The previous day was my due date, October 9th, 2012. Up until this point I had had no signs that labor was imminent. I woke that Tuesday morning and cleaned my house top to bottom to ready for my parent's arrival later that night. Later that day, I sat as a "belly model" at my old school, Birthingway College of Midwifery, where my rounded belly was used as a practice model for new midwifery students to begin honing their palpation skills. 15 students and 2 instructors each took turns gently pressing and squeezing my belly with the flats of their hands and fingers, trying to determine the position of my little one. This hour long uterine massage brought about multiple Braxton Hicks contractions, the painless warm-up contractions that I had been experiencing for months. Due to the extended palpations, they were now coming at a greater frequency. And when I walked out the front door of the school at 5pm to catch the bus home, I felt something different. My uterus contracted, but this time there was a sensation to it. Cramping, a new level of tightness. And with it, a sudden wave of vulnerability and the urge to get home as soon as possible.
I had several more of these contractions on the way home, about 10 minutes apart and lasting 30-45 seconds each, and knew that this was the beginning of early labor for me. I also knew intellectually that this development could fade and be a false alarm, but intuitively I felt otherwise. Being a former student of midwifery, I knew well enough what to do at this early stage of labor. Eat what I could. Drink plenty of fluids. And rest as much as possible to conserve energy for hard labor and pushing. And so for the next 20 hours or so, I did just that. During this entire time, my contractions were never closer than 7-10 minutes apart, and lasted no longer than 45 seconds each. The contractions felt much like the intense menstrual cramps I have been lucky enough to have during my entire menstruating history: dull pain that wraps around my lower torso, deep and full, nauseating, and enough to stop me in my tracks and draw my brain down into my uterus. I say lucky in that my menstrual periods prepared me well for labor, and I found labor relatively easy to cope with as a result.
Not able to concentrate on anything else, I couldn't even read. In between contractions, I layed on the couch or in bed on my side and instantly sprung up into a hands and knees position during contractions. Swaying my hips back and forth and focusing on deep breathing, I rode these lighter waves and mentally prepared myself for the harder ones yet to come. And meanwhile, I visualized exactly what these contractions were meant to do: I imagined that the tightenings of my uterus were pulling the tissue from my cervix up into the body of my uterus, thus causing the cervix to open and thin while allowing the baby more space to descend. And I willed myself to relax the rest of my body around these tightenings. The sudden flame-like sensations rising from my core up towards my navel became hot and striking, and the pressure in my sacrum increased as well. I even threw up a couple of times.
My midwives arrived at 2 pm on Wednesday to check in on me. They took my vitals, listened to the baby's heartrate, confirmed baby's position, and did a cervical check. I was prepared to not have made much progress so far, as early labor had been quite easy for me and as I had seen so many go through a similar early stage only to dilate 1 cm or so. To the surprise of us all, I was actually 5 cm dilated, 100% effaced, with the baby's head at +1 station! Tears of relief spontaneously released. The midwives left, requesting that we contact them as soon as contractions started to become more intense and frequent. And as soon as they left our house, it was like a light switch was turned on in my body from the knowledge of being this dilated. My body decided that it was time to get this show on the road!
Suddenly, contractions were more frequent, every 4-5 minutes instead of every 7-10, yet still lasting only 45 seconds or so. And the intensity of them was kicked up a notch, making me moan through them to cope, louder and louder as time went on. Active labor had begun. Lucas called the midwives back less than half an hour after they left, and then proceeded to start setting up the birthing tub.
It was after dark when the midwives arrived, one by one. The lights were low, my birth mix music was playing, it was quiet and cozy in our home. The midwives set up their equipment, organized birth supplies and helped Lucas prepare the birth tub, while I moved through contraction after contraction. I thought of several births I had been to over the years, and the ways I had witnessed different women cope with their labors. What a gift it was to have those experiences as resources for my own birth. I repeated mantras in my head that I had heard other women use: "Open...open...open." And "I can do this, I am doing this." "I am strong." And yet, I still didn't feel overwhelmed or like I couldn't do this. I knew I could and I did.
Once in the birth tub, I felt incredibly grateful for the warm water to move around in and to ease the edges of my contractions. I was grateful for the unobtrusiveness and silent confidence of the midwives. I was grateful for my calm and supportive husband who sat with me during the thickest hours of labor, massaging my shoulders, laying cool washcloths on my forehead and neck, keeping my water glass full, holding the bucket when I threw up again. There were even contractions when I found myself smiling and feeling joy, grateful to finally be birthing the baby I had dreamed about having my entire life, and grateful to feel on top of the process of labor.
At some point towards the end of my 5 hour active labor, I could tell that baby was even lower in my pelvis because there was increased pressure in my rectum. That is where I first felt the contractions rise, followed by the flames shooting up my lower abdomen. I vaguely knew that this sensation in my bottom was my body telling me to start pushing, yet I was scared to listen to this. I hesitated for a long long time before I found the courage to push with a contraction. But finally I did. I even checked myself at this point to see where baby was....and was shocked to feel the baby's head just a knuckle and a half inside! So low, so close.
I pushed in the birth tub for about 2 hours, changing my position frequently yet not feeling like I was making any progress. And still a little scared to *really* push with all my might. The head midwife sensed that I wasn't progressing with my pushing, and suggested I get out of the birth tub for awhile to switch things up. She also suggested that I let her check my cervix to make sure it was in fact fully dilated. In the bedroom, on my bed, she indeed found that I had a cervical lip, a crescent moon of my cervix was not dilated and was potentially preventing the baby from descending further. I knew that my 2 options at this point were to stop pushing with contractions to allow my cervix to finish dilating, or to allow my midwife to hold the cervical lip back with her fingers while I pushed until the baby's head was pushed past the cervix. I opted for the second option, as I felt like there was no way I could *not* push with my contractions at this point. My urge to puch was too strong not to, and it hurt way more to not push. Plus, that first option could have taken a long time too, running the risk of wearing me out and leaving me with little energy to push my baby out.
It only took a handful of contractions for my midwife and I to get the baby past the cervical lip, and from then on pushing felt way more effective. I could feel the baby move. I decided to stay in a semi reclined position on my bed for the next 1.5 hours of pushing. I had no desire to move anywhere else, and found it so much easier to fully relax in between contractions on my bed. My midwives and Lucas were my cheerleaders, encouraging me to push beyond what I thought possible, to push through the intense sensations I was having, to keep going and going and going.
I admit it, I hated pushing. Some women love it apparently. I hated it. It was the most painful part of my labor. I felt like my pelvis was splitting open from both sides of my sacrum around to my pubic bone. My tissue burned like a thousand fires as it stretched. I wanted this to be over. I didn't believe them all when they said I was making so much progress with each push...I felt like I would have to do this forever. And that I had no choice but to do just that. I had to surrender to this force. To my body. To the sensations. To my baby who needed me to do this work to bring it safely into the world. It was the most intense surrender I have ever undergone, the most all consuming. I relaxed in between contractions as much as I could to gather my strength and energy, and let myself wail loudly while pushing to help bring this baby down.
Finally, my bag of waters broke, all over the midwife, all over my bed. When this happened, the pushing became even more intense and effective. I could *really* feel baby moving down now. And soon enough I felt that fabled burning ring of fire, and the animal in me doing everything I could to get my baby out, now! I looked down and watched as the head emerged, covered in a downy blond fuzz. And with the next contraction, I nearly struggled to find the energy to push the body out. But I did. I did. 10:43 pm.
I did it. I did it. I did what my body was made to do. I did it.
A wailing baby was lifted up from between my legs and laid in my arms on my chest. Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god! Our baby was here! Pink and perfect, vibrant and fully present! My baby was here and the pain of labor was suddenly gone! Thank god! I lifted the receiving blanket and moved the still pulsing umbilical cord to the side to discover that this baby was not the girl we were mostly expecting, but was a boy after all! A boy! A perfect beautiful boy!
I am so lucky. I am so lucky.
A dream come true in my arms at last.
Labor a distant memory already. (Though I still haven't forgotten how much pushing sucked!)
Jasper Sage. Our precious son.