Monday, August 6, 2007, during a trip to the bathroom, I lost part of my mucous plug. This sent me into a rather large panic attack (or that could have been the two cups of coffee I had drank in order to gear up and clean/shop/pack/plan for our upcoming homebirth). Of course, nothing laboriffic happened that day. Or the next. Or even the next. Aside from some irregular Braxton Hicks throughout and a bit more mucous plug, I was definitely Not In Labor. On Thursday morning, very early (about 1am and just as we were going to bed), we had an earthquake. Just before, I had been having some more regular, more painful feelings down below. The earthquake really shook me up, har har. I was worried that we would continue to have aftershocks, etc. and somehow this would impede the homebirth we’d been carefully planning (and paying for). Of course, it was a singular event and nothing much more happened seismically that evening, besides those contractions within that were systematically increasing in sensation and duration – but staying a safe ten minutes apart. They were just prominent enough to keep me from getting any good sleep, let’s just say.
The next day, I was sure that labor would kick into gear, after all, my midwives had been pretty sure that I would labor quickly due to this being my second baby. I mopped the floor and put out nutritious food for the birthing team. Lucas and I had a nice breakfast together that I contracted all the way through. We came home and rested. Waited. By the late afternoon, it was time to pick up our daughter from camp, and we did not have the baby we’d promised her. I was still having to breathe through the regular ten-minute apart pains, and was getting a little bit cranky already. When dinnertime came, we decided to go out. All I wanted was a baked potato, so we went to Outback Steakhouse. Boy was THAT a mistake. It was loud, cheesy, annoying. Marin and Lucas bickered. I felt dishonored by that. I wanted to be in a serene setting with my family around me, comforting me and helping me prepare for labor. Not in this chain restaurant fielding stupid arguments. I ate my food quickly, made small talk and then beat it for the sanctuary of the car. That evening, as it became clear we would not be having a baby anytime soon, I opted for a big glass of wine for the frustration reprieve and the sleep it would help me have. And sleep I did, but not for long. I think I finally got to bed around midnight and I was up again at 4am on Friday morning, no longer able to ignore the increasingly powerful contractions I was feeling. They weren’t getting any closer together, but boy were they demanding my attention. I woke Lucas and asked him to please fill the birthing tub. He had set it up in our room, in front of our big picture window the afternoon before and the promise of warm, deep water was just too inviting. He was weary, groggy, but eager to help. He fumbled around with the hose and pump, deciding to fill the bathtub with hot water and then just pump the water into the tub rather than try to fit the spigot…whatever, just get that baby filled! I paced around waiting before remembering to ask Lucas if he’d used the individual plastic liner for the tub. Ah geez. He’d forgotten. He ended up having to empty the birthing tub and install the liner and THEN refill the bathtub, etc. This was pretty discouraging to me, as I had seriously wanted to get in that sucker. He had it refilled to about six inches before I could wait no longer. I undressed and lowered myself into whatever water was there, and good heavens it was such a difference. I spent a lot of the early morning in that tub while Lucas slept. I was able to doze off between contractions for the relaxation the warmth was giving me and I do believe that this rest was crucial to the strength I would need to birth our child.
Hours slipped by and nothing had really seemed to progress. I had been on the toilet, pacing, soaking, trying to lie down and sleep, throughout those hours. Sitting on the toilet was pretty comfortable, as I’d heard from many people. It does kind of allow your body to open up and relax because you’re just so used to doing it anyways. On many of the contractions I had while sitting on the toilet, I felt real pressure to bear down. This concerned me, but I have never felt the urge to push as described, so I wasn’t sure if this was it, I just knew that it was a pretty intense feeling.
Our 11-year-old daughter Marin woke up eventually, probably around 9am. It had been a huge concern of mine that I wouldn’t know what to do about laboring near Marin. I worried that I would feel uncomfortable being in pain in front of her, scaring her, making her feel weird, whatever. For the most part, I would feel myself kind of gather it together a little more when she was around…but I have to say that during many of the contractions that hurt so badly in my back, her little hands on me were like magic. Speaking of back labor…most of my pain was in my lower back and right hip. I thought to myself “this baby is posterior”, but I was in doubt because my entire pregnancy, he was anterior…all the way up until just a few days prior. In any case, I was definitely feeling the lower back pain and while I walked around the house, swaying my hips and kind of bouncing around, I would keep the knuckles of both my hands rubbing the lower pressure points in my back. I noticed that when I sat down, things would slow so I forced myself to stand and walk, even though I was tired and kept thinking I just wanted to lie down for a nap. When I did finally lie down, the pain was so severe that I had to get back up. So walking around it was. Good thing our house is pretty big, I was able to do laps through the kitchen, den and living room for awhile before becoming bored.
This all continued in pretty much the same fashion until about 10 or 11 am, when I decided that Lucas should call my midwife. Nothing had really happened by way of my contractions getting closer together, but I was definitely getting curious if I was truly in labor and honestly kind of wanted another female to come be with me. Lucas was busy cooking for Marin, doing his stuff around the house, and even sleeping on and off. He would come to me when I asked him to, but at this time there wasn’t really a whole lot for him to do. (We had originally planned that our friend Katie would come doula for us, but I knew she had plans on Friday afternoon and didn’t want to put her in a weird position by calling her when I wasn’t sure if my labor was really doing anything or not.) I was in the tub again when Lucas called our midwife Leslie. She told me that I should try some nipple stimulation to get the contractions up and running, and to get out of the tub if it slowed things down (it didn’t speed things up or anything but it felt too good to get out.) and that it wasn’t really full blown labor until the contractions were coming five minutes apart. I pretty much figured she would say this…After our phone call, I zoned out in the tub for awhile, kind of snoozing between contractions and then got out and decided I was going to watch a movie with Marin or something to keep my mind and focus off the clock. Leslie called back to suggest she stop by to check my cervix for progress and I noticed that while I was talking to her, I was much more energized, talkative and relaxed. I thought, ”good grief, I’m really not in labor here”, but what are you gonna do? I suggested that we meet Leslie at her office instead, thinking that a trip out of the house might help break up the day. We agreed to meet in an hour– at 12:30pm – and hung up.
After I got off the phone with Leslie and solidified our plans with Lucas, I had three or four REALLY STRONG contractions right in a row. Lucas’ concern was piqued, as mine. I said “I’m not going anywhere, call Leslie back and tell her to come here instead” and got back into the tub. Lucas called and then came to sit with me while I had steady 4-minute spaced contractions for an hour.
I guess all I needed was that phone call.
Leslie had called while on her way and told Lucas that they usually didn’t want women in the tub before being dilated to 5cm because it slowed contractions down, and to stimulate my nipples to help contractions continue. At this time, I didn’t feel like I really needed any help keeping them coming, but we did some nipple stimulation as instructed, and yes, it really did help them come on strong. OUCH.
Leslie arrived at about 1230pm; I was still busy contracting in the tub with my husband at my side (he never left after those three really big ones. I finally told him I needed him there no matter what. SO glad I did.). She entered the room quietly and began setting up her gear, went to change her clothes and then donned a rubber glove to check my cervix. To her, and our surprise, I was dilated to a good 5cm! See, I TOLD you!! Lucas and I were pleased and charged up to continue our labor. Marin would come in now and again to check on me, kneel by the side of the tub and splash her hands in the water. I breathed deep, deep breaths moaned, cursed, mentally decided to give up (more than once), and tried not to bite off my sweet husband’s hands as they stimulated my nipples between contractions. The way they were coming, I would have a REALLY HUGE one and then a nice, mellow contraction. While I knew the REALLY HUGE ones were the most productive, it was those mellow ones I was grateful for. I had Lucas open the blinds wide so I could gaze out over our swimming pool to the hills behind and focus on staying open, breathing past the pain, and keeping my bottom soft for our baby to move down, down, down. The tub was awesome to labor in! The water allows you to move so freely, I could lift my butt up during the contractions and remove the pressure from my tailbone and lower back. I kind of went into a frog squat each time I would feel one coming on until Lucas remembered the supported squat position and would throw his arms under mine and pull me into a full squat. This was such a huge difference and it felt so good to have his strength behind me during those moments.
After a particularly huge and painful contraction, I felt horribly nauseated and finally threw up in a bowl I had been keeping nearby for that purpose. At this time, I must have thought I was nearing transition and kind of did a mental checklist looking for any shakiness or chills or anything else besides puking I had read or heard about from other women’s labors. The nausea became a theme, and after any really big one…I had to grab the bowl, although nothing like that first bout of puking happened again, just a few heaves here and there.
Not too long after, Leslie returned to check my cervix…6cm, but she thought that during a contraction I could easily open to 7cm and that if things continued at this pace, I’d be fully dilated in an hour and a half. This was awesome and awful at the same time. While I was happy to be progressing, an hour and half sounded like the longest time in the world and I didn’t know how much longer I was going to be able to take it. I expressed that to Leslie and she, in her wisdom – and just like I knew she would – said that was a good sign and usually when a woman is ready to give up, she’s ready to give birth. I accepted that and continued on with the breathing and cursing and the husband’s incessant stimulation of my nipples (bless him.)
Throughout all of this, my water had not yet broke and Leslie had mentioned that she could break it for me when, after the 6cm check, it had begun to bulge in front of the baby’s head. I didn’t opt for this at first but since we were so far along, and I knew that birth would happen sooner than later, I saw no reason why we shouldn’t just have her reach in and pop it with her fingertips during a contraction. I had thought perhaps it would hurt more when it was broken, but oddly, I felt a real relief once that additional pressure was off of my cervix. We continued to labor in the pool and after what seemed to be a very short time, Leslie checked me again and proclaimed that I was at 9cm! This was awesome news. She said that if I felt like pushing with any of my contractions, to feel free so I began consciously waiting for that urge. While I did not feel an overwhelming need to push on any of the following contractions, there were a few that, at the end, I felt my body surge into a few quick grunting pushes. This was intense! Of course, I was in some serious pain and vocalizing VERY loudly at the peaks of my contractions. At one point, my husband – thinking he was hilarious, no doubt – leaned forward and whispered “so you still want to have another baby after this?” and without missing a beat I answered “YES”…haha. showed him.
With one of those grunty contractions, I felt myself poo a little and that soon led to me wanting to get out of the water. I asked Leslie if pushing would be easier out of the water and she said that some women do feel better with a little added gravity. She suggested getting on the bed, in a side lying position with Lucas supporting my knee to open my pelvis nice and wide and that sounded good to me, so they helped me out of the tub, dried me off, and then helped me move onto our bed with some chux pads underneath me.
We immediately moved into the suggested position and I began pushing with each contraction. Leslie was oiling my perineum and inside my vagina with olive oil, and when I would contract, she’d put her fingers inside me and do perineal massage, helping the baby’s head to move down the birthing canal. Having her fingers there helped me focus on where to push, and also helped me feel if I was pushing hard enough. One thing is for certain; you have to push friggin’ HARD. Getting the baby’s head to move past my pubic bone was the main obstacle and throughout the entire time until he would crown, I felt like I was making zero progress. Leslie and Lucas were doing very well at cheering me along, and at some point Leslie’s assistant Cheryl showed up. They all coached me through each contraction, inspiring me to push my hardest – to give another push when I could – to rest in between contractions.
I felt like a wild animal. I felt my eyes widen and roll and my breathing was heavy in between those extremely powerful surges of strength. This was one part where my body really took over and I waited for that relief I’d heard other women talk about when they told their own pushing stories. I wouldn’t necessarily call it relieving to push, but I definitely had the power to push “past” my pain if I wanted which was a change from having to surrender to contractions up until that point – so maybe that’s what they mean by relief.
Marin tried to come into the room a few times during this period and both times I asked her to leave. Whenever she would appear, all of my focus would shift to her and I just couldn’t push the way I needed to. My motherly instincts wanted to watch her instead of work on pushing the baby out. I felt bad – still feel guilty – for doing that, but I needed to, and I hope she understands.
Once the baby was beginning to crown, I felt a slight burning sensation as his head pushed against my perineum. The assistant went to get Marin for the birth, and I just pushed and pushed until my baby’s head was out of me. I had been instructed that I would need to pant at this point to avoid a tear, etc. but for some reason I just kept on pushing and no one told me to stop. I looked down and saw his little hand waving in the air, and heard Leslie tell me to go ahead and push all I wanted until he was sliding all the way out of me and up onto my stomach. That part was just so fast; I hardly knew what was happening. He was so warm and wet and bony and beautiful and covered in meconium. Good lord, was he messy! It was at 5:05pm that our son Ocean White was born at home, in the bed we made him in.
As it turns out, he was posterior. Lucas says he came out with his eyes wide open. His cord was wrapped twice, loosely around his waist, which I think was from him turning posterior in the early part of labor, anterior again while I was in the tub, and then posterior to be born. He had his fist by his face so that it rose into the air in front of his head. Lucas says he came out like superman. While he was being cleaned off, and when we were waiting for his cord to stop pulsating, he found his fist and began to suck – so that I think he was doing that for months, in utero. He was very raspy at first and had to be suctioned more than once. It was all clear mucous being drawn from his throat and nose, so nothing to be alarmed about…just needed to make sure his breathing was strong. He pinked up quickly and took to the breast after about thirty minutes of fussing to clear his lungs. I didn’t need any stitches, much to my surprise, being a fair-skinned girl, and all – I thought for sure I’d tear at least a little. There was a minor abrasion, but nothing too major.
Labor was a huge journey, physically. It hurt like hell and then was so freakin' surreal and then there was elation and then more elation and then some joy. I drew closer to my husband in ways no words will ever touch - he was a driving force, a steady ally, a comforting softness. and I think I really impressed him. Go me.
Ocean is beautiful - very peaceful and calm. Tiny in such a perfect way, although he weighed just the right amount (a good sized baby). He’s got light hair that might even be red like mine and these big peering baby colored eyes. His arms and legs are skinny and they end in these wrinkly old man appendages and his butt is narrow and bony just like it felt through my skin.
My healing process has been quick, the last few days have been...sore. But I’m sleeping enough. He sleeps a lot right now and really its more trying to keep him up so I can see his lovely little eyes than trying to get him to sleep. He’s barely left my arms, he's wearing his little cloth diapers and sleeping next to me and the groove is being set.
I consider this experience to be the most amazing and powerful one of my entire life. Eleven years ago, I had an unplanned cesarean after a long labor, and while I had no idea at the time what that would mean for me – I ran up against considerable resistance when I wanted to birth this baby at home. Thanks to a physician who believed not only in me but the rights of all women to birth vaginally after a cesarean, and my wonderful midwives – I was given the chance to have the birth I’d been envisioning since I’d found I was pregnant.