This is the story of the birth of my third child. My first two children were born in hospitals with both IV pain medications and epidurals. While I appreciated (and very much wanted) the epidural at both previous births, by the time I was planning my third pregnancy, I knew that I wanted to get off the hamster wheel of the medical model of prenatal care and birth. I knew that there must be a better way to do this whole birth thing, and my many friends and acquaintances that had left the hospital setting to give birth only confirmed that feeling with their positive stories.
When I became pregnant with baby number three, I immediately scheduled orientation at the local birth center. I admit that I was scared to go through with the orientation, and when I filled out the initial paperwork, I thought; Well now there is no going back, I'm really going to have to go through with this in eight months.
My husband was very supportive, which I expected. He was wonderfully supportive at both of my hospital births and he personally prefers to avoid unnecessary medical intervention and medication, so he was all for doing things the natural way.
I prepared for the birth by reading and watching every natural birth resource I could get my hands on. My favorites were all of Ina May Gaskin's books, and The Christian Childbirth Handbook. I also asked all of my friends with natural birth experience for tips and encouragement, and frequently read birth stories on blogs like Birth Without Fear. I had a lot of fear to work through and spent a lot of time praying about the birth and seeking God's peace.
The final weeks of pregnancy were plagued with prodromal labor that caused me to lose a lot of sleep, but other than fatigue, I felt great. I didn't gain much weight this time and baby wasn't feeling too large or keeping me too uncomfortable. At my 39 week check up the midwife found me to be only 2cm dilated, and I began to wonder if this baby would be my first to make it to her due date or even beyond. I had reached 4cm weeks before labor began with my other children, so I didn't feel that anything was imminent.
On the afternoon of August 17th (39 weeks, 4 days), I was feeling my typical "false" contractions, so I hung out on the birth ball to try to get comfortable while Jason and I watched The Godfather II. My 5-year-old son was spending the day and night with his grandparents and our 22-month-old daughter was having a pretty mellow day. All in all, things just felt so relaxed all day. The painless contractions continued all afternoon and into the evening. Sometime after 9pm, Jason laid down on the bed with me to watch a movie on TV. He rubbed my back and suddenly the painless, sporadic contractions transformed into strong waves coming every two minutes and lasting a minute or longer. When I mentioned that they were requiring more of my attention, Jason suggested that I call the midwife, but I didn't want to bug anyone for a false alarm, so I decided to time them for awhile. After almost an hour, he insisted that I call. I was hesitant, because although they felt powerful, there was really no pain associated with the sensation. As Ina May says, it was just "an interesting sensation requiring all of your attention."
The midwife, Judy, told me to come right in. We finished packing our snacks, Gatorade and popsicles and headed out. Luckily, my friend was staying with us, so we were able to leave our daughter in her own bed and our son was still with his grandparents.
In the car, on the way to the birth center, I really began to doubt if we should be going in. We were laughing and joking between contractions and I still couldn't say that they were painful.
We arrived and the midwife checked me. "How many centimeters did you say you usually are when your contractions are this close together?" she asked as she checked.
Oh no! I thought. I must not even be four yet. Now I've made the trip up here for nothing!
"You're a six!" She said. I was absolutely thrilled and so surprised. How could I be six already and the contractions not hurt? Don't get me wrong, they were powerful feeling, and it was an unpleasant sensation, but there was not the same pain associated that I felt in labor with my other kids. Not anywhere close.
The midwife and nurses started to get the room set up and run the tub and I labored on the ball and kneeling on the bed. Between contractions I was laughing so hard while Jason and I discussed what device might be used to fish...ahem...debris...out of the tub. The nurse brought it out to show to us. It's pretty much a goldfish net. Cue more laughter.
I got in the tub and Jason sat on a stool outside of the tub. We thought we had a long way to go, my previous labors were 11 hours and 12 hours respectively. He brought over my Gatorade, my phone that was set for my perfectly planned Pandora station, and a stack of note cards on which I had written about 30 scriptures and affirmations.
I never got to use any of them, because as soon as I got in the tub I began to shake uncontrollably. I took two sips of Gatorade and knew I was going to vomit. I told Judy and she got me a container and some peppermint essential oil to smell to try to help with nausea. As soon as she walked away, I started throwing up, hard. Between the vomiting and the intense shaking, I could barely feel my contractions. When I finally emptied my stomach I said "Well that was a nice distraction." The shaking was making it harder to relax during contractions and the intensity was mounting. Still, not nearly anything as painful as I felt in past labors. I asked the nurses what I could do to stop the shaking and they said it was just a normal sign of transition. No way I am in transition. Things don't suck nearly enough. Transition is supposed to be the worst pain of your life. When I voiced that I really didn't believe I was in transition, they kept assuring me that I had all the signs. I began to feel really restless, like I needed to do something besides just sit there, so I got out of the tub to try to empty my bladder.
Standing, and being out of the water, made the power and energy of the contractions harder to manage. I began to vocalize in low moans and feel a little panicky at the peak of each one. The shaking continued. I hung onto a rail in the bathroom and then to Jason's neck through a few. After each one I would say "I made it through that one." And I would think to myself that it was going to get much worse. It had to get worse, because it wasn't anything like the pain I had prepared myself for. The restless feeling persisted, and I wondered if I should try to nitrous oxide to relax me. But after each contraction I would think That wasn't bad enough for $150 (the cost of using the laughing gas).
I said I wanted to rest, and Judy said I could try a contraction lying on the bed. I laid on my side and when the contraction hit I jumped right up "Help me up! Help me up!!! Don't let me do that again!!!" It was awful feeling. If you are reading this and considering natural birth, do not lay down. Everything, absolutely everything feels better than laying down! I asked Judy to check me again, just to give me something to do since I felt to restless. She said I was "at least an 8" and I could not believe it! I had been at the birth center for maybe an hour, in labor for maybe two hours!
Jason put on his swim trunks and we got back in the tub together. I tried leaning on him but found it really hard to rest. As each contraction would peak I would get this unbearable to urge to do something to make it stop. I would hop up on my knees, or roll to my side, straighten and bend my legs...it was as though I was trying to escape it instead of just letting it happen.
At this point I would say that the intensity was becoming overwhelming, and there was some pain associated, but it was the power and the energy that was so uncomfortable and hard to handle. Judy was amazing, reminding me to relax between and telling me it was almost over. I asked her if it could just be done now and she went ahead and checked me again. She felt a small lip of cervix left and said that I could push if and when it felt right. I didn't feel an urge to bear down, yet pushing gave me something to do during that intense peak, so I tried it, grunting while doing so. I rolled over and, kneeling, leaned my face into Jason's chest. My grunts got louder and more primal with each push and I asked Judy if she could "just do it for me" at which everyone laughed. I said "Is she almost out?" and Judy told me to check for myself. Now, pushing and delivering was the part I was most afraid of, yet in the moment I simply reached down and ventured one finger within. I felt something hard and smooth and I could not believe it was her head. I rolled back over to a semi-reclining squat and asked Judy to check, because I really couldn't believe it was the baby already. She still felt a little cervix and gently slid it over the baby's head on my next push. "That hurts! That hurts!" I yelled and she so calmly said "I know it does. I know." and for some reason that was so soothing. Just the fact that she knew and sympathized and I could tell.
I continued bearing down and grunting and looking back I cannot even believe the sounds that I made. I got pretty loud. I never thought I would make noise or vocalize or anything like that. Its just not how I pictured it. At one point I pushed down so hard for so long that Jason had to remind me to breathe. All of this, from the first push to this point, happened in about 10 minutes time, but it felt like we were frozen in time, I had no concept or awareness of how long. It could have been one minute or one hour. "Here she comes! Here's her head!" Someone exclaimed and Jason was supporting me from behind, saying "That's it babe. Here she is! She's coming out!" I prepared for the "ring of fire" that I had heard of, but it didn't come. There was just such a fullness. It wasn't pleasant, but still, nothing like the pain I prepared for. When they said "Her head is out!" I didn't believe it, because the searing pain I expected never came.
Within seconds, almost as soon as I had the thought that delivering the head wasn't as painful as expected, I felt like I was being ripped in half. I screamed and began yelling "Get her out! Get her out! Oh my God get her out! Help me! Help me!" It was so frightening. All at once, Judy got so serious and quickly said something very medical-sounding to the two nurses. Each leaned down into the tub and grabbed my feet and pulled them up and back into your typical, hospital-style frog squat and Judy reached down, telling me to keep my bottom down in the water. I was still yelling this whole time. I don't know exactly what she did, but it felt as though she reached both her hands into me and freed to baby. It turns out that she had shoulder dystocia, meaning that her shoulders got stuck on the way out. According to Jason, this all happened in a matter of seconds, but to me it felt like an eternity. It was the only part of the whole experience that really and truly hurt. I will admit, I panicked, I freaked out, I did not handle it at all, and I was loud.
But, the very instant she was out, it all went away. Like nothing ever happened. It was the most amazing feeling, nothing like the epidural-numbed moments after my hospital births. I was so elated. I held her and looked at her and said "I can't believe it's over!" a lot.
Coralie Mae was born at 1:21am weighing in at 9lbs 1oz and 21 inches. I think it was about 3 1/2 hours from my first noticeable contraction.
My mom and Jason's mom both arrived in the next couple of hours and we hung out and visited and ate goodies from Panera. We were discharged at 5:15am, just shy of 4 hours after the birth of our daughter. I climbed into my own bed and slept with sweet Coralie on my chest for about an hour before my daughter woke up. And I wouldn't do it any other way. Ever.
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