My husband and I wanted to have a natural birth from the very start, although I was unsure of how I would handle that, having never given birth before. I am a very sensitive person, a bit neurotic and very in tune with my body. Many people had told me how great the epidural was, but part of me was curious to experience what unmedicated childbirth felt like. Was I silly to think I could do it? Me, who screams when she stubs her toe? Likely, yet, we felt that if it were possible, it was what we wanted most for our daughter.
I had watched The Business of Being Born and was nervous about what epidurals and Pitocin can lead to, so we hired a doula, having heard that they can facilitate a natural birth more easily than going it alone. We decided to use her as a labor coach and have her come to the hospital with us when it was time. She also included five birthing classes that she taught herself. Hiring her was one of the best choices we made.
I was substitute teaching up until the Friday before our daughter’s birth. I had just completed the 38th week of a very smooth pregnancy. The only major issues I experienced were back pain (I saw a great chiropractor the entire pregnancy) and awful leg cramps (which pretty much went away when I took magnesium every day). I still had almost two weeks to go before my due date, which coincided with my own birthday, when I said to my coworkers in the special education class I was helping in that day, “I think today is my last day subbing.” I thought it would be a good idea to rest, as I was hoping to make it to 40 weeks if I could. But baby had other plans …
Monday the following week, my husband was working up in Los Angeles, a two hour drive from our San Diego abode. I didn’t work that day, but I still felt pretty good. I even thought, I could still work today if I wanted to. But instead I rested. It was a good thing too, as I started experiencing a slight shooting pain down my left leg. I texted my parents and my husband, “Dull shooting pain down left leg, could be the sciatic nerve. A sign…?” Later, I went for a 20 minute walk, letting them know where I would be going, just in case. It was a sloooow walk for me, as everything felt heavy and achy. I cupped my hands under my belly, which felt so heavy even with the belly band I was wearing. Still, I wanted to exercise right up until delivery because everything I read said that exercise led to healthier, calmer babies and helped the mama through labor. I got home slowly but safely, showered, ate dinner and went to bed.
Tuesday, I awoke at 4 a.m. with what felt like “gas pains.” I figured it was an irritable bowel thing, and thought, I will get some probiotics later today. I visited the restroom then went back to bed. At 5 a.m., I woke again with the same pain. I still thought it was gas and went back to bed. At 6 a.m., I went to the restroom again, but I had more trouble getting back to sleep, lying face down with my knees tucked under me. By 7 a.m., I was moaning in the restroom with period-like cramps coming in waves and light spotting. By 8 a.m., the spotting had lightened, and there was no doubt in my mind that this was early labor, although my water had not broken. I called my mom to let her know what was up, and she got ready to come over. I called my husband next, and he said to call him again when I was certain there was a pattern, to rule out “false labor.” At this point, contractions were ranging from 2-10 minutes apart, lasting 30-45 seconds. I then called our doula, who also said she would come when labor was a little further along.
By 10 a.m., my mom arrived and helped me time my contractions and log them in a journal. She was wonderful trying to get me to eat something and bringing me water, pillows and anything else I needed. The only thing I can compare the contractions to are the worst muscular backache you will ever feel. I labored in bed at first, then standing against it, then moving to the couch downstairs. By 11 a.m., contractions were 3-5 minutes apart and lasted from 1 to 2 ½ minutes. Sometimes there were 30 seconds or less in between them. On the phone, our doula suggested a shower—miraculously, the contractions stopped the whole time I was in there! I must have taken a 15-20 minute shower; it was such a relief! The contractions resumed strongly when I got out, and I decided it was time to tell our doula and my husband to come over. My husband hit the road around noon.
By the time our doula got there, things were pretty intense. Our birth plan included laboring at home as long as possible, until, as my prenatal yoga instructor said, “you can no longer say the words ‘we need to go to the hospital!'” Our doula helped by giving directions to my mom, squeezing my hips and applying pressure to my tailbone during contractions, which made them somewhat more manageable. When my husband arrived, I could barely talk to him. I could not comfortably lie down or sit in between contractions. He was worried my legs were getting tired from kneeling and bending over the couch. Finally, our doula suggested a bath. The contractions became less intense in the warm water, and I actually managed to doze in between. Much needed rest! Once I got out, however, they got more intense than ever. I managed to squeak out to my doula, “I think it’s time to go to the hospital.” Forget what my yoga instructor said! She passed on this info to my mom and husband, who mobilized very quickly getting everything into the car around 5 p.m.
It was most certainly the worst car ride of my life. My face was mashed into a pillow in the back seat, my right foot in the floorboard, and my left foot pushed up against the door. No seatbelt, definitely not safe, but there was no way I could sit or lie normally. I moaned and braced myself the entire ride, hoping a cop didn’t pull us over. In 15 minutes, my husband and I were in front of the hospital, and the doula was close behind. I paused for contractions on the grass, in the hall of the maternity ward, in the maternity shop and again in the hall before getting into a private room. Our birth plan outlined how we wanted minimal monitoring and no offers of drugs or other interventions unless medically necessary, and they followed it respectfully and without question. The nurses had a hell of a time getting the IV port in my arm, collapsing two veins in my right arm before successfully getting it in my left arm. I was so in the zone, I didn’t get upset about it. I hardly noticed anything but the intensity of each contraction, breathing deeply and trying to escape into visualization to make it through each one. I even experienced religious visions during this time. I didn’t even change into a hospital gown, but delivered in a light cotton dress of my own (which I later had dry cleaned).
Once all the necessary procedures were done, they determined I was 5 ½ centimeters dilated. They then moved us to another room where I labored on a bed with my husband and doula at my side. I was a little dehydrated, so they got me some water. My husband got out the Pedialyte freezer pops we had brought, giving me a bite in between contractions.
Time passed in a blur. Within an hour, I felt an urge and cried, “I feel like I need to push!” The nurse quickly checked me, and I was already 9 ½ centimeters! She used her finger to help open the cervix that last ½ centimeter, and then she gave me the go-ahead to push. I felt a gush and thought the others must have noticed. When they didn’t, I muttered, “My water just broke!” I continued pushing and pushing and pushing until the doctor came in. She was not my OB/GYN, who was not on call that day, but I didn’t care. Somewhere in the haze of all the pushing, my doula heard me softly say, “I want an epidural…” I only said it once, I don’t even remember saying it, and she didn’t feel the need to tell me that it was already too late for that. Within the next hour, our baby was crowning, and I was able to see and touch the top of her head, which had a mass of dark hair. But then the frustration kicked in. My legs started cramping. Badly. I had forgotten to take my second dose of magnesium that day. My husband held my left leg, trying to stretch and massage it, while I struggled to push. My foot was contorted in a flex, while a Charlie horse contorted my calf. My other leg cramped too, but not as badly. The doctor sat patiently, watching as baby’s head came further out, then retracted, over and over, as my legs diverted my energy away. I was approaching exhaustion, and felt like I couldn’t get her out because my leg cramps were sapping me of energy. I screamed and grunted with each long push, so loudly, I was sure everyone in the whole maternity ward could hear me. All in all, the crowning and the cramping went on for about an hour and a half, my husband holding my left leg up in the air, and our doula holding the right.
Finally, close to 8 p.m., the doctor suggested that an episiotomy might help. I hadn’t wanted one, but after she brought it up a few times, I consented, not knowing how much longer I could keep pushing. She did just a very small one, and within 5 minutes, our daughter Mia was pulled out and into the world! (Later my husband would tell me that the cord was wrapped around her neck – twice! – but thankfully it was not very tight or it would have shown up on her heart rate monitor).
The nurses put our daughter onto my chest immediately, where she screamed marvelously and then found my breast to start nursing right away. Oh what a feeling! I alternated between coos of adoration to our little girl and shouting in annoyance at my stupid left leg, which was still cramping and which my dear husband was still holding and massaging. The cramping was milder and almost funny now, because we were just too happy to meet this slippery, purple little person that nothing else really mattered. I also barely noticed the delivery of the placenta or the doctor stitching up my episiotomy. My husband and I marveled as Mia’s color softened to a pinker hue, and we were allowed to bond for more than an hour before the nurses started the standard procedures. She was nine days early and a mere 6 pounds and 3 ounces—but healthy as a horse and beautiful. We made sure she never left our sight that whole first night, and we all slept in the same hospital room, basking in baby bliss.
In the end, we were so happy that we were able to stick to our birth plan pretty closely. The episiotomy was a small concession, and it later healed quickly without issue. We felt rested and confident enough to leave the next night around 10:30 p.m., and brought our little miracle home at last!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll share it on our Birth Day blog and may even print it in an upcoming issue!