My baby dropped when I was 35 weeks pregnant. The intense sensation of him/her wiggling head on my cervix made me think I’d go into labor at any minute. But we were planning a home birth, and that wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t make it to 37 weeks. So I spent my days taking it easy and finding time to rest when the pressure would build.
It seemed like every Friday night from 36 weeks on I was sure I was going into labor. I had experienced a lot of Braxton Hicks through the labor (my midwife said I had an irritable uterus – I told her it wasn’t the only part of me that was irritable!), but on these Friday nights they would become perfectly timed for hours. They never got stronger and they would always fizzle out when I went to bed.
The Friday of my 39th week was when the first real contraction hit! I was sitting on the couch at 6pm with my husband while we waited to head out the door to dinner. I knew the minute I had the contraction that it was no Braxton Hick. I could feel the sensation move from the center of my back to the front. I told my husband, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t believe me. What can I say? I had a few false alarms already.
We went out to dinner with our dear friends. When people in the restaurant asked when I was due, I told them I was in labor right then. They looked pretty freaked out! I continued to have mild contractions through the meal and once we returned home.
By 10pm I started notifying friends and family that I was in labor. My mom was planning to fly out first thing Sunday morning and she couldn’t get an earlier flight so I knew we’d be doing it without her. I labored in bed, timing the contractions but unable to sleep. It was so amazing! I wanted to feel every single one and to analyze it so that I could describe it to everyone I knew! I was texting everyone I knew who might care even just a little bit to tell them the exciting news. By 4 am or so I was no longer able to breath through the contractions without blowing air or moaning, so I woke my husband up (he was two inches away from me – how can some one sleep with something SOOO amazing happening an eyelash away?).
I asked him to draw me a bath so I could labor there. As the water was filling around my ankles I started shaking violently. He asked if I was cold and I said no, I was in transition! I was so amazed that I still felt confident and fairly comfortable so late in the game. As our huge tub was filling my contractions spaced to only a minute or two apart and I breathed through them. He decided to go downstairs to make me some oatmeal to keep my energy up. While he was downstairs I reached a finger inside myself and…OH MY GOODNESS. All I could feel was her head. I could barely feel any cervix. It was time to call the midwives! I waited for him to get upstairs (longest oatmeal preparation ever) and I told him we needed to make our call.
When he told the midwife what I felt, she could hear me talking to him in the background. I was ecstatic! She asked to talk to me on the phone (presumably because she wasn’t convinced I was that far along). I told her what I felt and how close the contractions were and how excited I was and that I thought it was time for her to come. And she actually said this to me, “Anne. My first thought is No Way are you in transition and still this perky. But then I realized, this is Anne!” She came right away, and I was 8 cm!
We just knew our baby would be in our hands in a few hours. Things were progressing beautifully! Our other midwife and an assistant arrived shortly after the first.
And then everything came to a painful screeching halt. Not the contractions, those continued with gusto, but after fully dilating I had no progress for 9 hours. But I never felt like giving up or like I needed relief. I did what I was asked with a few exceptions. Labored in the tub, out of the tub, standing, sitting, lying down. Hours went by and I started to ask the midwives when the pushing would start. They just looked at me kindly and said when the baby was ready, the pushing would start. The back labor was difficult and relentless, but I had everything I needed to thrive nearby. A hand to hold, someone to help me move and rub my back. I was surrounded by kind, loving women and my patient (perhaps in hindsight “bored” would have been a better word) husband.
About 22 hours in, and 9 hours after being complete, my stomach involuntarily rolled. And it wasn’t pushing up, it was pushing down! The midwife asked if I was trying to push and I said I wasn’t, but my stomach was. People always described it as an “urge” to push, but that’s not how I would describe it. It’s like throwing up, the other way. Times 1000. COMPLETELY involuntary. You can certainly help out, but it’s happening with or without your consent.
I was invigorated! A whole new life was breathed into me. I got into a squat in the tub and pushed. I could feel my baby moving down inside me. It was amazing! And then I pushed some more. And more. And more. But I couldn’t feel her moving further. I reached down and felt the top of her head just inside me. She was RIGHT THERE.
We tried every position. We tried manually expanding my pelvis. For hours we tried. After 4 hours of intense pushing our midwife explained that if she didn’t see progress in the next 30 minutes, she would have to transfer care to the hospital. I pushed with renewed conviction. She tried “finger forceps” where she reached inside and tried to pull apart the ischial spines to make more room. Nothing was working.
*(This picture is after 4 hours of pushing, doula pressing the tops of my hips to try to open them, and midwife holding me. The AWESOME thing about this picture is to look at my stomach as my uterus contracts. Amazingly powerful and involuntary!)
After 4 ½ hours of pushing I put on a pair of Depends (so comfy!) and some trusty sweats and crawled into the back of my husband’s SUV on my hands and knees. I knew I had given it my all. I was confident at the time that I had done absolutely everything within my power to move my baby down. My midwife sat next to me and held me up during contractions that were poorly timed with bumps and bends in the road. At one point we stopped at a red light next to a truck FULL of men. I laughed through my contraction (which I supposed looked like I was dying AND demented, but I thought it was pretty funny) while I watched their faces through the window. Soon we were at the hospital. They were pretty slow to admit us until they realized that I was about to have a baby, right now, in my pants. I held onto the counter with all my strength and pushed, hopeful that I’d never have to climb into the hospital bed.
A nurse “escorted” me to the elevator at mock speed. I kept pulling my arm away from hers and holding onto the wall. Didn’t she understand that there was a basketball in my vagina at that very moment and I wouldn’t be sprinting anywhere soon? I had another contraction in the stainless steel elevator. Weee!
After getting settled into the delivery room and hooked up to an ungodly amount of cables that are the norm for a hospital birth, the OB walked in. She said she’d try forceps, and if the baby wasn’t born within 20 minutes a c-section was next. And you know what? I never once for a moment thought the c-section was a real possibility. Despite all that had not gone according to plan so far, I still knew my baby would be born naturally.
The OB said the anesthesiologist would be in with the epidural soon. I licked my lips at the thought while EVERYONE else on my birth team said “No way!” Haha. Fine, they win. So, with no pain meds, they inserted the forceps. I don’t want to be a downer, but they hurt in a very unnatural way. One side had to be inserted a second time because they tore through the wall of my vagina and up to my bladder. During the next contraction they pulled while I pushed, and my baby moved! It was only about an inch, but wow! Convinced they had “unstuck” baby they took out the forceps. In the next contraction I pushed, and pushed, and pushed. And there was her head! My midwives were rooting me on, describing all the progress. Then, during that same contraction I pushed out my baby’s shoulders! The OB held her up and said, “It’s a girl!” We were all wondering what the hold up was in there. As it turned out, she had greatly expanded the circumference of her head with the addition of a fist. So it wasn’t a failure on my part, or on the part of birth. It was just a part of our unique journey. Her fist stayed curled up on her cheekbone for days.
But I was euphoric. I sobbed and told my new baby girl all things a baby girl should know. That she was already loved, that she was perfect and that I would to anything for her. After 6 ½ hours of pushing, the light of my life was wet and warm and in my arms.
I’d be lying if I said that I never struggled to accept the way my daughter’s birth turned out. Aria is 8 months old now, and I still worry that the people I knew who didn’t support our choice to have a home birth were somehow vindicated by my ultimate need for a doctor. I sometimes even struggle with whether or not I really needed to go to the hospital, or if it was just because of the Colorado laws under which my midwives practiced. I still occasionally feel angry that my body was torn by the use of an instrument and that I spent the first hour of my daughter’s life being stitched, sans pain meds, all the way up to (what felt like) my tonsils.
But you know what I don’t have to be disappointed about? My choices. I was educated about birth and the normal process before labor began. I knew what the possible interventions were and how they would impact me and my baby (both positively and negatively). I knew to trust my body and not to be scared. I truly believed in myself and my birth team and had made the necessary investment of time it took to be educated and empowered. I can feel confident that I was never bullied, lied to or spoken down to.
I can look back gratefully upon my amazing birth and not worry about how I should have done things differently. And it truly was and incredible experience. I weep for the women who never get to experience it – who had it stolen from them. But until women realize what is actually being taken, who will fight to have it returned?
Giving birth and being a mother is, hands down, the coolest thing I have ever done. I can’t wait to do it again, and again, and again.
*Pictures by Susan Pacek Photography.