it was a girl–started bawling lustily, coughing amniotic fluid and spluttering with discontent. I cried with her and so did James. We were so happy—finally—to meet the tiny being who had been growing inside me for nine and a half months. The whole world had changed now that this new life was in it.

I was such a baby during the contractions—crying and pleading and screaming, “help me”–but birthing this little person by ourselves was the most empowering experience of my life.

Human women have been having babies unassisted for more than 200,000 years. I’m not strong or brave or exceptional. If I can do it, you can too.


Coming up next week: 10 Things No One Tells You About Pregnancy; Experiments in Lotus Birth; When a Baby Spits Up Blood; Nervous Nellie 4th Time Parents, and more.

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47 thoughts on “A Baby Born on Wednesday: The Story of the Unassisted Birth”

  1. Whew! What great writing! I was right there by your side, pushing with you, feeling your/my pain, in total admiration that you dared to birth your fourth baby without a midwife or doctor present.
    .-= Alexandra´s last blog ..What

  2. Thanks Alexandra for your kind words about my writing. Zach, you’ll have to wait until next week’s posts to find out about AFTER the birth! This one was long enough (too long maybe). Thank you for reading it!

  3. After reading your account, I feel like I just gave birth. You are one hell of a writer, Jennifer.

    You did a wonderful thing! How completely and utterly empowering! Still in awe of your bravery.
    .-= Stephanie – Wasabimon´s last blog ..Holiday Recipes =-.

  4. Jennifer, What a story. Totally engrossed me. Fascinating stuff. So glad I was able to learn about all of this from such a personal standpoint!

  5. You definitely captured the highs and lows of natural childbirth–and the sense of empowerment afterwards. I would love to hear the dad’s side of this labor story. I’m impressed that he stayed so calm, cool and collected.

  6. That was exhausting to read and I can’t imagine what it felt like to do it!!! I too told my husband I couldn’t do it during labor! What an amazing job you did and your husband was terrific. Congratulations on this wonderful birth and your new little girl.

  7. Thank you, Jennifer, for making me cry my eyes out. I needed that.

    It just occurred to me that this is how you stop the healthcare crisis. It’s one person at a time, deciding to be courageous. All it takes is realizing that nothing is a crisis to begin with. Our complete, reliable 24/7 healthcare comes from LIFE ITSELF, which created us, guides us and sustains us.

  8. You got me all weepy over here, Jennifer. Beautifully done (both the retelling and the birth*)! And huge kudos to James for remaining so grounded and sure. What a moving, empowering story!

    *despite your “I was such a baby.” Your sharing your experience with such honesty is a gift to the rest of us. . .)

  9. Congratulations, Jennifer! What a lovely post. As you know I just gave birth to my fourth a few weeks ago. Birth is a stupendous experience. There is so much I related to in your story!
    .-= Christine at OrigamiMommy´s last blog ..Welcoming Anna =-.

  10. Jennifer – thank you for sharing your beautiful story. Having given birth two days after you (home waterbirth) your imagery felt so real to me. The elation – the self doubt – the primal state – the impromptu singing and laughing :). Your daughter is truly lovely. Congrats again to your whole family!

  11. How fun to finally read the birth story!! Thank you for sharing it. Your whole experience has been a reflection of my own two years ago. I remember saying “Am I just being wimpy?” and hearing my husband reply “No, I think think you are in labor.” As if moaning and being uncomfortable weren’t signs of wimpy-ness, but rather just what labor looks like. It’s surely not what’s portrayed on t.v.

    I’m grateful to know you, to know someone who has a similar perspective and experience relating to birth.

  12. My dear, congratulations on a beautiful little girl and a helluva good narrative! Having done this a few times myself, though never without assistance, I’m amazed you have the clarity of mind to get it all down! (Yikes, and did you ever bring back some s-t-r-e-n-u-o-u-s memories!)

  13. Holy Smokes! Thank you so much for sharing that. I can understand that women have been doing that for 200,000 years, and it’s only natural and whatever. But, we haven’t for a few generations now and our culture tells us, in no uncertain terms that that we can’t and insinuates that anyone would be insane or worse to try, so I heartily disagree with the statement that you guys aren’t strong, brave and exceptional. You absolutely are and a hearty BRAVO to you both. As a man/husband, I must say that the parts about James being so calm were barely believable. Really? Really? Wow. Congratulations. bryon

  14. I just love your daughter and her joke sheet. That’s priceless. And your internal dialogue is very funny. I’m glad everything worked out so well. xxx

  15. wow, that was quite a story. loved the joke sheet. can’t get over the thoughts, the physicalness of the process and the calm husband. fine writing. i’ll this will turn into a book.

  16. Wonderful story, Jennifer. Your sense of humor surely helped you through. And I know that women have been doing this for a long time and in theory I don’t buy into the whole hospital routine, I don’t know if I could have done it with just my husband – a doula or midwife, maybe?
    .-= Kris Bordessa´s last blog ..My Holiday Home Column is Live =-.

  17. That is an amazing description of your labor! I can almost FEEL those memories through your story. Congratulations on everything!

  18. Thank you for the kind words everyone. Bryon, we really are not brave or exceptional in any way. I was such a big baby during the labor, so unlike those quiet women in the YouTube videos who barely make a sound and then out pops a baby. I really had forgotten how intense it is. I think I’m forgetting even now, just a few days later!

  19. Jennifer, you have no idea how happy I was to read that you moaned “I can’t do this” over and over, which is exactly what I did in my last labor. Afterwards I was a little ashamed at falling apart, especially after having done it once already. So it’s nice that misery has company. And major congratulations!! I loved this story and too felt like I’d just given birth after reading it.

  20. Thank you for sharing this!!

    I hold UC in a beautiful place in my heart, until we can have ours.

    I just want to reach out and hug your sweet family.


  21. Congrats! Normalizing birth is what this country needs more of! What a great experience. As a midwife, I love giving couples lots of room to do most themselves, and try to do as little unnecessary interventions as I loved that with my home-birthed daughters. Really 95% of births go smoothly as you showed. Loved your self talk and your intuition that all was well (even with all the intensity!) WAY TO GO!!!

  22. I’m 39.5 weeks pregnant and found your article so empowering. My husband and I are planning a homebirth for our first child, though we have a midwife. I’ve been feeling so apprehensive and anxious, reading your (very recent) birth story helps me feel connected and grounded. Thank you!

  23. Thanks for stopping by Corinna. That end-of-pregnancy nervousness is really normal, even for moms who have been through it before more than once or twice. One of the hardest things about being in labor for the first time is that you don’t really know what to expect, or what a contraction feels like. But many large-scale studies have shown that laboring at home is as safe or SAFER than having a baby in the hospital so you are making a good choice. Even if you end up going to the hospital, the time you spend at home with your husband and midwife will be time well spent.

    It helped me so much in labor to think of the women who had gone before me–I had them in my mind and heart and it somehow made things easier. It also helps to try to think of the contractions as “interesting sensations to pay attention to” as opposed to pain. (That said, I did honestly find it painful, even though I tried my best to pretend it wasn’t…) And as crazy as it sounds, smooching with your husband during contractions, which may be the LAST thing you want to do, also helps, as do jokes (have your husband tell you Athena’s seaweed joke!). Ina May Gaskin also reminds women that no one ever exploded during labor, as much as you might feel like you are going to…

    All of this to say, good luck. You may be surprised and end up having fun! And if it’s awful, you’ll have something to write about afterwards… Please stop by again and tell us about your experience.
    .-= Jennifer Margulis´s last blog ..Founder and CEO of SheWrites.com coming to Ashland, Oregon next weekend =-.

  24. This has got to be one of the most inspirational and empowering stories I’ve ever read. Against my mother’s wishes I’m sure, I must do this when I have kids. How perfect!

  25. lovely story…my friend had her two babies at home–they are ten and 4. i always thought it was radical and neat. do you have any suggestions for a woman who wants to go unassisted, but who’s husband is well, stubbornly ignorant and not much help when it comes to birthing children?? he’s kinda why i think men should just wait outside ’til the baby is delivered…this sounds lame, i know, but any advice would be lovely thanks mel.

  26. Melissa, it took me five months to convince my husband that we should have an unassisted birth. You can read about that here: https://mothering.com/jennifermargulis/pregnancy/a-baby-born-on-wednesday-post-1. I think it’s really important that your spouse supports you, *if* you want to have him at the birth. Some women prefer to have only women there, or to even just labor and give birth completely alone. If your husband is not on board and he is present, his fear and negativity may have a bad effect on the birth and on you. As we explored our options, I had James meet with a woman who had all of her six children unassisted and a midwife who supports unassisted birth. I also gave him a lot of reading material (that I read first), including the last pregnancy issue of Mothering Magazine which includes a story of an unassisted birth from a dad’s point of view and parts (only parts) of Laura Shanley’s book on unassisted birth. It may help your husband to talk directly to some men who have been present at unassisted births. That’s another thing I would suggest. Good luck!
    .-= Jennifer Margulis´s last blog ..Traveling Solo With the Wee Ones =-.

  27. This was the most inspiring story ever, my mucus plug came out last week and today some mucus was tinted with blood. So I’m expecting my daughter to be born in the next 24-48 hours and this story has given me alot of courage to do and unnassited birth 🙂 Thank you !!!

  28. Thanks. I cried, and smiled. I wanted to say something like you must be so proud – but really, of what, a perfect manifestation of life itself that so many women miss out on! I can’t wait to do it. Not sure yet if im going unassisted, but am taking this fully into my own hands and have trust in myself to do it! xx

  29. im so glad to read that i am not the only one to have crazy conversations with oneself during labor,your birth story made me laugh and excited for my next. our next baby number 7 will be a uc. can’t wait! last one was a homebirth after a lot of feet dragging by my husband, he is finally onboard with an unassisted childbirth.

  30. Oh my gosh, I cried! How beautiful!! Thank you for sharing this mama. You have such a beautiful family and I am sure your courage, strength, and trust are great pillars for them. We are planning our first UC and are expecting our little one in 3 weeks… send me strong mama vibes! 😉 CONGRATS!

  31. I totally agree w Jenn & respectfully disagree w you, Byron. It is not natural for a healthy pregnant woman to want to go to a germ-laden hospital for her birth! I know we’ve been fed a bunch of propaganda about hospital safety, but what intelligent woman would swallow that c**p? I am much more scared to go to a hospital to birth than to just stay home, where I’m in charge! Face it, the parents are responsible for the choices they make concerning their births. I cannot hand over that responsibility to a bunch of strangers, who have their own convenience or pocket as their bottom line, not the safety of me or my baby!

    Women have been having babies since Adam & Eve. Hospitals are a relatively recent invention. I consider it a failed experiment, for normal birth, there is a time & a place for all kinds of births, I’m not opposed to hospital births when it’s really needed! Why are the 3rd world countries, the ones w/o enough doctors, the ones who are over populated? Why does America spend more per capita than any other country, yet has the worse birth outcomes than any other developed nation? Surely it is evident we are doing something wrong, so why would anyone go to the hospital, like a sheep to slaughter, expecting a “normal” birth! Docs don’t learn normal birth in medical school, they learn pathology, and attempt to control to uncontrollable.

    For me, as for Jennifer, it would take a lot more courage to set foot in a hospital with a healthy pregnancy, than to stay home, assuming my baby & I were healthy! My nurturing, protective instinct is very high, so I do not engage in any risky behaviors, other than drive a car. I know how to prevent birth complications, including staying away from doctors (unless I am sick with something I can’t handle myself herbally)!

  32. While I prefer to have friends (most of whom are midwives or former clients) to help at my births, to unassisted births, I do, hands down, prefer homebirths! My uc births were hectic, lacking all the little comfort measures, that a few extra hands can supply, like giving sips of water between ctx, giving counter pressure, hot compresses, watching/feeding the other kids, taking pictures, doing laundry… oh so many little things that make labor so much more pleasant & enjoyable!

    As a midwife this is what I bring to the births, comfort measures & reassurance. I don’t catch babies, I tell them the husband put it in, he should take it out! And definately, the woman herself delivers the baby into her spouses loving hands, mine are busy holding washclothes, taking pictures (only if desired) & wiping poop! I find it hard to understand why anyone wouldn’t want a midwife at their birth?

  33. Thanks for sharing that! Your internal conversation is funny and a reminder that we all wonder whether we can really do it (birth) at some point during labor. Oh, and the thing about having an article to finish is totally hilarious! That was my exact thought in early labor!

    I gave birth completely solo, and therefore didn’t have the chance to yell “I can’t do this!” at anyone. I felt my labor progress, and knew everything was fine, but I did find myself wondering

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