I wrote up a long, detailed birth story a few days after Mirabel was born, but I decided I wanted to write it out again now, and see how the memories compare. It's very LONG!
I remember being very exhausted and very restless in the days before Mirabel was born. I was very focused on my body and all the sensations as it was changing and preparing for labour and birth. I was taking Evening Primrose Oil orally and inserting it vaginally, drinking cups and cups of labour ready tea, walking at least 45 minutes a day, squatting for whole TV shows when my ankles would let me, and bouncing on the ball when they wouldn't. Then sleeping the rest of the time, or knitting and watching bad tv. As was typical of the last 9 months I was still so concerned with PREGNANCY - how the end of pregnancy felt, in my body, enjoying the baby move around. I barely even thought about labour and birth except how it related to the pregnancy - it meant it was over. I had taken a Birthing from Within birth class, and had our Doula all lined up, had the homebirth supplies prepared and labourade popsicles in the freezer, and that was it. No mental or emotional preparation, I didn't read anything (not even Birthing from Within!) and I wasn't doing my pain-coping practice. I remember feeling like I didn't want to set myself up with too many expectations, I wanted to be able to let things happen as they happened.
Around or just before my due date, I had my midwife stretch my membranes. I was about 1cm and 50% and having low-grade cramping, and excited to get things going. Had what I now know as sporadic crampy contractions for the rest of the day, then they stopped. A couple of days later, I lost my mucous plug, and I remember being SO excited to see that wad of slimy brown, until I googled mucous plug and read that women could lose their plugs up to two weeks before labour! Discouraged! The next night hubby and I very awkwardly and perfunctorily DTD, and when I got up in the morning my water broke with a small gush-trickle. No contractions, so I sent hubs to school, promising to keep him updated. The leaking fluid was really inconvenient, and I didn't know what to do about it. It was OK if I stood, but the minute I sat down there was fluid everywhere. I had an appointment with my midwife that morning, and having no idea how to get there by bus without trailing fluid behind me, I called my doula and asked her for some anxious advice. She was all like "Just put on a pad, and get going, sister. I'll talk to ya later." A pad! Of course! I stood on the bus the whole way, just in case, and as I was hugely hugely pregnant, and there were plenty of empty seats, I was getting all kinds of strange looks. Of course, by the time I got to the clinic, the pad was soaked through, and so were my underwear and pants. Sigh. My midwife wanted to check and make sure my water had actually broken (!) which of course it was, and we talked of such pleasant things as timelines and infection. I grabbed a cotton baby shirt from the free shelf and stuffed it in my underpants in the bathroom on my way out.
I finally had that burst of nesting energy, and did all kinds of cleaning and organizing and cooking while I was waiting for the contractions to start. I finally packed the just in case hospital bags. I started drinking some EmergenC. At 2 I had my first mild contraction, and they very quickly went from 9 to 7 minutes apart. Basically in the time it took DH to get home from school. He made the birthday cake, I called my mom and sister, my doula, the midwives. We went for a walk, and by the end I had to stop and feel the contractions. We ate dinner, and by the end of the meal, the contractions were 3 minutes apart. They were only 30-45 seconds long, and I wasn't bothered by them, really. I remember being so amazed - they were less painful than my regular menstrual cramps! And then they went away! We were having a grand time together, hubs and I, joking, laughing, playing scrabble. We were excited, energized. By 9pm they were 2 minutes apart and 45 seconds, which was almost the level at which we were supposed to call the midwives, but not quite. They were supposed to be a minute long. I couldn't really talk through them anymore, but I also wasn't doing anything else to cope with them, besides a little unfocused awareness. I called my doula, Bethan, to see what she thought I should do. She decided to come over, because for the first time I was starting to sound a little anxious, or at least unsure of how to proceed. The midwives decided not to come over, as they wanted to wait for more powerful contractions.
It was dark when Bethan arrived, and the first thing she did was go around turning off the lights, and lighting candles. She got us to stop timing the contractions. We made tea. We hung out for a while, chatting and drinking tea (I was drinking EmergenC and Labourade), Bethan and Robb at the table, and me standing beside them in the kitchen. Standing was much easier than jumping up every 2 minutes for contractions, since they hurt so much more when I was sitting down. Bethan taught me how to rock my hips loosely during each surge, which was amazing, as I was just starting to need more help with the pain. Then she coached me to relax my shoulders and mouth, which was again just wonderful. I remembered a little trick that my mom taught me when I was a high-strung kid with insomnia, to isolate and relax each body part in turn, and I began to do this too, starting at my forehead, relaxing my mouth and jaw, shoulders, arms, pelvis, legs, in that order. I was absolutely amazed at how it changed my contractions - they were no less intense, but I hardly felt the pain of them. Or really, I felt the pain, but it didn’t bother me. If I caught myself dreading the pain as a contraction started, I would just remember that each one was helping, and that it was a progression, and I would be able to work with the power of it. It was so cool.
But as time went on it was clear that my contractions weren’t getting any longer, or any more intense. I got a massage with clary sage, which brought the contractions closer together, and much more painful, but didn’t lengthen them. I used Bethan’s breast pump to stimulate my nipples. She tried accupressure on me. I was feeling shaky, shivery and cold, and starting to get tired, so I wrapped up with blankets and some heated rice bags on my back and tummy. I would rock the chair through the contractions, which worked ok, though it was harder to stay relaxed and rock a chair. It was after midnight, and it seemed like things were stalling, and I was feeling poorly, so Robb and I decided that rather than keep trying to amp things up, that it might be a good idea to try and rest for the night, if we could, and we sent Bethan home (she lived pretty close, and promised that it would be fine if we called her again in a couple of hours if we needed her.) I tried to lay down, but the contractions really hurt, so I was back with my blankets and heated rice bags in the chair. I slept in 5-minute increments, waking up to rock through the contractions while hubs snored in the bed. I did this for almost 5 hours!
The contractions started to get closer together again around 6am, so I got up. My heart was racing. I was still shivery, but also hot, like I felt feverish. I took my temperature and it was high, so I called my midwife. I was actually grateful that she felt that we should go to the hospital, because I felt so crummy. My heart was still racing, and as I have a (minor) heart condition, it was triggering the one fear that I had for the birth. Apparently this fear was not enough to quell my labour, the contractions came on, pretty close together (we weren’t timing anymore) all through the cab ride from hell.
Bethan met us in the waiting room, while they were getting an assessment bed ready for us, and Kat, our midwife, met us once we were in assessment. I refused to sit on the bed, and so I stood beside it, rocking and relaxing through each contraction. It was super tight in that little curtained cubicle, me hubs, Bethan and Kat, and whatever intrusive hospital staff barged in. Bethan got me some juice, Kat got me set up with the fetal monitor, and my own heart rate monitor, and we found that both baby and I had quite high heart rates. Bless my midwife, I’m sure such a high reading on the baby (180bpm) would have sent me straight to some kind of medical intervention if I had a regular doctor. Kat just decided I was dehydrated, and had them IV me and hook me up to some saline. Oh, and I no longer had a temperature, go figure, but they wouldn’t let us leave because of the heart rates, and they still wanted to give me antibiotics. I was in total labourland at this point, so all this coming and going and poking and prodding were annoying, but like flies, not anything that I was going to let stop me. I remember being disturbed by the blood backing up in my IV tube, but that was the worst of it. Oh, and having to pee during a contraction. Ouch. Kat also checked me when we first got in, and I was 5-6 cm. I think it was hours that we were crammed into that little tent, because we got to the hospital at 7:30, and we got into our delivery room at about 10-10:30. i really wanted the luxe delivery/recovery suites, and my midwife was trying to get one for me, but some powers at the hospital decided I needed to be in the high-risk rooms near the ER. I knew this, and really, at this point I was like, whatever, just let me get into the shower.
Once we were in the room, my body must have been like, OK, green light, safe now, because I started to need to vocalize through my contractions, something that I hadn’t done up to this point. Bethan helped me keep them nice and low. Robb set up our birth music (he made a mix) and bethan set up her LED candles. The delivery nurse spent a lot of time trying to get me set up for the shower, dear woman, taping a glove over my IV site, trying to make a broken waterproof fetal monitor work. I really wanted that shower, things were intense, and I was having trouble relaxing my lower body during the contractions, it was so... I don’t know... squeezy down there. Now as I contracted, amniotic fluid would gush out of me. I remember being kind of embarrased, but this time was quite fuzzy. This was the only time I remember thinking “I don’t know if I can do this for several more hours...” I clearly did not realize I was in transition! I honestly thought I was just getting into active labour, as that’s what everyone was implying (I guess I was so calm and quiet I was giving the impression of being not as advanced as I was). We had a comic moment of trying to get my nightgown off over my IV and IV pole (no hospital gowns for me, thank you very much!), and I actually laughed. I went to get in the shower, but before they could get the water on, I had a mega-contraction clutching the bar in there, and roared “I have to PUSH!!!” So they hurried me back into the room and up on the bed.
My midwife was actually off to another room, where she had another woman in labour! She swore this almost never happened. So they got the OB from the floor to check me, and she said I was 9cm, and if she could just stay inside me during the next contraction... there! 10cm. She must have massaged the lip away. The nurse got me to do a practice push at the next contraction, and actually had to say “Whoa whoa whoa! OK! Stop! Let’s wait for your midwife!” who walked in just then. Bethan turned off the lights (except the exam light.) I tried a few positions, but I was too tired to squat, and hands and knees felt wrong, so they actually had me on my back, with my legs on the bracing bar. It felt good, so what the heck. I was the grumpiest during pushing. It felt so uncomfortable, and it was strange that the contractions were so far apart. They felt weak now, and not painful, and I really had to think about them when they came on. It seemed to take forever, but it was only about 30 minutes until we could see the head, and then 15 of that discouraging in/out pushing. They had a mirror so I could watch, but it was SO HARD to see all that hair slip back inside me. All the people in the room were great cheerleaders though, and that’s just what I needed. They told me I was doing great at pushing, they couldn’t believe I knew how to push so good for a first baby, and it made me feel good. FInally we had ring of fire, and I had no trouble not pushing when they asked me to stop, and Mirabel’s head eased out (and her hand). Then it stayed out for a while, with no contractions.... and I was all like - is it supposed to be like this?
As soon as I felt the faintest glimmer of the next contraction, I pushed and pushed and pushed and Kat wiggled her shoulders and she was out and on my stomach, 11:46am. The fluids had meconium in them, but were clear up to that point, so they weren’t too concerned. I was so disoriented at this point, I didn’t really know what to do with this slippery little thing - I kept asking everyone to tell me what her sex was, not even thinking I could just check myself. She was pink and crying right away, apgars of 9 and 10. Lots of blonde hair, and no conehead, because of her quick passage (she wasn’t engaged at all when I went into labour either!) Robb cut the cord when it stopped pulsing, and everyone kept calling her little peanut (7lbs even) and at some point shortly thereafter I delivered the placenta and they took it away (I wanted to keep it, but by then I was very involved with the baby), we had her licking my nipple and latching, They toweled some of the gunk off her, gave her a hat, I got two stitches for a cosmetic tear while Dad did skin to skin, it was all a blur. It was blissful, and the only time she had to leave my arms was to be weighed, and to be held by her dad and by Bethan for a picture. We were ecstatic, ebullient, so so high. I didn’t even feel tired, after 21 hours of labour! Just buoyant. We had to stay for 24 hours to monitor for infection, but I didn’t mind. It was nice to have food brought to me, and people around to help with my new-mom anxieties. And they have a strict rooming-in policy, so we were never out of sight of our baby, and just looked and looked and looked at her for hours. It was a beautiful sunny day, and we were so happy.