Thursday, August 4, 2011

My Labor Story

I was convinced my baby was coming two weeks late. I woke up at 6 am one morning, a week before my due date with a cramping feeling that got stronger and then subsided. I didn’t really think about what it was and went back to bed. Thirty minutes later I woke again with another one. I thought excitedly that the practice contractions I’d experienced from week thirteen had started to change. I had always welcomed the practice contractions knowing they were getting my uterus ready to push out my baby. This morning, I assured myself that these were temporary, and would pause eventually and restart in a few weeks. Besides just a general feeling that the baby would be late, I had developed a bad skin yeast infection on my chest and I wanted the baby to be late so I could get it cleared up and not have to deal with possible complications with breastfeeding. I went shopping. The cashier asked me when I was due, and I laughed and said I wasn’t expecting the baby for another three weeks. The contractions continued very lightly all day.

That night, when my husband P came home from work, I didn’t tell him right away that I was having contractions, but they were starting to grow in intensity. When it came closer to bedtime and I felt like I couldn’t sleep, I mentioned to him I’d been having them. We both agreed it was probably false labor, and around 9 pm I decided to go on a walk, to see if I could get them walked off so I could sleep. I took my walking stick, which P had bought me at the hardware store. I had read about using a stick in labor in one of Ina May Gaskin’s articles and it appealed to me immediately. I figured I could use it to lean on during my walk, in case the contractions got worse. I halfway thought I should bring the cell phone with me (in hindsight, it would have been wise, though I didn’t end up needing it) but I left it behind. I walked to the river, which is about two miles away, and when I got there it was almost dark. The contractions had intensified, so I decided to really try seriously to walk them off and started walking as hard and as fast as I could when each contraction started. I remember trying to time them based on how many streets I had walked past. When a contraction started only a block after the last one had stopped, I started wondering if I was really in labor.

When I got home an hour later, P was getting ready for bed because he had to work the next morning. I stayed up and hung out in the bathroom for a little while. It felt good to shake up and down as hard as I could when the contractions came, and I did this either standing in the bathroom, bouncing on my knees, or on the exercise ball in the dining room. I knew somehow that bouncing would help the baby push on my cervix and get it opened up. I remember trying to lie down on the bed in between contractions and jumping up like a jack-in-the-box when the next one came, because it was so much more intensified lying down. At about 11pm I tried to time the contractions and they were about four and a half minutes apart and 30-45 seconds long. I knew the midwife said to call when they were 5 minutes apart and 30-45 seconds long, but I didn’t want to have her here and “officialize” that labor was here. Somehow the time warped here. I started using my labor stick again, because the bouncing wasn’t feeling good anymore. P got up and did things, but I don’t remember what because the contractions required so much focus. I would start the contractions standing, holding to the top of the walking stick, and then slide down as the contraction progressed. At some point I started to moan/hum, and I tried to keep my pitch low like I’d read about in Ina May’s books. I asked P to help me time the contractions, and when he did they were 3 minutes apart and a minute long. Now we were both convinced it wasn’t false labor. At some point I had a really strong contraction and it popped into my head no wonder women want epidurals! At the end I told P “I really want M here now!” I called her but I couldn’t talk on the phone when she answered because another contraction had started. I handed the phone to P and he told her what was going on.

M was here before long. In the meantime P started setting up the birth pool. I wanted to make sure I had really progressed enough before getting in because I’d heard of slowed labors from being in warm water. When M got here I remember her stepping in but I was in the middle of a contraction and couldn’t respond much. After it was over I remember we hugged, and then I asked her to check me. I remember hoping I’d be at least 3 or 4 centimeters, so I was thrilled to hear “You’re eight centimeters!” I asked if it was OK to get in the pool (I was so afraid of stalling labor!) and climbed in. It was a relief to get in. I was spending contractions leaning over the side of the pool, holding P’s hand. P left momentarily for some reason and all of the sudden I was aware of M’s presence because she was humming with me. Something just clicked then, and when P came back and a contraction came I said “make noises with me.” The contractions continued on like that for I don’t know how long. I would look grab P’s hand, look into his eyes, and we both hummed. Sometimes between contractions we kissed, and not just a peck on the lips. Serious labor goes with serious kissing! The second midwife came, and I asked for the Christmas lights to be turned in (we have them strung over a window). Things were so intense. Every contraction was very painful and required all of my focus. I was dimly aware of things outside of me. Looking back, I was dimly aware of what was going on inside, as well. I couldn’t distinguish anything but a very intense feeling that was painful beyond anything I’d ever felt, and I remember realizing that it was so far beyond any pain that I’ve felt that it was like another reality. There was no running away from it but forward. Sometimes it made my whole body feel warm. I said a few times “I can do this!” and P reminded me after each one that it was over and that I had done it. I felt triumphant and I was so glad for just those few words of encouragement. It reminded me each one was an accomplishment.

At some point I realized it was getting light outside, and I could hear the birds singing. This was right around transition, and I found myself vocalizing “Can I do this?” I knew I could, but I wanted my midwives and P to tell me I could. I asked M to check me and see if I was ready to push, because I had heard about a recent birth at which the woman pushed before she was dilated and had to wait to push for two hours even though she felt the urge to push. I did NOT want to go there! M told me I was complete, and encouraged me to check myself, which I had expressed I wanted to do. I could feel a very small, round patch of a hard head. It was a lot harder than I’d expected (I don’t know how I expected a skull to be soft!), and my next thought, after feeling the whole length of the birth canal that my fingers had to pass through was “Augh! That head that’s way up there has to come all the way down!” At this point I realized I could be pushing for 3 hours, and while that was a little discouraging, I didn’t really think about it because the urge to push came on quickly and powerfully. My body felt warm and it felt like it was both the worst and the best thing in the world. It felt like I was going to poop out the baby, for one thing, and I kept wondering how all the sensation I was feeling was in the back of me when the baby was coming out the front. I started making louder and louder noises, but I tried to keep the pitch low and not get anywhere near screaming. I really didn’t have much control over it, though, and somewhere inside of me I laughed because I was making so much noise when I hadn’t planned on it. I rested lying down in the water, leaning on my arm, and when a contraction came it felt like I would thrash around with the baby and the birth canal staying still. I wanted to check myself again but I was afraid that I wouldn’t feel any progress, so I waited a while until the midwife said her head was right there (she was looking). I reached down and sure enough, her head was a lot lower than last time. I kept my hand there through the next several contractions, feeling the bag of waters bulge very tightly with each one. I remember feeling as though I didn’t have enough power. I think I was starting to get a little disorganized and strung out, but I reminded myself the baby could take her time coming down and only one push was OK, if that’s all the contraction would give me. I felt her slide almost all the way back in between contractions. I felt membranes, or something, and I mistook it for torn skin, but I didn’t care at this point. The burning was intense, and at some point I started not feeling as much relief between contractions because there was so much pressure with her head right there. The midwives were getting ready the things that were needed immediately after birth, and I said, incredulous, not really believing I had made it all the way to the end “You mean she’s coming soon? Are you sure?” I think I asked this several times, and they reassured me she was indeed coming. In the middle of one contraction I decided I’d had enough and I was pushing her out. In hindsight this could have been bad if my tissues hadn’t had enough time to stretch without tearing but they survived, so maybe it was just the timing my body wanted. I remember bellowing, having little to no control over what I was doing. I took my hand away from her head, putting everything into that push. I felt her head slip out and then a pause, and M said “just a little more” and I remembered her shoulders needed to come and then in an instant I felt her body twist out of me. I remember being a little dazed as I tried to follow their instructions as they passed her between my legs and I sat on the little chair in the pool, and then I held her in my arms. I just couldn’t believe it. I was so happy and I just kept saying “Oh baby!” She opened her mouth and cried a little, and though I have a vague memory of the midwives doing their thing, I was hardly aware of anyone but the baby. After a bit, we remembered to check whether it was a boy or a girl, so P checked and pronounced her a girl. I was told afterwards that I sat in the pool for a while but it felt like just a minute before they helped me out and got us situated on the bed.

Afterward I ended up having two stitches, which were kind of “optional.” When they asked what I felt about it I thought “Novacain! Numbness! Yes!” so I had them do it. P got me a beer, and I sat there lounging on the bed while I got sewed. I felt so good!

So all in all, it was about 10 hours, from 9pm-7am, and I pushed from 6am-7am. The midwives were awesome and stuck around till after 11am, tending to me, breaking down the birth pool, collecting laundry, etc. They are the best.

I cannot tell you how unprepared I was for birth, even after having read all kinds of books and even watching videos on youtube. And nothing could have prepared me for motherhood, either, and I’ve only barely begun that. It was all very incredible and unexpected even though I knew it was going to be amazing and I knew the baby was coming sooner or later.

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