Prior to becoming pregnant I never really gave my birth options much thought. It was just something that I'd take care of when the time comes and one of my greatest influences in choosing a natural, waterbirth were from two co-workers who had both of their sons at home and my good friend Gretchen, as I followed along her natural parenting journey on her blog for about a year leading up to my pregnancy.
The experiences from these three women sparked my fire in researching why I'd want to have an unmedicated birth, at a free standing birth center, with a midwife and in the water. In addition to the great amount of research that I did (I highly suggest watching The Business of Being Born and reading any Ina May book if you are interested), one of the very best ways that I was able to prepare myself for birth was to read lots of birth stories. Each story is different and provided a new clue into what I could expect to happen or prepare for. Having never witnessed a birth personally, this was the closest I could do to beginning to understand what it might be like.
Our society permeates a lot of fear when it comes to birth. The media portrays birth as this dramatic scene where emergencies run rampant, women scream in agony and tell their "war stories" afterwards. As if for some reason scaring another woman about birth is what proves that you are strong. On the contrary, I believe that a birth free of fear is the most courageous act and is the best for mother and child. Which is why I want to share mine with you today. This story is very precious to my heart and I love to share it.
The part that I'm the most impressed about with Penny's birth story is that it went exactly how I wanted it to be. This has made me wonder a lot during the preparations for Ruby's birth because who knows how the second time will go. I feel confident in my ability to handle labor pains but the whole unknown about it all is kind of driving me nuts!
On Thursday March 1 I had my 38 week appointment with one of my two midwives. This birth center has two attending midwives and I met with each one equally so that depending whoever was on call, my husband and I had already gotten to know her and she understood our wishes. The midwife, Constance asked if I would like to be checked to see how far along I was, which I happily agreed to. A quick check showed that I was at 3cm. I was elated, but Constance cautioned that it still wasn’t likely to happen soon but that I probably wouldn’t carry to 41 weeks. That day I came home, finished packing the rest of my birth bag, prepared our cameras and tried to get a few projects done. I began to experience some lower back pain, lost some of the mucus plug, and rested that evening with Adam (who came home from work early). That evening I lost the rest of the plug in the middle of the night.
The next day, Friday, Adam went to work and I puttered around the house feeling great. My mom mentioned that the babybump looked lower but I didn’t feel any difference. I called Constance letting her know that I had lost the plug, and asked her opinion of whether I should go anywhere this weekend (side story: we are in the process of selling our home and at the time we were staying with my parents for the end of my pregnancy. This way the house was available for walk throughs at any time and I was getting support while my husband was at work). We planned to drive to our house to finish up some projects, which is a two hour drive from my parents’ house and the birth center that I was going to deliver at. All we needed to get done was clean the house and we were planning on listing it the following week. Constance was confident that we’d be ok, and even if I went into labor I was only a few hours away. So Adam and I drove down and made it there around 7:00p. Adam finished a few projects and I rested on the couch. We went to bed around 10:00p and I still felt completely normal.
At midnight I woke up and felt what I thought was a contraction. I waited a few more minutes, and another one came. Then they started being very consistently 3 minutes long, 7-10 minutes apart. Adam and I decided that if this continues to be consistent (no matter what the length) for an hour that it would be smart to pack up and drive to the birth center. I kept track of the contractions until 1:00a and we found that they were indeed consistent so it was time to go. Adam quickly packed up the dogs and our things into the Volvo and away we went. At that point, the contractions were uncomfortable but very tolerable. I also reminded myself that I had a 2 hour ride ahead of me so I needed to keep calm!
At 1:30a we were on the road and Adam turned on the hazards and very calmly drove 80mph until we saw we were coming up onto a sheriff. I told him to slow down, we don’t need the extra attention, but he decided to risk it and sped past. He started pulling over before the sheriff even turned on his lights. He approached the car, asked us why we were speeding, to which Adam and I both replied “I am (she is) in labor.” He asked if we were going to the local hospital, and Adam said no, we’re going to our birth center, about two hours away. The sheriff begins to launch into a lecture about how we can’t be speeding and that if we are going to be driving like that we either need to call an ambulance (and deliver locally) or he has to write us a ticket. I had grown very impatient at this point, as another contraction was coming, and told him to either write us a ticket or let us go, because I’m not having my baby in a hospital!! I’m pretty sure he’s not accustomed to being so directly spoken to, and he took Adam’s license to run it. A few minutes passed, and when he came back he started in on another lecture about driving safely but that he’s going to us go. We called Constance and my parents on the way to let them know we were coming home.
We arrived in Lacey around 3 am and my contractions were at the “5-1-1” rule (5 minutes apart, lasting one minute for one hour). We called Constance, and she said to wait until I was to the point where I was not able to speak anymore and that Adam would have to call for me. The contractions were still very tolerable during the drive, but as soon as we came to the house I was no longer as chipper. I took a shower and was only able to find comfort by bending over the edge of the bed and having Adam rub my back or provide counter pressure. Finally at 5a I decided it was time to go and we snapped one last picture (boy did I look enthused) and got to the birth center as fast as we could, my mom followed in her car. This time around, the contractions were not very tolerable in the car. The main way I found that I could cope with the pain was to keep writing my contractions down. When we got to the birth center, I think we actually beat Constance and Lisa (the apprentice) so we had to wait a few minutes for the door to open.
I was brought into the birthing room of my choice, which was “the yellow room.” It welcomed a lot of natural light, and I knew that I’d have her during the day at this point, and the bed in this room was higher so I was able to continue to labor in the same way as I had at home. This didn’t last very long, because Lisa’s job was to keep track of the baby’s heart beat and the simple act of gently pressing the monitor to my belly sent me into contractions, which for this first check she had to hold it there for 10 straight minutes. I became very intolerant after 2. Constance invited me to the tub and as soon as I climbed in, I felt a lot better. The water wasn’t as hot as I thought it would be, but it was a lot easier to move around. I had a hard time finding a position to actually have some control in, but soon just draped my arms over the side of the tub and rested on a hip.
Adam and my mom alternated between holding my arms, hand, or wiping my face with a cold wash cloth. The wash cloth was a life saver, not necessarily for keeping my face cool but following the motion as it was wiped on my face was a distraction. Each time I thought I couldn’t go any further, Adam was right there telling me that I was doing great and that I could do it. He consistently reminded me of my beauty, strength and the amazing feat I was doing for us.
Shortly after getting into the water, Constance checked and announced that I was at 5cm. Lisa diligently would check the baby’s heart rate, but after 3 or 4 times I began to realize that the check was in fact sending me into contractions (in this case, a double load of contractions because she couldn’t check me during a contraction, so she would have to wait until one passed and try, which of course would start it up again) and I had my first outburst in labor - I distinctly remember telling this poor girl not to dare touch me and to keep ‘that thing’ away from me. She took it well, explained why it was needed, and I was able to regain composure but I was grumpy. From then on she was nice enough to give me a heads up a contraction ahead of time so I was able to better prepare myself. The only other outbursts I can recollect was when my water broke, I thought I had pee’d myself and lamented over the humility of it, and another time where I needed water, so my mom got up to get some, and I immediately screamed for her to come back and hold my hand.
At some point Constance gave me the encouragement to get on my knees to try to open up my hips more. I was afraid to move, but Adam was able to convince me to try. Constance checked me again and announced how low her head was, and that I should be able to feel it very shallowly. This gave me such a surge of enthusiasm; my labors were working and my girl was coming. This was no drill. No going back, not getting sent home. I was here to stay until she got here. I remember telling Adam not to not be afraid.
Soon I became impatient. I had felt her head, knew it was right there, and wanted her out. I knew that from here on out, it wasn’t going to be just my body doing the work for me, but that I needed the willpower to get her out. But I didn’t have the urge to push. I asked Constance if I should only push when I had the urge, and she said that I should, but the urge really didn’t come. I moved into a position where I was kneeling and would push down with my hands on my thighs and try to make the urge to push come. I started pushing without the urge. I begged my body for the urge to bear down. Finally the urge came, and hands down was the most terrifying feeling of my entire life. Even though I had hoped and wished so hard for this feeling to come, when it did I felt myself trying so hard to hold it back. I was terrified that literally all of my organs were going to come out. I was beginning to get very tired and would actually be able to fall asleep between contractions. For almost the entire labor I kept my eyes closed, but a few times that I did have them open I would focus on a droplet of water just hanging from my arm, playing a game with myself of whether the droplet would fall first or my contraction would end.
Adam and I recollect that I pushed about a dozen times. After the first half, I did begin to feel tears and knew the ring of fire was coming. I was still in the kneeling position, and Constance encouraged me to get on my knees and use Adam as support, so I put my arms on his shoulders and pushed my head into my mom’s hands. I think I pushed twice this way, and although I felt like I was getting somewhere, I was tearing and it was time to turn over. In this position I felt so out of control because of not having a place to brace my legs to help push.
I knew the end was near when I opened my eyes and saw a stranger in the room. To this point and the best of my knowledge, it had only been myself, Adam, my mom, Constance and Lisa in the birth center. Now there was another person there, not in scrubs, preparing something. I demanded who this person was, and at first no one knew what I was talking about (I began to think I was hallucinating). The woman came over and I saw that she was someone who I had met before at an appointment. She explained that she was the birth assistant and also a midwife.
She helped Constance put on some long gloves so that she can check me, help with the stretching and I think that the baby had to be shifted into a better position. I had asked if she was facing posterior or anterior, she was anterior (I’m sure we would have known earlier because I would have experienced back labor, but all of my labor was felt between my belly button and pubic bone). I asked Constance how many more pushes I had to give, I knew I was so close but with now in the sitting position, facing forward, being impatient and tired (and deep down knowing that I never felt like I had to push but pushed anyways), I just wanted a number. She couldn’t, she said soon, I joked that she always was so qualitative and I wanted quantitative. I asked was it six more times, and she said likely 2-3, maybe even 1-2. This gave me so much encouragement, but again I got scared. I pleaded for her help, and whatever she did, whether it was by physical manipulation or her encouraging eyes, I got the baby’s head out.
I took a small break, asked if it was ok to push the rest of her out, and closed my eyes and out Penelope came.
Immediately she was put on my chest; I saw a baby but didn’t realize who it was. I felt the vernix on my hands, saw and felt a little wiggly body, but still didn’t get it. I looked back at Adam and asked him if this was our daughter, and he joyfully said yes. A small wet towel was placed on her to keep her warm, and Constance asked when I wanted the cord cut. I said that I wanted her to get whatever else she needed to get from it, and we waited a few minutes. The instruments were brought over, and it was determined that someone was to cut it. Adam and I had spoken about this a couple times during the pregnancy, if he was going to cut the cord or catch her, but never came to a decision. Constance ended up catching her, but I asked Adam to cut her cord. It was a very short cord, I could feel that it had to be pulled a little bit to bring the baby to my chest and then some more to get the two clamps on it. I watched Adam very gingerly bring the scissors over, and pause. I asked Constance if the cord has nerves in it, because I knew he was afraid of hurting me or Penelope. It took three snips, and Penelope was now separate from me for the first time in her life.