A water birth story

March 10 | Guest post by Ashby Bartke

Some of you may remember Jesse Bartke's post about he-nesting as he waited for his son. Here's his partner Ashby's story of their water birth!

Ashby and Jesse welcome their son, Miles

"You look beautiful when you’re in labor,” I heard my midwife say from somewhere far away. Looking back now, I wish I had been present enough to thank her, to smile or to even recognize that I heard her words. I did hear them, somehow, from the soft blue place I floated. I heard them but they hovered somewhere outside me, like the lights and the noises in the hallway and everything except my belly and my breath and the water.

I floated through my labor, literally and figuratively. I spent seven hours in a big round tub, making my own waves as each contraction made waves through my body. I rolled sideways and clung to the edge and kicked against the pain and swayed in the wake and then floated again. I sank deeper and deeper into the water, into the tub and into myself as my baby kicked hard to come to the surface and I dove down to meet him.

On “land” while I waited for my cervix to dilate enough to get into the tub (5 cm), I had paced the floor and rocked on the edge of the bed, breathing hard and finally seeking refuge in the hospital shower, where I closed my eyes and pretended I was swimming. I moved quickly, racing the pain in my bare feet and hospital gown, mentally urging my uterus to contract, murmuring “open, open” to my cervix each time another contraction swelled.

I knew, somehow, that the water would make everything right, so I begged my body to move faster, to get me in that tub! My husband knew it too, and reminded the nurses often that I wanted the water. I felt strong and tough, maybe too much so. I fought against each contraction, struggling to find a way to bend my tense muscles around the pain.

Finally it was time to get into the water. Immediately my body melted, and instead of tightening against the waves, the rest of my muscles were soft and weightless and all I had to focus on was my womb, the center of everything.

Without having to think, I found the right way to breathe through each contraction and then, the moment that I suddenly knew breathing wasn’t enough anymore, to hum and then to moan and then to scream. I didn’t have to choose these things – it wasn’t about being brave or tough, it was just about being, period. The water showed me that right away.

From the moment I lowered myself into the water, my memory is a blur of murmured conversations and gentle hands and cranberry juice. I floated in an incredibly private place, naked in the water in a room full of people. I was barely aware of the things going on around me – my husband pouring warm water over me (and accidentally squirting my with the icy faucet), the nurses checking the baby’s heartbeat, my midwife whispering “she looks like the quintessential woman in labor, look how she floats in it!” It all found its way to my hormone-drunk brain, but by the time it got there it was diluted, dimmed and not very important anymore. I was somewhere else, somewhere primitive and dark and wet.

Why hello there, Miles!
When I think about my labor now, I sometimes picture myself in a sort of womb, experiencing the labor the way my son did – rosy darkness, warmth, the sound of water, the rush of blood pounding, the world shrinking and shrinking and shrinking around us and then, when we are barely there anymore, opening up again so we can breathe. We swim together through each wave, him pushing up towards the light at the surface, and me diving down to find him where it’s dark.

When I finally met my boy, I lifted him out of the water with pruned hands, and he opened his eyes and looked at me, and we were both surprised to find ourselves on land.

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  1. Beautiful. I'm 8 months along with my first baby and planning a water birth. I hope for an experience similar to this. Now, to wipe my tears and get back to work…

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  2. The more stories I read about water births the more I am considering it. Reading Ashby's story was one of the first that gave me reason to think it might be something that I could imagine doing myself.

  3. Well I loved the first time I heard your birth story and I love this one too! It sounds like a magical experience and makes me jealous that my labor was over before it really began. MAN I had wanted to labor in the tub after I'd read about your labor!

  4. Beautiful. I'm feeling particularly sensitive today, and this article made me tear right up.

  5. That gave me chills. Beautiful story. I loved how you mentioned that it was like experiencing birth how your baby experiences it….I will remember that for a long time.

  6. Beautiful account 🙂 It is nice to see positive, almost ethereal, birth stories when usually women are fed horror tales.

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  7. I delivered my son in our hospital tub, and I have to agree with so much of what you said. It was still dark out and we shut off all the lights, so just the hallway lights were flitering in, I could hear the soft murmur of voices, but don't really remember much of what was said. Moving with the contractions and floating in between. No "ring of fire" just a "I think I feel some stretching" and then there he was,warm and wet and peaceful up on my chest. Our hospital has since shied away form waterbirths, though we still use the tub for comfort during labor. I think it's a real shame.

  8. Ash, this was beautifully written as always. I can't wait to meet him. Love and more love for you and the boys.
    -your Seahorse.

  9. I delivered my son in our hospital tub, and I have to agree with so much of what you said. It was still dark out and we shut off all the lights, so just the hallway lights were flitering in, I could hear the soft murmur of voices, but don't really remember much of what was said. Moving with the contractions and floating in between. No "ring of fire" just a "I think I feel some stretching" and then there he was,warm and wet and peaceful up on my chest. Our hospital has since shied away form waterbirths, though we still use the tub for comfort during labor. I think it's a real shame.

  10. Beautiful! What a wonderful birthing account for us to share (and for Miles to have when he gets bigger!). Thanks.

  11. this is amazing, i'm crying at how beautiful your experience was, thank you for sharing this from a mum who wanted an experience like this, but ended up with pretty much the opposite!

  12. Beautiful–I love how you express every moment of it.
    Also, incredibly encouraging–when I think about trying to push and find my center while surrounded by sweaty cloth… I can't imagine doing it. I imagine wanting to just crawl out of my skin–I can't even tolerate a summer night in bed. Water birthing has always intrigued me because (exactly as you say) it's a sort of return to the beginning. What could be more comforting?
    Beautiful!

  13. Reading this post reminds me of my home waterbirth. You captured the beauty, serenity, and elation of this amazing birth experience. Thank you

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