Warrior mama: The birth story of Fox

Posted by Kathleen Shannon

12106484206_a3e11ddf7f_oSo about a week before I went into labor, Jeremy showed me a photo of a sheep giving birth. This sheep was casually laying on its side with a baby sheep head just hanging out of its vag. I thought, “That’s how I’m going to rock it.” So, for the first few pushes I was in a fetal position on my side, holding the image of that sheep in mind and trying not to puke. But it turns out humans are not sheep, and to be productive at pushing the baby down and out, I needed to open my legs—which I was very resistant to doing. Truth be told … I was scared. Warrior Mamas aren’t supposed to be scared. Warrior Mamas are squatting in a corner and birthing babies without fear. But here I am flat on my back, with Jeremy holding one leg by the knee and foot, saying “You guys … I don’t think I can do this.” But I did. This is our story.

A home birth: 
Towards the beginning of my third trimester, I found that my favorite midwife was planning to resign from the hospital I was receiving care at to do home births. With the support of Jeremy and the encouragement of my doula and my family, I decided a home birth would be ideal. It’s not for everyone, but it was what I wanted and this serendipitous turn of events put it within reach.

The beginning: 
On Sunday, a week after my due date, my water broke while I was sleeping. It wasn’t a dramatic gush like you see in the movies, and it wasn’t paired with anything stronger than Braxton Hicks “practice” contractions. In fact, it was a bit confusing and left me wondering if I had just peed the bed. I decided to sleep through the rest of the night, even though I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve just waiting for morning to arrive. I woke up around 7:30 a.m. Sunday morning, still not in labor, and called my midwife, Dawn, to let her know my status. Because I had tested GBS+ (Group B Strep) she came to my house around 10:30 a.m. to give me a shot of antibiotics to keep the baby safe. After your water breaks, you really only have about 24 hours for labor to start, otherwise you risk infection. So, I was a little concerned that labor didn’t seem to be progressing. My mind was filled with all the variables and scenarios that could go down from there. Dawn recommended getting as much rest as possible, and we would reassess at 2 p.m.

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Kickstarting labor: 
I didn’t rest, of course. Instead Jeremy and I started doing what we could to get labor going (wink, wink). Then we went for a two mile walk around the park—I tried walking with one foot on the curb and one on the ground, alternating sides. Then we decided to go enjoy an Indian buffet. At 2 p.m., I texted my midwife to let her know that nothing had changed, and she said to hang tight and keep her updated. Around 3:30 p.m., the baby’s movement had slowed and my mind was racing with anxiety over not going into active labor. So I called Dawn and my doula, Brandy, to come over to check in on the baby. Everything checked out fine—but I was still on edge.

I said, “I just don’t want to transfer to the hospital” out loud, but Dawn and Brandy, together and matter-of-factly, said “Oh, that’s not happening! You’re going to go into labor. We’ve got ways.” It was reassuring to hear after a day of worrying about “failure to progress.” From there we started discussing more aggressive induction techniques. Brandy offered to do some acupressure. She busted out some Clary Sage essential oil and did a number on my feet—it was intense. I have to admit that I didn’t truly believe it would work. Brandy and Dawn went to grab dinner and left me with a bottle of herbal extracts to take in an hour if nothing had changed. But within five minutes, around 4:30 p.m., the contractions got real. I was so excited.12226754863_647616a96b_o

Labor for real: 
My contractions quickly went from just a tightening of my abdomen and mild cramps to more serious, period-like cramps—the kind that take your breath away and make you double over. I wouldn’t call it painful, but it was intense. I welcomed them with all their might and invited them to stay for a while. After having about 15 contractions in the span of an hour, I had Jeremy text Dawn and Brandy to come back over. They finished dinner and got to my house around 6 p.m. They brought in lots of supplies (for emergencies) and started getting things ready. Jeremy filled the birthing tub and got the bed prepped (we kept our sheets on the bed, put a plastic drop cloth on top of those, then put another throw-away fitted sheet on top of that). Meanwhile, I walked around the house and had contractions in various places. Things started getting more and more intense—at 7:30 p.m., my contractions were 1-2 minutes apart. My doula invited me to get into the birthing tub we had set up next to the bed in our bedroom. I labored in there for about an hour listening to my Casa Jaguar playlist on repeat—the lights were dim and through my entire labor and delivery voices never rose above a whisper. Jeremy sat at the edge of the tub and offered me support when I needed it.

Around 8:00 p.m., I got out of the tub to go to the bathroom, and on my way back, contracted so hard that I just crawled onto the bed. I labored on my hands and knees on the bed for about an hour. At this point things were getting progressively more intense. I started shaking and shivering. I’m pretty sure this was the “transition” phase of labor because things started getting really intense. My body was contracting but at the same time felt like it was being pried open. I decided to get back into the tub—hoping to birth my little Aquarius in water. However, I found myself feeling ungrounded in the water—I lacked the gravity and resistance I needed to productively labor the baby down. So, I made my way back into the bed. Brandy invited me to bear down a little with one of my contractions and that’s when a big gush of amniotic fluid followed. It took me by surprise and I looked to Brandy for reassurance that that was normal (it is). A few contractions later Brandy told Jeremy that she was going to go tell Dawn to scrub up—I knew this meant it was probably push time.

Pushing the baby out: 
During the course of my entire pregnancy and labor I never had one cervical check—meaning I never knew how dilated or effaced I was. This was partly to minimize the possibility of exacerbating the GBS, but I also felt comfortable with just doing whatever my body told me. Around 9 p.m., my body was ready to push … but mentally I wasn’t there yet. Brandy encouraged me to bear down a little with my next contraction (which were now just a minute or less apart)—so I did, and from there my body took over. I pushed for an hour and a half at my own pace. Nobody was counting to 10 or yelling at me to push. Sometimes the contractions would come one right after another … and sometimes, just when I needed it most, my body would grant me a few minutes to rest between pushes. Brandy would occasionally ask me, “Where’s your baby?” I could feel him still kicking in my ribs, which made me feel like he wasn’t making his way down. She was also checking the baby’s heart rate with my contractions and he held steady with a good beat the entire time.

So here I was flat on my back. I kept thinking about moving to my hands and knees or at least a more upright reclined position but I felt paralyzed. So I just stayed put and kept pushing. And as crass as it may be, I can only compare pushing to involuntary dry heaving … but out of your uterus instead of stomach. Yes, it was painful, and yes, I was afraid. I tried to visualize the ocean. I tried to transform into a sheep or gorilla or whatever kind of animal that has no problem pushing a baby out. When that didn’t work I tried to irrationally find a way out of my body. Like a weird trip or strange dream I tried to mentally coordinate a way to have someone else push for me. At one point, I considered the logistics of transferring to the hospital and not asking for an epidural but instead asking for a medically-induced coma—but I didn’t even have it in me to sit up much less sit in the car and deal with hospital admissions. I had to accept the reality of the situation and embrace that it was me, my body and my baby—and there was no turning back.

Brandy gave me some super helpful tips—like to curl into and around the contraction and bring my chin to my chest—these instructions almost helped me reframe pushing as an exercise or sport. Meanwhile, Dawn gently directed my attention to exactly where I needed to focus my effort with her fingers, which was super helpful. Jeremy was still pulling my leg back by the knee with each contraction and would look down to watch the very top of the baby’s head poke out just a little further with each push. Dawn and Brandy encouraged me to feel the baby’s head—so I reached down and felt nothing but a hot mess. I remember at one point saying, “I just want to be done.” Brandy said, “Then you need to push this baby out.”

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When I finally accepted that I was going to have to put in the work and give it my all, the baby crowned. With that, there was no relief between contractions, and I could feel intense stretching in places I didn’t expect. At that point, I had accepted that I would be in labor on my bed for the rest of my life. So I was beyond surprised when with the next push the baby came out. And just like that, there was no pain. First, I was relieved. Relieved that I was done and that the baby was okay. Then there was pride. I’ve never been more proud of myself—and I was now a very proud mama to my little baby Fox. Then there was love. Just an incredible amount of love.

A new beginning: 
So I did it. I didn’t go into pregnancy, labor and delivery without fear. But I came out of it transformed into the Warrior Mama I intend to be. I told our baby how perfect he was (at least a dozen times) as he squirmed all naked, wet and warm on my belly. He cried just enough to tell us his own version of the story of his birth. After a few hours of clean up and blissed out bonding, Brandy and Dawn left our little nest— but not before I asked, “Okay. Literally, what do I do next?” Because I really didn’t know. It turns out instinct is pretty powerful and what felt right was to watch my naked baby sleep on my man’s chest in our own bed all night long.

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Send us your birth story! Whether you had a home birth, hospital birth, 37-hour labor or emergency C-section, we’d love to read the tale of your little one’s grand entrance. Write up your birth story (click here for tips on getting started) and email it, along with a few photos, to birthstory@pnmag.com. We’ll share it on our Birth Day blog and may even print it in an upcoming issue!

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