Just 5 days before Christmas, I awakened at 3:00 a.m. with lower back aches and cramps, feeling unsure as to whether or not I was actually in labor.
I had been experiencing this feeling off and on for the last few days so I ambled out to the couch, popped in my favorite chick flick, and laid on my trusty heating pad. A couple of hours later, I realized these “back aches” were regular so I had a phone chat with my midwife. It was finally happening! My personal goal was to reach 4 cm before leaving the house for the birthing center so I made a second breakfast, knowing I would need the energy as the day progressed, then showered, dressed, and packed more food to take with us. My contractions were growing stronger and stronger so I tried rocking on the ball and moving around, but I was having all back labor, and these techniques were not going to bring me any relief. With the help of my movies and relaxation breathing, I made it to 12:30 p.m. before telling my husband that if we didn’t leave now, there was no way I was getting in a car.
When we arrived at the birthing center, my husband unpacked our belongings, and the midwife checked my progress. I was four centimeters! I felt like a winner already. She informed us that our friends we had met in birthing class were in the lobby with their newborn who was just two days old. I chatted with them as long as I could manage, gritting my teeth through contractions, then made my way back to my room. The midwife suggested that I move in circles while sitting on the birthing ball to try and relieve some pressure from my back and/or get the baby to turn just a little. After about 20 minutes, she came back in and told me to get off the ball immediately and lay down before I passed out. Evidently I was as white as a sheet. So much for my plan of being active through my labor. There I lay as still as could be, just waiting for the contractions to come and go.
My husband waited to call close friends and family until we knew that my labor was strong enough to likely continue so throughout the afternoon, my “village” slowly trickled in. By the end I had my husband and a good friend/doula taking turns massaging my lower back through each contraction. They had a long, hard afternoon of work. My mom and sister were taking turns fanning me through hot spurts, covering me through cold spurts, and passing me the barf bucket. (I’m sure it was a rough job, but somebody had to do it—after some juice and water incidents I was only allowed Jolly Ranchers for the duration of my labor.) I remember feeling the pressure in my back more intensely than one could imagine and repeatedly asking my midwife how much longer (as if she would be able to give me a time frame–have you’ve figured out yet that I’m a big planner?). The midwife checked me at seven centimeters and told me to hang in there. The contractions were getting incredibly strong. I continued to listen to my relaxing music and try to breathe through contractions as I passed in and out of sleep. My goal was to give birth in the water, so I kept asking if I could get in yet. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, I reached nine and a half centimeters, and the midwife got the tub ready. I was so excited I jumped out of bed and stripped all my clothes off to immerse my body in warm water and my senses in lavender aromas.
When I got into the tub I realized I didn’t know what to do next. The midwife reminded me to wait for another contraction, then hold my breath and push. My contractions that were once so intense were now barely noticeable. It took 30 seconds of my first contraction in the tub to realize that I was even having one and to start pushing. I let out a steady cry as I pushed before the midwife told me that I didn’t have to scream. I thought, They always scream in the movies. I also felt like I hadn’t pushed correctly and asked the midwife what I did wrong. She told me to try again on the next contraction, pushing stronger and through my entire pelvis. I felt lost, like I had no idea how to push this baby out. On contraction number two, though, I held my breath and pushed hard and long without screaming, and nothing had ever felt so right.
I welcomed the next break and then continued with the pattern: contract, push with all my might, rest, repeat. Several contractions later, I lay in the tub with my head back and my eyes shut tightly when everyone started oooing and ahhing over the hair they could now see on the top of the baby’s head. I thought the baby was probably crowning since my perineum felt as tightly stretched as it had for the past several minutes. When the midwife asked if I could see the hair I simply answered, “No.” Then they told me to open my eyes. The midwife carefully pulled the bag of waters (that never broke) off the baby’s head and when I looked down I could see the entire head! I pushed one more time and got a shoulder out. After that contraction, the midwife told me that I didn’t have to wait for another one if I didn’t want to—the baby was that close. I had so much adrenaline pumping through my body that I didn’t wait a second longer. I gave one last hard push and out came my baby! The midwife placed the baby on my chest and I stared at it in amazement as we all cried. After a minute or so, my mom asked me if it was a boy or a girl. I thought, What a silly thing to think of at a special time like this but I guess I could look and see. My blurry tears got in the way so that I couldn’t really see, and the midwife said, “It’s a girl!” Then I announced to everyone that we decided to name her Lohi (pronounced Lo-ee). I held her to my body, basking in the warmth and love that is family, old and new.