For some women getting pregnant is the struggle, for others it’s the pregnancy itself that causes difficulties; for me the only hard part was waiting for him to be born. I don’t mean the labor, I’ll get to that later, but the actual anticipation of when IT would commence. I think if I had known how much harder it gets once the baby is born I could have been a little more patient.
The arrival of your first-born is cause for some major excitement. In truth, I was looking for some excitement after 9 months of a rather uneventful pregnancy. In fact, when I came home from the first visit at the birth center my husband said, “So did they do a pregnancy test to make sure you are pregnant?” He was not convinced either. In shock was more like it. I had only just stopped taking The Pill. We hadn’t expected I’d get knocked up quite that fast.
So began my journey with the midwives of the Birth & Women’s Health Center. My prenatal exams always felt equivalent to stopping by to visit a friend. They gave me information in a relaxed manner by talking to me, and not at me. All of my options were discussed, no matter the issue. I never felt rushed or belittled. There was always time for my concerns as well. W i d e __ o p e n __ s p a c e for my concerns. As my uneventful pregnancy left little to discuss on my part, mostly I remember my response being, “Well …everything’s fine”.
I am not a worrier by nature and my body seemed to be doing everything it needed to. Plus, I was constantly reading so I felt I pretty much like I knew what to expect. However, my body was constantly at work doing strange and wondrous things. This was the stuff they don’t even write in books. These were the things that you have to get a really good girlfriend to tell you about.
Not only was my belly slowly inflating, (the obvious outward “symptom”) but the rest of me seemed to be a mecca of activity. Everything was growing or blossoming in some way or another. The production of this blessed little creature was not confined to my midsection; rather the passenger took over and commanded support from every part of me. There was a bustle of activity inside me that radiated pure life! I had miraculously escaped the nausea of “morning sickness”, but I knew at every moment that a little person was budding inside of me.
All of this spewing forth of life gave rise to questions posed in the exam room, such as this; “Um, Is it supposed to always be so wet down there?” Apparently, pregnancy causes an increase in the body’s blood supply along with an increase in various other bodily fluids; some that eventually make their way out of my body. All of this extra lubrication and swelling encouraged the desire for sex my raging hormones were begging for (or was it the other way around?) However, there were other surprising and slightly less pleasurable orifices increasing production of goo, namely my nose and ears. I had never been so congested! It felt like I had a constant head cold.
The day I knew my labor would start there was yet another icky substance that made an appearance in my underwear. It was brownish and thick; …could it be? Is this really it? It was! I had lost my mucus plug! Believe me; pregnancy causes an unnatural excitement and awe over bodily fluids.
I called my midwife and described what I had found. I was also feeling some slight backache. This was a good sign! We decided I should go ahead and leave work, go home, and prepare for labor. These were the very words I had been waiting to hear! Next, I made a call to my husband and then to my best friend who was visiting from California for just this occasion. She came with her one and a half year old daughter, whose homebirth I had been fortunate to attend. They came to pick me up at work and we headed back to my house.
At home I got comfortable and ate a bowl of tomato soup, as I had read that eating during early labor is a good way to ensure that your body has the energy to endure the hard work of labor. It would have been good time to also point out that one should choose a meal that you will not mind throwing up shortly after consuming. Tomato soup, not the best choice.
It wasn’t long before my sister, who was also pregnant – three months behind me, and my mom arrived at the house. Having this coven of women surrounding me was a godsend! I had not arranged for a professional doula, but these experienced women were all my doulas. My mother had delivered all four of her children at home, three with midwives and one planned unassisted homebirth. My best friend, as I mentioned, had recently done a homebirth with a midwife; my sister who was about to become a mom for the second time, had her first baby in a hospital with a midwife. I felt completely protected and supported. I felt that I was continuing the calling of my heritage. I was becoming a blessed woman and being welcomed into the circle by the sage protection of those who had done so before me.
Natural childbirth is in my blood, it is a part of me. I had witnessed the miracle several times before. I had even seen a film of my own birth. Growing up I had always known that this was the way I would do it. It was not a decision so much as a calling, a deeply held belief that this was the way it was.
As I made my way through the early stages of labor, I was guided by my instincts. I moved from the yoga ball where I rolled my hips around using the fluid support of the ball, over to the couch where I could rest between contractions, as things got more difficult. I was able to use some of the movement I had learned during belly dance classes making big, round circles with my hips, then squatting as I had practiced in yoga. We kept the lights low. Lots of encouraging whispers and soothing backrubs were offered from my comadres.
During my laboring at home I had someone by my side all of the time. I had the benefit of so much experience close at hand to guide me. Simultaneously, I was feeling confident in myself. I never had doubt that I could do it. There were definitely times that it was hard, really hard, to get through. But I was not weighed down by the fear that I believe paralyzes so many women in our culture. We are taught childbirth equals pain. Pain is bad. Therefore, the act of childbirth must be a terrifying experience to get through. For woman raised in western society it is a pervasive belief that we are not strong enough to get through labor without the aid of numbing drugs.
The intricacies, the miracles and the truth of birth are sorely lacking in everyday experience in our culture. The media conditions us with images of instant labor. Your water breaks/ you are rushed to the hospital/ a neatly wrapped bundle is placed in your waiting arms. A light mist of delicate sweat glistens on the mom’s brow and dad completes the family picture with a single tear on his cheek. CUT! That ain’t the way it is kids! Not one bit. Birth is messy. It lasts forever. It begins from the minute you conceive. It is a blink of an eye in a lifetime; it is the event that will change you forever. It is a right of passage and women should be praised every day that they posses the power to give life.
My struggle with this “rush to the finish line” mentality was messing with my head my whole pregnancy. The entire outward focus during pregnancy strongly emphasizes the end result. Always you are asked, “Is it a boy or a girl?” Rarely is a pregnant woman commended solely for her strength and beauty during her pregnancy. She is merely the vessel carrying the goods. And the subtleties of gestation are either overlooked or left as a mystery for the woman to unravel.
The focus on the end was of course at its strongest when I was at the 37-week mark. I was told, “You are ready to have this baby any day now, or it’s possible you may go two weeks past your due date.” What I heard was, you could have this baby any day now! It’s like telling a kid, “Christmas might be tomorrow or it could be 4 weeks away.” The kid will reply, “Christmas is tomorrow!!!”
I was in a constant state of anticipation. And of course, I went past my due date. Sheer torture! I tried all possible methods to get the baby out of me! I now realize it was fruitless because the body is designed to do this; it and the baby only know when its time. The castor oil, the black cohash, evening primrose oil, and the prostaglandins from the sperm so generously donated by my husband were all for naught. Some of these efforts just plain made me sick! Not the sex, I was speaking of the castor oil.
I somehow missed the pointers about mixing the castor oil in to nice orangey smoothie, instead I drank it straight from the bottle. First very nearly vomiting and then spending the rest of the day shitting my guts out. The theory is that the abdominal contractions could have the effect of jumpstarting your labor; warming the engine block, so to speak. Not for me. All I accomplished was a sick day home from work, which also happened to be the day that my coworkers had planned my surprise baby shower!
Ingesting herbal remedies were supposed to “ripen my cervix”. Maybe they did but they ware no magic bullet. In a final attempt of repressed frustration, my friend took me 4 wheeling up the side of a mountain. The jostling ride bumping up the dirt road of Reddington Pass in my Ford truck we thought might get things rolling. We laughed our asses off, but I did not break my water. Although, I might have peed my pants.
Progression once I was in labor was gradual, which is a good thing. A nicely paced labor allows the body to build up a tolerance to the contractions. I could feel when the intensity would increase from one round of contractions to the next. Just when it began to feel under control, when I was able to “ride it out” through a contraction; the next wave would come and be so much stronger I thought it might kill me.
It was about this time that, we made the trip to the birth center. If I thought labor had been uncomfortable at home, the ride in the car was excruciating! I had back labor, meaning that all of the pressure of each contraction was concentrated in my lower back, or sacrum. This made the act of sitting in a chair, or seat of a car, impossible. I rode to the birth center with my knees on the seat, hugging the seat back, my ass attractively in full view through the windshield. I made it through 5 miles (in 10 minutes thanks to my husband) of torture this way.
Upon arriving at the birth center, I burst in to the room, tearing off my clothes. As soon as I was naked, I felt a pop! My water broke and spilled into a large puddle on the floor right next to the bed where my midwife, Karen, was patiently waiting. Talk about your grand entrance! When my water broke I felt instant relief. It was an internal feeling of a reduction in pressure, like the cork of a champagne bottle being released. It was the signaling of a party about to begin! Karen led me over to the tub, filling with pleasantly warm water, awaiting my arrival.
Sinking into the water I felt instantly calmed. The large whirlpool bath allowed my whole body to be enveloped in soothing waves of warmth. I was still not able to take any position other than on my hands and knees; I remained in that spot for two hours until my baby was born.
When I needed to rest my arms and shoulders, I would lean forward onto the edge of the bath, laying my head on a pillow and taking sips of water offered by my dear husband. The midwife or nurse frequently checked for the baby’s heart rate, amplifying it into the room with the hand-held Doppler. The midwife usually did this silently and unobtrusively even as I remained in the tub.
She used the hands off approach other than these frequent monitorings throughout my labor. I think I was somewhat surprised by this. I had the preconceived notion that all midwives were a mixture of cheerleader (You can do it!) and coach (Here we go PUSH – 1,2,3,4….). I kept waiting for some directions, some explanation of what was going to happen next. It never came. I was surprised, but unmotivated to ask for the instructions.
During my labor, I was very quiet and internal. I was in “Labor Land”. I had nothing to say to anyone. If I did communicate, I was concise and direct. My body was in that room, in that tub, but my self was somewhere else, off in my own little world; and all those around me seemed to be adrift beside me in my sea. They were there – I was aware of that – but it didn’t really matter. Time was irrelevant. Space was here and somewhere else. I was in another world, and I think that is why it is called transition. You go somewhere to bring this new human into our realm. It is a journey. It is spiritual and profound. I was the only one who mattered. Actually, it was me and my baby. My child struggling to make his way out was very much a part of my consciousness. We were definitely a team.
My labor had progressed to the crescendo and I was still silent. The silence I refer to was in terms of what I was experiencing. I certainly made a lot of noises, howling, groaning, screaming and cursing. The room was peaceful, except for my non-verbal narration. I had been pushing for many of my contractions. It happened as if it was a reflex. Contraction. Push. It was not something that anyone told me to do; as I had thought would be the case.
I remember reaching down to see if I could feel my baby, still not alerting anyone that I was so close to the end. I reached between my legs and brushed my clitoris as I for felt for the opening to the birth canal. I did not feel the baby, but the slight touch of my stimulation spot sent waves of sensation through my body. It was not exactly pleasure, defiantly not pain, and so intense! Through my veil of semi-consciousness I was rudely awakened to what I just done was “wrong” There I was in a room full of people mostly my family touching myself! Like that! I quickly snapped out of my “other self”, back to my ego self, controlled by thoughts and societal mores. I felt like I had done something wrong. At the same time, what I had experienced was so intense! Had I been uninhibited enough to continue or in a more private space I really feel that I might have found a way to counteract the pain of the contractions.
I only found out much later when I was reading up for the birth of my second child that what I had experienced was not unique. And it was not something to be ashamed of. Reading Ina May Gaskin’s books, I learned of the close connection of our sexual selves to the birthing journey. I was able to identify what I had experienced and expand my knowledge of the birth process.
That jolt that brought me out of my labor fog allowed me to ask my midwife if she thought I should be checked. I had envisioned, again I believe from seeing movies and TV shows, to be apprised of the size of my blossoming cervix. “Nurse! The patient is 9 centimeters, prepare the delivery room!” Though I was checked when I arrived, I think I was 6 or 7 centimeters, that was the single and only time. My midwife’s response to my request was, “Do you think I should check you?”
“You are the fucking midwife shouldn’t you know?!”, I wanted to yell! Instead, what must have been a perplexed look on my face prompted Karen to suggest my moving to the toilet. Was this some kind of comedy routine? I think I told her that if I needed to pee I had most likely done so in that nice pool of warm water I had been resting in the past 2 hours. Her reply, “Well, moving over to the toilet will be good for you all the same. It is good to get up and change positions and sit on the toilet where you are used to letting yourself relax and let go.” I reluctantly agreed. My internal voice did not agree that I should get out of this nice warm water to go sit in the cold hard bathroom. What was the problem? Little did she know, I had been letting myself go!
As I sat on the toilet, she took her position in front of me on a tiny stool. She donned a glove and went for a look. Very quickly she pulled her hand out. “You’re about to have this baby!” “Where do you want to do it? Should we move to the tub or the bed?”
All of a sudden the energy in the room was charged! There was a flurry of activity. I made it back to the tub, mostly because it was the closest; but I was glad I did. Now Karen was a little more intense, directing me how to place my feet against the sides of the tub to brace myself to push. I was actually in a seated position, no longer focused on the pain in my back! Perhaps since the baby had really descended I was no longer having such bad back labor. Perhaps everything happened so fast I had no time to think about it. My husband was in a flurry trying to get into his swim trunks so he could sit in the tub with me. He just made it, sitting on the edge so that I could lean between his knees and support myself using his legs.
Everyone in the room was filled with anticipation. All in all, there were probably 8 people there. My whole family had made it except for one sister. I was surrounded by all the love and support I could ever want. All of them gathered around the tub, awaiting the grand entrance of our new addition to the family. Just as quickly as we had assembled into place he was born. I remember the midwife trying to slow things down, not wanting me to tear.
I could not hold back, as the clock struck 1 am – just 5 minutes after I got back in the tub – the baby boy I had so impatiently been waiting for was finally here! He was scooped from the water as soon as his entire body had slithered out of me. Up he came from the pool, with the midwife’s help, right onto my chest, into my waiting arms; my husband tenderly holding us both. We stared in awe at the little creature. He stirred and gave a sweet cry. He was incredibly calm and alert. They covered him with a warm, wet towel and a small, tiny, little hat. The midwife gently poured water over him keeping him warm as we all sat in the bath amazed at what had just happened.
I shed tears of joy. I felt ecstatic, relieved, exhausted and energized all at the same time. I think my words were “Oh, my goodness”, spoken over and over again. Finally as the shock wore off a bit, I turned to my husband and said, We are never doing that again!”
The three of us lounged in the pool. Pictures were snapped, hugs exchanged by all present and finally the cord was cut by Papa Stephan. We moved out of the pool and onto the bed. The mood was euphoric and jovial. Once I was in the bed, however the midwife’s concern began to mount that the placenta had not delivered yet. She had given a few tugs on the umbilical cord hanging out of me. We positioned the baby at my breast to encourage the contractions of the uterus usually resulting from nipple stimulation of breastfeeding. Excruciatingly the midwife alternately massaged my still large, Jello-like belly then stuck her hand deep inside me tugging on the cord and struggling to pull the afterbirth free. Finally, about 40 minutes postpartum I was administered pitocin intravenously. If this did not do the trick, I would be transported to the hospital to have a surgical procedure done to remove the placenta. Fun.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, probably before the concern for the placenta even arose I was given several stitches for a deep tear I had sustained. This was possibly worse than childbirth. Okay not worse but without the natural hormones protecting you and the intense work of labor to distract you, that tiny needle felt like a dagger! I could have also done without the Novocain. The stuff burns like hell!
At one hour post delivery I still had a retained placenta. The transport team was called, and arrived within minutes. The risk of blood loss was increasing. My husband accompanied me in the ambulance, which was staffed with the most attractive men, by the way. My body feeling (and probably looking) like a train wreck was no deterrent for my mind to find these guys super attractive. I was giddy and nervous as I tried to make small talk on the two-minute ride to the hospital. (Yes, even with my husband in the seat next to me!) He must have thought I was delirious, maybe I was!
Interestingly I learned later that my mom suffered the same problem with me. She waited six hours for the placenta to come out on its own, but finally traveled to the hospital for help. All turned out all right for her, and thankfully it did too for me. As soon as I was in the exam room at the hospital, and given some very much needed Morphine, the doc came in to have a look. He said that we would just give it one more try before prepping me for surgery. He gently tugged on the cord and plop, out it came! Everything was inspected, no missing parts was good news. I was clear and free to go.
My midwife drove us back across the parking lot a few blocks to the birth center. I was reunited with my sweet, sweet prize who we had left in the capable hands of my mom and my best friend, who was still nursing her own daughter and had generously offered to be my baby’s wet nurse while I was gone, not knowing how long I would be away. She did offer my son her breast and we feel that this is a really special bond that we all share.
We were all exhausted, Stephan, baby Liam and I. Our little family settled in to the comfy queen-sized bed in the same room I had just given birth. Clean, warm sheets had been laid out on the bed. I was offered some thing to eat and drink, and then we all were tucked in for the night and nurse turned out the light.
About Wenonah Michallet
Married for 15 years and mother of two boys, age 8 and (almost) 7. Work my day job being “the Glue” at a freestanding birth center. “I support midwives” should be tattooed on my forehead.