From the beginning, I had wanted a natural birth experience. Though there is a crunchy granola part of me that would have loved to birth my son at home in a tub and immediately crawl into my own bed afterward, the larger, more sensible part of me decided that I could still have a natural birth in a hospital, as long as I surrounded myself with the right support team. At least that way, should (God forbid) something go wrong, we had all of modern medicine at our disposal should we need it. This decision started me on my quest to find the most amazing birth team possible, and let me tell you, I believe 100% that my birth story turned out the way it did because of the amazing team that I surrounded myself with. First and foremost, my amazing, strong husband, who advocated for me and supported me mentally & physically from beginning to end of this marathon labor. On the medical end, we had Linda, our spectacular, nurturing midwife who I literally trust with my life. Rounding out the team were our Doulas, Jocelyn & Giselle. Their role was vital for the whole natural-birth-in-a-hospital experience. Jocelyn & Giselle had been a part of my pregnancy since I was about 25 weeks along. We took their childbirth class, and they had been on call for questions or concerns since our relationship started. Once labor began, they were there to act as mental support for me to keep me focused on my path to natural labor, and also help provide physical relief as I labored. I say without a doubt that this whole experience would have been very different if not for Jocelyn & Giselle, and I am eternally grateful to them for the experience that they helped create.
Friday, March 28th had been my last day of work. Being a timely person myself, I fully expected my son to arrive on his due date of Monday, March 31st, or even a little bit before if I did things particularly right. The days leading up to my due date were spent analyzing every little sensation happening in my body. Was this finally labor? Was it happening?! Imagine my surprise (not!) when the 31st came and went with no baby. Once the 1st of April rolled around, I decided that my only job was to figure out how to bring this baby earthside. The following few days consisted of drinking a lot of cinnamon tea, eating pineapple, bouncing on my exercise ball, walking through stores, driving over potholes, and just about anything else I could do to “bring on labor”. In retrospect, I probably should have spent a little bit more of this time napping and relaxing on the couch, since I don’t think that any of these things actually helped little man on his journey. He came when he was ready.
On the morning of Wednesday April 2, I woke up around 3:30 am to contractions. I remember waiting out the contractions and using the handy “contraction timer” app on my phone to time them. After about an hour of consistent contractions about 3-5 minutes apart, I excitedly woke Mike up and said to him “I think we’re going to have a baby today!” He was so excited. I texted our Doulas, who told me to head back to bed and get as much rest as I could and to update them when I woke up again. After a few more hours of sleep, I woke up again and much to my dismay, the contractions had stopped. I remember feeling bad for getting Mike excited for nothing. Frustration. More bouncing, tea drinking, walking, etc.
Thursday morning, April 3, I awoke to slight cramping again and shortly after getting up, my “show” made its appearance. My contractions were nothing like the ones that I was having the previous morning, but not nothing at all. Mike took the day off and we took advantage of the opportunity to run some errands, though I was exhausted. We walked Target & Home Depot, then came home and made ourselves spaghetti for dinner- what I would soon realize would be the last real meal I would eat until after Michael’s arrival. We decided at this point that the reality was that Baby Michael was probably going to make his appearance sooner rather than later, so we called my parents in Michigan and suggested that they plan to leave MI and head toward IL first thing Friday morning, just to be safe. Around 7pm on Thursday, my contractions started in earnest. I texted my Doulas an update and hopped in the tub to try to relax. I spent the evening timing my contractions, which were regularly coming about 7-8 minutes apart, but I could still function through them. I decided to crawl into bed to rest and see what happened. When Mike came to bed, I remember saying to him “This might be the last night that we ever go to bed together without a baby”. As it turns out, I was only partially right.
After a few short hours of sleep, I woke up around 1am on Friday April 4 to painful contractions. I didn’t want to get my hopes up again like I had on Wednesday, so I tried to just relax in bed and see how they went. By 2:30am, I realized that this was the real deal and I woke up Mike to tell him that I was going to call Jocelyn over to help me work through the contractions. Jocelyn got to the house around 3:30am and, though Mike wanted to get up, I told him to stay in bed and sleep as long as he could since I had Jocelyn and my wonderful little dogs at my side to help me through these early stages of labor. We had no idea just how much he would appreciate that extra little bit of sleep as the labor unfolded. Jocelyn and I sat in the living room with the dogs as the contractions became more and more difficult for me to get through. We watched “That Touch of Mink” with Doris Day and Carey Grant, then put on my “Kings of Convenience” radio station on Pandora once I wasn’t able to enjoy the movie any more. It was at this point, when contractions were still manageable, that I said to Jocelyn a few things that would end up being my inspiration throughout the rest of my labor. The first thing I said was “The best thing about contractions is that they always end.” which is absolutely true, though much harder to remember at the end of labor. I also shared with Jocelyn my personal mantra for life, which is “In this moment, I am perfect.” I let her know that, to me, this meant that my body and spirit are always in the place that they need to be, doing what they need to be doing in that exact moment. Jocelyn remembered this and recited it back to me many times throughout the next few days. During this early labor, Jocelyn applied pressure to my lower back, massaged my legs, put a cold washcloth on my forehead, and suggested new positions as I labored in the comfort of my living room. By around 8am, Mike had gotten up and we decided it was nearly time to head into the hospital. Jocelyn said that I should eat some protein to build up my strength, so Mike gave me a hard boiled egg which did not sit well with my stomach. I threw it up immediately and we decided to just stick with juice. Shortly after, we gathered all of our hospital bags and hit the road. On the way in, we called the hospital to let them know that we were on our way and would like the room with the tub if it was available, since there is only one at the hospital. I also called Linda to let her know that it was baby time. The answering service passed the message along, but surprisingly, I got a call back from the other, newer Midwife in the practice letting me know that it was her on call day at the hospital and Linda would not be there. “OK, I can deal with this.” I thought. After all, I knew that it was a possibility that Linda wouldn’t deliver my baby, but I didn’t realize until later how much this fact would genuinely affect my labor.
Regardless, we arrived at the hospital around 9:30am, where I was showed to the one room with a birthing tub (yay!) after a relatively easy check in process. Shortly after, the other midwife came in and checked my cervix. I was dilated to 4 cm, which surprised all of us, as we really thought that I had dilated further after the contractions that I had been having. The other Midwife was excited and said “It looks like we are going to have a baby today!” Which is the best thing that a woman in labor can hear. She then followed up with “…one way or another. Because I really want to sleep in my own bed tonight.” I know she meant it as a light-hearted joke, but that latter part of her sentence ended up haunting me the rest of that day. After my check, I got comfy in the wonderful cotton labor gown that I brought from home and got hooked up to the wireless monitors. I asked if I could get into the tub to labor, but was told that I couldn’t because it might slow down labor and we didn’t want that to happen at this point. I sadly obliged, and for the next several hours we walked the halls of the hospital, bounced on the exercise ball, and swayed to rhythm of my contractions. At some point my parents showed up, so Mike and I walked out to the waiting area to meet them and give them an update, even though there really wasn’t much to share. I continued to request that I hop in the tub, but was shot down by the midwife each time. At about 4pm, she came back in to checked my cervix again. I was only dilated to “maybe 5 centimeters.” It was so disheartening. “All that work, and for what?” I thought. In retrospect, I know that those hours of labor were probably rotating my baby and pushing him down my birth canal, but without that physical evidence of dilation and use of the phrase “failure to progress”, it was a very tough emotional moment in my labor.
After this check, the Midwife decided it was time to make a decision. She presented me with these options: 1) Allow her to break my waters (they had not yet ruptured on their own) to push my labor along, or 2) Go home and come back later. WHAT!? This was not what Linda and I had discussed. I asked for a few minutes to think over my options. “Why isn’t it an option for me to stay there and labor at the hospital?” “Its not like there was a line out the door of women waiting for a room in labor & delivery!” “I don’t want to lose my tub room!” I said. Was this because she wanted to go home and sleep in her own bed like she said earlier?” I thought. I didn’t know her well enough to trust that she had my best interest in mind, though I realized later that she did. I debated the options with Mike, who pointed out to me that we probably didn’t want to go with option number one yet, because if I still did not dilate further after getting my waters broken, we would then have to do Pitocin, and if that didn’t work within a certain amount of time, we would be headed down a road of interventions that we did NOT want to go down. I am so grateful to him for his clarity in that moment. I was, however, still confused as to why we couldn’t stay, so I asked the Midwife when she returned. Her answer was not straight-forward enough for a woman in labor to understand. Again, in hindsight, it is amazing that she even allowed me to go home to relax and labor in the relative comfort of my own cozy surroundings, but I would have felt much better about it if I had been given the option to stay, then gently nudged toward the option of going home. Mike was unhappy with her answer as well, and decided to go into the hall to have some words with her. I was oblivious at the time, but apparently he used some persuasive, choice words with her which have earned him a bit of a reputation at the OB/Midwife practice now that the ordeal is over. (“If we get into a car accident on the way home or my wife delivers our baby at home and something happens to him, that’s on you!” or something to that effect) Regardless, I am so grateful for his efforts, because he came back in with a new option #3 that I was much more comfortable with: We could have one more hour to walk, bounce, etc at the hospital to see if I progressed any more. If I hadn’t dilated any further, we would then head home to labor more. So, after another excruciating hour with no more dilation, we threw our arms up and decided to head home with the best attitude possible.
It was time for Jocelyn to head home for some sleep, as she had been up with me since 2:30am, so Giselle came and met us at the hospital then came back to the house with us. The car ride was pure hell for me, as I was exhausted, frustrated, and there were a lot of potholes! When we got home, I managed to somehow, in between contractions, eat a piece of toast and hop in the shower. After my shower, I crawled into bed with Giselle right behind me. I was so exhausted that I managed to nap between contractions, only to wake up screaming to strong contractions that I was not able to mentally prepare myself for in my sleep. Mike tried to sleep on the couch, but ended up in the bedroom with us as he had been woken up by my very loud vocalizations. He relieved Giselle for a while and let her take a quick nap. By 4am or so, I couldn’t figure out how to get through contractions anymore. I remember laying down, sitting up in bed, folding myself over a stack of pillows, sitting on the exercise ball draped in Mike’s arms, hot compresses, cold towels- the list goes on and on. There were a lot of tears and exhaustion. I started to think about going back on my plan and getting an epidural. By 6am on Saturday April 5, I was at my wits end. I decided it was time to go back to the hospital and no one was going to stop me.
We grabbed our bags again and headed into the hospital again. We called the hospital again and told them we wanted the tub room again. We called our Midwife office answering service again, but this time, to my absolute delight, Linda called me back to let me know that she was on call for labor and delivery that day. I was as happy as I could be at that point. The car ride back to the hospital was almost too much to take. It was so painful for me to have a contraction while sitting still, sitting straight up, and going over potholes. I remember weeping in the car and telling Mike that if I had not dilated any further when we got to the hospital, I was going to have to get an epidural because I just couldn’t do it anymore. Mike respectfully said “Let’s just see how things are going when we get there, then we can decide.”
Mike, Giselle and I arrived at the hospital around 6:30am and were met by Jocelyn again. Linda was also there waiting for us, and together, the 5 of us walked right back into the room with the tub (thank God!) where she checked my cervix and excitedly informed me that I was dilated to 8cm! All thoughts of giving up on my plan were gone from my mind, and in their place was excitement, determination, and a new vigor. Linda handled me with such warmth and compassion and made me feel so completely at ease. She said that she was so proud of how far I had come and that I could hop right into the tub to labor my last few centimeters. I was so relieved. The tub felt so nice. I distinctly remember labor in the tub. There were some contractions that continued to burn and rip through me like others had, but there were others where I was able to just float in the water and breathe through them. It was amazing how much more manageable they felt. That water was miraculous.
After about an hour in water, I started shaking and throwing up, so together we decided it was time for me to get out as I was probably in transition. Linda, who was in the room focusing all of her nurturing and attention on me, checked me again and let me know that I was at 9cm and it was time to break my waters! Since I was so far along at this point, I was OK with this decision and let her go ahead with it. I remember a few times during the last few days of pregnancy thinking “Did my water just break?” and looking back, I can’t help but laugh because I now know that I would have KNOWN if my water had broken! After it was done, I remember being SO grateful that I hadn’t let the other Midwife do it sooner. The quality of the contractions changed so much. They came much quicker and stronger and I started getting very VERY loud and vocal. I distinctly remember screaming “F*CK!!!!!!!!!!!!!” at the top of my lungs during the first contraction after my water was broken. From that point, I screamed “I can’t! I can’t!” many times, until I was reminded that “you can” from my awesome Doulas, at which point I started to scream “I can! I can!” instead. I like to think that I somehow managed a sarcastic tone, even in the throngs of delivering my baby.
At 10:10am, Linda finally pronounced me 10 centimeters dilated and said that I could push. I was very hesitant at first, as it was just too much pain and pressure to take, but then I realized that the only way out of this state was to push. SO. I. PUSHED. I remembered hearing in yoga and childbirth class that “if you feel like you’re pooping, you’re using the right muscles” so that is how I pushed. For the last portion of my pushing, Linda said that she was going to give me instructions while I was pushing and it was very important that I follow them, so I took her word as law. She said push, I pushed. She said exhale for 5 counts, I exhaled for 5 counts. She said push again, I pushed again. Until I felt like I was going to pass out. After 32 minutes of me feeling my body do things that I never imagined it could do, I heard the scream of my beautiful baby. In the middle of what she promised to be my last push, Linda presented me with the one experience that I didn’t even know I wanted more than anything else in my labor. Right after Michael’s head was delivered, during the most intense part of pushing, she said “Honey, open your eyes and look at your baby. Do you want to catch your son?” I opened my eyes which had been slammed shut to focus on exerting as much power as I could during pushing, saw that sweet, sweet baby’s head, and replied “GIVE HIM TO ME!” I reached down, grabbing my baby boy by the underarms, and pulled his soft, squishy, wet, wiggly little body onto my chest.
I did not escape the whole ordeal unscathed, with a few stitches and a broken tailbone as souveniers, but I didn’t care. I did it. He was here, in all of his 8lb 13 oz, 22 inch glory. I couldn’t believe it! After 41 long hours of labor, my sweet, sweet son had arrived- and he was all mine forever.
They say hindsight is 20/20, and I absolutely believe it to be true. A few things that I took away from my birthing experience:
1) Mental state plays a huge role in physical progress. I really think that, subconsciously, I wanted Linda to deliver my son, thus accounting for my supposed “stalled labor” on the first day
2) Don’t necessarily abide by the “rules” of labor- trust your instinct. My contractions never really got closer together than 6 minutes apart. Up until the time I started pushing, I was still able to doze briefly in between contractions. My body was doing exactly what it needed in order for me to safely deliver my baby. If I would have waited for my contractions to be 3-4 minutes apart before going to the hospital like they say, we would have had the baby at home!
3) Its OK to change your birth plan/its really important to have a birth team that you trust. We went into the labor knowing that we wanted a natural labor and delivery, but open to the fact that it may change. We trusted our team of Doulas and Midwives implicitly and know that they were supportive of a natural labor if it was going to be safe to do. We came to terms with the fact that, if they suggested that it was necessary for an intervention (ie. c-section, etc.) it was because it was medically necessary, not just because they wanted to move things along and get us out of the hospital. Granted, that trust had not been established with the first Midwife, which accounted for some of the stress of that first day. Also, by the 2nd morning when I said I would want an epidural if I hadn’t progressed, I had already thought a lot about it and made peace with the decision. I would not have physically been able to continue to labor like I had been for much longer than I did, and if I couldn’t push when I eventually needed to due to exhaustion, that would have defeated the whole purpose of my natural labor because it would have most likely resulted in a much more dramatic intervention.
4) The instinct and physical capability of a woman in labor is truly remarkable. I will never forget the struggle and pain that I went through, yet I find myself yearning to experience it all over again. I want to re-live those moments over and over- the first time I felt my son, heard my son, saw my husband’s face in my son. It was all worth it, and I am so grateful that I was mentally present so that I could truly appreciate what my body and spirit were going through during the onset of labor, in the throngs of delivery, and during those first precious moments when my life became whole.