On Friday, September 4, 1999 I started to feel some light achy cramps as Tom and I watched television. They began sometime around 8:00 p.m. and it didn't occur to me to time them at first because I just figured they were regular cramps or Braxton-Hicks contractions which I'd been having for weeks. However, they had a slightly different quality I hadn't felt before so I decided to time them. They seemed to come about every fifteen minutes or so and I think I mentioned this to Tom. They were so slight that had we been busier or something, I probably wouldn't have even noticed them at all.
We went to bed around midnight and they were still coming. I didn't even realize that I might be in labor. That night the achy feelings kept coming and going, keeping me in a light sleep and by about 8:00 a.m., it felt a little uncomfortable just laying still through them. They seemed to originate in the center of my lower abdomen and radiate down into my hips. I found myself sort of rocking as they came and went. Finally I gave up trying to sleep and got up. I still didn't think it could be labor.
When I told Tom I was still getting these consistent cramps, he suggested I call our midwife, Amy, "just in case." I thought he was overreacting a bit but finally paged her around 11:00 a.m. She seemed to think these were early contractions, and I was surprised. She advised me to go about my day like normal and keep her posted about things. We decided to run errands which included a drive into Boulder to pick up our window blinds from FedEx, stopping by Tom's work to fax a document and then to Walmart to get last minute birth supplies to have on hand such as extra towels. The whole time we were out, the achy cramps kept coming and going, sometimes as close as seven minutes apart, but they didn't hurt at all.
At Walmart things seemed to pick up a little in terms of intensity because a couple times I would have to stop walking around and just wait out the contraction, which by this time is what I decided to call them. Reality was starting to set in a little bit. Ironically, we bumped into my friend Sara, her husband and their new little baby Alva. I was so surprised because I had wanted to visit her ever since Alva was born but had been feeling too badly to drive to her house the last month or so I was pregnant. I was overjoyed to finally meet her baby, who was so adorable and small. However, I couldn't help but feel a bit jealous that she already had her baby and I was still waiting. At that point I felt as if I'd be pregnant, swollen and uncomfortable forever.
I think we got home around 3:00 or 4:00, I can't remember exactly. I do recall that the contractions started to get a bit more real around 5:30 p.m. Even though they didn't really hurt in the painful sense, I was having to get up and walk through them. I started pacing around the downstairs quite a bit and excitedly telling Tom that I thought this could be the beginning of real labor. I mistakenly thought that if labor was like this than it wasn't that bad because I felt so totally normal in between contractions. I was in for a big surprise later on! Anyway, I talked with Amy again who told me that she'd like to come over for a couple minutes and just see how I was doing in person. While visiting, she showed us how to brew the red raspberry leaf tea we had bought and advised I start drinking some. She
thought things were going really well with me judging by how I was handling the early contractions and said to let her know when things got heavier.
Finally at about 8:30 p.m., the contractions did start to hurt a little and I had to stop and lean on something during each one. I decided to create a relaxing environment for myself so turned out all the lights downstairs and filled the tv room with lit candles. I then set myself up on the sofa with my digital alarm clock and Tom's wristwatch that has a second hand. The contractions had picked up and were now anywhere from 5 to 7 minutes apart, and lasting around 45 seconds. I was really moaning through them, which felt fantastic. I found the louder I moaned, the less they hurt. It probably sounded like I was in major pain but I wasn't. I continued watching television but found myself walking around a lot in between them because I was getting pretty excited by this time. I was absolutely giddy. Meanwhile, Tom was upstairs getting things ready and wrapping up last minute details like paying bills.
By 11:00 p.m., the contractions were about three and four minutes apart, a lot more intense and really starting to hurt. However, it wasn't anything I couldn't handle. I was still thinking at that point that if labor was like this than it would be a piece of cake. We decided to call and have Amy come over at this time. She arrived about a half-hour later I think. I was really curious to know if I had dilated any at this point, so she did an internal check. At first she thought I was at 8 centimeters and I could hardly believe it, but then she checked again and said I was more like 5 centimeters and 100% effaced. Still though, I was really encouraged. I had gotten to 5 centimeters without very much difficulty at all!
She said it was okay at that point to get into the bath if I wanted to. I jumped at the chance. We decided to use our regular bathtub for labor and birth rather than rent an AquaDoula tub as originally planned. Our bathtub is a corner tub, triangular in shape and fairly deep. It was a huge relief to get into the warm water and sort of float through contractions. The sensation of being weightless really helped a lot even though it didn't take away any of the pain like I thought it would. I floated through contractions for quite some time but can't remember for how long.
Around 12:30 a.m. I noticed the warm water seemed to be slowing things down so I opted to get out and labor on land for awhile. I remember this time as being really nice and romantic, as strange as that sounds. The bedroom was dimly lit with candles and Mozart played softly in the background. The contractions were hard but not impossible. Tom was being so wonderful through it all too, massaging me as I leaned over onto the bed while on my hands and knees. We finally decided to lay down together and take a nap. I dozed off between contractions, waking for each one and really working through them. It's amazing that I could sleep in between but I did.
During this time I also started to have a lot of bloody show. I remember feeling shocked that these huge bloody clumps were literally falling out of me. It was pretty gross. Anyway, I felt rejuvenated when we decided to get up around 4:30 am. Amy had been sleeping in our guestroom since I had gotten out of the tub, and she also got up around this time.
At about 6:00 a.m., I was back up and walking around in an attempt to hurry things along. I was checked again at 8:00 a.m. and found to be about 7-8 centimeters. I remember feeling a bit dismayed that things were taking so long. It had now been almost 7 hours of what I considered "real labor" and I kept thinking back to Friday night when I first noticed the light contractions. I couldn't help but think I'd been in labor now for almost two days. In retrospect I shouldn't have kept focusing on that because I think it was too discouraging.
Ursula, Amy's partner, arrived that Sunday morning around 8:15. Everyone kept trying to get me to eat something but nothing tasted good. I nibbled at some pieces of banana and fig newtons in between contractions and pacing while I was downstairs. I remember feeling a bit annoyed that everyone else seemed so normal while I was in pain. Amy, Ursula and Tom were mostly just talking or sitting around watching me. I spent all day Sunday laboring along without any progress. I got back into the tub around 11:30 a.m. and while I lay there I started having strong feelings that I just couldn't go on for much longer. I felt like giving up. It seemed to be taking forever.
Again, the tub seemed to slow my labor down so I got out around 1:00 p.m. Because I was so discouraged and exhausted, I was advised to try and nap again so I laid down on the bed. I got up around 2:00 and was still found to be at 7 centimeters. I felt like screaming because I was so frustrated. I had been at 7 centimeters for about 6 hours. By this time I was feeling really out of it and irrational. I remember thinking that labor would never end. The constant pain was really wearing me down and contractions started spacing out. Amy and Ursula asked if I'd like to stimulate things by taking an herbal extract (I think it was cotton root?) and I agreed. After I started taking that, my contractions got even more intense and started to get more regular again at three minutes apart. It hurt badly but I finally felt as if some progress was being made.
By dinner time I was really getting impatient, frustrated and upset. I couldn't believe how long I'd been in labor. The pain of the contractions seemed endless and in between them I wasn't really recovering any more. I was so tired. To keep me from running out of steam, Tom kept urging me to take sips of Recharge or water in between contractions and at one point he made some cheese ravioli for dinner but I couldn't eat more than just a few bites. I know food was supposed to be good for keeping my energy up but I just didn't want to eat a damn thing. I did nibble on some grapes, banana and fig newtons here and there. However, I was starting to feel really nauseous about this time and I kept wanting to throw up but couldn't. I tried several times by sticking my finger down my throat but no luck. Tom was so great during all of this, walking around with me, moaning with me and just being a great support person. I couldn't have done it without him there.
Amy thought everything was going to be fine and she told me the story of her first birth. She had been in labor for 36 hours at home but her midwives gave up on her. She ended up transferring to the hospital and finally got a c-section because she had given up on herself too by that point. She was so sad telling her story and it was obvious to this day she regrets how it happened. At that time, I knew I was being really ridiculous thinking I wanted a c-section. The rational part of my brain sort of took over and I knew I didn't want that to happen to me. And so I labored along for a few more hours, thinking this birth would never happen. I would even sometimes forget why I was in so much pain. I felt delirious and sort of outside of myself at times.
Amy and Ursula kept checking the baby's heart tones throughout all this, and each time she was doing fine. I remember being amazed that I could be in so much agony yet the baby was okay.
I was checked again at about 6:00 p.m. and found to be 8 centimeters with a lip of cervix. The baby was at 0 station. I felt the progress was too insignificant so I started to lose confidence again. I was given some Bach's Rescue Remedy to calm me down and was encouraged to spend some time alone with Tom to "pull it together." Things were fine with both the baby and me, it was just going too slow for my liking. I've always been an intensely impatient person!
At about 7:15, Amy said she could try to manually push away the anterior lip of cervix that was keeping me from dilating. I remember her saying something about the baby's head coming down at an angle which was the reason why progress was so slow. I sat on the birthing stool and she pushed on the lip of cervix while I had a contraction and it was the worse pain I've ever felt in my life! I screamed louder than I've ever screamed! It was horrible. Once I was checked again, it was found that I was about 9.5 centimeters. I was so relieved to hear that because I knew it wouldn't be much longer before I could push.
At 8:30 p.m., Ursula asked me to push between contractions while she checked me. She said the baby's head came down nicely when I did that and so I could start pushing while Amy held the lip back around the baby's head. I wasn't sure about doing this because I remembered how much it hurt the last time she moved my cervix. I finally declined and decided to just wait until things were ready on their own.
Not much longer after this, the contractions started coming really fast and were very painful. They took on a much different quality and I felt a burning sensation inside as they came on. Eventually they were so bad I couldn't cope with them hardly at all. There wasn't any position I could get in that helped, and I ended up on the floor on my hands and knees or leaning over the bed and pulling as hard as I could on the baseboard. I felt like ripping it apart. I was getting really panicky and screaming through them. I wondered if it could be "transition." I'd read about it but experiencing it was worse than I expected. I recalled a woman from our childbirth class who said during her homebirth it felt like she was trying to climb Mt. Everest in her underwear. I finally knew what she meant.
I thought if things continued like that for any more than a few minutes, I would surely die of pain. I can't even describe how painful it was. As I screamed and started hyperventilating, everyone kept telling me I needed to lower my tones and I just ignored them. I was ignoring everything around me pretty much. Amy wanted to check me at that point and I agreed but was so afraid she would tell me that I wasn't ready to push yet. I almost refused. However, she announced I was finally complete and could push! At that moment I became elated and knew I could see it through until the end. The relief I felt was beyond words. I almost cried as I got back into the bathtub. This was at about 10:30 p.m. I demanded that the room be only lit by candlelight, so the overhead lights were turned out. The candles were a bit too dim, so they brought in a small table lamp from the bedroom and put it in the corner.
I sort of zoned at that point. I sat in the tub staring off into space while Amy, Ursula and Tom all stared at me with expectant looks on their faces. I remember thinking, "What are they all staring at?". I was pretty out of it. My contractions sort of spaced out then and changed in quality. They were no longer agonizing. Pretty soon I felt that "urge to push" come over me that I had read about in so many birth stories. As the contractions came on, I couldn't even help it. I was getting in about three pushes per contraction. I tried pushing in various positions but found it felt best and most effective if I was sitting up, bracing my feet on the opposite of the tub and holding on to something. I started off pulling on the towel that was hanging on the rack above the tub but almost tore it out of the wall, so Tom offered me his arm instead. Amy said the head was down pretty far and if I would push real well I'd have my baby very soon. I felt so motivated to end this ordeal I'd been going through so I pushed with all my might. I felt a stretchy and burning sort of feeling as the head came down even further but it wasn't that painful. I was still moaning during and between contractions, but it wasn't really because of pain. I just felt a bit overwhelmed by what was happening. Because everyone says the pushing stage takes awhile, Tom figured he had time to walk Freddie, our dog, before anything serious happened. With everything going on that evening, he hadn't been taken outside for hours. Well, things happened fairly quickly after that. Amy announced she could see some dark hair! I then knew things were almost finished which really motivated me to put an end to it all. Ursula ran to get Tom so he wouldn't miss anything because he wanted to catch our baby. He ran back in all excited which spurred me on even more. I pushed with all my might and felt her head slowly slide out of me, there was a slight hesitation as the next urge overcame me and I then pushed her out all at once. I felt her arms and legs kicking me as she wriggled out like a little fish, I felt every little thing as she left my body. I also felt like I was being emptied for lack of a better term. It was the most exhilarating thing I've ever felt and better than any sex I've had. I'm not saying her birth was orgasmic, however I can't quite compare the feeling to anything else. What a total rush. At that point I remember thinking that women who get epidurals are really cheating themselves out of something special. I might get flack for saying that but it's my opinion. I wouldn't trade that feeling for anything, it was worth all the pain I went through.
As she came out, Tom and Amy both scooped her quickly up out of the water and put her on my chest. They threw a towel around her as I held her. Her eyes were wide open looking at me and she was crying. I just kept staring at her in amazement, shocked that I had a real live baby! At first I didn't know if she was a boy or a girl, so I excitedly opened her little legs to find out. I am so glad that I was able to find out for myself, rather than have someone else announce it to me. I then told Tom it was a girl. Of course, he "knew" all along that is what we would have. They timed her arrival at 12:09 a.m. She was born on her due date, which was Labor Day.
I continued to hold her as everyone helped me out of the tub and onto the birth stool where I immediately pushed out the placenta in one easy push. It was intact. I was then led to the bed by Ursula where I laid down and started nursing Brenna. She was still attached to the placenta because we decided not to cut the cord for at least two hours. While I nursed Brenna, Ursula listened to her lungs which sounded a bit wet so she used a small hose to suction her. As this was going on, Amy inspected me down below. She showed me the damage with a hand mirror and I was actually surprised to see I looked pretty normal down there which isn't what I expected. I only had some "skid marks" and one small tear on the left side of my outer labia but it didn't need stitching. She actually sutured it together with some kind of super glue instead.
Brenna's Apgar scores were 9 and 10. I remember thinking how pretty she looked. Her skin was a normal pink color, eyes wide open and her face wasn't all squished up like some newborns. She was perfect. I was in love.
Tom went downstairs to heat me up some dinner and that ravioli was the best meal of my entire life. I was starved! While I nursed Brenna, ate my dinner and relaxed from the ordeal of birth, the midwives cleaned up the bathroom and started some laundry.
Brenna's newborn exam was about two hours after the birth, so I could spend time nursing her first. At that time, Tom cut the cord and then she was measured to be 7 lbs. 11 oz. and 21 inches long. An interesting thing we did was save the cord. I never would have thought of it, but Amy suggested it because she did that for her daughter who now thinks it's totally cool to have her cord. So after it was cut from the placenta, she arranged it in a sort of butterfly pretzel shape on a plate and left it to dry out. It's amazing how shriveled up and small it is now. We also decided to keep the placenta so we have frozen it until we landscape our backyard, when we will bury it with the planting of a tree for Brenna.
Despite how long my labor was, I would definitely do it the same way all over again. Having our baby at home was a marvelous experience. Even though the labor was longer and more painful than expected, I have nothing but positive memories. It was the most amazing and empowering experience of my life. The only thing I'd do differently next time would be to get in better shape before getting pregnant. I am not sure if that would help coping with labor or not, but it definitely would for postpartum recovery. It took me about two weeks to get over all the aches and pains I had afterwards and I didn't feel totally normal until about three weeks.