Disclaimer – I wrote this story partially for my readers and partially for me. I wanted to have a chance to process what happened during Owen’s birth and so I tried not to hold back. That means you will be left with a lot of details that may get overwhelming. I apologize for that, but it is what it is. Also, if you had a traumatic birth experience of your own or are really fearful about birth, you may want to skip this…
My early labor started on the morning of Monday the 28th. I lay on my couch, timing contractions that were not painful, but more intense than Braxton Hicks. They were coming regularly every 12-15 minutes. By afternoon, they had stopped, so I didn’t think much of it. B and I went to an infant CPR class that night and I had some ongoing contractions, but again nothing major. When we got into bed that night, the contractions started to get more intense. I was excited, but not getting my hopes up too much. By midnight, the contractions woke me up with a lurch and I ran into the bathroom in pain. From there, I spent the next 3 hours in a blur of intense contractions. I no longer could even help B time them because I couldn’t tell him when they were starting…he just had to watch me to monitor them on the app. B was texting the midwife the whole time and so somehow I ended up in the shower (per her recommendation). Again, I don’t really remember a lot of this. Then, I remember B telling me, ”Ok, it’s time. We’re going.” People say you will just know when it’s time to go, well, I guess you do. Or, in this case, he knew.
So we got in the car and were pulling out into the alley when I was hit by a really hard contraction. I started saying ”I need to be in the bathroom” and so I leapt out of the car and headed back for the bathroom, but then suddenly my water broke. In the alley. B asked, “Are you sure??” Oh yes, I was sure. It was running down my legs like in the movies.
We made it to the birth center. Again, the car ride was a blur. All I remember is the beeping of the seat belt alarm because I couldn’t bear to have my seat belt on. When we got there, the midwife met us at the door and ushered us in. She checked me for dilation and I was at 4cm. Perfect. Just when they want you to arrive.
And then? And then the midwife and her assistant pretty much just left us alone. They made up beds on the couches in the sitting room and left us to do what we wanted. It was around 4:00 am. We lit candles, put Enya music on, got out my heating pad, and cuddled in bed. Alternating between cuddling peacefully and me jumping onto my hands and knees for particularly bad contractions. I also spent some time in the shower, which felt great, but I was waiting for the tub, which I knew would feel better than great. When contractions intensified, I started to try different things. We would walk around with me leaning on B’s shoulders, him walking backwards, and him holding me through contractions. I would sit on the birthing ball, leaning over the tub, and then stand up to put all of my weight on the tub during a contraction. I did a lot of being on hands and knees. Throughout it all, the most helpful things were breathing through the contractions and B putting counter pressure on my back. The counter pressure was the most effective thing. He would push as hard as he could on both sides of my spine, while I would scream things like “harder! lower! higher!” and mostly, “don’t stop!!” It really, really helped.
At some point, while leaning over the tub, I suddenly found myself throwing up. It was this really nonchalant, relaxed thing. As in, I didn’t say anything or notify anyone, I just started emptying the entire contents of my stomach into this big beautiful pristine tub. B was shocked, but I felt better afterwards.
Then I switched gears again and found myself doing a lot of laboring on the toilet. B would reach around behind and press on my lower back while I leaned into his shoulders. At this point, I asked the midwife to check me again. She thought it was too soon (must have been around 7:00 or 8:00am). She thought it was too early, but eventually agreed. I was SO nervous there would be no progress. But I was at 7 cm. I was very happy with that.
And then…I’m not really sure. It starts to get blurry again. I have random memories. Watching B sleep blissfully on the bed and wanting to wake him up but knowing he should rest while he could. Kicking him to wake him up (ha). Trying to eat a granola bar (unsuccessfully). Being fed a spoonful of maple syrup by the midwife assistant (random). Realizing the sun was up and the world was continuing about its day without us. Realizing my mom was landing at LAX and would be on her way to the birthing center. Having moments where I realized that, if I would have been at the hospital, I would have been considering an epidural. But mostly, just working through it. I would have moments where I would lose it a bit and start to swear about the pain, but mostly, I just…dealt with it.
Then, the noises I was making started to change. Really, you read about it, but it truly does happen. I started making lower moaning noises and felt like my body was bearing down a bit. The midwife noticed and checked me. TEN CENTIMETERS! Hooray. It was only noon. It felt like it was happening so smoothly and easily. From 4cms at 4:00am to 10 cms at noon.
But there was still a little lip left. The midwife said I could get in the tub to try to progress the last little bit. This was definitely my favorite part of the laboring. It was really like those movies of women having the “perfect birth.” The tub was enormous, more of a birthing pool – long and deep and wide. I could brace my back against one wall and push my legs on the other side and float through the contractions. B took a picture of me during this part and I really looked so peaceful and focused. The midwife even gave me the ok to start pushing a bit, just to allow myself to go with what my body wanted to do. At one point I thought I was going to have my baby in the tub, which was not something I had planned on, but it just felt right at that time.
A little while in to the tub time, my mom and sister came in. They came in and talked to me and held my hand and I could see the amazement in their eyes. I think it was amazing that this was actually happening and that I was in such a peaceful, blissed out state.
Please remember this moment. This moment was the highlight of my labor. I was feeling so strong and happy and ready. Here I was, at ten centimeters, under control, tranquil, and ready to meet my baby. I couldn’t believe how fast everything had progressed (a little under 12 hours to reach 10 cms) and how, even though it had been painful and hard, it had seemed easier than my worst fears had expected. Please remember this. Me, in the tub, serene and happy.
Because from here it all goes to hell.
At that point the midwife asked me to get out of the tub so she could check the lip of my cervix again. She checked me and said she thought she could push it out of the way if I did a few pushes with her hand on my cervix. I agreed naively. They got me on the birthing stool and we got started. Holy hell. That was painful. Her hands inside of me, pushing my cervix around his head while I bore down in a squat position. But we made it through and I was ready to start pushing him out! I wanted to get back in the tub, but she asked me to try the stool for a bit, since it would be easier. I agreed.
Almost immediately when I started pushing, I began to get afraid. I wasn’t afraid of the pain, but afraid of the unknown. As in, what would it feel like as he came out of me? How could I prepare myself for something that was unlike anything I had ever experienced? Also, I wanted to know how long it would take and whether I would tear. The midwife smiled at me and said there was no way to answer these questions because it was different for every woman. I understood her logically, but kept asking the same questions over and over. It was as if I needed to know in order to push him out, because pushing into the unknown was terrifying to me.
Now this is weird that this happened. I had been afraid of the pain of labor, but had never been afraid of the pushing stage. I thought I would be good at pushing and be effective at pushing. But suddenly, here I was, paralyzed by the unknown. At first, everyone was laughing a bit at me, but then the midwife got serious and said, “I can’t answer the questions, you just have to push.”
So we switched positions to help switch up my mindset. We got me on the bed, legs up in the air, in a more traditional position. It was at this point that the midwife told me that I started pushing in earnest. She said my pushes became “real” and “strong.” During the pushing, I wasn’t worried about the pain, but I was making jokes that the perineal massage going on wasn’t helping any matters. So I kept pushing. And pushing. And pushing.
I had B holding one leg, a student midwife holding the other, a student midwife at my head – coaching me, and the midwife sitting silently between my legs. I remember being shocked at how much work it was. I was sweating, sweating, sweating. Owen’s heartbeat was strong and solid through it all. But I remember the midwife getting quieter and quieter and could catch her making eye contact with her two students.
Finally, they suggested some different positions. Lying on side, on all fours…but these just made me feel like I was going to split in two and weren’t effective. And then, the midwife looked at me and said, “I don’t think you’re going to be able to push this baby out without help. We’ve been pushing for three hours and he’s not coming out.” She explained that, with as hard as I was pushing, he should have been out by now. He said he could have been in a weird position, but she wasn't able to tell yet. She said, even though his heart tone was strong, it would be safer at this point to proceed with something different, since we had been pushing for so long. She laid out our options – call in a doctor to the birth center to use a vacuum or go to the hospital. I didn’t like either option, but B and I talked and decided to call the doctor in.
They said it could take some time for him to get there and in the meantime I could get back in the tub and just keep pushing on my own until he showed up. So, back in the tub I went. As soon as I got in I was happier. But then I was hit by my first contraction in the tub and I began to panic. I didn’t know what to do because the midwife wasn’t by my side anymore (calling the doctor) and no one was actively coaching me and so I felt lost again. I freaked out a bit and then the student midwife who was monitoring Owen’s heart beat raised her voice and said, “Decel.” His heart rate had dropped to 70 beats per minute. They rushed and got me out of the tub and his heart rate went right back up to 130. But that was it.
B and I looked at each other and said, “Hospital.” The midwives agreed.