*It will be helpful to know that Amelia was born via unplanned c-section 22 months before I had Hailey. Amelia’s birth was traumatic to me for many reasons including copious unnecessary medical interventions and complications with anesthesia during my surgery. Hailey’s birth was a planned VBAC, vaginal birth after c-section.
I woke up at 3:30am, nine days past my due date. I’d been dreaming about waves in the ocean and I was having fun surfing. In fact, I was literally riding waves as my labor contractions had begun! I wasn’t thinking that it was definitely labor because I’d become used to routine practice contractions but these were coming about every ten minutes and they were stronger than before. I tried to go back to sleep but the contractions were keeping me awake, not from pain necessarily but they just took my attention.
I ended up taking a shower just to have something to do and decided to ask Jim to stay home in case it was baby day. His alarm went off at 6:30am and he decided to sleep in since he wasn’t going in to the office. Amelia got up and we did normal waking up and breakfast routines. Contractions were still coming regularly but not painful so I tried to just act like it was not a big deal.
I called my midwife Tracy around 8am because I had an ultrasound and appointment scheduled that morning since I was past my due date. She said to go anyways so Jim, Amelia, and I made our way to the birth center around 9. The ultrasound looked great and on we went. Tracy said we’d likely be back that evening in active labor. We stopped at Shari’s on the way home to get some breakfast and then headed home.
Jim and Amelia napped but again, I couldn’t sleep. So, I rested and watched Jimmy Fallon, all the while willing my contractions to get stronger and closer together. I was so ready to finally have the baby and I didn’t want this early labor to drag on for days. I was beginning to get discouraged and so I prayed that active labor would begin soon and decided that we needed to get out of the house. Around 3 or 4 in the afternoon, we packed up Amelia’s overnight bag and went to a big kid’s consignment sale to kill some time.
I wondered if people could tell; there I was in my labor shirt (I’d decorated a T-shirt with verses to encourage me) and stretchy pants, belly literally hanging out and trying to look normal as contractions became 3-4 minutes apart and much stronger. Jim and I laughed as I concentrated really hard on displays of baby socks and crib mattresses every few minutes surrounded by other mothers and children. We got out of there with a little pile of kid’s stuff; thank God it all was the right size and style because I really wasn’t paying very good attention! I felt excited and consumed by the process that was unfolding. Contractions were painful but in the way that a good run is painful or a deep stretch. We dropped Amelia off at my cousin’s house to play with their little girls for the night. I wasn’t worried about her or feeling nervous about our separation even though this would be our first night away ever. Lo and behold, that’s when active labor began!
Jim and I went back to the house to regroup and enjoy our alone time. Contractions were every 2-4 minutes now but still very manageable so I had Jim pack up all our stuff in the car and make me a snack. I called Tracy but she wasn’t available and so I talked to Carman, another one of my midwives, and she suggested that I get in the bath. She said things would either pick up very quickly or slow down in the water. Initially things felt much slower in the bath and I got a nice break to eat my toast and chat with Jim. I felt that I needed to get out and keep moving so we put on some Eddie Murphy stand up and I bounced on my yoga ball. I’m so glad that we were watching comedy because although my contractions were strong, I was still laughing and excited.
Eventually, I couldn’t sit on the ball anymore and shortly thereafter I couldn’t understand the jokes because I was “vocalizing” through my contractions. I was nervous beforehand that I wouldn’t feel comfortable vocalizing because I’m not really a yelling kind of person but it came second nature and was hugely helpful in managing my pain. I didn’t understand before that it’s not really yelling, it’s more like singing. At least to me anyways! I decided to give Tracy a call at that point and she said that we could meet at the birth center in an hour if I felt ready. I wasn’t sure but I said yes. For some reason, I still wasn’t thinking that I was really in labor or that I was very close to actually having a baby. The pain was real but I didn’t feel out of control or like I needed help. Honestly, I was nervous that it would all stop!
I wasn’t looking forward to being confined in the car but we made our way to the birth center (again!) at 8pm. The ride was fine and my labor slowed down in the car and upon our arrival at the birth center.
I really understand now why Ina May Gaskin and other midwives talk so much about the mental state of a mother and her level of safety and comfort affecting the progress of her labor. It took a few minutes but I began to feel comfortable to labor in the birth center. We were the only ones there aside from Tracy and my two birth assistants, Melissa and Kyla. We walked up and down the hall and then upstairs. I had Jim grab the stereo and put on Latin pop. It must have been a funny sight to see us walking in circles and dancing to Pitbull in between contractions! I remember the song Fireball was playing as we marched hand-in-hand. This is actually one of my favorite memories because it was such a sweet and happy time with my husband. I was still making jokes and enjoying our time together. Tracy came in every 20 minutes or so to monitor the baby’s heartbeat and everything was going great! Around 10:30pm, I was feeling pretty tired and the pain was beginning to be enough that I wasn’t laughing anymore. I still had no idea how far I’d come or how far I had to go.
I decided that I’d like to get in the tub to see if I could catch a break. Tracy asked if I’d like to be checked before I got in. I hesistated because I didn’t want to have her check me and then be discouraged. I thought I’d be something like 4 cm dilated. With Amelia’s birth, I’d only ever dilated to a 5 so I didn’t know what to expect. Tracy said I was a loose 7! I couldn’t believe it! Not only had I gone into labor on my own (and believe me that waiting nine days past my due date was extremely challenging), but I’d dilated all the way to 7 without even realizing it! I felt very encouraged and know that I’d be heading into transition which I’d heard was typically the most challenging part for mothers.
I had Jim change our music to Jesus Culture and I got into the water. It was very helpful to be there in the water with my music and candles burning. Still, it was so peaceful with just Jim and me in the room when Tracy left. I leaned against the side of the tub and sang a little bit with the music, “To You our hearts are open, nothing here is hidden, You are our one desire. You alone are holy, only You are worthy, God let Your fire fall down.” I felt God there with me and I began to feel weepy and shaky. I recognized these as signs of transition but I was also feeling a profound sense of God’s love and His faithfulness.
As the contractions continued to come, I could no longer sing. The intensity was through the roof! I have no words to describe that kind of pain other than to say it is at once excruciating, tiring, and fascinating. I told Jesus that although I could no longer praise Him through my words, I was praising Him through my vocalization.
Jim asked me what he could do to help and I said “You can have the baby for a minute.” But in all honesty, just having him there with me was the best thing. He couldn’t take away the pain at all but his support was what I needed. He said, “What are you thinking?” And I said, “I can do it.” He replied, “Ya, you can.” At that point, I feel like it was just me and Jesus in that tub working to get the baby out. I don’t think I’ve ever felt His presence so tangibly or heard His voice so audibly. I felt that He was right there beside me encouraging me and giving me strength.
The next time Tracy came in, I asked her if pushing was better or worse than this. I appreciated her honest answer. She said that, “Some people think it’s better, I think it’s worse. Do you feel like pushing?” Tracy and the birth assistants were so great. They were calm and realistic, silently supporting me and my body’s ability to have our baby.
In only a few minutes, they could hear that something in my voice had changed and the baby was coming soon. The three of them silently came into the room and sat on the sofa by the tub awaiting Hailey’s arrival.
Part Two will be posted tomorrow.
Submitted by Anna Ryan.