If you want to kick-start your labor, I highly recommend going to Costco. You can walk your way to a baby and load up on enough toilet paper to last at least six months. Now I know what you must be thinking, but no, I did not give birth next to a gallon of extra virgin olive oil. I did, however, start a process at the discount warehouse that would go against everything I had prepared in my birth plan. Not only did I have my plan, I had a soundtrack, an outfit, special headphones and scented lotion. All I was missing was a partridge in a pear tree, but I’m sure the hospital had a strict no-bird policy.
So there I was the morning after the Costco excursion, sleeping soundly at 39 weeks pregnant, resting in the fact that I had finished shopping for necessities in bulk, when I woke up to gentle pressure around my belly. I remember being excited because it was my first Braxton Hicks contraction. I also remember feeling a tad incontinent as I got up to go to the bathroom, where I noticed the faintest red streak on the tissue. A little over an hour later, I had another contraction. I had a hunch that the hint of incontinence was really my “water breaking” but I was thrown off because it was more of a trickling than the gush I expected.
Luckily, we had a prenatal appointment that afternoon. I came in, did the usual routine, and casually mentioned there was a chance I could be slowly leaking amniotic fluid. My midwife confirmed that I was. We listened to the baby’s heartbeat and everything sounded fine. We knew we could have the baby within the next day or so.
Knowing my birth preferences, the midwife suggested I labor at home until my contractions were four minutes apart lasting at least one minute for more than one hour, rather than rushing to the hospital too soon. We left the appointment with instructions to contact the on-call midwife at 7 p.m. and give her a heads up in the unlikely event my labor advanced enough to be admitted.
We headed to the post office at about 3:45 p.m. where I had one mild contraction while waiting in line. When we got home, I made a few phone calls, checked my hospital bag, packed the cooler with snacks, and gathered my labor gear (you know, soundtrack, headphones, birthing ball, etc.). I had my fourth contraction on the phone.
When my husband Michael came home around 7 p.m. after taking the dog to the kennel, I had a contraction that was stronger than the last two but still relatively mild. We called the on-call midwife as instructed and let her know the contractions were too far apart to come in yet. We also called our doula. Both suggested we just relax for the evening.
I decided to take a warm shower. On the way to the shower, I had a contraction I needed to pause and breath through. Maybe we’ll have this baby in the morning, I thought excitedly. In the shower, I had to use the wall for support during the next contraction. The warm water felt great but by the time I got out of the shower, I had to “take a knee” and focus on my breathing while contracting.
I asked my husband to run a bath for me in the bathroom downstairs. While I waited, I wrapped myself in a blanket and tried to use my birthing ball. It was awful. Maybe I’m using it too early in my labor to be effective?, I wondered. Then the next contraction hit and I was on my hands and knees on our bed. When Michael told me the tub was ready, I raced downstairs and got in.
He had dimmed the lights and lit a candle. It was beautiful. It felt great for a while but then I couldn’t find a comfortable position. My contractions were getting more intense but they were still not consistently four minutes apart—some were closer, some were much further. I got out of the tub and went into the guest room to listen to my affirmations and breathe deeply through the contractions. It was a little after 8 p.m. and it took less than 10 seconds of trying to be still through a contraction for me to know that headphones weren’t going to help. I needed to move!
For the next 20 minutes I was a brown blur, rocking, swaying, rolling, writhing and hands-and-kneeing through the increasingly intense contractions. Meanwhile, a worried Michael packed the car and called our doula, who could hear me moaning in the background. She said I sounded great and that she was on her way over. Michael came back to the guest room and I told him that I couldn’t do this for another 10 to 12 hours. It was too much for me. I was beyond disappointed that after all the work I’d done throughout my pregnancy, I couldn’t even get through my prelabor contractions. It was a low point. I had no idea it was my strongest moment.
I was about to start putting on lotion and getting dressed when I hit the floor to moan and move through another contraction, which by the way did not ease in like waves as I was told they would. On a scale of 1 to 10, these bad boys were starting at eight, spiking to 11 then coming down to nine. In other words: ouch. Michael was helping me to my feet when I felt my body suddenly and briefly bear down. I mumbled something about an involuntary push and asked him to help me into the bathroom.
I tried to sit backward on the toilet and use the tank for support, so I could rest somewhat upright. Then my body somehow pushed down again, strong enough for my legs to stand me up to counter the pressure. Then it happened again. I was standing there confused when Michael came to the door. “I need to walk!” I declared, for some reason.
He helped me into the dining room and when the next bear down/involuntary push happened, I knew I was having our baby right there, in our house, with just the two of us. When we finished walking around the dining table, I said, “I need to get on my knees.” Thinking it was another contraction, Michael started to walk toward the guest room until I said, “Michael, look between my legs.” He turned and looked as the baby’s head was coming out. I think he muttered “Oh my God” or something to that effect before he rushed off to grab some towels. In seconds he was back and I said, right in the middle of delivering a baby, “Not the white ones!” as if we had time for such nonsense. Michael put down a towel to cushion my knees then caught the baby with another towel.
At 9:16 p.m. we met our daughter. She was wide-eyed, pink and breathing just fine after a few coughs. It was, in a word, amazing. Our doula arrived shortly after and coached Michael through the cord cutting. The paramedics arrived with a gaggle of dumbstruck firefighters who were surprised we’d already delivered the kid and disappointed not to have gotten in on the action. They assessed her and said she looked perfect. In two hours we went from preparing for a relaxing evening to holding our healthy baby girl. We couldn’t have planned it any better.