My due date was April 29, 2011. It was a Friday. That night, my husband Rusty and I went to dinner with a bunch of friends at Scalini’s, home of the well-known labor-inducing eggplant parmigiana. We thought it would be fun to have an “eggplant baby,” but all week we’d both had a feeling that the baby would be arriving over the weekend anyway.
I woke early on Saturday before the sun came up to what felt like menstrual cramps. I got up to use the bathroom and noticed a little blood. I got back in bed and tried to go back to sleep. I drifted off, but then the cramping woke me up again. I realized these might be real contractions instead of just the Braxton-Hicks I’d had before, because they were coming in a pattern and they felt slightly more intense.
I decided to try to stay in bed until Rusty got up at 7:00. I knew I needed to get as much rest as possible. When the sun started to come up, I heard the early birds chirping and singing outside, always one of my favorite parts of the morning. I asked baby if he or she would be joining us today, and said I was looking forward to meeting him/her.
I slept off and on until I heard Rusty’s alarm clock go off (I’d been sleeping on the daybed in baby’s room since about 25 weeks). He came in to check on me and saw I was awake. He asked if I felt like going to my chiropractic appointment. I said no, because I thought we needed to time a few contractions. He was excited and went to get his iPhone, which had a contraction timer app on it. I said he could leave it with me and I’d do the timing so he could take a shower. While he was showering and getting dressed, I timed three contractions; they were about 10 minutes apart, and about 30 seconds long.
Rusty called Beth (one of our midwives) and Renee (our doula) to let them know what was going on. At this point we had no idea how quickly or slowly things might move, so we wanted them to have a heads up.
We spent the day in anticipation. I tried not to think too much about the contractions. They were still very irregular. Rusty and I walked up and down our street and spent lots of time in the back yard. It was a beautiful day. We ate lunch with the windows open so we could listen to the birds. Rusty worked on some last-minute things like putting together the Pack-and-Play. I napped. I messed around on Facebook.
By late afternoon, the contractions had slowed significantly. I was beginning to feel discouraged because things weren’t moving along any faster. Rusty was texting with Beth, Rachel (the other midwife), and Renee to keep them updated. They all said to just be patient, try not to worry, and get some sleep, because things might pick up in the middle of the night or the next morning.
Intellectually I knew early labor could be slow, but for some reason I just thought I’d be further along by then. I started crying and told Rusty how discouraged I was and that I wanted to have a baby by Monday. He said I would, and not to worry. We sat outside on the deck; I had a couple of contractions and leaned on the deck rail so Rusty could put pressure on my back. Then I decided to take a lavender bath. I knew taking a bath in early labor could slow things down, but I didn’t care since things weren’t moving quickly anyway.
After my bath, we ate dinner and I napped for about an hour. We started watching a movie, and during that time my contractions were getting more intense. They were still pretty far apart (anywhere from 10-15 minutes) but they were stronger than the contractions I’d been having all day. With each one, Rusty had to pause the movie and help me with counter-pressure on my back, hip squeezes, or whatever else felt good at the time. I would fold forward over one of the ottomans and tell him what to do to my back. It took me about a minute to recover from each contraction. They were about one minute long at this point. Rusty had started surreptitiously timing contractions and texting with Beth, Rachel and Renee.
After the movie was over I said we should try to get some sleep. I think it was around 10:00 p.m. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to sleep, but I wanted to try, since I didn’t know how much longer I had to go. I told Rusty I’d wait as long as possible to wake him, because I wanted him to be able to get some sleep.
As it turned out, I was only in bed for about 30 minutes, or maybe even less. The contractions were coming closer together and were more intense than during the movie. I tried different things to get through them: moaning, rocking on hands and knees, and probably other things that I can’t remember. I tried to stay relatively quiet so as not to wake Rusty in the other room, but I just couldn’t do it. Finally, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to sleep; the pain was really intensifying and I was starting to feel scared. I woke Rusty and told him I was sorry but I couldn’t sleep through these contractions, that they were getting harder, and I needed him to call Renee and Beth again, because at the very least I wanted Renee to come over.
I went into the living room and turned on one lamp and lit some vanilla candles. I sat on one of the ottomans and leaned forward over the couch and buried my face in the couch pillows. When a contraction would start, I would moan loudly and rock back and forth. I heard Rusty calling Renee and Beth, and heard him say to each of them, “Things are getting a lot more real here.” At some point I started to cry. I was shocked by how quickly the contractions had shifted into high gear, and I couldn’t imagine doing this for many more hours.
Rusty came over to comfort me and told me everyone was on their way. He later told me that he had to kind of talk Beth and Rachel into coming, because they didn’t believe I was as far along as I was; but I didn’t believe it either, which is part of why I was so scared. I knew from my birth classes that labor didn’t follow any distinct pattern, but even so, I thought that since things had been slow all day and I was a first-time mom, I was probably looking at another long day ahead. Little did I know I was only about six hours away from meeting Fitz.
Renee arrived first, around midnight. She asked if I was comfortable and said I looked like I was in a good position for labor. When the next contraction started, she helped me modify my vocalizing so it was lower-toned. I remember during my pregnancy wondering if I really needed a doula, since I was having a home birth with two midwives. Some women who have had home births say the midwife fills the role of doula as well. Still, I wanted someone who was there solely for my comfort. It ended up being the right decision; I was so grateful Renee was with me throughout my labor. She had a way of connecting with me on exactly the right wavelength.
Rachel arrived next, and Beth last. I have no idea how long I stayed in the living room after everyone was there, but I don’t think it was long. Beth wanted to check me, so I went into the bedroom and climbed onto the bed. I did not expect the cervical exam to be so painful! As she checked me, I thrashed around (maybe I wasn’t really thrashing, but that’s how I remember it) and asked, “Is it supposed to hurt that much?!” Beth replied that for some women, cervical exams are just painful; but that also, I had been at about 3 centimeters, but as soon as she checked me I immediately went to 5.
I felt scared by the power of the contractions. It sounds pretty out there, but I really did have the sense of a powerful life force moving through me. I felt like nothing was helping, and asked if I could get into the birth pool. (Looking back, I realize I was always asking for things in labor instead of demanding. I wasn’t really asking for permission; I think I just felt so out of control that I needed validation from those around me.) The water temperature was ascertained and reported to still be pretty hot, but Beth said, “I would get in water that hot.” I don’t think anyone could have stopped me from getting in anyway; I wanted a change and I was hoping the water would make the contractions more manageable. When I slid into the water, it was indeed very hot, but it felt good. I leaned forward with my arms resting on the side, and I felt hands putting ice-cold washcloths on my face. I had some contractions in the pool and I guess they were less painful, but honestly I don’t remember, because I just couldn’t get comfortable. I didn’t feel “grounded” enough. It might not make sense, but that’s the best way I can think of to describe it. I didn’t feel on solid ground, and that was stopping me from really getting down to work.
After I was out of the pool and back on the bed, my water broke with a gush as I was changing positions. I got on my knees and held onto the headboard. In retrospect I know I was in transition, but at the time I thought it couldn’t be transition yet because when Beth checked me, which felt like not very long ago, I had been only 5 centimeters, and if it was this bad now, how would I ever survive transition, which was supposed to be the most intense phase? Also, the contractions never really came “on top of each other,” which is what they tell you about transition in all the books and classes, so I thought I still had a ways to go and that I wouldn’t be able to handle it.
I labored like that for what felt like a long time, with Renee assuring me that this was the worst part and that pushing would feel like a relief. I kept asking her, “Really? You promise?” and she kept assuring me that I could get through it, and reminding me to keep my sounds low and my jaw relaxed and open. I started to feel like I would throw up, and she grabbed the plastic trash can bought for this purpose and held it to my face as I dry-heaved through contractions. I said I hated this, that I couldn’t keep doing it, that I should go to the hospital; that I needed help. No one freaked out; they had witnessed this scene countless times before and were there to support me through.
I remember the womblike feel of the room: the deep brick-red walls, the low light from the gold and orange lamp on the bedside table. I would close my eyes during a contraction, and when I opened them it was like slowly coming back to Earth, just for a few seconds, as I took in the colors around me, and the people. Each contraction felt so long, and then the short break in between was a strange peace. Periodically, Rachel would check the baby’s heartbeat with the Doppler; if I started to have a contraction, she respectfully backed off and let me do what I needed to do to get through it.
As I kneeled there, staring down at the headboard between contractions, I thought about all the women around the world throughout the ages who had done this, and who were doing it now. I felt very connected to a universal feminine, and I felt profound respect and awe for all women who have ever given birth, no matter what the specifics of their circumstances. I saw very clearly that all birthing women are warriors. I thought, all these women are walking around in the world like it’s no big deal, as if they aren’t superheroes.
Then I had my first “pushy” contraction. I had been keeping my head down and body kind of curved forward through contractions; but suddenly I raised up, arched my back, threw my head back and grunted. Someone said, “Good! That’s what I like to hear!” and I knew I was pushing.
After a few more contractions in the kneeling position, I felt like my knees would give out. Beth asked if I wanted to go sit on the toilet and I absolutely did not! I didn’t want my baby to be born on a toilet! Beth offered to set up the birth stool instead, and I agreed. The birth stool was essentially a wide U shape on legs. The “seat” was padded, which was more comfortable than I imagine a toilet seat would be, especially since I was having a lot of pain in my sacrum and pelvic bones. Beth wrapped it in Chux pads and placed it at the foot of the bed, and everyone helped me climb on.
Seated on the birth stool, I leaned forward and held onto the footboard of the bed for dear life. I concentrated on trying to push as hard as I could. Vaguely I remembered things I’d heard about how pushing too hard could lead to greater likelihood of tearing, but I didn’t care; at that point I just wanted this to be over with as soon as possible. I kept saying how much I hated it and begging for help. I yelled obscenities and screamed at the top of my lungs. I was mad at Renee because she had said pushing would be a relief, but it was so much worse.
I would feel a contraction start in my lower back and build, spreading around to my front and peaking as I screamed through it and tried to push with all my might. I felt like I wasn’t pushing right—it felt “too high,” if that makes sense (probably not, but that’s the only way I can think to describe it). I said that I was afraid the baby would rip me apart, that it wouldn’t fit through my pelvis, that I was being turned inside out, that my bones would break, that I felt like the baby was coming out of my butt.
Beth and Renee offered constant reassurance, and Rachel continued to check the baby’s heart rate often. Beth and Rachel seemed to be taking a more “tough love” approach with their support, and once again I was grateful Renee was there, because she had really tapped into the type of encouragement that would work for me (tough love wasn’t doing it!). Renee held one end of a rebozo while I pulled on the other with all my might for leverage. I must have gotten the adrenaline rush you hear about, because while pushing definitely didn’t feel like a relief, I was able to tell myself, “Just get through this contraction; that’s all you have to do,” whereas I wasn’t capable of that kind of resolve during transition. I knew that there was no escaping the pain, and that the only option was to go through it and come out the other side.
I looked up at Rusty after each contraction; I wanted to be sure he was still there. He was by my side the whole time. He did not look scared or worried. He didn’t say much, but I didn’t want him to; he just gave me a steady, reassuring smile every time I looked up at him.
Beth said something about being able to see the baby’s head, and showed Rusty the mirror, and I heard him say, “Oh wow.” Someone mentioned that the baby didn’t have much hair, and I yelled, “Don’t tell me!!” Some women find it encouraging hearing about their progress during labor, but it stressed me out.
Eventually Beth had me get off the birth stool and onto my hands and knees. She must have known that hands-and-knees would be a better position to encourage progress after however long I’d been on the birth stool. I wrapped my hands around the bottom of one of the bedposts and continued pushing with all my might. Beth was providing perinatal support with warm compresses, and it was the only bit of relief I had.
I felt the “ring of fire” and felt something slither out of me – an utterly bizarre feeling – and instantly the pain was gone. Immediately I heard the loud, strong cry. The baby was out in one push! Instead of what you hear about, where the head delivers and then you have to wait for the next contraction for the body to come, he came shooting out all at once! It was 5:23 a.m.
I sat on the floor and the baby was handed to me. As I was turning around, I glimpsed the oxygen tank outside the bedroom door, and thought they certainly wouldn’t need that! He got all 10s on his APGARs. We’d had the idea that it would be nice for Rusty to announce whether it was a boy or a girl, but I saw right away! Beth has my first words to Fitz recorded as, “Hi, little one! I can’t believe it!!” I also remember saying, “You’re a little Fitz!”, “I did it, I really did it” and “Oh my God, he’s here, he’s real!” Over and over again, I said that I couldn’t believe it. I was really holding a baby in my arms and he had just come out of me!
Beth draped a towel around Fitz, and Rusty and I just stared and stared. I was surprised by how clean Fitz looked – almost no vernix and very little blood. I either said I wanted to get in bed or someone suggested it (I can’t remember), and there was some discussion about whether I thought I could walk to the bed, since he was still attached to me. Just then, I felt another slithery feeling and the placenta plopped out. Problem solved! The period between when Fitz was born and delivery of the placenta feels like mere seconds in my memory, but according to Beth’s records it was a full 15 minutes. Rusty cut the cord at 5:45 a.m.
We went into the bathroom for the celebration bath; then I showered and climbed into bed with my new baby. Renee brought me pasta salad and Rachel brought me water with Emergen-C. After eating, I lay on the bed getting stitched up for what felt like a really long time. I had a pretty bad second-degree tear, probably because Fitz came shooting out so fast! I was worried about healing, but ultimately ended up being pleasantly surprised at how quickly I healed.
Overall, my birth experience was something I struggle to put into words. There just isn’t an adjective that does it justice. All birthing women deserve no less than the respect and reverence I was shown in my birth space. Beth, Rachel, Renee, and Rusty will never know how deeply thankful I am for their role in Fitz’s journey into the world. His entrance was respectful, messy, peaceful, scary, and awesome—a pretty good start to a life.