My due date (Saturday, March 24th) passed with no sign of labor; this was to be expected, but already I had been getting impatient for several days, not knowing what to do with myself. I knew that I should savor each of these last days during which our family consisted of Aaron and myself, but it was difficult for feeling guilty not to be working, and like we were all just waiting around for me to get going – so much anticipation.
On March 22nd, I had had an appointment with the midwife Katie who measured my cervix at 1.5cm dilated and about half effaced; she warned that the gooey bits of mucous plug I’d been seeing for a couple days were likely to get bloody before I went into labor. Exciting…except that it didn’t really mean anything other than my body was preparing and it could still be a couple weeks before we had a baby on the outside. She informed me that at our next appointment, I would have to go through a Non-Stress Test, and if Baby had not arrived by the end of that week, I would have to go in for an ultrasound to measure the Amniotic Fluid Index. I was anxious and determined to avoid both of these appointments, and discouraged that I had no control over the events (again).
We tried just about everything: Aaron practiced acupressure on me, I took primrose oil tabs each night, I went out for walks and we did everything else you’re “supposed” to, but nothing was changing. On March 25th, I went for an acupuncture appointment; nothing felt different. The next day, I scheduled a second appointment. On the afternoon of March 27th, I dropped off our rent on the way to acupuncture and felt pretty much everything was wrapped up in preparation for Baby’s arrival. We enjoyed another big dinner from Mom and Dad, followed by big slices of the family-favorite chocolate cake. Feeling grumpy, I sat downstairs for some quiet alone time over the jigsaw puzzle while the rest of the family retired upstairs for some TV entertainment. When we went to bed, I felt a little dizzy and just vaguely different; I confirmed with Aaron that tomorrow’s date was March 28th with a sneaking feeling we’d have a baby with that birthday.
At 12:20, I woke up; since I’d been waking with a full bladder throughout the night for weeks, I got up to go to the bathroom, assuming on autopilot I simply needed to pee. Halfway there, I realized there was liquid running down my leg and my underwear was soaked through. Since I’d been very neglectful about the all-important Kegel exercises, I figured I’d finally just lost control of my bladder…though there was a lot of liquid and I didn’t think my bladder was big enough to hold it all! The liquid was clear; I wasn’t sure my water had broken, so I changed my underwear and pajamas and crawled back into bed. I mentioned my confusion to Aaron who was still awake, buzzing from chocolate cake. Five minutes later, I had the exact same experience and soaked through a second pair of underwear on the way to the bathroom. I figured I should no longer be confused – there was no doubt but that my water had broken. I put a pad in yet a third pair of underwear, sat on a towel in bed, and reported the news to Aaron. We consulted the books and The Birth Center’s manual, realizing one’s water breaking before active labor was one of the two reasons they want you to alert them. I wanted to wait since I was concerned about having to go in too early, and was experiencing no other signs of labor. Aaron texted our employee to ask him to cover the Wednesday morning shift, sensing that we would be a little busy the next day.
We tried unsuccessfully to go to sleep. Within the next hour or so, I started noticing minor cramps in my lower abdomen. At 1:45, Aaron called The Birth Center; we each spoke with the midwife on call, Katie, who was already attending a birth there. After confirming that my amniotic fluid had been clear and issue-free, she said to call back at 10am (if not before) to check in. If regular contractions had not established themselves by then, I would go in for my already-scheduled appointment at 1pm and we’d check on things and consider castor oil. We tried again — unsuccessfully — to go to sleep.
After several cramps passed, I started looking at my phone, curious to note the time, and realized the pains were coming every four minutes. Since the pains were not too overwhelming, and seemed like basic cramps – NOT what I expected labor contractions to feel like – I wasn’t sure this was any part of real labor; though the pains were relatively frequent, I just couldn’t believe labor would have accelerated so quickly. Then the cramps became less regular and I gave up timing them.
Within the next hour, I had to moan through each wave of cramp; by this point we were reconciled to the fact that the cramps were contractions. Now, after watching a number of labor and delivery videos and reading about it all, I must admit I was skeptical about the effectiveness and necessity of moaning and grunting etc. I was convinced this would be nothing I did while having a baby…but utterly on instinct, there I was of a sudden, moaning through each contraction. I had also wondered how I would possibly know when a contraction started and ended; it was, however, clear, and Aaron timed the contractions (using the iPhone app he’d downloaded earlier that evening) based on my cues which started out verbally and eventually deteriorated into start/stop hand gestures since I couldn’t speak. The pain was still limited to my lower abdomen, an extremely intensified version of the earlier cramps. I went to the bathroom a couple times, Aaron continued timing contractions, and eventually woke my parents around 4am to let them know labor seemed established. By this point, I would climb into whatever position was most convenient at the moment: I moved between our bedroom curled up on the bed or leaning against the bedpost, and the bathroom where I could curl up or stretch out on the floor, or sit on the toilet. I recalled vaguely the instructions from all the books and our birthing class to keep on changing positions, but since the pain wasn’t at all where I was expecting it to be, I didn’t think much about following the actual positions recommended.
I think I was nauseous at some point, but wasn’t able to throw anything up. Aaron held my hand/back/head as needed – a constant and very necessary presence. My mother brought a bowl of ice chips which were refreshing and gave me a homeopathic remedy Caulophillum which is intended to make contractions efficient (I guess it worked). I drank water in the short time between contractions. Aaron called The Birth Center at 4:30 and we spoke to Katie again; Aaron gave her a report of our situation, and she patiently listened to me moan through a contraction. She said we should remain at home until I thought I was ready to come in…and I promptly decided I was: I said to Aaron “Can we go now?” around 5:40 which motivated a very quick mobilization – gathering of bags, water, food, pillow. Aaron was impressively efficient and clear-headed and was able to get everything together, and then even remembered to look back at our home one last time before heading off to have a baby (I didn’t care too much about this, and just wanted to go).
We got in the car around 6am with me in the back seat. I felt badly to be making so much noise in the car, but couldn’t concentrate on anything else but super-pain in my belly every couple minutes. I had calculated how many contractions I’d have to get through on the trip to Wilmington if we were on a 4-1-1 pattern, but this was an entirely different pattern, involving many more contractions! About halfway to Wilmington, I started catching my breath in the middle of a contraction – I wasn’t able to smoothly moan through the entire thing; after a couple of these, I realized the reason: My body had started pushing in the middle of each contraction. I said out loud during the next one “I think I have to push” which elicited an immediate response from both my mother and Aaron who shouted “You can’t push!! Don’t push! Breathe through each one – pant if you have to!” Concentrating on my breathing helped restrain the need to push; a few minutes later, I h eard Aaron on the phone and foggily thought he might have called 911 and was arranging to meet an ambulance on the side of Interstate 95 to have my baby right then and there. Of course, it was The Birth Center he’d called; Katie told him to drive like lightening, and counseled that I should get on my hands and knees with my butt higher than my head – hard to do in the back seat of our VW Golf with one seat taken up with the baby seat (I buried my head in the baby seat and did my best to follow the directions). Aaron started giving me updates as to where we were: “It’s okay – we’re almost there” followed very shortly by “We’re getting off the highway now” followed by “I’m turning off the main road – we’re almost there” followed amazingly quickly by “We’re turning into the driveway now”. I found out later that Aaron drove 95mph down the rest of Interstate 95 (I had no idea our car would even go that fast), and then blew through every stop light and stop sign the rest of the way – I was certainly impressed and have never been so grateful for an illegal action!
Katie met us in the driveway at The Birth Center at 6:30; I suspected we’d have to go to a room upstairs which seemed such a long walk (we’d indicated that our first room choice was the Water Birthing Room, but we would not have used the tub anyway since there was no time). Somehow, we made it up the stairs; once in the Yellow Room, I headed straight for the bed, pulled off my pants, and climbed on. I asked Katie: “Can I push now?” and she gave me the go-ahead. And thus began the extended pushing phase. I made ridiculously loud noises through every contraction, bearing down to push with everything I had. I was lying down on the bed, and Peggy, one of the nurses, suggested I curl around on my side and hold a leg up. With each contraction, I managed to twist myself a little further around until eventually, I had my head near the foot of the bed.
At some point, I recall sensing concern among the nurses and midwives over the baby’s heart rate; I heard the number 100 spoken out loud and knew that was a little low (Aaron thinks the number actually being discussed was 80); they put an oxygen mask over my face and the extra oxygen immediately made my job seem easier. With veiled concern, Katie encouraged me to push and indicated we needed to have this baby out in the next couple pushes which sounded like a great idea to me, but turned out to be a false perception that I’d be done so soon. I tried to give some extra oomph to my efforts, but was discouraged that I didn’t seem to be making any progress. The oxygen must have helped, however, as Baby’s heart rate stabilized. Eventually, in my writhing, the oxygen mask was removed.
I was moaning, grunting, and screaming through every contraction, hoping the new mom downstairs could not hear me; I got better at anticipating the contractions so I could wait until the onset to put my leg up again and prepare to push. I bit my own arm, and tried to bite Aaron’s arm at some point (he saved himself). The two nurses (Peggy and Tyler) and two midwives (Katie and Lindsay) kept on encouraging me through this timeless period, telling me I was doing a great job and letting me know when they could finally see a head crowning. I didn’t really believe them since I felt we were just getting nowhere; I pushed with all my might through every contraction but was so exhausted and sweaty, I lost confidence this Baby would ever come out. It started to burn, and Aaron kept on reassuring me he could see a lot of the head…but after each contraction, it was still only partly out, and the burning just remained. I tried not to curse and was near tears, discouraged. I r ecall looking up at the wall and appreciating a lovely quilted heart on the wall – this calmed my spirit for a moment. I was also conscious that it had gotten light outside, and at a few different times, I was able to hear birds singing outside.
Finally, I determined this needed to be over; I tried to extend a couple contractions and keep on pushing beyond the end, and was encouraged to feel a baby’s head coming out. I was told I could reach down and feel it – a strange, soft, wet, matted baby head – and after the next contraction, the head was out. The midwives helped maneuver the remainder of the tiny body out, Aaron confirmed it was a girl, and she announced her presence with wailing right away; she was placed on my belly since they realized the umbilical cord was short, and she quickly pooped all over my belly which was a fantastic way to avoid jaundice later on – I was in a daze and couldn’t have cared less. Once she was out in the world, I was immediately overwhelmed with emotion and Aaron and I both wept. My body – particularly my legs — wouldn’t stop shaking for a couple hours (apparently, a normal reaction).
Our daughter was born at 7:53am; Lindsay waited patiently at the end of the bed for the cord to stop pulsing before she cut it; shortly thereafter, I got a shot of Pitocin in the thigh and then had to push again to get the placenta out; it wasn’t easy, but required no more guttural noises, so can’t have been so bad. However, then I had Lindsay massaging my belly and inside me to clamp down the uterus which was quite painful, and Katie administering Cytotec up my rear at the same time; they apologized the whole time and indeed, it was far from comfortable! I found out later I’d lost about twice the “normal” amount of blood and these measures had been necessary to stop the bleeding. Since I couldn’t see the blood pouring out of me, and was pretty distracted, I did not realize what was going on; poor Aaron had to watch an estimated 1,000 cc’s of blood pour onto the bed. The amazing midwives and nurses got everything under control quickly, and then while cleanin g up our Baby Girl, managed to turn me back around so I was leaning up against pillows. My body felt beaten, I was still shaking, and I had all but lost my voice, but I had a perfect little baby on my chest, my husband right next to me, my mother nearby with the next homeopathic remedy at the ready, and my father on the way with oatmeal for breakfast.
All that pushing (a long 1 ½ hours), and the attention of the midwives who applied warm compresses and oil during the labor effectively stretched out my perineum so I was fortunate to have it completely intact; I did need a few stitches for torn internal tissue, and I opted to forgo stitches to repair a labia tear (Aaron said later he had seen the tear happen: eek).
We ate a bit, drank fluids, and contacted friends and relatives in a haze of joy and amazement. A few hours after being born, the nurses examined, weighed, and measured her. By then, I had become more sleepy than I’ve ever been; I wanted to pay attention to the nurses and our baby, but I could not keep my eyes open. When I finally had to go to the bathroom, Tyler helped me take a shower which felt better than I could have imagined, and we packed up to go home, leaving The Birth Center around 2pm. It was drizzling when we left, and I was grateful that our little Elena Rose had been born in a room with sun shining through the curtains, and birds calling outside.
Needless to say, this labor and delivery defied all our expectations — from the cramp-like pains to the extreme acceleration of the stages of labor; we blew through the experience without looking back. I didn’t have the chance to consider pain medication, and did not experience many of the phases of labor (such as “Transition”) which we’d talked about in our birth preparation class and about which we’d read ad nauseam. The passing of time in the manner to which I am accustomed completely vanished – hours passed before I knew it and with no comprehension of where they had gone. I don’t even remember what I was wearing except that I gave birth to little Elena with a string of pearls around my neck. Though I was scared to be pushing so quickly, and to have been washed over so soon with the pains of childbirth, I am enormously grateful and amazed that it was over so quickly. I will always carry an extremely warm and grateful spot in my heart for the nurses Peggy and Tyler and the midwives Katie and Lindsay who attended Elena’s birth and provided the hands into which she could be born surrounded with warmth, care and love. We could not have made a better decision than to choose The Birth Center as our care provider and our daughter’s birthplace; when we return there now, it feels like we’re coming home.