by Dawn Sheiker, Birth Center Mama
Our week 41 appointment with Dorinda was December 31, 2015 and it was all too clear that we wouldn’t be claiming a baby on our 2015 taxes (and forget about that already met insurance deductible). Dorinda informed us that there had been some progression from 1 cm dilation to 3 cm. She stripped the membranes, separating the amniotic sac from my cervix, and sent me home with specific supplements that gently and naturally encourage labor. I was then sent upstairs to the nurse Dawn for the non-stress test that comes with a 41-week checkup. Baby Sheik didn’t want to cooperate with Dawn and the 20-minute test became a two-hour test where Dawn and the nurse Peggy both had to look at the results. In hindsight, this was foreshadowing that Baby Sheik was certainly going to mess up holiday plans for all involved.
We left The Birth Center and treated ourselves to what became our last date before parenthood. I was a little crampy but didn’t mention it. At this point, I was pretty sure that I was just fat and not pregnant. After trying every wives tale to induce labor, nothing had worked. Surely this big belly was a result of non-stop chocolate eating for 9 months and not a growing baby.
New Years Eve night at 41 weeks pregnant is awkward, at best. Then again, everything at 41 weeks pregnant is pretty awkward. I was so antsy but tired. I wanted to go out and celebrate but felt like I should rest. The urge to nest was still very present, but the nest had been built for weeks. There was nothing left to do. I re-read all of the “prepare for labor” lists and decided that I had to make a labor playlist and so I killed the next couple of hours downloading songs and putting together the perfect playlist for my labor experience. Still no baby.
Friends visited and left. No baby. We listened and danced to music. No baby. Bounced on the birthing ball. No baby. Ate pineapple. No baby. Had the most clinical-feeling sex of my life. No baby.
I finally decided that I needed to get out of the house so I would stop thinking about labor. It was the best decision. We needed to get out of the house and have some fun with friends. No amount of resting at home could have been as beneficial to my soul as was being around supportive people. Midnight struck. We raised our glasses and laughed that the only thing we knew about Baby Sheiker was that he/she would be born in 2016. Happy New Year!
I was still feeling a little crampy at the party, but again, I didn’t think much of it. Dorinda warned that the membrane stripping could make me feel a little crampy and I was trying very hard to stop thinking about when the baby would arrive. We got home around 2 am. I took a shower and went to bed. At 5 am, I woke up in severe gastrointestinal distress, or so I thought. I ran to the bathroom and was convinced that I was having a reaction to gluten. Stomach pain, poop. Repeat.
I know this sounds mad but I didn’t realize I was in labor. It wasn’t even a thought in my mind despite being 41 weeks pregnant and expecting to deliver every day for 4 weeks straight. I had been preparing myself for a 20-24 hour labor where it would start with a cute, little contraction followed by another one 20-30 minutes later. It would be a funny experience at first. I never expected to suddenly wake up in active, stage one labor.
At some point, I thought to get out the pregnancy app on my phone and track the pains that I was having to determine if there was a pattern to the pains. Pains were coming every 2-4 minutes and they were lasting over 60 seconds. I got a little panicky at this point. The labor class said to go to The Birth Center when contractions were coming every 4 minutes, lasting over 1 minute, for 1 hour. I woke up to contractions coming at a faster and lasting longer. Was I going to deliver at home?!
We got in touch with Katie Mansur, the midwife on call at the time. Katie was exactly as you’d expect, even at 6 am. I told her what was going on and her response was bubbly and happy. “We’re having a baby today!” She gave me instructions to get in the shower to alleviate the pain and have a snack, then call back in an hour. Sarah Updegraft would be on call then.
I got in the shower and I ate some broth soup, which was hard to get down. My husband said the silliest thing to me. “Babe, can I go back to bed.” Um, no, you may not, sir; you will lay on that bathroom floor and hold my hand as I bring our baby into the world! I stayed in the shower until the hot water ran out and then couldn’t take it anymore. We called The Birth Center and Sarah had us come in. I wanted to be in the birthing tub where it was warm and comfortable.
While Jeremy was packing up all the stuff for The Birth Center, I sat on my bed and sang my “birth song/moan.” When I learned about this in class, I honestly thought it was so silly. How would moaning/singing 1) feel natural and 2) help with pain. I’m still a bit shocked at how well it helped in managing those early contractions.
Jeremy had the car packed up and it was time to make my way to The Birth Center. The walk from my bedroom to the car was torturous but it was nothing compared to having contractions in the car. I’m really surprised that I didn’t break the Grip Assist Handle in my car.
I still wasn’t convinced that I was in labor when I arrived at The Birth Center. Sarah met us and I immediately starting crying. She confirmed that I was in labor and that my mind hadn’t yet caught up with my body. She assured me and said that it was okay to be scared.
We went into the water birth room. I got out my laptop to start the labor playlist, which I immediately regretted. The playlist was great but in the temporary insanity of being 41 weeks pregnant, I forgot that I am extremely bothered by noise when I’m in pain and stressed. I need silence. I had written it in my birth goals and I’m so glad that I had communicated that to The Birth Center. Sarah ensured that the room was quiet for the rest of my stay. There was another woman in labor at the time but I didn’t know that until many weeks later. It was so quiet in there that I swore we were the only people on the planet awake.
I had to lay down in the bed for my pelvic exam and I tried to labor there, but it was awful for me. I didn’t want to lay down. Any position was better than laying down, so I got into the birthing tub. I’m not sure how you picture women in birthing tubs but I always pictured them lounging in the tub, back against the tub wall with their legs stretched out. I guess this image comes from the picture you see of mamas holding their newborns. I was not in this position. I tried that, but it was awful. I did not want to be on my back at any stage of labor. Instead, I was on my knees with my arms and forehead on the side of the tub.
I remembered from labor class that The Birth Center did offer some pain relieving drug. They said that they didn’t offer it, but would give it upon request. I requested it. I was informed that Stadol won’t numb like an epidural but it would help in not being mentally bothered by the contractions. In order to have Stadol, I had to get out of the tub for an exam. Sarah examined me and said she had to check on something and would be back. I continued to labor sitting on the side of the bed for an infinity. She returned and the look on her face told me that something was wrong. She very calmly confirmed my allergy to codeine and then informed me that I was unable to have Stadol because it was codeine based. She was so sweet about it. I think it was almost more painful for her to tell me the bad news than for me to receive it. It was at this moment that my mind and body synced. I finally gave in to labor and trusted my body to get me through it.
I got back into the tub, confidently this time. My body was still in agony but my mind was clearer. I was focused now. It felt different. I was now able to enjoy the benefits of the birthing tub. The buoyancy effect helped me feel weightless. The warmth of the water was relaxing. I loved the combination of warm water being sprayed on my back by my husband and massage by Sarah’s cold hands. It was exactly what I needed. I was so calm now that I was able to fall asleep/rest between contractions. (Yes, ladies, it is possible!) Don’t get me wrong. I was still in a tremendous amount of pain and was crying a lot, but the tub provided a warm, safe place to manage the pain.
I remember a couple of things during this time.
- At one point, it became clear to me that the sun was shining into the room and that it was no longer the middle of the night. I thought the sun was beautiful and I wondered what time it was, but was afraid to ask for fear that time was moving much slower than it felt.
- I looked at Sarah Updegraft and thought she was the most beautiful person in the entire world. She was quiet, calm and confident.
- My husband’s hand was my rock and there was a good chance I was going to break it.
- My body was starting to “bear down,” exerting downward pressure to get the baby out.
Sarah suggested that I get out of the tub and try lying down in the bed again. She said that changing positions often helps labor progress and that if I can get past the first few contractions then the new position feels more comfortable. It was agonizing but I did it, and it did help labor progress. I got through a couple of contractions and then started to push. My body instinctively knew exactly what to do to get the baby out. I pushed with every contraction and was still resting in between. Dawn arrived on the scene and she was now holding a leg, as was Jeremy. Sarah was coaching me through the experience.
Here’s where a couple of funny things happened.
Sarah told me that I was doing great and that she could see the baby. I pulled the classic script from the movies and told her in the most dramatic way to stop lying to me.
Next, Sarah and Dawn were talking about something that I didn’t understand. Sarah tells me that the baby is en caul. I had no idea what that meant so she explained that my water had never broke and that the baby was coming out in its amniotic sac. She said that if I noticed that she and Dawn were leaning away during the contractions is was because they were bracing themselves for the amniotic sac to break on them with delivery.
Everyone tells you about the awfulness of the “ring of fire,” the burning sensation that comes with crowning. I knew that it was supposed to be terrible but that it also meant that delivery was imminent. I felt it and immediately thought to myself that the sensation wasn’t that terrible and was ready to feel the baby slide out, but that didn’t happen. The next and final contraction was the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life. The burning sensation was exactly as bad as people describe. This agonizing experience came with Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” playing in my head. I’ve never liked that song and now never will.
The moments that followed were pure bliss. Sarah caught the baby who came out fully in the sac at 2:36 pm. She placed the sac on me. I felt it burst and the baby slid into my arms. Jeremy said, “We have a Luna” and then he cut the cord.
My body was flooded with love, happiness, and oxytocin. When I remember this moment, I don’t see Luna; I feel her. I feel her squirming in my arms. It’s bizarre but I can’t remember the first time I saw her, but I’ll never forget feeling her.
The idea of pushing out the placenta was much scarier than it was in actuality. You push and then a blob falls out of you. I’ve often thought of a way to describe the sensation and it can only be described as pushing out a placenta. It’s gooey, warm and it slides out easily.
Immediately following natural childbirth a woman is gifted with a flood of oxytocin. It’s a beautiful, marvelous thing. It’s so good that I told Sarah and Dawn that I thought we should bottle it and sell it. I was giddily hallucinating from it. I thought my post-delivery exam was funny and told Sarah that it tickled.
Dawn was examining my placenta and offered to show it to me. I didn’t look at it but, in retrospect, I wish that I had because she discovered that my single placenta was split in two indicating that I had been pregnant with monochorionic twins! Crazy! My en caul, New Year’s Day baby was originally a twin. No, this isn’t oxytocin memory; I checked!
Dawn helped Luna latch onto my breast (another oddly ticklish moment) and then she and Sarah left us alone with Baby Luna and our joy. Jeremy and I had a good long cry together and took turns holding the baby and telling one another how much we loved one another. We were completely in the moment. I’m so thankful for that time. It was just us and our new little girl. We were so in the moment that I only have a couple of photos, which I regret a bit but, at the same time, I’m so thankful that we weren’t experiencing this special moment through a viewfinder or lens. I could have stayed in that moment forever.
Sarah and Dawn returned after what felt like a really long time, but it was probably only an hour or so. It was time for me to shower and for them to examine the baby. Walking to the shower was a crazy experience. Standing up without the baby inside of my belly was disorienting and I was so dizzy from the oxytocin. I took one of the best showers of my life while Jeremy stayed with Luna for her exam. She was a perfect 8 lbs 11 oz and 20.5 inches long.
We did all of the paperwork with Dawn and prepared for our early release. I get that it’s crazy for some people to think about taking a baby home at 4 hours post-partum but it was a natural choice for us. We were able to celebrate with our family in our home. I was able to recover at home, in my own clothes, eating my own food and resting in my own bed. I was empowered and comfortable. They say that babies don’t come with instructions, but mine did.