Here is the story of my daughter’s birth.
I’d been having a lot of cramping and loss of mucous in the previous weeks, felt this was a good sign of cervical activity and might mean an eventual shorter/easier labor, and was very excited about this. I’d been very careful about staying off my back and not sitting in reclining positions, in the hopes of avoiding back labor (as I’d had with all my other births,) and the baby was pretty obviously LOA, a great position to be in. I’d also been feeling very good about my life, my body, and the pregnancy, so I felt like I was a really ideal place for having a great birth experience. I’d had some fantastic dreams and visualisations about the baby and the birth, and the birth was always easy and sometimes even pleasurable. There were a few days that I was suddenly and strangely overcome with fear about death and pain, but then I was gratefully back to feeling confident and positive and comfortable with facing whatever came my way.
My husband and I had some wonderful intimate time together throughout the weekend that made me feel very goddess-like and sensually powerful and connected to him. Saturday night I had contractions all night that stopped with the day, same thing Sunday night though they were more painful. I had my husband stay home Monday morning, but again the contractions ceased. I was happy to have him there anyway, as I felt that I was in an important transitional period and it felt right to have my family around me. About 4:30 pm Monday afternoon the contractions started back up again. My husband took the boys to play basketball, at which point the contractions began to get harder and I to feel emotionally fragile, and I found myself upset at his absence. When they got back we had dinner (although I ate only a few bites) and watched some mindless TV, then set the kids up in their playroom with a bunch of videos and pillows and blankets, hoping they would fall asleep there.
The contractions continued to come steadily. Around 10:30 pm I went to bed, and shortly after my two younger children joined me. About midnight the contractions were so intense that there was no way I could be in bed during them any longer, so I got up and puttered around the house a bit. I lit some candles, put on some music, and set up a birthing spot in the living room (where my last was born) but after a while that no longer seemed right and I was drawn to our bathroom, which is literally a bath-room (with just a bathtub in it,) and floor space of about 3 by 5 feet. I ran a bath and made up a little nest for myself of cushions and blankets and put some candles in the adjacent room so that only a dim glow reached me.
I felt overall very positive about how the labor was going, and I had this idea that the baby might be born in the next couple of hours. At the same time, the increasing level of pain (on top of not having slept well for quite some time) was getting tedious and unpleasant, and I told myself if I was still going at it in the morning that I would call my midwife friend Pam to bring by some herbs and homeopathics and moral support.
At that point I was still walking around between contractions, but more and more found myself kneeling and draped over the side of the tub, or on hands-and-knees in the bathroom. Around 3 am I began to have serious back labor, and from then on pretty much stayed in my little nest. Unlike my previous labors, the contractions also gripped me in the abdomen, so it was kind of like a double whammy that I hadn’t expected and didn’t like at all. I had been moaning low, which had been keeping me focused and calm and clearly helped me to relax my pelvic floor and back, but when the back labor started my voice took on a life of its own and rose higher and higher until I was shrieking at the peaks. It was pretty awful. I experimented with different positions and tried different things with my body, like slow, deep breathing, arching my back, and directing my physical energy down and outwards. It all helped, but then I’d hit that peak and just lose it. I started praying, “please, please, make the pain go away, it’s not necessary, I don’t need it, please make it stop.”
And suddenly it did. The pain was entirely gone. I couldn’t tell if I was still contracting, and I didn’t care. I thought, maybe this is the “rest and be thankful stage” that sometimes comes at full dilation. I waited and waited for the contractions to start back up again, and when they didn’t I began to think that maybe I would get my sweet, easy birth after all. My “butter birth” as my friends and I had been referring to it, my due after all the hard ones. I reclined back against the cool wall with my legs flopped open and felt up inside myself. It felt soooo good. I was open and swollen and lubricated, as if I was sexually aroused. Out of curiosity I put pressure on my clitoris, and that felt good as well, though I had no desire whatsoever (nor any energy) to come to orgasm. I had been naked and hot, but began to cool off with the lack of exertion and wrapped myself in my fuzzy lavender robe. After a while I became so relaxed that I fell asleep, sitting up with my head cupped in my hand. It felt so wonderful, like lying down in a warm, clean, soft bed after a day of good physical work.
I dozed for a while (I estimate about an hour) and then, like a bolt of lightening, I was suddenly hit with an intense, fast building contraction that had me again shrieking and propelled out of my reclining posture and onto my hands and knees. As soon as it was over I went to the bedroom and said to my husband, "S----, I need your help.” He had been sleeping peacefully throughout all the noise I was making (as were the kids) but at the sound of his name he leapt up and into action. We went back to the bathroom, I got on hands and knees facing the tub, and he put pressure on my hips and back. In the seconds between contractions he pressed up behind me (which felt incredibly comforting) and rubbed my back gently. He was the best support I could have wished for.
I, on the other hand, was a raving lunatic. I was ready to go the hospital, get the epidural, get the c-section, anything but this, if it only meant that I didn’t have to do this anymore. I thought several times about telling my husband to get the car running and just take me. I also thought that I must be very close to the birth, and that it was ridiculous to think that there would be time for interventions anyway. I still wanted to give up. It was torturous. I thought to myself, “I will never ever judge anyone for choosing an epidural or section again. Nobody should have to go through this if they don’t want to.”
At some point I thought to check for the baby’s head, and lo and behold there it was at the very top of the birth canal. I was only partly reassured by this, as it seemed wedged in there pretty tight and I didn’t know how long it would take for it to descend. For some reason I began to feel doubtful that I would have a spontaneous “fetus ejection reflex” as I had with my last birth, and I was really ready for the labor to be over, so I made a conscious decision to begin bearing down to see what would happen. It didn’t feel wrong, in fact it felt like it was okay to do so, but my body was clearly not pushing the baby down of its own accord, either. I decided to go ahead with it anyway, as I was feeling so desperate for the pain to stop.
My husband says that it was four contractions total from when I started pushing, three to move the head down and one for the body, but to me it seems like it was a lot longer. There was so much resistance, the head felt like it was straining so hard against me, it felt way too tight. My tissues felt stretched to their limit, and there was that burning, and oh, it was so tight. It was awful in its intensity and it was the hardest thing I’d ever done, that I could ever imagine doing. Still I pushed as hard as I could, and I felt her head moving down, so slowly, increment by increment. The water sac broke, pouring warm out of me. Then her head eased out, and we both said, “there’s the head!,” and I put my hand on it. It felt huge, and warm, and wonderful, and I was so happy. I waited for the next contraction – which seemed to take an eternity, and during which I received a vision of her body turning to admit the shoulders – and then again bore down as hard as I could.
In a fantastic feeling of release the rest of her body sloshed out of me, and my husband caught her on placed her below me on the blanket. I easily lifted my leg over her, turned around, and sat back, and he helped put her in my arms. She was already crying, already pink, and so warm and soft. I rubbed her back and talked to her, and then my husband got a blanket and we wrapped her up and I put her to my breast. My husband checked the time -- 6:00 am.
It was the most wonderful thing to be there just with my husband and the baby, so normal and right and so very comfortable. It was wonderful to sit there naked and unselfconscious and just be. There was nothing earth-shattering or particularly spiritual-feeling about the moment, but it did feel as if all was in complete harmony, as if nothing was out of place. We talked softly, I don’t know what about, and smiled, and just sat there with each other and admired the baby. I was wide awake, alert, aware. There was a stillness of time and clarity and utter calm that was present for the first time for me after a birth.
I am still basking in it. I haven’t had any postpartum depression or mood swings as I have had after all my other (disturbed) births. I am tired and having some discomfort due to the afterpains and my non-spontaneous second stage, yet I feel infused with emotional strength, which has carried over into my interactions with my children and husband. There has, as well, been no interference with bonding. There is nothing more dear to me right now than this little being, and nothing I wouldn’t do for her, and with a glad and willing heart.
There is a wonderful quote from Marsden Wagner, MD, that I am really feeling the reality of right now:
Humanizing birth means understanding that the woman giving birth is a human being, not a machine and not just a container for making babies. Showing women---half of all people---that they are inferior and inadequate by taking away their power to give birth is a tragedy for all society. On the other hand, respecting the woman as an important and valuable human being and making certain that the woman's experience while giving birth is fulfilling and empowering is not just a nice extra, it is absolutely essential as it makes the woman strong and therefore makes society strong.