Yesterday, we shared Janna’s husband’s story of the birth of their son, Ethan. Today, you can read Janna’s own experience of it – and what it was like to have her husband’s support.
“My water started to break around 9am. It trickled out now and then. The baby’s head was low so he blocked a lot of it from escaping. I was having some random contractions, but it was difficult to time them. Some were accompanied by light cramping, some were not. A little birdie must have whispered in her ear, because our midwife Bernadette called to check on me. She told me to stretch and squat and call her if I noticed more water or that contractions were more regular. Greg and I went for a walk to see if it would dislodge more water. It did.
I didn’t feel like I was in labor. Contractions were still impossible to time. They ranged five to 20 minutes apart and I couldn’t pinpoint when they began or ended. At 1pm, Bernadette had us come into the office so she could check me out. It was a Saturday, so the office was quiet and we had it all to ourselves. I loved that part. I was already four centimeters dilated and 60% effaced! All of the 5W herbs I had been taking for the last few months helped the thinning and dilation process. I had also been religiously eating kiwi and pineapples because they have an enzyme that helps the process, and sex helped, too.
Bernadette could see that I was having sizeable, regular contractions, but I still didn’t notice all of them. She made me a large glass of her special tea to help get the labor moving. It was amazing. It contained alfalfa, red raspberry leaves, black cohosh… I think? …and a few other herbs. The stuff was magic. Half an hour after I drank it, the contractions started up and went strong every two minutes. And they were natural contractions. Manageable. Not like the chemically-induced contractions that so many people have told me about.
We stood around chatting while I swayed my hips back and forth, trying to allow his head to drop further. Then, we headed home to have lunch and rest before having the baby. On hindsight, we should have just stayed and had take-out.
I had contractions every two to five minutes in the car. When we got home, Greg made lunch while I soaked in a warm bath. The only thing we had in our fridge was meatloaf and mashed potatoes, but it did sound good to me. I didn’t eat very much, but a few bites between contractions were so delicious and felt nourishing. I think contractions make me appreciate every sensation that isn’t a contraction. Greg sat on the floor with me while I ate mashed potatoes in the bath-tub.
The contractions were getting strong, so we headed back to the facility after lunch. I became nauseated in the car and told Greg. He rolled down the window, and I threw up all over the outside of the car… and a little inside.
Next time we will just pull over. Aiming out a car window at 50mph just doesn’t work.
Bernadette had the room and tub ready when we arrived. After the magic tea I was over five centimeters dilated and 80-90% effaced within two hours. Greg set up some candles and turned off the lights. Suddenly, all of the food and music and details we worried over before the birth didn’t seem to matter. The candles were pleasant; the quiet was nice. The water felt incredibly good. The tub was large enough for me to stretch out and float in all different positions and it really really really helped.
I had painful back labor. Greg helped so much by pressing hard on my lower spine during contractions, applying counter-pressure. It was a necessity. He did a fair share of laboring with me in that respect. I could feel his arms quiver as the muscles reached fatigue, but the pressure made the contractions bearable, so he soldiered on with me.
During contractions, I would lean over on all fours in the water and rest my forehead on the side of the tub. That was the best position. It also helped to hum through the contractions… I was struggling to meditate and relax through them, to allow my body to open up and do its job, rather than tense up from pain and fear. Cold washcloths on my head and neck felt really wonderful. Between contractions I would sit up, sometimes talk, even laugh. Every now and then, the midwife’s assistant would have me stand up between contractions so she could listen to the baby’s heart, then I’d sink back into the water for the next contraction. At one point, I became incredibly sleepy. I longed to cuddle up on the bed with soft pillows all around me and drift to sleep.
I went back and forth from the bed to the water a couple of times. I had no concept of time. I don’t remember looking at the clock or asking about it, and I think that was best. At one point, the baby’s head was stuck behind an anterior cervical lip, so Bernadette had me lie on the bed and hold my legs back as far as I could and push while she manipulated the skin. The contractions on the bed, on my back or on my side, were the worst pain I could imagine. It was really difficult to stay positive. They made me feel extremely weak.
Greg’s arms were right there. I can’t imagine doing it without him. It was hard to relax and shift my hips through the contractions, but I did, and the baby’s head passed the lip within two or three. All was well with a little stretching and some midwife elbow grease.
I was nine centimeters dilated, so we got out of bed and onto the birthing stool to push. We planned on having Greg catch the baby, but with all the back pain and fatigue, I needed Greg to sit behind me and put pressure on my spine and hold me up between contractions. Feeling him against me with his arms around me was a great comfort and it helped to ease my fears and give me strength. I’m so incredibly grateful for him. It was our journey.
The last hour was interesting, and intense. It was full of emotions that my subconscious filtered through for weeks after. Sometimes I would lose focus and it felt like I would have to push forever. Each push brought his head a little closer, and at the end of each push, his head would retreat back in. It was so deflating at the end of a really hard push to have made so little progress. Bernadette would ask for three good pushes, but sometimes I only had steam for two, and I would feel so disappointed that I “ran out of push”. But that’s all part of the process. As Bernadette said, “three steps forward, two steps back”.
Greg was able to see some of this through a mirror on the floor. It took all my concentration just to keep focused and positive on the task, so I didn’t look. I would push with contractions and rest in between until the very very end, when his head was really close. Then I could feel a burning sensation during pushes when his head started to pass through the birth canal. Since he was so low, the pain of him pressing against everything started to blend together with contractions. It was difficult to tell the different pains apart.
I reached down and could feel his head and his hair. I got excited about getting him out and started pushing as hard as I could regardless of contractions. That part was kind of fun.. painful, sure, but…
And, just like that – his head was out. I took a deep breath and gave another push with all my might and his shoulders came through and then whoosh… There was a baby below me… and then he was in my arms. I thought I would cry on the spot, but I didn’t. I was in complete shock. Euphoric. I couldn’t believe that the pushing was over and that the baby was in my arms. I was numb all over and in a trance.
Then Bernadette asked me to push again to pass the placenta. I held my new baby close to my body and pushed with what I had left. It wasn’t hard… it felt like a relief and had a cleansing sensation to it.
I had a small tear, and a few stitches. The tear was far less worrisome than I expected one would be. I didn’t even notice it during labor. I would much prefer a tear to an episiotomy. I can’t imagine having to push a baby past a cut if I knew it was there…And natural tears apparently heal better, I hear. It isn’t surprising that I tore, since I became impatient and pushed him out as hard and fast as I could. Next time, I will try to slow down. I also lost a lot of blood because of the way my placenta detached and came out backwards, and I had trouble keeping water down and needed some IV and smelling salts. Through it all, Bernadette took care of me. She was wonderful.
I can’t believe I only had five hours of labor as a first time pregnancy. I feel very fortunate. I feel grateful. I feel skilled. But at the time, I couldn’t believe it could have gone on any longer. The experience pushed me to the very edge of what my human body could handle. It was a battle, not only physically, but mentally, emotionally. I had to struggle to remind myself to relax with the contractions and not fight them, to let them do their job and go with it, to just be a vessel through which this experience was passing. I had to surrender my body and mind and to clear all thoughts, from the moments passed to the moments ahead. To step aside and allow the process to happen.
Yet I know I could have and would have gone whatever distance in whatever time frame had been demanded and it still would have been worth every minute. I am grateful that I went in with the confidence and knowledge of what I wanted to accomplish and how I wanted to accomplish it and tried not to dwell on the worries.
In the moments after Ethan was born, I realized that every woman must choose her own path and allow whatever happens to happen. Any path is worth it in the end for a healthy baby. The path I chose produced a healthy baby and a healthy mama. I am so incredibly humbled and incredibly proud of myself at the same time. This birth makes my spirit glow every time I revisit it. It feels like a roller coaster ride that surprised the hell out of me, but now I kind of want to ride it again…
I’ve had my weak moments. Happy tears, overwhelmed tears. It isn’t all easy, but it is life. And life is pretty incredible sometimes.
Over all, Greg and I rock at this pregnancy and baby stuff.”