Over the past few weeks I had been having some feelings of doubt about my birth plans. There was nothing specific I was worried about, just vague anxieties. We ate dinner on Sunday night with a family we know from church. The mom has always been completely supportive of my plans. While we were chatting after dinner, she reminded me that I would know what to do when the time came. I felt very reassured and confident after talking with her—I was not wrong for wanting to give birth the way I felt was right, even though most people view it as crazy or dangerous or both. I asked Eric for a blessing the next day. I have always felt peaceful about going without medical or midwifery care during the pregnancy, but I wanted reassurance as the birth drew nearer. After the blessing, I knew that this was the right choice and had no more doubts or fears.
Sunday night was completely sleepless (not pregnancy-related), so on Monday night I was really hoping that I would be able to get a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, I had a hard time falling asleep again, so at 1:30 am I went downstairs to listen to the Hypnobirthing CD. It always puts me to sleep when nothing else can. Soon after I put the CD in, I started noticing sharp menstrual-like cramps in my lower front abdomen. They were coming quite regularly. Hmmm...what was going on? When I went to the bathroom, I felt very wet and mucousy. About the third time I went to the bathroom I could see something faint on the toilet paper, so I turned on the light and sure enough, there was pink-tinged mucous. Then my bowels started emptying out—probably 4-5 times over the next few hours.
These are all signs of being in labor, but I didn’t want to take them too seriously at first. It was far enough from my “due date” that I knew this might just be a warmup session. I wanted to be open to it stopping, rather than get overly excited. After listening to the CD, I paced around downstairs for a while. I found that leaning over a table or countertop and swaying my hips felt right during a contraction. I did several laps around the house and remember noticing how squeaky the wood floors seemed in the wee hours of the morning. I turned on one of the lights in the inglenook, but it was too much so I turned it back off.
I listened to the CD again. This time, I wasn’t hoping for any sleep, but I still wanted to rest as much as possible. The CD really helped me relax and make up for 2 sleepless nights. When a contraction came, I took slow, deep breaths, as long as possible, and said to myself in my mind, “Thinning (while breathing in) and opening (while breathing out).” I found that I did about 3-4 breaths during one contraction. After the CD ended, I got up again and checked my email. The internet was a great labor distraction, because it put my focus and anticipation on the resting period, rather than the contraction—I wanted to get back to what I was doing! I posted a notice on c-birth that this might be the real thing. This was around 4:15 or 4:30 am.
I was pretty sure this was labor, but not entirely positive. I had all the signs that it was the real deal, but since it was 2 weeks before the earliest date I had mentally prepared for (wanting to avoid the trap of worrying about being “late”!) I was open to the possibility that this could be a practice session. That’s why I hesitated telling Eric for so long. I went upstairs a few times during the night and looked at him and Zeke (my dog) sleeping. Each time I mentally debated about waking him up. But I didn’t want him around and didn’t need any labor companionship, so each time I decided, why wake him up only to tell him to go back to sleep? Better to just leave him alone until morning.
At 6:30 am I woke him up and told him I thought I might be in labor, and that he should think about walking Zeke and canceling class. He brought Zeke down to the bike path and said “I will run the whole way!” By time he got back, I was more committed to thinking this was the real thing. And worst case, I thought, he cancels class and it turns out to be a false alarm. Next I sent him to the grocery store to get some labor drinks and snacks. I drank apple juice during the labor, plus ate a bowl of plain yogurt mixed with a little sugar. I was also downing water (and peeing) the whole time.
When Eric came back from running his errands, I asked him to give me a blessing. I had to stop him once in the middle to breathe through a contraction. It was very specific that everything would go smoothly, that the baby would be healthy, and that I could trust my body. I don’t remember any more specifics but that is not surprising! That blessing, plus the one he had given me the night before, gave me total confidence that everything would turn out perfectly. When I was a little discouraged during pushing, feeling that nothing was progressing, I thought back to what he had said and took courage, knowing that I just needed to do whatever my body wanted to.
I told Eric that I didn’t need or want him in the same room. Just to stay in the other room and I would tell him if I needed anything. He tried once to rub my back and I told him it was distracting and that I was fine. Once or twice he stood in the room and watched me, and that was really distracting too. So I sent him back into the bedroom. At this point I decided to stay upstairs in the master bathroom.
I labored back and forth between the tub, toilet, and bathroom sink. When I was in the tub, I would rest between contractions and get very close to sleep. Actually I might even have slept; it was hard to tell for sure. The tub helped immensely with resting. I don’t think it changed how the contractions felt, as some women have experienced. But it was very useful for keeping rested in between. During a contraction, I would lift up my hips and sway them back and forth in the water, slowly breathing in and out. As labor progressed, I changed from breathing through my nose to through my mouth. It just felt right to breathe through my mouth, especially when I would exhale. I was saying a silent “haaaaaaaaaaahhhhh.” I didn’t make any laboring noises during the entire first stage. I just didn’t feel the need to vocalize.
When I was out of the tub, I rested on the toilet during the breaks. Then I rose to my feet (as quickly as possible!) when I felt another contraction coming and walked over to the sink. I placed my hands backwards on the edge of the counter and supported my weight with my hands and arms. I kept my mouth and bottom totally loose by exhaling slowly and swaying my hips back and forth. I noticed that I would sometimes stand on my toes as I swayed my hips to help enhance the movements. Then back to the toilet to rest.
Eric stayed in the bedroom and did...well I don’t know exactly what he was doing. I did hear him playing internet scrabble at one point! Anyway he got me things when I asked, usually more water or juice. Occasionally he’d pop in the bathroom. If I needed something, I’d ask, otherwise I’d ignore him and he’d go back in the bedroom.
I didn’t experience anything that I would label “transition.” I’ve read enough birth stories to know that some women have that freak-out period. That’s when they tend to say outrageous things like “take me to a hospital” or “give me drugs” or “hit me on the head with a hammer.” I never felt that way. The contractions did intensify all the way until the end, but never to the point that I lost my mind or thought I couldn’t do it. I do remember thinking very calmly at one point, “You know, it would be nice if I could just stop here and be done, but I know I can’t. I just have to keep going.” So I guess that would be transition for me.
And the endorphins...wow! After a few hours of labor I started noticing them, and they became progressively stronger throughout the labor. Basically during the rest periods I felt progressively more “high.” I’ve never been high before, but that’s what I imagine it’s like: a floaty, kind of dizzy, blissed-out feeling. I don’t think they lessened the intensity of the contractions, but they made the breaks progressively more pleasurable. It was almost like being in a dream; I think that’s why my memories of the birth already seem distant and surreal.
So many people had told me that I would need somebody else there during labor because “you just aren’t yourself” or “you really need an objective person to tell you what to do.” I didn’t believe them. I just knew that I would be fine by myself and that any other people present would make it worse for me, not better. And you know what? That was exactly what it was like during my labor. My husband even noticed this and talked about it a lot afterward. I was totally collected and clear-headed during the entire labor. Now granted, during contractions I had to put 100% of my focus on them. But as soon as they ended, I felt like my normal self.
About 8:30 am I started “nudging.” It wasn’t really pushing, at least not the full-on pushing that I experienced later on. It felt like little heaves working downward through my body very quickly. I didn’t make any noises, but it did change my breathing so that it sounded more pushy. I wondered if Eric noticed, but I was so quiet that I doubt he did. This continued for about an hour. I felt inside for the first time, and sure enough there was the baby’s head. I felt a small anterior lip of cervix the first time I checked. It felt like the collar of a t-shirt. I couldn’t feel anything else around the head, though. It was pretty cool. I didn’t worry about whether or not I was dilated enough, because these nudges were pretty mild. One thing that surprised me was how far back the head felt. I expected that I’d be reaching more upwards, but it was mostly backwards, right until the very end of pushing. Mental note to self: this is probably normal. I’ve just never felt a head in a vagina before!
About an hour after the nudges began, I suddenly started full-on pushing. I had no choice but to roar at the top of my lungs and push along with my body. It was wild. Lots more painful and challenging than I had imagined. I’ve been to so many births where the moms pushed for just 15 or 20 minutes, so I was a little surprised that my forceful pushing lasted almost 2 hours. I think that’s the only expectation I had of the birth that was off. I became somewhat discouraged about an hour or so into pushing. I kept feeling the head, and it seemed like it was making no progress. At this point I said a very earnest prayer to help this baby come OUT!!
I alternated between the tub and toilet several times. When I was in the tub, I rested lying down, then flipped over in about 1 millisecond onto my knees when a contraction began. Roar like a lion as I pushed. Lie down and relax until the next one. Repeat. When a contraction hit me on the toilet, I would usually drop to my knees on the floor. I leaned over my birth ball while I pushed. It was hard work. Pushing didn’t take away the sensations; it intensified them. Oh well, I guess I am not one of those lucky women who say pushing takes away the pain. For me, it hurt even more!
I really started feeling some progress about the last 20 or 30 minutes. I got back on the toilet and kept my hand inside or against myself for the rest of the time. It helped to feel what was happening. I didn’t tell Eric when the baby began crowning, even though I knew it would be out soon. (He said it got quieter right at the end, so that was probably when the baby started crowning.) Finally the head emerged! I said, “the head is out,” and Eric came into the room. I got off the toilet and knelt down on the towel in front of me, keeping my right hand on the baby’s head. I felt around and confirmed that it was anterior. Just perfect! I put my left food flat on the ground, so that I was half kneeling, half squatting. I talked to myself, “okay, now the shoulders will slip out with the next contraction.” And quite soon, that’s exactly what happened! It’s amazing really. I caught the baby as it came out and laid it on the towel underneath me.
The baby was covered in blood and vernix. I remember seeing a silky blue umbilical cord. I checked and discovered that we had a GIRL!! Wow! She cried immediately after coming out, but stopped as soon as I scooped her up to my chest. I had Eric snap a picture right then, which is my absolute favorite. It captures the elation and satisfaction I felt from planning and getting a perfect birth experience.
Eric helped me get up and onto the bed. I shook a little, but it stopped as soon as he covered me up with blankets. She nursed for about 2 hours. The afterpains were killers—just as bad as the worst labor contractions. I had Eric give me some Placenta Out tincture to encourage the placenta to release. I also downed a ton of juice. It was so delicious.
About an hour and a half after the birth, I phoned a midwife I work with to see if she would come check for tears and do my Rhogam bloodwork. She said she’d be by in a few hours. She freaked out a little when I mentioned the placenta was still in. She said to squat with the next contraction and try to push it out. I tried, but my bottom was far too sore to squat, let alone to feel if I was pushing anything out. I did want to get it out, though. I was getting a little pale and was very uncomfortable with the afterpains. So we trooped back to the bathroom and I peed and tried to push the placenta out. But nothing happened. I tried again to squat but it was just not happening. I wasn’t having any visible bleeding or signs of shock, my uterus felt firm (I felt it very gently), and I was having strong afterpains. So I figured I was okay. I kept flexing my feet and legs to encourage better circulation, and it did seem to help me pink up a bit. Finally about 2 1/2 hours after the birth I decided to get serious. This placenta needed to come out. I couldn’t really relax with it in, because I had to be on guard in case I did start losing too much blood. Eric sterilized a serrated knife over a flame (probably not necessary at this point since the cord was totally limp and bloodless), clamped the cord about 10” from her navel, and cut the cord. We trimmed it down later.
I went back into the bathroom and sat on the toilet again. I peed, then said a very earnest prayer. I basically said, Heavenly Father, I need this placenta to come out with the next contraction. I don’t know if it’s separated and I know it’s not good to pull on the cord. But I need it to come out, so I am going to push and do some cord traction with the next contraction. I did, and sure enough out it came! It was actually an amazing witness of the power of prayer, because the placenta did not feel at all separated when I had VERY carefully tugged on the cord to see if the placenta might just be sitting there. Oh, it was so much better with it out! Eric cut me off a small piece of the placenta to eat. It had a very mild taste, much less strong than I had imagined. I was able to pee a whole bunch, and the afterpains became just mild cramps. I took a shower, which felt terrific, then settled into bed with my new baby girl. By this time she had fallen deeply asleep.
Bernice came over about 4:30 pm. I had a straightforward 2nd degree tear. She said it could go either way: leaving it alone, or stitching. She recommended stitching it. I decided to have stitches, and it wasn’t too bad. I think I had about 5 or 6. I am so glad that I didn’t have a really nasty tear, since that would have necessitated a hospital transfer right away before too much healing took place. Phew! She drew some blood for my Rhogam bloodwork and lent us her scale to weigh the baby: 7 pounds even. A good size for 38 weeks.
We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening talking to families. My voice was very hoarse by the end of the evening, especially with the roaring I did for 2 hours straight. I was so blissed out the whole day.