My all-natural labor and birth!
Abigail was due January 10, 2009. had a strong feeling she’d arrive on her due date, especially once I learned it was the full moon… but I didn’t tell anybody I thought so, because I didn’t want them all to laugh at me when I went three weeks overdue or something. Apparently I should have more faith in my intuition!
I started experiencing painful contractions at 2:30 am on the 10th. Mike and I had stayed up late watching Terminator 3 in bed, and I realized as the movie ended that I was feeling something a little more powerful than the Braxton-Hicks contractions I’d been having for a while. The BH had been a tightening sensation across the top of my belly – these had that, plus a painful cramp at the bottom. I hadn’t ever lost any mucous plug, had bloody show, felt any dilation in my self-checks, or anything else, PLUS it was my due date, so I was having a hard time believing I might really be in labor.
Mike had already fallen asleep, so I got out of bed and dinked around on the internet for a while. I figured if it was false labor, moving around might stop the contractions – but they kept coming. I didn’t want to go into active labor on no sleep, so I had a glass of Merlot and returned to bed at about 5:15. I woke Mike up to let him know I thought we might be on our way to a baby… then slept until about 7:30. I was woken up by the pain and knew I wouldn’t be sleeping anymore, so I got up and went to bounce on my Pilates ball for a while. I timed the contractions and they weren’t totally regular, but seemed to be coming an average of every six minutes or so and lasting about 50 seconds. Around 10:00 am I woke Mike up and called my midwife, Nancy, who said she was at a post-partum visit and would be over to check me in about an hour.
By the time Nancy and Lisa (her apprentice) arrived, I had moved my ball into the office, where we’d set up the birth pool and I could dim the lights and play music on the computer. Stupid me, I put on Brenn Hill – he’s the western artist who played at our wedding. Brenn’s three-year-old son was diagnosed with brain cancer about two months before my due date – so Mike walked in to find me blubbering over a song that talks about holding a new baby boy… He helpfully suggested I listen to something else – I think I changed it to Bob Seger – Roll Me Away.
The contractions were getting a little closer together, still not totally regular – about five minutes apart and lasting a minute each. I used an online counter to keep track of them – my nerdiness knows no bounds. I was still functional but doing some breathing and focusing through them. Frankly, I thought I must be a real asskicker, since everything was pretty easy. Ha…
Eventually I got up and labored while walking around the house for a while, and would stop and lean on Mike through contractions. (Somewhere in there, the back-up midwife – Noel – arrived. My sister also came by to pick up the dogs, since she was going to keep them during the birth and first few days post-partum.)
Mike filled the birth pool in the office – one stock pot at a time… I’d been too cheap to buy a hose – and I got in there sometime in the afternoon. (I don’t have a clear timeline of everything, since I definitely wasn’t watching a clock.) The water felt really, really nice. Contractions got consistently stronger and more frequent, and I started making low “ohhh” tones through them. I remember thinking “This really, really hurts. I wonder if this is where I’m supposed to think I can’t do it anymore? Does that mean I’m in transition? No, wait, I don’t think it counts if I’m intentionally thinking I can’t do it so that I get to think I’m in transition…” That train of thought went on for a long, long time. Looooong time.
After a while the midwives came in and encouraged me to get on my knees with my arms hanging over the side of the pool. Any change in position caused contractions, so I was pretty resistant, but I did end up doing that for a while. I started having a little bit of back labor, but Mike and the midwives were helping with counter-pressure. I spent a long time in the pool – the lights were off and everybody mostly left me alone, aside from coming in every twenty minutes or so to listen to fetal heart tones with the doppler, to remind me to keep my tones low, or to help with back pressure. (Heart tones were good the whole time – I think they varied between about 110 and 140.) They also did a great job of getting me to drink water and Recharge, and eat a few bites of yogurt.
Vocalizing and counterpressure were really my only pain management techniques – neither of which I’d studied formally. (We didn’t take a birth class, and I’d blown off the Hypnobabies homestudy course I ordered. I don’t think it was up my alley, anyway.) Nancy told me to visualize my vocalizations traveling to the places that hurt worst – I don’t think that helped much. I remember the best relief coming from making one long sound – basically getting my voice to vibrate, and concentrating on that sensation. If I had to stop to breathe in, it was like I lost focus and the pain would intensify.
I switched positions again, ending up back on my butt again for a while, then on my knees for a second time – and things got really intense. Mike tried to create some contraption for me to lean on when I was sitting so I could create my own counter-pressure – I remember it involved a one-gallon water bottle and a towel. It did not work, but he got an A+ for effort.
Mike was present most of the time, and he was awesome. I’d made it very clear before I went into labor that I didn’t want him around if he was uncomfortable – I would be fine without him, and I didn’t want him to wind up with weird hang-ups or resentment because I “made” him watch. I meant it, too – but he chose to stay. He would take breaks from time to time to go walk around outside – I could tell he was pretty overwhelmed, emotionally. I was ultimately really glad he was part of everything… but even more glad he chose to be.
Neither Mike nor the midwives were giving me empty platitutes or atta-girls, which I appreciated – I was more concerned with progress than back-patting. Mike actually only did one thing the whole time to make me want to kill him: Around 5:00 pm (I’d heard the midwives synchronizing their watches, so it was one time I was aware of the time) he told me, “Sweetie, you’re doing great… I was just talking to them and they all think you will be done by midnight!” In his mind, that was great, because we were having a baby THAT DAY… In mine, that was SEVEN MORE HOURS! I told him “I cannot believe you just told me that. I am going to kill you now.” and he said “Err… wrong thing to say?” Yes, dear. Way wrong thing.
Somewhere in there, the midwives offered me a cohosh tincture. I don’t know if it was the tincture or just exhaustion, but for a while I was actually napping between contractions. I don’t know how, but I did. I was in kind of a bizarre exhaustion/delirum – I had no concept of time, nor any ability to question what anybody told me. If I’d been in the hospital and somebody said “epidural” during that time, I know I would have ended up with one. I knew I didn’t want one, but I don’t think I knew how to say “no” – it was very weird. I was confident I didn’t want to go to the hospital, though, largely because the idea of getting in a vehicle sounded absolutely wretched.
Nancy doesn’t do prenatal internal checks, nor many in labor, but after a few hours in the tub she asked if I wanted to be checked. Yes sir, I sure did – I was sure I had to be nearly complete. But no, my dilation was only 6’s and 7’s! I thought I was going to die. That meant I was going into transition, not finishing it. It was going to get worse. Oh. GOD. Did I mention the baby was literally pushing off with her feet at the top of my uterus, ramming her head into my cervix and causing the contractions to intensify every time? That was fun! I knew it was productive, but damn.
Nancy could tell I was disappointed with the dilation information, but she said my cervix was very thin and the baby was already at +1, so she really thought if I would get out of the tub and walk a little I would finish in no time. I was in so much pain, though, and the contractions were one on top of another for sometimes three in a row – augmented by any movement on my part – so I couldn’t imagine standing. It took them forever to convince me to get up. I finally did, though, and man – I wish I’d done that a couple hours earlier! It made the contractions more bearable and I could feel the baby moving down. I did a couple of laps through the house, hanging onto Mike through contractions, and then felt like I should try to go to the bathroom. I apparently didn’t actually need to, but I had a few contractions on the toilet and then went back out to walk more.
At one point Mike said we were going to walk into the kitchen and then back to the hall, so into the kitchen we went. I had a contraction leaning on him, then another, then I wanted to lean over the kitchen sink. I was starting to feel a lot of rectal pressure, which I told my midwife, and asked her to check me again. Sure enough, I was complete except for a little lip of cervix. I was so ready to be done – I asked if she could just hold it out of the way. The only way I even knew that was an option was thanks to all the birth stories I’d read – how in the world I had the presence of mind to remember that at that moment, I have no idea. Fortunately, she was willing to try, if I was ready to push… And hell yeah I was. I was totally ready to be done. So, through the next contraction, that’s what we did.
At first the pushy feelings were light and it was mostly me pushing voluntarily, but after a few minutes my body really kicked in and then it was on like Donkey Kong. I’d guess about 15 minutes into pushing my water finally broke – it EXPLODED with a pop. It was wild. (Mike had thought all through my pregnancy that labor would begin with my water breaking, like it does in the movies. He was pretty excited when it finally happened, because it was a big dramatic gush like he’d been expecting.) Everyone was asking if I wanted to go somewhere else, but no, dammit, that baby was coming in the kitchen. I pushed standing/squatting slightly for a while, still leaning over the sink, then told them my legs were tired so my midwife brought in the birth stool. I sat down on that and pushed. And pushed. Mike was behind me – I think he had his arms around me, or on my sides… I can’t really remember. I actually made really good progress and brought the baby down quickly – my midwife checked a couple of times and would show me how far inside the head was, then finally had me feel for myself. It was pretty bizarre – even moreso once I was nearing crowning and could feel the head RIGHT THERE.
I won’t go so far as to say pushing felt good, like some people do, but it was definitely a relief to go from trying to control myself through every contraction to an unbridled, primal state where it was okay to scream and yell and do something productive. Oh, and scream and yell I did. I think I managed to keep the profanities to a minimum, which is good since Noel is a pastor’s wife and I would have felt awfully bad had I turned the air too blue, but I was NOT quiet. I was also very, very concerned about tearing upward – they told me to put my hand over my clitoral area/upper labia and keep pressure there, so I hung on for dear life. (Yelling “I DO NOT WANT TO TEAR UP OH GOD NO TEARING UP!” the whole time.) Interestingly, I never cried throughout the whole thing – either from pain or joy – but I was kind of non-cry-sobbing through the pushing part. I almost wish I had it on video just to see how ridiculous I looked/sounded… but I’m totally okay with not having watched in a mirror or anything. (Mike was fully content to not view from that angle, either.)
At one point Mike told me to look at everybody in front of me (the midwives) and notice they were all smiling. I do not think he could have possibly given me more worthless information – I did NOT care. They could have been dancing around naked and I would not have cared. He also declared I couldn’t have a girl – we didn’t know the sex, of course – and everyone looked at him like he was nuts. “Well, if she’s born in the KITCHEN, she’ll never live it down!” …Hardy harr harr, smartass.
I didn’t have any ‘instructions’ for pushing – nobody yelling PUSH or counting down, thank heavens… they would have been kicked – other than if I felt a burning sensation to try to stop pushing and breathe little puff breaths like I was blowing out a candle. Sure enough, I hit a point where I said “Oh… fire, fire, FIRE!” – referring to the ring of fire, a concept I was also familiar with from my birth story reading – and started puffing. I knew the head was RIGHT there – I could feel this weird wrinkly hairy thing that most certainly bore no tactile resemblance to a head. Lisa kept telling me how much of the head she could see when I would push – she was pantomiming an area a couple of square inches. Considering I felt like I was about to split in two, literally, I had no idea how several more square inches of head were supposed to fit out. At that point, though, there was no breathing the baby out or any of that other crap I’d read about. I asked Nancy if I had to push with every contraction, or if I could rest – she said I could do whatever I wanted. There was no rest for me, though, because my body was pushing involuntarily – it was a sensation I’d compare to vomiting, in fact. Like when you’re really, really sick and you heave over and over again with no control over it – it was strikingly like that. I felt these heaving pushes and then, all of a sudden, out flew the baby. I was expecting the head and then more pushing for the body, but nope… One push!
There was instant pain relief – I have no idea if it’s because I was no longer in pain, or if the change from so much pain to much less was just so striking, or the endorphins, or what, but I felt fantastic. I’d half-caught her, with Nancy’s hands there too, and I recall her telling me to let go of the umbilical cord. Whoops. Nancy brought up to my arms – Mike was still sitting behind me through all this, and he had his arms around me and his head over my shoulder and helped me hold her. (He cried, but shh… don’t tell.) Oh yeah – it was a her. It took us a minute to get around to checking, as the sex was a surprise, but I knew the moment she was out that she was a girl. (I’d had a good hunch she was a she during the whole pregnancy, but didn’t want people to laugh at me if I was wrong about that, either. Then again, half the people I know told me they had dreams I had a girl – usually with dark hair – so I don’t think it was a big secret.)
She was pink and calm and breathing great – I believe her APGAR scores were 9 and 9. No head molding at all – which Nancy says makes her confident I could have a much bigger baby with no problems. (Bigger baby – no thanks!) Her cord stopped pulsing really quickly, so we clamped it off and cut it. It took me a little while to deliver the placenta, but I think it was more because I was distracted and not really feeling contractions to push with to help it along. I didn’t bleed much at all. I did have a second-degree tear and a couple of skid marks, but thankfully no tearing upward!
After a bit the midwives helped us all to the bedroom. I was a little lightheaded and nauseous, but they brought me a bagel to nibble on, and I started feeling better. They left the three of us alone for some bonding time (which kind of turned into “call the grandparents” time) before coming back in to do a newborn check-up (passed with flying colors) and stitch me up. Abigail was weighed and measured at that time – she was 6lbs, 14oz and 20 inches long. Her head and chest were both 13.5 inches around – that plus the absence of a nuchal hand or cord is likely why she came out in one push, according to Nancy.
I can’t remember if they had me pee before or after the stitches – but I remember I did not want to. I bruised my labia on a bike once when I was a kid, and remember the awful burning sensation I endured when peeing – I was not looking forward to revisiting that. But, it had to happen sometime, so I used my peri bottle and gritted my teeth through it. It sucked. It hurt. I didn’t have any endorphins to get me through that one – though it was great motivation to drink lots of water for the next several days, so my urine would be good and dilute. (Note: The peri bottle kicked ass, and gave me an appreciation for the concept of a bidet.)
I was also terrified of the stitches, but Nancy numbed me up very well so I didn’t feel anything. She used injectable Lidocaine, and I lied and told her I could still feel a little bit so I could con her into using too much. Funny that after having a natural childbirth I was afraid of ten stitches… but hello, I’ve never had stitches, much less in places I can’t see without a handmirror. (Mike declared “Oh, they aren’t that bad!” in an attempt to reassure me – but I pointed out he’s had stitches in his arm, so uh… not the same.) Luckily, I only felt a bit of pressure/tugging.
Before they left, the midwives showed me the placenta, at my request. It looked healthy but had just started to calcify – which suggests she was born at the perfect time. Once that was over, the midwives cleaned up a little, tucked us in, and left.
As a bit of an aside – everything everyone told me about modesty going out the window during labor/birth was mostly true. The midwives saw parts of me I’ll never see, and I couldn’t have cared less. By the time they left, I was pretty much bopping around naked (or close to it) and didn’t care who saw. I wasn’t quite as nonchalant about the public display of bodily functions, which I shall not detail, but the life-ending mortification I’d feared was non-existant.
Oh, and all that stuff they say about forgetting the pain of childbirth is also true. I can’t recall the actual sensation of the pain like I can recall the sensation of a papercut or sunburn or headache. I know facts: It hurt, a lot, moreso than anything I’ve ever experienced. It was tiring. I think the sensation largely revolved around a sharp pulling feeling – like someone grabbing the sides of my cervix and pulling out and up. (Since I suppose that’s exactly what my uterine muscles were doing, that would make sense.) I can recall more of the pushing sensations – lots of rectal pressure, and a heavy sensation. I imagine the feeling of a bowling ball weighing down on something.
I am very proud of and happy with my birth experience. Honestly, everything was perfect. Mike and the midwives gave me just the right amount of support, my body responded incredibly well, Abigail was so healthy and strong and alert… She breastfed without hesitation about an hour after the birth. I absolutely do not believe we would have done as well as we did – physically or emotionally – if she had been born out of the home. Having a natural birth was by far the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, but it was 100% worth it.
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