Warning: this is a long post!
Around 5 pm on Wednesday, June 16, my husband and I were driving around running errands. We were about to go to the grocery store as our last stop before heading back home. I was hit with a sharp cramp, but it was short and I shrugged it off. Then another one came a few minutes later. After a couple of these, I told Seth that he needed to start driving because these cramps were too intense for me to be able to concentrate on driving. He recommended we head home instead of the grocery store. I felt like we shouldn’t take these too seriously, but agreed that it might be difficult to walk around the store. So, we went home. I started timing contractions and Seth went to the store. I decided to finish some bookkeeping work for my father-in-law to distract me and keep me from getting my hopes up.
I was shocked to find myself in textbook labor: 30 second contractions precisely five minutes apart, give or take five seconds. After an hour of tracking, they had jumped to 45 seconds long and continued to be nearly five minutes apart. They were strong, like nothing I had ever experienced. I had to lie down during the contractions because they took my breath away. I concentrated on relaxing. Around 6:30 I was finally convinced this was the real thing and called my midwife, Kathy.
She was at another labor. I decided not to panic and knew that everything would work out one way or another. Kathy decided to call one of her backup midwives to attend the other laboring mother. She also left her assistant, Mandy, with the other mother. I was so relieved that I wasn’t going to have to go through labor with the backup midwife, whom I had never met. Though, I did feel a little selfish for being so glad.
When Kathy arrived around 8:30 or 9:00 pm, she found that I was already 5 cm dilated. Contractions were about 4 to 4.5 minutes apart. She instructed Seth and me to take a walk around the neighborhood for as long as I could stand it. It was a lovely evening, though a bit warm and humid. The sun had already set. The sky was clear; the stars and moon shining brightly. It was so peaceful. With each contraction, we would stop so I could lean on Seth and focus on breathing.
When we got back home, I took a shower. Then everyone started arriving: my sister Sarah, my mother-in-law Barb, and my two sisters-in-law (Michele and Anna). Sarah picked up coffee for everyone. We sat around in the living room, chatting, drinking coffee (water for me) and eating watermelon. I chilled out on my birthing/yoga ball, moving around on it for comfort. I grew quiet and rested with each contraction. They were getting stronger, so I closed my eyes and breathed deep, relaxing breaths, allowing my body to do its work without stress or hindrance. The time passed quickly and was so relaxing and peaceful.
My midwife checked me again and found I was 7 cm. I was starting to feel more serious and decided to rest in bed for a while. It was pleasant to be in bed, listening to the friendly chatter drifting in from the living room, and relaxing through the contractions while Kathy massaged my lower back.
Finally, I felt it was time to get in the birthing pool. We had it set up in Dietrick’s room (who had been picked up by my father-in-law earlier). The lights were off, candles lit and relaxing music playing on my laptop. I decided to keep some modesty and wore a supported tank top in the water. As soon as I got into the water, I was in heaven. Why hadn’t I got in sooner? My back ached less, the contractions were easier to relax through (which meant less pain). I rested on my knees in the water, putting my arms and head over the edge of the pool and rested in as relaxed a position as I could find. Seth stayed by my head and whispered words of encouragement and assistance (reminding me to relax) during the contractions. Kathy would apply pressure to my lower back to help counteract my back labor. The contractions became much more intense and I needed more and more coaching to be able to relax. But, each time I relaxed and focused on my abdominal breathing, the pain stopped and it was all about pressure and my uterus contracting. I could feel the baby moving down and turning into position.
During this time I was completely engrossed in the labor. There was nothing else in this world but the contractions, Seth, and the knowledge that sometime that night I would finally get to meet my baby girl. I remember someone saying it was 2:30 am. I couldn’t believe it. It felt like only midnight to me. The time was passing so quickly.
Shortly after, probably around 2:45 am, Kathy convinced me to try to go to the bathroom. I had been saying for a while that I felt like I needed to go, but was afraid to get out of the water due to the intensity of the contractions. I labored on the toilet for several contractions. It was awful. I couldn’t relax. It was painful. I finally had enough and said I was getting back in the water. As soon as I was back in the water I remember just collapsing into a restful position and saying, “Oh thank God.”
I don’t remember much of this time, other than the focus I had on the labor and the intensity of the contractions. I do remember saying, “Can we all just take a nap and resume this in the morning?” I really wanted a break! But, it felt good to joke and laugh a bit at myself. And remembering the shocked look on everyone’s faces still makes me chuckle. No one knew how to respond to that comment. 🙂
After I recovered from the bathroom trip and had some more contractions in the water, Kathy convinced me to labor in bed for a few contractions so she could see how far I was dilated. I was between 9 and 10 cm, but had a small lip. She broke my water (without asking, which I wasn’t happy about – though I should have let her know ahead of time that I didn’t want this done).
The very next contraction was incredible. Kathy had me get on my hands and knees to help get rid of the lip. I went through one more contraction and knew… if I didn’t get back in the water pronto, I was going to deliver in bed. So, I said, “I’m getting back in the water.” Kathy asked me to just go through one more contraction. I was serious: “No, I’m getting back in the water now!” I was desperate to get the relief of the water back. There was no way in hell I was going through another contraction like that. It was too much. I made a bee-line for the pool and made it just in time.
But, I couldn’t get comfortable. I could feel the baby moving into position. She was headed down the birth canal. My back was killing me. I couldn’t relax. I kept telling Seth, “I can’t do this. I can’t do this.” He said, “Yes, you can.” I responded, somewhat resigned and like I was in a daze, “Yes, I know I can. I know I can.”
I got off my knees, turned over and sat on the bottom of the pool with the inflated seat of the pool pushing into my lower back. That helped relieve some of the back pressure. But, it was still so intense. I said I couldn’t do this anymore. Kathy told me to let go, let this happen, stop fighting it. I was in transition. I felt like it was never going to end. I briefly wondered if I was going to die. Then I laughed at myself and told myself to stop being such a baby.
I held onto Seth with each contraction. He helped me breathe. He talked me through each and every contraction. His presence calmed me and helped me get through each one. They came like waves and I wondered if it would ever end. I became very vocal and I think I yelled, “Just get her out already!” At one point I determinedly told Seth that I would NEVER do this again, though, in my heart, I knew I would. I just had to let out my frustration and tension.
Then I finally felt it. This was the undeniable urge I had been waiting for. I had practiced a couple pushes earlier with some intense contractions, but it hadn’t felt productive. So, I knew to wait until my body said, “Go!” And this was it.
My body was practically pushing on its own. I could feel my baby’s head moving down, down, down. I told Kathy, “She’s almost crowning. I can feel her.” It was amazing. I knew exactly where she was. She was almost here! I was all business. I felt wild, almost feral. This baby needed to get out NOW!
Pushing felt so good. It wasn’t painful so much as it was a lot of work and a lot of pressure. It hurt some, mostly because I couldn’t stop tensing up. But, it was good. I knew we were close.
She was crowning. Kathy encouraged me to touch the baby’s head, to feel her hair. I didn’t feel like it. All I wanted was to get her out. I needed to keep holding onto Seth. He kept me grounded and focused.
Kathy was working my perineum, helping me stretch and supporting it so I wouldn’t tear. I felt the proverbial ring of fire. All I could think was “I’ve got to get her out!” But, I had to wait on the next contraction. Kathy had warned me that she may make me pant through a couple to keep me from pushing the baby out too quickly and tearing. I wanted to hit her when she told me to pant! I wanted to push! But, I panted anyway. I knew it was worth waiting another contraction or two to get the baby out without tearing.
Finally, I could feel it was time and I pushed with all my might! Her head was out! The rest of her just slipped right out with another small push. My midwife said later that the baby slipped out just like butter.
And suddenly she was in my arms. My precious baby girl was in my arms. Everything was suddenly peaceful again. The storm had quieted and all was right in my little world. I had pushed for a mere 18 minutes. It was 3:40 am.
A warm blanket was put over the baby in my arms. I remember saying something like, “Welcome little baby girl. Wait she is a girl right?” Then I checked to make sure. “Yep! She’s a girl! Hi little Eliana!” She was beautiful. Nestled on my chest, she was the most peaceful and beautiful thing I had ever seen. We had done it! We had achieved a natural childbirth! And here she was, in my arms, the perfect gift.
After the Birth
Aside from being tired and a little shaky, I felt great. We stayed in the water for a little while and waited on the placenta. Then, Kathy asked us to get in bed so she could monitor my bleeding. I think it was about 50 minutes after the birth that the placenta was delivered with one small push. The contractions were nothing but pressure with a mild feeling of menstrual cramping. The placenta was perfect, thick and healthy. When the cord stopped pulsing, Seth cut it.
It was the most amazing thing to be able to rest in bed with my new baby and my husband. We were relaxed. I wasn’t in any pain or discomfort. I had lost little blood. Kathy confirmed that I hadn’t torn. I felt supremely content.
Eliana weighed in at 9 lbs, 1 oz. She was 20.5 inches long. Her head measured 14.25 inches around and did not seem to be impacted by her journey through the birth canal. Her chest was 14.5 inches. She had a 10 out of 10 Apgar score.
Breastfeeding got off to a good start. Everyone, except Kathy and my sister Sarah, had left. Sarah kept helping Kathy with things. They got an herb bath ready for me and the baby. I was very surprised to find the herb bath filled with rose petals. It was lovely and very pleasant. Baby and I stayed in the water for a little while. Then Kathy came in and helped me bathe the baby. Eliana didn’t care for that so much and fussed a bit.
Around 5:30 am, Sarah went home, Kathy crashed on the couch (having been up for around 24 hours between my birth and the other birth she had been attending), and Seth and I went to bed.
Looking back, what I remember most is how peaceful most of the labor was. That last hour or so was incredibly intense and I wish I could have relaxed more. Next time, I’ll practice the relaxation techniques more to be better prepared for that intensity. But, there are snapshots of images and feelings that are forever in my mind: the peaceful walk under the stars, chatting with my family during early labor, the wonderful relief of the birth pool, Seth’s amazing support that made me feel safe and secure, the release of Eliana’s body coming out, the rush of awe and love when holding her for the first time, the joy and peace of being in my own bed next to my husband. These memories will always be treasured.
This is the beginning of a new life, a new future. My eyes and heart are looking forward and I am at peace.