It was July 21st, my estimated due date, but I felt like I was overdue. I was huge, it was hot, and since my first child came two weeks early, I was expecting this one a little early too. I was also expecting this baby to come quickly and it seemed that everyone I interacted with thought that would be the case. I knew that it would take the Debbie, my midwife, around two hours to get to my house and if my labor was at all similar to my mother’s second labor that would be just enough time.
It was July 21st, my estimated due date, but I felt like I was overdue. I was huge, it was hot, and since my first child came two weeks early, I was expecting this one a little early too. I was also expecting this baby to come quickly and it seemed that everyone I interacted with thought that would be the case. I knew that it would take the Debbie, my midwife, around two hours to get to my house and if my labor was at all similar to my mother’s second labor that would be just enough time. I was very consciously waiting for signs of labor. All day things felt a little different. There was a heavy feeling like the baby had dropped some and the Braxton – Hicks contractions that I had been having all month were more frequent and stronger than they had been. At dinner time I noticed my contractions getting stronger and after dinner I noticed that I had a lot of cervical mucus and the faintest hint of blood. My contractions continued to get stronger to the point that I had to stop what I was doing (moving around furniture and cleaning behind things) to focus on them. I called Debbie to let her know my status. She suggested that I stop moving furniture and go to bed. She thought that that way I could at least get a few hours of rest. I went to bed and slept fairly well between contractions. The contractions were hard to deal with on my side so I would wake up for each one and my husband, Nate, began timing them.
They were 15 to 20 minutes apart. At one point they got closer together. I’m not really sure how close but I gave Nate permission to call Debbie back and let her know. He seemed nervous that things would happen too quickly. Debbie was on her way and I went back to bed. I remember thinking that I needed to be absolutely still so that I could slow things down and wait for Debbie to get here. Debbie, Nicole, and Rachel got here 2 hours later at around 3 am. I got up to say hello. “Now I could really go into labor,” I thought. Contractions were so much easier when I was standing or sitting so I sat on the couch and visited. Now that I was ready to go, my contractions almost went away completely. After around an hour I decided to go back to bed at least I may be able to get some rest. I was feeling a little bit guilty for having called all of these people to my house in the middle of the night for what was starting to feel like a false alarm.
I woke up early the next morning and joined my mother for a walk hoping that it would get my labor moving. We walked two miles at a brisk pace. I had contractions regularly but I was able to walk through them. When I got back to the house Debbie, Nichole, and Rachel decided to go out for breakfast. I took a nap in our hammock. I wanted to keep walking but was too tired. While I napped my contractions stopped again. Debbie came back from breakfast and I gave her a tour of our gardens. My contractions were strong again and after walking Debbie checked my cervix. I was only 3 cm dilated but my cervix was very spongy. The baby’s head had not descended enough to push on my cervix. Debbie suggested that we do some things to make me have more contractions to push the baby down. I agreed to try nipple stimulation and walking. At this point a number of friends had shown up at the house. One friend was watching my son and my brother in law and his wife had arrived to help around the house. My mother was also milling around trying not to act nervous (I think she was mostly worried I wouldn’t have the baby during the week she would be here). I could hear everyone gathered outside the house and I enjoyed listening to conversations from the upstairs window – it was very relaxing. I especially enjoyed hearing my three year old report “did you hear that screaming?” We had read a number of books and I was very careful to prepare him for screaming.
Meanwhile the nipple stimulation was anything but relaxing. It would cause my contractions to come one after the other but they were very hard to relax through because I knew I would have to try to make more come soon. I couldn’t just give in to the labor. I started to get discouraged. I was so present during my first birth and I hoped with this birth that the labor would just take me away and once the pain got hard enough I would be in that totally present and accepting state that I found myself in during my first labor. It just wasn’t coming and the more I tried the more forced it seemed. I was scared that everything would stop again and Debbie would have to go home. I was scared in general. The forced contractions hurt and I was scared that I would not be able to deal with what came next. My husband and I walked and then did more nipple stimulation. At one point I started sobbing half hoping that the release of emotions would help me give in to the pain.
It was afternoon now and the contractions seemed to be coming on their own but they were not very close together. I took a break and napped between contractions. Nate had passed out on the bed. We were all exhausted. Debbie came up to discuss our options. She said that once my labor took over it would be pretty quick. She didn’t want to go back to Georgia because she figured she would not have time to get back. She offered to get a hotel room for the night so that she could be close. She also said that we could try some herbs to speed things up. We deliberated for a while and talked about some of my fears. I couldn’t believe what I heard myself saying: I remembered the pain of my first birth and I was afraid of the pain that I would have to endure to let myself have this baby. Debbie said that sometimes it is really hard to surrender to the pain. That word “surrender” echoed in my brain. I had been so good at surrendering during my first labor. I had practiced surrendering in years of yoga classes and here I was not able to surrender.
I agreed to take blue and black cohosh simply because I knew that if I waited I would have to regain my energy by sleeping and eating and the idea of trying to eat was revolting. I decided to try a sprint to the finish line instead. My endurance was already running out.
I took the herbs and went outside to talk to the gathered crowd. It was a nice break. I remembered my first labor where I had also taken blue and black cohosh, socialized for a few minutes and then went to the bathroom and could not get off the floor due to the intensity of the contractions. Here I was again. I had a contraction outside and decided to go back inside and go to the bathroom. I made it to the doorway before lying on the floor. These contractions were different and they finally started to take me away. Nate pulled the birthing stool over so that I could lean my chest on it while I was on my hands and knees. With each contraction I said the word “surrender” over and over again as I exhaled. I tried a number of positions on the bathroom floor and then decided to try sitting on the birthing stool next to the bed in the adjacent room. I sat on the stool for a few seconds but the intensity of the pressure was too much. I sat on the floor and leaned against the bed. An hour passed quickly and I was ready for another dose of cohosh.
My contractions were really close together at this point. I realized that I still had not gone to the bathroom but I couldn’t bear the thought of trying to get there. I told Nate that I was going to go there on the floor. He grabbed a chux pad to put under me but it did little good. At this point it hit me that this was not my usual behavior – perhaps my labor was progressing. I asked if I could get into the pool and I could hear it being filled in the back room. I wanted so badly to be in the water so I decided I would crawl to the back room which was about 15 feet away. This seemed like an epic journey. I had to stop every few second to have a contraction and crumple onto the ground. There was a small rug in the hallway. I looked at it and thought to myself (at this point I was wearing a cotton dress that was soaked in pee) “I just need to make it over this rug without making a mess”. As soon as I crawled onto the rug there was a popping sensation and my water broke. I felt immediate pressure against my cervix. Immediately after my water broke I threw up twice – on the rug! I crawled a few more steps and knew I was ready to push. I managed to make it to and into the pool somehow. The water was heavenly and I relaxed as much as I could. I remember telling my husband to let people in. I mostly wanted my son to be present.
The baby’s heart rate dropped while I was on my hands and knees in the pool so Debbie had me turn over into a reclined sitting position (I don’t actually recall the heart rate dropping). I also vaguely remember Debbie pushing a lip of my cervix back during a contraction. With each contraction I screamed at the top of my lungs. Looking back I actually don’t remember it hurting but I do remember it hurting the first time I gave birth and I think that I was mostly screaming out of fear. Had I been present in the pain I may have been a little more calm. Of course I don’t know that it matters – I was getting it done one way or another. Pushing in the water was really nice but I was exhausted and I kept getting cramps in my legs which were much more painful than the contractions. I remember my son saying “good job mom” between contractions. In my head I was focused on the head crowning and I was scared that it was going to hurt. Finally I realized what I was doing. I looked around the room and announced “o.k. I’m going to have to push this head out”. I pushed it out and Debbie said calmly “the head is born”. I was so relieved and finally present and just waiting for the rest of my baby to be born. That final contraction came and Debbie pulled the rest of the body out – it was a little bit of a tight squeeze. Then that glorious moment - there was a baby in my arms and an enormous feeling of relief. “Hi baby”. It was a few minutes before I turned the baby around and checked to see what it was – a girl! I was so relieved and so tired and so in love with this new being. Words can hardly describe that moment. All pain subsides and there is a beautiful face looking up at yours – Hallelujah!
A few minutes later I pushed out the placenta and let the baby nurse so that my uterus would contract more. She latched on right away – not even ten minutes old. Debbie asked my son, Eli, if he would like to cut the cord. He said “o.k. but first I have to find my scissors”. Debbie told him that she had some special scissors that he could use. He was thrilled and did a lovely job welcoming his sister into the world.
Getting out of the pool was difficult. The temperature change between the water and air was overwhelming and I shook uncontrollably. Soon enough I was in bed covered with blankets, drinking water, and nursing my new daughter, Stella Kathryn, with my family all around me. What a treat. Nichole left to attend another birth, while Debbie stayed to do the newborn exam and to give me two stitches.
This birth was not at all what I had expected. The labor was long (about 24 hours) and emotionally it was much more difficult than my first labor. Physically it was also different because Stella was 2 lbs larger than my son. I learned (not for the first time) that it is foolish to create expectations. There are so many events that are out of our control. All we can do is create a nurturing environment and then surrender and rely on faith. Thank goodness we have the option to create that nurturing environment and to labor with competent midwives and our loved ones in our own homes. Thank you to Debbie, Nicole, Rachel, and Claudia for all of their help and guidance.
For picture of Stella’s birth click here