This is the story of the birth of my first child. I now realize it’s as successful a birth as I could have asked for (all natural, no interventions), but of course it did not feel like a success at the time.
First, how I prepared for labor: I took a Bradley class with my husband and practiced only occasionally on some massage and relaxation techniques with him. I skimmed through a hypnobirthing book, downloaded some hypnobirthing scripts and other music. We hired a doula and met with her a couple of times and I created a birth plan. My goal was to have a completely natural birth.
The evening of January 3rd (Friday night), I noticed that my usual Braxton-Hicks contractions were accompanied by what felt like menstrual cramps. This made me wake up throughout the night, but I still managed to get some sleep. The big question Saturday morning was “is this real?” The cramps were getting stronger, but since I was still two days from my due date and was certain my first child would come late (as many people had told me), I was convinced this was going to be one of those “false labor” situations. That morning I took a long walk with my husband and stepdaughter, stopping a couple of times to figure out what I was feeling. It seemed the cramp/contractions would sometimes come every hour, sometimes a few times an hour. I was still convinced it was too early to matter, both in terms of their strength and my due date.
I went grocery shopping with my family and at that point the contractions felt stronger and stopped me in my tracks a couple of times. By 2pm on Saturday I decided to start timing them. They were anywhere between 12 and 20 minutes apart. I was still not sure if it meant anything (how could I go into labor with my first child before my due date?) I let my doula know about it just in case…
At home, I took a bath, which was helpful, but noticed that laying down in bed or sitting on anything was very uncomfortable and would actually bring on a contraction. The best way to get through each contraction was to stand, sway and have my husband knead my lower back (although this was never back labor, it just felt better to have him rub my back).
By 8pm Saturday the contractions were between 7 and 10 minutes apart, although sometimes it was hard to tell. Sometimes it seemed like two would come together and then not come for 15 minutes. Because my hospital was a 45 minute drive away, I asked my husband to take me to my mother, who was 15 minutes from the hospital, so that I wouldn’t have the anxiety of being “too far away” if and when this became the real thing. (I was STILL not convinced it was the real thing.) If anything convinced me that I was in labor, it was the car ride to my mother’s. It was uncomfortable to the point of tears, with occasional shooting pains up my uterus. My husband wanted to take me straight to the hospital, but I knew that if I didn’t have “4-1-1” (contractions four minutes apart, lasting a minute, for an hour), then I shouldn’t go in. Still, I called my doctor and doula just to keep folks on alert. I was hoping not to bother my doula until I got to the hospital, mostly because I wanted her to get enough sleep for the both of us before this endeavor.
By 11pm contractions were strong and 4 to 5 minutes apart. Sitting on the birth ball or the toilet, or laying down, would bring on stronger contractions, so I continued to mostly stand, sway or walk, nervous about how this would sap my energy. With my husband and mother convincing me it was time, I decided to go to the hospital.
At the hospital around midnight Sunday, I could no longer talk during contractions. The nurse confirmed that I was 3-4cm dilated and 100% effaced, making a snide comment that I should have called my doula earlier so that I could have labored longer at home. For me, so long as I had my birth plan, the hospital was actually the place I wanted to be. They had nice tubs and I couldn’t wait to get in one (crossing my fingers that the pain of sitting or laying would be superseded by the relaxing water). I was also alleviated of my anxiety about getting to the hospital “in time”. And I felt safer with medical professionals and monitoring available. However, I was dismayed to hear that I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink. This would prove impossible later on during my labor, and I would sneak water and dried dates when nursing staff wasn’t looking.
My goal was to stay relaxed and ride through the contractions as easily as possible. With my mother, my husband and my doula by my side, either pouring warm water on my stomach while I was in the tub, or vigorously rubbing my back while I swayed, I spent hours in a “zone” of moaning and chanting words like “Relax” “Yes” “Open” “Baby”, etc. Repeating the words on the hypnobirthing mp3s was also calming and gave me something to focus on. I had decided that I could not use swear words or say anything like “it hurts”, and that actually helped keep me feeling like I was in control. I focused intently on never tensing my pelvic region during contractions. The contractions were still strongest when I was laying down (which was unfortunately necessary for the several times the nurse needed to check the baby’s heart rate for 20 minutes) and on the toilet (which was unfortunately necessary for the several small bouts of diarrhea I was getting). I was constantly shaking also, which actually felt pleasant because it kept me from being tense.
By 8am it was clear that the baby was taking his time. The previous nurse had predicted that I would be pushing by now. When the nurses switched shifts, although I was around 8cm and I was happier with my new, more flexible and helpful nurse, I was dismayed to hear that I had a stubborn lip of cervix and the baby’s head was seemingly “stuck” under my pelvic bone. My contractions, apparently, were not strong enough and not frequent enough to get things moving into transition. Also, the elusive “urge to push” was nowhere to be found. On top of it all, I was exhausted and despairing, having not slept for 24 hours at this point and not knowing how to push this baby out. The nurse had me “practice” some very serious pushing during a contraction, which I thought was unorthodox (wouldn’t it swell my cervix?), but it helped me feel like I was priming my body for the final event. Unfortunately, the nurse didn’t think enough was happening and recommended Pitocin several times to help speed up and strengthen my contractions so I could get closer to the “involuntary” pushing stage, also noting that it meant I would have to stay on the fetal heart monitor continuously. I was devastated. I was already so tired, I figured that the Pitocin would quickly lead to a total inability to do this naturally. I was very much afraid of more pain as I felt that I was close to reaching the limit of what I could stand. This was the lowest point in my labor, as I genuinely didn’t know how else to get this baby out and the nurse didn’t seem to have much faith that I could. But my husband and doula kept encouraging me to stay the course.
My ob-gyn came by to check on me and, strangely, didn’t mention Pitocin but told me that it would take more time and that I needed to take a shower, get in the tub, and basically get my strength back. To me it seemed like I would have to go through labor a second time. My doula stayed with me as I lay in the tub and poured water on my stomach during contractions. I couldn’t exactly fall asleep between contractions, but I did get a slight feeling of rest. Still, I felt total hopelessness about my ability to get the baby out on my strength alone. I also felt incredibly guilty that my mother, my husband and my doula were all getting tired and I begged them all to rest. They got coffee instead.
By mid-morning I was out of the tub and the nurse had me practice pushing again (with my husband and doula holding my legs up as I couldn’t do it by myself anymore). This time I felt a couple of “involuntary” pushes but contractions were still not close enough together, the lip of cervix was still there, the baby’s head still not moving down. (Throughout the duration of my labor, I could never get the “urge to bear down” on its own. I always would have to jumpstart it by at least beginning to push on my own.) The nurse recommended Pitocin once again, said the doctor would decide what to do when he reviewed the strength and frequency of my contractions along with the baby’s heart rate (which was always great) and left the room. I was in tears, still exhausted and devastated.
At this point my doula led the charge to “naturally” get my contractions moving. This included nipple stimulation from my husband and getting into every “difficult” position that would lead to my strongest and hardest contractions. This was the most uncomfortable and painful part of labor, but my doula and my husband were an incredible team. For the next few hours, they both had their hands on me during each contraction, working together to provide counter-pressure, sturdy massage, wet towels for my forehead and neck, massage oils, etc. We watched the monitors to see how the pushes and the baby’s heart rate looked, trying to get everything to look “good” so that the doctor wouldn’t decide on Pitocin.
The positions that gave me the best “involuntary urge to push” were laying on my side with a peanut ball between my legs (this had broken my water a couple of hours earlier, which continued to leak for hours) and on the bed on all fours with my legs at a lower level than my arms. However, most of the time, I was simply pushing as much as I could on my own and visualizing moving the baby down. It was confusing because the nurse would tell me not to push because it was too soon, but then would have me practice pushing, which made me believe it was ok to push when she wasn’t around. Much of the pushing/contraction work we were doing with the doula was almost secretive, fearing we might get “caught”. Around 2pm, on all fours, I finally felt a large weight move down my pelvic region while I was pushing. I asked to be checked (I was repeatedly asking to be checked). The nurse told me the doctor was on his way back in to the hospital and would check me. However, she could tell that the head was very close.
By the time the doctor came in I was in agony. I felt I might crush the baby’s head if I moved, the pushes still weren’t really coming and, more than anything, I felt I was too tired to get the baby out. I was constantly saying things like “I don’t know what to do” and “what am I going to do”, because I genuinely didn’t think I could get the baby out on my own. The response from everyone was “you’re doing it”, but I was in so much pain and so exhausted that I felt they were lying to me.
The doctor had me get on my back and told me to start pushing as hard as I could for as long as I could during contractions. The contractions were still not very close together and it felt like forever waiting for one to come. My doula and my husband would hold my legs up to my chest and I would push with all my might (like I was having a bowel movement), trying not to make any noise but to direct all my force to the pushing. It took several long pushes (I could feel the “ring of fire” during each one) and in my mind I was begging that the doctor would reach in or suction or do anything possible, because I felt I couldn’t push the baby all the way out. The doctor was patient and continued to have me push. Finally, I felt a writhing, wet, warm little body on my stomach and then heard a baby cry. I couldn’t look down, I couldn’t look anywhere. I was in shock for half a minute, just breathing and staring out. Finally someone told me to look at my baby and I saw him. I couldn’t believe he was here.
Thomas was born at 3:14pm on Sunday, January 5th. He was eight pounds two ounces and 20.5 inches long. APGAR scores were 8/9.