(For some background—this is my fourth baby. The first was a medical hospital birth with an epidural, the second was a hospital water birth, and the third was a homebirth involving a severe shoulder dystocia.)
I thought Virginia was my last. But then I got the bug again, and knew there would be one more. I wanted to go into this pregnancy with intention. I wanted to take care of my body, and my soul. I was miserably sick the first three to four months, but otherwise enjoyed the pregnancy. I did take care of my body, and as a result was in good shape when I was full term. As for my soul, I knew I had to deal with the fear born out of my last birth. So I took a class called Fear to Freedom, and let myself feel that fear, put it aside, and focus on my desires. I learned that I deeply wanted to own this birth, to do things myself, to hold my own sacred space. I wanted something I had never gotten to do before—catch my own baby.
Part of dealing with my fear and approaching this birth with intention was to have a plan in place. I would not go 42 weeks this time and have another 10 lb baby. While I had birthed her vaginally, it was certainly pushing the limit of what my body could do and I wasn't willing to risk a shoulder dystocia again. I had hoped to go into labor spontaneously this time, but as I approached 41 weeks and had already had several false alarms, I was willing to give this up. After thoughtful consideration, my midwife and I decided to have her come break my water on Friday, February 24th. In my mind's eye I pictured a night birth, so I asked her to come in the evening, and we settled on 9pm. This also gave my sister Amy time to arrive from Baltimore. I was surprisingly calm that day, and spent my time building the perfect nest. I cleaned and prepared my birth space. We set up the tub, got the bed ready, and I taped affirmations and pictures all around the walls. Then the girls and I spent the afternoon and evening at my mom and dad's house. I put the girls to bed and came home by myself at 8pm in order to have some alone time and prepare myself mentally. I put on relaxing music, lit candles, and changed into a t-shirt and yoga pants. I spent some time with Meg, telling her what was coming, that we would get to meet each other soon. Then the doorbell rang. It was my beloved friend and doula, Pam. She was soon followed by my husband Jamie, then my midwives Debbie, Kay, and their Apprentice Whitney. It was showtime! We got the tub filled and chatted a while, and then Debbie had me lay down to break my water at 9:30 pm. I was 3 cm, but immediately stretched to 5 cm after my water broke. Then I got up and waited for contractions to begin.
It didn't take too long, and they instantly felt different than the prodromal labor I'd been having for a couple weeks. Much lower. More pressure. I was standing with one leg up on the bed talking to Debbie and Kay when the first HARD one hit, and I crouched into a squat. Debbie was thrilled (we knew already that my body responds like this to water breaking, but it was still a relief to know it had worked again). I soon decided I was done with the relaxing music and needed to dance. Jamie put on my dance mix and I started to move. I asked to have my sisters (who by this time had arrived and were waiting downstairs with my mom and daughter) come dance with me. They came up and we kicked it to Michael Jackson.
After a couple songs the contractions were getting too intense to dance through, and I was starting to feel more serious. I asked them to top the tub off with hot water and kept dancing until it was ready. I was working hard, but still smiling and joking in between. As soon as the pool was ready I jumped in, and instantly turned serious. Looking back I know now that I was entering transition. No more joking. No more dance music—change it to my other mix! I was suddenly angry. Angry that I had chosen to go into labor when I knew what kind of pain that meant. All I kept thinking was What the hell have I done?I looked at Pam and asked “There's no getting out of this now, is there?”
“There's one way out!” she replied. Not what I wanted to hear.
Jamie calls this my “angry birth” because I just glared at everyone, royally pissed off. As soon as I stepped in the water I began to feel bottom pressure, and as if I might throw up. I started vocalizing through the contractions, gradually getting louder and louder. I was crazy for cold wash cloths and was wiping them all over my face and neck and chest as if somehow that could save me from this. I found myself grunting a little with the contractions, and felt inside. I could feel the head, with a little lip of cervix on one side. Ok, still pretty high up, but we were getting somewhere. The contractions were coming on top of each other, and I lamented about not getting a break. Suddenly I lunged forward to gag and dry-heaved several times. Then I got the much needed break I had asked for and rested a minute, making love to the washcloths again. Not long after this I began to feel myself pushing a little more, and knew it was the real thing because I got the tell-tale Charlie horse in my butt that I had with Virginia's birth. I decided if it was time to push I was gonna get down to work, so I let myself push harder. I shouted obscenities several times as the Charlie horse and pushing contractions fought for my attention. It was time to let my oldest daughter Lydia come up, so I asked someone to go get my mom and Lydia. They got there just in time! I got on my hands and knees and concentrated on pushing with intention. I could feel her head inside me, much lower than it was before, and reached for Jamie's hand to let him feel. I would keep my hand in there as I pushed and it was so cool to feel her coming down! As I felt the ring of fire I pulled up into a squat, let out a high-pitched shriek, and all at once her whole head came out into my hand! Oh my God! (Lydia, in the meantime, turned to reassure my sister that she was fine. What a trooper!) I sat back into Pam's arms and rested for a minute while I let myself take in what was happening. Debbie assured me that the head looked great and there was no turtling at all, and I could just wait for the next contraction to push the rest of her out. I asked if her hair was dark, which I had dreamed during the pregnancy. They said it was. I tried pushing through two contractions while semi-sitting, but she didn't come. I started to panic that I would never be able to push the body out, and that I would just be stuck like this forever! Debbie calmly assured me I wouldn't and suggested that I squat again, so I pulled up as the next contraction came. Debbie used a hand to help guide her for just a moment, then let go as I held on to my emerging baby's body and pulled her up out of the water. Oh the relief and joy! I couldn't believe it! Everyone was laughing and crying, including myself. She looked just how I knew she would! I have never felt so joyful in my life. I DID it!
During my Fear to Freedom class I created a mantra:
Through movement I will connect with my body. I will move my baby down and out.
My body is powerful, My love is powerful.
I will assert my power.
I danced in my labor. I swayed in the pool. I reached in and felt my baby come down and out. She was born into my hands and I pulled her from my body into my arms. I faced my fear. I owned this birth!