This is now the second time I’ve sat down to write my child’s birth story. Hopefully this time she’ll stay asleep long enough for me to finish.
She’s asleep in her pack-n-play in the bedroom with the salt lamp on and the white noise playing. I managed to squeeze her into her fuzzy bear sleeper pajamas one last time before I have to declare them officially “too small.” That bear outfit is one item of her baby clothes that I refuse to give up for sentimental reasons, only I’ll tell you I’m “saving it for the next one” if you ask. I just heard her laughing in her sleep. That should tell you how much she loves the jammies.*
(Editorial note: she slept eight solid hours in the fuzzy bear onesie after I wrote this!)
It was 11:30 pm on a Saturday, about an hour after my husband and I had gone to bed when I felt an odd pain. I didn’t think I was going into labor (I was 39 weeks and one day), I thought I had really bad gas and just needed to let it out. I went to the bathroom to resolve the issue only to be perplexed as to why it wouldn’t go away. This pain kept returning for the next hour and it was around 1 am when I realized it was in really regular, predictable intervals and seemed to get more and more painful.
I was in labor.
I pulled out my phone and opened the app with the contraction timer. I paced my contractions while I let my husband sleep and thought, “Holy cow, I’m actually in labor! This feels nothing like I thought it would.”
Around 2 am the pain started getting to the point where I needed my husband’s presence for comfort. Also, the contractions were four minutes apart. I gently rubbed his arm in the dark.
“Are you trying to wake me up?”
“Are you in labor?”
“Do we need to go to the hospital?”
“Yeah, pretty soon.”
With that my husband jolted out of bed, the lights were on and the bags were being loaded into the car.
Four or five Earth, Wind, and Fire songs later a salty night nurse with a taciturn personality was checking me into the hospital. How on earth can women be expected to fill out paperwork while they’re in labor? (My husband was told to wait outside.)
The taciturn night nurse brought me into the triage room where I insisted on wearing my own clothes to labor in because hospital gowns are gross. She examined me.
“You’re at two centimeters and your baby is sunny side up.”
My heart sank. I felt like that episode of Friends where Rachel Green is stuck at two centimeters for 18 hours and I wondered if I made a mistake in coming too soon. She told me she’d be back in an hour to check on me. They can admit me if I’m at four. I was in for a night of back labor.
At this point my contractions started to ramp up in pain, intensity, and timing (it was at this point that the pain was so intense that I vomited. Again, back labor). Being flat on my back was excruciating; sitting, kneeling, and standing were my only options.
As each pain came one minute apart, I heard the soothing sound of my husband’s voice coaching me through the pain.
“Breathe in relaxation and strength, breathe out fear and pain.” In through the nose, out through the mouth, leaning so heavily on my husband that I actually hurt his back by the time it was all over.
The nurse came in again around 4 am with a doctor I had never met before. He examined me. I’m at 4 centimeters and can go upstairs. He asked me if I plan on a totally natural labor (no painkillers, no epidural, no Pitocin) and I told him I was.
“Good. Don’t let anyone talk you out of that.” I found this natural birth bent in a hospitalist doctor to be encouraging and reassuring.
When I arrived upstairs, one of the labor and delivery nurses started asking me a million questions, most of which should have already been in the computer, some of which were completely stupid. She was the only person I lost my temper with (a bit).
*middle of a ginormous contraction*
“Are you right or left handed?”
At this point my contractions were 30 seconds apart and it was all I could do to breathe. No time to eat, go to the bathroom, or take a drink: just constant focus on the fact of getting through the pain. Around 6:45 am I started to go into transition, and one of the nurses suggested that I take a bath to ease some of the pain. I agreed that this was a great idea and told them I just needed to go the bathroom first (for the record, I felt like I needed to go the bathroom the whole time. Back labor makes you feel like you have a gigantic ten-ton poop trying to crush your tailbone). I let the nurse know that I had an overwhelming desire to push and I was using every ounce of strength NOT to!
No bath for me, sadly. It was back to the bed to be examined by the midwife who finally arrived (three hours after admission to the labor floor). As I shifted to the bed, I could feel the baby turn inside me to the position she was supposed to be in. I was at 9 – nearly 10 – centimeters and it was almost time to push.
I spent the minutes before pushing negotiating which position I preferred to be in while I was in labor. Lying on my back was not an option since it was so painful and I knew would put pressure on my lower back and make pushing harder. The midwife overruled, however, and I gave birth on my back.
This was where I moved into the land of “I have no idea what I’m doing.” Labor is merely survival, pain management, breathing. Labor, oddly, requires little effort. In fact, the more effort I put into labor, the less effective it is. The more you tense up, the more painful and less efficient labor becomes.
Pushing is a different animal. Pushing is where you turn into an animal. Pushing requires mammoth mental and physical effort and a herculean amount of strength. I was thanking myself for every squat I did during pregnancy while I was pushing. The pain of labor was bad, but not the worst. The pain of pushing was a 10 (I’d like to thank the show Call the Midwife for RUINING my expectations for what pushing would be like).
Somehow in the middle of all that awful pain (and let’s face it, SO much screaming) I was listening to what the midwife was telling my husband and the other nurses. “You can see her head! Look at all that brown hair!”
Brown? Hair? My whole pregnancy I was expecting a bald redhead and here I was giving birth to a little mini-me.
At 7:50 am she was born, her body pulled out of mine by my husband’s own hands. The cord was wrapped loosely around her neck, which was gently pulled off before she was plopped atop my belly.
As soon as I met her, my daughter had the hiccups (she did in utero nearly three times a day). She sneezed three times and immediately began munching on her little fingers, which I instantly recognized as my own. I was totally transfixed by the human being just removed from my body that I didn’t really realize that the placenta was out and I was being stitched up for the first-degree tear I received (totally thought delivering the placenta required more effort on my part but I’m absolutely not complaining).
I’m so very grateful for the birth story I have. Everything I had hoped for came true (would have liked a little more time in between contractions to catch my breath a bit). I had a spontaneous, short, unmedicated labor. I gave birth to a gorgeous, healthy baby girl. So many women do not have the same stories (for so many different reasons!), which is why I’m so grateful for mine.
Labor made me realize that I am so much stronger than I ever realized and that the mind has so much power and control over our bodies. As soon as I started to give into the fear, the pain would become unmanageable, but as long I stayed focused and kept my wits about me (thanks to my husband who acted as a doula) the pain was ok. Pain in labor is not your body telling you that something is wrong; it’s your body telling you that everything is right. It isn’t to be feared. Listen to it and let it pass by.
My daughter has been both the biggest ray of sunshine in my life and my hardest challenge to date. Her morning smiles give me life after a long night of nursing (she gives a lot of smiles in the middle of the night too, but I’d rather she go back to sleep!). I have
absolutely loved watching the amazing bond develop between her and my husband. She is completely smitten with him and vice versa!
To my friends who are pregnant with their first babies: I highly recommend going to a prenatal chiropractor throughout your pregnancy. This helps with the aches and pains of pregnancy and helps get the baby into the right position for birth. I remember one time in the waiting room of the midwife’s office seeing a girl just as pregnant as I was wincing in pain, grabbing her hips in agony with every waddle. I felt so bad for her wanted to yell out, “Go to the chiropractor!”
I suggest you eat plenty of dates every day during your second and third trimester. This helps you go into labor on time and shortens the labor time. I went into labor at 39 weeks and had an 8.5 hour labor from start to finish as my first labor (That’s pretty fast). Drink red raspberry leaf tea every day during your third trimester. This helps tone your uterus so that contractions work more efficiently. A huge “Thank you!” to my mamma friends who recommended these things to me when I was first pregnant! It made a monumental difference!
Also, practice your breathing early. Long, slow breaths worked for me, not short panicked ones. Study up on the labor process as much as you can (I watched a LOT of Ina May Gaskin videos on YouTube). This kept me from being afraid of the process.
I truly believe these, along with potent nutrition and regular exercise, are why I was able to have the labor I hoped for. Enjoy sleep while you can get it and eat plenty of healthy fruits and veggies! Reject fear when the time comes and focus on breathing!
But DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT feel like a failure if your birth doesn’t go the way you planned. I certainly wasn’t planning on back labor! Everyone’s body is different, and everyone’s baby is different. Keep a positive attitude, though. You’re going to do great, almost mammas!