I share this story for my family – for Asa, Sean, and Cedar to remember this time by. I share this story for every woman or couple who’s dared to hope childbirth could be fun & redemptive. I share for those who might be encouraged by knowing how amazing our bodies really are.
Our birth story with Asa would not be complete if we didn’t discuss the waiting. Oh the waiting! We headed up to White River, South Africa 8 days before my due date of Dec 22nd. We watched the daughter of some friends while they were delivering their own son, and got busy making meals, settling in, resting (Nicole), and enjoying family of three time.
On Dec 21st, at 39 weeks, 6 days, I started having more frequent Braxton Hicks. I got a dull backache with full uterus tightening, even after a bath. After 40 hours, the erratic contractions lifted. We had a lovely Christmas with friends, who came up Christmas Eve day (Saturday) and staying until Tuesday morning. Sean and I were so convinced we would have a baby by Christmas that both of us woke up a little sad Christmas morning with baby Boehrig was still snug in my uterus!
At 41 weeks, I saw Cathy our midwife again. The baby’s heartbeat is still variable and steady with my BP and everything else measuring well. I had not dilated, which seemed to disappoint Cathy a bit. She was hoping to tell me I had some cervical changes, which would mean we were getting closer to this child being on the outside. At this point, things began to edge a little towards stressful because most care providers don’t like a woman to carry past 42 weeks. Our back up doctor (the same who caught Cedar), is the most naturally-minded doctor around, so we knew he was our best chance, but if he had hesitations about me going into spontaneous labor, then we could be in trouble!
At 41 weeks, 3 days, I had some more latent labor contractions. Cathy popped by (it was Sunday morning) and said I had dilated to 1 cm. She did a small membrane sweep, as we were all very pro any “natural” “non-drug” interventions that might help kick labor into gear. By Sunday night, it seemed that Dr Barry wanted to see me, as the message read, “He’s a bit concerned about the size of the baby.” Now, nothing gets me quite upset in the birthing world as the frequency with which doctors toss around “your baby will be too big.” If a woman has had access to proper nutrition and was vaginally birthed by her own mother (and that continued back generations), the likelihood of her body growing a baby that CAN NOT FIT is mostly absurd. It seems to be a common “scare tactic” that pushes women into inductions or C-sections without as much medical risk as is usually indicated. sI got quite anxious feeling like I may have to defend my body’s right to birth naturally, so I slept horribly that night. (May I note here that my doctor was not actually insinuating this. I just panicked because it’s a ‘hot button’ for me!)
In the waiting time, every morning that I woke, I’d either be joyfully hopeful and optimistic, or discouraged and frustrated. Even though there wasn’t a lot of verbal, overt pressure put on me, I still felt like something was “my fault” for this baby being overdue by a longer stretch. There were TOO MANY Facebook messages, and texts and comments – all by loving and concerned folks – but the sheer volume spoke a message of “Why isn’t this baby here yet?! You better do something!” at least to my brain it did. I really, really appreciated the friends who offered prayers, or peace or patience to me in the “time of transition.” Not telling me what I should do, but standing with me in the difficult place that is waiting.
You see, the normal gestation period for humans in 38-42 weeks. The average first time mom delivers at 40weeks and 6 days. Some countries have actually changed “estimated due dates” to be on the 41st week, since that’s closer to the normal range anyways, which decreases unnecessary interventions, decreases C-section rates and improves infant’s Apgar’s etc.
Monday was a mixed bag. I went out in the morning with Cedar to do a little post-Christmas and pick-me-up-shopping. We bought groceries and perused the shops together. I had been quite discouraged, but knew some time with Cedar and away from the house would be a good distraction. Upon returning home, we had a message from Dr saying he’d like to see me for a scan at 11:30am. We had originally planned to see him if nothing had happened by Tuesday, but I guess there was some apprehension, so he asked us to come in. I did not handle that well. I was incredibly anxious, feeling like I was going to be pressured into thinking our child would be “too big”. That’d I’d be pushed for an induction. That I’d be pushed for a Ceasar, etc. We decided to get it over and done with, so we headed in. Of course it was fine. On the scan, our baby’s head registered “off the scales” for the ultrasound to read. The diameter quits measuring at 42 weeks, so apparently our baby may have a large head. I wasn’t as concerned about the size of the baby, as I was concerned about my caregiver’s reaction to the estimated size of then baby. Would they stand by the declaration that if everything was fine with baby and I, we would be allowed to wait until 42 weeks to do any medical intervention? What if I went past 42 weeks, what then?
I made it clear to Dr Barry that I was utterly comfortable with delivering a large-headed child. I was 9 lbs 3 oz myself with a head circumference of 36.5cm, birthed naturally by my own mother who I have a similar build to, so I am actually living proof that it’s possible without a hitch!
Sean did most of the talking in that meeting, but towards the end, I pressed Dr. Barry and asked him what he’s recommending, or what he feels most comfortable with. He suggested a hospital delivery because of the increased risk of shoulder dystocia. Sean’s statistics had said we have a 7% chance risk of shoulder dystocia, so again, I wasn’t worried. However, I left the appointment quite emotional and fearing that a hospital delivery would end in a C-section. I’ve just known too many cases where medical interventions start a cascade that can result in fetal distress, prolonged labor, or other factors which head you off to surgery. This is one of those times where being a doula and having the professional experiences I have can really build up the fear-adrenaline cycle. So I cried and mourned a birth I thought that would look very different than I thought. It wasn’t as much the HOW I would deliver, but the CONTROL I needed to have in the experience. Eventually, I resolved to have as much control over things as possible. I formulated a plan that would allow that regardless of the method of delivery, regardless of how labor started, regardless of where I delivered at. Sean and I would make informed choices together.
By the evening, our midwife and doctor had conferred. Cathy phoned us and joyously told us that both she AND our doctor agreed that I would have until 42 weeks to go into spontaneous labor. If by Saturday, I had not, we would plan a gentle induction in hospital. That gave us 4 full days for this baby to come naturally, which is an incredibly generous amount of time when you’re post-date.
I did some coloring in my adult coloring book to relax, Sean massaged my shoulders, and we watched a light-hearted movie before I got a wonderful night of sleep. I prayed and prayed and surrendered that this baby would come and be healthy, but I would have peace and joy in our delivery story. (All too often I think the only “acceptable” outcome is that the woman and child be healthy. Absolutely, I want every mother and child duo to be healthy in their birth; however, it’s equally important how a mother and her partner FEEL about the birth experience. Plenty of research supports that the mother’s satisfaction in her birth story plays into postpartum depression, mood disorders, breastfeeding success, the child’s immune system, and the relationship between the parents.)
That night, I also used my breast pump for 25 minutes to do some nipple stimulation. The stimulation actually gets the body to produce oxytocin, which is the hormone responsible for beginning labor and controlling contractions. I certainly felt an increase in contractions, which continued long after I had finished pumping.
Tuesday, January 3rd, I woke up after a refreshing night of sleep. By 8 am, I did 15 more minutes of stimulation while Cedar played & Sean went for a bike ride. I started to feel slightly anxious & even texted Sean to turn around at the 1 hr mark because I was having a hard time getting things done with Cedar under foot. I had this nagging sense that I needed a little peace and quiet. Cedar and I headed out to the pharmacy to get Castor Oil & juice. We had a nice time walking around, but I was in a bit of a hurry to beat Sean home, so we were quick!
At 9:40am, I took 2 fl oz of Castor OIl. My contractions continued to come, but were hardly noticeable and I wasn’t having to focus or breathe through them (a tell tale sign that this was still latent labor and we had time or days to burn).
At 10:45am Cathy came to check on baby & I and see what these latent contractions were doing. During the time she listened to baby, the heartbeat flicked low twice for half a second each time. She listened through quite a few contractions, but it only happened those 2 instances. She determined later that it was likely the head compressing into my pelvis during a contraction, which can cause those temporary dips. Other than that, everything sounded fantastic. Before she left at noon, she said there is definitely a change in regularity and intensity with my contractions, so while it was still early, she whispered, “This is labor!” Woo hoo!!!
12:25pm – these are definitely contractions.I don’t need too much focus, but I cannot mistake them either. I clearly know when they start and stop. Woo hoo!!! We’ve got labor!! Sean and I kissed and celebrated! They came every 3-4 minutes and lasted 1.5 minutes or so.
I was getting quite antsy having Sean running the noisy vacuum and Cedar not napping.@1:30pm Cathy came and checked me. She said the baby’s head was down further, that I was still 1 cm, but my cervix was much softer. I wasn’t surprised I hadn’t progressed much, as I hadn’t had 2 quiet seconds all day. I knew that I needed to mentally and physically get in a place of relaxing before my cervix would do any relaxing! As soon as Sean left to drive her for a nap, I instantly started relaxing more.
After Cedar woke up from her nap, I had arranged for Sean to drop her off at Renee and Azarja’s house (the couple watching Cedar during our birth). Sean thought he would wait a little while, but I told him I needed the peace and quiet. Plus, I wasn’t sure how quickly I could progress, and I wanted him to be available for me. So I hugged and held and hugged and kissed Cedar before she left. It was hard to see her go, as I knew it would be the first night she’d ever been away from us. I knew she’d have a blast playing with the other kids and was in fabulous hands, but my momma’s heart was sad to see her go. Sean left at 3:15 and he was back by 4 pm.
We had already cleaned and tidied, so I when Sean got back I went into the bedroom with low lights and read my book. I was uncomfortable enough during a contraction that I preferred kneeling on the edge of the bed on my yoga mat, on my elbows. I would read and sway and breathe and just hang out. I was now needing a little more focus during contractions and would put my book down between contractions. I ate a hummus, tomato, cheese, and lettuce wrap & drank water.
I drug the arm chair in from the living room, and Sean helped me fit it through the doorway. Very similar to Cedar’s labor, I felt the urge to put my forehead on the back of the armchair, which was about chest-height. During a contraction, I would stand up, stack my hands on top of each other, place my forehead on my hands and breathe and sway my hips. In the beginning, it was difficult for me to scan my body and relax the tension. I had a lot of anxiety built up from the day before and morning. It took me maybe an hour of quiet and solitude for me to start hitting my stride. I also diffused Peace and Calming essential oil.
Around 4:30, Cathy had joined us for the duration of the time. I lost my mucous plug around then and weighed myself in at 195 lbs.
Cathy & Sean chatted in the kitchen/living room for quite some time while I labored by myself. When asked if I needed anything, I said, “no.” I can’t recall when the time was, but at some point, I did want to talk with Sean a little. He popped his head in & I told him so. He sat with me. I was sitting on wooden chair with a towel on it in between contractions, but would stand up at the arm chair during a contraction. We talked back and forth about how things were going, how it was hard to see Cedar go, how I was feeling, and how he was feeling. I also said, “I don’t really want to say this out loud, and I’m not dwelling on this, but I feel like Cedar’s labor was a little easier than this. Perhaps all those post-delivery hormones and my memory faded some of the intensity, but it feels a little different. It’s not bad, just maybe different.”
Sean nodded and listened and said, “Ok. But you probably shouldn’t say that to yourself anymore.” We both laughed.
Cathy got the room all set up, & we put the plastic sheet on. I put out extra towels. Cathy had already informed DR Barry of my progress.
Around 6 pm, Cathy suggested we do an internal. Cathy respected my wishes and asked me if I wanted to know if there were any cervical changes. I asked her, “Well was there progress?” I wasn’t too worried about the mind game of calculating how much longer it might be, as I had progressed quite well with Cedar’s labor and expected my body to do the same, or go faster with this baby.
I was 3 cms. Whoa buddy, that’s actually breeching into active labor! (Although! the American College of Genecology has changed “active labor” specifications from 3-8 CMs to 6-8 CMS, in a effort to reduce “failure to progress” diagnoses and Cesarean rates). Cathy was very excited about that, and I silently wondered how much longer things would be.
Not long after dark, Hannah arrived. She’s a 15 year old girl from Cathy’s church who is interested in pursuing midwifery. Months ago Cathy had asked if I would be open to having her attend my birth. I figured an eager, female who’s ready to learn could only add good vibes to the scene, so we said yes! I had met Hannah a few weeks prior. She sweetly gave us a baby gift and thanked me profusely for allowing her to attend our birth. She joined in casually with conversation and spent time with Cathy out in the lounge discussing different aspects of midwifery, labor, etc.
Dr Barry came maybe 7pm and stayed for 30 minutes. He popped in to see me and asked during a contraction, “Have you liked being rubbed during contractions?” I responded, “Not so far, thank you.”
At this point my contractions would come somewhat differently. They might last 45 seconds or 2 minutes and come every 1.5-3 minutes. The longer the break I got in between, the more intense the contraction. Everyone thought those were a bit erratic, but it was actually identical to my active labor with Cedar. If I was talking, I would say, “Excuse me,” or “just a second”, stand up and breathe and relax. Sometimes everyone would wait until I was done. Other times they would carry on, and I would join the conversation when I was ready.
As Dr Barry watched me labor and heard about the contractions, I heard him say to Cathy, “Most definitely latent labor.”
Later Cathy told me that she was thinking, “This is definitely not latent labor,” as she had seen me, felt my uterus and watched my lack of focus needed earlier during the day. I also thought, “No this is real labor,” but neither of us said anything out loud. I overheard Cathy and Sean talking about how it was hard to judge how I was progressing because I seemed to be handling things very well, so did that mean it was still quite early, or was I just able to mask the intensity?
It felt a little crowded in our bedroom with Sean, Dr. Barry, Cathy, and Hannah lined up in chairs facing me. I thought to myself, “I won’t do this for very long.” Shortly after I went to the bathroom & Sean came in to check on me. He asked if I wanted him to kick people out. I thought that was very intuitive of him and kind that I didn’t need to mention it. I told him, “Yah it could get a little crowded in a bit.” Instead I went out to the kitchen to heat up some greek dinner leftovers. Dr. Barry was on his way out and advised I not eat too much. I made my thumb and pointer finger into a circle and asked Sean for “this much” because I knew I didn’t want a lot! Cathy also enjoyed some, so we chatted about recipes. Sean had helped finish the cookies I had pre-rolled and frozen earlier. He also laid out crackers and cheese slices, grapes, mugs for tea/coffee and water glasses. We invited everyone to bring their own food, or help themselves to the snacks and beverages we had. I really enjoy having a casual, party-like attitude during birthing. It makes it feel as if birthing a child is an event that can be incorporated into our lives. Yes, it’s a big event, but on the other hand, it’s not that big of a deal and can be blended nicely into our lives!
By 8:30pm contractions had intensified again. They were about 1 minute long. I told everyone that I was doing great. I also told Cathy and Sean that during a contraction, I would getting some tingling in my labia area. I said, “I don’t mean to get too personal, but it doesn’t feel bad – if you know what I mean.” Sean laughed and said, “Are you going to have an orgasmic birth?” We had a good chuckle, but I noted the sensation as something interesting that intrigued me. I wasn’t bothered by it as I know many women who have had very sensual birthing experiences. After all, it takes all the same body parts!
A few times, I would have Sean rub my shoulders and lower back in between contractions. My lower back always seems to feel the contractions. I’ve never had “back labor” where the baby’s “sunny side up”, so I couldn’t speak to that. But it seems my lower back enjoys tightening during a contraction. His massage helped me to relax and ease some of it out.
I sat down in between most contractions because that also helped to relieve the pressure off my back and took some of the weight of my uterus off my body. However, standing up as a contraction started did not feel incredibly comfortable. At some points, I would think I felt a contraction coming on, but I’d say to myself, “Oh let’s just see. Maybe we’ll do this one sitting down.” Without fail, I’d go to stand and things would feel more intense immediately. At that point, I would regret not standing sooner. Eventually, I started standing at the first indication of a wave coming on.
Sometime in there while Cathy & Hannah chatted in the lounge, I started doing a little moaning during contractions. Nothing planned, just spontaneous noise. Cathy heard that (as did I when it came out of my mouth!) and said to Hannah, “Oh! That’s transition, let’s go check in.”
When Cathy check me one last time, I was a good 7/8 cms with bullying membranes. She started moving quickly and called Dr Barry back. She told me, “As soon as those membranes break, you’ll be having this baby.” That felt pretty good, but I also knew I could be hours away!
I went to the bathroom & she joked, “Don’t have that baby in the bathroom.” Lol I didn’t think I would.
Dr Barry was actually already on his way back after having dinner with his wife. Dr Barry showed up around 9:30pm. At this point, I was really focusing and wanted Sean nearby. I called him over and told him that I wanted to “hold” his hand during a contraction. Just like with Cedar’s birth, during a contraction, I just wanted a little human connection. I would hold out my hand and place it lightly over Sean’s hand. In the beginning he would squeeze or hold it tightly, but I would tell him, “No. Don’t do anything.” At one point, he had a mint in his mouth (he had given me one too) and he was chomping on that during a contraction with his head very close to my head. I shushed him. And said, “your chewing. Please be quiet.” haha even in my head I was laughing at that, but the subtlest things threatened to steal my focus. Transition is not a time you want to lose your focus. One time, Cathy touched my lower back as she walked past me, and I said, “No!” And then immediately apologized, but she understood I urgently didn’t want to be touched on my back. In a lot of ways, I think my labor was easy on everyone else. Haha there was not much I needed from them except conversation in between contractions with the exception of a little more involvement from Sean.
By 10, I was starting to feel more pressure and could tell that the baby had moved down even more. I knew it wasn’t an urge to push yet, but the pressure was increasing. IN my head, I thought, “If these waters would just break, then I think things would go faster. I’d be okay if they broke my water right now.” Not long after, Cathy and Dr Barry suggested just that. I agreed, but when they said I had to lie on the bed, I wasn’t sure I could do that during a contraction. I told them, “OK. I’ll do it, but you have to get me up IMMEDIATELY after. Don’t let me stay on the bed.” With Cedar’s delivery, I had reclined with lots of pillows behind my back. We all agreed later that that position (which is the “traditional hospital” delivery position) may very well have contributed to my lack of control during pushing and the prolonged pushing phase.
@ 10:05 I steeled myself for what I thought would be the strongest contraction yet, as I knew I’d be immobilized on the bed. Dr Barry was very quick at breaking my waters. I could feel the instant he did because I immediately felt BETTER and had a relief of the pressure. It did feel really good to relax back onto the pillows. Like really, really good. I gave myself all of 3 seconds to soak that luxury up before Sean and everyone else were hurrying me to get back on my feet. It’s a good thing they were adamant because I could have taken a snooze! As soon as I stood, things intensified again and I walked back to the chair. They sorted out linen savers and towels underneath my feet.
Two contractions later, the urge to push was quite strong. I really thought I might take more time and was just going contraction to contraction. I think as one point I asked, “How much longer do you think I have?” Cathy’s answer was something like, “You’re doing good. You’re doing good.” and I thought, “that’s not what I want to hear, but I know she can’t know.”
At 10:10 I started bearing down with the contractions. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect as I had pushed for 1.5 hours with Cedar without really an urge to push, so already things were feeling differently. I said that out loud too. I think when I was pushing was when Sean said, “This is why I married you. I knew you’d be awesome at this.” I wanted to come back with a snide comment, but let’s be honest, I was a little busy.
With each of the next 4 pushes, I could feel a change. At first, I just felt the baby move down a bit more. I asked Cathy what she’d seen. She said she could see the baby’s head and that’s when she said, “A few pushes and you will have your baby.” I thought, “Oh wow?! I could really do this soon!”
I also said, “I just want the baby outside.”
The next contraction, I could feel his head make quite a bit of progress. I wasn’t quite crowning, but I knew I was stretching. I held his head there by flexing even after the contraction ended. Then I relaxed and felt his head relax back up a bit, but I wasn’t discouraged because it’d been so easy to get him down to that point. The next contraction his head crowned and like Cathy had told me and she coached me then, I pushed a little, then panted (in order to pause the pushing), then pushed a little bit more, paused by panting, and then his whole head was out! I could NOT believe how easy it was! I was standing up with my arms still on the back of the arm chair. Sean was perched on the edge of the arm chair so he could be with during contractions and whisper encouraging words. During pushing with my legs out quite far, I would sink into a wide-legged squat – much like goddess pose in yoga.
My legs were shaking quite a lot, but I knew that wasn’t as much from holding a squat position as the hormones coursing through my body during pushing. It’s so common from women to shake uncontrollably or feel chills during transition. The body is working hard and undergoing some more hormonal changes. So I noticed that, but knew it wasn’t just fatigue, but energy being expended and it meant we were close. I did wonder how long I would be able to hold the squat for, but I knew it was my best option, and I felt so in control that I would continue.
While the baby’s head was out, and we waited for the next contraction, Cathy said she could feel the cord around his neck. She was working to try and see if she could loop it off. She said that she may need to clamp it, and as Dr Barry walked back to get the clamp, another contraction came. I had the thought, “Okay, shoulders, let’s show them how easily you come out.” and in all of 2 seconds, our baby was born! Sean said he thought the baby almost slipped through Cathy’s hands. Haha but obviously a baby slipping out while I was standing was only the hardest position to ever catch a baby in, I’m sure.
I had seen him born and knew I instantly wanted to hold him. I whipped my shirt off in half a second and reached down for him. I saw that he was a bit bluish in color and hadn’t heard a lustly cry yet, but I knew the best thing was for him to be next to me. I think I said, “Give him to me.” and cradled him in the “football” hold. I knew no one was worried about him not crying because they were letting me hold him, but I said, “He’s ok. He’s not crying, but he’s ok.” He was a tiny bit floppy and relaxed, but I could see he was breathing and kicked his legs a bit. Within a few seconds, his nose was suctioned a little at the surface and his face was wiped off. Then he started crying. And that’s when I said, “Oh! Is it a boy? Is it a boy?” I looked and said, “It is!” Sean shouted and threw up his arms, “It’s a boy!” We both cooed over him and Sean gave him a kiss.
They helped me move to the bed where I sat back still holding the baby. He didn’t cry quite as much as Cedar, and I felt relieved at that. We did lots of snuggling and looking him over. He even peed on me! The placenta separated nicely, and I was able to breastfeed him off and on. He latched pretty easily. We all related as Hannah took photos. Sean took a quick photo and sent it to our families telling them we had a boy and we were both doing great!
From there things continued at a relaxed pace with our family bonding and our baby boy’s breastfeeding being everyone’s main priority. We had all commented how eager we were to get him on the scale to see really how big he was! Sometime in the next hour, they took him to weigh him. A whopping 4.08 kgs, or 9 lbs even! That was 10 ounces less than the scan estimated, but his head circumference was 37 cms. Apparently the “average” baby is 34 cms, so yes, it wasn’t small.
Both Cathy and Dr Barry had commented how little blood I had lost during delivery! They were both quite amazed at that and later Cathy wondered about the supplements I take and if that had a hand in things. Who knows?!
Of course, with a large head everyone wants to know how my lady parts held up. 😉 Fabulous! I had zero tears and only some lovely hemrhoids to show for my efforts. Within a few days, I actually felt 100% healed. It’s amazing how not having stitches will expedite that healing process for you. Woo hoo! So for everyone who’s thought a larger baby equals tearing, myself and my two children are proof to debunk that myth!
By midnight, we were skyping each of our parents briefly to introduce them to our Baby Boy and quickly answer some questions. Sean hit a brick wall, while my body still hummed with hormones that kept me alert. He passed out by 1 pm, while I stayed up the better part of the night with our son. I mean, what do you DO with a newborn in the first few hours they’re on the outside? I breastfed him and tried to lay him down, but he just kept waking up. So I would just hold him and look at him. I did google “first night with a newborn.” Hah! In the end, I followed my heart and mostly held him until about 4 am. Then I got an hour of sleep and in the early morning he snoozed a bit more. I figured that if Sean got a good night of rest, he could be up to take care of Cedar and I could snooze the day away as needed! By 7:30 I tried waking Sean, but that man was out! I asked him to make me breakfast twice, but he kept falling back to sleep. So I hauled myself into the kitchen and made my own eggs! By 9 am, he’d gone off to pick Cedar up. We were a family of 4!!!!
If you’ve made it this far in my story, I commend your fortitude in reading! I’ll reward you with some pictures now. 🙂