It all began on a rainy Thursday morning when I opened my eyes and felt an electric “pop” inside of me. Followed by a second one. Since I was on high alert for signs of labor, I figured I should make a beeline to the toilet ….just in case.
The moment I sat down, I knew my water had broken.
The day before, I had had acupuncture and a massage and think they both contributed to getting things going. I was 6 days past my due date.
With nerves racing, I excitedly took a shower, made breakfast, and tidied up the house. “I’m going to have a baby today!” I thought.
Throughout the morning, I started feeling more and more cramps. My period cramps were never that bad growing up, so these did feel like “the worst cramps of my life” but that’s not really saying much. Around 10am, I felt my first wave of a contraction. It really did feel like an ocean wave going through me, but it wasn’t painful. I felt a few more of these and tried timing them, but they sort of fizzled away. I had called my doula first thing and she planned to come over around noon to see how I was doing and talk about our options.
I was group B strep positive and since my water had broken, we knew we needed to go to the hospital sooner rather than later. But we also didn’t want to show up not in labor and face an induction, so we tried one more round of acupuncture first. At this point I was uncomfortable, but not really in pain. Just lots of cramping.
Matt and I also decided to go for a walk. Walking wasn’t easy with all the cramping, but I was hopeful it might help get me into labor.
When we got back home, I was still cramping pretty badly though not necessarily contracting, but it was time to go in. I called my doctor and they had me come to the office before they sent me over to the hospital. So we packed our bags and left to have a baby!
At the office, their initial check revealed I was 2cm, 70% effaced and –1 station. Little progress, but it was something. My doctor said it was best to go in and get my first dose of antibiotics (due to the group B strep). We talked about my desire for a drug-free birth and he said there would not be a push for induction quite yet – we had time. He called ahead to the doctor on call at the hospital to let him know this in advance, which I very much appreciated.
It was quite surreal walking into the hospital knowing we weren’t coming back out. If only I knew what kind of intensity was coming! I was really eager to get labor going and exit this wishy-washy contraction stage, and so my famous last words were ‘bring on the pain’!
Our doula, Jen, met us there and I was led to our room and told to put on a gown. I was put on the monitors and surprised to hear contractions were coming about 3 minutes apart. I could only feel about half of them, but that seemed pretty close together to me! Next up was the IV insertion and my antibiotics. This was hard on me emotionally – when she was done with the needle I ended up crying a little. I just had to let it out. We had to wait for the antibiotics to finish before we could get started on some laboring exercises.
Jen was my prenatal yoga teacher for my whole pregnancy and I knew we were in for an active labor. Her techniques work to bring the baby into the best position, and so I spent about an hour doing big wide loops on the exercise ball to open my pelvis and get him to engage. Sometime during this hour, I started to really feel a start and stop to each contraction. I would loop on the ball and then during a contraction stand up, hold my belly towards me, tuck my tail and breathe deeply.
We started to do a lot of other exercises – I did some laboring leaning over the bed. Swaying side to side really helped ease the contractions. During this time, Matt and Jen ate “dinner” – tomatoes from the garden with bread and pimento cheese and hummus. I had NO desire to eat savory foods, but I did manage to get in some dates, lots of coconut water, some juice and a date ball. Matt fed me some banana slices with peanut butter too.
At 8pm, we got in the jacuzzi tub. Every room at Martha Jefferson has a tub in the bathroom and we filled it with warm water (wish it could have been hot!) and turned on the jets. At this point I was so uncomfortable that my modesty was gone and I just got naked and in the tub.
Jen and Matt talked me through two hours of contractions in the tub. This is when the night got intense. I started on my knees, legs spread open wide, draped over the side of the tub on a towel. Within a half hour, my contractions were such that I was now moaning. I think the whole second hour of the tub was spent with my eyes closed. I remember shaking uncontrollably just before the contracts were about to start. I remember sipping coconut water and thinking it was disgusting and asking for plain ice water. I remember thinking there is no way I can get back out of this tub. There was just not enough time between contractions. I remember saying “I can’t do this much longer.” And then I remember thinking…I must be approaching transition.
Jen said my contractions were 2 minutes apart for 7 hours, which is not common. I had little time to think. The contractions weren’t as much of a bell curve as they were a sharp peak and then a gradual slow decline. It’s hard to describe what was so bad about them, but they really did take over my whole body. I felt most of my labor right down low in the front. It was like there was a really, really strong magnet inside. A magnet like the hatch in LOST. And it was in my core. Every time a contraction would start, someone was trying to pull the magnet from me with another on the outside. Little by little, the pain would subside only to restart the cycle a few seconds later.
When I finally got out of the tub, I was shivering and draped in warm blankets. I think I said at this point: “Why did I stay in there so long!? These blankets feel amazing!”
I was kind of surprised that unlike on TV, I hadn’t been checked since I arrived at the hospital (the doctors wanted to minimize internal exams because of my water breaking and the risk of infection). It was now 10 pm and the contractions were really intense. My doctor came in to check me and said I was 5 cm, 100% effaced and still –1 station.
I responded with “YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME! Only 5 cm!?!?!”
I was shocked and discouraged. I think I uttered another “I can’t do this…” Jen says that she thinks I went through an early transition while I was in the tub, judging from the frequency and intensity of the contractions along with my emotional state. They all seemed very pleased with my progress, but I was discouraged. Jen said that this was the point she would normally take a mom to the hospital, and I have to say I was so glad we were not getting in a car to just get there in this kind of intensity.
From this point on, the next 5 hours are a complete blur. I labored on the toilet, draped over the exercise ball, draped over the side of the bed, the back of the bed, doing cat/cow pose from yoga. All I could focus on was saying “ouuuuuuuut” (and sometimes “ouuuuch”) over and over and over again. It was also around this time that I threw up – violently and deeply – for the first time. I think I must have thrown up about 4-5 times throughout the night, and each time the heaving tightened everything inside of me and caused me to bear down.
The most uncomfortable position was when Jen had me lie flat with my legs lower than my hips to encourage him to move downward, and I remember actually feeling him slide down with a strong contraction. Painful, but effective.
Around midnight, I started to get the urge to push. Jen alerted my nurse and they encouraged me to listen to my body. What started as a little urge became an uncontrollable instinct to bear down. At this point, I was in the bathroom, with a towel tied to a bar, and squatting during contractions. I started pushing with all of my might. I thought I was getting close. I heard them turn on the baby warmer and start getting ready for a baby’s arrival.
After maybe 30 minutes of squats and pushes, I ended up back on the bed and my nurse checked me. She said I was 8.5-9cm and that I had an anterior cervical lip that was getting a little swollen. I needed to hold back on the pushing. They inverted my bed so that my head was lower than my body. This made the contractions even more intense. I definitely mentioned an epidural a few times throughout the night, but I think I was just testing my support team. They said they could tell that despite how uncomfortable I was, I didn’t need the epidural. I was coping well. Jen told me later that she couldn’t believe how “in the moment” I stayed. She said she often has to go deep inside a woman and pull her back from a dark place to focus. She was impressed that I kept my focus on the chanting and taking each contraction one at a time as they came. I just did what my brain told me to do!
It must have been around 1-2 am when they checked me again. This time I was 9.5 cm with just that anterior lip holding me back. The nurse said she would try to manually push it aside while I pushed, but that didn’t have any luck. My doctor, unsuccessful as well, said to give it a little more time. They had also put a monitor on me because the baby’s heart rate was dipping just a little. It wasn’t anything to be concerned with yet, but it was something they wanted to monitor. I remember thinking that the heart rate decelerations combined with the lip had me going in the direction of a c-section and that I would be OK with that because it would mean I would be numb and this would all be over (and most importantly that the baby would be safe). I also remember a beeping noise that kept going off that sounded like a warning alarm. I thought it was the baby’s heart rate and was getting worried and finally said “What is that beeping!?!!?” They said “Oh it’s just the warming bed!” Relief.
An hour later at 3am, the doctor came back to try to push aside the lip again. He literally put his hands inside of me and pushed with all of his might. I didn’t care how much this hurt because I just wanted that lip gone. This time, it worked!!!!!!!!!
It was go-time.
I started with a few pushes and he came down very fast. Everyone told me I was an excellent pusher and to just keep doing what I was doing. I was in a reclined position with my legs totally pulled back to open my pelvis as much as possible.
My contractions had actually slowed down in frequency a bit during pushing to the point that I didn’t even feel them starting and stopping anymore. The pain at this time was just from my whole body flexing to push and the bag of rocks that was descending. I was also SO happy that I was pushing and that it was just up to me and my strength to get him out. It was probably this time that I burst all the blood vessels in my eyes. I used every bit of muscle in my body to send the energy to the birth canal, and I think that’s how I was able to push effectively.
After just 20 minutes of pushing, everyone was cheering me on. “He’s almost here.” “Give it that last oomph.” Matt said he saw the head begin to emerge and thought, “Man, he is small!” but then the head kept emerging and emerging and getting bigger and bigger and then he understood the scale of what was happening.
I felt the ring of fire – lots of stinging – and with one or two more pushes, his head was out. I remember saying “ow ow ow” as the doctor turned his shoulders. Apparently he was in a very good birthing position. It was 3:38am!
They pulled him out and put him right on my chest. I remember thinking “He’s so warm!” He was a jiggly little warm baby, and he started crying right away. His Apgar scores were 8 and 9. I said “remember to let the cord stop pulsing” and my doctor said he was watching it right then. My mom always told me that she was shocked when her doctor told her she had to push out the placenta, so when my doctor just pulled it out of me moments later, I was surprised at how easy it was. I was also surprised how sore I already was when it passed through!
Someone asked us if he had a name and Matt sort of choked his words, so I said “It’s Mazen Duke.” I think we were both on the verge of tears at that point. He was finally here.
After we had gazed at him for a good 15 minutes of skin to skin, the nurse took him away to be weighed. No one could believe he was 8 pounds! 20.5 inches long.
They brought him back to me and I was able to start nursing him right then. I had some help latching him on and then he just started sucking. It was the cutest thing! He nursed on both sides for about 20 minutes each. The room was much calmer now, and I realized that Matt hadn’t gotten to hold him yet, so I passed him off and they laid together for almost an hour staring into each other’s eyes. I called my parents and sister and sent an email to our immediate friends and family announcing that he was here.
Then the nurse and Matt gave him his first bath and he spent a little time under the warmer while he got his vitamin K shot and eye drops. Matt never left his side.
The nurse kept coming to push on my uterus and help it contract down. This was not pleasant at all and felt like the contractions I had just been through. I could not believe how flat my stomach was! She eventually helped me up to pee, and my gosh, that was hard too. I couldn’t believe how quickly everything had swelled.
We said goodbye to Jen, and Matt started gathering our things to move to our postpartum room. We got there and settled and were finally left alone with our beautiful baby.
As intense as my birth was, even minutes after he was born I was thinking it wasn’t so bad. I can’t think of anything but the hormones that would cause such a response! Aside from the cervical lip issue (which was somewhat serious), everything really did go pretty smoothly. Jen and our nurse said it was a pretty classic labor. I was very lucky not to encounter any serious complications, and Mazen did well the whole time.
I really can’t say enough good things about having a doula. Her experience was invaluable not just physically but emotionally too. She assured me things were happening for a reason and had biological explanations for what was happening (like my shaking and the grunting). She even knew when my contractions would start before I did! I asked her in the middle of the night “How do you know they are starting” – she just has that connection. Matt will be the first to tell you how glad HE was that we had a doula. If it had just been the two of us there together, we would have been so scared. I most definitely would have gotten pain relief – more from fear than the pain itself since it’s clear I could handle the pain. Matt looked to Jen for guidance and they worked well as a team. He was also my physical comfort, and I remember wanting to squeeze his hand and have him near me so he could sense our connection through touch without me having to speak. If I have one piece of advice to moms to be, it’s hire a doula.
So would I go drug free again? I don’t know. A day later I was telling people no. A week later….as I write this story….I think maybe. 3 years from now? I might have the courage to try it again. My number one goal for going drug-free was just to experience what womankind has gone through for ages. That goal has now been achieved. Maybe next time I’ll get an epidural where the women sleep until they are 10 cm and push with a smile on their faces. But the good news is that I don’t have to choose now or even with my next pregnancy. I will have until I’m in the moment of labor to decide, and if my next labor is anything like this one, I’m guessing I just don’t even think about an epidural as an option. It felt so off limits to me – not because I wouldn’t “give in” but because I didn’t even know how to ask for one, who to call or how it all worked. If I didn’t have time to fix my pony tail, how was I to focus on getting pain relief? It was almost easier just to keep doing what I was doing.
I don’t know if it was the yoga, the chiropractic, the walking, the moderate weight gain, the massages, the Body Pump, the birth story reading, the good nutrition, the positive attitude, the research, the childbirth classes or just luck. But I am so thankful for this experience – as intense as it was – and the empowerment with which it has left me as a woman.
Kath Younger, RD is the author of Baby KERF where she writes about all things motherhood, from updates on her son Mazen to topics like cloth diapering and baby nutrition. Kath also writes a food blogKath Eats Real Food, which she has been writing since 2007. Follow @Katheats on Instagram and Twitter.
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