by Lauren, USA
During a routine prenatal exam 1 1/2 weeks before my due date, our midwife (Debi) told me that I seemed quite ready to give birth. I had been dilated 3-4 cm for almost two weeks already, with a very ripe cervix (a fact that I partially attribute to the homeopathic solution I used during my last several weeks of pregnancy). She asked if I was interested in, “getting things started,” which I was indeed! So she swept the cervical membranes, and excitedly noted her expectation that I might begin labor by that evening. However, that evening came and went without incident. I shopped with my sister, and then went home. I felt a little crampy all evening, but nothing seemed serious, so I did not allow myself to get excited yet. I went to bed and slept easily.
The next morning I awoke at 5am with slightly more intense, regular contractions than the cramping I'd experienced the previous day. I'd previously wondered if I would recognize labor contractions when they started, since I didn't have any Braxton Hicks during my pregnancy, so I was pleased that I was able to confidently identify the contractions were as soon as I felt them. There was no real pain, just distinct pressure at regular intervals. I was giddy with excitement – would our baby be born today? I waited half an hour, then woke my husband (Josh), who began charting the contractions. In a couple of hours, they had become 1 1/2 minutes long and only 30 seconds to 1 minute apart. Numbers can be deceiving, though. I could sense, based on criteria from our Bradley Method birthing classes, that I was not at all emotionally, “serious” enough yet to be far in my labor. Still, we called Debi, and during the phone call I experienced a contraction strong enough that it forced me to hand the phone to Josh. She decided to start getting ready and come to our home. During the interim, Josh and I drove around a bit – we stopped by Josh's workplace to pick up his paycheck and to inform his boss of the situation.
Debi arrived an hour or so later, and the intensity my labor seemed to have waned a bit. Enjoyed her company while waiting to see what progress I would make. After another couple of hours, I was becoming bored, sitting around the house waiting for contractions, so I asked her if we could leave the house for awhile, and she agreed, but said that we should remain close to home. Josh and I went out for lunch (an amusing anecdote: while Josh was ordering lunch, I had to sit and try to inconspicuously weather my significant contractions. Several people noticed my bulging belly and asked, “When are you due?” Not wanting to alarm them, I merely responded, “Any time now!”).
When we returned home that afternoon, my labor slowed even further. The contractions became weaker and farther apart, and I was concerned that our baby might not be born today after all. So Debi began administering oral herbal combinations of black and blue cohosh to encourage the labor to progress. She had used this same combination while attending my mother's 5th childbirth 10 years earlier, and Mom had often commented to me on how effective it was. True enough, within a couple of hours the contractions were increasing in intensity again, and we called to let our parents know that our baby, the first grandchild on both sides of the family, would likely be born that evening.
A few hours of moderate labor passed while my dear husband and I chatted with Debi and her assistant, Janet. Around dusk, labor began progressing more rapidly, and I was becoming increasingly serious and focused during my contractions. I was able to concentrate on relaxation during each wave of pressure, and I felt fairly calm, combined with a sense of delight in knowing we would meet our baby soon. The pain was noticeable, but relaxation made it bearable. Shortly after dark, my mother and 12 year-old sister arrived to be with us during the birth. I lay on the couch, peacefully laboring and still able to talk briefly between contractions, while Debi lowered the lighting and began instructing those present to help fill the birthing tub (a large fiberglass watering trough placed in our living room). The atmosphere in our small house was pleasant; peacefully busy, quiet, serious yet happy. The contractions soon began to grow much stronger, however, and I felt the need to move from the couch to my bed, where I could be alone with Josh and he could employ his coaching skills, which I began to earnestly need at that point. Relaxation became very difficult, and his gentle touches and reminders were invaluable.
I do not have a very accurate memory of the passage of time during this portion of the evening, but within a short time I apparently moved into transition. I became very vocal during contractions, involuntarily using low, guttural sounds as the unbearable pain & pressure in my abdomen continued to build. These noises seemed to coincide naturally with my attempts to remain as limp as possible. By contrast, any sort of high-pitched sound I produced was counter-productive to relaxation. I began to experience extreme pressure/pain in my lower back (“back labor”), and I was suddenly overcome by nausea and vomiting. The nausea felt utterly overwhelming when coupled with the increasing anguish of each contraction. Even having Josh's capable support, I felt as if this ordeal was more than I could possibly bear, and I told him what I sincerely believed at that time: “I can't do this.” I distinctly recall my thinking at that point that, if I were in a hospital, I would have demanded, begged for, immediate pain relief. I believe I would have given anything to stop the pain (and I am thankful in retrospect that such interventions were not available). In the midst of this portion of labor, I barely recalled that a baby was involved in this process – all my mind could comprehend was survival, escape. Since I rationally knew that medical pain relief was not an option, though, I attempted to focus on laboring efficiently so that it would end as quickly as possible!
During this period it occurred to me that I might find some relief in the water, so I asked for help getting into the birthing tub. But I found that the hot water exacerbated the nausea, so I immediately retreated back to my bed. My beloved husband worked hard trying to relieve the pressure in my lower back while I was laboring in bed, by applying very strong counter-pressure with his fist during my contractions (this must have been an exhausting task for him, as I demanded that he bear down, “harder, HARDER” each time). Although relaxation ultimately felt much better during contractions than did tensing my muscles, my body's automatic response was to become very tense at the onset of a new, crashing wave of pressure. Josh had to gently remind me every single time to remain loose and limp throughout each mammoth contraction. I felt desperate to have him (and no one else) near me, and our midwife was very respectful of this need, leaving us alone in our bedroom except to check my progress periodically. At one point Josh needed to leave my side for a few moments, so my mother came in the bedroom and helped me by taking over his, “spine-pressure” role. I could sense that she felt helpless and worried, as she quietly remained with me and worked to soothe me until Josh returned.
I soon felt a slight urge to push. Debi insisted that I was only between 7 & 8 cm dilated, and that I must wait. I needed to visit the bathroom, which I did with great difficulty and assistance from Josh. When I returned to the bed (apparently the many back-to-back contractions I experienced while sitting on the toilet had encouraged the baby to move downward rapidly), Debi checked again and reported that I was dilated to almost 10 cm! We had planned a water birth, so with much help I was quickly moved between contractions from our bedroom to the birthing tub in our living room, where my husband continued coaching and encouraging me tubside, and my mother and sister assisted me as well. The Bradley Method style of pushing was indispensable to me, and it gave me a sense of purpose, knowing that I was pushing as effectively as possible. Still, those, “pushing” contractions were enormously strong. My respiration briefly spun out of control as I began to panic & hyperventilate, though Josh verbally helped me to quickly regain control of my breathing. As one of the incredible surges took over my body, I felt that Debi had read my mind as she called to me, “Don't be scared of it!” Josh repeatedly reminded me, “Our baby is almost here, you're almost done.” Even though the pain was still incredible, I shifted from feeling entirely helpless to being determined and having a focused goal: getting that baby OUT! I pushed so fiercely that my face showed blood blisters the next day.
I had no sense of the passage of time while I pushed; I focused only on each individual contraction, viewing each as an opportunity to try once more to bring this trial to an end. I'm told that I pushed for a total of perhaps 20 minutes, and then – oh glorious day! – I delivered our baby (7 lbs. 2 oz., 20 1/4 inches long) into the water at 10:55pm on my mother's birthday, September 19, 2003! Debi immediately placed her on my chest, and I was the first to peek between her legs, discovering and happily announcing, “It's a girl!” I surveyed my family members surrounding me, weeping with joy around the birthing tub as I held my new daughter, and I was overwhelmed with enormous relief, amazement, blissful happiness, disbelief. Childbirth was by far the most difficult thing I've ever done, but it was worth it – I would not have chosen to have our birth experience any other way. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to do it alone, though. Having my family with me, and especially my husband's unfailing encouragement and active support, kept me focused and preventing me from succumbing from the panic and despair that threatened to take over at times. And having such a competent, caring midwife allowed us to birth at home without worry – Debi's support was invaluable to us throughout my pregnancy and birth. We love her and trust her wholeheartedly.
Following the birth, Josh made our happy, late-night phone calls. My father, Josh's parents, and most of our siblings rushed over to our house to visit the first grandchild/niece in the family. I enjoyed an herb bath with my baby, and then my mother brought me some food (McDonald's was sadly what I craved at that moment). Ah, it felt good to eat after such a workout! Debi finished her tasks, allowing interested family members to get in on the inspection of the placenta, which my father-in-law found fascinating! When the excitement subsided and most of our families headed home, my mom and one sister stayed and slept in our living room, while Josh and I curled up in bed with our new little tightly-wrapped bundle, who slept soundly all night long – she must have been as exhausted as we were! I lay there and cried as I drifted off, for no reason, and for every reason. What a tremendous, mind-blowing experience, all in one day! After such a peaceful and intimate birth, we plan to, Lord willing, birth any & all of our future children at home.
(Epilogue): Josh and I had not spent much time discussing names during the pregnancy, and I'd grown to feel as if he didn't care much about the topic. But I discovered otherwise after, “The Baby” (as she was known for about 36 hours) was born, as Josh began a frantic online search for the perfect name. He produced a list of some favorites, and at last we agreed upon, “Leah.” It was chosen more for the fact that it is such a pretty name, and that it just it seemed to fit her, rather than for the meaning (the Hebrew meaning is, “weary”). Though, Josh joked that it was fitting at the time, since she spent such an inordinate amount of her first few days just snoozing! I have also read that its original origins suggest connotations of royalty, such as, “ruler/princess.” Quite fitting, since she is our little princess! And, “Abigail” seemed very appropriate for her middle name, since it means, “Father's Joy,” and she certainly is just that. She has brought such happiness to our home!
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