I wrote the details down soon after my daughter was born, but it took me a long time to look at the photos and post the story. :)
The Birth of Isla Shane
I was due on Wednesday, October 19, 2011. I had been off work for nearly four full weeks of long walks and gorgeous fall weather. Two weeks before my due date I began acupuncture treatments, not necessarily to encourage labor, but more to facilitate a successful and straightforward labor. The acupuncturist led me through powerful meditations during the sessions, and as my due date drew closer I felt very calm and confident that I was ready to have this baby.
The baby, however, wasn't quite ready to come. In addition to the acupuncture, I walked, did yoga, drank quarts of raspberry leaf tea, took evening primrose oil, guzzled various herb tinctures, and employed every other labor encouragement method I had read of or been told about. The babe stayed put. I lost my plug four days before my due date, and hoped that that might be a sign of impending labor, but as the days ticked by and no other signs of labor developed, I sighed and finally resigned myself to the truth that the baby would come when the baby was ready.
The morning after my due date I woke up with strong and regular Braxton-Hicks. Though I'd been feeling Braxton-Hicks daily since the 20th week of my pregnancy, these were the strongest and most rhythmic that they'd been. I thought they might be the mild contractions of early labor, so I called my midwife, Brandi, and told her that it looked like we had a pattern. She told me to take a couple dropperfulss of the herbs she'd given me for early labor, and said she'd call and check on me in a couple hours.
Bret and I decided to go for a walk with the dogs to try get things moving. We walked downtown to get coffee, and as I was waiting outside the cafe with the dogs a woman started to chat with me about her pregnant friend. "But she's REALLY pregnant, not like you," she said, motioning at my belly. I chuckled, thinking, "Oh really?" I sure felt pretty damn pregnant.
The Braxton-Hicks had become stronger. My entire belly was taut with tension, but there was no pain. When Brandi called she told me continue with the herbs and the walking, but that if things didn't really get going by late afternoon she would want me to try to slow things down again so I could get some sleep that night. I went grocery shopping, then Bret and I took one more walk. I walked with one foot on the curb and one in the gutter the whole way - trying to get the baby to settle further into my pelvis - but by 3p it was clear that it wasn't labor. We sighed. Bret cooked us a nice dinner, then I took a bubble bath and went to bed.
A contraction woke me up some time later. After the next one I realized that they were painful. I laid in bed through five more before needing to find a better position in which to deal with them. I walked out the family room and turned on the tv; it was 2.45a. I started timing contractions with an iPad app I'd downloaded, but was having a hard time remembering to start the timer when one started. It seemed to me that the contractions were four or five minutes apart and lasting for nearly a minute. I was on the couch leaning forward onto the exercise ball, or on the floor on hands and knees, or kneeling and leaning over the ottoman. In a short time the contractions had completely taken my attention away from the tv, and eventually away from the stupid iPad timer too.
Bret woke up around 3.30a and joined me in the family room. He says I told him "This is going to be a long day" when he walked out (I remember saying something to him, but I was already in another place). He rubbed my back and brought me coconut water, and we decided that we would call Brandi at 5.30a. The contractions were definitely regular and progressing, and I finally let myself believe that this was labor. When I called Brandi at 5.30a she was awake, and said she'd been laying there hoping that I was in labor. She listened to me through a contraction, said I was doing great, and that she would be over soon.
Right after I hung up, I got hit by three intense, consecutive contractions. I grew nauseous and ended up over the kitchen sink, throwing up the coconut water. I continued to wretch hard when my stomach was empty until I was coughing only bile into the sink. I started wondering if I could possibly already been in transition (silly me). I had Bret call Brandi again and tell her that I was vomiting. She said she was on her way.
When Brandi arrived, Bret left us in the family room and started filling the birth tub in the bedroom. After sitting with me through several contractions, Brandi put me in the shower and told me to stay there as long as I wanted while she and Bret fussed with preparing the tub and the bed. The contractions were requiring all my focus, and I breathed deep and counted each exhale. The contractions were lasting a minute each, which meant 13 or 14 exhales before they were over. I knew that if I made it to seven I could make it through the rest of the contraction.
When I got out of the shower she asked me if I wanted to be checked, and I asked her what time it was. I could see through the bedroom windows that the sun was just coming up. She said it was 6.45a, and I told her that I wanted to wait until 7.30a. I didn't want to be told that I was still only in the early stages after having worked hard for what already felt like a long time. She told me I could get in the tub, and I remember being surprised that she thought I was already progressed enough to get in the tub.
The warm water felt great. I remember looking at both Bret and Brandi as I eased into the water and saying, "This feels REALLY GOOD." They both sort of chuckled at me. The next contraction grabbed me, however, and I realized that the tub wasn't helping all that much. I grabbed the handles on the top of the tub and swayed my hips through the contractions. I focused on keeping my sounds low and my mouth and throat loose. In between I sank back into the tub, or laid my head on the edge. I fell asleep in between the next several contractions.
At 7.30a Brandi got me out of the tub and checked me on the bed. I was 5cm and stretching further under her fingers. I was so grateful that I was progressing well. She wanted me to lay on the bed, on my left side, for five contractions. The position was incredibly challenging and I struggled to keep on top of the contractions without being able to sway or rock. I got up after the second contraction and leaned on the footboard of the bed. After staying with me there for a while, she moved me to the toilet and gave me a pillow to lean on as I sat backwards and faced the wall. She asked me to stay there for five contractions. Bret rubbed my back as I continued breathing and counting and resting. I knew that the toilet was a good place to encourage progress, but it was hard work. The contractions were unrelenting. Bret and Brandi helped remind me to keep soft and low if my voice grew shrill at the peak of a contraction. After the toilet I moved to the bed, standing on the floor and with my hands gripping the bedspread, swaying my hips back and forth. Keeping my hips fluid and in motion made the contractions more bearable than when I was forced to keep still (as on the toilet or lying down). In between contractions I collapsed my upper body on the bed.
One of my acupuncture meditations had been on embracing the two extremes of labor - the hard work and the rest. I had meditated on allowing each to happen in its entirety, and recognizing the importance of each to the process of birthing the babe. In the moments of rest I was able to appreciate that, when I wasn't contracting, I actually felt pretty good. Those endorphins were powerful.
I could see from the full sunlight outside that the day was no longer new. I knew that Kate, our 2nd midwife, would be arriving when I was nearing the end and the birth was close, so I kept a half-opened eye out for her in between contractions. The contractions had increased in intensity, and peaked with a crushing squeeze that more than once made me cry out. My eyes were closed and I was calling on the meditations I had done with my acupuncturist, imagining birthing energy coming up from the ground, through my feet to my legs, from my hips into my uterus and flowing down and out with the baby. Bret was squeezing my hips and rubbing my back, holding my hand when I reached for him. After a particularly vicious contraction, I exhaled the last breath and said, "Come on, baby." I looked up and saw Kate in the doorway.
Brandi asked to check me again. I stayed in the tub while she checked me, and as she told me I was 7cm, I felt a huge release of pressure and a rush of current against my thighs. I realized my water had broken, and looked down to see if it was clear. It was. The contractions picked up their pace and intensity immediately. It seemed as though I was getting no break at all in between, and they were lasting well beyond the 13 or 14 breaths I had been counting through most of my labor. If I hit 30 I would stop counting and just moan through the rest. Most had two peaks, a few had three. I remember thinking that it felt like my entire abdomen was being clamped in an ever-tightening vice. As each contraction ended I would take a deep breath and slowly exhale the rest of it away. Come on, baby.
A few contractions later, I felt my body bear down at the peak of a contraction. In disbelief, I told them that I was pushing. Brandi and Kate spoke softly, saying "Good Molly," and "Go with your body." With the next contraction my body pushed again.
After the next contraction Brandi checked the baby with the Doppler, as she'd been doing intermittently, and in my post-contraction haze I could hear that the tones were very slow, much slower than they'd been at any other time. With urgency in her voice, Brandi asked me to get out of the tub and lay on the bed on my left side. Suddenly there was an oxygen mask on my face. Brandi and Kate were both at my side, telling me to breath deep. Through the Doppler I heard that the baby's heart rate was still slow, and I felt Brandi put her hand in me and begin massaging the baby's head. They had me move to my right side. I remembered Brandi saying in a prenatal visit that scalp stimulation can help rev up a baby who's slowing down, and in a distant part of my consciousness I knew that there was concern and anxiety in the room. I was deep in my labor and could not react with anything other than focus on my contractions (which were intensely challenging lying on my side, with nothing to grab or pull).
After about four minutes, the baby's heart rate returned to normal and stayed steady and strong through the next several contractions. I heard everyone let out a long breath. (The explanation, as it was later told to me: there had been a good amount of sac and water between the baby and my cervix, and when my water broke the baby came charging down into my pelvis. The dramatic change in position was stressful and caused the deceleration).
My body was still pushing with every contraction. Brandi checked me and said I was still a seven, maybe an eight, and to not push while the last bit of cervix stretched away. The next several contractions were the most challenging part of my labor. I would get three or four exhales into a contraction when my body would start bearing down of its own accord. I blew and panted rapidly to dissipate the pushing urge, but began to feel as though I was losing control as the contractions peaked. I was tingling all over because of hyperventilating. Brandi checked me again and said I still had a small lip remaining. I asked her if she could hold it back as I pushed - I had reached the threshold of my ability to resist the urge to push.
With the next contraction she held the lip back and told me to give her a little push. I felt the baby start to move down. Brandi asked for one more good push, and I felt the baby drop just a bit lower. She felt again and the lip was gone. She announced it was time to push - it felt to me like a cross between a battle cry and a victory cheer.
I decided to squat at the foot of the bed to push. As I got up from the bed I could feel the baby's head low in my pelvis. Thankfully I only had to waddle a few steps before squatting deep and taking the next contraction. My entire body was shaking.
The power of my body and my mind pushing together was shocking. My first pushes exploded out of my mouth as roars. I bellowed. Brandi reminded me to channel that energy downward and use that power to push the baby out. I have no memory of the pain of contractions during pushing - the sensation and pressure of moving that head and little body through my bones and tissues was more intense than any contraction had been. My body took over and told my mind what to do, and my rational consciousness was outside of my body. I could feel the baby dropping lower and lower with each push, and soon the dominant sensation was an overwhelming burning and stinging. (I might have complained about how much it stung a time or two). Brandi placed an arnica compress on my perineum - it was cold. I only then became aware of how close everyone was standing to me. I reached between my legs and felt the baby's soft, wrinkled head emerging from me. I dropped from a squat forward onto my knees and bore down harder. There was no waiting for contractions.
Brandi checked the baby with the Doppler again, then looked at me and said, "It's time for this baby to be born." I pushed, yelled COME ON BABY, and pushed harder. The pressure was incredible. I leaned my head back and squeezed my eyes shut and bore down with everything I had. All of a sudden the pressure gave, down below and in my head. I'm positive I lost consciousness for a moment. I felt someone's hands on the insides of my thighs. My eyes were still glued shut. Brandi told me to pick up my baby, and it took me a moment to remember that yes, there was a baby. I opened my eyes as I reached down and grabbed underneath two perfect little arms and lifted a beautiful baby onto my chest. (I remember taking the baby out of Brandi's hands, but everyone tells me I pulled the baby out of my body).
Brandi rubbed the baby with a blanket, and a small, clear cry rung out like a church bell. I was in shock, and in love. I lifted the blanket and saw that it was a girl. I looked up at my husband and told him he had a daughter. I thought that I would cry when I first met my baby, but a smile found my face and only grew bigger and bigger and I marveled over her perfect little body. 40 weeks 2 days of gestation, 12 hours of labor, and 19 minutes of pushing, and we had our beautiful dear Isla Shane. 7 lbs, 4 oz and 20" of sweet baby girl.