Okay - this story is crazy long...it took me days to write it and I meant for it to be shorter but I couldnt' help myself!
The birth of my daughter, Rowan, was the most intense, most challenging (both physically and mentally) and most beautiful experience of my life. Labor was much more of a physical challenge for me than I expected. I am proud of my body, my baby, and my ability to bring life into this world.
At 2:00 am on Saturday Oct. 22nd, I began having some mild, regular contractions. This was following a week of on-again, off-again contractions so I didn’t get too excited about these right away. I stayed in bed trying to sleep through them until I couldn’t ignore them any longer. At that point, it was about 4:00 am, I woke Eric and we got out of bed. We were both so excited at the thought of the arrival of our baby! We started timing the contractions and found that they were 3 minutes apart and lasted about 30 – 60 seconds. We called our midwife and doula around 5:00 am. Our midwife, Michelle, said to call her back in a few hours to update her on my progress. Not knowing what to do with ourselves at such an early hour, we decided to head back to bed to see if we could get some more sleep. The next thing I knew, it was 9:00 am and the phone was ringing. The contractions had pretty much stopped which had allowed me to fall back into a deep sleep. I was really disappointed but I had a feeling that the baby was coming soon and was thankful that I felt rested. We called to update our doula, Alissa, and she said she thought I might be having “monkey labor” where the contractions start at night and then go away when the sun comes up. I was hoping this wouldn’t go on for weeks but knew that it could.
The contractions continued to pick up as the day progressed. I spent my time eating, playing scrabble, and doing yoga. Around 5 pm, we called Michelle (our midwife) again to update her. She came by the house around 8pm to check me. At that point, I was 3 cm dilated and was feeling great. She was surprised to find that I was so far along since I was focused quietly inward on the contractions and it didn’t seem to her as though I was in labor. She left to get her birth supplies and planned to return around 10pm.
The contractions were regular and strong and we were all getting really excited about the birth. I was spending lots of time on the floor under our dining room table crawling around on my hands and knees. I was very quiet and centered and felt very strong. I was confident in my ability to birth this baby and was excited for where the experience would take me. I didn’t really want people around me all that much and preferred not to be touched or spoken to. Michelle returned at this point and we starting timing the contractions again. I had to tell her when I was having one and what the intensity of it was since she couldn’t tell from how I was acting. I had a feeling I would labor quietly and prefer to be on my own. The contractions were every 5 minutes apart and were lasting about 60-90 seconds.
The next ?? hours, I spent laboring in the dining room, the living room, the bathroom, the front yard, the driveway, the backyard and the labor tub. I remember spending lots of time on my hands and knees. When I would stand up, the pain would radiate down my legs and it was much easier on me to be near the floor and off my feet. As the contractions grew stronger, I began to get very nauseated. I threw up twice and had a really hard time eating anything at all. I knew it was important to eat and was starting to feel a little nervous about my energy level. I have spent enough time in the mountains on long climbing and skiing excursions and know myself well enough to know that when I run out of fuel, I have a really hard time coping.
After a while of laboring in the house, I was really warm and I wanted to go outside. It was probably around 2 or 3 am and the world was quiet and dark. This was my favorite part of active labor. During this time of laboring, I felt a quiet calm and peacefulness come over me. I felt powerful and in tune with my body and was visualizing the opening of my cervix. I imagined the baby moving into the right position for my body. I could literally feel my body opening and getting ready for the baby. I was starting to make some low pitched moaning noises and spent most of the time hanging on Eric’s shoulders. It felt good to be close to him. I think I made the most progress in my laboring during the time that I was outside.
It was pretty cold outside and I when I got back inside, I headed for the labor tub. It was really nice to go from the cold outside to the warmth of the tub. I spent a couple hours here laboring quietly. At this point, I had been laboring for about 13 hours. This is when things started to get difficult for me.
About the time when I got out of the tub, my contractions really slowed down. I was feeling exhausted and was starting to wonder if the baby would ever come. After the progress I had imagined I was making outside, I was frustrated by this new feeling of exhaustion and started feeling like I was going to collapse both inwardly and outwardly. The contractions, although far apart, were really intense and became very painful. I could really feel the pain radiating down my legs and in my bottom. It was at this point that I realized I had underestimated the intensity of childbirth. I was really starting to wonder if I would be able to make it. Michelle asked if I wanted to be checked again. The last time she checked me was early in the labor (3 cm dilated). I was nervous about being checked because I didn’t want to find that I hadn’t, in fact, progressed as far as I had imagined. We found that I was at about 8 cm which made me very happy. At this point, it was early morning (maybe 4 or 5 am) and I had been laboring for about 16 hours.
The contractions continued to slow down (about 7-10 minutes apart at this point) and everyone knew we needed to find a way to speed things up. Michelle suggested breaking my water. She explained that it would ramp things up and that the purpose of breaking my water was to speed up my contractions. She told me things would probably start to get more intense and the contractions would be closer together. When I heard the words “more intense” I got really nervous. Alissa and Michelle explained to me that I needed for things to get more intense in order for the baby to come. Although I was afraid of increasing the intensity, I agreed that breaking my water was a good idea
Following breaking my water, the contractions continued to get more intense but still didn’t speed up. The pain was starting to get unbearable and I couldn’t seem to make it go away no matter what I did. At this point, we knew that I really needed some rest so that I could regain my energy. Michelle and Alissa suggested that I try to lie down between contractions and when the contractions came, to get on my hands and knees on the bed. I was really frustrated by this idea because I knew it meant that I wasn’t progressing very fast. I also thought that if I rested, it would just make everything take longer. I also knew, however, that I really did need the rest. I remember lying down and immediately falling asleep only to be awoken by the peak of my contraction. It was so intense that I couldn’t even get up on my hands and knees. I tried doing this a few more times but soon realized that it wasn’t going to work for me and was just making me anxious about the pain. The sun was starting to come up at this point and I was starting to get really concerned about my progress (or lack there of) and unsure of whether I could make it. For some reason, I expected my labor to be shorter and much easier than this. I was frustrated, exhausted, and at my wits end.
Michelle suggested that she give me an IV to help with my energy level. For some reason, the thought of an IV really scared me…people usually have a really hard time finding my veins…so I refused it. She then offered a molasses enema which made me laugh. At first, I thought it was a joke but nope – she was serious. About a ½ hour later, I found myself on the bed hoping that the molasses/water mixture would work its magic. Sure enough, it worked! After the enema, I was able to handle the contractions much better and was also able to eat a small amount of popsicle and to take in some more water.
So, I continued laboring through what I later decided was the transition, until I again became overwhelmed with exhaustion. I started to get panicky again and really wanted someone to tell me why I hadn’t yet given birth to this baby. I was nervous that this was going to go on forever and that I wasn’t going to be able to make it through. Michelle decided to check me again and found that my cervix was completely dilated but the baby was stuck on a lip. This is what was causing so much pain for me – the baby’s head was pinching the lip of my cervix against my pubic bone. This was causing pain to radiate down my legs. I could barely stand it. I was no longer quiet and controlled during the contractions. I was making low pitched moaning sounds which made things a bit easier to deal with – as though I could focus on something other than the pain. At this point, I was thinking to myself – how long would it take me to get to the hospital and be given an epidural? I realized that it would take too long and the baby would most likely be here before I would see any relief from the drugs. I knew that I didn’t want to go anywhere and I also knew, in my heart, that I could get through this. However, it wasn’t long before I was crying and telling the birth team that I wanted to go to the hospital. Michelle looked to Eric for direction – and he shook his head indicating “she doesn’t really mean it” with his facial expression (although, I didn’t know this until later). Eric knew that I didn’t really want to go and said a few encouraging words…reminding me that I really wanted to stay at home. I have had experiences in the mountains where I have come close to the breaking point like this so he was familiar with how I act in an intense situation where both my mind and body are being pushed to their limit. So, knowing that we had to do something, we decided we would get the IV going.
Soon after the IV was in, I was starting to feel more energetic and positive. The contractions were even starting to become a bit more tolerable, although still pretty painful. My bladder became so full that it was causing the contractions to become more intense. Sometime after the first bag, I was given a catheter to empty my bladder. What a relief! Sometime soon afterwards, I felt the first urge to push. Wow, what an incredible feeling!
I started pushing and it felt wonderful. It was nice to finally be in control of something. The noises I was making were very surprising to me. I couldn’t believe it. I was growling and groaning like an animal – very loudly too! It felt great to be making these sounds and there was no way I could control the noises coming out of my mouth. During the entire 3 hours of pushing, I was in really good spirits. In between contractions, I was even able to crack jokes and we would all enjoy a good laugh. It was such a relief to be doing something new and to be closer to meeting our baby. I did a lot of my pushing in the bathroom on the toilet, on hands and knees using the birth ball, and also straddling Eric while he sat in a chair. I felt very powerful in these positions and could really feel the baby moving down with each contraction. When it started to get closer to delivery time, I got nervous that I would just shoot her out and there wouldn’t be anyone there to catch her. I did not want the baby being delivered in the toilet or onto the floor, even though Michelle kept telling me she wouldn’t let that happen.
Once I got on the bed, I felt as though I had much more control of how fast I was going to deliver the baby. This felt good to me so I remained there, on my back, until she was born. In retrospect, this was really surprising to me since I really didn’t expect to deliver the baby while lying on my back. My contractions were still really far apart during this stage of labor – averaging 7-10 minutes. Finally, when she was really crowning, I reached down and felt her for the first time. I will never forget that feeling. I started crying and got really excited – I knew my baby was about to be born. It was probably two more contractions before she was born. On the last series of pushes, I remember feeling so powerful and hearing everyone in the background getting ready for her arrival. As I pushed her out, I looked down and watched Eric catch her. I immediately announced she was a girl and exclaimed that she had hair (much to my surprise). She came out with her little hand right next to her head – which was probably why the laboring took as long as it did. They immediately put her on my chest and I fell in love. I was so happy she was here and so relieved that it was over.
She was born at 4:16 pm on Sunday, October 23rd after 28 hours of labor – 5 hours of being in transition and 3 hours of pushing. Phew!
At one point during pushing, Michelle made a comment that we were doing this “Jill style” – that this labor was the like the tortoise, certainly not the hare. This was something I have thought a lot about since because it made me realize that every birth is different and each woman will birth their baby in the way that makes sense for themselves, that particular baby, and their body. We need to be confident in our bodies’ ability to birth our babies. It’s important to know that there isn’t one right way to birth a baby. I think that it would have been difficult for me to avoid interventions if I had not been birthing at home. I am so thankful for the support of my midwives, my doula, and most of all, my husband. I could never have done this without them. They gave me the support I needed to be successful by believing in my ability to birth my baby safely at home. I knew that they were taking good care of both me and the baby and that if they sensed a need to go to the hospital, they wouldn’t hesitate for a second. They allowed me to make decisions as my labor progressed and always provided choices. They were there for me when I needed them but also gave me space when I needed it. I couldn’t have asked for a better set of hands to help bring this baby into the world.
I loved being at home while laboring. I was able to move around from room to room in a space where I was comfortable. I was able to spend time outside in my backyard. I was able to birth my baby in the safety of my home. I knew it was the right place for me to be although, at times, I did feel afraid and worried. I allowed those feelings to come and was thankful for the support of the midwife, doula, and Eric.
Birthing Rowan was a very emotional experience for me. It was challenging, rewarding, empowering, and at times, frightening. I am proud of my body and I now know the power it holds. When I look in the mirror now, I see a different person than I knew before. I am more confident, more beautiful, and more powerful than ever before.