For my daughter, myself, and Sean; For any woman or couple who has dared to dream that birth could be a powerful, beautiful, fun experience.
[Be warned: This post is both lengthy and about delivering a child. While none of the photos or descriptions bother me to share (obviously), don’t say I didn’t warn you when all things childbirth are discussed. :D]
A doula’s primary role in birth is to insure a woman has the kind of empowering experience that leaves her mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually equipped for motherhood. Over 30 women have honored me with allowing my presence at their births. It is always great fun to cheer them on, encourage them, give them strength from the touch of a hand or a deep gaze. My trusting their body, frees them to do the same. And in trusting their bodies, they are opened up to just how powerful, beautiful, and magnificent labor and delivery can be and is.
Feeling good and great about one’s birth experience is necessary. Oftentimes we take the perspective, “As long as baby and mom are healthy, everything is fine.” True. We’re REALLY happy when baby and mom are physically sound. What’s even better? When baby and momma are holistically healthy – in mind, spirit, emotion – as well as body. Speak to any woman who had a traumatizing experience with the birth of her child(ren), and you will learn the sorrow, pain, or loss she felt at being robbed of something she didn’t even know she had. On the other hand, listen to a woman tell her story of her child(ren)’s birth with ecstasy, joy, and wonder, and you hear her transformation, her strength, her utter woman-ness. There isn’t anyone who doesn’t want to lean in to listen more.
Because I know how crucial having a positive view of one’s birth is (for it was my birth, as well as Cedar’s), don’t mind if I share the whole story. If it feels like I’m bragging, I am. I’m delighted, proud, happy, joyful, and grateful to have such a story to tell, as well as the little one I get to tell it about.
To read about the kind of birth we hoped for, check this out. Our estimated due date was Sunday, February 8th, but we all know how estimated those things are. We were confident Baby Boehrig would come when Baby and Momma were ready. The waiting might break us, but we probably needed that.
Monday night I felt a difference to Braxton Hicks. My lower back started to ache and baby was fairly active, so my sleep was sporadic. I could feel my uterus get firm, then the dull backache would become more pronounced. After 30 seconds, the backache would fade a bit.
Those scattered, mild contractions continued all Tuesday. I napped, walked, swam, ate, and wondered if baby would come that night. Sean and I went to a movie to kill some time. Watching Fury wasn’t exactly a funny, relaxing movie like they tell you to watch when you’re in early labor. But we got ice cream and grabbed some groceries, while I waddled around the mall, listening to my body and wondering What’s going on? Are you getting ready, baby? How long will this early labor take? A visit to the bathroom confirmed my mucous plug had made her move. Another sign of real labor a-coming!
However, I came home from the matinée riddled with anxiety. Could have been the movie. Could have been the ice cream. But mostly, I think it was you know, Labor Looming.
Sean and I had carefully calculated a birth plan. We discussed all the comfort measures; how Sean might assist me; how medications and medical interventions were not even options for us (At my last appointment, our very pro-natural, homebirth-guru doctor asked me, “What are your thoughts on pain management?” I responded, “I’m counting on my endorphins and about 20 comfort measures to manage labor.” He listened and rightly said, “It’s just so hard to tell anyone what it will feel like, so do you want to have some options outside of that? I can bring things along.” At first, I asked him, “Well, what would you bring?” I was curious what drug options are available for a home birth in South Africa. I then corrected myself and said, “You are welcome to bring whatever you want along if it makes you feel better, doctor, just don’t tell me about it. I have not for a second entertained any narcotic or epidural, so I won’t even be thinking about it, and would prefer no one offer it to me.” That’s that.)
Even with all these well-researched, heavily discussed, agreed-upon action steps, my resolve got shaken. The hardest part of this labor seemed to be that I wouldn’t know when it actually started. Even though I counsel women all the time in when to go to the hospital, or what to do during their early labor stage (as if there’s anything besides rest, eat, sleep, and continue life as normal because babies aren’t born with early labor contractions!), I was all flustered about what I should be doing.
Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) posted on Facebook a request for people to share photos of when they felt most powerful. She wrote, “Post a photo of when you have felt most powerful. Not prettiest, not doing something fancy, but a photo of a woman who is doing exactly what she wants to be doing with her life.”
I needed to recall my power. The moments when I was 28 weeks pregnant and we back-packed for 3 days along a hectic, bush-whacking adventure with two friends. Standing on Folly Beach, marrying Sean. Clomping around room 201 in my cowboy boots or high heels, dominating the classroom & leading my students towards academic excellence. Surviving, then thriving at 3 years of teaching and knowing I CAN DO ANYTHING NOW. Sitting on the front lawn at Harding – reading a book, journaling or people-watching, utterly content. Hiking the Appalachian Trail solo – with 4 out of 5 days in torrential downpour, and both my water-purification systems broken. A solo road trip across the east coast.
I now needed to recall my power – who I’ve been and who I am – because I was scared. I was nervous I wouldn’t have what it took. I was nervous I hadn’t practiced relaxation enough, that I hadn’t meditated enough, that I’d lose my head. I sat at this same desk I type from now, and second-guessed every decision we had made about labor and delivery.
Why are we doing a home birth?
Will I be able to handle this? Will SEAN and I be able to handle this? Should we have agreed to x,y, z interventions for me? For baby? Why did we ever get pregnant in the first place?
My birthing preparations had prepared me to deal with these fears, though. I knew that it was likely our baby might never come out, or at least it’d be rather rocky if I, momma, went into things terrified. It’s physiological. Fear stimulates adrenaline. Adrenaline tells your body, “There’s danger.” Aint no mammal gonna deliver in a dangerous situation, so labor shuts down, or draws out, complications often occur when waiting for that pot to boil that’s just to adrenaline-riddled to even simmer.
So I journaled. And prayed. I whimpered to Sean who swiftly dispelled the lies I was telling myself. He reassured me of our thoughtful consideration of each choice, and stroked my hand, and told me how great it was going to be. He reaffirmed my faith in our birthing team – me, Sean, baby, Dr, and our midwife. And I recorded some thoughts: I’m a stubborn woman who’s powerful, strong, has endurance, and great meditation skills. I know YOU [Lord] created my body to do this very thing. Even as you knit me together in MY mother’s womb, you had me in mind for this very act myself. I will do this through your strength, Lord. Yours. Please empower me with a strong mind, a committed spirit, and a brilliant body. May I be stable. May I be able. May I be happy. May I be free.
And so the anxiety slowly released and excitement took her place. We were ready.
Tuesday night I hardly slept. Around 2 am on Wednesday, I timed some more contractions, trying to see if there was a consistent pattern. There wasn’t, yet I wasn’t really able to sleep. I’d drift into sleep, only to be woken by my lower back tightening simultaneously with my uterus.
Sean’s throat was still bothering him, so he was in the living room watching a movie. I joined him for some time, but then felt like I wanted to be quiet and alone, so I retreated to the bedroom and just watched my body as these mild contractions rolled over me. I wondered, “What’s going on? Are these really timeable? Should I start moving and get things going? Should I just try to sleep? Why can’t I sleep?”
Thank goodness for my family being in a different timezone (it has its rare blessings) because I texted my mother back and forth. Just wanting someone to tell me what to do! Talking with her helped my mind, even if we couldn’t decide on a plan!
Around 6 am, I passed out on the couch, while Sean made me an egg-salad sandwich. Since I’d been in early labor for over 24 hours, we were hopeful that our baby would arrive sometime Wednesday night or Thursday morning. He got busy making some labor food for us and our birthing team. A great benefit of a home birth? Stocking your fridge and hosting a party where anyone (doctor, midwife, mom, dad, visitors) can help themselves to some quality, tasty, energizing food or a hot cup of tea!
After napping, we went for a walk to see what would happen. I think the baby engaged a bit lower, as I then felt contractions in my low pelvis, in the front, in addition to that still, dull ache in my back. Yay for changes, but I was still frustrated and impatient for active labor to start [For those not totally familiar, there are three stages to labor. Early (or latent), active, and transition. In early labor the cervix thins (effaces) and opens (dilates) from 0-4 centimeters. (although new ACOG regulations are changing this to 6 cms to try to curb rising C-section rates in the USA!) Contractions are mild and no regular pattern exists. In first time moms, this can go on for days, some report even a week! Early labor means REAL labor is coming, you just can’t be sure when! In active labor, the contractions increase in frequency, and intensity and follow a regular pattern, usually coming every 7-3 minutes apart and lasting about 1 minute. The cervix opens from 4 to 8 cms. Lastly, is transition, when the cervix opens that last 2 cms, contractions are their strongest, and women tend to get more emotional (thank you hormones!).]
I knew labor doesn’t really start until it’s active, so I just couldn’t wait!
I napped for another hour, piddled, and our midwife texted around 11 am, asking how it was going. I had just started to notice that the contractions were coming a bit stronger. With a slight kick in intensity, I realized I didn’t enjoy talking or moving when they came. Sean wasn’t back from the grocery store, so I quietly read my book, setting it aside when a contraction came.
In the wee morning hours, Sean and I had watched It’s Complicated, and the delicious chocolate cake she baked made me want to make one. I wasn’t even hungry for cake, but it was something to do, so Sean hurried off to the store to buy ingredients. He wasn’t gone long, so when he returned, I told him, “Let’s time these. They’ve changed, and I want to know their pattern so we can tell the MW.”
After an hour, we realized – yahooo! We have a pattern. My contractions came every 3.5 to 4 minutes apart for one hour! We sent our MW a text, and she responded, “I’m on my way.”
In between contractions, we finished our cake. Since they came about every 3.5 minutes, and lasted for a minute and change, I had about 1.5-2 minutes of active time before another one came. So I’d pull out the sugar, vanilla, and flour, waddle everything to the countertop. Then feel one coming. I’d turn around, stack my hands on the back of the loveseat, rest my forehead on my hands and start breathing. Those 10 years of yoga served me well. I could easily scan my body, feel there was tension in my shoulders, back, belly or face. With my next exhale, I’d release that tension and let my body sink. Placing my forehead on something hard also triggers my body (any body actually!) to relax and release tension. Plus I had nothing to look at, so I could internalize everything and “watch” my body and mind labor. Contractions weren’t too difficult or breath-taking, but I wanted to find a rhythm and groove before they became challenging. After the wave ended, I’d re-join Sean who would have added the dry ingredients to the bowl. I’d stir, add an egg or two, and then return to the loveseat to labor. It was the longest cake-preparing I’d ever experienced, but it was fun and the batter was tasty! What else were we gonna do?! Cake into the oven. Timer set.
I had prepared a Labor Gift Bag for Sean, which I then gave him. Full of snacks, magazines, chocolates, some sparkling grape juice for celebrating, and two outfits – one for a boy, one for a girl that read “Dude Like Dad” and “Daddy’s Little Angel”. I wanted him to feel involved and special, as well as have some handy fuel (food and distracting reading material) as we headed into labor. He loved it, and we rejoiced.
“We’re having our baby!”
“Do you think the baby will be here by midnight?” We chirped and chatted and smiled and exchanged excited looks. AHHH! Baby Boehrig is on the way!
I had predicted the baby would come on Thursday, as many of our pregnancy milestones happened on Thursdays – morning sickness lifted; baby’s first felt movements; etc., so we wondered if active labor and pushing would take the 12 hours until midnight. Not wanting to get too excited, I resolved myself to a Thursday birthday. That way, if we encountered hiccups, I’d be mentally ready for them.
It was a warm day, so after the cake popped in the oven, we donned our swim suits and hopped (read: slowly lowered) into the pool. Sean tried getting me to do exercises, but I felt like wading around was movement enough. I rested my forehead on the pool’s edge with every contraction-wave that came. The sloshing of the water in the pool rather bothered me. I found it distracting and silently wished I could still the waters, but it felt great to cool off and be outside during this special time.
By 1:15, our MW arrived and examined me. After how I felt, I was certain I’d be 4 centimeters and breeching into real labor. . . And that I was! 4 cms. We talked about how I was coping – totally fine – and she headed next door to her house (how awesome that our midwife is our neighbor here?!) to gather a few more supplies (including a fresh doppler battery) and tell our doctor. She returned, checked the baby’s heartbeat, which was “normal and strong”, hardly dipping during a contraction.
By now, I moved into the bedroom where I set up a wicker arm-chair. Draping a soft blanket over the back, I continued with stacking my hands and resting my forehead on the chair’s back when a wave came. Sometimes I would sit on the birth ball during or in between, but the stronger ones I stood for. Pressure on my bottom didn’t feel good during the stronger ones.
Sean sat on the bed next to me. He intermittently helped our MW make the bed up. I started tucking sheets and moving pillows and she said, “Nicole, you just focus. You don’t need to do anything besides the hard work you’re doing.”
I thought But I kind of like doing stuff, and I want to “ignore” these waves and incorporate them into my life for as long as possible.
MW also said, “We have time, but we might as well water-proof the bed and get things ready, so we don’t have to rush later.”
While she drug the boxes and bags of her & the doctor’s kits into the bedroom, Sean helped me shower. I moved slow, but wanted to do everything myself. Wash, dry off, dress, and walk. I remember my first-ever doula client impressing that upon me. When we had discussed her birth wishes during pregnancy, I asked if she could imagine wanting help. I offered to massage her, hold her arm as she walked, carry her bags, fetch her water, etc. etc. She replied, “I think I must do everything with my own strength. I will deliver the baby with my own strength, so I must labor with it as well.”
Time passed quickly then. Between waves Sean, MW and I talked. I asked how she got into midwifery. How her labor with her son was. How long she’d be practicing here. She and Sean kept offering assistance – massage, music, counter pressure. The only things I wanted were water and snacks, which Sean readily produced and constantly fed me. I kept saying, “Thanks guys. I just feel like I want to save the other comfort measures for when it gets really tough. I’m doing okay right now.”
In fact, I felt great. I couldn’t even say the contractions were painful. That’s why I adopted Ina May Gaskin’s language for them – waves. They felt like waves of energy. If I tensed my body and resisted them, or dreaded the intensity, they increased in discomfort. But if I breathed slowly and smoothly, relaxing tension as I went, they halved in intensity and almost became enjoyable, much like all those challenging yoga poses. Holding Warrior II in a low, spread squat-like pose can get tough. But if you focus on alignment – knee tracking over toe, outer edge of back foot pressing into mat, shoulders down and relaxed, energy shooting out of fingertips – and breathe. As soon as those shoulders relax, the hips sink. Inhale you fill your chest and broaden. Exhale and sink deeper into the pose. I’ve always relished those moments in any yoga practice, so labor was no different. It was a delightful little game. Wave starts. I knew I had 1-2 breaths before it got powerful, so I’d prep with two shorter breath cycles. In and out. In and out. As intensity kicked in, I’d count my breath. 1. Tap my finger on the chair. In and out. 2. Finger taps. Breath cycle. 3. By the time it got quite strong at 5, I knew I was half-way there. Just knowing that, they seemed to lessen. I kept the count up until 10. By the 10th exhale, I knew the wave would be over or so mild it wouldn’t take much focus. This game kept me occupied and intrigued. I was mildly delighted to see how easily my body worked with my mind and diaphragm. It felt like 2 glorious hours of a powerful yoga class. My body was working hard, but my mind was leading the way, and my breath empowered me. It was intoxicating, and I loved it (sick, I know!).
C (our MW) kept saying how pleased she was with the contractions. That they were coming strong, regular, and seemed to have a good intensity, although I was handling them so well it was difficult to know. Sean mentioned several times how chill and relaxed I was. I shared with them both my method of counting breaths and scanning my body with my mind, finding tension, and exhaling tension away. I told them to please remind me of these coping mechanisms when things got tougher, and I perhaps lost my focus.
By 3:40 Dr B had arrived. C had originally told him I might deliver around 6 or 7, but when she saw the progressing, steady waves, she phoned back and suggested he arrive sooner than planned. He greeted us, changed into his “scrubs”, which were swimming trunks and a comfy t-shirt. Sean asked, “You going for a swim?” (He had told us he likes to cool off at births or take naps if everyone’s fine and no one needs him. This relaxed, casual attitude is part of why I felt so safe with him.) He laughed and asked to exam me.
I had asked them not to immediately tell me my dilation, as I didn’t want it to be discouraging or a head game, as I often make things. But I had a feeling I was at least 2 more cms dilated and wouldn’t be discouraged to find out. I heard him whisper, “eight” to C. And said, “Oh what is it?” She asked, “Do you want to know Nicole?”
I replied, “Well I think I heard 8, so my hopes just got up!”
“Okay then. Yes. You’re a solid 8.”
Sean and I exchanged a surprised look! Only 2.5 hours and 4 cms further! That was great news! Things were going really well.
I also thought Shoot! I’m almost to transition. I’m sure it’ll get tougher, but each stage has been manageable, I can handle this.
Not long after that I had a contraction that made me feel like lowly moaning a bit, so I did. I had to focus a bit more to keep my shoulders relaxed (we all know the shoulder, neck and jaw muscles are related to the perineum, right? Try peeing or pooing when tensing those muscles!). C told Sean, “This is transition now. You see?” He stepped up his encouragements and stayed very close. At one point, he covered my right hand with his. That felt so good. I was so comforted by this gentle touch, that every wave forward, I would say, “hand” as it started if he wasn’t already touching me. I didn’t like him squeezing much, nor did I squeeze his hand, just held onto a few fingers like when we go for walks (his hands are too big for me to interlace my fingers in or hold all 4 fingers and thumb! Haha). I definitely got more verbal and had to focus on my breathing more. Sometimes I’d whistle as I exhale on the wave’s peak. I still felt in control, but as minutes passed, I noticed I felt weepier, like I could cry. Not from pain or fear or anxiety or anything negative. But just weepy. Like my body just needed to express itself in tears. I didn’t cry, but I started tuning into Sean more. He timed every contraction and when it was about half over, he’d say, “You’re halfway there. A few more breaths… or 10 seconds and it’ll lessen…”
He also repeated. “Relax,” and “Almost done,” and “You’re doing so awesome! I wouldn’t believe you were this far along from how you’re acting!” and “I’m so proud of you. You are incredible!” and “This is going much faster than I thought.” We all agreed it was going faster than we thought it would. At one point, I reminded him to put the cookies in the oven. I had frozen oatmeal raisin cookies in balls that week, so I’d have a fresh treat to fill the house with good vibes and something to offer our birthing team. He even brought me cookie dough, which I wasn’t too hungry for at that point. But the champ even remembered to take them out. He would bop around between hand-holding. Checking on cookies. Getting me more juice. Handing me juice. Rubbing my shoulders. But if he was gone and I said, “Seeaaaan”, he knew to come quickly. He even supported me as I went to the bathroom and labored.
Dr and C both tried several times to massage my back during a contraction. Sean already knew I didn’t like being touched, so he would very gently say, “Actually, she hasn’t really liked being touched.” They would respectfully back away. I was thankful he said things. The rubbing didn’t hurt, it just distracted me, lessening my resolve, yet I found myself not wanting to snark at anyone. However, we did discover that in between contractions was a nice time for a shoulder rub. The lower back remained off-limits, but Sean eagerly rubbed away off and on. I love back massages and force Sean into giving me them often. During pregnancy, he was quite the sport, but he really loathes giving a back rub. We joked a lot leading up to labor how it’d be a glorious time where he’d have no choice but to rub, rub, rub my back. He’d say, “Oh you’re just gonna milk that for all it’s worth.” I completely planned to. And there I stood – not liking it. Labor is surprising like that I guess. You can be different in labor than you are in life, but sometimes you’re exactly the same, like with my breathing.
Everyone kept saying how great I was handling labor. I think I overheard Dr and C talking about how great it is when someone (me) puts in the work to be mentally and physically ready. That made me feel happy that I was contributing to good birth stories, and of course I was thankful they thought I was handling it well. I think they were being honest, as they said it to each other, not to me.
At another point, Dr said how much he appreciated my attitude, our approach, our Sean and I working together. He said, “This is how it should be,” and sat back to drink his coffee. Rightly so, as he’s only there if there’s a problem, which no one anticipated there would be.
With transition building, I eventually lowered to the floor, kneeling at the bed’s edge. Sean arranged my folded yoga mat under my knees, and I leaned forward onto a firm pillow, and still stacked my forehead on hands.
We started talking about rupturing my membranes. Dr felt a bit of pressure for time, as he had another woman laboring at the hospital. Artificial rupture of membranes wasn’t something we had really discussed, mainly because it’s wasn’t one of the “big no’s” I wanted to avoid. The baby’s heartbeat was steady and strong, so we didn’t think meconium could be a worry. I asked Dr to see if they’d break on their own for some time. He didn’t list any benefits other than they may augment labor a bit. In the 30 minutes I moved about, I decided I was fine with it. It didn’t feel like I was “giving in”, but I rationalized I’d rather it be a bit quicker if possible, so he wouldn’t be so rushed. And I certainly wanted to make sure he and C were there for the delivery in case me and baby simultaneously needed help. (Later they reassured me neither of them would have left, and C mentioned it was unfair for him to bring that pressure into my birth. I see her point and could agree, but didn’t really allow his pressure to pressure us.)
So he ruptured my membranes, which was anti-climactic since baby was quite low. I did not enjoy the draining that ensued with each contraction, but didn’t feel like they intensified at all. We all think the AROM didn’t do much to push things along.
I had a tiny anterior lip of my cervix still hanging on, so they recommended some squats and leg lifts and just moving about. I did that and went to the bathroom. When I felt a wave coming, I loudly said, “Seaan!” He knew to come quickly. I leaned on him during that wave. With our heads together, I whispered to him, “I’m scared.” During most of the labor, I spoke only loud enough for Sean to hear. Since he was closest to me and always near, he would repeat what I said to our birthing team. Looking back, I like that I wasn’t loud and didn’t share my thoughts with everyone. It made the time more intimate and ours.
At one point, Dr leaned over between contractions and said, “Nicole, you may eventually feel an urge to push. It should be nice and strong, if you’re uncertain, that’s not it, so we’ll just wait for your cue. You tell us when you’re ready.” I really appreciated his ease, and confidence in my body and her ability. I had already been wondering, “What will this urge feel like?”
Honestly, I was floored how fast and flawlessly labor progressed once we hit active. They just kept charging ahead, and I felt really calm and cool. I could feel my breath relax my body. And I could sense the tension areas so easily and relax them too. Maybe this is why labor went quick? Or my exercising? But probably largely diet too. My body has been fueled well for over 9 months. I had trained and treated her well, in addition to exercising my spirit and mind in different ways.
We played with different positions, like perched on the bed’s edge, but I didn’t enjoy that, so we tried the semi-reclining in bed. That felt nice just because I was getting tired and could relax back onto the pillows between. Sean kept taking video, and C took photos. They kept the lights dim and the fans directed at me. I remember them saying it was a warm day to labor, but I thought We’ve had much warmer in Swaziland, and I was glad we had electricity and fans to keep us cool.
At some point, I felt a different sensation, but told them. They asked, “What does it feel like?” I couldn’t describe it, so they told me to just wait, I’d know when the pushing should start. We had wanted Sean to catch the baby if that worked out, but as it turns out, I liked having him by my head to whisper things to me, hold my hand, and wipe my face with a wet wash cloth – all things he did without me asking or telling!
Pushing continued for 1.5 hours. The actual pushing time was much less, as I had about 5 minutes of rest it seemed between each contraction. I got really weepy and whimpery at this point. I remember saying things like, “Guys, what should I do?” or “I don’t want to do this anymore”. Towards the very end, I even said, “Help. Help me,” in a whimpery voice. Sean would immediately jump up and say, “Nicole you CAN do this. You’re doing it already. You’re really almost there!” Everyone cheered when they could see progress. I feel like it didn’t take too many pushes for me to figure out how and where to push. I even lifted my bum up to give my sacrum room to move. Dr noticed that, encouraged it, and asked me to do it on consecutive pushes.
C explained to me that at first, I would need to get the baby’s head around that curve in my pelvis before the head would be at the door. She said, you may not feel it yet, but we can see signs that it’s moving down. I had never thought of the head first needing to turn past the curve, so that helped me visualize things. I really tried to relax my bottom, to channel my energy downwards and feel what was happening in my body.
Two things surprised me here. 1) The “urge to push” was nothing like what I imagined it to be. In fact, it didn’t feel like an urge at all. The contractions totally shifted, that’s the only reason I tried pushing. And really, at first, I didn’t know if my body was saying push, so I just thought I’d try and see what it felt like. Everyone saw me and started cheering. I kinda wanted to laugh and be alone to try a few times without them thinking, “Oh good! She’s got the urge!” However, once I got into the pushing, if I stopped or tried to poop out before the contraction was over, it became very overwhelming. I would panic and say, “Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh no!” and as tired or breathless as I might be, I had to push again or it felt like I might tear my body from my mind. Odd sensation. Also, breathing during the pushing was weird for me. I would breathe in, hold it and push. And obviously at some point, I’d have to breathe again. But first, I’d want to exhale. I had too much air in my lungs. But the waves wouldn’t let me exhale much. I had to breathe in again, and I felt too stuffed up with air when I held it. Interesting stuff that pushing.
2) I could not say I experienced pain during the pushing or delivery. I know, don’t hate me world or other women!! I fully expected pain. Debriefing, Sean asked me, “So was that the worst pain you ever experienced in your life?” I’ve only ever broken my toe; I’ve never been burned or had a severe injury, so I don’t feel like I’ve got lots of pain experiences to pull from, but still I wouldn’t use “pain” as the describing word. “Overwhelming” or “all-consuming intensity”. I agree with Ina May’s description of “think of a contraction as an interesting sensation that deserves your full attention.” This comes close to describing it. Even when the baby was crowning, C was saying, “Push through the pain. Don’t run from it. Push through the pain.” I found that confusing because I wasn’t feeling PAIN. I’m not saying it was easy or carefree, casual or effortless. I’ve never worked harder in all my life. I’ve never pushed (pun intended) myself to such an extreme. Even when back-packing or running a half-marathon, or running suicides at soccer practice. And it was difficult to understand exactly what I should be doing. This was the point where my intuition seemed to get quiet. I kept trying to connect to my body, to listen to it, to let its voice get louder as my mind quieted. But I feel like my body got quiet too and didn’t say much. That did feel confusing to me. Perhaps it’s why I was also weepy and whimpery. I had lost my guide in some ways.
The best part was when I finally felt her coming down. Bam! I could sense her head there at the door, making progress. They told me to touch her, but I remember thinking, Ah! There’s so little of her head showing. I’ve got so much to go. [One of those times when seeing 70+ deliveries kinda bites you in the butt. Another time was when I realized I would not be delivering my child in the five strong pushes I’ve witnessed many first-time, Swazi moms deliver in.] Another awesome feeling came when I stopped pushing, and could feel her head stay! It didn’t move back. That was almost ecstasy. I thought Oh I can really do it. I should really do it now.
Too many times we all thought I’d have her head out in the next push, but I didn’t. At some points, I’d push and they’d all be quiet. I thought Crap! I’m not making progress. I guess I do have to put more effort in.
At one point, I asked, “Can’t my uterus just push her out on its own? Won’t she just come on her own if I do nothing?” It’s a genuine question I’ve always wondered, and really hoped to be true in that moment.
Between rushes, I would flop back on the bed. Arms over my head, or relaxed at my sides. Sean would stroke my face, give me sweets, pour juice or water down my throat, but mostly people just sat back and let me rest. Sometimes I’d ask them questions. It really helped me to know how much of the head they could see. Because I’d been at the bottom end watching deliveries enough, I could imagine how much further I’d have to do with our baby. That was about the only thing that helped me.
In pregnancy, I had worked through some of my fears about labor or delivery. Probably the biggest, looming fear was that I would tear horribly. I was fine with a 1st or even 2nd degree tear, but anything more just horrified me [again, too many tortured perineums I had seen!]. So I mentioned this. I reminded myself out loud that if I tore, it wouldn’t be that bad. The Dr was skilled and very helpful in supporting my stretching. And if I did tear some, that’d be okay and I would heal. It wasn’t the worst thing. My body would heal it just fine. I talked about this with them, because I wondered if I was subconsciously holding back pushing fully because I feared tearing.
I felt really out of touch at some points. Towards the end, I realized my eyes had been closed for such a long time. Maybe I was trying to escape too much. Maybe I wasn’t in my body enough. So I opened them and searched the room. C’s eyes met mine and gave me some love. Then I searched for Sean. He met my gaze, and I just imagined draining his strength and love into my body and mind. A contraction hit before I could draw any more from him, but I think it helped looking around. It grounded me and brought me back into the room.
Not once did I think “I want drugs.” Although in the pushing, I really wanted someone to yank on her and pull her out! Haha Dr mentioned the vacuum, but C reassured I could do it and Dr agreed. Hearing him suggest that made me realize I really wanted to do it on my own, but just wanted it to be easier! Thank goodness I could do it. I just needed time I guess to get desperate enough to want it.
Well then, eventually I actually did it, I reckon. At some point, much further along that we had thought (judging how quick I dilated), the cheering got loud, really loud, and I could hear Sean’s excitement. “C’mon babe. C’mon. That’s it. Just a bit more. Really just a little and that’ll be it!”
I felt some tingling, but it didn’t burn or wasn’t painful. I thought it felt great because I knew that meant I had stretched as far as I would need to. And like that, her head was out. I thought we would wait for a new contraction, as that one kinda went away. I heard C and Dr checking around the neck. I think one asked, “Is that a hand?” And I thought, “Oh it can’t be. That’s tucked safely away.” [Some of the birth affirmations I meditated over included imagining the baby in the perfect position. Back against my belly, hands and cord tucked safely away. Neat that all of those affirmations came to fruition!] I looked down and could finally see her head. And I knew the hardest part was over. I knew those shoulders would slide out with an easy push.
I guess the Dr tugged on her shoulders a bit and asked for another push. I pushed and it was so easy I almost laughed. And just like I’d see it 75+ times, she was out with a whoosh! I flopped back onto the pillow for a second saying, “We did it. We did it. We really did it.” (I genuinely felt a group effort of the four of us it took to get her there!) And then I remembered, Look at the baby!
I lifted my head and the baby moved her legs, I honed in on that spot between the legs. I asked, “Is it a boy or a girl?” and cooed, “Ohhhh! It’s a girl! It’s a girl! We got a girl!” Sean and I both saw and said it at the same time.
I said, “Oh, come here, girl,” as the Dr handed her to me. And “Oh babe. We did it! We did it!”
Sean kissed my forehead and said, “Oh I’m so proud of you.”
We cuddled and snuggled her for some time, while we waited and the placenta was delivered. I had seen the blood that came as her head came out and with my birth experiences, I assumed that meant a fairly sizeable tear. However, it turns out, there are two ways the placenta detaches from the uterine wall. When it peels away, it holds a blood clot behind it, which is where that blood came from. I only had 3 small tears, all first degree, but the Dr said they were bleeding a bit, so he went ahead and stitched them.
The stitching is always one of the most stressful parts for my clients at RFM hospital, so I’m used to giving them a speech ahead of time. I talk them through the local anesthesia and how it’s their job to relax and stay calm, so the midwife can see to suture. The more relaxed they can be, the faster the stitching will go. So I kept telling myself that as Dr worked. I also knew that the surface/skin tears are the most painful to suture because the local anesthesia is meant for tissue. The skin is too shallow a surface to fully numb, so I ended up feeling the needle. But it was fine. Needles don’t bother me, bleeding endlessly does, and I’m a real fan of my lady parts healing up nicely, so that was all fine.
After being on my chest for some time, she did suck just a bit, but she was not a happy camper. Rarely have I seen a baby cry that much upon delivery, unless they’re separated from their mother. Cedar on the other hand, just had to get it all out. An anecdote in The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding tells of a baby who screamed like Cedar without consolation. The mother said, “She just needed to tell us her story.” I do believe that’s all Cedar needed – was to tell us her story! And what a story it was!
After a while, she was weighed and her head and length measurements were taken. Sean snuggled her on the bed while she was being weighed. When he leaned over her to take a close look, she was squinting, so he shaded her eyes from the already dim lights and spoke to her. She got very still and quiet. Shortly after she produced some distressing cries.
Sean took to her IMMEDIATELY. Holding. Touching. Loving. Admiring. And he held her wonderfully. Like he’s done it a million times (I can count on one hand the number of babies he has held). I love watching him with her! Sean held her skin to skin and spoke calmly to her as he walked around the house. Dr had to skedaddle as his other patient was still laboring at the hospital. The midwife helped me in for a quick shower. I felt tired, but not dizzy or weak. In the few minutes I showered, the midwife transformed our bedroom from a home-birth-delivery site back into a relaxing, warm bedroom. How nice to walk out of the shower, with fresh clothes onto the carpet and climb back into the bed I’d come to appreciate for 1.5 weeks!
Cedar was still screaming, so we tried again to get her to latch. She did eventually for about 5 minutes. The MW reassured us there wasn’t anything wrong with her, she just had a little trauma coming out. She was just a little stressed. I wasn’t too worried, just sad that she was so overwhelmed, and we couldn’t comfort her. We dimmed the lights more, cuddled her skin-to-skin, spoke softly and held her firmly. Eventually she settled.
The MW checked my vitals, which were fine, but my blood pressure was up slightly from it’s steady perfection during pregnancy. ;) Sean prepared me an egg salad sandwich. I wasn’t too hungry, but knew some food would do me good. I really just wanted our daughter to be calm and feel safe and happy.
The MW returned an hour later to find us in much of the same position. Cedar had calmed a bit, but still fussed. She had fed some. Sean showered, we relaxed, and after the MW verified my vitals and uterus were all good, she left us for our first night as a family. We called our parents to video Skype quickly, but were of course kinda tired after all the hoopla!
We did finally get her calm enough to latch and suck. About 5+ min feed. Then she slept in Sean’s arms. He passed out about 11. He had a worn out look in his eyes. I think between some technical difficulties getting ahold of our parents, not sleeping the night before, the kitchen sink backing up and overflowing onto the floor, and the surprise of a baby who just cried and cried, he was whooped! I also would like to think the emotional high had him uncertain how to cope, so he just decided to sleep. :D Not long after he fell asleep, she woke and cried. He took her out to try to let me sleep. But I was still too charged up. My body and muscles were still humming from all the work, and I didn’t really want to be separated from her, as tired as I was.
So I came out and we changed her to something she wasn’t swimming in! Lol and got her latched again. Sean immediately started drifting off to sleep next to me on the couch. She fed on the right side again for 10 minutes or more. Then on left (finally!) for the same or more. Until she really fell asleep. I came to bed because I couldn’t fathom sitting up all night.
There we were – a family of three on the outside. Just like that!
As a closing, I must say that I felt honored to have such a beautiful, empowering, ecstasy-like birthing experience. (For those of you who’ve read any of Ina May Gaskin’s books, I felt like I could be one of those mothers writing some hippie, dippie story. I even have a photo that’s my favorite and could rival any of those in her stories.) All the months of preparing, the books read, the times I practiced my breathing and meditated, the workouts, the specific diet I employed , and most of all the firm ground we stood on – knowing my body was meant for a moment such as this and she was ready – paid off! If the pushing phase wouldn’t have taken some time, or had me feeling a bit whimpy, I’d probably be a horrible doula in the future because labor was labor, but it wasn’t painful or too scary.
I’m so thankful for our choices, work, training, physical preparation, mental dedication, and spiritual empowerment that came through her birth. I truly believe our the first 6 days of her life have been blissful, and we’re easily adjusting largely due to the birth experience we had. Sean and I bonded over it; we really feel like one – a team who worked together to birth our daughter; and we know we made choices that were best for her health and start to life. She is an utter delight and easy baby thus far.