On Thursday, September 24th, I went with my husband and brother-in-law to the tennis court and decided to get a couple of swings in for some physical activity. I didn’t run after the ball but I would swing my racket and if the ball was close enough I would move quickly towards it. I remember commenting that I hoped this put me into labor as I was 40 weeks and 4 days along. The next day, Friday, I texted my mom and told her that I really felt pregnant. After having an incredibly healthy and fairly comfortable pregnancy, this shift in how I was feeling would end up being my first alert that my body was gearing up for the main event. Another early indicator that I would later look back on was that my dog would not leave me alone. He was constantly sniffing me down there and all up in my business. I started to have irregular contractions that evening but they were 15 to 20 minutes apart so I knew that they were not the real deal. They were still uncomfortable and I still needed to breathe through them, but I carried on with my evening and made dinner for my husband, brother-in-law, and sister. We ate dinner and then later that night we sat down and watched the movie WALL-E. I started to notice that I was leaking fluid. It wasn’t urine, I didn’t think, but it would send me running for the bathroom which was just annoying, and paired with the intermittent contractions, was just plain uncomfortable. Later, the midwives would tell me that this was amniotic fluid and that I potentially had a hind leak. I told my family I couldn’t finish the movie and that I was headed up to bed. The midwives at the birthing center really stressed rest during early labor and pointed to maternal fatigue as one of the main reasons why someone transfers out of their care so knowing this, but not knowing if labor was near, I took a Tylenol pm and went to bed.
A contraction woke me up around 11:00pm, and another one at 12:00am, but I was able to go back to sleep after them; however, at 2:00am I started to experience contractions in a more pattern-like form so I woke up my husband, Matthew, and we began timing them. They were irregular, sure, but they weren’t subsiding. Two weeks prior, I had gone into false labor and after taking a Tylenol pm and a hot bath the contractions stopped completely and never returned. The relief from the tub was incredible; however, Friday the day before my contractions started, our tub broke…as in, 3 of the feet fell off! So here I was, with semi-regular contractions and no tub. I took another Tylenol pm and a hot shower and just worked through the contractions. At about 3:30 am we called the midwife and let her know where we were with things…the contractions were more regular coming in around 5 minutes or so (the goal for me for a first-time birth was getting the contractions to 4 minutes apart lasting 1 minute for 1 hour) but then there would be a long rest between the contractions and I would get an 8 or 9-minute reading. They suggested rest, fluids, and food and to keep them posted. So thus began a long early labor where I would have a contraction, my husband would time it, we would fall asleep, and repeat. I fully woke up around 7:00am and labored the whole morning and afternoon. Peeing became extremely painful, more like excruciating for some reason and I was having regular BMs. My husband was incredible and would walk me to the bathroom and help me sit on the toilet, and work through the pain. My sister eventually came up and helped time the contractions. I remember moaning through them and bouncing on my exercise ball for most of this time. I started to have bloody show mid morning/ early afternoon and the contractions were at regular time intervals. We called the midwife at 12:30pm and agreed to meet at the birthing center at 1:30. My contractions stayed consistent during the car ride and were at about 3-4 minutes apart.
When we got there, the midwives offered to do a cervical check, though they reminded me I didn’t have to do that if I didn’t want to. I’m the kind of person that needs a goal so I consented to it. Because there was a student midwife (and I had consented to it) I was checked by both the student and the head midwife. Cervical checks hurt, by the way. They found that I was 5 to 6 centimeters dilated. They recommended walking outside and enjoying the day, using the hanging hammock to open my hips, and the birthing ball. Matthew and I did that for a little while and I remember telling him how I didn’t know if I could do this- the contractions hurt so much and I knew that they would only get worse. Matthew was solid and assured me that I could do this. I remember all of my well-thought plans of taking pictures and listening to the playlist that I created months in advance falling through the cracks as I was just focused on breathing and getting through the next contraction. At one point, I just wanted to get into the tub so the midwives filled it up and I sunk in. Pure relief. I realized that I was not noticing when my contractions would end because the tub was just so amazing. I started to get really hot so Matthew poured cold water on me. Matthew put an episode of Jeopardy on and that was a helpful distraction (The midwives got a kick watching with us for a little bit and answering the questions- it was a sweet community). After about an hour in the tub, the midwives suggested hopping out and getting on the birthing ball. I sat on that and leaned against the bed, moaning through my contractions. I remember moaning the words “open” because I had read that it helps to visualize what you want your body to do and it will comply. Being on land just made me more desirous of the tub- I longed for it. At some point doing this phase, I got back into the tub and labored some more and then had to get back out again. I was only out for about 10 minutes when this intense pressure and pushing sensation happened. It shocked me so much I ran for the tub desperate for the relief I knew it could give me.
The contractions at this point (maybe transition) were so painful. I screamed through some of them and even begged to be transferred to a hospital (this was the pain talking and the midwives knew it) where I knew an epidural could rid me of the pain. I kept saying I couldn’t do it. At this point, the midwives were all sitting around the tub and encouraging me, and there were many points when Matthew would lock eyes with me and tell me that I could do this. When the urge to push became more intense, Matthew hopped into the tub with me. He had brought an outfit to wear in the tub but I asked him not to leave me to change so he slid in wearing his jeans and t-shirt. He sat behind me and I sat between his legs- I would grip his legs, and curl my body into a C when I would push. The midwives jokingly referred to this position as the nut crusher- we all laughed. Matthew didn’t waver. Interestingly enough, during the rest periods between pushing, I started to get a little loopy and was saying things making my birthing team laugh- I’m pretty sure I was in a pain-induced high but I’m not sure if that is a thing or my coping mechanism. But some of my conversations with Matthew at this point were dark. I was in agony and I wanted it to stop. I remember begging my baby to come, telling him that it was hurting so much…when the contraction would end, I would tell him I knew it wasn’t his fault.
The pushing became more intense and after each contraction, the student midwife would check Ro’s heartbeat. The bearing down phase was the most difficult and painful part. I was so tired of pushing. Eventually, I felt the “Ring of Fire” that I was warned about, and that, my friend, is no joke. It sucked. The midwives encouraged me that with every push I was one step closer to meeting my son, but that didn’t help me…I was scared of becoming a parent…scared about how my life was about to change. The baby’s head started to poke out and I reached down and touched it- it was soft. After a few more pushes the head was out! I freaked out because the rest of him didn’t come out and I was afraid he was going to drown but the midwives calmly told me he wouldn’t (it was later that I remembered that babies were created to breathe when they hit the air, so he wouldn’t use his lungs underwater). I had to wait for another contraction to push (though sometimes I pushed after the contraction ended which was not smart) and when it came, boy did I push. There was a pop and I looked down and this giant membrane thing came floating out. I freaked out again and was again soothed that everything was okay. The next contraction came and I pushed one more time and out Rowan came! He was put on my chest and I just held him, feeling the relief of it being over. I leaned against Matthew and looked up at him- what an experience. Ro was so alert and was wide-eyed looking around and pinked up very quickly. I was in labor for 18 hours and pushed for about 2 hours in total.
The midwives let us enjoy our boy for a little bit until the cord stopped pulsing. They gave me Yunnan Baiyao tea to drink and then they asked me to stand up to help the placenta descend- that felt so weird coming out. I was so sad to find that my contractions weren’t going to stop after the delivery and that they would persist even to the next day. The midwives helped me clean up after the delivery and then they left the room so that Matthew could shower off too.
It was in those first quiet moments that I shared the Gospel with my son.
The midwives came back in and they examined me- I tore pretty badly so they had to stitch me up. That was horrible because I kept bleeding during their examination so they were having to use gauze to stop it- it hurt so much and I was so upset that I had to go through that because I just wanted all pain to be over. Matthew held Rowan and I remember being so worried that I was missing out on those precious first moments with my boy. After that was over I was able to cuddle and love on my boy and we even had a successful latch! The midwives noted that Ro had no molding on his head and later we realized that the soft spot on the back of his head was already fused- no wonder I tore so badly! I pushed out a 13.5-centimeter head without molding. Rowan was born at 8:02pm, and after eating a meal and being evaluated, we left the birthing center at 12:30am and went home to sleep in our own bed.
In all truth, I’ve felt a little traumatized by birth as nothing could have prepared me for such an experience. I definitely went into my natural birth thinking that my experience would be this almost radiant event because I had chosen a natural route, but it was not. Perhaps you can chalk it up to me being naive but this is a space for honesty and I truly was negatively impacted by my birth experience- not because of the birthing center, mind you. I actually left the center that night thanking them for everything because they were amazing. They served me so well and treated me like a queen, truly.
By the grace of God, I am forgetting a lot of the pain but it is still fresh and will take time to truly heal. I find myself wanting to be reminded of why I chose a natural birth…why I put myself through such an experience in the name of health. I think it would be good to remember the why but for right now, I am loving what my pain brought me. I went into my birth thinking about my faith. Jesus, being a man could not possibly understand the pain that I went through, right? But then I thought about the pain that he did go through when he died for us. He welcomed the pain upon himself for the betterment of another (us) and I was doing something like that for my child. I willingly took on pain to bring about life. I certainly cannot compare myself to Jesus’ sacrifice, but I will say that the pain made more sense now. What love.