Around 3 a.m. on Saturday, August 18th (11 days before my due date) I woke up suddenly to wet pants. I was pretty sure my water had broken, having had a similar experience with my first pregnancy, but I wanted to be positive before waking up my husband Taj. I went to the bathroom to get cleaned up and change clothes, and as I was doing that my heart started racing. I was excited, nervous, and a little panicky! I was beyond elated that I would be meeting my son soon, but I was scared also. At that moment, I was suddenly terrified about the way I had committed, physically, to bringing my baby into the world and the pain that would come with it.
I read 10 books about birth, watched countless birth videos, and spoke personally to several women about their natural birth experiences. I spent months educating myself about the history of birth and I learned that many routine interventions often interfere with the natural process of birth leading to complications and sometimes unnecessary caesareans. I learned about midwifery, doulas, and about various methods for natural pain management. I can quote statistic after statistic comparing outcomes of medical births with outcomes of holistic births. I became passionate about a model of maternal care that put a woman in charge of her own labor instead of leaving her stuck in a bed completely numb to the sensations, and sometimes even the emotions, of her birth. I planned to labor and give birth completely drug-free and without any unnecessary interventions. I told myself, again, that I was well prepared for this and that my plan for a natural water birth was solid. I calmed, and my confidence in my ability to do this returned. This was it!
I put a towel down on my side of the bed and lay back down knowing that I should try and get some rest since labor hadn't “started” yet, and I would likely have an exhausting day ahead of me. Well, there was no sleep to be had. I was too antsy, and I started having contractions that were uncomfortable enough to keep me awake, but not so painful that I felt active labor was actually imminent. The cramp-like contractions were coming so randomly that I didn't even bother timing anything, but my guess was somewhere between 7 and 10 minutes, occasionally more like 15. I decided that I would pay more attention to timing when I became really uncomfortable. I sent a text message to my doula, Savanna, to let her know what was going on, because she has two young children and I wanted her to have ample time to make arrangements. At some point during the couple hours that I spent going back and forth to the restroom to check amniotic fluid and sending text messages to people, Taj woke up and he, too, couldn't go back to sleep. Today was the day!
Several hours passed without much of anything exciting happening other than the mild contractions. We let our families know that things were getting started, but that it might be awhile so they could take their time getting here. I spoke to the midwife on call, Janet, around 9 a.m. and she advised me to do some walking to help get things moving. Because my water had broken, we had 24 hours before there was a risk of infection, and ideally you want to get the baby out well before this becomes a concern. Taj and I decided to take our older son Gray and go walk around the mall. We spent a couple hours there just walking, chatting, and soaking up the last little bit of time with Gray as an only child. We enjoyed some yummy snacks together, and took our little boy to the Disney Store to buy him some presents. Slowly and surely, my contractions were becoming closer together and more intense. Before heading home, we stopped by Target for a few last-minute things and picked up a copy of The Hunger Games, which was released that day. We planned to put Gray down for a nap and watch the movie as we waited for active labor to begin.
At home, we ate some lunch and then I started to try some things that would help contractions become even stronger, because I was increasingly concerned about “the clock” and our 24 hour allowance. I bounced on the exercise ball, climbed the stairs two at a time, and tried some lunges at the advice of my doula. Those activities definitely intensified contractions. OUCH! But, when I stopped the activity, the contractions went back to feeling more mild. At that point, my mom, Taj's sister Terre', and Savanna were all headed to our house, and would all be present at the hospital for the birth. My sister was also headed over, because she was going to be taking care of Gray for us. He was sleeping, but we couldn't really focus on our new movie. Around 2:30 or 3 p.m., I decided to get into the shower based on the idea that hydrotherapy would help me relax, allowing my body to kick into gear and really get this labor going. That is EXACTLY what happened. In the shower I began feeling contractions that were much more intense and more regularly spaced. These were the sensations that got me to start thinking about heading to the hospital. I got out of the shower and was toweling off when I felt a bit of a gush of fluid between my legs. So, if my water hadn't fully broken before and was in fact just “leaking”, it was really broken now! I cleaned up the puddle, and boy, did things pick up from there! My support team helped me get dressed into something comfortable, we went over my list and got all of our last-minute items into the hospital bag, and Taj started loading up the car. I asked my sister to braid my hair, then we woke Gray up from his nap to say goodbye and take one last photo of us as a family of three.
We piled into the vehicles and left for the hospital. Contractions were probably coming every 5 minutes or so, and they were becoming rather painful. We arrived at the hospital a little after 4 p.m. and got settled into our labor and delivery room. I was checked for dilation and was 4 centimeters. I felt a little discouraged by that, for some reason, because I thought it would take hours and hours to get from there to 10. (HA!!!) In order to get into the birthing tub, 30 minutes of fetal monitoring is required to make sure the baby's heartbeat is regular. While that was happening, the nurses were doing paperwork and asking me questions. At that point, I had to stop talking, close my eyes, and concentrate when a contraction hit. Basically, it was starting to suck. Around 5:15 p.m., the 30 minute monitoring strip was complete, and I got into the shower to help pass time while the tub was being filled. I sprayed some aromatherapy scents into the small bathroom, and my mom found a spa music station on Pandora on her Kindle for me to listen to. I stood in the dark in the shower and alternated letting the hot water hit my back and my belly. I was still worried about how long this labor was going to take and I remember thinking to myself, “Am I really doing this?”
I have no idea how long I stayed in the shower. I'm not sure how well my concept of time was functioning at that point. I was trying SO hard to be in the zone, but things got really intense really quickly. I moved around the room a bit, but I wasn't really able to find a comfortable position. I did settle down straddling a chair for a good chunk of time. Savanna was right beside me the whole time. Massaging my back, applying counter-pressure during contractions, giving me drinks of water and juice, and reminding me to keep my voice low when all I wanted to do was scream. It got harder and harder, but she just kept telling me how amazing I was. The tub seemed to be taking forever to fill, and I wanted to get into the warm water so badly. I started vocalizing that I wasn't sure I could do it anymore, I felt sick, and I started pleading for a way out- all signs of (you guessed it!) TRANSITION! I was SO very close to giving birth, I just didn't know it.
(A mama friend makes these beautiful family trees, and I used it as a focal point)
My contractions were right on top of one another. I tried with everything that was within me to find a peaceful place inside myself to help me get through it. I just couldn't seem to mentally get ahead of the pain, and I wondered what I was doing wrong. It was about 10 minutes to 7 p.m., I was 8 cm dilated, and FINALLY, the tub was filled and at a safe temperature. They helped me get into the water, and honestly, it did not offer the relief I was expecting or hoping for. I was hurting so very badly, and still couldn't get comfortable in the tub, but there was no way I was getting out of it either. I started to emotionally unravel. I felt so out of control and trapped, in a way. Once I had, unknowingly, passed the point of no return, I started begging for drugs! I cried “I can't to do this anymore! What can I have?! What can I have right now?!” The midwife said, “You can have a baby.” That was a very scary place to be in. Something very painful and intense was happening to my body and there was nothing I could do but accept it! I had made a mental list of things to tell myself if I got to the point of wanting medication (it was literally too late by the time I asked for it, but I still thought it would help to remind myself).
You are not going to die even if you feel like you are. This is pain with a purpose. Your body was made to give birth. You are about to hold your baby. You are about to meet your son!
I finally settled into a position with my back against the side of the tub. Taj was behind me, holding me under my arms, and offering anchored support for me to push against. The people I had chosen to be in the room were all around the tub and encouraging me. Taj, my mom, Terre', and Savanna all helped me feel incredibly supported. I didn't have to push for long. The pushing hurt, but it was a relief in a way, as many women describe. Knowing that I was almost done gave me that last little bit of energy I needed to push my baby out. I kept reaching down, hoping to feel that little head, and I finally did! And then, I could see him! At 7:22 p.m. his little head was out! That part was amazing. I was doing the work and he was coming out! During the pushing I felt pain, pressure, and a burning from the stretching, but this part was not as awful as those terrible transition contractions. After his head was all the way out, I felt a little bit of relief. Janet reached into the tub and had to unravel the umbilical cord from around his neck. She told me that with the next couple of pushes his body would come out. I just wanted it to be over with, and wanted to hold him and hear him cry. I pushed with all my might. I felt his shoulders come through and his little body just slid out. I reached down into the water and pulled him to my chest. What an incredible moment! I felt instant relief and an indescribable joy to finally have my baby in my arms! He wasn't the healthiest of colors from having the cord around his neck, but he pinked up very quickly. Such a beautiful and perfect boy! Having been worried about how I would feel about a second child, when I saw my Micah I experienced what can only be described as a heart explosion. I loved him immediately and naturally. My heart just got so much bigger! Kinda like The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
He's finally here!
Making sure he's okay
Relaxing in the tub with baby Micah after all the hard work
After the placenta came through and the cord was cut, I was able to get out of the tub and walk across the room to climb into the bed. Definitely couldn't do that after an epidural birth! The nurses covered Micah and me in warm blankets and then just left us alone for awhile. It was wonderful! We just snuggled and snuggled and even got to try breastfeeding immediately. Pretty amazing.
Giving birth naturally was the hardest thing I have ever done. I will be honest and say that for hours, even days afterward, I felt a little traumatized by the feeling of being trapped in the pain. I was also convinced that I had done something wrong in my preparation for the birth, because I felt so out of control during the transition phase of labor. I would have told you that I was the loudest and whiniest person to ever give birth. I talked about my fears of how I acted in labor with a couple friends who have also gone through it, and they both told me it probably wasn't as bad as I thought it was. That is why I am so glad that I have the video. There is some pretty interesting screaming, grunting, and various other birthing noises, but nothing close to what I thought it was like. I am proud of myself, because that stuff is not for sissies, and even though I kinda feel like I “caved” by asking for drugs, I am so thankful that it was too late! I think it's designed that way. So many references are made to transition being the part of labor when a woman feels like she just can't go on. But, she has to! She doesn't have a choice! And THAT is where I found that extra strength to suck it up and birth my baby! I am happy that I gave myself and Micah the best birth experience possible. Despite the fact that at one point I felt like my body was going to tear in half, I can still describe Micah's birth as awesome and beautiful! I sought advice and encouragement from other women who had achieved natural births, and having gone through it myself, I am now being asked what it was like. That's pretty cool! I don't think I could say to a woman, “Do it! It's amazing! You'll love it!” What I can say is this: If I can do it, you can do it. Even though parts of it were traumatic for me, I do not regret it AT ALL. I would do it all again for my child if I had to, because he was worth all of it. I love both my babies with every ounce of my being and how they came into the world has nothing to do with that. But, as far as life experiences go, I'm not sure I could ever top my natural birth.
Oh, and HIRE A DOULA! I seriously could not have done it without Savanna. She will always have a special place in my heart!