I can think of the two most vulnerable places I have been—the Birth Center and the psychiatric hospital. I wouldn’t have anticipated them being so similar, but somehow the experiences have become connected in my memories. I arrived at one because I wanted to end my life and arrived, six years later, at the other because a new life was about to begin.


I chose an unmedicated birth for my second baby. When I sat down with my doula at our first prenatal visit, she asked me,

“Why do you want to do it this way?”  

“I’m not really sure,” I answered.

“You have to have your reason, your why,” she said, “Or you won’t do it.”

I guess I’d call it a little bit of tough love. She’d worked with so many women before me, so I took her gentle admonition to heart. I pondered the rest of the day, the rest of that week. Why? Why did I want an unmedicated birth?

As I neared my due date during my first pregnancy, my biggest fear was the pain of labor and the possibility of a failed epidural. I listened to podcast after podcast episode of birth stories, and I couldn’t comprehend why anyone in their right mind would choose an unmedicated birth.

I got to the hospital at four centimeters, got the epidural easy peasy, relaxed and joked around for several hours without feeling a thing—even tried to sleep but was too excited—and then had to be told that it was time to push.

I pushed and, although utterly exhausting, it didn’t hurt. The hospital staff was kind and never pressured me into anything I didn’t want to do (like I’d been told they might) and they didn’t threaten a c-section when I hit the three hour mark while pushing. (Baby’s heart rate never faltered.)

After Auden’s ginormous head finally emerged and the rest of his little body wriggled out of mine, they put him on my chest and we enjoyed the first hour there together, forgetting to text my mom and mother-in-law that “all was well” until rather too late. It was a lovely painless birth and I highly recommend it.

So why did I want to do it any differently? Why did I switch to a Birth Center where there were no epidurals and “pain” was the only option?

I came up with all sorts of reasons.

Because I didn’t want to push as long.

Because I didn’t want to be so swollen with so many fluids post birth.

Because I didn’t want to push on my back.

Because supposedly overall recovery could be better.

Because I wanted to pursue birth education and doula work and it would give me perspective.

Because I no longer liked the practice I was currently at after being administered the wrong vaccine.

But none of those things were the real reason I decided to switch care. Perhaps they contributed to the decision, but that was all.

The day after meeting with my doula, I texted her: I want to do an unmedicated birth because I believe I can.

I’ve never been a particularly strong person, in any sense of the word. Physically, I’m as weak as they come. In elementary school P.E. I always, always, always arrived in last place. Even after years of working out five days a week, I could never lift very heavy or run very far. And of course there’s the mental weakness, that whole thing.

You don’t have three mental breakdowns, year after year after year, and feel particularly strong afterwards. When you can’t hold a job, when you can barely interact with other people, when you take seven mind-altering pills a day…it’s difficult to feel strong. And when you come to the point where you feel like you can no longer keep on living and decide to end things—when you give up instead of fighting—that’s when you believe you aren’t, and perhaps never have been, strong enough.

So, yes, I’ve always considered myself a weak person. Never quite resonated with the “God’s power made perfect in weakness” thing.

Yet sometime during this second pregnancy, something shifted ever so slightly and I began to wonder if maybe, just maybe, I could do something hard. Not because I was forced to. Not because I felt like I had to prove something to other people. Certainly not because I thought a medicated birth was “wimpy” or any less natural or beautiful or memorable. (I still think the epidural is a wonderful, wonderful thing and I also strongly believe that a c-section can be a lifesaving and miraculous necessity.)

No, I decided to do an unmedicated birth because, well, I wanted to prove to myself that I could. That I believed in myself enough to do something that was really, really hard and that I was stronger than young Anna had given herself credit for.

Rob was hesitant about my decision, as is natural for any husband who doesn’t want his wife to unnecessarily “suffer,” but he told me it was absolutely my choice. His caveat was that if a transfer became necessary, due to an emergency or simply a change of mind, that I would not see it as a failure. I agreed. I knew a transfer was a real possibility, and I could be at peace with that.

I did everything I could to prepare. Read the books. Listened to podcasts. Watched YouTube videos. Talked to friends about their own births. Meditated. Scoured online mom groups. Took not one, but two, birth classes. Prayed. Journaled. Then I came to a point when I could no longer prepare, when I had to just trust that I’d prepared enough and that I could, and would, do it.

At my 39-week appointment, at about 3:30 in the afternoon, the midwife told me that my cervix was four centimeters dilated and that I was definitely in labor. I already knew I was (I’d been cramping all day, since 5:00 that morning) but the confirmation was still a relief.

Rob picked me up from the appointment with Auden in the backseat and I couldn’t help but grin. “It’s finally time!”

Contractions (I guess I could call them “surges,” as that is trendy right now, but I prefer to say contractions) intensified quickly as we drove home. I told Rob we needed to take Auden to my parents, so we dropped him off en route. I wanted to have a sweet special moment with my first born before going on to birth his brother, but I had to focus on breathing and Rob had the moment with Auden instead.

I labored at home for a while, but not as long as I thought I would. I think excitement got the better of me, and I just wanted to get to the Birth Center. It was already harder at home than it had ever been at the hospital. And I didn’t know when the intensity would increase, because my contractions were not consistent at all. Some were six minutes apart, some were two minutes apart. Given the latter, Rob just wanted to leave.

When we arrived at the center at about 7:00,  my main worry was being sent home, but I was six centimeters and given the go-ahead to stay. For the next seven hours, I actively labored. And labored. I did squats. I laid in the bed. I paced. I swayed. I sat in the bath tub. I squatted in the tub. I breathed in, and out. Out, and in. Sometimes I moaned. Sometimes I laughed. Sometimes I closed my eye and wished for sleep, until another contraction came on.

The room was very dim and fake candles flickered against the wall. Soft music played in the background. I liked the “cave” feeling of it…it made me feel somewhat primal and peaceful. I’ve heard that when some animals give birth, they retreat into a dark quiet space—was I now that animal? At one point anxiety swept over me—I think it was honestly because I felt everyone’s eyes on me and was starting to feel uncomfortable being the center of such rapt attention. Everyone was there because of me, and it felt like a lot of pressure. I almost asked everyone to leave so that I could be alone but didn’t know if I was “allowed to” or not. And I knew that time was passing, hour after hour, and although I knew I was in tough active labor, I knew I hadn’t hit transition—the hardest part of labor that is the gateway to pushing the baby out.

After the midwife had me drink an “herbal tincture” to help me progress at around 2:00 A.M., transition quickly hit. And it hit hard. It started with vomiting and crying and then I found myself screaming uncontrollably. Everything I’d practiced and learned seemed no longer applicable—what was this insane amount of pain that I was feeling? What was that sound coming out of my mouth? An hour, then two, went by. Surely this was not right. Surely something was wrong. Transition was supposed to go quickly, wasn’t it? My cervix was checked and I was still at a seven. Panic set in. I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t.

At one point, the midwife thought it was time to push (based solely on the noises I was making) and started getting the room ready, suggesting I squat down on the birth stool. I said, over and over, that the baby was not yet here (I felt no urge to push). My cervix was checked again and, sure enough, it wasn’t time yet.

“You were, right” the midwife said, “You know your body.” She didn’t tell me the dilation, but I could tell from the look on her face that I was probably still stuck at a seven or eight.

That is when I completely lost my shit—figuratively. (“Literally” would come not long after—yikes.)

I didn’t want to leave for the hospital to get drugs—the thought never even entered my head. I just wanted it to be over. I needed it to be over, right then. There, in that room.

I was in the bathtub when I started begging. I cried out that it felt like my body was breaking in half from the inside. I wasn’t strong enough for this. It was the worst physical pain of my life and I wanted it to end.

“Please, please help me,” I begged, “somebody, please.” I was on my knees, naked, half submerged in the water. I might’ve said that I’d never felt so exposed—emotionally vulnerable—but that is not true.


A psychiatric hold happens when someone does not want to—or refuses to—be admitted to a psychiatric facility. It means that someone is threatened with force—if they do not go willingly, the police have to get involved. The involuntary hold can only last for 72 hours in most cases.

In August of 2015, my psychiatrist told me I had to admit myself or otherwise be “put on hold.” The night before, I’d attempted to take my own life when my depression became unbearable. And the next morning, after I promised Rob I’d never ever do something like again, I decided I’d try again while he was at work. But a family member happened to be there at the right time, and I didn’t do it. Almost a year earlier, Rob helped me admit myself to a hospital in Chicago, and because of that experience, I really, really, really did not want to go into another one of those places again. I didn’t understand why my psychiatrist was now threatening a hold—I was so in denial that I’d actually tried to die, that I couldn’t even comprehend the gravity of what was happening.

An hour after finding my room in the upstairs of the facility, I asked the staff if I could call someone. I called Rob first, and then my parents. I begged for them to come get me. They refused. It must’ve devastated Rob to listen to my pleas but say “no” because he loved me that much.

Then I got down on my knees in front of a staff woman and begged her to “please, please let me go.” She also refused.

There is something horribly vulnerable about begging someone for something on your knees. It was as if I was begging for mercy and, at the time, it felt like they were refusing it.

Mercy meant I could have my freedom back and have the autonomy to leave a building I no longer wanted to stay in—but my freedom was absolutely stripped from me, as it had never been before and probably never will again. Mercy also meant letting me die, giving me an out of the visceral agony that was my mind, something only someone who has been in the depths of depression can possibly understand. (How can you explain the invisible mental pain that feels so entirely physical? People can understand that you cannot walk with broken legs; it’s harder to understand that you cannot go about life with a broken mind.)

So, there I was, begging for what I thought was mercy. It’s a feeling I will never forget, a feeling so embarrassing and sad and demeaning and, I guess, uniquely human.


When I was begging in that psychiatric hospital, although people cared and supported me, only I could decide to keep going, to keep putting one foot in front of the other every single day, to decide to keep living. It was not easy.

When I was begging in that bathtub, although people surrounded me and were supporting me, only I could summon the strength to keep going and bring my baby earth side. It was not easy.

Both astonishing situations brought me, quite literally, to my knees. The vulnerability was forced upon me, which is perhaps why I’ve needed time to process it all. I imagine I will feel that same vulnerability when, someday, I meet God face to face.

Twenty minutes after I emerged from the tub, they placed my baby, my second son, into my arms. Because I’d chosen life years earlier—because God gave me that ability, that gift—my sons too can live. My darling little boys: now my greatest treasure.

I think I needed to experience an unmedicated birth as a sort of redemption of my past, to fully realize my strength, to come to the understanding that, really, I’ve been strong all along. Or, better yet, that maybe in the times I haven’t been, God’s strength was always, and is still, enough. 

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