by Clarissa, USA
When my labor started on Saturday July 12, 2008 I didn't actually know it. I'd been having serious Braxton-Hicks contractions for almost 3 weeks. For at least 2 of the 3 weeks leading up to labor, the BH contractions would time themselves to two minutes apart and about 30 seconds long. We'd had 3 trips to the Birth Center an left 3 times without a baby. I started ignoring any feelings of contractions and stopped timing them. Surely, it didn't matter if I did or not because the baby just couldn't stay inside forever.
My husband, JJ woke up at 6 am that day to get ready for work. I got up to pee and felt so upset to my stomach I couldn't go back to sleep. Must have been that ball of wasabi I ate at dinner the night before in desperate hope that it would induce labor. The sun was just rising an giving the sky a beautiful blue hue when JJ hopped on his bike and left for work. I had what I can only describe as a “craving” to walk. So, I went outside and walked an hour and a half on that steamy 78 degree morning. I brought a liter of water with me and only returned home because I ran out of water.
More BH contractions were bothering me. One of my midwives had told me that if I drank magnesium citrate, it would make BH contractions go away but not the real ones. So I made some Organic green tea, threw in some powered “Calm” brand magnesium citrate, some tupelo honey and guzzled it. About 20 minutes later some of the pain subsided but I still felt pretty tender around the lower back, like I did when I had rough period cramps. I wasn't very hungry but knew it was important to eat, so I made some eggs an toast. It wasn't down 5 minutes before it came back up. How frustrating! I could feel the hunger pains and my stomach was growling but it rejected what had become my daily breakfast.
I felt like morning sickness was returning and drank a little warm water and went to lie down. I couldn't go back to sleep. I was feeling very anxious. I got up to poop and afterwords thought I'd feel a lot better getting whatever was upsetting my stomach out of me. It helped temporarily.
By 10 am I'd managed to get some cereal to stay down and a glass of orange juice. I couldn't get over the restlessness in my legs an took another stroll around the neighborhood. I walked twice a day for the last 3 months of my pregnancy so the neighbors had grown used to watching me waddle past their homes. I got lots of advice, waves, smiles, and “that baby isn't out yet?!” More than anything I had experienced mothers ranging from 30-90 telling me that walking was just the thing I needed to be doing. It was nice to hear that this was a normal craving. The few pregnant women I knew at the time of my birth didn't seem to really want to take walks outside in the Florida summer. But I bathed in the heat. Usually, I'd take a walk at lunchtime and then later a night. Towards the end I was walking a few more times a day. I can't tell you how necessary it was for me to walk. Whenever my walks ended at my house, I'd feel a sense of sadness and sometimes would just run in, fill up my water bottle, and go back to walking. I can understand how Mary walked from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
I think it was around 10:30 while I was on my walk that the contractions started getting stronger and demanding that I stop and squat. Many times I'd lean against a street sign, fence, or tree to sway back and forth. This was nothing new either. Previously, my BH contractions had been strong enough to illicit this response too, so I still ignored it and decided to take more Calm when I returned home. On the way back home, several elderly ladies stopped me to tell me they could see the difference in me today and that my child was going to be born by sunrise tomorrow. I just told them all, “I hope so.”
I got home around 11 am from my walk and managed to eat some spanish rice with black beans for lunch. I took some more Calm, tea, and honey and tried to watch a movie. It didn't interest me at all, I just needed something, but didn't know what. I got in the shower and spent 30 minutes letting the hottest water run over my lower back. I held onto the shower wall and she swayed back and forth with my hips. Sometimes, I'd do some real low hums and some squats and some more hums. This was different than before, but it just didn't feel strong enough to be labor.
At noon, a good friend named Holly called me to tell me she was moving to New Jersey in a few days and wanted to see me before she left. I told her to come on over, I was all alone and maybe wouldn't be very good company, but I didn't want her to leave without saying goodbye.
She showed up around 1pm and we talked for a while. She told me about the guy she was going to live with and that they both wanted children one day and how great it would be to have a baby. I agreed with her on that, how great would it be to have a baby. We talked most of the afternoon and took some short walks around the block. I just kept drinking more and more tea with magnesium citrate and it wasn't helping. In fact the cramps were getting worse. I don't know if contractions is the right word. They do contract and I guess cramps aren't all that different. But they are dull like cramps, its achy and a little painful an a bit like you need to poop.
Holly and I took a fairly long walk and I was just content to listen to her life plans and latest news. It was distracting me from the irritating back pain I was experiencing. When we got back home I just put my knees on the floor and laid my upper torso in the rocking chair and rocked back and forth. Holly just kept asking if she was bothering me or if I was okay. I was fine as long as I rocked. I started feeling more an more nausea and spent a good amount of time in the restroom with diarrhea and vomiting. Of course, in my labor denial, I assumed I'd taken too much magnesium citrate and that was causing the nausea. I didn't even consider true labor. I felt pretty tired and told Holly I was going to lay down for a bit. She told me not to let her bother me and so I went and dozed off for two hours or so.
When I woke up, I just felt so sore. I felt like I'd sprained a muscle in my lower back. It wasn't debilitating, but it was tender. I took a long shower to try and soothe myself. When I finished showering, my good friends Ric and Christina showed up. Christina had delivered her daughter at home 3 years prior and was to be my doula. She kept telling me her intuition was that I was in labor. I assured her that it wasn't bad enough to be labor and I'd been going through these similar pains for 3 weeks and to just calm down. Still it was nice to have her company.
Ric was Christina's partner and had been there for her birth. I'd requested he attend our birth in hopes he could be supportive of my nervous husband. Christina and I walked around for a while, talking about her birth experience and how beautiful labor and birth are. I remember it had just rained and the ground was still wet, the leaves were still glistening with water. I remember that the air just smelled so fresh and clean. It seemed like a good day to have a baby. There was a fresh awesomeness to the atmosphere.
Christina is a massage therapist, another wonderful skill to have on hand at a birth. She rubbed my hips as I rocked my torso in the rocking chair. I can remember every stroke seemed to instantly take away the back pain. This just reinforced my belief that this wasn't real labor, the pain subsided too easily. Christina said she could feel my hips really opening. She said they gave so easily that it had to be because the baby was on the way. After a while of massage and rocking, Christina did some reflexology. She found several pressure points on my wrist, shoulder, and foot. Sometimes the points would send a very severe stabbing pain throughout my body, especially the points in the foot. After the reflexology things started accelerating quickly.
I finally decided I need to soak in the tub. The cramps were getting heavier and more consistent. I hadn't been timing them and was completely unaware that Christina had been timing them. She gave me the time sheet after the birth that charted my real contractions hitting 3 minutes apart and lasting 45-60 seconds somewhere around 9 pm. It was about that time that JJ got home from work.
He was exhausted. He'd been at work since 7 am and really should have left work no later than 7 pm. I was so relieved to see him, just hugging him seemed to take so much pain away. Christina informed JJ that the baby was definitely coming. He looked at me and I told him, “Yeah, this baby has got to be coming tonight.” I don't know who, but someone captured this moment on our camera.
Everyone was eager to get to the birth center, but I wasn't ready. Around 9:30 I suddenly was STARVING! What did I demand from my fellow birth attendants? Papa John's pizza and peppercinis. In fact, the peppercinis were the far more pressing thought on my mind. I can remember telling Holly that I didn't care if the pizza got her but I wanted those peppers. When the pizza arrived I ate three slices and 5 peppers within less than 5 minutes. I don't really remember chewing. After my meal, I felt like the labor was moving onto a new stage.
I got back in the tub and felt a very new sensation. It felt like every time the baby moved a very warm (almost hot) liquid would come out of me. At first I thought I was peeing and got out of the tub to see if it was my water breaking or pee. It didn't smell like pee. I called Christina in and she was quite sure it was my water breaking, or rather, trickling. The pain was really picking up and getting to be too difficult to talk during. I just laid in the tub and kind of moaned. The water felt too cold and so I eventually just left the hot running with no cold water. I couldn't get comfortable and wanted my belly to really be covered, but my tub at home wasn't deep enough.
I can remember Holly getting me ice water. The thirst was really unbelievable. I felt like I'd walked 100 miles in the desert, I was so thirsty. I could barely thank Holly for the water.
Christina and called my midwife who wanted to talk to me. I remember that I wasn't really angry until the midwife demanded to talk to me. She didn't seem to think I was in labor. I was really short and rude on the phone. I handed the phone back to Christina and told her I wasn't dealing with that “shit.” I remember Christina arguing with the midwife saying things like, “no, I know she can talk but she's definitely in labor,” and “I am sure her water broke, I'm sure she's in active labor.” The midwife told us to wait a while longer.
I think I lasted another 1/2 hour before deciding that I was extremely pissed off at being at home. The contractions were getting too close together. I started panicking. I could handle these at home, but if it was this tough already I couldn't bear the thought of getting in the car later in labor. I could handle the pains when I was in the tub, but when I got out of the tub I felt like I couldn't even stand on my own legs. Christina called the midwife back and thanks to my very LOUD moans she agreed to meet us at the birth center.
I'd been wearing only a bikini top and couldn't bear the idea of getting dressed. Someone wrapped me in a bath robe for the car journey. I sat in the front seat with my head against the dashboard. JJ (my husband) started driving there and at some point started asking for my directions. I remember looking over at him and in a very low satanic voice saying, “you don't remember how to fucking get there, after every fucking time I made you drive there during prenatals to program your stupid fucking brain.” Someone rode in the back seat with us and commented, “that is labor.”
I couldn't bear to open my eyes, the car hitting speed bumps made pain shoot through my back and I wasn't capable of keeping my breathing steady with all the panic and questions being asked of me in the car. I finally was able to give directions on how to get to the birth center. When we got there I got out of the car and was so weak from the drive that I fell to the ground. I'd lost my concentration, I was pissed off that JJ couldn't find his way there without making me direct him, I was pissed off that I wasn't in water, and I was pissed off the midwife had made us wait extra time. All that anger wasn't helping the situation, it was just feeding the pain. The midwife took me inside and asked me to go to the bathroom and pee in a cup. When she left the bathroom I ordered someone to fill up the tub. Holly rushed to it and started the water.
The midwives wouldn't let me get in the tub right away, they asked me to lay on my back for a cervix check. The worst pain of the entire labor was during the 2 cervix checks I had laying on my back. I truly can't fathom having a baby being on my back the whole time.
After informing me that I was 80% effaced and 4 cm (hardly a call to active labor) they told me I could get in the tub anyway. I didn't care that I was only 4 cm, I was sore, the contractions were getting pretty tough and I didn't want to have to drive when they were any worse than they were.
JJ didn't sit behind me in the tub. He was trying to do what I was asking of him, but really just kept upsetting me. I laid in front of him and tried to brace my legs against him. The slipper surface of the tub was making it hard to relax because I'd just slip all over.
At one point JJ moved suddenly and caused a severe amount of pain. I yelled at him, “stop moving!” I don't know who decided that it was better to get JJ out of the tub and get Christina in, but I'm grateful. She had an innate ability to just be what I needed. At times she sat in front of me and supported me, but most of the time she let me lay on her chest. This was so soothing. I started to drift into another place during the contractions.
Her breathing was so steady and relaxed that I couldn't help but sync up with her. My stomach was hanging suspended in the water and without gravity's pull, the pain all but disappeared. JJ sat next to the tub so that I had a focal point. I don't know how long we stayed like this but it was very helpful.
For a very long time I just lost myself in the contractions. I stopped feeling pain and felt like I was somewhere else. I closed my eyes and drifted into a sort of trance. I wasn't in a tub at a birth center anymore. I was floating in some dark ocean that also resembled space. I floated up and down as if on a raft while ocean swells went by. But I wasn't on a raft, it was just me floating weightless in the abyss. And I couldn't really feel the water, it was more like a star filled black-blue void. I just floated there letting the swells carry me higher, peak, and then down I'd go. I moaned during the swells and it would get me to the top. After the peaks, I could just breathe and relax.
At some point the midwives realized that I hadn't given them a urine sample and broke me out of my trance so I could provide one. I hadn't known I needed to pee, but was able to. The midwives dipped some sticks in and suddenly rushed me out of the tub and onto the bed. They were wrapping a blood pressure cuff around my arm and taking my temperature and checking the baby with a doppler. I started to get really panicked.
One of the midwives informed me that my ketones were too high and blood pressure was too high. They told me I could go pre-eclamptic if they didn't keep me out of the water. I'm not sure what led to this. Someone spoon fed me some cookies and cream ice cream and yogurt. I also munched on a little bit of macaroni, cheese, beef, and tomatoes. Someone held water with a straw for me. I felt myself getting pretty tired. My stomach was upset and I couldn't handle anymore food. The midwives had everyone leave the birth room, except for JJ. The midwives set me up on my side with JJ spooning me and then they left too.
I don't know how long I was in that position, it seemed like forever and no time at all. It was very easy to go back to the void I was in. I just moaned and breathed. JJ's breathing behind me synced with the swells I was feeling. I just kept hearing a woman's voice in my head, “its just a wave, ride it.” So I did. I road the waves and didn't feel the pain, I just let the sounds come out. The same voice in my head kept saying, “that's right, low, low tones. You want the sounds to reach your bottom.”
At some point one of the midwives entered and checked my cervix. She told me that progress wasn't something to worry about. I knew that meant I wasn't really progressing. I begged to get back in the water. She took my blood pressure, temperature, and let me pee in a cup again. Everything was fine so she refilled the tub. JJ told me he was going to have a cigarette. Earlier in the labor, I wouldn't have tolerated that, but at this point I felt like I didn't need him. I just needed my ocean and my swells and my voice.
I sunk back into the void, the swells were getting harder to ride. I couldn't figure it out, this had been working, why wasn't it working anymore? The pain started to return, much stronger than it was before. I cried out with very high pitched screams. One of the midwives came in and told me not to start panicking. I told her it hurt to much and she helped me bring the screams back to very low moans. That helped. I told her I was scared, it couldn't get any worse than this. I remember saying, “this pain, this is why people get epidurals, why didn't I listen.” The midwife replied, “you knew that you could handle this and you are doing wonderfully. You are a good mama, just breathe.”
I guess those were the only words of encouragement I needed. The midwife left and almost instantly I could feel my body pushing without my effort. A student midwife was with me and asked if I was okay, I told her I thought I was pushing, but I wasn't doing it so I didn't know what was happening. I tried gripping the tub and couldn't stop slipping and sliding. So, I finally jumped out of the tub. The student midwife ran out of the room to get one of the midwives. When one of the midwives came in, she told me to stop pushing until she checked me, that I couldn't be ready.
I just got up and when to the bathroom because I agreed with her, the contractions were completely painless, I just felt the need to poop. When I said that she followed me to the toilet and convinced me to let her check my cervix before I tried to go. I agreed, even though I was hoping she wasn't going to tell me how little I'd progressed. Instead, she gasped in shock and said, “I can't believe it.” She stepped back to have the other midwife check. The second midwife looked up and me and said, “Would you like to feel your baby's head?” I reached down and felt my baby's head, full of hair. One of the midwives got me up off the toilet and brought me to the bed. They tried to stack pillows for me to lean on. I thought, “I'd rather be in the tub,” but felt such a need to push, there was no way I was going to make it back to the tub.
Our entire crew rushed in when they heard clapping and cheering from the midwives. I had gotten the head through and was working on the shoulders. At the last minute I stood up and pushed and the whole body came out. I've never felt such a release and pure joy. I can't explain the sensation. Its just, all pain is a long distant memory. There is just the most joyful experience you can contemplate. Our baby was very blue when she first came out. She was also extremely covered in a white lotion-paste substance called vernix. She didn't cry, she just looked at me.
I sat back and when my husband (who caught our daughter) handed our daughter to me. I held her close and just cried with all the love I felt for her. I just kept repeating, “I love you” over and over. We had been told by an ultrasound we were expecting a boy and for 45 minutes I just held her close to me with a blanket over her and I both, we were so in love with our baby that nobody checked to see if it was a boy or girl. When she started rooting and I got her latched, I decided to check. I believe it was the fact my husband blurted, “that's my boy” when she latched and nursed like a champ. “JJ and I kept kissing each other and the baby and telling each other how much we loved one another. It was and is the most beautiful moment I've ever had.