When I was a teenager, I remember enthusiastically saying I’d have an epidural if I ever had children. After all, why not? — you miss all the bad parts of labor (the pain), and still end up with a baby. Somehow, though, over the course of ten years or so, I reversed my position. In my early 20s, I babysat a family, and when the mom was pregnant with her third child, she got out all her pregnancy and birth books, and I read them in my spare time. Hearing some of the differences between hospital and home birth (specifically, the restrictions basically endemic in hospital birth vs. the freedom of being on your own turf in a home birth) made me lean toward home birth. Hearing the potential risks of the various interventions that were either possible or even very likely at a hospital turned me off even more. So, by the time I actually got pregnant, I had assumed I would have a home birth (whenever I had kids) for at least a couple of years. When I actually got pregnant, I devoured pregnancy and birth books (but I’d put down the fear-mongering ones after a brief skim), in an attempt to wrap my brain around this huge unknown that was birth. Convincing my husband was easy — he leaned a bit towards hospital birth at first, just because that was the norm, but he was fine with a home-birth almost from the start. Many women have a harder time, unfortunately.
I chose a midwife with an office near me (we were living in the suburbs of Chicago at the time), and started prenatal visits at 9 weeks. [The only legal midwives in Illinois were (and still are, at the time of this writing, I think) Certified Nurse-Midwives; although I’m fairly certain that there are some underground illegal midwives serving parts of Illinois. Also, the midwives I used are no longer doing home births — one is a hospital-based and the other is a birth-center based midwife. Quite a loss for the community!] She offered but did not push any tests such as the triple- or quad-screen, ultrasound, glucose testing, amniocentesis, etc. (Some of these things she’d have to send me elsewhere for, obviously, but she let me know they were available.) I did have a standard blood test (I can’t remember what all they may have tested for), because I was concerned about being anemic, having had issues with that in the past — occasionally I was unable to give blood due to my iron levels being too low. Every visit I tested my urine on a strip and weighed myself, and she took my blood pressure and listened to the fetal heartrate. (Actually, we didn’t get to hear that until 15 weeks, and then the baby swam away from it too quickly for her to actually time it; I think at 19 weeks, he did the same thing; after that, he was too big to avoid the Doppler, which is a form of ultrasound. At the time, I thought it was a fluke, but now, you cannot convince me that he was not aware of it and just happened to avoid it.)
My pregnancy was uneventful, until the midwife thought she heard two heartbeats, so we had an ultrasound to verify a singleton fetus, because the midwife didn’t knowingly attend twin home-births. We saw our Keith for the first time that evening, our baby boy! (The graphic below is the actual sonogram pictures along with the text I included when I emailed the picture to friends and family. My mom still has no idea what she’s looking at, even though in the middle picture I label the body parts.)
My midwife wanted me to take Bradley childbirth classes, so we did. Because of our schedule and due to other classes being already full, the one we picked ended the Monday after my “official” due date on Friday, Nov. 12. I figured it would be fine because most first-time moms go late anyway. The night I went into labor, my husband and I had ordered in Chinese, and I dragged him through the Bradley “homework” because we were going to be tested on it that Monday. Little did we know that he would actually be “tested” in real life in just a few hours! We had just finished that and settled down to watch a movie — Predator, of all things! — and were just about 10 minutes into it when I heard as much as felt my water break. I instantly “knew” what had happened, but didn’t really believe it. I peeked at my husband to see if he had heard it (he hadn’t, because it was almost like the sound went through my body instead of through my ears — like when you crunch ice it sounds so loud in your own ears but others can barely hear it). I cautiously said, I think my water just broke — but I had felt no gush of fluid. My husband started grinning like a fool and said, “really??” and I said I wanted to go to the bathroom to check to see if my panties were wet. Well, half-way down the hall (fortunately it was a wooden floor and not the carpet), the amniotic fluid gushed out, leaving no doubt as to whether my water had broken. It was about 7:40 p.m. on Nov. 6th.
I got into full birth-prep mode — called the midwife to let her know, called my mom to let her know to get a plane ticket for the next day, called my mother-in-law and various other people to let them know what had happened, started getting the bed ready (double-making it with a plastic sheet between the bed-sheets, to protect it from any fluids), filled the labor pool, etc. (We had gotten the pool a week or so before this time, and I had set it up and filled it up to make sure everything was right. That day, I decided to drain it because “nothing was happening.” Of course, that evening was when I went into labor!) The midwife asked if contractions had started — because of legal restrictions on her, if the baby wasn’t born by a certain time after the water had broken, she had to transfer to her back-up doctor — and when I said they hadn’t, she told me to send my husband out for castor oil, to help start contractions. [He went to the grocery store and bought that plus a few other “essentials” like two different kinds of ice cream, while I was at home wondering what was taking him so stinkin’ long!] While he was gone, contractions started and they were strong, long, and close together. I called the midwife to let her know to come — I’m sure she didn’t want to, because I was a primip and was bound to have a long labor, right? But she and her midwife assistant/doula came.
Of course, it took them a little bit to get there, and she checked me when I came in. How disheartening to hear I was about 3 cm dilated after a couple of hours of contractions when at my previous prenatal visit, I was 2-3 cm already! Oh, that was discouraging! Also, when she checked me, I was on my back and a contraction hit, and I thought, “EPIDURAL!” but that was the only time I did. After that, I know why so many women who intend on going without drugs get them at the hospital — one contraction while lying on my back was a sufficient “lesson” in what it must be like to lie on your back in a hospital bed for hours and hours while contractions wash over you, and you are not allowed to get up, and sometimes scolded for even changing positions.
I never looked at the clock — we only had the tiny clocks on our VCR and stereo (and I didn’t go into the kitchen and look at the microwave), and I didn’t have my glasses on the whole time, so I couldn’t possibly see the little display. I was deep in labor-land. Some funny things I remember is that when my husband said things to encourage me like, “You’re doing great,” I thought, “You liar!” or “Yeah, you just remember you’re supposed to say that — I’m really doing awful at this whole labor thing!”; and when the midwife or doula said those things, half of my brain said they were lying while the other half believed them. It is humorous to me looking back at it, that I was having these completely opposite thoughts at precisely the same time. Another funny thing (in retrospect — I wanted to choke my husband at the time), is when we were waiting on the midwife to get there, and I had gotten into the labor pool to test it out during the contractions (and remember, although it was early labor, the contractions were coming every 2-3 minutes and lasting 60-90 seconds every time, and they hurt), my husband says, “So how long is this supposed to take, anyway?” OH, if looks could kill! And that’s just what I needed to be reminded of, at the time, that it was “supposed” to take possibly 24 hours for a first-time mom!
This reminds me — it seemed my husband never asked me a question except during a contraction — so annoying! And the thing that was most frustrating is A) that he was supposed to know where everything was, because it was his house, right? B) that they were asking him because I was having a contraction and they didn’t want to disturb me; and C) that what they were asking for were things that I had all in one place, just like I was supposed to have, and it was right under their collective noses!! At first, I answered all of the questions, contractions or no; then, I waited until I finished a contraction before answering; and finally I just ignored the question and pretended like I hadn’t even heard them. [I definitely suggest the latter, but preferably drill it into your labor “support” person’s head that you are not to be disturbed during a question, especially to tell them that the crock-pot is in the middle of the table, right between the pile of clean towels and the pile of baby blankets. Where it is supposed to be! And where it has been for the last two weeks!!]
Anyway, I was able to sleep between contractions, and remember being in the pool a lot. I didn’t think I had slept, but my husband said that I would actually snore. Apparently, the warm water of the pool and the relaxation made the contractions space out, so the midwife had me get out and into bed. I was so tired. I was fine in the pool, but it was annoying to me that the water was not allowed to be hot — it was only tepid. Plus, in the position that would have been most comfortable to me, the water wouldn’t have been all the way over my belly, so that also was annoying. The bed was quite comfortable, too — I lay sort of on my side and front, and just relaxed. I remember that the contractions hurt my back — I really don’t remember them in my front at all. At the time, I thought the “back labor” was due to the baby perhaps being posterior; then my midwife when I was pregnant the second time suggested that may just be the way I feel contractions (and I did feel them even worse in my second labor, but I also remember them being painful in the front as well). Now, I think that there are more factors, and that possibly being out of spinal alignment may have contributed to a more painful labor, as well as the extra weight gain. Maybe if I lose 50 lbs before getting pregnant again and then only gain 25, I’ll see if that has any bearing on it! 🙂
But back to those awful back contractions — the midwife and doula were very good at finding the right spot to apply counterpressure; my husband… not so much. In fact, it was more frustrating trying to get him to locate just the right spot than it was to deal with the contraction without the counterpressure. It seemed that just about the time he found it, the contraction was over anyway, and I had been annoyed the whole contraction with telling him “right… no left a bit… no that was too much, just a little bit to the right…” And I remember one time in particular, somebody was applying counterpressure, and they had finally found just the right spot, and it felt so good, and I said, “That’s good” — meaning that the spot was good, and they should keep it right there. Well, whoever it was (I can’t remember right now if it was my husband or midwife or doula) took it to mean that the contraction was over and counterpressure wasn’t needed any more. I think after that I just gave up with trying to tell them anything, and just laid in bed feeling totally defeated.
Details are fuzzy to me — as fuzzy as my vision without glasses or contacts. Part of that is undoubtedly due to the passage of time, but a large part of it is because I felt like my thinking was “fuzzy” — that labor just completely inundated me, and I was mentally in a fog or underwater. I know I got in and out of the tub a few times, and when I wasn’t in the tub, I was in the bed — no walking around the house — just a beeline between the tub and the bed. I didn’t question anything; I didn’t suggest anything (except that they press on my back); I didn’t refuse anything. A few hours after labor started — the midwife was there at this point — I threw up my large supper. In the succeeding hours, the midwife kept pressing me to drink some apple juice from time to time. I never wanted it, but I always obediently took it. And the next contraction or two, I threw it up. Every time. (I wasn’t hungry, and the only time I wanted anything was after I had been pushing for a while, and I felt like my strength was waning, and my blood sugar was low, and I was getting jittery. That’s also the only time anything stayed down.)
At some point after the failed counterpressure episode, I was lying in bed (my husband had fallen asleep; the midwife and doula were taking turns resting and/or sleeping throughout the night), and my spirits were exceedingly low. The contractions were still washing over me — still as painful as ever, still quite frequent and lengthy (although I wasn’t timing them) — and I felt like a miserable failure. I can’t remember if I had had a vaginal exam since the initial one, or not, but I felt like I must be at 5-6 cm, and I wondered how I could make it until labor was finally over. I also felt bad for having gotten the midwife out all night when nothing was happening. I stopped reacting to the contractions — because, after all, what was the point? Nothing was happening — I wasn’t dilating — I was just in pain — nothing helped — I was never going to have this baby — it was going to be hours before I was fully dilated, and I had called the midwife out for nothing… [Of course, some of you probably recognize these as classic “transition” feelings.]
Because I was no longer visibly reacting to the contractions, the midwife thought I was no longer contracting (she was keeping her distance, letting me rest and sleep — and probably trying to get some rest, herself!), so she suggested some herbs to help strengthen my contractions. I thought, “Strengthen the contractions? If they get any stronger, I won’t be able to stand it! I don’t want them any stronger!!” But I merely meekly (and probably weakly) said, “Ok, if you think so.” She wanted to take my blood pressure and temperature one more time before using the herbs, but I felt like I had to go to the bathroom, so I did. When I got back, I think she was about to do that, or she did actually do it between contractions, and I felt like I had to go to the bathroom again. [Of course, I knew from all my reading that feeling like needing to poop is a classic sign of pushing, but, remember, I was defeated — I knew I wasn’t dilated — probably wasn’t even past 4 or 5 or 6 cm — I couldn’t possibly be pushing, because I was never going to have the baby!] But, she got suspicious and listened outside the bathroom door, and said, “Um, those sound like ‘pushing’ noises — do you mind if I check you?” That gave me a glimmer of hope, but I was still pretty sure I wasn’t dilated. So, she checked me and found that I was completely dilated, and at +2 station!
I said, “Wake Chuck up!” so she did, and then asked me if I wanted to give birth on the bed or in the labor pool. What I really wanted was just to stay right where I was and push for a while on the toilet, but that wasn’t one of the options given. [This is one of the things that concerns me about having a hospital birth — that I would be just as in la-la-labor land or acquiesce to everything anybody suggested without question — “Oh, you need to cut my leg off to get the baby out? Ok, sure thing — no problem!” 😉 ] I looked at my husband and he nodded in the direction of the living room, where the labor pool was, so that’s where we went. I think I thought at the time that we got the pool in order to have a water-birth, so it would be kind of a waste of money not to give birth in it.
I pushed a total of 40 minutes, and preferred the pushing stage to the dilating stage, because it was more active — I felt like I was actually doing something, rather than just having the contractions happen to me. I was awake and much more alert. At one point, I felt like I wasn’t accomplishing anything, so decided not to push one contraction. That was the scariest feeling of my life. The only way I can describe it, is that (mentally), I was rushing bodily down a raging river towards a huge waterfall. Imagine the terror you would feel — it was nightmarish! But mid-contraction, I decided to try to push, and the feeling slowed down and then stopped. I never tried that little experiment again! It was what I would imagine a panic attack to be like.
A few times during pushing, I remember the midwife checking the baby’s heartbeat with the Doppler. One time, it felt like the baby’s head turned all the way around (think “Exorcist”) inside the top of my vagina. That was weird! Another time, I felt the baby’s head move back up my vagina — and, oh, was that disheartening, because I felt like I had just lost so much hard-won progress at least 2-3 contractions’ worth. In actuality, I was able to regain it in one contraction, or even less. At one point, I actually cracked a joke! I looked around at my “birth team” and said I was tired of pushing and it was somebody else’s turn. 🙂
At some point after this, I said something about the contractions still hurting my back quite a bit, and the midwife said that in her experience, a lot of times once the baby gets pushed down past a certain point, the internal pressure is taken off, and the pain in the back lessens. After that, I pushed for all I was worth — not just during a contraction, but all the time I could — anything I could do to stop the back pain! I think that contributed to me tearing, because the pain never stopped until the baby was out. I didn’t ease off of pushing during any of the contractions, and ended up with a 2nd degree labial tear, which the midwife didn’t see straight away (it was in an odd place, I think, and torn in such a way that it was hidden). At the time, I just wanted the pain to be over, but in so doing, I ended up with more pain from an unnecessary tear. The stitches were a bit painful being put in, of course, although the lidocaine helped — but I felt the initial needle, of course; and afterwards, the end of the suture thread occasionally stabbed me — it took my breath away. I try not to use profanity too much, but to this day, I always refer to it as “that damn stitch”, because that’s exactly what it was! Moral of the paragraph — better to endure one or two more contractions without tearing than to “hurry up birth” and end up with stitches.
I gave birth on my hands-and-knees, and the midwife caught the baby. He had the cord wrapped around his neck once, which she was able to unwrap and hand him to me. Even though I had been warned that water-born babies tended to be “floppier” and not breathe as soon as land-born babies, I got a little anxious that it took him so long to cry. He was just looking around, as if trying to figure out what was going on, and he was as gray as anything! His Apgars were 7 and either 9 or 10, I think, so he wasn’t in poor condition — he just had a bit longer of a transition than some babies. When we started rubbing him off with towels and stimulating his breathing like that, he started crying and pinked right up.
It was so mind-blowing that I actually had a baby! Even after 9 months of pregnancy, and all the reading and preparation and labor, it still was hard to sink in. I remember thinking he looked like a little baby doll, and that’s what I said over and over — for my own credulity if nothing else — “Oh, my baby — my baby doll,” over and over.
(This is the first picture we took of him. I had meant to have somebody take pictures and video, but completely forgot to even get the cameras out, much less have them take pictures or video!)
Soon, the midwife had me get out of the tub to birth the placenta. I know she waited until the cord stopped pulsing to clamp and cut it, but I can’t remember for sure if that was in the tub or on the bed. I bled a lot, and the midwife gave me a shot of Pitocin in the thigh, which helped. My husband said it looked like a war zone. I did lose a lot of blood, soaking at least one Chux pad and bloodying more; and when I went to the bathroom the first time, I felt like I was about to faint on the way back; and a couple of weeks later, I needed help after walking half a block or so. Taking iron helped a lot.
I finally asked what time the baby was born — thinking it was about 1 a.m. or so — and was totally shocked that it was at 5:03! I had no idea it was so long! Yet, it was a very short labor — counting from the time water broke until birth, it was less than 9 and a half hours; counting from when contractions started, it was about 9 hours exactly. Quite unusual for a first-time mom. [Even more unusual, I had a 24-hour labor with my second baby!] His birthweight was 7 lb., 5 oz. (which was 3 oz. less than his estimated fetal weight at the ultrasound on Oct. 26, a week and a half before his birth).
Still, I felt great — the birth was so empowering! That was the feeling that I took away from that birth. It inspired me to become a doula, to help other women have the same kind of birth. (Life intervened, and I was unable to complete my doula training before we moved away from Chicago, and I haven’t finished it yet, but I did all the required reading, and remain in awe of women who help other women give birth.) It was after this, that I consciously began refusing to use the word “deliver” when referring to parturition. “Deliver” is so passive — and nowadays refers to the person who catches the baby. I didn’t “deliver” — I birthed.
Please feel free to post links to your own birth stories, or leave a version in the comment section. I still love reading birth stories — I learn so much from every one!
Filed under: birth story, labor and birth Tagged: | birth, birth story, certified nurse-midwife, chicago, CNM, home birth, homebirth, L&D, labor, labor and delivery, midwife, midwifery, natural birth, pregnancy, pregnant