I haven’t intentionally been putting this off, I just have a two month old baby, so I have been distracted…in a good way. It dawned on me that I’m starting to forget small details and bits of my labor are becoming more of a blur so I need to get the memories down.
Today I got to take a bath, a stress-relieving, relaxing, bath. This was the first time since Avi was born that I had the luxury to break away to do so. Throughout my pregnancy, I took baths four to fives times a week. I loved how he would always promptly react in my belly with kicks and turns when I would soak in the tub and I told myself he was also preparing for the water birth that I was hoping would come to fruition. Today I really missed pregnancy for the first time.
During pregnancy, I had been experiencing Braxton Hicks since about 20 weeks, so I didn’t really have to worry about knowing the difference between real contractions and “practice” ones when the time would come. I did all the things recommended to help my contractions be more effective leading up to labor and birth. I drank raspberry leaf tea like my life depended on it, especially in third trimester. I used gentle birth as offered as an option by my midwife. I bounced on a yoga ball many evenings of third trimester to make sure baby was in position, which he had been head-down for basically the entire third trimester but I was paranoid he would flip. Hashtag first-time-mom-paranoia.
Our house was prepped weeks ahead. We had the birth pool inflated and waiting to be filled. Our birth supplies were all organized and ready for the midwife. I had my birth plan typed out for the birth team and a backup bag for the hospital if we needed to transfer. My doula and I made padsicles to add to my postpartum kit that was also well stocked and prepped. I listened to birth story podcasts daily, my favorites being The Birth Hour and Birthful to gain insight from other moms and how they labored and being prepared for different circumstances. Anyways, we were “ready”.
What I now realize is that every woman’s body is different, every baby is different, the circumstances and environments will be different, so you can never fully prepare.
Avi was due on Wednesday, December 27th (2017). On the early morning (around 2am) of Tuesday the 26th I started having bad period-like cramps in my lower back, where I usually experience my cramps. I decided to go into the nursery to sleep where we have an extra bed setup so that I wouldn’t wake Daniel. My intuition was this was early labor but the cramps were not close enough together or painful enough to be calling the midwife, so I just tried to rest. These continued on until about 10am where I then just had really strong Braxton Hicks follow for the rest of the day and I tried to keep busy, running errands and continuing to “nest” around the house. The following morning, Avi’s due date, I had the exact same thing happen at the exact same time as the previous day. So I again went into the nursery to sleep. I remember vaguely hearing Daniel leave for work around 5:30am and shortly after he left, the period-like cramps started becoming slightly more intense and a bit closer together, enough to start timing them and they were about 7-10 minutes apart. At this time I texted Daniel to let him know what was going on just so he could give his boss a heads-up if he needed to leave work early. I also texted my midwife and doula to give them the heads-up as well and that I’d let them know when things started to progress further. I really wanted to labor as much as possible without calling the crowd over before it was too early. (I could laugh at this now looking back, read on.)
I think it was around 11am when a couple of my close friends from church, Kayla and Joy, came to hang out with me while I worked through those early contractions that I was sometimes able to talk through, sometimes not. I bounced on a yoga ball, walked circles around my kitchen island trying to keep moving and continued to track my contractions which would hold a regular pace for a few in a row and then have a little break before the next few. Daniel came home from work shortly after that and went to get some snacks from Costco for the birth team to have on hand since things were picking up. Having Kayla and Joy around was a nice distraction and the only fun part of labor I remember. Looking back at the texts I sent to my midwife, I see that it was around 4:30pm when she had checked in with me again and I told her that the contractions were pretty painful and I had taken a shower to help relax through the pain. It was around 12:30am on Thursday the 28th that I told her I totally couldn’t talk through the contractions anymore and was moaning through them. The contractions were 5 minutes apart and about 1 minute long and my doula, Courtney then came to help me work through them at the advice of my midwife until they were closer to 4 minutes apart when she would also come. At 1:30am I started having some 4 minutes apart, and at 5am they were as close as 2 minutes apart, sometimes 4 minutes apart and almost all lasting over 1 minute and so my midwife was on her way! Daniel started filling the birth pool.
When my midwife arrived, she asked me if I wanted to be checked…meaning seeing how far I had dilated at that point. At first I didn’t want to because I know dilation is not always a true indication of progression, but I decided to go ahead to have something to compare to as a marker. When she checked me, I had only dilated to 2cm but 90% effaced. (Often women can even be dilated at 3cm for weeks before they go into labor). So I was incredibly discouraged that I had been working through contractions for about 24 hours and had barely dilated at all. I did utilize the birth pool to work through the contractions at that time since Daniel had filled it up even though baby was not on his way. The midwife and her assistant left at that time, letting me know they would come back when things got more intense.
So much of the hours to follow is where things get blurry for me and I am referring back to my texts to my midwife to recall what happened. She checked in with me in the afternoon around 2pm and I told her that my contractions had been stacking one on top of the other without a break in between for 30 minutes and I had a brief emotional meltdown because I didn’t know how to cope with the pain and I had also thrown up the only food I tried to get down, but then got into the birth pool again and things calmed back to about 5 minutes apart which was a bit more manageable. At around 4pm after my midwife suggested I try to sleep, I told her that laying down was the worst position for contractions so I wasn’t able to sleep at all and that I was laboring on the toilet. She suggested that the backup midwife maybe come to check me to see if I had progressed and I agreed that was a good idea because my contractions were 2-3 minutes apart and lasting for 2 minutes long consistently! I was sure I had dilated more by then and was anxious to be checked.
I do have a very clear memory of the backup midwife coming. When she arrived, I was laboring on a chair in my dining room with my doula pressing hard on my back and she came and sat on the floor next to me as I got through the contraction I was experiencing when she walked in. After it was over, she immediately pointed out that I was tensing up too much in my shoulders and neck and not breathing well through them because I was basically scream-moaning. She sat with me through the next few to help encourage me to relax and helping me identify what I was doing that was inhibiting my cervix to open. Then checked me, and I was still only dilated to a 2, possibly 3. Ugh…I remember the level of defeat I felt in that moment. We then had a group call on speaker with my main midwife to discuss options at that point since I had been laboring so long. I could go to the hospital and get an epidural for relief, but I was still determined that I had come this far, I wanted to push through and try to have my homebirth without major interventions. My midwife also said I could take castor oil in hopes of naturally inducing me, however there was a possibility that it would only make my contractions worse without dilating me. That was a definite no, because my contractions were already so close together and intense enough. Lastly, she said I could take benedryl with the intent of slowing down my contractions enough that I could rest in between and focus on laboring better. So we decided to do that and between the backup midwife’s laboring suggestions and the benedryl, I believe that was my saving grace. I think the backup midwife left around 6:30pm or so and I started the benedryl which thankfully slowed down my contractions to 10 minutes apart. I hunkered down in the nursery and gave my doula and Daniel permission to sleep so I could just focus by myself on laboring through the long night ahead of me.
I don’t remember much of the night, but morning came and my midwife came around 8:30am (Friday the 29th). Daniel was really worried about me at that point and said that if I still hadn’t progressed that we needed to go to the hospital. He was concerned about my energy levels and fluids and such since I hadn’t really kept any food down for 36+ hours. So around 9:30am, she checked me and I had finally progressed. She said I was “conservatively at 6, but probably at 7”. Wooh, that was a relief. I didn’t want to go to the hospital. So Daniel and the ladies filled the birth pool again with fresh water because the real deal was just around the corner. I remember eating some apple sauce and drinking gatorade and being able to keep that down before getting in the pool, trying to get something in my system so that I would have energy for pushing. It seemed that shortly after I got in the pool, my contractions came with the urge to push.
I was screaming through those contractions, I couldn’t even try to focus on breathing or anything, though my doula was great and kept working through those contractions with me. I wanted Daniel to get in the pool too so he eventually did (I don’t remember at what time or point that was exactly). He sat behind me most of the time so I could lean back on him and push on his legs with my hands. I truly thought that I would push my baby out squatting or in a more “natural” position like I had seen from so many homebirth videos and photos, but leaning back felt most comfortable to me. My midwife encouraged me to grunt through pushing rather than screaming (I think the neighbors could hear me) and that it would be more effective. I think it was about 45 minutes of hard pushing before Avi was born at 1:25pm. He was placed on my chest as I leaned against Daniel and we both got to admire him in the tub for about 30 minutes.
We then got to transition to the bed and shortly after I took a shower which was wonderful after my long labor.
My labor was long, intense, hard, and emotional, but I would do it all over again (at home too!).
I’d like to end with saying that I wouldn’t have been able to stick it out at home if it weren’t for my awesome doula and my husband’s support throughout all the hours that I had to labor. The two of them took turns pushing on my back during contractions and making sure I had everything I needed to cope. My doula was relentless in encouraging me that I was strong, that I could do it, and giving me scripture when I was at the end of my ropes. My midwife, her assistant, and the backup midwife were all wonderful as well and I would recommend them in a heartbeat. I’ll list their info below if you’re looking for midwifery care in my area 🙂
All photos used here were taken by my midwife.
Doula: Courtney Cleveland (reach out to me for her contact info)