I needed to take my time writing this birth journey. In part, because it felt like writing it down was placing it squarely in the past, and I didn’t want it to be totally over. But also because it has taken me all this time to process the experience, and yet I’m still processing it as we speak. Birth is unpredictable, raw, and real. Sometimes it can be just as traumatic as it is beautiful. How do we convey all that complexity of experience with words? How can we describe it? These words in a blog comment from Kassandra were so spot-on:
There are so many layers to your birth story because there are so many different parts of yourself experiencing it.
It is such an incredibly rich spiritual experience, a full on physical sensation and accomplishment, and an emotional rollercoaster changing from moment to moment, with a different focus depending on what part of it you are trying to convey. Is it about the outcome? Is it about the moments? Is it about how you felt during, or afterwards? It’s everything… and it will change depending on who you are telling and why.
This birth was, at once, the absolute easiest and the absolute most difficult of my children’s births. It was both gentle and jarring. As I mentioned in part 1, I was initially disappointed. There was no dreamy, on-another-planet, endorphin-filled build to a climax—something I’d become addicted to since my first birth. It felt sort of like I got cheated out of one of the best parts of giving birth unmedicated. Robert Louis Stevenson has said, “And the true realism, always and everywhere, is that of the poets, to find where the joy resides, and give it voice, far beyond singing.” Coming to peace with this birth has been just such a poetic process… finding where the joy resides and figuring out how to give it voice and make it sing.
My stepmom once told me something I’ve never forgotten: “One of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do is to lay your expectations on the altar.” This birth may not have been what I had expected or hoped-for, but giving birth isn’t about me. Giving birth is about surrendering to the journey our babies need to make. And this was the journey my baby took…
I was awakened by a contraction at 6:33 on the morning of February 24th. Like all the others I’d experienced over the past twelve hours, this one was fairly mild. Since I was still not experiencing anything that resembled “active labor,” the big question was: “Do I send my husband to work today?” We got our seven-year-old ready for school and my husband started getting himself ready too. Meanwhile I was timing the contractions… 6:48, 7:15, 7:33… Since he’d only be about five minutes away, we decided it was probably best for my husband to go ahead and work. He was only planning to take four days off for the baby, so we didn’t want to waste one of those days needlessly. Since all my other labors had happened mostly at night, we wondered whether this one wouldn’t pick up again until later that night anyway. So off he went, both of us comforted in the knowledge that I had my sister with me if anything crazy happened.
Contractions continued… 8:02, 8:43, 9:32… once or twice an hour. Sometime that morning, my midwife’s assistant called and left a message. Mary wanted me to come into her office that afternoon at 1:00 so she could see what was happening with my body. I told her that was fine as long as I wasn’t “in labor.” It made me a little nervous thinking about making the 30 minute drive to her office, but I was grateful I would have my sister and an emergency birth kit in my car just in case.
So we went about our day. My sister got busy making brownies from scratch (with black beans!). As she mixed, I had a contraction that really got my attention. It even seemed like it had a double peak, if I’m remembering correctly. My sister watched me leaning on my counter, breathing, and said, “Do you want some counterpressure?” I thought it was so cool that she offered (she’s not even remotely into natural birth), but I told her I was OK. While the brownies baked, we sat in my backyard getting some sunshine and letting my kids play. Then a couple of friends from church stopped by to bring me a little gift. We chatted at my front door for a bit, me trying not to look uninterested in the conversation while I had a contraction.
We fed my kids lunch and tried the brownies (not my sister’s best batch, but that’s a humorous story for another time). I had another contraction as we got ready to leave for my midwife’s office. It had been forty minutes since the last one, but they were “definitely not messing around” as I told my sister. Even so, I knew what hard labor felt like, and I knew (or thought) those contractions were still far too easy to cause too much concern.
So off we went… my sister driving… just in case. I had two contractions as we drove. When the second one hit, I whined, “No, no, no, no… come on…” It had only been twelve minutes since the previous one, and I did not want my labor to start picking up when I was so far from home. Plus car contractions are so unpleasant with all the bumping and jarring. I was relieved when we arrived, and relieved when my sister offered to stay in the car with my sleeping toddler.
As soon as I got back into the exam room, I climbed up on the table with my five-year-old standing on a chair right beside me (she loves to observe and participate in whatever the midwives do). I explained that Mary was going to stick her hand inside of me to see what was happening in there. We knew from Mary checking my cervix (at my request) a week or two before that my cervix had been 3 cm and very ripe and soft “like butter.” I wasn’t sure whether I wanted her to tell me I was still only 3 cm or whether I wanted her to tell me I had progressed. I didn’t want to believe that my night and morning of contractions had been just “practice,” but I also didn’t want to be too far along when I still had a thirty minute drive ahead of me.
It was tough to read Mary’s face as she measured my cervical progress and said, “Yeah…” I immediately thought… “What does that mean?!” And asked, “Where are we at?” She said, “Six plus and totally effaced. And six is being conservative… you’re really more like seven.”
I was shocked. Did Mary really just tell me I was walking around on the verge of transition and didn’t even know it? She said only maybe once or twice before (in over 30 years of midwifery) had she felt a cervix like that… so soft and flexible that, as she explained, “All I’d have to do is swipe my finger around it and you’d be at nine centimeters.” Of course, she got herself right back out of me and didn’t mess around in there. She didn’t want to encourage any more cervical progress until we were home and she was there to assist us.
While my labor up to this point had been slow and gentle and meandering, the events from this point on were sort of a blur—a sudden mad dash to the finish. Mary and her assistants called all her clients scheduled for the rest of the day to cancel their appointments, and she instructed me to head straight home, get my husband home, and prepare for the birth. She would follow soon afterward. She also explained that once she got to my house she wanted to have me do some nipple stimulation to get some good “mean” contractions going. Since labor had been so mild up to that point, she wanted to make sure my uterus was contracting strong and hard before the birth to ensure that my blood loss would be minimal. I was in a sort of dazed, overwhelmed shock, and said, “Mean contractions? OK.” Of course now that I felt a sense of urgency about getting home, I needed to pee desperately. After using the restroom, my daughter and I headed back to the car, stopping before walking down the stairs while I had a contraction.
I think I spent nearly the entire drive home on my cell phone… calling my husband, calling my doula, calling family, calling a friend to pick up my 7-year-old after school. Meanwhile, my toddler was still asleep, and my contractions were coming a bit closer together… maybe ten minutes apart. Pulling into our driveway was a massive relief. We made it! So grateful I hadn’t needed to use the emergency birth kit sitting at my feet in the car. So grateful my toddler was still asleep.
My husband had already covered our bed with a plastic shower curtain and cheap dark red sheets. My sister kept my 5-year-old occupied and listened for my toddler in case he woke up. I quickly sent some emails and updated facebook. Almost immediately I received several comments, “You’re walking around at 7 cm?!” and “You’re on facebook and you’re 7 cm?!” I laughed because I couldn’t even believe it myself. And still my contractions were a breeze.
I changed into a skirt and bathing suit top (thinking I was still going to have time to labor in the shower). My husband reminded me to put on my birthing necklace. For some reason, it was really bothering me that he still had his shoes on. I kept saying, “Aren’t you going to take your shoes off?” He didn’t seem to think it was a big deal, but I wouldn’t let it rest. “It makes me feel like you’re going to leave or something,” I said. Being the good man that he is, he humored me and took them off.
Over the next ten minutes or so, my contractions started coming closer together and intensifying. I spent a couple of them holding onto my husband with my ear against his chest, listening to his heart beat. As I listened to that strong, steady rhythm, I felt like the three of our hearts—my husbands, my baby’s, and mine—were connected to each other by an invisible electrical impulse, each one prodding the next along, each heart strengthening the others. The discomfort seemed to melt away with each beat of my husband’s heart. It was a really powerful moment—like a peaceful, beautiful calm before the storm.
My midwives arrived at around 2:45 and started bustling around my room, pulling out our birth kit supplies, getting everything ready. Mary listened to the baby, finding the heartbeat easily and strongly on the left side of my belly. She felt confident the baby was in a good position (not posterior). As we sent my husband downstairs for a pot of hot water for warm compresses, I told him, “Hurry!” My birthing c.d. was playing in the background. The afternoon sun was shining through our bedroom windows… so much for birthing in complete darkness! I leaned on my bed breathing through a contraction or two, still amazed that I was in transition and not moaning in agony.
Once my husband was back upstairs and everything was ready, Mary checked my cervix.
And still I was completely at ease, completely present and aware, and completely flabbergasted that this birth was really happening.
Read “Surrender, part 4″ HERE.