Playful, elegant, and not above the judicious use of the word “shit."

The labor story, part two

Five years ago when I was experiencing postpartum depression with Leta I was actively seeing a therapist to try and talk my way up and out and through the darkness. This therapist is by far the best one I’ve ever seen, and I’ve recommended her to almost everyone I know. Have a hangnail? GO SEE THIS THERAPIST. She’s just totally no nonsense, out with it now, and will tell you exactly what you need to hear even if you don’t want to hear it. I cannot count the times she has rolled her eyes, shaken her head and said, “Well, Heather, if that wasn’t the stupidest thing you’ve ever done. Is it me, or do you just get dumber?”

One of the best pieces of advice she ever gave me was to hire a babysitter for a few hours a week so that I could take some time for myself, and that’s exactly what we did. Jon put an ad in the paper and we interviewed several potential candidates, and WOWEE was that ever an experiment in trying to keep our jaws from falling off our faces and bouncing on the floor. Some of the people who responded to the ad were just total nutjobs, people you would not trust with your pet rock let alone your infant, and I’m not even kidding, one woman casually mentioned that her sixteen-year-old daughter was pregnant and her eighteen-year-old son was in prison. BUT THAT’S NOT EVEN THE END OF IT. I guess she was excommunicated from the Mormon church because of some horrible indiscretions THAT SHE’D RATHER NOT TALK ABOUT. When all we asked was, “Tell us a little about yourself.”

Turns out that we hired the first person who responded to the ad, a delightfully fresh-faced eighteen-year-old named Katey who could speak in complete sentences and didn’t have a criminal record. I think I’ve mentioned her on this website a couple of times (let’s see, here and here and here). I even thank her in the acknowledgements section of my book for giving me the time that I needed to find the mind that I had lost. We loved how well she handled Leta, and Leta absolutely adored her. She worked for us for two years and then, well, I’m not going to get into too much detail, but things ended and there were tears and I think someone may have lost a limb and then there was that call from the president of Guyana and I had to go into hiding. The end.

And then about a year ago as my book deadline approached and my schedule starting getting crazier and crazier we realized that the only way anything was ever going to get done was by hiring someone to help out. So in June of 2008 The Blurbodoocery decided to hire its first employee, an assistant, and since I’d made amends with the government of Guyana through several months of arduous negotiations involving lawyers, heavy artillery, and one very cooperative Norwegian pole dancer (don’t ask), I called up Katey and asked if she’d like to quit the job she was working and come work for us. I may have actually pleaded, bribed, cried and/or clung to her leg. She agreed on one condition: that I pay her money. And I was all SOME PEOPLE! Can you believe the nerve?

And she’s been every bit the perfect employee we thought she’d be, managing everything from the schedule of my book tour to keeping our business lives organized to handling press inquiries. And you may be wondering why I haven’t yet mentioned her? Why has it taken this long? And here’s where I remind you about that one time I got fired for talking about work on my website. Remember that? Yeah, well, I’m still pretty tender in that area and think you should be very careful when you write about work on the Internet, whether you’re the employee or the employer, and since this was my first time being on the employer end I was all NO WAY NO HOW. Even now as I write this I feel like Elmer Fudd tiptoeing through the forest, like I’m about to step on a bomb or something, and what if Katey reads this, calls me into her office and says, “We need to have a talk.” And next thing you know I’m being walked to my car with all my belongings in a cardboard box.

All of this was a roundabout way of getting to the part last August when one afternoon she comes running into my office with a freshly-peed on pregnancy test, a spare one I’d had lying around, one whose box and instructions I had long thrown away. And her hand is shaking so badly that I can barely make out what line is going in which direction, and she’s all IS THIS POSITIVE?! And I’m all HOW SHOULD I KNOW, WHERE ARE THE INSTRUCTIONS? And she’s all ARMSTRONG, IF YOU WEREN’T PAYING MY SALARY I’D HIT YOU OVER THE HEAD WITH THIS THING.

So we immediately google pregnancy tests, and I look at her and she looks at me and I’m all I SURE HOPE YOU DON’T GET A SCREAMER.

That was six weeks before I got pregnant, and so here’s where we take a moment of silence to honor Jon and what he had to endure for the following nine months as he basically lived with two pregnant women. Double the complaining and bitching and neurotic pacing over the weight gain. Seriously, how do polygamists do it? I mean, at least Jon could drink. Polygamists not only do it willingly, THEY DO IT SOBER.

Anyway, Katey casually mentioned one day that she was thinking about trying to have a natural childbirth, and I was all, oh honey, that’s what we all say. And then we get hit with that one whammy contraction and realize that God made epidurals for a reason! Because I know so many women, myself included, who think in our first pregnancies that we’ll just “see how things go.” And that if we’ve overestimated our threshold for pain we’ll give in to the possibility of pain relief. Ha! No, let me restate that: HA! There is nothing in life that you can really compare to the pain of labor, NOTHING, so the “idea” of your threshold for pain is as useless as a piece of shit.

And I may have actually said those words to her. You know, because I’m encouraging that way. And then I finished that sentiment with YOU’RE TOTALLY FUCKING INSANE.

Except Katey did what many of us did not do during our first pregnancies: she prepared! She researched! She hired a doula! And not once did she mention any of this to me, not once did she ever try to preach to me or change my mind, and there I was shaking my head in my brain thinking THERE IS NO WAY she has any idea what she’s in for. So you can imagine her surprise when one day about three weeks before she was due she got a text message from me that said, “Hey… um… yeah… so… I think I want to try and have a natural childbirth.”

Her response was to call Jon and tell him that someone had stolen my phone and was texting her with it.

A couple of weeks later I get a frantic phone call from Katey’s mother at 7:30AM saying that she’s been at the hospital since midnight. She’d been having painful contractions all day, decided finally to head to the hospital, and when they took her blood pressure and found it to be dangerously high they put her on pitocin immediately to make sure labor continued. At this point I hear a noise in the background unlike any noise I have ever heard in my life, a combination of a growl, a roar, and a murderous yawping. I ask Katey’s mother if there is a lion in the room with them who is busily eating a rather talkative jackal while simultaneously groaning out a bowel movement.

Oh no, no lion, that’s just Katey in the background who has refused any and all pain medication.

Now, wait a minute.

She’s been at the hospital for how long? Almost eight hours. And how long has she been hooked up to pitocin? All eight of those hours. And how far dilated is she? A three.

A THREE? A THREE?

A THREE???????

For those of you familiar with labor and delivery you will understand why I capitalized those letters and used seven question marks. For those unfamiliar you should understand that when you’re in labor and you ask the nurse how far dilated you are, there’s only one right answer: TEN. All other answers are wrong because it means you’re not done yet.

Katey had SEVEN MORE CENTIMETERS TO GO. SEVEN. One, two, three…. do you see where I’m going with this? And she’d already been in hard, uncomfortable labor for eight hours, and then a day of awful contractions before that… who knew how long this could go on. It could go on for days. Maybe years. She could be the first person in the history of the world to labor FOREVER. YOU NEVER KNOW.

So I’m thinking, hey, I’ll take my time, eat my breakfast, take Leta to school and obey all traffic laws on my way up to the hospital with the idea that when I get there she’ll have progressed a few more centimeters. Except thirty minutes later the phone rings. And I don’t recognize the number. And when I say hello the person on the other end doesn’t say a word of English for a few sentences and then goes, “NINE!”

And I go, “I’m sorry, but you have the wrong number.”

And Katey’s mom goes, “HEATHER! SHE’S AT A NINE!”

Turns out that when they broke her water she dilated six more centimeters almost instantly, and there I am throwing on clothes, running red lights, parking like I’m blind, and hauling ass from the garage to the desk at labor and delivery. I tell them I’m there for Katey Kendall, and I’m not kidding, all four people behind the desk whip around and go, “Another one?”

Turns out there are more people in Katey’s delivery room than there are in the city of Boise, Idaho. No, really. Like hundreds of them. Every person she ever thought about being related to? They are in that room. And when I open the door there is not a word being said, not a noise being made, it is as quiet as the pause between words in a prayer. I turn my head to see a sweat-drenched Katey lying on the hospital bed surrounded by her sisters, and without even thinking, in the middle of all that silence I go, “YOU ARE A TOTAL FUCKING CHAMP!”

I think this is what my therapist would refer to as me getting dumber.

Just then a contraction hits Katey, and like a well-oiled machine her sisters jump into action. They are all pushing on her body at different strategic points, and as Katey growls and mumbles and digs down into her gut to survive the pain, everyone else is calling out from different corners of the room, “You’re doing it!” or “That’s awesome!” or “Keep it up!” The cheering and pushing and growling continue for what seems like a couple of minutes, what must have seemed like eternity for Katey, and when it’s apparent that the contraction has ended, the room immediately sinks right back into silence. No one talks. Every single person is focused on Katey’s next move.

This goes on for another hour and a half, because even though she is dilated to a nine a lip has formed at the cervix and is refusing to budge. Katey is miserable, her hair is completely soaked with sweat, and you can hear that her vocal chords are shredded from all the groaning. At one point during a contraction she yells, “Please! PLEASE! JUST HELP ME!” And I want to cry, her mother is bawling, and everyone else is cheering, “You can do this! YOU’RE DOING THIS! HANG IN THERE!”

The rest of this story goes like many other birthing stories, because when it was time to push she pushed like a champion, and I happened to be one of the lucky ones in the room to have a view of the baby as she came out, first her head and then her right arm came flying out, like, “Ta da! Here I am!” And then everyone in the room started crying. They named her Lily Blanche.

But what I guess makes this story quite different than any other birth I’ve personally attended or seen is the reverence with which every single person in that room treated the experience. It was like church in there, and for the hour and a half that I witnessed it, I just couldn’t believe it. It almost didn’t seem real. And as much as it was Katey’s experience and everything that she had hoped it would be, it’s what she gave to the rest of us that I won’t ever forget. Because we all had to come together, all four hundred and eighty of us, for her. We all gained something incredible from forming that community around her.

And the courage that she showed, the endurance, the sheer power of getting through contraction after contraction, I was just so inspired, so touched to be so close to something so primal and raw and vulnerable as she was during those hours, so thankful that she let me be a part of it. And I knew I would never be the same person after having witnessed it.

I got home about an hour later, my face a mess of tears and snot, and told Jon, “I can’t wait to give you what that birth just gave me.”

….

Part three, the final installment, coming soon. Right now I’ve got a cute baby who is giving all her smiles to Jon, and that’s just not at all fair.

  • I got to the end of this post and realized I had been holding my breath. I know exactly what you mean about the reverence and the experience–I was lucky enough to be with my sister through the labor of both of her daughters, and it was an amazing experience, both times.
    Your words take me right back there.

  • Helen

    I had the privilege of being present (and useful) at two home births. Miracles, really. It’s hard to describe to those who haven’t taken part, but those of us who’ve been there share a secret code.

  • Hagerdash

    Dear #72 Bohemian Lamb ~

    You are special and deserving, and I am so sorry that those people overlooked a wonderful employee because of their judgment. I judge too and may have felt tempted to do the same thing, but I will be very careful about this and take great care to ensure that I really evaluate my judgment and give people a chance because of what you shared. You are awesome.

    Cheers.

  • First time commentor here. Thank you for sharing Katey’s story. I am so in awe of her pushing out her baby with Pitocin and all. I have had 3 babies with no drugs. The first two were in the hospital. I understand now, years later, why my midwife–who has witnessed thousands of births–thanked me afterwards for what I gave her. I remember a nurse crying tears of joy because she had never seen a natural birth.

  • By soon I hope you mean soon. Because I am 8 weeks from my due date, and you may be changing my mind about the epidural. And I am getting impatient in the way only an irritable pregnant woman can be.

  • Kristen Iness

    Loved this story, and my god that baby is beautiful.

  • I love reading this blog because of posts like this, where you give it to us straight up. I don’t think I encountered one pregnancy/childbirth book that really addressed all the crazy shit that can happen in labor.

    My wife’s labor didn’t go smoothly at all. You really never know with your first how things are going to progress. She labored for 23 hours, the last four spent in pushing. Though she never asked for medication, she finally needed an episiotimy and vacuum assist to help get our little boy out. It was a nightmare, and we’re still not totally over the trauma. You can read about it at http://daddytobe.wordpress.com/2009/06/07/labor-part-1/

  • I quoted you on my blog because I don’t think anyone’s ever said it better.

    “There is nothing in life that you can really compare to the pain of labor, NOTHING, so the “idea” of your threshold for pain is as useless as a piece of shit.”

  • your sharing never disappoints. Young women like you & Katey give me hope for this worlds future.
    & I love the name Lily Blanche too.

  • First I laughed, then I cried. Beautiful.

  • Wow,
    Katey and Lily are beautiful.
    I laughed and I cried.

  • genevieve

    this may be one of your best posts EVER.
    can’t wait to hear part 3.

  • Katie

    That is absolutely one of the most amazing stories I’ve heard. Thank you to Katey for letting you share it. And thank you for writing it so beautifully.

    I have probably been scared of childbirth since I was old enough to know about it. And as scary as that story is, I think I can do it now.

    Thank you.

  • This is an amazing post. Thank you for sharing!

    Congratulations Katey, Lily is absolutely beautiful!

  • Amazing post Heather!
    Congrats Katey.. Lily is my favorite name 🙂 and she is absolutely gorgeous 🙂

  • ah, your writing makes me feel like i’m in your head experiencing everything you wrote. [hope i’m not too much of a bother while i’m there.]

    what a fantastic story about katey. welcome, lily blanche. you’re beautiful like your mama.

  • I bought the book. I read the book. I’m scared as hell, but also optimistic and excited. This is my 4th kid. Two of the three were… shall we say… nightmares. And now – I want to have/give that experience. Thanks for sharing.

  • At first I was a little disappointed that this wasn’t YOUR story, then I started tearing up and thought, damn she’s done it again! Thank you for sharing this experience and inspiring me to chose natural childbirth when the time comes!

  • Absolutely amazing! Never let that girl go. 🙂

  • I am so glad you were able to share this story. You told it beautifully… very inspiring, humbling, riveting….perfect.

    The baby is too cute. TOO CUTE. Hear me? You people are leaving burn out marks on the street with your cute babies.

    Nice work.

  • Jillian

    It’s always been my dream to have a baby naturally. Now I’m even more fired up. I’m sad to say that it will never happen, though. I was recently diagnosed with carcinoid cancer and while I can still have a baby, they have deemed me high risk and I will have to have a c-section when the time comes. Bummer in more ways than one.

    Thank you for this story!

  • I’ve been reading for a while now, since you got pregnant with Leta, but I HAD to comment finally. This January my best friend allowed me to witness the birth of her second son- her first she had an epidural, and with this birth she wouldn’t even let them break her water. And oh my gosh, you are not kidding- the awe you feel, watching someone experience unmedicated labor, transition, and pushing, is just mind blowing.
    I had two kids naturally myself, and after awhile I’d forget the magic slightly and think to myself, “Maybe next time I’ll sign up for that epidural after all.” After I watched my friend, though, I knew I had to feel that miracle again, pain and all. Thank you for sharing. And thanks to Katey for letting all, what was it, four hundred and seventy, of you share her experience!

  • Shannon

    In response to
    “Ye gods, this topic is totally worn out. Women squat in fields in other countries. They would read this stuff and laugh their asses off. What is the big frigging deal?
    JJ”
    I think it’s because all you ever seem to hear about giving birth is along the lines of, “You are split in two and want to die. The end”. Everyone is so intent on getting that magical epidural they don’t even begin to think they might not need it ! Does it hurt, yes… but it’s PAIN with A PURPOSE and that makes such a difference. I was 26 when I had my son. I read “What to expect when your expecting” and that was about the extent of my preparedness for childbirth. I had horrible toxemia so I could not even attend Lamaze classes. I had a 24 hour labor that started at 6 am, went to the hospital, was only at 2 cm so I went back home and breathed through my contractions, had an extra hard contraction at 7 pm I couldn’t breath through, back to hospital to find I was at 7 cm, pitocin & natural delivery. I hard pushed for 3 hours. I was in a time tunnel… I thought it was about 45 minutes. My eyes were closed and everything was shut out. Breathing & pushing were all I could manage. The doctor on call (my OBGYN was on vaca) said I did fantastic and couldn’t believe it was my first baby. The nurses jaws dropped. After he left they said that was the only time they had ever heard that hard ass say anything like that LOL ! I still feel, even after beating cancer, that giving birth naturaly was the most rewarding experience of my life. I had a job to do and I kicked butt ! Regret ? Wish I had a video for my own personal viewing because I missed the whole thing.
    HEATHER-Thank you for sharing your stories, your posts touch SO MANY and it’s great to get alternate views. I don’t always agree but I look forward to seing your point of view. I like to think I am open minded :O)

  • stacy

    You tell these stories very well, and I enjoy reading them, and I hope they help women make informed birth choices.

    But just a word. There was nothing magical or spiritual or magical about my second child’s 100% natural birth. Even compared to the awful c-section I had for Baby #1. There is no such thing as a universal experience. I attached all this MEANING to a natural birth with the second baby…but it was totally irrelevant when it was over. It wasn’t a tearfully inspiring experience. It was just something I got through, you know?

    I don’t know. Doing it without meds (or in my case, at home without meds) isn’t always a guaranteed amazing emotional experience. I think it’s important that new moms know that.

  • This post, you, your writing, your energy- SO FANTASTIC.

  • Svaha

    10 isn’t always the magic number. Below is a link to a blog about my youngest daughter and the labor my ex went through.

    *insert disclaimer about my prose not being anywhere as flowing and captivating as yours*

    http://blogs.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.ListAll&friendId=72210430&page=25

    Congrats and best wishes to Katey & Lily! (you must have a strict photogenic clause in your hiring contract for employees and the future progeny, they are both beautiful 🙂

  • Heather…I’ve read you for years. But I must say that you seem to have transformed yourself after having Marlo. There is something different about you…lighter, happier, more expressive. It’s such a joy to read your posts these past few weeks. Congrats to Katey and Lily (lovely blue eyes). I can’t say I’d do natural ever, but I’m all for women doing whatever is best for them. Can’t wait to read your birth story!

  • This is why we keep going back time and time again.

    Well, that and being ridiculously fertile and equally careless.

    And Lily Blanche? Looks just like her gorgeous Mumma.

  • Wow, that was really beautiful. Brought me back to my own firstborn’s labor, although her delivery ended in emergency c-section.

    The only part that made me cringe was when you mentioned all the sister’s pushing on different parts of her body-I remember so vividly how much I did NOT want to be touched and how ‘sweetly’ I told my hubby just that!Cant wait to hear the rest!
    Just saw the pic of the day, and you both look great!take care!

  • That’s one beautiful baby.

  • Wow lady, you can write! Love this post. And Katey rocks. I’ve done some physical stuff in my day (triathlon) but nothing comes close to that.

  • khajha

    awww! lily blanche – that was my great grandmother’s name. love love love it.

  • Kathy

    Doulas = All the Difference

  • Erin

    Oh, how I related to Katey’s experience. I had a pain med-free birth, too, but at around hour 18 of labor, my doctor ordered pitocin, because my contractions had stalled too many times. Plus, I’m a beta strep carrier, so there was the risk of infection to contend with. To be honest, the previous 18 hours of labor had been pretty manageable, but when the pitocin kicked in–hoo boy. I made it through, thanks to breathing right, the hot tub and sheer determination. Then, it was another six hours–no, I’m not kidding, SIX HOURS of pushing in every conceivable position–before our beautiful baby girl was born. She had a mild case of pneumonia from the beta strep, but fortunately it cleared up right away.

    So, yeah, I feel like I can do pretty much anything now.

  • amy

    KATEY ROCKS!!! And such a gorgeous little baby Lily 🙂

    Seriously, Katey should be sainted or something. I had pitocin, and when they broke my waters they might as well have stabbed me repeatedly with a blunt fork. EVERYWHERE. Epidural please!

    When I had my twin girls it was awesome. Totally bearable labor in the shower at the hospital. Two and a half hours later they had both arrived. (Only miserable part was the nine minutes the doc had his hand in my womb turning the breech twin b.)

    Looking forward to hearing about YOUR birth story! Margo is seriously delicious.

  • jen

    i think i love that the second part of your birth story … was kinda all about someone else’s. and a beautiful birth story at that.

  • I love that you have Katey. She seems to round out the whole crazy Armstrong thing, and I just love it. I want to come by and have coffee and watch the whole Armstrong world unfold.

  • Thank you so much for sharing that.

    Makes me wish *I* knew you so you could write about my labour. Whenever it is that happens.

    Thanks.

  • Great story. I can’t wait for part 3!

  • Katey, welcome to OUR world. I feel slightly…I dunno…sad that we are just now hearing of you, but it’s awesome to have another “character” to hear about, relate to, etc..You are awesome.
    And Heather, thanks for this story. It got my attention…if you know what I mean. Food for thought…

  • Sage

    Hello. I’m Lily and I can blow a spit bubble. What can you do?

  • I enjoy your writing and say ‘amen’ to that experience. I think an unmedicated birth helped me prove to myself that ‘I can do hard things’ and then of coarse surviving newborn baby stage is another testament even if I have now officially aged 20 years from it

  • I LOVE hearing people’s labor stories! They are all so different and none less amazing than any other. I gave birth a month ago and I couldn’t get enough stories before having my son, and now that I’ve had him, I still love to read other people’s stories. I am in awe that we bring forth life in this crazy, messy way. Thanks for sharing!
    I’ve posted my story (also in three parts – it’s tough to get anything done in one sitting with a newborn!) at http://www.cassylee.wordpress.com.

  • HMFT

    Oh my GOD. I love this site. I love what you write. And I in no way want you to take this wrong.

    I wanted, more than anything, to have this kind of birth experience with Joe, my second husband and the man I am absolutely, 110% meant to spend the rest of my life with. I wanted this kind of birth. I KNEW HE WOULD BE the best coach. KNEW THIS.

    I had an emergency c-section. It shocked and terrified the everloving shit out of me. I am talking about a terror so deep that it paralyzed me. Tears…blood-drained face…eyes like a trapped animal…

    BUT! My son is alive and well. And Joe was wonderful, and amazing, and strong, and OMIHELL he looked good in scrubs.

    And when I read what you just wrote, it tears my heart to pieces. You are so very, very fortunate to have been a part of another woman’s birth experience, one so powerful. And I eagerly await part three of your story. Never forget how fortunate you and Jon are : )

  • Aww she is gorgeous (both baby and mother)! Thank you so much for sharing that story! I seriously admire Katey…I don’t know that I could ever have that kind of strength and courage, should my day ever come.

  • Starr

    Sometimes, I can be batshit crazy and long to be pregnant again. Especially after stories like this. Thank goodness we are 99.9% sure I will never get pregnant again. At least, not by my husband. 😛
    Thanks, babe. My second was born all natural too. What a ride, huh?

  • Wow that was some story! I wonder if it was one of those moments where you had to be there because as someone who was not there, it sounds very painful and a bit gruesome and I don’t think I would have come home all pumped up on a natural birth at all after that…I can’t wait to read part three, maybe I will understand more after that.

  • I don’t know what it is about your writing that makes me:
    a) See you have a new post and get excited
    b) Put the kettle on
    c) Make sure I’m comfy, cosy and ready for what you might say
    d) Groan when it’s finished because I know I have to wait for the next episode

    It’s like my favourite TV show but cruel as it’s shorter …

    Congrats to Katey, she has a beautiful baby … First you tip-toe around introducing her on your blog and then you describe her labour in great detail … ;0)

  • Kate

    Reading about your birth experience is making me seriously consider going natural for my next baby. Which is quite the feat since I scoff at my friends who don’t get drugs and I proudly had a shot of some mystery drugs as well as two epidurals when I had my son. Your power is great. And a little scary.

  • Glorious.
    Thank you for taking us along at that journey and for introducing us to Katey. What an introduction!!
    She and Lily are gorgeous babes.
    I can see how you would be totally inspired, uplifted, and girded by Katey’s strength and lioness growling.
    I had a similar experience watching my baby sister give birth to my niece.
    It changed my life forever.
    Thank you, Heather!