The night of October 19th-20th, started my body’s preparation for birth. After months of sleeping erratically due to pregnancy, this night I slept hard. I woke up feeling as though I slept like a rock and how unexpected that was. By no means did I think labor was impending and my body was simply providing me the necessary rest before my work was to start. Starting the Friday before, I developed what I could only explain as Braxton-Hicks but with no pain whatsoever. Not once was I doubled over with discomfort. The contractions just made my belly stiff then passed – that was it. Sunday I had an immense amount of energy at church and proceeded to return home to spend nearly 5 hours making squash soup and still having energy left over. I felt great going to work right up until my due date.
October 20th I went to my last day at work before maternity leave and I felt great. My husband Paul picked me up from work and we ran errands. Upon arriving home, I told Paul I was tired and wanted to take a nap – so I did, on the couch for the better part of an hour. What a blessing – a great sleep the night before and a nap that afternoon, all in preparation unbeknownst to me.
After waking from my nap, we sang and danced to Alan Jackson. This was the point at which I started feeling different. I was having what felt more like menstrual cramp aches, I told Paul and made note of them but didn’t time them. We attempted to eat dinner, but these cramps were getting more intense. I felt like I didn’t want to eat, but forced myself to eat the meat just in case this was labor; I knew I’d need the protein energy later.
Quickly the cramps transitioned to what felt like contractions, lots of pressure from my uterus that needed to be breathed through. We started timing them just for fun to see if anything would come of it. At 9:00 pm we called our midwife to let her know that we were having contractions that were 7 minutes or so apart lasting about 1 minute each. She immediately said to stop timing contractions, lose the watch and clocks and get to bed, encouraging us to sleep in between contractions – if it wasn’t real labor the rest would make them go away, if it were real labor we would need all the rest we could get. So we headed to the bedroom.
This was the point at which I truly remember being in pain and having contractions that were overwhelming to me. Never did I imagine that I would have to consciously breath through such painful contractions at such an early stage of labor – I was under the impression that this happened much later much closer to transition. Over this time in bed I had to make a dramatic game plan change. My hours laboring in bed were noted by my attempts to escape the contractions. I would stiffen up, whine vocally, thrust my head back, arch my back, move my legs and arms to “get comfortable” only finding the contraction to get progressively harder. I was scared, feeling alone, and didn’t want labor to feel like it was shaping up to feel like. I still managed to rest between contractions. More importantly, Paul was able to rest quite a bit during this time, which would prove to be very valuable later when I needed him alert most.
All of a sudden I heard what sounded and felt like a pop, a releasing, cathartic pop, quickly followed by a massive gush of water. Luckily, Paul had the forethought to put the shower curtain down under the sheets before we went to bed just in case. I felt “better” because the contractions felt unrestricted by extra volume in my belly. Having my water break was beyond exciting because it meant we were actually going to have this baby soon – no longer the potential of it just being false labor. We called our midwife Michelle to let her know what happened at around 12:45 am. She was on her way. I shook in between each contraction, like I had the flu. It was out of my control and was my whole body. I remember thinking this would pass and was just a shock effect of my water breaking, but instead it continued throughout the whole labor. The shaking made relaxing between contractions even more difficult.
Michelle arrived and I was so excited to have her there. I felt excited to show her what we’d been up to, to prove to someone else that we were in labor. We were 4 cm dilated at this point. This was very encouraging to me in that I wasn’t 1 cm, but was showing signs of progression. Michelle periodically used her Doppler to measure the baby’s heart rate both at rest and during a contraction, even during a pushing contraction in the tub. The baby’s heart rate never dipped, only accelerated appropriately during contractions, a very comforting thing for a laboring mom.
Paul also decided to call our doula-in-training and friend Rose at this point. I attempted to eat a granola energy bar, which took me hours to finish, as I was no longer in the mood to eat. Our second midwife Heidi arrived in the early morning and a quick introduction was made in between contractions.
When these mid-labor contractions started to get more intense, vocalization became a much more important tenant of our laboring strategy. The labor team encouraged me when I would moan through the worst part of the contraction, which at first felt strange to have that encouragement, but I fed off of it and improved my vocalization based on their encouragement and suggestions of lowering the moan. Everyone kept encouraging me to loosen my pelvic floor and release my bottom. This felt impossible as labor progressed. When in that much pain, I couldn’t understand how my labor team expected me to be anything but completely clenched and tense. But out of fatigue I didn’t protest, instead I tried doing as they were telling me. Sure enough it didn’t make the contractions go away, nor the pain to decrease, but actually made the contraction feel more productive. This is a strange sense to have about a contraction, but I remember distinctly several times where the contraction felt more intensely productive than if I tensed up. From there on out I attempted to release my pelvic muscles by moaning very loudly.
I wanted a change in scenery and some possible relief, so I tried laboring in the tub. Laboring in the tub lasted approximately 45 minutes before the midwives asked me to leave the tub because my contractions were slowing up. I left the tub and Heidi (our on call co-midwife) suggested we do a bunch of laps around the house to get the baby in a good position and progress the labor – and it did!
Walking around the house was the point at which I felt like labor was at its climax in intensity. I remember doing a lap and a half, perhaps two, holding on to Paul then would feel a contraction swelling up. I would lean into Paul in a “dance” position and he would encourage me to relax myself completely onto him. As our time walking progressed however I felt my energy draining from me, and the contractions overcame me such that I had to give everything over to Paul and once again the contractions felt more productive when I did. At this point, we could not even make one lap around the house before a contraction would swell. After Paul and I stopped timing the early labor contractions, I had no idea how close together or how long each contraction lasted. This was an amazing blessing, seemingly only available in a natural birth. I counted frequency of contractions in laps around my house or ability to get to the bathroom without a contraction and intensity/duration of the contractions I measured by the vocalization needed to get through it or the ability to have a conversation in between contractions. It felt so organic to never be told what dilation I was, or when the next contraction would swell, or when the peak of the contraction was. I followed by body only.
During this highly intense period, I remember Paul having to use the bathroom or needing to eat some breakfast. I hated him leaving me, knowing that no one else would suffice to take his place. I distinctly remember looking at him eating a cup of Boo Berry cereal as fast as he could, shoveling it into his mouth because he knew how much I wanted him back. I was happy to see he was taking care of himself too, but I knew I couldn’t do it without him.
After what seemed like a relatively short amount of time walking, I had one contraction in the hallway where it literally felt like a 30 pound bowling bowl was dropped on my pelvis. The contraction transformed from a painful pressure to an awesomely intense pushing feeling. I waited for the next contraction to support what I was feeling and sure enough it happened again. I told Paul I was feeling pushy. He told the midwives, whom he says were not surprised by this labor marker, and we headed to the tub. I never made the announcement that I definitely wanted to birth in the tub, but at the time it just seemed innate to move to a different spot that was set apart for birthing. The pushing made me feel antsy for the first time in hours, wanting to change positions with each contraction.
One of the first things I did was ask Paul to pray for us and he did. I wanted prayer because I knew labor was getting even more serious and I needed to surrender to it. The midwife asked to do an exam to see how the cervix was shaping up. She told me that part of the cervix was not pushed aside yet, so to breathe through part of the contraction and only push during the part of the contraction where I couldn’t resist pushing. This required me to relax my head back off my chest and intentionally breath through the push. It was a challenge, but I almost enjoyed it because I knew my body was doing productive work and I wanted to relax during it a bit. At this point, I was already exhausted and was still shaking between contractions uncontrollably.
We labored during the pushing phase in the dining room. I remember the whole labor team sitting vigil in the room, all eyes on me laboring, and I couldn’t have cared less. I noticed no one but my own body. I remember hearing some things, like Rose hitting her head on our chandelier, like my team’s verbal encouragement and cues when I would strongly groan during a push. I do not remember how it all happened but Paul joined me in the tub. I needed physical support and he was a strong rock holding my back from behind as I reclined on him. We pushed in a seated squat position and but the midwives suggested I put my feet up on the walls of the pool to get better leverage and angle. They seemed to indicate as I was pushing that this position was improving the station of the baby who was now descending. They told me they could feel her head, one knuckle from the vaginal opening. I thought for sure I would be holding her in my arms within 5 contractions or so. This was perhaps an hour and a half from when she actually arrived! We spent over three hours pushing with the contractions and then fully relaxing in between. During the relaxing I drank water, then Gatorade, then water – I reclined on Paul and let my arms and legs completely float and relax. I asked for a towel on my forehead because the water was steamy. The birth team would bucket out cooler water and add in hot water from the stove to make the temperature suitable for baby’s arrival. I conserved energy. I closed my eyes for nearly all of the pushing stage, feeling like I was present but not really awake during labor. I even nodded off a few times in between contractions which seems impossible. I felt that I had given 110% already, but more was being required of me. I don’t remember ever feeling like I couldn’t give the more that was required, but only living for each next contraction.
Next, I remember one of the midwives saying she could see hair from the baby’s head. I knew we were closer and got excited, thinking the birth was going to be soon, but it wasn’t. I still worked even harder during the contraction. I took a deep breath and pushed along side the contraction, took another deep breath and pushed hard, then took another breath and pushed what energy I had left to the end of the contraction. I panted and breathed hard to get my air back after pushing. Then I completely relaxed into Paul. I repeated this over and over and over. The first push never seemed to elicit a positive response from Heidi who was keeping track of my progression at that point. The second one, depending on how well I was releasing my pelvic floor during the push, would elicit a “That’s it, great push” from her and I would try to mimic it for the next push. Putting my chin to my chest as suggested by Heidi seemed to really help the effectiveness of the pushing. I truly had to learn how to effectively push. Paul enjoyed watching my belly contort during each contraction – narrowing and stiffening, then when the contraction was over, watching the baby struggle within.
Finally, the midwives decided that the baby’s head was looking to the side not down and this may be hindering the process. So they attempted to turn her head. During the majority of the pushing stage, Heidi namely spent much of her time massaging and releasing Kegel and other pelvic floor muscles that were tensing and straining. She would push against them until they released, all in an effort to make more room and prevent tearing. Suddenly the pushing changed from pushing the baby down through the birth canal, to pushing the baby out. I have never felt such stinging and burning. It was truly as the birthing books say – a “ring of fire”. I remember my midwives acknowledging it before I even mentioned it and telling me the burning is normal and to work through it to get the baby out. All I needed to hear the whole night was that the work I was doing was normal. I never had to worry that my body was missing the mark. I kept pushing hard, with Paul pushing my upper back over to create the token “C” shape of the body. I felt like I’d never pushed my body to this point in my whole life. The contractions and pushing overwhelmed me but I rode it like a wave because I had no other choice and I wanted desperately to meet my baby. One of the midwives said “You could see your baby with the next contraction” – this time I knew I was actually that close. I pushed with the next contraction but the midwife told me to push gently through it, so I tried to. I felt a little release to which they announced the head was out, then they told me to push the shoulders out, and I did. The shoulders felt large and hurt to push out, just as much as the head. The rest of her quickly slipped out and suddenly a baby was thrown onto my chest. I had no idea what to do. I finally had to open my eyes (after hours essentially of closing them) and look down to a pink little wriggly thing on me with huge bright eyes. Paul says she cried a little and then quickly calmed down – I do not remember. She nursed just briefly. Paul cut the cord (which stopped pulsating quickly) while we were in the tub and was able to take the baby on his chest while the midwives helped me out of the tub slowly ensuring that I was not lightheaded. They helped me to the bathroom where I delivered the placenta perhaps ½ hour after birth.
I spent the next two hours in bed getting a hematoma stitched up and tended to, then listening to the labor team busily clean up my house. The bathroom was cleaned, there were towels, sheets and other saturated items that were laundered, I was fed a PB&J with sliced apples. The midwives really took care of everything while Paul and I enjoyed our new little family for several hours. Then after the midwives filled out their reports and they left us to a house of quiet for about 1 hour until our family’s flooded us with celebration and love for the rest of the evening, including a birthday cake and party for Margot.
For the next couple of weeks both Michelle and Heidi visited often, to the point where I felt like they were just more family members joining in the celebration – of course they did full assessments of Margot and exams for me to ensure we were all healing and recovering well. They literally felt like practitioners become family in a way that only birth can connect people I suppose. You know you have a good birth team when you start looking forward to getting pregnant again just so you can continue this great working relationship with them. I never once felt worried that we were unsafe being at home or that I wasn’t being taken care of. In prenatal appointments, Michelle was very honest in acknowledging risks of birth and how she has handled situations in the past. Safety was of utmost priority for us, and was the reason we wanted to stay out of the hospital if we could help it. We knew her experience would lead her to make the tough decisions if need be. When asked if we would do a homebirth again – I always say “Yes, with Michelle because of her competency”.