On April 15th, four days before my due date, I awoke at 3am to empty my bladder. When I got back into bed, I had what would be the first of many “pre labor” or “early labor” contractions. They started in my lower back and wrapped around to the front, under my belly button. Unlike the typical Braxton Hicks contractions that are painless and tighten only the top of the uterus, these were different. But I knew enough to know that it most likely was a sort of “warm up”...and that it could go on like this for days. They came regularly, about every 10 minutes. I woke Thomas up to rub my back when they came, which ended up being good practice for him for when the contractions started for real, much later in the day.
I had been reading “Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way” during the last few months of this pregnancy and really liked how the author broke up labor into three phases. The fist phase is “Excitement.” It’s the whole, “I’m going to have my baby today! This is going to be great.” Usually contractions are regular and somewhat strong...but the author suggests not to call your midwife just yet...because most likely you’ll be doing this all day!” Phase two is “Seriousness.” This is where the uterus gets down to business and so does the laboring woman....also known as active labor. She can no longer have normal conversations or go about cleaning the house or flitter about. She must concentrate on working with her body. Phase three is “Self Doubt.” This is referred to as “transition.” It’s the point in active labor where the cervix is dilated about 7cm and only has three more to open. This is by far the most difficult phase where almost every woman hits a wall, whether she vocalizes it or not, she is thinking “I don’t think I can do this anymore.” Thankfully when this phase begins, it is the shortest of them all and the laboring woman can be assured that she is almost done.
I stayed awake from 3am until 9am, dozing in and out of sleep, thinking everything a woman about to have a baby thinks...”Is my house clean? Do I have clean diapers? Clean clothes? Did I check everything off of my to-do list? Am I ready? Am I strong enough? Can I do this?” At 9am, I decided that the contractions were too mellow to time and they were beginning to space out to 15 or 20 minutes in between. I didn’t want to get too excited so I got out of bed and went about my day.
Riley asked, as he was accustomed to asking every day, “Is it April yet? Is the baby coming?” “Yes, sweetheart, it is April. And we don’t know when the baby will come. But, the baby could come today, we’ll just have to see.” We ate oatmeal and bananas and at 10am I went to get my legs waxed. I had been growing out my leg hair for two months and really wanted that “just shaved feeling” without having to deal with the prickly outgrowth the next day. Besides, at nearly 40 weeks pregnant, bending over to shave is a near impossibility.
I came home around noon and got a phone call from my friend Marybeth. She was calling to catch up and I’m so glad she did. We talked about a lot of different things, including that this day could be “the day” and her excitement and confidence in me made me feel great. After about an hour, I thought I felt the contractions coming back, but still 12-15 minutes apart. I got off the phone to eat a light lunch and to go for a short walk. I went about the house, puttering around, putting dishes away, playing with Riley, and secretly hoping that things would get started and I’d see the baby I’d been waiting for for so long. Around 2:30 or 3pm, I called Deanna, my friend and midwife who caught Riley and was essential to me surviving that “fast and furious” rollercoaster-of-a-birth I had with him. By this time of day, I needed to pause as we spoke on the phone every 8-10 minutes, to breath through contractions. She encouraged me greatly....saying even though she wasn’t here in person, she was glad to be “in labor” with me over the phone. According to the three phases, I pegged myself in the excitement phase. I was having regular contractions, but they were mild...and I was holding a completely normal and coherent conversation...laughing and joking...feeling no need to be serious just yet. I concluded that this was going to be a long and slow labor...something I actually looked forward to after Riley’s fast 4 1/2 hours of real intensity and what seemed like no breaks. I told Deanna...”I could be doing this well after midnight or for days. I’m managing just fine.” At 4:20pm, I asked her to hold the phone and I had a long and strong contraction, which was different than the others. I put the phone down, ran to the bathroom and threw up everything in my stomach. “Whew-- that was strong” is what I was thinking and thought I’d just get in the shower to relax. I got off the phone with Deanna. And hour later I called her back to finish my abrupt hanging up and at this time, around 5:30pm, I was having strong, but manageable contractions every 5 minutes. While on the phone for a short while, my contractions went from every 5 minutes to every 2 minutes and I hung up again. I threw up a second time and got in the shower. Even though the contractions were strong, they were nothing like I had remembered from Riley’s birth, so I still thought I was in the excitement phase. I could walk and talk and still have a normal conversation, so I didn’t feel the need to call the midwife just yet. (No one wants to be that client who gets ahead of herself and the midwives come over and say, “You’re 2cm!”) Before Deanna got off the phone though, she gently said, “I would think about calling your midwives soon, Trae.” Being a midwife herself, she knows the signs of the laboring woman...often better than the laboring woman herself!
Thomas called our main midwife and asked her to start heading over, at her leisure. I was in the shower about 5 minutes before I yelled to Thomas “I think this baby is coming right now...CALL CLAUDINE AND GET HER HERE NOW!” He called her again on her cell but couldn’t reach her, she had already left home. He asked me to get out of the shower so he could start filling the birth tub with the hot water I had been consuming. I got out and walked into the living room/kitchen area, where the tub was set up and moaned through contractions. My favorite childbirth book, “Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth”, illustrates the importance of an open mouth in labor, with low, gutteral sounds. This helps open the cervix. It’s amazing how what the mouth is doing can effect what the cervix is doing. The contractions were every minute now, lasting a minute and a half each...basically, they were right on top of each other with no breaks. I knew that meant I was close. But, it was only 6:20pm and I had just started real contractions two hours ago. And they were all manageable. Could I really be that close?
At 6:25pm, I felt the baby wanting to drop...as if it were coming NOW. I looked out the window, starting to pray Claudine would come NOW. I didn’t see her. The birth tub was almost full and I told Thomas he would probably need to help catch the baby. I was holding my yoni...as if it keep that baby inside as long as possible. I heard Naya bark outside and saw Claudine run up to our door. She quickly put her bags down, put on gloves and asked to check my progress. “You’re 8cm and the baby is at 0 station.” I got in the tub and as soon as I sat down, I told her “I’m feeling pushy. I want to push.” She asked me not to, she checked me again (4 minutes later) and said, “You are complete and the head is already passed the cervix. It’s right there. Go ahead and give some slow pushes.” I saw Tawnya, the assistant, come in and open up her bags. She knelt down by my face at the tub and smiled at me. It made me want to cry. Her look was one of such great comfort and assurance. She listened to the heart beat under water with her waterproof doppler. I had a contraction, I heard the heart beat go from really fast to really slow. I knew that the baby was being squeezed hard. I looked at my belly...my uterus was as hard as stone, white, with veins everywhere...standing up on itself. I couldn’t not push. Thomas was reminding me to go slow, so as to avoid damage to my perineum. I heard Deanna in my head telling me to breathe...pant-like...and let my body deliver the baby, not my strength in pushing. It was all I could do to breath...my body was in a sort of tetany...every muscle in my body flexing. I reached down between my legs and felt the head. It was slowing coming out. I felt a great relief and all of a sudden I had a full head in my hand. It was squishy, wrinkly, and hairy. The next contraction came and Claudine asked me to give a little push. The shoulders and chest came out...followed by an arm. I heard Thomas, starting to cry, talking to Riley about the baby. “It’s beautiful” he said, “You’re doing awesome.” The rest of the body slithered out moments later. I opened my eyes, sat up and saw the baby float to the top of the water. I scooped him in my arms and he looked at me, let out a wet cry, and then went to sleep. I opened the legs, “IT’S A BOY!!!” It was such a surprise. I knew, that I knew, that I knew I had been carrying a girl. Strangers to family alike all told me they knew it was a girl too. He was born at 6:53pm, two and a half hours from when labor began to get my attention.
Looking back, I was in the excitement phase for many hours, the serious phase for a few minutes, and the self-doubt phase for the last twenty minutes of the labor. Very untextbook like!
Baby pinked up immediately and had no need to be suctioned or stimulated. He was perfect...born in water...in peace...and love. We sat in the tub another 30 minutes, enjoying one another. I needed to deliver the placenta so I got out of the tub and laid on my bed. It came out with a strong push. Thankfully there are no bones in placentas! The midwife took it into the bathroom to inspect it. She was in love with it...saying it was beautiful and healthy, perfectly in tact. I nursed my boy and we all enjoyed him.
8 pounds and 6 ounces, 21 inches long. A very healthy boy, born at home, in water, gently and without any interventions. Birth can be scary if we make it out to be. Or it can be wonderfully normal and pure... I’m not saying we don’t need doctors. Sometimes we do and when we do, we sure are glad for their training and expertise. However, most births, if allowed to proceed as the body leads, have far better outcomes. Home birth might not be for everyone. But I feel good that one day I will be able to tell my boys about how they were born into this world, at home, into my and midwives’ hands. I hope it will help them fight the fear of birth in our culture. For their wives. For their own children.