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Through fire and water: The birth of Aaron James Water Birth

Through fire and water: The birth of Aaron James

"I kept telling Dan not to get excited because I was so convinced that it was a false alarm. I had been reading on baby forums about women having contractions for days—even weeks—who weren’t dilated or effaced at all, so I thought I needed a go at false labor before the real thing would happen."

I was prepared to meet our baby on April 27 or after. At 38 weeks, I saw no signs of labor, so I was mentally preparing myself to go past my due date.

I woke up in the wee hours of the morning on Sunday, April 19 (exactly 39 weeks) feeling mildly painful Braxton Hicks contractions. I had become familiar with these contractions at the start of the third trimester, but they were never painful. My whole belly would tense up, making it hard to breathe for a few seconds. That Sunday, they felt like a dull pain, but they were completely bearable.

By about 7 a.m., I was wide awake and decided to start timing them, just “for fun” because I was convinced it was false labor. For about two hours, I was getting a contraction every 9 or 10 minutes apart. At about 10 a.m. they picked up to about 7 minutes apart, but by 11 o’clock they had slowed back down to about 12 minutes apart until I stopped timing them.

I kept telling Dan not to get excited because I was so convinced that it was a false alarm. I had been reading on baby forums about women having contractions for days—even weeks—who weren’t dilated or effaced at all, so I thought I needed a go at false labor before the real thing would happen. It was important for me to keep telling myself this in case it wasn’t the real thing; I was so ready to not be pregnant anymore (oh, and meet Aaron), and I didn’t want to be let down.

After church, Dan and I had plans of going to the flea market with some friends, which worked out perfectly because all that walking helped bring the contractions back. I kept getting two or three every hour until about 9 p.m., when we went to drop off a frozen meal for a friend who’d had her baby a few weeks prior. When we got to her house, I started feeling the Braxton Hicks more, but they felt just a tiny bit more painful. I was able to talk through them perfectly fine. But when I decided to actually time them, they were coming at about four to five minutes apart.

Our friends Sofia and Albert told us about the birth of their beautiful daughter, and it really helped, especially because they delivered at the birthing center where we were set to also give birth. They prayed for us and were very reassuring about the whole labor and delivery thing, and hearing about their experience made me feel so positive and at peace with the possibility of actually being in labor. We got home at about 11 p.m., and I went to the restroom. It was there that I saw I had lost my mucus plug. I yelled at Dan that I thought I was officially in labor—and thus began our excitement … and a long night.

At around midnight, the contractions, which were getting a bit more painful but not unbearable, were consistently coming about four minutes apart and had been for an hour. Our midwives told us to use the 4-1-1 rule when deciding to call in: If contractions were four minutes apart, lasted a full minute, and had been consistent for an hour, we were probably ready to go in. We called and were asked to wait another hour. If the contractions kept up at that same rate, we were told to go in.

An hour went by and they continued being three to four minutes apart, lasting about 50 seconds, so we excitedly decided to make the trip to the birth center to get checked out. After a series of tests, including a very painful cervix check, our midwife, Emily, told us the devastating news: I was only 2 centimeters dilated. Contractions at that point were taking my breath away, but I was able to function normally after they climaxed. We left the birth center and were told to return in about two to three hours when labor would surely have picked up, and I’d be dilated, hopefully, to four centimeters or more and be ready to be admitted.

Back home, I quickly felt active labor starting to kick in. I bounced on a birth ball, walked and lay on my side but nothing seemed to really help with the painful contractions. Dan was a great coach and helped me relax and not tense up during them, which was the only thing that actually helped. I had been reading up on hypnobirthing and had even been listening to relaxation and affirmation tracks for about a month, but I wasn’t able to achieve a real, deep hypnosis during labor. I was able to deeply focus on relaxing every part of my body and finding spots where I was tensing up, thanks to Dan. That really helped because once I tensed up and lost focus, I panicked and would feel so much more pain.

The most painful contractions started at about 6 a.m., three hours after getting sent home from the birth center. Dan was sleeping, and I didn’t want to wake him up because I kept thinking I’d be in labor for about 10 more hours, for some reason. I wanted him to rest, so that he’d be be able to help me through the harder part. The contractions were painful, but I kept thinking that they were only going to get more painful—and that I had to focus on the current one instead of all of the rest of them that were surely to come. It really did help to focus on one contraction at a time because I really wasn’t able to come to terms with experiencing more pain at that point.

At around 7:30 a.m., I felt I couldn’t quite handle the pain much longer, and I woke Dan up. We started getting last-minute things together to go to the birth center. Emily had told us to return within two to three hours, but I waited longer because I didn’t really think there would be a difference between laboring at home and laboring at the birth center (and, again, in my mind, I thought I would progress very slowly, and I didn’t want to be sent back home a second time).

While Dan went into the kitchen to pack some snacks and meals, I went to the restroom where I was hit with the most intense contraction. Instinctively, I grunted, pushed with all my might, and held my legs up at the knees in a sort of “birthing” position. When it was over, I got up and saw blood in the toilet and got hit with another contraction similar to the first almost immediately, then another one. Dan came in running, and at that point I just couldn’t imagine riding in a car and having these contractions. The birth center is about 30 minutes away, but I just felt I couldn’t survive the drive there. I was completely ready for a home birth—even for Dan to deliver the baby—or call an ambulance, so they could deliver him. Dan talked me out of it, of course, and after a couple of more painful contractions, we were on our way to the birth center.

The ride over was brutal. I was grunting so loud and pushing so hard, and I couldn’t control any of it. I had stopped timing contractions when we got sent back home earlier, but if I would have timed these, they would have definitely been about a minute apart. We got to the birth center in close to 15 minutes, thanks to Dan driving about 80 miles an hour, but when we finally pulled into the parking lot at a little past 8 o’clock, I felt Aaron descend into the birth canal. I was pushing so hard that I screamed at Dan to get the midwife because I was convinced he’d be born in the car. Dan parked the car and ran out to get Emily who was waiting for us along with a few other midwives. Luckily they convinced me to get out of the car, and we went into our cottage.

Emily checked, and I was fully dilated, much to my surprise and relief. They prepared the birth tub all while I was pushing and grunting. When I got in, I felt all the pressure in my pelvic area. Pushing was the hardest part of labor, and the “ring of fire” is no joke or myth. After a few pushes I was able to feel his head crowning a bit and after a few more, his whole body came out. It was very unusual, according to the midwives, but it was such a relief to have him out. They placed his tiny, slimy body on my chest, and I felt a gush of emotions all at once. I couldn’t believe that I had carried that baby inside of me for the past nine months. I couldn’t believe that Dan and I were parents. I couldn’t believe how much he didn’t look like me, and I couldn’t believe it was finally all over.

It really is true that you forget all about the pain once your baby is in your arms. Dan had joined me in the tub during the pushing, and we stayed in it for a good 30 minutes, just marveling at the precious baby we had created. It was all so perfect.

I had prayed for a fast and smooth delivery throughout my pregnancy and was so humbled at how God had been so faithful. Giving birth to Aaron was the hardest thing I’ve done, but I saw God’s awesome work in me through it. I was amazed at how my body took over and, by grace, everything progressed smoothly and naturally.

I wrote this because I didn’t want to forget this amazing experience. I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging or like someone who would look down on a woman who has not had an unmedicated birth. When sharing our plans of going with a birth center (instead of a hospital) where pain medication isn’t an option, I got a few comments, like, “You won’t get a medal for enduring the pain,” and some comments about the risks of not being in a hospital. The fact is that I don’t feel like I’m better because I “endured” the pain or because I gave birth “naturally.” I feel empowered because I was able to make my own decision and not have society dictate how my baby was to be born. When the time comes, I hope our next time is as wonderful as this was.

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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