I woke up to strong contractions around 1 am. From their length and intensity, I knew this was the real deal. I had to breathe slowly to work through them. Counting breaths became my early labor mantra. By the fifth breath, the peak would begin to subside. By the ninth or tenth breath, the contraction was gone. I got out of bed several times to use the bathroom and turn the water heater to the hottest setting, but otherwise made myself stay under the covers and rest. As much as I wanted to be up and moving with the contractions, I was too warm and cozy and tired.
I purposely didn't watch the clock, so I don't know how frequent the contractions were. But they were really intense. I listened to the Hypnobabies track "Easy First Stage" once. It was really relaxing and gave me welcome distraction from labor. I also composed a mental list of tasks for Eric to do in the morning: feed & dress the kids, drop them off at a friend's house, fill the birth pool, pick up toys, start a load of laundry, etc. Toward the end of the morning, I drifted in and out of sleep between contractions.
At 6:48 am, I got up to use the bathroom and decided that I had had enough. Time to get up and work with, rather than try to ignore, the contractions. I noticed the familiar pink-tinged mucous or "bloody show" that has heralded labor with all of my children. Soon we were all awake and getting ready. I called the midwife first thing to give her a heads-up, letting her know I'd call again when I was ready for her to come. I kept hurrying Eric and the kids on. Somehow I just knew that we didn't have the time for a leisurely morning. As soon as I got out of bed, the contractions starting coming much more frequently. I showered and dressed (bikini top & bottom, compression hose, yoga pants, & shirt) and started filling the birth pool as soon as the hot water tank had recharged. My logical brain was wondering if I was jumping the gun, but the instinctual part of me compelled me to act quickly.
By 8:15 am, Eric had returned from dropping the kids off. The pool was filling. From when I woke up until I got in the birth pool, I did "Rixa's labor hula" during contractions, as my sister-in-law calls it. This was right before I got in the pool and about 10 minutes before my body began pushing. You see me hit the button on the laptop when the contraction ends.
Eric hurried to finish last-minute tasks, then gave me a blessing. I've asked for one during each of my labors, and they have always been incredibly reassuring. By this point labor was really, really intense. I sensed the dizzy, spinny, buzzing feeling heralding the endorphins of advanced labor. But was I really that far along? I called the midwife a second time and told her to head over. I didn’t want her to arrive too early, but if my instincts were correct, things were really cooking.
I timed several contractions with Contraction Master. If this labor was anything like Dio's, I was getting close to the end based on how intense and how close together they were. These are the last contractions I had before I got into the birth pool (and in retrospect, about 30 minutes before the baby was born):
Somehow, I just knew that I would be pushing soon. There was no physical indicator, just an interior knowledge that the baby was on its way.
About 8:45 am, I got in the pool as it was finishing its final top-off. It was the perfect depth and temperature.
I was keen to film this birth, so Eric set up the video camera. I had a few contractions in the tub and started feeling a little bit pushy. Already? After another few contractions, in which you hear increasingly grunty vocalizations, there was no question. I knelt and reached inside. Sure enough, there was a hard round head about two knuckles deep. I felt around for a while, trying to figure out what was what. With all of the folded tissues and wrinkly baby’s head, it’s sometimes hard to tell where you end and baby begins!
Although the birth videos show only the physical side of giving birth to a baby, I was also going through an intense mental struggle. I knew that the sensations of pushing would only become more intense and more uncomfortable. Okay, let’s be honest: I knew it would hurt so much more than it already was. I dreaded it, yet I knew there was no escape. I’m not exactly fond of feeling a baby come out of my vagina, you know? It doesn’t feel good. First your butt feels like it’s going to split in half, then your vagina does. My vocalizations manifested this inner struggle, as well as the physical sensations going on in my body.
Like during Dio’s labor, I needed something to grab onto, so Eric and I “arm wrestled” during contractions. Once the baby’s head began to crown, I put my right hand down to support my tissues. I provided support against the perineum at first. Then, as the baby’s head emerged more and more, the burning and pressure moved towards the front. For the third time, I experienced the impossible-yet-inevitable sensation of a baby’s head emerging out of my body. My palm was cupped over the head. The baby was facing anterior, the smooth back of the head against my palm and my fingertips touching its face. There was a slight pause after the head was born. Then the shoulders emerged. I provided more counter-pressure in the front as the shoulders squeezed out. Another brief pause at the torso, one last little push, and the baby was born. I lifted it out of the water. We discovered we had a girl! We didn’t look at the clock until a few minutes after, so we’re guessing the baby was born at 9:12 am.
Soon after the birth, Inga lost muscle tone and color. I quickly realized that I needed to perform mouth-to-mouth. Fortunately, I became certified in neonatal resuscitation several years ago, so I knew what to do. It was tricky getting the angle right, since the cord was short. I gave her five breaths. After each breath, she coughed and perked up a bit more.
Within seconds of Inga being fully recovered, the midwife’s assistant arrived. I guess she hadn’t been debriefed about me wanting to be left undisturbed. She started bustling around and talking and asking questions and I got really annoyed. So I kicked her out of the room, saying, “I just need peace and quiet. I'm okay.” She beat a hasty retreat. This cracks me up.
One of my other favorite parts is in the middle of pushing when the phone rings and goes to the answering machine. It was an automated appointment reminder for my prenatal visit the next day!
I sat back in the tub for a few minutes to relax. It felt so good to be done!
Pretty intense, eh?
I rested for a few minutes, enjoying the warm water and weightlessness. The midwife arrived and helped me get settled into bed. Did I mention how good I felt? Ahhhh…I had a silky soft baby on my chest, I could finally lie on my back, and the hard work of labor was over. It felt glorious.
Inga started rooting around and pushing herself up with her feet. I wanted to let her do the breast crawl and self-attach. She started going through the breast crawl stages. But she got fussy and I was too impatient! So maybe 30 minutes after she was born, I gave her a little help and she latched on perfectly. The midwives and assistant stayed in the kitchen, entering the room only when I asked for something. It was a beautiful, quiet time spent snuggling and talking and resting.
I started feeling a bit grunty/pushy and figured it was time to get the placenta out. I called the midwife in. She held a bowl, caught the placenta, and then raved about how little blood I had lost—an estimated 10 cc (2 tsp) total! She took pictures of the birth pool and placenta bowl so that her colleagues would believe her.
About 2 hours after the birth, we did the newborn exam.
You might also want to read:
Inga's birth story, part 2
Part 3: Neonatal resuscitation
Part 4: Final reflections