the smell of my desperation has become a stench

The labor story, part one

I have sat down to write this post so many times and abandoned the effort because I didn’t know if I was going to be able to summon the words to describe what a sacred and spiritual experience labor was for me this time around. Yes. Sacred and spiritual. Words you never thought you’d hear from someone who can talk about breakfast cereal and hemorrhoids in the same sentence with the hemorrhoids being the part that didn’t make you throw up.

Up until about the 30th week of my pregnancy I hadn’t given labor much thought, only that I was going to ask for the epidural two days before contractions started. I’m not kidding, that was the extent of my birth plan. There was no need to experience any of the pain, I thought, especially since I had been through this before and I remember thinking that the pain was so awful that it was going to kill me. Give me the epidural and any other pain relief, maybe throw in a couple dozen shots of bourbon, oh and how about you just put me under general anesthesia and wake me up two days later. I’m not good with pain. I tend to complain and holler and call people regrettable things. It’s like the Hulk, only he’s on his period.

I was also under the impression, having never really researched the subject whatsoever, that any woman who would opt for a homebirth was not only COMPLETELY OUT OF HER MIND but also not interested in the safety of her unborn child. I mean, there’s a reason that infant and maternal mortality rates are so much better than a hundred years ago, right? HOSPITALS. And MEDICINE. And smart people we call DOCTORS. Yes, women routinely used to go out into the field by themselves and give birth without any assistance, and many of them routinely did not return BECAUSE THEY DIED.

But then out of no where the publishers of Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein’s book Your Best Birth sent me a copy, just like the publishers of many books send me copies of other books all the time. Internet, I have rooms full of books that publishers have sent me. ROOMS FULL. And I was just about to toss this onto the mountainous pile of ones I’d eventually drop off at Goodwill when, I don’t know, I flipped through a few pages and gave a full minute to one or two paragraphs. And those two paragraphs happened to be ones that really pissed me off. So much so that I read them aloud to Jon and said something like GOD, THOSE HIPPIES! or I BET THEY SMELL LIKE PATCHOULI!

You know, something totally open-minded.

Those paragraphs pissed me off so badly, in fact, that the one part of me that resembles my father the most — no, not the pointy chin or the metabolism or the absolute inability to watch a movie where everything goes wrong and the protagonist just keeps getting pummeled by life and I’m all MAKE IT STOP and then I have get up and actually leave the theater, no, none of those things — my righteous indignation, it flared up so magnificently that I sat down to read the whole book, just so that I could be angry at it. WHO DOES SHIT LIKE THIS? Me and Michael Hamilton, that’s who. Both he and I will go to our graves filled with an inordinate amount of unproductive anger, but a smile will mark our faces because we will feel so justified. So RIGHT.

And then, oh God, the worst thing happened. And I didn’t even see it coming, but I’m sitting there reading that book, gritting my teeth, shaking my head when all of a sudden it started to make sense. I started to see just how medicalized labor and birth have become in America AND THERE GOES MY WORLD VIEW.

I’m not going to get into the specifics and the really convincing and at times jaw-dropping statistics of it here, there are so many other places and people who can write about it better than I can, but I will say this: if you are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant, GO READ THAT BOOK. From now on when someone asks me what is the one piece of advice I would give to a pregnant woman, it will be: GO BUY A COPY OF THAT BOOK. Listen, I am not affiliated with that book in any way, I do not know Ricki Lake, she and I do not vacation in St. Tropez together (although if she’d like to come ride four-wheelers at my Mom’s cabin in Duchesne, Utah, THE OFFER STANDS), I do not owe that publisher any favors. But IT CHANGED MY LIFE. I’m not even kidding, I’ll say it again: IT CHANGED MY LIFE.

So then I watched the documentary Ricki Lake made, The Business of Being Born and that sealed it for me, I got my hands on everything I could read about natural childbirth. I read websites, forums, several other books including the excellent Birthing from Within, and then I talked to everyone I could find who had experienced birth without drugs. It just made a lot of sense to me, and after working through the specifics of what I went through when I was in labor with Leta — what I would call a classic example of a medicalized American labor and delivery minus the c-section — I decided that I wanted to have a natural childbirth this time. A very personal decision that made Jon go, HUH?????

And then he choked on those questions marks and fell over.

First, there were several obstacles to overcome. One, I had to convince Jon that I wasn’t crazy. I had done so much reading and research that I had gone from thinking homebirthing was NUTSO to wanting to push the baby out in the tiny tub we have in the bathroom next to the garage with no one in the room but Jon and a midwife. Oooh, and lots of candles!

But I knew Jon would never be okay with a homebirth, and since I was going to need his help getting through the pain of a drug-free labor even in a hospital setting, having him on board was critical. Two, what was my OBGYN going to do when suddenly the woman who was all EPIDURAL ON THE ROCKS, PLEASE! suddenly starting asking about the c-section rate at the hospital, and what was her policy on episiotomies? And this? And that? And, what do you know, she started fidgeting nervously, biting her lower lip, subtly shaking her head, and that was the quickest check-up I’d had the whole pregnancy!

Now, I really like my OBGYN. She’s the complete opposite of me, very cheery and all smiles, and I bet she was popular in high school, as in, when she thinks back on those four years she doesn’t SHIT HER PANTS like I do. And instead of writing her off as someone who would purposefully stand in the way of a natural childbirth and seeking out another doctor or midwife at such a late date, I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt.

And I’m glad I did, because she did nothing but encourage my plans throughout the subsequent check-ups.

And hoo-boy, there was planning. Because if I was remembering correctly there was a point in my labor with Leta when the pain had become so unbearable that I think I may have actually died, gone to Hell, and when Satan saw that it was me he was all, no, no, no, not that woman, I am not about to spend eternity with someone so crass that they would casually talk about duck farts while I’m eating small children for breakfast. Send her back!

I was going to need to prepare myself for the pain, mentally, physically, and emotionally, and surround myself with a team of people who could help me through it. So I hired a doula, and then I gathered the people who were going to be with me during labor and we worked through what I wanted and how to make that happen. Mind you, I went into this knowing fully that what I wanted to happen could be completely derailed by any sort of crisis concerning me or the baby. Making it out alive with a healthy baby was my top priority, of course, but if there was no need for pitocin or an epidural or intravenous drugs or a vacuum or forceps or an oxygen mask or an emergency c-section, then that’s what I wanted.

And really, that’s not a lot to ask.


Jon just walked in with Marlo and my milk came in so hard that it exploded all over the keyboard. Imagery! And I just realized how long this post is already, and I haven’t even gotten to the part where I asked our server at Outback Steakhouse if she’d be willing to cut the umbilical cord. Part two coming soon!

  • megan

    2009/07/13 at 3:48 pm

    OMG, am I first?? Ok, I’ll go read now. Finally!! 😀

  • adrienne

    2009/07/13 at 3:51 pm

    giving birth is a remarkable feat on it’s own, but to do it naturally is bigger than big. congratulations, you have everything to be proud of.

  • Megan

    2009/07/13 at 3:52 pm

    Wow! This is completely unexpected. I’m looking forward to hearing the story!

  • jennifer

    2009/07/13 at 3:53 pm

    I’m so excited to hear about the rest of your labor and Marlo’s birth. I had a natural birth too, and found it so empowering. Kind of crazy, but empowering. I think my husband might be scarred for life because of all the sounding I did, but it was an amazing experience. Cheers to you!

  • christine

    2009/07/13 at 3:54 pm

    Really looking fwd to the rest of this story – I know it’ll be good!

  • Rachel Shepard

    2009/07/13 at 3:54 pm

    Thank you, Dooce. From an official homebirth nutso – Thank you.

  • JIll Put Up A Blog

    2009/07/13 at 3:54 pm

    Seriously, I am like when I have a baby – “Give me the drugs” – I stink with pain, but what a remarkable story and inspiring. I am sure to, this being your second was less – unknown. Looking for part II:)

  • melissa

    2009/07/13 at 3:55 pm

    Oh how I’ve been waiting for this story!

  • Elisabeth

    2009/07/13 at 3:55 pm

    That documentary was AMAZING so I can only imagine how great the book is! Can’t wait to hear the rest of the story!

  • Dawn

    2009/07/13 at 3:55 pm

    Tuck your boob back in and finish the story!!! I can’t wait to hear more!!!!

  • JIll Put Up A Blog

    2009/07/13 at 3:56 pm

    Seriously, I am like when I have a baby – “Give me the drugs” – I stink with pain, but what a remarkable story and inspiring. I am sure too, this being your second was less – unknown. Looking forward to part II:)

  • Hokie Deb

    2009/07/13 at 3:56 pm

    –>They turned off the drugs for me after 40+ hours in labor.
    My husband being sensitive brought in hot wings from Hooters and stuff to make gin and tonics to the hospital.
    I don’t like gin and tonics. Ha!

    Marlo is as beauty.

  • Ashly

    2009/07/13 at 3:56 pm

    AWESOME!! I’ve been waiting for this. I can’t wait to read part II.

  • adventurekait

    2009/07/13 at 3:56 pm

    I was really looking forward to this story, and by golly it’s living up to my expectations. And also making my uterus hurt for baby. Thanks for that.

  • Milla

    2009/07/13 at 3:57 pm

    …sewing up the lady parts…

  • Noelle

    2009/07/13 at 3:57 pm

  • hoskas

    2009/07/13 at 3:58 pm

    I still get my share of the drugs though right, to take at my leisure? To help me get through those long nights of nipple burning loneliness.

  • Whitney

    2009/07/13 at 3:58 pm

    While I’m not planning on having children anytime soon, watching The Business of Being Born definitely made me rethink my views on natural birth. I can’t say for sure if I’d have one, but it was one of the most eye-opening documentaries I have ever seen. I’m looking forward to reading part two!

  • holly

    2009/07/13 at 3:58 pm

    I just found out I am pregnant. I had seen The Business of Being Born back in January and my husband and I were totally on board with home birth right then. We are in San Francisco and there is an incredible network of midwives and homebirth options here! Since our big news, I started thinking of my own labor and upon reflection I could sense that my will had flagged a bit, and I was seriously considering a hospital birth again. (but with the Midwife and a birthplan.) But after reading this I am back on board. Heading to to order those books right after I hit the send key here.

    Can’t wait to hear the rest… thanks!

  • Janette

    2009/07/13 at 3:58 pm

    I am waiting for the day when they find a happy medium between delivering at home with a midwife and delivering in a hospital numb from the chest down. I like the idea of a minimal-intervention birth, but I I don’t like the pain. I couldn’t handle it even if my life depended on it. I do want midwives to be able to administer epidurals while I lay in my bed at home. That would be awesome.
    I look forward to hearing the rest of the story. Congrats on the natural birth.

  • spelhouseLove

    2009/07/13 at 3:59 pm

    Thank you for sharing 🙂

  • Tara@Sticky Fingers

    2009/07/13 at 4:00 pm

    How did the whole labour (I’m British. I spell it correctly!) thing change so much since I had my girl just 3 short years ago?
    I would have loved to have gone down the doula/hypnobirthing route and am so pleased that it is becoming so much more ‘accepted’ and more and more women are looking into that option rather than the hospital’s usual ‘lie down here love in this unnatural, uncomfortable postion and do exactly as I say rather than what your body is telling you’.

  • Lisa

    2009/07/13 at 4:00 pm

    I haven’t had a baby and am totally terrified of going through childbirth.. I am very interested in how you did this!

  • No. 17 Cherry Tree Lane

    2009/07/13 at 4:02 pm

    I’m really looking forward to hearing about your labor story. I was told (even before I went into labor) that my child was going to be HUGE and would need to be taken out via C-section. It was the “only option”.

    She was only 8 pounds.

    I have felt robbed (cant think of a better word) since then and always a little disappointed. Yes….disappointed that I wasn’t able to feel the horrendous pain.

    Since I had her, I have watched that documentary and am now going to buy the book you recommended.

    Thanks Dooce,

  • No. 17 Cherry Tree Lane

    2009/07/13 at 4:02 pm

    I’m really looking forward to hearing about your labor story. I was told (even before I went into labor) that my child was going to be HUGE and would need to be taken out via C-section. It was the “only option”.

    She was only 8 pounds.

    I have felt robbed (cant think of a better word) since then and always a little disappointed. Yes….disappointed that I wasn’t able to feel the horrendous pain.

    Since I had her, I have watched that documentary and am now going to buy the book you recommended.

    Thanks Dooce,

  • Jessie

    2009/07/13 at 4:02 pm

    Yay for natural childbirth! I’m glad the experience was so wonderful for you.

  • Britt

    2009/07/13 at 4:03 pm

    Although my 2nd child’s birth was NOT planned to be “natural” it ended up that way and I was so glad it did. First, that I survived the pain and second, the bonding and recovery were so much better it was all worth it. I am really excited for you. You can do ANYTHING!

  • Nicole

    2009/07/13 at 4:03 pm

    You’re a rock star. Can’t wait to hear the rest of the story.

    Me and my 5 month pregnant self are headed to the bookstore to pick up a copy of the book you mentioned.

  • blakspring

    2009/07/13 at 4:03 pm

    I love the idea of a natural birth but I’m sure I’d chicken out when push came to shove. You are a brave woman Heather. Can’t wait to read Part Two

  • Allyn

    2009/07/13 at 4:04 pm

    I can’t wait to hear the rest. I’m trying to get pregnant, and watched the documentary and was amazed by all the info in it (including my old ob/gyn!). I’ll definitely check out the book once we get some action over here!

  • The Blushing Hostess

    2009/07/13 at 4:04 pm

    It needs to be the way your heart guides you. I was all hospital and pain killers, but you need to bring that baby in with your best mental foot forward and I am glad you found your path, assuming this was it…

  • Laurel

    2009/07/13 at 4:05 pm

    Um, Heather? I sent you my book because I thought you might enjoy it. I don’t even have a publisher. Please don’t take it to Goodwill. 🙂

  • Devon

    2009/07/13 at 4:06 pm

    I totally respect your decision, and although the pain sounds, um, HORRIFYING, I hope that I am as brave as you are when it’s my turn to make those decisions.

  • Kelsey

    2009/07/13 at 4:06 pm

    Can’t WAIT to read the rest. I had both my kids at a birthing center in a tub full of water. It was awesome. Oh, and FYI: I wear make-up, dye my hair, and shave. Everything.

  • Katie

    2009/07/13 at 4:06 pm

    um, the story was just getting good! come back! I can’t wait to hear how it turns out.

  • Becca

    2009/07/13 at 4:07 pm


  • Vintage Kids' Books My Kid Loves

    2009/07/13 at 4:08 pm

    Oh my God… i so hope this story ends the way i think it does. Seriously, I am crying right now with goosebumps up and down my arms. Four years ago my little one came into the world… and the only drug I popped were two Advil when it was over… It was the most amazing, incredible, sacred thing that has ever happened to me…

    Please let this story end good. If someone like Heather can help women stand up and not be afraid. Afraid like everyone tells us we are supposed to be…. the doctors, books, media… other women… then the world will be a better place indeed.

    I am so proud of you. Even if it you didn’t see it through to the end, the fact that you even opened your mind to it is a miracle.


  • Julie

    2009/07/13 at 4:08 pm

    6 months pregnant here, and have been telling everyone that I have been practicing for drugs like an epidural my whole life, and that I have two arms, so if they can run drugs through 2 I.V.s…um, yeah…let’s do that. Now I will probably read this book and start wearing Birkenstocks. Lord.

  • mamagale

    2009/07/13 at 4:08 pm

    I’ll admit right up front: I’m a Mormon Mom of Many. Take that for what it’s worth, but I had 8 children with NO medication (the first one only because I got to the hospital too late for them to give in to my pleas for drugs)and my recoveries were faster, our babies were alert, I could get up and go to the bathroom BY MYSELF and feel human. And I could get right to the good part immediately: cuddling that sweet new baby! So, in conclusion, I just want to say: Right ON Sister! (didn’t intend to rattle on-just passionate about the subject)

  • Yolanda

    2009/07/13 at 4:09 pm

    Sacred and spiritual. I know exactly what you mean. I have never felt as connected and centered with my body as when I labored and delivered my daughter without drugs (two years ago last Thursday). I am so excited to read the rest of this story. Once again I found myself welling up in anticipation.

    Ricki Lake (or her publisher) has done an amazing thing by sending you that book. Your story is going to hit the ears of millions of women who know your story and know how unlikely a choice natural birth would seem to be for you. But because of you, millions of women are going to find out what a gift it is to themselves as Mothers, regardless of what debate their is about the benefits (and my personal belief is there are many) to babies.

  • Wavybrains

    2009/07/13 at 4:09 pm

    I respect you so, so, so much for admitting that you changed your mind. And then you did something about it. At 30 weeks pregnant. You ROCK.

    I can’t wait to hear about the rest of the story, and I’m particularly interested for any emerging insights on how the difference in labor has on PPD.

    (And your post last week on your PPD this time around rocked big time too. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.)

  • Elaine Benes

    2009/07/13 at 4:09 pm

    Oh no Dooce, say it isn’t so!

  • Jessie Leigh

    2009/07/13 at 4:09 pm

    Good God. Home births TERRIFY me. I’m looking forward to the rest of the story.

  • Milo

    2009/07/13 at 4:10 pm

    Who are you and where’s Heather?
    Meh, I don’t judge, you could’ve thrown up the baby, it would still be your beautiful Marlo, and I’d still love you and your blog.

  • Darcy

    2009/07/13 at 4:10 pm

    Holy crap, what a turnaround! Awesome! I went through that same obsessive researching when I was pregnant with my 2nd, and then STILL ended up with an epidural, just because (I later realized) my body really isn’t happy being in a foreign place like a hospital when it’s trying to give birth. Baby number 3 was born at home with a midwife, and it truly was overwhelmingly beautiful and spiritual.

  • Amanda

    2009/07/13 at 4:12 pm

    I had the most medical intervened birth possible (aside from c-section) with my first born and went on to have an AMAZING home birth with my second. If I have any more children (and barring any unforeseen medical issues) I will be having them at home as well.

    Also, I possess the righteous indignation, read it to piss me off gene as well. I mean…that’s why I read your blog.

    I kid, I kid.

  • Amanda

    2009/07/13 at 4:13 pm

    Congratulations, Dooce! It is an AMAZING thing to say that you gave birth naturally. I did the same thing, just three months ago to a beautiful baby girl. (So, I am very much enjoying seeing your pictures and am really missing that newborn stage…it goes by so quickly.) I NEVER would have thought that I would have been able to do it…I cry at papercuts. And, EVERYONE thought I was crazy for wanting to go without drugs. People kept saying, “No one is going to give you an award for giving birth without an epidural.” No, I didn’t get an award, but I got a very beautiful baby girl who was extremely alert from the start and was breastfeeding within minutes. And, I tell EVERYONE I see that I gave birth to her without drugs. And, I also plan on holding it over her head until she’s 52.

    I didn’t read the Ricki Lake book, but I watched the video, and while some of it is extremely biased, I’m glad that I read it. Another good one (that is extremely hippy) is Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin. I would recommend that any pregnant woman read something on natural childbirth so that they can make an informed decision on something that is so important.

    Congrats again, and can’t wait to read Part 2…Part 3…and Part 4….

  • Lulu

    2009/07/13 at 4:13 pm

    holy CRAP that was educational. MAYBE I’ll consider a home birth. in a million years.

  • Summer

    2009/07/13 at 4:13 pm

    Holy crap! I was so drawn into the story and then it was over! Can’t wait for part two! I didn’t see this coming at all!

  • Jana

    2009/07/13 at 4:14 pm

    Your bursting mammary ducts leaves me hungry fo’mo! tell marlo to hurry on up as i can’t wait to read the rest. and as long as you had a bikini wax, homebirth crunchiness and unmedicated labors are all good. 😉

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Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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