Tuesday January fourth was a frustratingly ordinary day. I was thirty-nine weeks and 5 days into my pregnancy, and decidedly tired. I had an almost40 week midwife appointment in San Francisco. My husband and I had recently moved three hours north to Chico, CA, but we had grown quite attached to our midwife so we made a now weekly commute to see her.
The appointment was uneventful and we left with the intention of scheduling a 41 week non-stress test. My pubic bone ached, hips hurt, painful braxton hicks contractions had been my constant companion for weeks. Those practice contractions as I came to think of them had teased me for weeks making me feel constantly on the verge of something fantastic.
That night my husband and I decided to stop into a restaurant and recreate the dinner we had the night we found out we were expecting. And oh what a dinner! We had bread with honey-butter, ribs with steak fries, shrimp, steak, Cesar salad, and a sweet potato heaped with caramel and toasted marshmallows. I washed this down with a few glasses of sweet tea and felt decidedly right about the world. We had a long drive home and spent the time talking about what our lives were like before we met one another. It was a very romantic and intimate night.
I slept poorly that night. I had a lot of painful braxton hicks contractions, and I couldn't get comfortable. I tossed, turned, and visited the bathroom often. After midnight I noticed some bloody show, but made a point of not getting excited. I knew that bloody show could happen some weeks before labor, and my practice contractions had caused a few false alarms.
Around ten a.m. I started trying to push on my own back during some particularly painful practice contractions. Joe is a much earlier riser and he came back in to lay down a press on my back. I managed to nap like this for awhile.
Around eleven a.m. I gave up on sleep and got in the shower. I spent at least an hour in the shower letting the hot water rush onto my back and belly. The shower was quite soothing. The practice contractions hung on persistently and I had to start telling myself like a mantra "I'm not in labor, I'm not in labor." I refused to be disappointed by another false alarm. Toward the end of my shower I heard the sounds of Chopin and Joe met me with breakfast in bed. Between contractions he fed me bits of bagel with cream cheese, Clementine, and homemade cookies. With breakfast he made me a fresh fruit smoothie and a pot of chamomile Assam tea. Then Joe gave me a wonderful massage that seemed to last for hours. I was still having painful contractions, but I felt refreshed.
Joe put a pizza in the oven and I phoned our midwife Judi to ask how bloody a bloody show should look. I didn't mention the contractions, but I imagine she knew something was afoot. Joe and I laid in bed for a while staring in one another's eyes like love sick teenagers and timing contractions. It really was beautiful. My contractions seemed to vary between five and seven minutes apart.
Joe took the pizza out of the oven and phoned Judi to mention the contractions. She said she thought I was in early labor and that we should make the drive to San Francisco whenever we felt the time was right. We watched an episode of Dexter and ate pepperoni pizza with ranch. It was fantastic, and my contractions were building in intensity. I had been shifting and making long sighs to cope with contractions, but now I needed to stand or push myself onto my hands and knees and let out low "woooooo" sounds to cope. We tried to watch another episode of Dexter, but during the intro I started to feel like a wild animal. I paced the house trying to imagine where I could get comfortable, when I realized it was time to go. There was no more denial. I was definitely having a baby.
We got into the car and Joe phoned our Judi and our doula Shannon to let them know we were on our way. Many friends and relatives had been quick to critique our "birth plan." "Drive three hours to San Francisco while you're in labor? That's insane. What if you have the baby?" We didn't have the baby in the car. Laboring in the car was hard. It would have been hard anywhere. My contractions were between three and four minutes apart and I was having back labor. During contractions I would feel a tightening in my abdomen and back that overwhelmed my senses. At this point I no longer had a body. Just a very uncomfortable middle. Between contractions my belly would relax, but my back would ache. I couldn't talk much, but I encouraged Joe as best I was able that we had plenty of time and to obey the speed limits. I imagine this must have been a really scary drive for him, and he did great. He encouraged me to "breathe, and let it out." After we had been in the car for about an hour I got an urge to empty my bladder and we stopped at Mcdonalds. I timed my pee break so I would have a contraction in the privacy of the stall. Joe ate a chicken nugget happy meal in under 4 minutes. It was an amusing sight. We intended to get a hotel in Emeryville across the San Francisco Bridge and labor for longer, but our midwife encouraged us to come in and get a cervical check first.
At this point we were navigating West Oakland and I was letting out guttural moans, and even a few screams during contractions. At this point a man who I wouldn't want to run into in an alley was crossing a street and I let out a fantastic scream. I gave him a scare, and while I felt bad I just had to laugh. The situation really brought me into the moment. Crossing the bay bridge was also funny. I was hoping we would move through the toll between and not during a contraction so I wouldn't scare the toll operator. The labor Gods had mercy on the toll man and we moved through between contractions.
Arriving at Sage Femme's Birth Center in San Francisco was a fantastic relief. Judi and her midwife assistant Deanna welcomed us. In the main room a child birth preparation class was happening. I dragged my teddy bear Rugby into my cervical exam. It was weird and juvenile, but it made me feel a lot better. Judi said that I was dilated to two centimeters and ninety percent effaced. She offered me sterile water injections on my back which offered some relief from the back labor I was feeling. She encouraged us to get a hotel within the city and wait for active labor. I heard Judi talking to Joe about his feelings and how long labor might last. Deanna reminded me that I was two centimeters was and ninety percent effacement would make the rest of dilation happen with ease.
Joe and I stayed at a nice hotel not far from the San Francisco mission district. The rooms were beautifully designed and had a theme of sorts. Ours was named after a writer of some sort and a plaque on the door read "Big Daddy." This struck me as very appropriate. Everything was blue, brown and had a very sexy James Bond sort of look to it. Joe set me up in the bath and gave me a coconut juice. He got to unpacking the seemingly hundreds of bags my nesting instincts had encouraged me to pack for this day. We labored together for close to an hour and then our doula Shannon arrived. Immediately she set work encouraging me like Joe had. The three of us labored the entire night. They fed me, helped me to the bathroom, and held me. They would give me massages and remind me through hard contractions to make deep, low, sounds. Joe would tell me how much he loved and how good I was doing and Shannon would remind me that each contraction was bringing me closer to meeting our baby. These words kept me so strong and focused. My body got into the hard work of labor and moved with very little regard for my limbs. Joe and Shannon had to work hard to protect me from bruising and strain as I threw myself into positions trying to work through contractions. I hated being in bed. The soft squishiness of the bed felt like torture on my hot achy back. I found my favorite positions to be lying on my side in the bath and turning on the shower. I also liked to sit on the toilet. Peeing offered some small relief from the pressure I was feeling, and it helped me know I was staying hydrated. I asked for Joe to give me sterile water injections twice more while we were in the hotel. They offered less relief than they had initially, but they helped my back.
In the very early a.m. hours my contractions shifted. I felt a low, strong pressure begging me push with contractions. I knew instinctively that I was not dilated enough to push yet, and I told Joe and Shannon how I was feeling. Shannon urged me to keep my breathing high in my chest when I felt the desire to push, and she phoned Judi. Joe spent the next several hours encouraging me to take a deep cleansing inward breath as a contraction began and then we would blow out together in a series of short bursts. At this point the only place I wanted to be was the hallway floor of our hotel room. Joe and Shannon surround me with pillows and used a yoga ball to support my legs as I labored on my side.
Around six a.m. Shannon spoke to our midwife Judi and they wanted us to go back to the birth center to be assessed. I really didn't want to go into the birth center until I was definitely in active labor, so I lodged myself in the bathtub for another hour and a half. Finally around 7:30 a.m. I was feeling very "pushy" and braced myself for another car ride. Shannon helped me to the elevator and Joe carried our million bags. Then he slapped our key down on the desk and said "My wife is in labor! Room 413 checking out!" And off we went.
The ride to the birth center was less than 15 minutes and entirely surreal. The sun was rising over the mission. People were bustling about, and I couldn't stop thinking, all these people are somebody's baby. I'm about to have my baby.
Judi checked my cervix when we got to the birth center and she declared me a good 4 or 5 centimeters dilated. We were in active labor. Shannon was so happy she clapped and did a little shuffle. Deanna and Shannon got to work on setting up the room we would birth in.
I must have teleported into the birth room, because I don't remember getting there. The rooms in the center have different colors and themes. We were in the blue room, the walls were a pale blue, and the bedding was done to match. I'd received acupuncture in this room, and the familiarity put me at ease. I immediately stripped off all my clothing and asked for a shower. I was allowed to shower for a little more than a half hour. The shower was wonderful and eased the pain I felt during contractions. After the bath I moved to the bed to labor on my side. At this point Joe's family started to arrive at the birth center and wait in the lobby. Joe and Shannon took turns taking breaks as both of them had been awake the entire evening. Deanna, our midwife's assistant was responsible for taking fetal heart tones and vitals on me. I really like Deanna, but every half hour she became my least favorite person. She had to move me into standing or squatting positions that seemed to intensify contractions to take vitals on me and the baby. I let Deanna know my displeasure through a series of whines, protests, and finally guttural screams and scary, animal eye contact. She was a very good sport about this.
I requested sterile water injections for my back a few more times and Judi said I was decidedly too full of holes to continue in this way. I knew she was right, but I liked the injections. They were offering relief for a shorter amount of time, but the injection itself seemed to be a useful distraction from all the other things going on. At this point Judi brought me some herbal tea that seemed to really speed up my contractions, and I started to vomit a little.
When I started to vomit my support people were very quick to encourage me to eat food. Intellectually, I knew I needed to eat food to keep my energy up, but I found this pressure to eat decidedly annoying. I would force some broth or juice down only to throw up. Still, I was peeing plenty so everyone knew I was not too dehydrated. Deanna came in to get heart tones and tell me to eat. Then she urged me to labor moving from my left side, then one my hands and knees, then of my right side. It was exhausting and quite painful to flip around between contractions, but they said it may help the baby to turn. I wondered how she drew the short straw today. She had to do everything that bothered me. I requested Judi for a cervical check and she found that some hours later I was still dilated to four or five centimeters. At this point Judi offered to break my bag of waters. I knew this is not an intervention she offers without very careful consideration. We briefly discussed the possible benefits, risks, and alternatives. My instincts said to go for it, so I locked eyes with Joe, and said "Yes."
My water breaking was delightfully warm, splooshy feeling. The warm feeling encouraged me to ask for another shower, and Judi said that would be okay. The shower was a grear disappointment. It seems I am the first laboring woman at Sage Femme Midwifery to ever use their entire 150 gallon hot water heater. My shower was luke warm. Deanna tried to boil water, but I'd already moved to my new favorite place - the toilet. I had no business on the toilet, but it wasn't the bath or the bed. Beds were entirely too uncomfortable. At this point I feel asleep between contractions on the toilet only to wake up during the next contraction. My contractions had slowed a bit, and people seemed to worry I was exhausting myself. What I knew, but didn't feel up to explaining, was my contractions were less frequent, but far more productive. I don't know how I knew, but I did. Then I had a delightful brainstorm. I hated that bed, the shower was freezing, and the floor was cold tile. Where was I going to labor? I asked Shannon to make me a space to labor on the floor, and with a mat, yoga ball, and blankets I got to work. Things started to feel very productive.
Deanna came in for another vitals assessment and I gave her a good solid growl. "No, NO, NO, Get Judi! I want Judi!" I'd really tried to be nice to the people supporting me in labor, but I needed Judi. Right then. Judi came in and I asked her to check my cervix. She was obviously nervous that I may not have progressed much, but I felt very insistent. Her assessment showed that in just hours after breaking my bag of waters I was dilated to eight centimeters. Judi looked very relieved and everyone let out a happy cheer.
Judi said it was okay if I wanted to get into the birth tub now. I got into the tub and used towels to support my back in the water. I found laying on my side with my leg propped onto the edge to be the most agreeable position. Then I started to use a variety of fantastic curse words. I'd spent so many hours trying not to push. Now with my contractions my body seemed to push without my permission. The pushing relieved all the pain I was feeling, but I knew pushing before I was fully dilated could cause my cervix to swell and really slow my labor. It was such a scary moment. Then Judi came and said something expressing that my body knew what to do. I was just amazed. She checked my cervix and found I was dilated to nine and a half, and said we could wait or she could try to push the cervical lip out of the way.
Ecstatic does not begin to describe how I felt. I'd spent so many hours fighting this feeling, and now I could just embrace it. Judi attempted to move the lip of my cervix and said I may deliver over it. I really took my cues from Judi. She seemed confident and in control. I felt strong and well supported. Judi then asked if I had read Ina May's Guide to Childbirth. I replied that I hadn't and felt very amused that we were conversing between pushes. She replied that, "Ina May says, some women have adequate pelvises and others have Mam, you could fit a pony through there pelvises."I wanted to know when sort of pelvis I had and she replied happily, "the pony sort." I felt really pleased with myself about this.
Brit another one of Judi's assistants joined us and asked if we wanted Joe's family to know I'd started pushing. I said, "Sure, why not invite them in?" I was feeling really relaxed and happy at this point. In between pushes we laughed and I joined snatches of conversation. It was really surreal.
Joe was an ideal support at this point. He would urge to me breathe nice, deep, and strong. Judi would tell me to push into her hand. It was a great focus, and Judi was able to rotate the baby. As I pushed the baby's head would slide into view and then out. I was a very vocal pusher. Joe and I let out fantastic screams together. I put my hand down and felt the baby's head and we speculated if it had any hair. Judi guided my hands and Joe's hands to support my vulva and prevent tears.
Then things shifted. Judi told me in a very serious tone to push down fully. I did and then she said, "This isn't a joke. Turn onto your hands and knees, and push, push, push." I knew something was wrong, but I didn't feel scared. I just knew I had to do exactly what Judi said. I pushed hard and sincere and felt a lot of pressure on my bottom. Then into water my baby was born. Quickly Judi was rubbing the baby and it let out a fantastic little cry. My cord was quite short, but I held the baby on my belly for a few moments. Joe looked between the baby's legs and said, "She's a girl! I have a daughter! Oh my God. We have a daughter." He started to cry in long, loud, happy sobs, and I said "Hello Wendy!" I told her how I knew birth had been hard work, and that she did a great job. At this point our family made a quiet exit so our new family could bond.
Then Joe clamped her cord and at the insistence of Judi took her to bed. I birthed our placenta into a pan on the next contraction. It was a warm and sloppy feeling. Then I was given a shot of Pitocin in the leg, because I was bleeding a bit. My uterus was messaged a bit. None of these things really hurt and I was helped from the birth tub into bed. Judi assessed me and found that while I had some "skid marks" or mild abrasions I had not torn. I didn't need any stitches.
I laid in bed holding Wendy while Joe held me, and she latched and started breastfeeding. The three of us stayed like that a while and then I urged Joe to care for himself - he was starving!
During her wait my mother in law made a split pea and barley soup with a brown rice stir fry. It was a great celebratory meal.
Then Judi, Deanna, and Brit came in and did Wendy's assessment. She was eight pounds and twelve ounces and measured nineteen inches. She was born on January sixth her estimated due date at 8:20 p.m. She has very pale green eyes, some dark hair, and huge hands. Wendy's head was approximately the same circumference as her shoulders, and during her delivery she had a true shoulder dystocia. Her shoulder became lodged under my pelvis for some minutes, and I credit our unbelievably capable midwife Judi for Wendy's safe delivery.
Our daughter is fantastically healthy, breastfeeding with ease, and dare I say gorgeous?
I feel so empowered by the birth of my daughter. People in our lives and strangers we met were very quick to say commuting from Chico to San Francisco for prenatal care and birth were crazy. Judith Tinkelenberg and Sage Femme Midwifery gave our family amazing support through our pregnancy and the birth we were afraid to even hope for. We'd be crazy not to go.
We already know we'll be returning to Sage Femme if we are lucky enough to give our daughter Wendy a sibling. We already miss having an excuse to visit Judi and everyone at Sage Femme weekly, and we know we will feel forever in their debt and lucky to know them.