My first birth fell far from the natural ideal I had imagined. I was in my early 20s and in a rocky marriage to a chronically sick husband. At 37 weeks, after being plagued by a misbehaving gallbladder throughout the pregnancy, I was told we needed to induce for a rare liver condition. Despite having a fascination for midwives and natural birth already, I had been too stressed to prepare and had no way to cope with an induced labor. I did not set up a birth plan or support team for myself and the cascade of interventions was predictable. I will never regret the induction – it possibly saved my son’s life – but his birth story could have done without the epidural/surprise episiotomy and the after effects of those.
This second pregnancy was far more peaceful than my first. New hubby and I were open to continuing our family from the get go and were over the moon when it happened so quickly. I was determined to do things differently with this birth. There are no nearby birth centers and with my history of ICP I knew a home birth wasn’t really an option for us. I looked for advice on natural birth friendly doctors and chose one who came highly recommended. We discussed the possibility of my liver problem coming back and then proceeded on with a pretty uneventful pregnancy. I did get more nervous as time went on that the itching would start and we would need to be induced by at least 37 weeks (before the risk of stillbirth goes up). I was making plans for a drug free, doula assisted/husband supported birth and early induction didn’t jive with that! 37 weeks came and went with no itching. It was starting to look like our prayers for a complication free pregnancy had been answered. Week 38 came and went. The weather was warming up and I started to get impatient to meet our son (in the way only an increasingly large pregnant lady can be impatient, haha). The night before our 39 week appointment (Wednesday night) my Braxton Hicks contractions seemed to change. They started to feel lower and more connected to my back. Little guy wasn’t moving as much so at the doctor’s the next day we did a non stress test, which showed little guy doing just fine. I didn’t appear to be having any significant contractions and was at about 3 1/2 cm (I had been at 3cm and 90% effaced since my 36 week appointment). The next evening (Friday) we made a trial run to labor and delivery as I was having contractions 7 minutes apart and was concerned I might have been leaking amniotic fluid. I was sent home on “labor precautions” but was told there was no fluid leak. The next day we took a long walk then attended a birthday party, hoping to either kick start labor or just distract myself.
Again the next day (Sunday) I felt sure I was leaking but decided just to keep hydrated and try not to focus on my impatience for labor to get started already. Of course I did take some of my evening primrose oil and gave the breast pump a try just in case those might kick something off!
Monday morning I felt fine, despite having had one or two uncomfortable contractions the night before. I got up, made oatmeal banana pancakes and planned a walk to the playground with Row. We packed lunch, grabbed the wagon and headed off. Pregnancy brain struck and I realized I locked my keys in the house, but luckily hubby was able to leave work and bring them to me. It was good to see him, even if just for a couple of minutes. Little did he know how soon he would be seeing me again!
It was such a beautiful day that we stayed at the playground until 1:45 (45 minutes past the start of naptime). As soon as I stood up to start back home I felt a contraction. I started timing them as I pulled the wagon home. I was surprised to see they were about 5 minutes apart. I assumed they would go away as soon as I got home and had some water/put my feet up. I put kiddo down for his nap, grabbed my water and laid down. The contractions didn’t stop. At 2:08 I called my doctor and asked the nurse if we should maybe come in to have them check for amniotic fluid leaks, since I was having regular contractions. My doctor said to just head to labor and delivery if my contractions stayed regular. I called my doula and we agreed that since I could talk through them I should just go get in a warm bath and see what happened before calling my husband to come home. At 2:30 while I was running my bath I was surprised with a truly painful contraction. It about took me to my knees and when it was over I called my husband and said I was getting in the bath and that if it didn’t stop the contractions he would need to head home soon. Another contraction later and I called him to come home. I was starting to feel panicky about being at home alone with a 4 year old and increasingly painful contractions. Once hubby was home he timed a few contractions and since they were averaging about 3-4 minutes apart we decided to head to the hospital. I got out of the bath and tried to help get a bag packed for Row but ended up waiting on my antique birthing stool while hubby fed the cat, ect ect. Finally it was time to go. The car ride was pretty unpleasant. At first I kept up with Row’s questions/chatter but the ride was taking far too long since we hit pretty bad traffic. The sun was beating down on my face and belly and I zoned out – during every contraction I imagined I was on one of our favorite beaches in Puerto Rico. The sun was beating down on me and I let the heat flow down and come out of the tips of my toes. I told myself that as soon as it was over, I would take a dip in the lovely cool water… We dropped Row off at my aunts house and I thought – I hope this isn’t another false alarm. That would be such a nuisance! Also, I was worried about real labor if this might not be it.
We finally made it to the hospital around 5:00. We had to stop twice on the walk to l&d for me to hold on to hubby through a contraction. The tears in my eyes must have been pretty convincing, because we went straight to a room instead of triage this time. They asked me to gown up and checked me. 8 cm!?! I was shocked and elated. We were actually going to have a baby! Sure enough when they checked this time, the test showed I had been leaking fluid, although baby’s head was comfortably floating up high on an intact forebag. The nurses asked me questions and started initial monitoring while we waited for my doula and best friend to arrive. They soon arrived and I tried several different positions and asked for lots of counter pressure for my back. I decided to try out the tub, which was nice for a while but made counter pressure for my back difficult. Hubby clearly found it difficult as well 😉
As I moved farther into labor-land my own recollections get fuzzier. I know my support team was awesome. My doula and best friend kept me moving and laughing. I loved having my custom warrior labor mix playing on my iPod dock – courtesy of my brother in law. Hubby was always right there with an affirmation, bible verse or physical support when I needed him. It was a team effort and I definitely felt the love.My husband was amazing throughout the entire pregnancy and labor – I could not be more proud and appreciative of him!
The nurse checked me again and I was almost fully dilated with just a lip. We decided to see if we could get the forebag to break by having me lay on my left side. It worked! And was excruciating. Past that point it seemed the contractions came one after another and they were so strong I was just being pulled this way and that along with them, having no ability to think about positions or coping techniques. I know we again tried some positions to get baby to turn his head: it worked and was time to push. My support team told me to push and it would feel better. I told them I needed a C section and drugs. Lots of drugs. Oh, transition 😉 I started to push but felt anything but in control of the situation. I had ended up on the bed, slightly tilted to my left. It felt wrong but I was in too much pain to figure out what to do about it. The pressure on my pelvis was incredible. My support team saw the panic in my face and tried to refocus me. A couple of times I was able to focus on hubby and seize a few seconds of calm surrender in between contractions. But mostly I screamed at the pain – fighting it and not helping my cause one bit. But a fleeting thought brought Ina May Gaskin’s advice to mind: she counseled to “let the monkey do it” or if you didn’t fancy imagining you were a primate in order to let your body take over, to pick any other wild animal. I had jokingly told hubby I would imitate a mountain lion the whole labor. While I didn’t remember this until I was pushing, once I did, I lowered my voice (helpful anyway) and made my screams more like roars. That – the deep down roaring – started to see results. Hubby left my side to prepare to catch the baby. I saw my doctor coaching him on where to put his hands. I knew the only way out of the pain was through it so I pushed. I pushed like crazy. I remember feeling surprised I didn’t experience a “ring of fire” feeling when he crowned. All I could feel was earth shaking pressure. And then…
Connor was born at 7:37 – about 2 1/2 hours after we arrived at the hospital. I was totally shell shocked through his being handed to me and the delivery of the placenta (I didn’t even have to do anything with my first birth. I had to work for it this time!) Then, as my doctor checked me out – not a single tear – (while my much smaller first son had apparently “required” an episiotomy) it started to actually sink in that I had done it. I had gone into labor on my own and delivered our son with no drugs! Now that is one indescribable feeling. And the real payoff was afterwards – no epidural “shakes”, no catheter – just a birth team that followed our birth “preferences” to the letter. Delayed cord clamping, the first hour for nothing but skin to skin bonding and breastfeeding – it was awesome. Finally I did give permission for the nurse to take him and wipe him down/do the necessary stuff. I was pretty content to rest for a bit under a warm blanket. After a while my best friend went to go get my favorite Mexican food and there was much feasting and rejoicing throughout the land!