On the morning of March 31st, I woke up at 4 in the morning with a dull, cramping pain in my lower back, enough to keep me from going back to sleep. My first thought was that it was gas pain – I had suffered from it for the last couple months, and usually the pain would pass. For a whole hour I lay in bed, writhing and twisting, hoping to find some position that felt comfortable enough that I could go back to sleep, but no matter what I did, the pain persisted. As I lay there, I realized that the pain wasn’t constant, like gas pain, it was kind of ebbing and flowing – it would be really intense for a minute or so, and then disappear for 10-15 minutes. After a few false alarms over the previous few weeks, I wondered if this could be the “real deal.”
After I deciding that I was indeed having contractions, I woke my husband, who insisted on timing them himself for an hour before he would call the midwife (he was worried about having another false alarm, too). By this point I could barely speak through the peaks, and was doing quite a bit of moaning and groaning and thrashing around, trying to find a position that felt right. We drew a bath, which I sat in for another hour or so while my husband timed the contractions. Now they were coming every 5-7 minutes. He decided that maybe this was really going to happen, and we decided to call Lisa, our midwife.
I couldn’t quite get comfortable in the bathtub, so I got out and went back to our bed while Jared called Lisa, who could tell over the phone that I was in labor just by hearing my noises in the background. She told us she would gather up her stuff and be over to our house soon. While Jared was on the phone with her, our cat fell into the bathtub full of water, which we had forgotten to drain in all the commotion. In the middle of very intense labor, we all stopped to have quite a laugh as our 15 pound tomcat went streaking through the house sopping wet (and pissed!).
Lying down wasn’t helping my pain, and I was also starting to feel like I needed to … empty my bowels. As I sat in the bathroom, I also started getting nauseous, and it occurred to me that I was going to throw up for the first time in my entire pregnancy. I remembered reading in many of the birth stories that women would get nauseous during transition, and realized that I was probably pretty far along in labor. It had been about an hour since we’d called the midwife, and I started to worry that the baby would arrive before she did, so I insisted Jared call her again to see where she was, and she was about 10 minutes away. She got there and did a pelvic exam to see how dilated I was – 6 cm and totally thinned out (effaced). As I got off the bed after the exam, I noticed a streak of bloody snot stuff on the sheets and realized I had passed my mucus plug. This was no false alarm.
Downstairs, Lisa and Jared were busy setting up the birth pool in our kitchen. It was taking a while because we ran out of hot water and they were boiling water on the stove to dump in the pool. Lisa encouraged me to eat while I waited, since I’d had no breakfast, but I had no appetite. She pressed, and I asked for a glass of milk (my typically no-appetite snack), which I promptly threw up. Nobody pushed for me to eat for the rest of my labor. I sat on an exercise ball and leaned against Jared, but I was struggling through the contractions and longed for the hot water of the pool.
Finally, finally, the birth pool was ready. The hot water felt so good on my tense and aching body. I kneeled in the pool and rested my head in my hands on the inflatable side. The world around me disappeared. I was vaguely aware of my helpers shuffling around the kitchen, boiling water and chatting, and the sun streamed through the windows as the morning wore on. As a contraction built, I bobbed in the water, and as it peaked I moaned from the back of my throat uncontrollably. The entire time, I thought to myself, It’s just a minute…make it through a minute, then you’ll have a break. Jared made me sip water in between contractions, even when I protested.
After a few hours of this, Lisa checked me again and announced I was almost completely dilated. As she finished the exam, my water broke. I had almost forgotten it hadn’t broken yet. I bobbed in the pool through a few more contractions, and Lisa would ask periodically if I felt like pushing. After a few uneventful contractions, she suggested that the water might be stalling my labor and recommended I get out of the water and do “lunges” on the steps. I didn’t want to walk, let alone do lunges, but the second I put my foot up on that step, gravity went to work and pretty soon I felt an instinctual urge to push.
I have no idea how long I pushed; I don’t think it was very long, but it felt like an eternity. Jared sat on a higher step while I squatted at the bottom, bracing myself on his thighs and burying my head in his chest. Lisa was going between the living room and the kitchen collecting her supplies, and it seemed that every time she left the room, I got a strong urge to push. I remember feeling impatient with her, and wished she would just stay with me. With one especially intense contraction, the baby crowned, and I screamed (okay, swore). I remember Lisa chuckling at my candidness – I think it might have been the first time I’d sworn in front of her, and it was the most I’d said for the last few hours.
In that moment, I doubted my strength for the first time in my labor. I wanted to escape the pain, and for an instant wanted to go to the hospital. In the next instant, though, I dismissed that thought, knowing that I was much too far along to get pain medication, and if I got in the car at that moment, the baby was likely to be born there before we got to the hospital ten minutes away.
Lisa could feel the baby’s head, and encouraged me to reach down and touch it too, but I hesitated. She kept encouraging me to feel it, so eventually I reached down and felt the baby coming out. Knowing that my baby was literally minutes from my arms gave me an enormous burst of motivation, and in the next couple pushes, my daughter’s head emerged. She began to cry immediately, before the rest of her body came out, which was a little strange but joyous at the same time – after nine months of anticipation, I finally got to hear her voice! The rest of her quickly followed, and I about tripped over the umbilical cord as I spun around to take her in my arms.
She was beautiful. I tried not to show any pain as Lisa repaired some minor tears. My husband took some pictures over my shoulder, but mostly we just stared at our daughter in amazement. We chatted for a little while – Jared and I squatting on the steps, Lisa standing over us – I told them it hadn’t been “that bad,” and Lisa called me a “birth champion.” She moved us to the bedroom where we weighed our new bundle of joy – 8 pounds, 8 ounces – and she showed me how to get Penny to latch. She was a natural at nursing, which was a huge relief. Lisa stayed for a little while longer, cleaning up and preparing some lunch (which she left with orders for Jared to make me eat), while we called friends and family with the announcement. Things had been so intense from the moment we woke up, we’d never even told anyone we were in labor.
When I started my pregnancy, I went into it wanting an experience I wouldn’t regret with a care provider who would treat it as sacred and special, and that’s exactly what I got. I am so glad I was able to receive the right support and information to make it possible for me to get the birth I wanted, and I am eternally grateful for all the choices and experiences that led me down that path. I am still amazed that my body could grow and nourish such a beautiful and perfect creature, and feel overwhelmingly blessed. I have peace knowing that even if her birth is the only birth I ever get to experience, I did everything just the way I wanted, and it was unforgettable.
Re-posted with permission.