It is so strange to look back at Luc’s birth – so much has happened since that it seems like a lifetime ago. I wrote his birth story when he was about a week old. Reading this now, I see that it is somewhat of a rosy view of my experience. I do remember saying to Gary the morning after I gave birth to Lucas, “That was awesome, but please stop me if I ever even consider doing it again.” When I think back on my birth as a whole, I do tend to remember the positive, beautiful aspects of it. For some reason, when I try to remember the pain and difficult moments, my memory is hazy. Must be nature’s way of insuring that the species continues to multiply…
Lucas’s birth story
My whole pregnancy I was terrified of birth. I have never been good with pain and I could not imagine how I could get through something that was described to me once as holding your hand on a hot burner while people told you to relax and breathe. By the last month of my pregnancy, I could not sleep imagining all the horrible scenarios – in one nightmare I was going so insane from the pain that the nurses at the hospital had to physically restrain me. The funny thing is that when I finally did go into labor, I remember feeling totally calm. It was like some other woman - a powerful, self-composed superwoman - inhabited my body for 24 hours and then left just as quietly as she came.
I felt my first contraction at about 10:30 PM on Sunday, Oct 27. I had been feeling frustrated all day because I was two days late and having the feeling that I was never going to give birth and would be pregnant forever. Gary was on the phone with our friend and I asked him to ask his wife if she remembered having any early signs of labor and she said she had back pain which at that moment I realized I was having. Shortly afterwards, I felt a cramping sensation that started in my lower back and wrapped around to my stomach. I was excited but for some reason I didn’t want to tell Gary yet. It was weird not to tell him, but all I know is something inside told me to keep it to myself for now. I guess I was afraid we would get too excited if we started talking about it and I really wanted Gary to sleep so he could be there for me later. We went to bed and I woke up at about 2:00 AM and realized I was having a real contraction – enough that I could not sleep through it. It was uncomfortable – like a menstrual cramp - but I was so happy that I was going into labor I didn’t care. I laid in bed and tracked my contractions for awhile they were about 20 -30 min apart. Finally, when I felt I couldn’t sleep anymore, I got up and went to take a bath – I read a book – “Blue Shoe” by Anne Lamott - and felt strangely happy and excited – like it was Christmas Eve. I went downstairs with my book and made a bed on the sofa – writing down my contractions. They were about every 20 minutes and lasted about 20-30 seconds. Each contraction peaked in the middle so the painful part was only a few seconds. I felt encouraged that I was handling them okay. At about 6 AM, I got back in bed with Gary and told him I was having contractions – a huge smile came on his face “really?” He was so excited, he looked like a little boy. He called our midwife and she told me I was in early labor, just to relax and try to sleep if I could and eat light foods. She said I didn’t need to go to the hospital until my contractions were regular and about 5 minutes apart. I meditated and fell asleep and didn’t feel any contractions while I was sleeping. The rest of the day flew by….Gary and I sat by the fire in the living room – he read me “Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy” in a British accent to distract me. It was pouring outside and which helped me stay relaxed. We went for a walk with umbrellas. My senses were heightened and everything seemed so vivid - I remember bright yellow leaves were stuck all over the pavement like lilypads. We both felt content and relaxed. Laboring at home was great. But my contractions were still really irregular and they slowed down from time to time.
Throughout the day our midwife and doula checked up on us. My doula, N, offered to come over but I was really enjoying just being with Gary…I began to wonder if we even really needed a doula and if she might even be in the way. She stopped by in the afternoon to say “hi” and saw that I was doing really well, just closing my eyes and breathing deep during my contractions. She gave me a little massage and said she was amazed at how relaxed I was. So was I! I thought for sure I’d be begging for an epidural already.
My midwife, C, called us and asked us to come by the office to get my cervix checked at 5:00 PM. I was so scared I was going to go in and only be one centimeter after so many hours of labor. I was 2 to 3 centimeters dilated. I was encouraged but she didn’t seem to think that I would give birth that night. I think she thought things were petering out because my contractions had slowed and I only had one mild one while in her office. She told us to go home and relax, distract ourselves with a movie or something so we weren’t watching the pot boil. So we drove to Blockbuster…on the way my contractions seemed much more uncomfortable…I went inside with Gary but had to go out to the car because I just about doubled over. Suddenly I felt ridiculous to be out in public while I was in labor. We still went and picked up our Chinese take out, but I was really getting nervous now. Having contractions in the car was awful, and they seemed like they were getting closer together. When we got home I could only take a few bites of food. Gary was running around doing stuff and I wanted to scream at him – get over here! I need you to be with me now, not anything else! Yet I was so focused I couldn’t speak. This was the one time during labor when I felt scared. Our hospital was a half an hour away and I wasn’t there yet. I was having pretty serious contractions but my midwife seemed to think I should stay home so I felt really confused. We were about to call N, as the phone rang and it was her. Gary said that we would really like to have her come over now. When she came in I was doing the kneeling position she had shown me…I was now starting to moan during contractions. She helped by doing counterpressure on my back and massaging me during contractions. N felt it was time to go to the hospital. We called C and she still seemed to think we should stay home, a point I think she felt embarrassed about later, but N said, “No its time, I can tell by her face.”
N made a bed for me in the car and she and Gary got us ready to go. It was now dark and foggy. I was worried about taking the Blue Ridge Parkway because sometimes it can be so foggy you can barely drive…we chanced it anyway and luckily it was clear. I was pretty comfortable in the car, contractions continued at 4 min apart. I closed my eyes and laid back and sort of went into another world. I remember a friend of mine telling me to look for the bliss when I was in labor – she said beneath the pain, there is bliss, you just have to look for it. I kept repeating that to myself and thinking the word “bliss” like a mantra. I was amazed at how much this helped. In between contractions, I literally felt awesome, and during the contractions, I didn’t go insane like I thought I would, I could feel the bliss beneath the pain. On the way to the hospital, C passed us and led us there by a shortcut. It felt so cool to have my midwife driving ahead of us and my doula behind us leading a caravan to the hospital. I felt so loved and supported.
We arrived and checked in the hospital at about 8:15 PM. When we got up to the birthing room I put on a robe and the labor nurse said I had to be monitored for 20 minutes. I got in the bed and they put a heart monitor across my belly. It was kind of uncomfortable because I had to lay on my back. As soon as I got in the bed my contractions got more intense. N sat next to me while Gary was still setting up the room….she was so great at walking me through each contraction. She would just say iiiinn…..oooouuut…..really slowly while I breathed in and out holding eye contact with her……….I couldn’t believe how much this helped. Gary watched the monitor and they noticed that my contractions were now 2 minutes apart. I felt so excited I was moving so quickly. I heard my midwife whisper to the labor nurse that she thinks I am in transition. I was thrilled! I am in transition and I am doing it and not freaking out.
N had Gary sit next to me and walk me through a few contractions….even though he was doing exactly what she said, it wasn’t working when he did it. He had a look of fear and doubt in his eyes. Just as I was about to ask for N again….Gary said “N…I think you should be up here, you guys were really doing great together.” In my opinion, men were just not meant to coach women through labor. N sat next to me making eye contact and Gary sat next to her massaging me and doing whatever she told him to do. We tried some of the “he he” Lamaze breathing but I quickly said, “I don’t like this,” because I felt like I wasn’t getting enough air. So we stuck with the long, slow breathing.
C did a vaginal exam and said I was 6 centimeters. She said she could feel the bag of waters and break it if I wanted her to. I asked if it would hurt and she said “no, but it will move things along quicker.” After thinking about it for a second, I said yes. I felt a huge rush of warm water…….it felt great though….suddenly it felt real…..I am going to give birth. The labor nurse leaned over and said, “your contractions may get a bit more intense, now.” I know she was trying to be helpful, but why would you tell a woman in pain…now its going to get worse? My next few contractions were more difficult as a result because I was scared and tensing up.
The labor nurse asked me to rate my pain. How on earth do you rate pain? “Nine, I guess” “Is there anything we can do to make you more comfortable?” “Yes, you can get these monitors off me.” I pulled them off myself and she tried to catch them as they fell to the floor. I was getting pretty bitchy. We decided to try a few positions…there was a birthing tub in the room but for some reason I didn't feel the desire to get in it...I sat in the rocking chair….I didn’t like it at all….I leaned forward onto N and hugged her during the contraction….which helped a lot. But then I tried being on my knees on the bed leaning forward. I could see how this would move things faster but it also felt more painful. Being upright made the pain feel more acute. I was surprised because most people say that moving around helped them, but for me when I laid down it was so much easier because I could relax and drift away during my contractions.
The contractions did get more intense and now I was screaming through them. But N guided me on how to use the sounds to ease the pain rather than go out of control. C put pressure on my back while N worked with me eye to eye and Gary stroked my arm and massaged my feet. I needed all three of them desperately- it was as if the three of them were holding something for me to balance on and if anyone moved even slightly – if anyone even turned their head away when I was having a contraction – I would go stumbling to the floor. One time Gary moved across the room to press play on the CD which had stopped and I almost lost it..I told him to never leave my side again, I didn’t care about anything else but that he be right there. I remember during one especially brutal contraction, I thought, “How did women ever go through this without this kind of attention and help?” It seemed like a cruelty to leave a woman to labor alone. I overheard C say to Gary that I was using a birth song….I wasn’t even aware I had been doing so but it was making me feel better. When a contraction would come and I would start to scream, N would say “bring it dooowwwnnn” and moan along with me so I knew what to do. She had a silver cross around her neck that I used as a focal point because looking in her eyes started to feel too intense for me. This combined with “looking for the bliss” was working! I was able to manage unbelievably intense contractions and a few times didn’t even feel the pain. I have to laugh when I remember thinking I didn’t need a doula. I needed her so desperately, I think I was grabbing onto her with both hands so she wouldn’t leave me. I can’t imagine how I ever could have done it without her.
Things must of gotten more painful because at this point, I totally lost track of time………some time C checked me and said I was 9 centimeters dilated. It was almost time to push…it felt so fast but it also felt just in time because I was ready to come unglued! N told me that soon I would feel an urge to push and at that moment I did…she was so intuitive. It felt like a train was trying to drive through my body. When I pushed I could feel gushes of water. C had the nurse getting things ready for the baby to come out….I felt excited but also really in pain and I wanted the baby out so badly. I felt that if it took more than a few pushes I would die. I tried pushing on my side while Gary held up my leg but apparently this wasn’t working so well. C told me I could get upright but I was terrified to get out of the bed again, so I got on my back. I remember people telling me that pushing felt great compared to transition – it didn’t. I wasn’t sure I was pushing right and there was pressure everywhere…plus really crazy contractions…..and I felt as if I couldn’t breathe. I also was feeling really out of it – as if I was on a drug. All I could think of was – GET HIM OUT! I had that feeling that I had when running sometimes – when you felt so exhausted that it didn’t matter to you if you had only 10 more feet to go…it was just too far. Apparently I pushed for two hours but I have no idea where the time went – it felt like maybe 20 - 30 minutes. C kept telling me that the baby was RIGHT THERE – she could feel him in the birth canal. C was doing perineum massage to avoid tears and also, I found out later, trying to turn the baby. Apparently the baby was still turning from the posterior position – the most painful type of labor because the baby’s head puts direct pressure on the spine – his head was coming down sideways and this was making it really hard to get him through my pelvis. C was giving me instructions on how to push but it felt as if she were miles away and I could barely hear her. Gary saw this and leaned closer and repeated what she said. At one point, C actually screamed my name to get my attention and said “Whitney, I need you to listen to me now! Push down….feel my fingers here and push them out.” They put oxygen on me and held my legs back. I remember C telling me at a prenatal visit that if she asked me to get on my back and hold my legs apart – there was a reason for it. It meant that the baby was having trouble getting out and this position was opening my pelvis. I never thought I would deliver in this position but moving was out of the question. I was afraid if I was upright I would fall over and faint.
During each contraction I was getting about 4 pushes. Everyone was counting to 10 while I held my breath – I hated it and I felt like I couldn’t take one more push. Gary was freaking out with excitement saying “Whit, I can see his head, he has brown hair!” This was the only thing keeping me going. I tried to listen to his voice and no one else’s. I heard N praying for me on the other side. C took my hand and put it on the baby’s head – it was close to crowning. The next few contractions the baby’s head went out and back in. Finally, when I could feel the burning sensation known as “the ring of fire” I bore down and pushed as hard as I possibly could. IT HURT SO BAD!!! Then I guess he was partially out but I had to wait for my next contraction to push and I was screaming in agony. C told me not to push him all the way out so she could suction the mucous out of his mouth. Yeah right! The next contraction, at 11:52 PM, I shoved as hard as I could and felt his whole body slide out of me all at once. It burned like nothing I had ever felt before – to have to push against that burning was the most unnatural feeling. But he was out!!!! Gary cut the cord and whispered the Vedic sound in his ear. Then C put him on top of me…I could barely breathe. If I only had one moment in my life I that I could live, it would be this one. He wasn’t crying yet, just sort of wiggling and making cute little grunts and noises. “Oh my God,” I kept saying over and over….it was so unreal. I have never seen anything so pure in my life. I had prepared myself because I know that newborns aren’t always cute – but he was perfect! I remember thinking that he looked like a little baby elf, cause he just seemed so small and delicate. His hair was still wet and dark and he had a metallic smell that I will never forget which I learned later was from the amniotic fluid. He hadn’t even opened his eyes yet. I watched them flutter open for the first time and he looked around and then looked at me. There wasn’t the amazed look that I thought there might be. There was no self reflection at all…just eyes…looking. He seemed to say, “oh hi, its you,” and then closed them again. How was it possible? How could we have created this perfect little being? I felt so powerful having created him and yet so humble that I did nothing to make it happen. Gary was going crazy hugging me and kissing me and he said to me so passionately. .. “You did it! You are incredible…you actually pushed him out of you!” I felt so much love flowing for him and the baby. C told me, “you’ve become a hero today for Gary.” Later she told me that she saw him watching the baby come out and then looking at me and looking back at the baby and she could see his whole view of me change as if I became a goddess in his eyes at that moment.
The rest of the night was a blur…I remember C asking me to give a push to deliver the placenta, I can’t remember if it hurt or not. She had my OB come in to do my stitches because I had a 3rd degree tear. Ouch! But they gave me a shot in my perineum so I couldn’t feel anything. They weighed and measured Lucas - he was 8 lbs and 21.5 inches. At some point, everyone left, and we were left alone with our beautiful little boy. He drifted off into a deep sleep and so did we. When I woke the next morning, I looked over I saw this little tiny bundle asleep on Gary’s chest. Gary says he will never forget Lucas sleeping on his chest that night. For the next days and weeks to come, I felt like all we did was stare at him. We’d spend what felt like forever walking him and trying to get him to sleep, then we’d sit and watch him sleep!
Looking back at the past seven months of motherhood, I can understand why childbirth is such a dramatic, huge event. It transformed me and prepared me to be a mother like nothing else could have. When I was pregnant, I figured that after I’d gotten through labor and birth, I would just be relieved that it was over. I didn’t expect to be so empowered. But I feel that somehow, I was at the best I have ever been during labor. The feeling still remains that I can do anything I want to do, that there will be nothing so difficult in my life that I can’t pull back and find the strength to deal with it. The strength that I found in myself during labor will be with me forever. The goddess that visited me that day is with me still. I feel her love flow through me to Lucas every time I nurse him, calm his cries, change his diaper, make him laugh. If its true that a mother’s role is divine, childbirth was my initiation into this new sacred life.
"We shape the clay into a pot but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want" Lao Tzu