Two days prior to my baby’s birth my energy level and mood changed. Frantic nesting, high energy and pregnancy excitement was replaced with extreme fatigue and irritability. I started to get tunnel vision focusing on “just one more task before the birth.” My belly started to look different, like it had dropped down low, and I had to pee every few minutes. During one of many pee trips I noticed a clear clump of mucus and realized it was the mucus plug and was coming out in pieces. This made me excited until I read online that this could happen 1-2 weeks before birth. I was so ready to be done and meet my boy. I went to bed frustrated for the second night with these symptoms sure that I was faking myself out.
Breaking bag of waters
I went to bed around 11:30 PM but despite piling on 5 pillows to make the perfect pregnancy configuration I just couldn’t get comfortable. I woke up several times with what felt like crampy side aches. I got up at 3:30 to go to the bathroom and a small amount of what looked like water puddled on the floor. I woke up my husband and told him we were off to the races. Over the next 45 minutes I started to get some mild cramps which caused a larger tear in my amniotic sac causing a gush of fluid. My advice to anyone in this situation is to assume things are going to get messy and put on a large pad. Our midwife said to wait a few hours to come in since I wasn’t having contractions, so we tried to relax in bed and wait. Contractions began about 30 minutes after my water broke. At first the contractions were irregular, about 30 secs to 1 min in length and between 2 mins and 5 mins apart. They felt like moderate to bad period cramps that started in my lower back and moved to the front. I could talk through them for the first couple of hours, but my instinct was to grab my husband’s hand and hold my breath. Part of me felt relieved that I finally had some idea of what the pain of a contraction would be like. I called my midwife back 4 hours after my water broke at 8 AM. At this time my contractions had become regular occurring every 4 mins and lasting 1 min. We decided that after a soak in the tub at home that it was time to go to the birth center.
My husband and I arrived at the birth center at 9:30 AM, about 6 hours after my water broke. At this point the contractions required more of my focus so that I couldn’t hold a conversation or sit still. Standing while bracing myself against the bed board with my husband applying pressure against my lower back was most effective at managing the pain. Quickly between contractions my midwife inserted an IV and administered antibiotics because I was GBS positive. I barely felt the needle as I was having a strong contraction right as it was going in. I was in good humor, joking about my contractions becoming progressively “more annoying.” I was attempting to release tension by taking deep breaths and progressively relaxing my muscles which felt manageable. At some point I knew I needed to be in the water because I was getting more uncomfortable. As soon as I climbed in the tub the warm water immediately relaxed my back muscles and my contractions slowed for about 30 mins which was a huge relief but also made me nervous that my labor wasn’t productive enough. My midwife assured me this was fine and told me to enjoy it while it lasts. My husband and I were watching Harry Potter 2 while I soaked in the tub. I knew things were getting more intense when I couldn’t focus on the movie anymore and started withdrawing into myself. What was once a manageable cramp that caused me to clench my jaw and fists had become an electrical current moving from my back to my low abdomen. The pain became startling in intensity and I needed to use all my energy and headspace to conquer it one contraction at a time. In the beginning of these intense contractions I got on hands and knees in the tub and grabbed a support bar while I moaned which I learned in birth class. Pretty soon my moans turned to screams and swearing. I wasn’t sure if my positioning and verbal outbursts were helping or not, but it felt too overwhelming not to do anything while the pain rocked my body. After laboring this way for a while I realized that screaming and getting on hands and knees was taking too much energy and if I kept on that way I wouldn’t have enough strength for pushing so I decided to lie back in the water and just float. My husband came up with a mindfulness exercise that was helpful. He told me to greet the contraction and then focus on sending the pain away from my abdomen and letting it move through my arms and legs until it was gone. He also told me we were climbing a mountain and we just needed to get halfway until I got a break. I visualized each contraction like it was a bell curve and if I could only get to the highest point of intensity I could survive the rest. I floated quiet on the surface of the water with my mind hard at work as labor progressed. The pain was severe, but I felt that with the dependable 2-3 min breaks in between contractions I could do it. Everything changed when my contractions started coming one on top of the other. The only way I can describe this sensation is the feeling of a sharp muscle cramp that wakes you up in the night and sends you stumbling out of bed. In my head I knew this was transition but I was confused because I thought this stage was only supposed to last 15-30 min, and this was going on for at least an hour. Without the 2-3 min break in between contractions to center myself I got lost in the pain. I was writhing around in the tub trying to grasp anyone at arm’s reach and was begging them to help me, save me, get me out of this situation. I tried to convince my midwife Susan that I couldn’t go on this way, that I was bewildered by the pain and need rescuing. No matter what position I tried I couldn’t escape it. I felt at war with my body which continued to march forward with the never-ending clench of contractions. A small part of me was able to step outside myself and observe the situation just long enough to let a few judgmental thoughts through. I was thinking “wow, so much for the silent and graceful birth plan.” and “you said you wouldn’t scream and now you’re screaming, crying and making a fool of yourself.” The one anchor I found in this storm of pain was Susan. At one point she put her hands on the side of my face and locked eyes. She didn’t need to use a lot of words because I could see in her eyes that I would be okay and that I was strong and capable. The critical voice vanished, and it was just me, my baby and the pain. My husband kept soaking my face with ice water which gave me a different sensation to focus on so I could ground myself. When I started to get lost in the pain I grabbed onto Susan and the calm confidence she emanated was enough to keep the panic at bay. I noticed that the pain was changing and turning into heavy pressure on my bladder. I felt like I had to pee, so I was helped out of the water and onto the toilet. That was a mistake. The pain out of the water and in a sitting position was too much. I couldn’t get my bearings and the pressure and heaviness of baby on my pelvis doubled and I panicked. I made it back into the tub and knew that was where my baby would be born. During one massive contraction I heard myself involuntarily push. Shocked with my own body I looked at Susan. She nodded back at me with encouragement giving me permission to trust my instincts.
Everyone says pushing is a relief and I would have to agree. Having a job to do other than waiting to be squeezed by painful contractions was refreshing. I expected to feel instant gratification from each push as if I would be able to feel baby descend each inch down the birth canal, but it was more ambiguous than that. All I had to go on were the enthusiastic expressions and words of praise from my midwives to affirm I was “doing it right.” The pressure at the base of my pelvis became heavier and heavier and I had the odd sensation that my hips were widening. I listened to my body and was able to stop and breath when I needed to. The sensation during the breaks felt as if I had left something half done in my body (as if you were halfway through a bowel movement) which felt uncomfortable. I knew we were close when the midwives took baby’s vitals and he was no longer in my stomach but was around my pubic bone. Susan said she could see his head which gave me the fury and strength to summon strength I didn’t know I had and gave 3 deep pushes. The last 2 pushes were a new pain I hadn’t experienced thus far. I had heard this was called the ring of fire when baby crowned, and I could see why. I felt sure that my vagina was splitting in two. The pain was sharp and alarming with stretching and burning sensation. I was terrified. I locked eyes with my midwife Kourtney with sheer terror on my face and will always remember the look on hers. She registered my pain and unspoken question of whether this would kill me and gave me a calm and joyful look assuring me that I could handle this. And as quickly as the intensity came it was gone. My son came out in a whoosh and was on my chest. He clung to me and I clung to him. I can’t explain the shock of finally meeting someone who was a physical part of me. I felt like I already knew him but was completely in awe of him all at once. I was beyond thrilled to share him with my husband and to watch him become a dad. A small part of my head knew the process wasn’t over and that the placenta needed to come out. I was still having mild contractions which triggered memories of the severe contractions I had earlier. I wanted it out. Luckily It loosened up quickly and with a flood of blood came out in a squishy wad. I did not feel pain, just achy relief. Once the water was drained from the tub I started to shake violently. The midwives got me to the bed and covered me with warm towels and put my baby on my chest. The shaking went away in minutes and it was all over, or just beginning. All in all, I was in active labor for 6 hours, pushed for 50 mins and didn’t tear or have any complications. Rich was born healthy and alert at 7 lbs even and was 19.5 inches long.
I honestly can’t say enough about how beautiful my midwives made my experience. I honestly believe if I had given birth at the hospital I wouldn’t have had the emotional support I needed to avoid interventions. I will especially be grateful to Susan for as long as I live. Some people are born with special gifts and hers is to reflect every woman’s power and strength and to empower them to bring life into this world. My heart is full of gratitude. I am also beyond grateful to have my best friend and husband accompany me on this crazy journey every step of the way. My child could not have a more compassionate or devoted father.
My birth story involves pain, but the beauty and joy overshadow it. I plan to have another natural birth at the birth center in the future and could not recommend it enough to those seeking a supportive and peaceful birth experience. It is a magical place full of the best people you will ever meet.