"So, how long are you going to stay at home for?"
"For as long as I possibly can," I said confidently.
"And why are you coming to the hospital?"
"Just so you can deliver my baby."
It was the same Pop Quiz from my doctor each visit throughout my pregnancy. And I would always wonder: "Does he remember asking me the same question just two weeks ago?"
It wasn't until that hot July afternoon -- when I was in full-blown labor, with each contraction deepening and lengthening -- that I realized his repeated questioning had been designed to remind me in this moment of my strength and courage. And for good reason: we all need to be reminded of how strong and courageous we can be in challenging situations.
"They just keep coming and coming!" My contractions were now one minute long and less then three minutes apart.
"Oh, yes they do," said my doula, who had been helping me labor at our apartment in Brooklyn. "I think it's time to call a cab," she shouted out to my husband.
Each contraction came like a wave, rising suddenly and fiercely and nearly sweeping me off my feet. Then, a calm and quiet moment would surface and the intensity within my body dissolved. Those sweet spaces were like pockets of fuel. I was so grateful when they arrived and was able to let them go feeling empowered.
We crawled into the cab slowly and quickly rolled down the windows. I was sitting in the middle, my doula to the right and my husband to the left. Although their presence was comforting I wasn't remotely comfortable. It was more than 100 degrees outside and I was generating a decent amount of heat on my own.
I crouched forward and poked my head through the sliding window to the front of the cab so I could catch the faint air from the AC -- a position that gave me an unobstructed view of the road and a feeling of being in control.
As each wave entered my body full force I worked to welcome the pain rather then expend my energy wishing it away; I had been practicing and teaching mindfulness and yoga for years and knew the principles I embraced in my day-to-day life would serve me well during my labor.
Despite the intensity of the situation, I generally felt pretty calm and detached. That is until, in my open view of the road ahead, I saw a large orange "CLOSED" sign by the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge.
"Oh no!" I shouted out as I was abruptly yanked from my calm state of gratitude and welcoming. "Are you kidding me? I'm going to have the baby in this car if we can't get over this bridge," I cried in fear. "We need to get out of this cab and get on the subway!"
Tears started to flood in and the heat outside became suffocating. I lost my inner peace, and all I could feel was pain, pain, and more pain. I started to panic.
"My baby's birth certificate is going to have New York City cross streets on it!"
My imagination was running wild and I was creating all sorts of undesirable future outcomes. Yet, the only thing that was real and true was we needed a different route to the hospital. It's amazing how the mind can instantaneously take us from peace and calm to fear and angst over something as simple as a street sign.
Too involved in my mind-made catastrophe, I didn't even notice my husband directed the driver through some side streets and into the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, where traffic was moving smoothly to Manhattan.
Within a few minutes we were dropped off at the hospital entrance and my mom, who was waiting patiently for my arrival, greeted me with a big smile.
Suddenly, I realized where I was and woke up. "Oh, HERE I am," I thought.
As I was waiting behind closed curtains for a doctor I started to refocus my attention back to my breath. Then, just as the next contraction surged through my body, knocking me over into my husband's arms, the curtain pulled open.
"Hello there, it looks like you're in a lot of pain," said the doctor who would be evaluating me in triage. "Would you like an epidural?"
I turned to my husband and didn't say a word, but my eyes were wide open, filled with shock. "Seriously, is this the first question I'm being asked? Who is this woman and doesn't she have a copy of my Birth Plan?!"
Although I know there are many situations where medicine and other means are required to help women deliver their babies, it was my intention to have a natural birth, if possible. And the reason I was encouraged to labor at home was so that when I got to the hospital all I had to do was push. As outlined in my Birth Plan, an epidural was not supposed to be offered, only given at my request.
"Give me a minute," I said. "I need to think about it."
I had come this far and felt deep down I could have a natural childbirth. All caveats aside, women have been doing this for thousands of years, right? Well, the problem was now I began to "think" that I had been given the option to relieve the discomfort because perhaps I wasn't strong enough.
Once again I found myself drifting off into that dangerous place -- my imagination. Then it happened: the words, "I don't think I can do this" slipped right out of my mouth. The very statement I shun become my mantra. I shouted it all the way to the labor and delivery room.
I was exhausted, scared, and confused all at the same time. One of the delivery room doctors was now examining me and revealed I was 9 centimeters dilated but my water hadn't broke, which was causing me significant pain.
"We're going to have to break your water before you can push, but it will be more painful," he said. "Did you decide if you wanted that epidural?"
"More pain?! I cannot do more pain," I replied. "Just give me the epidural then!"
Then, just as fear rushed in, my ears perked up. It was as if an angel had floated in and whispered in my ear.
"Go with it. Just go with it girl," said a soft-spoken nurse in my room.
I muttered back "Just go with it?"
"That's right, just go with it," she repeated with an undulating and calming tone.
I felt the truth of those words and allowed them to replace the fearful mantra that had me feeling weak.
"Go with it. Just, go with it," I repeated.
Soon after the doctor left to get the epidural, a new doctor that would soon deliver my baby entered the room.
"Hello Lisa, what's this I hear? You want an epidural?" she said.
"I was thinking about it," I said in tears.
"You don't need an epidural honey," she said, knowing I was almost fully dilated. "Sit down on the bed, why don't I take a quick look at you?"
I shimmied myself on the table and before I could even say a word she broke my water. "Oh, look at that! Your water broke. Now go ahead and push dear."
Scared and confused I stared directly into her eyes and... did nothing.
"You can push now," she said. "It'll feel a lot better, I promise."
So, I did. I pushed with all my heart. And she wasn't kidding. The unsuspected relief that came was shocking to say the least. I thought pushing would be the most difficult part, but apparently I had already made it to the top of the hill.
Each wave that arose was an opportunity for me to hop on and go with the energy rushing through my body. I welcomed each new contraction and rode them from my core all the way down and out through my toes.
I wasn't clear how far along I was or how much further I needed to go, but it was the first time I felt in complete control. I was connected to each cell of my body and those pockets of space swallowed me whole. Everything within and without was alive.
"You're almost there," she said.
But I knew I was already there.
"It's a girl!" they shouted.
An indescribable joy filled my heart as I looked down at my arms and saw the beautiful gift that just came through me.
She is courage, strength and ability. She is me and she is also you.