If reading about giving birth weirds you out, you might want to skip this post.
Since my son Jonathan was born 9 days late, I had been telling myself that Ella would be born late also, so that I wouldn’t go crazy if her due date came and went without her arrival. I was hoping she would come maybe sometime over the weekend after her due date (on Weds 9/7). But that was just pulling an idea out of the air, hoping she wouldn’t take too long to make her grand entrance!
I had been having Braxton Hicks contractions since 20-something weeks but they had been getting a little more noticeable over the past week or two. I was happy that my uterus was getting some exercise to train for the big day and any cervix change as a result is nice too. But I wasn’t thinking that these increasing contractions were really anything indicative of the end. Sometimes I would have a few close together, then they would stop; but I tried not to pay too much attention to them so I wouldn’t go crazy, overanalyzing every single twinge I felt!
So on Tuesday afternoon I noticed that I was having some of these light contractions somewhat regularly so I just glanced at the clock and went about my business. It was a little after 4pm. I was moving around the house, making dinner and taking care of Jonathan, so I wasn’t looking at the same clock all the time and the clocks in the house aren’t synchronized by any means, so it’s hard to say precisely, but the contractions were somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 minutes apart. When Dan came home from work, I told him that I had been having somewhat regular contractions, but they weren’t really that intense; some were just the kind that go on in the background while you’re doing other things, some felt like I should stand still and breathe a little bit through it. He took this seriously and said we should cancel our plans to go to community group and call the midwife. I wasn’t convinced that this was “it” – the contractions were so far apart from each other that I figured it wasn’t anything to get excited about. And I didn’t want to get everyone else excited by calling and telling people I was having contractions. Plus, in between the contractions I felt totally normal, and I thought that if this were real labor, I wouldn’t be able to focus on anything else or do anything else.
After I had made dinner and was waiting for Dan to come home, I laid down on the couch to see if the contractions continued. I had heard that if you rest or change activity, it would stop. Jonathan watched some Veggie Tales and played while I rested. The contractions continued, so when Dan got home he convinced me to call Mary, our midwife. I gave her the update and she said to call her back in an hour and let her know if things were progressing or stable. So Dan and Jonathan and I sat down and ate dinner, with the contraction timer app sitting on the table between us.
During dinner the contractions increased in frequency to 8 minutes apart, but that still wasn’t convincing to me. I hate to make a big deal about stuff that could turn out to be nothing! But by the end of dinner, it was really uncomfortable to sit on the hard chairs during a contraction, so I would stand up and lean on my hands on the table. Also, if I was in the middle of chewing a bite when a contraction came on, it kind of turned my stomach which made me nervous. When I was in labor with Jonathan, I threw up incessantly and had some major complications as a result. So I was very nervous about repeating that experience!
After dinner, Dan decided to cancel our community group and we busied ourselves around the house, packing things up, cleaning up toys and dinner dishes, throwing the sheets in the wash, etc. The contractions increased to 5-6 minutes apart during this time and definitely required me to stop and lean over something and breathe deeply. But I still felt so normal in between (not cranky or weepy or otherwise hormonally irrational) that I still wasn’t convinced this was going to end in a birth.
Around 7pm I called Mary back, who had just driven in torrential rain all the way down to Homestead (south of Miami). She thought it was the real thing and that we should go to the birth center. I estimated we could be there in an hour, allowing time to get organized, drop off Jonathan and drive over. She said she could probably make it there in that amount of time, but she would have another midwife go to the birth center sooner to set up and meet us there.
By 7:30 we were in the car on the way to Dan’s parents’ house. I was hoping not to have too many contractions in the car, since we only live 10ish minutes down the road from them. Unfortunately things picked up in the car, starting with a really nasty contraction that was intensified by having to brace myself when we braked suddenly at a light. That was one of many double, or back to back contractions – just when it feels like it’s lightening up, it intensifies again, for a total of maybe 3 minutes long.
I didn’t handle the car contractions very well, because it really didn’t feel good to be stuck in that one seated position, with my maternity shorts’ waist band cutting into me and Dan not able to help much because he was driving in the rain and holding a video up on the iPhone so Jonathan would be quiet. (He was crying to see “Baby!” videos of himself.) So I didn’t feel like I was doing a good job relaxing and letting the contractions do their thing.
The big key to a natural birth is to remain calm, relaxed and loose. If you tense up, your body has to fight harder to open the cervix, which is what the contractions are trying to accomplish. I had read a birth story online recently where the mom said she used a mantra (which I don’t really believe in, but the words she chose were helpful): “Open and relaxed.” So as I was in the middle of the contractions I would think to myself, “open and relaxed,” and try to visualize my muscles opening more and more to allow the baby to come down.
But I wasn’t doing a good job of that in the car! It was less like, “open and relaxed” and more like, “Help me God! Jesus! Help me!” I started to figure out that this was probably the real thing (labor) when I began to feel really testy and emotional in the car. I started crying about leaving Jonathan and how he wasn’t going to be my only baby anymore and how I didn’t get to have a good moment of closure for that. We had the Gossetts meet us in their driveway and just in those few minutes outside their house, I had three contractions close together which I thought was just due to getting up and moving around, but was really the labor increasing in intensity.
We left their house and drove to the birth center, continuing to have frequent contractions. I was SO ready to get out of that car! That was the worst part of the whole thing! Plus, I just wanted to get to the place where we could settle in and just focus. Getting out of the car at the birth center, waiting to be buzzed in, riding the elevator, walking down to the room, all felt like one contraction after another. I attributed it at the time to the fact that I was moving around so much (anything can trigger more contractions when you’re in labor) and not necessarily to the fact that I was really making progress.
I was so relieved to finally get into the room at the birth center! I could finally settle in and relax! The tone in the room was immediately calming, with low lighting and soft music. This was also the room where we had had all of our prenatal appointments, so it felt comfortable and familiar to me. The midwife whom Mary had sent ahead of her was new to us (her name was Deborah), but very likable and respectful. I couldn’t have cared less at the time who was going to examine me, but she took the time to tell us who she was, how long she had been a midwife, etc so that I would feel comfortable with her caring for me.
It took a few minutes for her to be able to examine me, since I had two contractions and threw up between them. She listened to the baby’s heart beat through one of the contractions with the doppler and got kicked off! Ella has opinions of her own, it seems.
I was really freaked out that I had thrown up, since that was my baggage from my last labor. I was expecting to be maybe 3-5cm along with a lot more labor ahead of me. Was I going to have complications from throwing up too much again?? Imagine my shock when Deborah told me that I was 9cm during a contraction with a “bulging bag” – lovely little term that means the amniotic sack hadn’t ruptured and it was helping my cervix to dilate evenly and gently. I believe my first reaction was, “What??” followed by “Praise Jesus!! Oh Thank You God!!” followed by “Are you kidding me??” followed by “I’m so happy!” That news was definitely the high point of the whole experience! Just to know that I had so much of the journey behind me and was SO close to the end! That was the mental boost needed to make it the rest of the way through.
Deborah called Mary and asked how close she was. Luckily she was getting off the exit where the birth center is, and was with us in a just a few minutes. Meanwhile, I was happy to be able to see for myself if the labor tub was all it’s cracked up to be.
I learned from Jonathan’s labor that I need to be flexible and not think, “This is exactly what I want to do and how it’s going to happen.” So in terms of whether or not I was going to use the water to give birth, I had just decided to try it out and see how it goes. The midwives were very relaxed about all those sorts of decisions. Whenever I asked if I should do or try something or not, they always deferred to what was comfortable to me, or what I felt like trying out.
The general vibe in the room was just so nice and relaxed – very low lighting, soft music, quiet voices, no pressure to do anything or act any certain way. I felt completely free to let go and just go with the flow.
I got into the tub and made myself as reasonably comfortable as possible, considering the fact that I was in labor. During contractions one of the midwives would periodically listen to the baby with the doppler, but other than that they just left me alone to do my thing while they quietly got all of their supplies ready for the birth. I was so happy to know that it wouldn’t be much longer!!
I had maybe 30-45 more minutes of contractions spaced comfortably apart (I use the term “comfortably” loosely). Enough time to relax again in between, which was nice. Some of the contractions were back-to-back again, but when they got really intense, I just told myself that I was so close that this wasn’t going to last much longer. One of them was really intense and I made myself welcome the pain, almost going after it, knowing that the more intense it was, the faster I was going to be done. I remembered “open and relaxed” and visualized the baby’s head being allowed to descend lower and lower.
After a while I had a contraction that felt different. It felt like my uterus jumped or something…maybe it was the baby kicking upwards with her feet? Whatever it was, I knew it felt differently, and that when the uterus is ready to push, the contractions change to a different type – downward pressure instead of cervix opening. Mary examined me to see if the cervix was completely dilated and it was! I hadn’t felt that overwhelming urge to push that I had heard about, but she said if I wanted to try a push next contraction, I could do that.
I told them that I wasn’t 100% committed to being in the water for the birth, so if was better or more convenient to get out, it didn’t bother me. But they said it didn’t matter to them where I was and I should do whatever felt best. (The only time they said not to do something was when I had changed to hands and knees and they listened to the baby’s heart beat and said she didn’t like that, so I sat back down the other way again and everything was fine. Baby gets what baby wants!) So since I couldn’t think of any good reason to get out of the tub, I just stayed where I was.
I did a little push on the next contraction, feeling it out, and then remembered from Jonathan’s birth that I was going to have to really put some oomph behind it. So I tried a hard push, but I felt it in my bottom and wailed, “I don’t want to poop!!” Everyone laughed and reassured me that it was completely fine if that happened, totally normal, don’t be embarrassed, etc. Still! I didn’t want to! (Just to keep some dignity, I have to say: I didn’t poop.) I told Mary that I didn’t feel her head really bearing down and I was expecting to feel that. She and the other midwife said it was because the amniotic sac hadn’t broken yet, and it was ballooning forward with each contraction, so instead of a hard head pressing down, it was more like a water balloon.
The next contraction I pushed again and my water popped! (It really felt just like that – a pop!) They examined me and said that the baby had really come down a lot after the water broke. This was exciting to me! Some progress that came for free! Right after the water broke, I felt the burn though – her head was stretching me open!
Side note – everyone said that pushing doesn’t hurt because you’re really working with your body and it feels good to be doing something, etc. In my personal experience – it sure wasn’t a cake walk! It felt like my bottom was going to rip open, actually. (Aren’t you glad you’re reading this?)
The next contraction I pushed and let out a few primitive yells and the baby crowned. Good Lord, it felt like a bowling ball, but looked so tiny later when she was out! Her head came out and then Mary told me to wait just a moment because she had a nuchal arm – her fist was tucked up to her cheek. Mary said afterward that she was concerned that if she let the baby come out like that, it would do bad things to my perineum. So she took a moment to rotate the shoulders, pull the arm out straight and then a little push sent out the rest of her. I pulled her right up to me and they put a towel over us both to keep her toasty. I couldn’t believe it!! She was already born?!
I had thought beforehand that it was gross to give birth in the water because you’re in there with all the “stuff” that comes out with the baby. But water was completely clear until after the placenta was delivered. The midwives told me that I could get out before the placenta came if I wanted to, but I just needed to sit there a minute. I think I was still absorbing the “that just happened?” moment, in addition to coming down off of the insanely intense experience of pushing her out. So while I thought it would be gross, in the moment the water was still completely clean and I just needed to take a second to sit there and catch my breath.
After Mary delivered the placenta, they drained the tub and I handed the baby to Dan while I carefully stood up and got out. Our friend Torrey was there taking pictures for us to remember everything by and she snapped a few shots of Dan’s first time holding the baby while I got dried off and settled on the bed.
During the next hour, Ella and I did some skin-to-skin bonding time and her first feeding while they waited for the cord to stop pulsing and empty out. (Her placenta was still attached to the other end of the cord, in a little baggy, wrapped up in a towel. It sat next to her on the bed.) I was surprised by how relaxed everything was after the birth. At the hospital, there was so much bustling around and so many people in and out. This time, after I was settled on the bed and had a check-up, the midwives straightened up a bit and then sat down and chatted with us for a while. Periodically one or the other would check me or get the shower ready or put things away, but they continued to be a very calm, unobtrusive presence, as they had been during the birth.
Another surprisingly relaxing part is that the baby was allowed to just be with me. No one took her away to do anything for quite a long time. At the hospital, they hand you the baby at first, but then take it to weigh, measure, clean, diaper it, etc before giving it back. This time, the midwives did any initial observations they needed to do while I was holding her and didn’t do her measurements, etc until later. After about an hour Mary clamped her cord and Dan cut it. Then the baby was weighed: 7lbs 11ozs and Dan and I laughed that she was going to be his slurpee baby! (Dan loves slurpees from 7-11.) She was 19 3/4 inches long.
After a few phone calls, Dan held the baby while Deborah helped me get in the shower. They were very cautious about how I felt standing up for the first time in a while, but I felt great! After showering, we were almost done with our pre-leaving check list. In order to leave after the birth, the baby had to breast feed successfully (she was a champ!), my bleeding had to be under control, I had to take a shower, and the last part was that Mary had to do the full newborn exam and paper work. She checked all the standard newborn reflexes, hips, vitals, eyes, hand and feet responses, etc. In the time since the birth, they had periodically been checking the baby’s temperature, heart rate/sounds, breathing etc. They had also been taking my vitals every so often as well.
So Ella’s paper work was officialized, we signed a few dotted lines, strapped her up in her car seat and we were off! It was around 12am at that point. We had arrived at the birth center around 8:30pm…it was so incredible that not only was the baby already born and labor was over (hallelujah!) but we were on our way back home to sleep in our own bed!
In the elevator on the way out to the parking lot, Dan and I looked at each other and realized, “We have two children.” We just sort of looked at each other with huge eyes for a minute. I think I’m still adjusting to that thought that we are now a family of four. Wow!