I’m writing this with my one week old daughter snug against my chest. It’s so hard to believe she is the one who was in me all those 9 months, and worked with me through birth. A couple disclaimers: 1) There is no “easy out” in labor- each woman’s path, whether it’s an epidural or c-section or an at home birth, has its own unique price to pay. There is no comparing two experiences, and I don’t think I had it harder than someone who chose or ended up with a different kind of birth. This was just the path that was right for me. I am humbled by the power of any woman who gives birth. We are fucking warriors. 2) I want to preserve these memories, so I left it uncensored. Some parts are a little gory. Here’s our story:
My contractions started at 8:30 PM on Valentine’s Day. I had had some practice contractions a couple days before on my due date, so I wasn’t sure if this was the real thing or just a warm up. We stayed up to see if they’d progress, and sure enough they started getting stronger. Around 11:30 PM my water broke! It broke in a big burst just like the movies. Trevor and I took a few moments of laughing and crying and kissing, knowing that our daughter would be born the next day or soon thereafter, then called our midwives to give them a heads up. Knowing we had a long path ahead of us, I sent Trevor to bed, made myself a cave-like fort in our upstairs bathroom, and hunkered down. I set a goal for myself to stay in there alone from midnight to 6 AM- partly so Trevor could get sleep and help me more later, and partly because I wanted time by myself to understand the contractions and get a feel for them. I dozed on and off between contractions when I could, finding that I was more comfortable when I stood up for them, leaning against the sink and swaying slightly. It was getting hard, but I was able to use imagery from rowing to get through them. As I’d feel each contraction start to build, I imagined I was at the starting line, at the top of my slide, oars in the water, gearing up for a Power 20. It was hard, but still thrilling. I was timing my contractions and they were about 6-7 minutes apart. I made it to 6 AM, and was ready for backup.
I woke up Trevor and we headed downstairs together. One of our midwives called to check in and said she’d be over shortly. Trevor tried to get me to eat some breakfast, but I could just barely nibble on some muffin and almond butter. I had done a good job of staying hydrated through the night, but knew I was going into labor on zero sleep and zero food- not ideal! Our midwife stopped by to check in- then said she was going to leave us alone to snuggle and labor by ourselves until we wanted her and another midwife to come back. She said they would be there quickly whenever we wanted them, but we’d “know” when it was time to call. That scared me, because after 7 hours of labor at that point, I thought things were already pretty bad! I couldn’t imagine what was lying ahead. She left us, and I continued to labor in the living room, always standing for my contractions.
Trevor would help me through them when I wanted him to, with me standing and leaning into his shoulders, swaying slightly. Sometimes I didn’t want to be touched though, and he’d finish up some last minute household stuff and started setting up the birth tub. We put on some music, which helped more than I thought it would.
Looking back, this was my “favorite” part of labor. The contractions were hard, but I still felt semi-in control. I was even singing to the music in between contractions. “Gold” by Matt Hartke and Maggie Peake stands out as my birth song. I remember singing it to Trevor, snuggling up close and smiling. I was so grateful he was my partner through this. Whenever he would kiss or nuzzle me, a contraction would come on fast and hard. The oxytocin produced between us helped my body progress faster- one of birth’s mysteries I’m still amazed by.
Around 9 or 10 am, I started “figuring out” labor…I called my midwife and said something like “So- I’ve been laboring in the most comfortable positions…but if I wanted this to go faster, should I go towards the positions that make the contractions a lot worse?” Yup. I started alternating between standing contractions, squats, and sitting wide-legged on my birth ball. I was determined to get this over with- at that point the novelty of labor had long worn off, the pain was real and intense, and I was ready to be done. I tried to relax into the contractions and really feel them so I’d progress faster. Each “good” contraction brought a gush of blood- my mucus plug coming out, along with the rest of my water breaking. I was laboring in total silence, still trying to remain in control. I scribbled in a journal, “I’ve figured out the puzzle of labor. I must go boldly into the RED.”
At 11 am, I begged Trevor to call the midwives to come. The contractions were awful. I couldn’t understand why my body wasn’t taking over more so my conscious self could slip away. I started getting shaky and feeling like I wanted to throw up, so I had some hope that I was in transition stage and birth would be imminent (ha!). Our midwife Robin came by noon, helped me work through contractions using sounds (thank god! why did I think I had to be quiet?!) and checked the baby’s heart rate about every 15-30 minutes. After about an hour of her being there, me begging her to “HELP ME!”, she checked my cervix for the first time. She was impressed and said I was 7 cm, doing amazing and progressing very fast for a first time mom. Trevor was thrilled- and I was devastated. I thought for sure I had to be all the way dilated by then. The pain was so intense, and I was getting really scared.
Our other midwife, Brenda, arrived shortly thereafter. They confirmed I was in transition phase. “Great!” I thought, “I’m headed into ‘Laborland’ and won’t have to be as present for the rest of this.” I’d read about Laborland- that place where time and space do not exist, where you’re floating in and out of contractions and letting your body take over. Well, “Laborland” never arrived or even existed for me- or perhaps I’d romanticized it. I was fully present through the entire birth, fully myself, fully aware of every ounce of pain. The birthing tub was set up by then, and I had been “saving it” for when I really needed help coping with the pain. This was it, so I got in. At first the warm water felt wonderful, relaxing, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Then I had my first contraction in the pool- it did nothing to stifle the pain. This is not what I had read! I needed some sort of relief, and I wasn’t going to get any. At that point I was begging my midwives to help me, shouting at Trevor not to touch me, or telling him to touch me in a VERY specific way and not to talk or breath or do anything except what I instructed him to do when a contraction would hit. (He took this like a champ.) I kept my breathing low and lips loose to try to get this over with.
Around 2 pm I started feeling “pushy”- shortly thereafter I went through my first contraction when an urge to push RIPPED through my body. Again, I felt deceived- I had heard so many birth stories where pushing came as a relief. It turned me into an animal instead. I made the most guttural noises and literally begged my body to stop. I remember one of the first pushes and the only sound I could make was a long, low “NOOOOooooooooo!” A few of these contractions later and they checked my cervix- I was stuck at 8 cm. The midwives told me I had to try to NOT push in order to help move the remainder of my cervix out of the way and make pushing “easier”. Some contractions I could do it, most though my body took over and pushed anyways. It was pure torture- looking back on that time in labor feels the most traumatic. My body felt like it was literally being ripped in pieces, I was fully conscious for it, and all anybody could do to help was say “Yes, it is hard AND you can do it.” I realized no one could do this work for me- it was mine alone.
It worked though- soon after I begged to be checked again and I was fully dilated, ready for the last phase. They told me pushing should be easier now. It wasn’t. Each contraction was pure hell. My body was being tortured and I was sure there wasn’t anything that could be worth this. I told Trevor between contractions that we were adopting the rest of our family after this. He laughed- but I was completely serious then. I remember looking at my midwives and asking them “Women do this more than once? WHY?!!”
I took some contractions outside of the tub, standing and leaning into Trevor like I had at the beginning parts of my labor. As the contractions came to a close, my knees would buckle. The midwives had me reach inside and feel my baby’s head at one point, so I could “learn how to push” and bring her here faster. I was begging them to be done, asking how many more contractions were left. “Will she come with the next contraction?” I’d ask. “No, not yet- but she’s getting closer” they’d tell me.
Her head felt heavy and close, so I got back into the birth tub and onto my knees. I did a couple contractions like that, then felt something “pop” out. I thought it was the head- but it was only some membranes! I was dismayed but also determined. I continued pushing HARD.
Finally, finally, an enormous few pushes, an enormous gush and she slid out of me. They told me to reach down and bring my baby up- I did, sat back, and gaped at her! I couldn’t say or do anything but barely hold her and look back and forth between her and Trevor. She pinked up right away and starting wailing, “telling her birth story” as our midwives said. She was, and is, perfect- just under 8 lbs, beautiful, ours.
Besides a small tear and a couple stitches, I was completely healthy. Juniper was completely healthy. We had a successful, unmedicated home birth with a team we love. It went exactly as planned. And yet, it was NOTHING like I had planned. The concentrated, raw intensity of each contraction cracked me open from the inside out and rebirthed me as a mother. Time is already doing its healing- a day after labor, I viewed our story as a traumatic experience. Today, a week later, I am starting to see the beauty in the pain. I’m grateful for the changes it’s brought in me. I have no doubt that this was meant to be our path- and that I’m capable of so much more than I ever knew.
Happy 1 week, Junebug– you were so worth this.