I was 10 days past my due date. Never in my life had 10 days felt so long—not even when I was a kid waiting for Christmas! Pregnant with my first child in the middle of July, 10 days overdue, fearing the unknown … it was pretty much a recipe for a serious meltdown, and I had one. My mom had come to stay with us for the birth. She arrived the weekend of July Fourth, with my due date being the 17th. Little did we know, my daughter wouldn’t arrive until July 27.
I had been having contractions for the past two weeks. Gradually they would get stronger toward the evening and then fall off toward bedtime. I woke up the morning of July 26 discouraged, with seemingly no progress (aside from a few strong contractions through the night) and anxious to hear what my midwife would have to say at my appointment later that day. It would be my first cervical exam—she didn’t like to do them until a person was past 40 weeks of pregnancy.
After using the bathroom I noticed a bloody clot and some mucous. I cried. I was so happy. After not seeing any progress for weeks, it was finally becoming real. Sooner than later, we would be having a baby!
My appointment wasn’t until 1 p.m., so I decided to do my weekly grocery shopping beforehand. Probably not my best decision. My contractions were a steady 8 to 10 minutes apart by this time and getting stronger. It turns out that Wal-Mart might not be the best place to spend the better part of your early labor. And due to a medical condition, my mom couldn’t drive, so I found myself breathing through and timing these contractions on the 40-minute drive to my appointment.
My midwife was one of three attending healthcare providers at the birthing center. You get to meet all of them throughout the course of your pregnancy, and whoever is on call at the time you come in is who will be delivering your baby.
It’s not a huge secret that I didn’t like her a whole lot. She’s opinionated, a little abrasive, very “no-nonsense,” although extremely experienced. Sitting in the exam room, waiting to be checked for the first time, she came in and nonchalantly declared that she was scheduling me for an induction at 7 the next morning. I asked if she could strip my membranes, hoping that would make things go faster. She complied and did that while checking my cervix. Turns out I was already 3 centimeters dilated and 80 percent effaced! (Although dilation and cervical ripening are only parts of the labor puzzle, it felt good to know that something was happening down there.)
This is when that meltdown happened that I was talking about. Faced with the idea that they might have to induce labor, I lost it. Broke down and cried in front of the one person I didn’t want to, my midwife. I explained that I wasn’t upset, but induction of labor had never occurred to me—so I didn’t prepare for it. And not only that, but I knew the increased risk of an elective induction ending in a C-section. It wasn’t an intervention I was interested in—if any, but I tried to put thoughts of a cesarean delivery behind me and look forward to what was coming: I would be having a baby within the next 24 to 38 hours, and I just couldn’t believe it!
So, with a scheduled induction, my mom and I went home to put a way our groceries. By 6 that night my contractions were 5 to 7 minutes apart, and I had to start breathing my way through them. I remember getting to a certain point and thinking, Wow, this is really going to be painful; these puppies hurt!
I called my midwife at 8 p.m. Contractions were 4 to 5 minutes apart at that point, and I had been sitting, squatting and breathing my way through them while my husband played guitar, and my mom rubbed my feet. She promptly responded: “Well, you can still talk through them. Give me a call back at 9:30.” I thought, What? Of course I can talk through them. You’re asking me questions, so I’m going to answer you no matter how much pain I’m in.
At 9 p.m. they were much more intense, and my mom suggested that I call. “Nope, she said 9:30, and I’m going to wait.”
At 9:30 they were bad enough that I couldn’t talk through them, and my mom called. She told us to come in, so we started the 40-minute drive to the birthing center. We Live in Maine. The roads are bumpy and uncomfortable when you’re NOT in active labor. I remember just wincing in pain because I couldn’t squat or move. I could only sit and hold onto the already installed carseat next to me, thinking, I’m going to put MY baby in that in a few days.”
Apparently first-time labors are typically super long. I think 15 to 24 hours is the average, so when I got to the birthing center and the nurses checked me in, they decided it was catch-up time. Oh, the questions. I’m lying down politely as they measure my contractions, and baby’s heart rate, wanting to scream in pain as they ask me (for the 100th time this pregnancy) “Did you really refuse this vaccine?” and “Why?”
They checked me. I was 5 centimeters and 90 percent effaced … progress! Then they let us be in the labor and delivery room and said to call if we needed anything.
I was hot and sweaty, but wanted to keep moving as I found that movement helped the most with contractions. I made my way to the shower. I remember this part so vividly. My husband helped me get in and talked to me the whole time. “You are doing so great. I’m so proud of you. It will all be over soon.” I looked at him, tears running down my face. I was already so weary, so exhausted. It was almost 11 p.m., and all I wanted to do was sleep. I said tearfully “I’m so weak; I don’t think I can do this.”
My plan was to have an unmedicated birth, but at this point I was realizing just how real the pain was, and my water hadn’t even broken yet. He looked at me and said, “Just take it one contraction at a time. Let’s count through it; that seems to help. You can do this. OK, 1, 2, 3 …”
I got out of the shower, put on my nightgown and settled in for the long haul. I sat on an exercise ball, squatted, counted, moved my legs, whatever my body told me to do. It’s all pretty much a blur from here on out, but I remember being on the ball. My legs were shaking, and I saw my mom get up and walk out. She returned with the nurse, and right at that point—in the middle of a contraction—I felt the urge to bear down for the very first time. I let out a surprised scream/groan and doubled over with the pain.
I wanted to push. I needed to push. I didn’t know why. I had no idea that it would feel like this—an uncontrollable urge, my body just taking over. The nurse quickly came over and checked my underpants because I told her I felt something. It was my bloody show, but still no water breaking. My midwife then walked in, observed the next contraction or two, coaching me a little through them. Then she said, “OK, we’re going to check you.” Ten centimeters and 100 percent effaced! Glory be!
She nonchalantly broke my water with one of those long plastic things that look like a crochet needle, and then she told me to push through the next contraction. It was about midnight at this time. I knew that for first-time moms the pushing stage could be incredibly grueling and long so I tried to rest in between contractions—and almost fell asleep once.
There were five people gathered around my lower parts; I remember who was where, but not really much else. My mom was next to my head coaching my through the pushing. (I was extremely uncoordinated at first.) My husband was holding my leg. Then my midwife was right below me, and a nurse was getting ready to help deliver. Another nurse was holding my other leg.
In the middle of all of this I was getting blood drawn. Apparently they needed it due to the RH factor and because my labor had went so fast. They had rushed the phlebotamist down to get it before I delivered. I saw the typical swab, rubber band above the arm and then heard “This will hurt a bit.” I remember looking at him deliriously and saying, “Believe me, I can’t even feel that.”
About 15 minutes after midnight I heard my midwife say, “I can see her head! Reach down, and touch her head!” I reached down to feel, and it was not what I expected. It was soft and squishy, not hard like I thought it would be. After that point it only took two more contractions to deliver my daughter. My midwife was very careful to tell me to stop as the baby was crowning so that the perineum could stretch for my vaginal delivery. She poured some mineral oil on me and then said to push ever so slightly. (Turns out this simple act of forethought, although difficult at the time, saved me from tearing and made my recovery much easier!)
Within the next two pushes my daughter was born. A spray of amniotic fluid came out as she was born and covered my husband. I heard the midwife say, “Take your baby, Stephanie. Take your baby.” I was able to bring her to my chest myself, and I laid back in the bed delirious, exhausted and surging with oxytocin.
There she was, my little human. Words can’t describe the quiet stillness of that first hour. Everyone left the room, and it was just my husband, daughter and me. She latched on almost immediately. Besides a painful nipple crack the first week, we’ve had a great breastfeeding relationship since day one.
I’m amazed at what my body did that night. And my Midwife? She was exactly what I needed, I would have her deliver all my babies if I could!