Friday night, February 11, my husband and I were just hanging out at home, watching episodes of Dexter on DVD and planning to bake some dark chocolate peanut butter cookies. Around 7:15 after an episode had ended, I ducked into the bathroom to pee. When I sat down on the toilet I felt a POP and a small rush of liquid. I continued to pee, wondering — was that my water just breaking?!
“Hubby,” I called through the open doorway to the restroom. “I don’t want to get too excited but I think my water might just have broken.”
“Let’s just wait and see. Maybe we should just go ahead and make those cookies.”
“Wait and see” happened as soon as I got off the toilet and clear liquid continued to run down my legs. We knew then that we at least needed to give the midwife on call a heads up. When we called her, we were excited to learn that the midwife on call was Anjli. Anjli asked us to plan on calling her around 8 the following morning and heading to the hospital or office sometime around then, unless something changed beforehand.
We then called our doula, Charlotte, and gave her the heads up that it looked like we were going to have a baby sometime in the next day! Charlotte told us she was on the ready but that we should all try to get some rest. We heard from both her and Anjli that it was possible things could progress faster now that my water had broken, as that is often the case when your water breaking begins labor.
For the past two weeks I’d had very mild, non-rhythmic, period-like cramping. By about an hour after my water broke, I noticed they were beginning to fall into a rhythm and they already felt about 10 minutes apart, although I wasn’t timing them. I hopped into the shower and while in there the contractions started feeling more uncomfortable. I called out to my husband that while I could be wrong I thought things might happen sooner than the morning. Meanwhile, he started to load up our car, put out extra food and water for the cats, and take care of any last-minute items we needed to pack.
After my shower at around 9:30 (I’m guessing), we dimmed the lights in the bedroom and I put on my guided meditation CD. My husband tried to videotape a clip of me laboring at that point, and he asked me through the camera if I had anything to say. My only comment was, “Will you come lie down with me please?” And so he did, or kneeled by the bed at least. I was doing a deep cleansing breath at the beginning and end of each contraction, and I also soon told hubby that I wasn’t able to focus on the guided meditation CD. In fact, I don’t know if I was ever able to truly follow the meditation at all. I was already descending into what felt like this kind of parallel universe of labor. My husband could tell by my cleansing breaths that the contractions were becoming very close — in fact, he said “I think they’re about two to three minutes apart. I think we should call the midwife again.”
I felt silly — what if we were calling too soon? Was the fact that they seemed (were) so close together just a fluke? Was I an overreacting, first-time laboring mom? Still, hubby knew I was experiencing something more intense as I started my slow-paced breathing, and he called Anjli, who told us to go to the hospital where they would check me and let her know if she should come in, and then Charlotte, who said she would meet us there.
The car ride to the hospital felt like a dream. The black sky, street lights passing by in a blur, bar hoppers dashing across the street in front of our car at a red light. “Want to stop for a drink?” one of us joked weakly. “Guess we won’t be going to see Black Swan tomorrow!” another one of us — I’m not sure who — said as we rode toward the hospital. I was continuing my slow-paced breathing and holding the beaded necklace that the women who attended my shower made for me, using it as my focal point through contractions. These were some of the many coping techniques I had learned in our childbirth course with Confident Childbirth of Atlanta; I had a long list of them ready to use if I needed them. The ride to the hospital seemed longer than it had any time we had gone for our regular midwife appointments, and it felt like we were the keepers of this great secret, like everyone else was going about their normal routines and we were about to witness a miracle that no one else knew about.
At the hospital at around 10:30 hubby parked and we walked in together. I had to stop and lean over a railing by the parking garage during one contraction, and two women leaving the hospital stopped to ask if I was okay. “Yes, we’re just about to have a baby!” hubby said, and my contraction ended and I smiled at them. Inside, I sat down in the emergency room waiting area (where we had to enter since it was weekend hours) and hubby got in line behind a man at the counter. I wondered how long our wait would be as I felt another contraction beginning, and a female employee saw me from behind a half swinging door and asked who I was with. I couldn’t talk — just pointed at my husband. She quickly had the security guard behind the desk push me in a wheelchair up to the seventh floor, labor and delivery.
Upstairs, although I had preregistered I knew I would have more paperwork to fill out, and I had to fill out a form with my name and basic information (turns out my labor was so quick that I actually had to fill out MOST of the paperwork after though! — including a form that said they thought I had a “reasonable chance at a vaginal delivery” even though at that point I’d already had one). I was taken into a room where I was put in a bed and strapped to a fetal monitor. I did NOT like lying back in a supine position for this monitoring, but thankfully our practice only requires it for 30 minutes. Our nurse started asking me all of these frustrating questions, like what was my occupation, and how much education had I completed. My husband was answering her but getting short with her, because he was really focusing on me. He was so awesome this whole time — coaching me with reminding me to stay “limp noodle” and to breathe, telling me “you can do it! you’re doing great” over and over again. Finally the nurse asked me what I would rate my pain on a ten-scale.
“Probably a three or four,” I said, thinking that while it was intense that surely it could get more intense.
I saw her look dubiously up from her charts (or so it seemed to me) as if thinking, “you came in too early, girl!”
“Don’t get me wrong — it’s intense,” I said. “I just imagine it will get more intense.” I said in between contractions.
Then it was time for her to check my cervix. “Are you done with a contraction?” she said.
“Yes, but hurry” — they were coming on so quickly now.
Then she checked my cervix and said, “Oh wow, you’re an eight or a nine — I could really almost push this last bit aside.”
Things started to become blurrier for me here. I understand now what is meant when you hear that labor is like going deep into an alternate dimension. I felt like I was existing on another plane, but I knew I was safe with my husband there to take care of me and to make sure that everything around us was keeping us safe as well. I felt like we were going on a journey together.
Our midwife, Anjli, was called and had been there for maybe one contraction before I told her I felt like I had to push. (I was just glad she made it in time!)
“It’s okay, you can push. Listen to your body,” she said.
And then suddenly our doula, Charlotte, was there, and my husband filled her in. Meanwhile, the nurses had started to blow up the inflatable tub out in the hospital hallway, as I was hoping for a water birth. In between contractions, I remember saying to Anjli, “They’re not going to get the tub in time, are they?” and she said, “They’re blowing it up right now; it’s okay.”
I was also ready to get the monitors off me at that point, which caused a bit of tension between our midwife and the nurse, although I believe the 30 required minutes had indeed passed. Finally we ripped it off and I immediately got on all fours sideways on the bed. Anjli asked me in between contractions to turn so I was longways on the bed, and so staying on all fours I did just that—with my arms draped over the back of the hospital bed.
I was continuing to push through each contraction. The spontaneous need to push was incredible—it is true what they say that your body TRULY knows when to push … I can’t IMAGINE being coached when to push. My body knew just when to push and when I was in the midst of those contractions I HAD to bear down—my body had no other choice. If I had needed to stop to keep from a bad tear or something I’m sure I could have, but it would have been HARD.
The lights in the room were dim. The tub was being filled. Anjli at some point told me that it was possible that the baby could come before the tub was full, and I said that was okay. I just wanted her here. I felt hands rubbing my lower back between contractions; I think it was Anjli. My husband continued to give me simple words of encouragement (at some point since arriving at the hospital I had asked him to say a little less — with the higher intensity shorter sentences felt right.) I remember Charlotte was up near my head, offering me sips of water between contractions and encouraging me to send my energy down to my abdomen and my baby. I could almost feel myself sinking into that feeling and allowing my tension and energy to shift downward where it needed to be, versus focusing on the pain and keeping it up in a tense upper body. I also was vocalizing during contractions, something I had wondered if I would be embarrassed to do — let me tell you, embarrassment flew out the window. The feeling was primal. I was doing whatever my body needed to do. Charlotte suggested making the sounds deeper (which is proven to make them more productive), and she made a sound I could imitate, which helped.
Pushing was the hardest part for me. I could so intensely feel the baby’s head. At one point I remember screaming an expletive, but mostly I tried to moan deep and low, and hubby kept telling me what a good job I was doing. His support meant the world to me. He stayed back near the foot of the bed with Anjli, who was coaching him on how to catch the baby, which he wanted to do. I remember hearing them talk quietly down there, and after one of my contractions ended I said, “what are y’all talking about down there?” to which everyone laughed and she told me she was telling him how to catch the baby.
At one point, he told me, “She has hair, sweetie! I can see her hair!”
“What color?” I asked after the contraction ended. He said he couldn’t tell, but it was a lot of hair.
That was so encouraging! She was close. She kept slipping back into me a bit after every push, but I knew she was close to crowning. I told Anjli I felt like I was holding back from really pushing with all my strength because I was afraid of tearing or pushing too fast, and she said, “It’s okay — just do what your body tells you to. If you need to slow down, I will yell STOP loudly so you will definitely hear it.” I felt so safe and protected by my three caregivers!
With that encouragement, I began to really bear down during contractions. Finally, there was a contraction after which her head was crowning—that was pretty intense. But it was good, and it helped everything to stretch between contractions… it was a hard moment though. I had to wait that entire minute or however long it was between the urge to bear down again with her head just resting there.
The next push and her head was out — my husband told me later that she was just looking up at him with her eyes wide and only her head out. Another push and I felt her entire body slide out of me—shoulder, torso, legs. I heard my husband begin to cry and I looked back over my shoulder. There she was, in his hands on the bed, wet, crying, beautiful, and covered in vernix. Our baby was born after pushing for about 30 minutes—at 12:37 a.m. on February 12.
I immediately started shaking from the adrenalin as they tried to pass her underneath my legs to me. It all felt like too much—the shaking, her wetness, the cord, my gown—I didn’t think I could take her safely and turn around. The gown I had brought from home to labor in suddenly felt like too much for me to handle and I WANTED MY BABY. “Get this off me!” I yelled, and threw my arms up over my head. Charlotte pulled the gown off in one motion, and then they passed me my baby and helped me turn around on the bed.
No matter how much emotional, mental, and spiritual preparation I had for this moment I had no idea what to expect. It was magical. My husband and I had certainly gone on a journey together and emerged with this beautiful new life that was part of both of us. I don’t know how to put the feeling in words, but it was absolutely incredible. Her hair was thick and dark, and her eyes a dark blue. They gave her Apgar scores of 9-10. She laid on me skin to skin and with help from Charlotte and Anjli we nursed. My husband cut her cord. We spent an hour or two bonding before they took her to the bassinet next to me to be weighed and measured, and checked by the pediatrician. She was born 7 pounds and 0.5 ounce, 20 inches, and was perfectly healthy.
I am so happy with our birth experience. I was committed to the idea that the most important end result of labor was “healthy baby, healthy mom” and that all the other stuff were just details. That meant that I wasn’t disappointed that we didn’t have a water birth—maybe next time!
One thing I thought might happen but I didn’t realize would happen to such an extent would be how my husband and I would bond through the process. We shared a lot of tears together in the days after coming home from the hospital. I would say as couples go we are very close, but this just made us closer than ever. It took several days to feel like we had lifted out of that trippy, post-birth fog. The shimmery effect the world had seemed to take on started to fade, and reality returned. Our new reality is so much more beautiful with her in it.