So I scrapped the first draft of my birth story, but I guess I’ll tell you how I started out. I was going to tell you about the process of my labor — when contractions got intense, how far apart they were, and how I figured out how to cope with the pain. When I started writing it that way, it became pretty clinical and dry, which doesn’t accurately portray the experience that Eric or I had. I also had an eloquently written disclaimer about natural birth — how it is right for some people and might not be right for others. But that seems pretty distant from my emotional experience as well.
What I can tell you for real is that I am a whole new person. Birth is a bridge you cross, and the whole of it collapses behind you once you step foot on the other side. I know now that I will never be the young girl that I was at twenty-two, carrying on about frivolous things, and I won’t be just a wife to my husband anymore. Sam will always be in the mix. He peppers the thoughts of my future with birthday parties, long nights dealing with fevers and coughs, after-school activities, growing out of clothes and shoes too fast, getting dressed for prom, and graduation, prepping for college in the month of his birth, and finally, leaving us behind to become his own person. It molds my future with possibilities that are not my own, tears and laughter that belong to someone else, and hopes and dreams that I will do anything to defend.
But it’s the bridge that I’m talking about here, the one that led me to this place.
There’s nothing that you can do that will completely prepare you for labor. I tried my damnedest to learn every possible aspect of what would transpire within my body to deliver my little boy. I read for hours, took my twelve week class, had marathon conversations with my doula, and figured out the process that I thought we would follow. I made a birth mix on my iPod (didn’t use that at all), practiced my cat-cow stretches (unbearably painful during labor for me), and packed my bags weeks beforehand (the only useful items for labor were cold, cold water and chapstick). I am a planner — and I tried to plan everything. It doesn’t happen like that, but I’m truly glad I did all of the work and preparation, so that I could be as ready as possible.
I went into labor at 39 weeks and 2 days, on Sunday afternoon, September 12th. Contractions actually started the night before but didn’t get regular until about 3PM that day. First they felt like strong cramps, which didn’t really bother me. In fact, it made me feel that I could cope the whole way through.
We called our doula to come around 8PM that night, after I had started my labor song, which would continue for the next fourteen hours. A friend of mine (who delivered the week before) had suggested that I hum to match the pain, which is probably the best advice that I got or could give. I vocalized with big “Ohhh” sounds in time with each contraction. This is what got me through much of my labor. I also used my doula’s Tens Machine, which helped for a long while during early labor. The other gigantic help was that my doula came to labor with us at our house for three hours, and chatted with us and petted our dog while I paced and moaned. The feeling in me at that time was nervous and anticipatory, and the pain was low, strong, and pressing. I happily talked away during each pause between the pains, not yet withdrawing into what my doula terms “labor land.”
At 11PM, we decided to go to the hospital. By this time the contractions had become more intense, and I had three in the car. This had me clawing at the seat and arching my back in the air — all I wanted to do was walk off the pain. Be mobile, pace, moan.
Once we arrived at the hospital, I was placed in triage for two hours, viewed by residents and medical students, and strapped to the bed with monitors on my swollen belly, all trying to get a “good read” on Sam’s heart rate.
Want to torture a naturally laboring woman? Strap her to a bed and tell her to be still while a 24 year-old med student asks her if she has AIDS or Hepatitis B.
At the end of this marathon triage, I was told I was only dilated three centimeters, which meant I was still in latent labor, and not in active labor. Apparently you enter active labor at four centimeters, and all of the work before that is … what? Not active? At that point, I was pretty disheartened. With the pain the way it was, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep at all through the night, and it would likely be all of Monday and into early Tuesday morning before I would deliver Sam. Up until that point, I had been excited. Hearing that my labor might take another whole day took some of the wind out of my sails — especially since I was hearing this around midnight. They told me I had the option of going home and coming back, but that seemed like such a step backwards in time. I told the resident I’d rather not go home, since my parents were on their way, and everything was in order for me to be in the hospital.
After that, I walked. I walked through the hospital while my parents talked to my husband. I walked off the anxiety and tiredness while they readied my room. I walked through the labor and delivery room to which I was assigned, and I only barely tolerated the fetal monitors that strapped me to the bed, like clockwork, every forty minutes. I moaned and breathed deeply, sighed and paced. I rocked in the shower and swayed and sang out my labor song. Sometime around two or three in the morning, the room was darkened, I was in the hot hot shower for a brief respite between monitoring, and I began to dream as Sam moved lower in my body, and I opened more and more. Scattered images crossed through my mind, words and phrases came and went, nothing making sense, and I closed my eyes as I lay against the cool metal guard rail, the hot water running over the pulsing muscles in my back.
I wailed to be checked when my nurse came into the room around 4AM. I told Eric that I didn’t know if I could keep going if I hadn’t progressed — and I just knew that I had. The pain had seemed to intensify with each contraction, and I felt my body doing rapid, solid work.
When my nurse checked me, she smiled and said that all that walking had paid off. She told me I had dilated to six centimeters … I felt so proud of my body for accomplishing that much so quickly.
I said, “So it’s going to be today?”
She replied, “Yes. September 13th is going to be a cake and ice cream day in your home for many years to come.” Did I mention my nurse was amazing? She was the most positive and upbeat influence — and she was very relaxed when it came to how long I stayed on that awful monitor that tied me to a three foot area next to the bed.
After that, my sense of time began to blur. I remember the pain increasing, I remember seeking out the shower again, I remember vocalizing over and over.
It seemed that suddenly there were multiple people in the labor and delivery room — I’m not sure how much time had passed, but all of them insisted I stay hooked up to the monitor so that they could get a solid read on the baby’s heartbeat. They said it was too slow, but I could easily tell (even while in the depth of labor) that the monitor was reading my heartbeat and not Sam’s. When the monitor caught his heartbeat, it was strong and solid, so it baffled me as to why everyone was acting like something was wrong. When I saw my OB enter the room, I knew that something was happening.
My nurse was gone at this point, and a temporary nurse had replaced her. She told me that my doctor would have to break my water in order to insert an internal fetal monitor. I started to cry because I knew the contractions would hurt a lot more without my bag of waters as a cushion, and I knew that they would have to stick the monitor into my baby’s head. I had so not wanted any intervention, and it hurt me to know that I had to have it because the hospital equipment couldn’t see the strong heartbeat that was so clear to me. Eric and my doula assured me that it was best to listen to the staff — after all, now I would be able to walk around in my three foot space and not have to lie on the bed while being monitored. And I would avoid a c-section if they had a solid read on Sam’s heart rate.
“I can’t do this,” I said. I was in agony and knew I couldn’t take anymore.
“You can,” said the nurse whose name I don’t remember. “I did it twice, so you can do it.”
“You had two natural labors?” I asked her. “And you did it?”
“Yes, so you can do this.”
“I won’t want another baby,” I said. “I can’t do this again.”
“You will,” she said. “Don’t say that. You will.”
So I laid back and let my water be broken, felt it flow from me onto the plastic sheets on the bed, and watched as the strong heartbeat I knew was there register on the monitor as they attached the probe to Sam’s head. The nurse who had given me those words disappeared, and was replaced by a calm and gentle woman who would guide me through transition.
The rest of my labor, lasting about five hours, was the most intense experience of my life. After my water was broken, the contractions had very little pause between them — maybe thirty seconds to a minute of rest, followed by a lengthy contraction with a mighty peak of grinding downward pressure in my body. After a while, my moaning vocalizations became wails and loud, long screams — the only sounds on the otherwise silent labor ward. I would cry and tell the nurse over and over, “I can’t.” I told Eric, “I can’t.” But they kept telling me that I could, and that I was doing it. I told Eric I thought I would need an epidural if it continued like this, and he reminded me that it wasn’t what I wanted. My body was so tired that I went into my dreamlike state again, trying to lie down on the bed when contractions ebbed, and standing when the pain became so strong that I had to move my body and sway my hips.
The thoughts that circled through my head were the San Culpa affirmations that I had practiced in prenatal yoga during Savasana relaxation. I am powerful. I am connected to all the women who have come before me. I am a strong woman, and I can accomplish anything. Even as I screamed, “I can’t,” I tried to take in the “You can” from those around me, and I focused on the positive affirmations I had practiced over the past months.
When my nurse checked me again, I was dilated to 9 centimeters, with only a small bit remaining until I could push. I kept trying to convince her and my husband that I was ready to push. (Eric said this lasted for an hour or so before I actually started pushing, but it seemed like a short time in my mind.) My nurse told me I would know when I was ready, and she went calmly about setting up a delivery table and notifying my OB that I would soon be ready to have a baby.
As much as I wanted to push, I was terrified that it would hurt more than what I had already gone through. But yes, I knew. I could feel my whole body thrust down, the pressure overtaking me, and I screamed fiercely as the feeling swept through me.
“It’s time,” I said, and this time, the nurse believed me. “I’m ready to push.”
Let me pause to say that I thought this would be the scariest part — after all, a woman’s body opens completely to birth a child, and with that, the experts are fond of saying, comes pain. (If you haven’t read about the “ring of fire,” you will in your birth related studies.)
So I was scared. But here’s where the magic comes in — the pushing, the part that we as women are groomed to be terrified of, is exactly why I am so glad I didn’t have an epidural. I would have missed out on the most powerful experience of my life. I can’t imagine not feeling every push, not knowing when to reach down and touch my baby’s head, not FEELING him enter this world.
If you’ve done your research, you know that you have all sorts of chemicals in your body that do work for you. Well, adrenaline and endorphins are at work when you are pushing.
When Eric and the nurse helped me up onto the bed to start pushing after that last horrible contraction, these chemicals flooded my body. I felt an amazing rush of energy, and suddenly the pain vanished. As Eric and my calm, collected nurse held my legs, I finally bore down and felt my baby’s head travel lower and deeper through my body. The feeling was incredible — I was able to do work after ten hours of crushing contractions. Sam was moving lower — and I could feel him with every push. I watched Eric’s face between pushes. He was smiling and laughing as he saw our child’s head come into view. I could feel my the top of his head as he started to crown, and I reached down to touch him and his wispy hair. I was overcome with emotion … I was birthing my child.
The nurse told me to control my pushing so that I wouldn’t tear — and so that the doctor could arrive in time to deliver Sam! I tried to breathe through each rush of energy and slow down, but I couldn’t. He was coming fast, and my body was thrusting him quickly forward. I yelled that I had to keep pushing; the pressure was so great that I could not possibly stop. My doctor arrived about ten minutes before I gave birth — just in time to catch Sam. I gave my final pushes, guided by my doctor, and felt my baby’s head enter the world. In just one more push, his body followed. I heard a throaty, forceful cry — his first announcement of life. I watched as Eric cut his cord, and they put Sam onto my bare chest. My first thought was that he looked like my husband; my second was that I would have to try my hardest to be the best mother possible for the rest of my life.
My legs were shaking and I was shivering as I held him. The nurse covered us with warm blankets and brought me ice water. Sam was fussing and making noises, still covered in milky vernix and fluids. I was examining his fingers and toes as the doctor told me to push one last time to deliver my placenta. I barely felt it — I was still on the incredible high of delivering Sam.
Eric went to go get my parents to come meet him. I handed him over to my husband to be weighed and measured. I smiled and watched as my parents took pictures and bustled around the room. There was a whirlwind of energy and celebration that didn’t die down until Sam was safely asleep and I was delivered to my recovery room, legs still shaking.
I remember saying to Eric, as Sam nursed contentedly, “We did it. Look what we did.” And he replied, “No, you did this. It was all you.”
I can’t say that any birth experience is more empowering or life-changing than another. I only have mine to go by. I can say that I’m glad I made my plan, educated myself and got what I wanted for Sam’s birth. I know I am so lucky that the only intervention I had to have was the monitor — so many women plan to birth naturally and then need interventions that alter the experience they wanted. I know that I am blessed to have had a positive natural experience at a small hospital with amazing doctors and nurses. And I know that this experience was right for us — I feel so connected to Sam because we were partners in this experience. I talked to him in my labor dreams and told him that we could do this. And we did — the first experience we had together as mother and child.
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I’m a liberal feminist that believes that liberal, feminist ideals should gel with embracing your gender and motherhood (if that’s what you feel like doing). I support all kinds of moms and dads and parents. Oh and, although I totally love that natural vibe and not harming the environment, I supplement my organic milk and fresh fruits and veggies with the occasional Twix, the frequent Oreo, and the daily Coke Zero. I’m opinionated, not easily offended, and a loudmouth in person and on the internet. I am what I am. Welcome.