I woke up Monday in the night... I've been saying 3am, but I don't really know the time because I can't see the clock with my glasses off and I didn't get up to check the time. I was feeling contractions that were strong enough to wake me up and keep me from dropping easily back to sleep, but not intense enough to make me feel that I was going into labor. Essentially felt like BH contrax, just a little stronger. I stay in bed and snoozed between them as much as I could until Mike got up to get ready for work. Then, I got up with him. I let him know that I was feeling contractions, but shoo-ed him off to work anyway. I'd heard so much about how long first-time labors are, heard stories of "false labor", and there'd been several women on my "December moms" e-mail list who'd had mild contractions for a day or two before the "real thing" started. So I was convinced that this wasn't really "it" and I dismissed the contractions lightly. I did go ahead and call my midwife, Nancy, after breakfast just to let her know what was happening. We chatted briefly, I was very positive and not concerned, and she agreed that it sounded like super-early labor and the main event wouldn't probably happen until Tuesday (which would have been my due date.) She asked me to keep her informed and laughingly said that today would be a great day for me to go into labor, as she had no plans for the evening.
Meanwhile, I telephoned my friend Lisa who is an avid quilter to ask her advice on sewing the backing onto the t-shirt quilt I was making Mike for Christmas. The contractions DID make me feel like I needed to get a move on or I was not going to finish it in time! She offered to come over around 2:30 to help me lay it out, pin it, and get it ready for sewing. I was very grateful for her expert assist and agreed thankfully! I was also expecting Paul, the super nice fellow who helps maintain our hot tub, at 2:00. He was coming to install a device to ease the spa cover on and off. I'd been frustrated because when I want to get in the tub, I can't get the lid on & off by myself very easily. And now that I was 9 months pregnant, I couldn't do it at all! So he scrounged us a secondhand device and offered to come and install it today. I was grateful he was coming, especially since I was having these contractions and thought I might need to use the tub soon!
By now it was about noon and the contractions were a little more intense and more frequent. However, because I knew that I had no place to go---giving birth at home, I didn't need to figure out when my labor was progressed enough to go to the hospital---and because I was still convinced that this wasn't the "real thing," I never timed them. After talking to Lisa, I toddled upstairs to the computer to check my e-mail. I'd gotten a message from a friend that I particularly wanted to respond thoughtfully to, so I was writing a response to her. After about 3 paragraphs, it was just getting more uncomfortable to sit at the computer through the contractions. Mike had taken the lid off the hot tub for me before he left, in case I wanted to get in, so I left my message half-written and thought I'd enjoy a short soak.
My girlfriend Alice called to see how I was and was sent instantly into a bit of a frenzy when she heard that I'd been having contractions. She was planning to fly here from Washington State for the birth, so wanted to know if she should get on a plane right away. I was hesitant to advise her, because as I said - I didn't think this was the "real thing" and I didn't know how long it would be. She said she would call back in an hour and see how I was. I thought about calling my dad, who was planning to fly here from Arizona for the birth, but again dismissed the thought because if the birth didn't happen until the next day or even the day after, I was worried that he would be angry/annoyed to have been made to come here so early. So I didn't call.
I went to the bathroom before going in the tub and noticed some thick, gooey clear-ish stuff with brown streaks on the toilet paper. The beginnings of my mucus plug? Possible... didn't seem bloody enough to me. And there wasn't much. Well, I may be beginning to dilate a little, but lots of women walk around partially dilated for awhile and it doesn't mean anything. Still didn't see much to get excited about.
I went ahead and sat in the hot tub for awhile, (I brought the phone and my "labor call-list" with me, just in case,) and caught up on the book I was planning to read in early labor. I had started it a month ago and got kind of bored, (I was obsessed with "baby books" anyway,) and stopped reading it. I thought I'd skim what I'd already read to remind myself of the characters and plotline, and then maybe read a chapter or two more to get interested in the book again so that I'd have a book I was "into" already when labor actually did start. It was a nice day - cool, but sunny and so it was pleasant to sit in the tub and read a bit. Alice called again and I told her I thought I was losing my mucous plug, but wasn't sure. I was still having contractions, but they were manageable enough that I was convinced that if I could manage them that easily, they mustn't be the real thing... or at least, even if they were, it was still WAY early in labor and not to get too excited because it could go on for hours & hours like this. Decided I should get out of the tub and maybe rest a bit before Paul & Lisa came over - just in case it was the "real thing", I had read that it's good to get as much rest as you can before labor begins, so thought perhaps a catnap was in order. So, I dried off and went to the bathroom again. More clear, brown-tinged mucous. Big glob. But, still - no real blood. I was pretty sure this was my mucous plug, but was still not seeing any bloody show or anything, so figured I was still pretty far off. I called Nancy again and let her know I'd lost my mucous plug. She agreed that it didn't mean labor was coming fast and it could still be awhile. I agreed to keep her informed. She said she would "probably stop by this evening, around 7pm" after rush hour just to check me.
Contractions were still irregular, I thought. Looking back, though, I realize that I really didn't know that for sure - I just wasn't timing them. It could have been that they were pretty regular, it's just that sometimes I noticed how much time had elapsed between them and sometimes I didn't. I was just going on with my day. I called Mike to let him know that I'd lost my mucous plug, but not to come home. By now it was around 1:00 or so. I decided that in case the "real thing" was on its way, I should take all the books' advice and try to nap. So, I lay down on the bed and tried to drift off between contractions. Ran through my relaxation tape in my mind until the doorbell rang at 2:00. It was Paul.
I let him in and walked him out to the back yard. We talked a bit about the installation of the lid-opening device. By now, the contractions were strong enough that I felt the need to sink down into a squat and rock a little bit. Could still smile and talk - it did startle Paul, though! He asked laughingly if I needed him to call 911. Am sure he had visions of being forced to catch the baby right there! I smiled and reassured him that it was a long way off yet, and that I was fine. So, he started doing his work and I wandered back into the kitchen and made myself a small snack. At around 2:40 or so, my friend Lisa came to the door. I brought the quilt down and we laid it on the carpet and started pinning it. Again, I was able to carry on an animated conversation, but had to lean back on my haunches and rock through contractions. Easier to "hide" these, though, because we were crawling on our hands and knees on the floor pinning the quilt! Lisa also was looking at me funny, though, like "um, hello... what are you doing this now for?" When we had it all pinned and ready to sew, Lisa left. I went out to check on Paul who was nearly finished. I wrote him his cheque and he left. By now it was about 3:30. I went upstairs to finish my e-mail to my friend but had a contraction while sitting in the chair and realized I couldn't do it. Which made me realize that I wouldn't be able to sit in the chair to sew the quilt either and that I should probably put it away and hide it before Mike came home and saw it! I was also wanting to get back in the hot tub again. So, I bundled the quilt up and hid it in the sewing room, then gathered my book and the phone and my call list and a mug of raspberry leaf tea and a towel and got ready to go in the tub. I thought about wearing swimsuit (I had just worn a fabric teddy the first time I'd gone in,) but that seemed too restrictive and the teddy I'd worn the first time was now cold and wet hanging in the bathroom. So, I decided to just be naked. No one can really see anyway except when I'm getting in and out of the tub. And I could drape the towel around myself for those moments.
So, I happily got in the tub. I turned on the jets that hit the small of my back and enjoyed those for awhile. Contractions were getting stronger. Still not timing them. I tried to read my book, but right away realized that that wasn't going to work. On the far side of the tub is a reclining place - you can lay down in the tub and there are jets that hit your back and shoulders. I thought I'd try that spot. I couldn't stay lying down during the contractions, though, as they were too intense. The center of the tub is deeper and I could sink down on my knees with my knees slightly apart and by up to my shoulders in water - this was very nice during the contractions. So, I went for awhile lying in the tub-recliner between contractions and running through the hypnobirthing relaxation and then moving to the center of the tub for the contractions. It wasn't long before that was too much work. So, I moved to the corner where I could sit with the jets on my back and push off with my hands on the seat when a contraction began so that I gently floated to the center of the tub onto my knees for the contraction. Then, when it was finished I took my hand and shoved gently off the opposite side of the tub, which floated me back to my sitting position on the jets. It was lovely! I could keep my eyes closed and my body relaxed the whole time. I did this for probably about, an hour, I guess? I realized at some point that the contractions were coming awfully frequently. I still had never timed them, but looking back I think I got about a minute and a half rest between them. I was focused on relaxing between contractions and not anticipating them, which worked well. Too well!! About the time I noticed that the contractions were awfully frequent, I noticed that they were also getting stronger. About every other contraction, I needed to vocalize (low moans,) to get through them and the relaxation started to erode. I started to worry that if they got a lot stronger than this (which I was now thinking was early labor,) and lasted for 5-6 hours I was NOT going to make it and was going to need drugs. I thought "what was I THINKING?" I kept trying to relax and had a little conversation out-loud with the baby.
OK, little Rosaline - I think we're going to do this. Now, there's just 3 things you need to remember. Tuck your hands into your chest because if you have your hands by your head then that will hurt Mommy and make things much harder. Lead with the back of your head --- if you lead with your forehead, that'll make things difficult, too. And remember to face my spine. I'm going to promise to relax as much as possible, listen to my body and get out of its way and let it do its job. I know that it knows what to do and I just need to listen and not let my brain get involved. So, I will do that and you remember your bit - hands tucked in, face my spine, lead with the back of your head - and we will be such a great team. We can do this together, little one.
A couple more contractions and I now had to moan through all of them and my eyes were open. I started to worry again about being able to do this, but shoved those thoughts aside. I had another little conversation aloud between contractions.
God - I know that you've always been there with me. Even when things got difficult in my life: when I was suicidal, when I was angry with the world, you've always been there quietly holding my hand. I have always felt your presence. I've always know that you were there with me, keeping an eye on me and never letting me forget that I am not alone. Even when I wanted to forget. I'm about to embark on the biggest challenge of my life and this is just the beginning. Hold my hand now. I've talked to Rose and she knows what to do. I know what I need to do. Hold my hand, and then - when she is born - be there to hold her hand, too.
Another contraction. Eyes wide open now. I thought about getting out of the tub, because it's difficult to get in and out of even when I wasn't having contractions and they were coming so frequently now. I checked the time. It was almost 5:00. I thought about calling Mike and didn't want to for some reason - it's so close to 5:00, he's going to be home soon anyway. I grabbed the phone and called Mike. I said "I think I'd like you to come home now." He agreed. He asked me if he should stop at the grocery store on the way. We were supposed to have food for the midwives when they came, and I'd planned to make soup in early labor. We had no food in the house at the moment. I told him to go ahead and come home first and we'd assess how I was doing and then I could send him to the store for some things. He said OK and that he would leave right away and we hung up. About a minute after we hung up the phone, I felt a pop and knew that my water had broken. (My friend later asked me how I knew it had broken when I was immersed in water. The best way I could describe it was to compare it to farting underwater. Only it was a vaginal fart and it farted water and not air. Bizarre description, I know, but it still seems the best way to describe it. I was wondering how I would know, but I knew when it happened! )
I had another contraction right after the "pop" happened and it was MUCH more intense and it woke me up COMPLETELY. I was no longer able to purposefully do the hypnobirthing techniques, but I was always able throughout the labor to relax completely between contractions and keep my body loose during them. I think that was due to the hypnobirthing relaxation that I'd been doing throughout early labor. My body trusted that it worked and didn't tense up trying to "stop" the pain. I knew that I now needed to get out of the hot tub - that was the deal Nancy and I had made. I could labor in the tub, but I couldn't birth there and so as soon as my water broke, I had to get out. It was a difficult maneuver. I managed to haul myself out of the tub (with no care as to exposing myself to passing neighbors,) and sit on the bench/steps just outside the tub. I immediately grabbed the phone and called Nancy. I told her my water broke. She asked if there was meconium in the water - it would look like pea soup. I said I didn't know for sure, but I didn't see anything floating in the hot tub - the water still looked clear. She was happy about that and said she was going to take a quick shower and then head out. I wanted to ask her to skip the shower, but didn't say anything. I forget if we mentioned the backup midwife then or not, but I think she may have mentioned that she was going to call her backup who lived closer to me (my side of the Bay,) and I was glad to hear it. I had to hang up quickly when a contraction started. In fact, I think all my phone calls after this point ended with a breathless "I have to go now, 'bye" and then either a quick hangup or just the clatter of the phone on the floor with no waiting for a reply as a contraction started. Now I was shivering - even in California it's a little chilly outside in December, especially when you're naked and hurting and just left 98 degree water! I grabbed my towel but cared less about my modesty than about dripping amniotic fluid throughout my house. So I think I briefly toweled off, and then stuffed the towel between my legs and hustled into the house and into the bathroom before the next contraction. I had the presence of mind to bring the phone and our call list with me. Sitting on the toilet I called my friend Alice and told her to get on a plane. I believe she was already heading for the airport at the time. I called my Dad and told him it was time. By now it was 5:30. I was shivering cold on the toilet and my hair was dripping wet. Contractions were painful and frequent and I was wishing I had something to lean forward against. I was feeling a pushing urge - not a hard push, but short grunting pushes. I was trying not to do them, but they were almost impossible to resist. I had Nancy on the phone again - I've forgotten who-called-whom - and I asked her if I should be trying not to push. She told me not to push. I did try, but the little pushes were short and I think they happened anyway. That kind of pushing urge wasn't at all what the final "pushing stage" felt like, so I wonder now if that was the baby moving into the birth canal? Nancy was in her car, but it was rush hour - the thing we'd worried about with her being in San Francisco proper and my being on the other side of the Bay. Luckily, it was Monday and traffic on Monday is lighter than, say traffic on Friday! She said that she'd called the backup, Kim, who was heading my way and would probably get there first. Good. I was relieved to hear that help was on its way. I felt pretty helpless on the toilet.
I have never been more relieved to hear the front door open and Mike come home. I couldn't shout for him because I wanted NO exertion between contractions and could do nothing but lay like broccoli. Mike came around the corner and I reached out my arms for him as a contraction started and said something like "on your knees. In front of me." And he knelt down in front of the toilet so that I could wrap arms around his neck and lean into him for the next contraction. We did this for about 15-20 minutes with Mike trying to disentangle himself and dash out quickly between contractions and take off his coat, and do whatever he had to do. My memory of this period is pretty fuzzy. I know he was trying to time contractions and says they were about a minute long and 3 minutes apart. At some point he spoke to Nancy again and she advised him that if she didn't get there in time, to just "catch the baby."
Between contractions, I told Mike that I did NOT want to be on the toilet anymore. I wanted to move downstairs into our family room. We'd been trying out birthing positions earlier in the week. I knew I wanted to be in some sort of a squatting position that was easy to maintain. He sat on the couch and I straddled him, feet on the couch, knees pressing into the back of the couch with my arms wrapped around his neck. He had his thighs spread enough so that there was no pressure on my perenium when I relaxed onto him. We labored in this position for quite awhile - again, with Mike trying to get out in order to cut me up an apple between contractions or do various other mundane tasks that I don't remember. I was naked from the waist down, still chilled from leaving the tub, and cold and shivery. I remember a call to or from Nancy at this point - and my being surprised at my still being practical enough to tell Mike to have her tell Kim to let herself in and not bother knocking. I just didn't want him to have to leave me to answer the door!
Mike was still timing contractions periodically, but I really didn't care. I remember noticing that the contractions weren't always the same length or the same intensity. They really were less "contractions" and truly did feel like "surges." I'd laughed at the hypnobirthing book/tapes for using that term, but that's exactly what they felt like. Sometimes I would need to moan through them, and they were very intense and others were only moderately so and were managed rather easily. Interesting
I began to discover my "power keen". Starting at a low place, I would slide up to about the F-natural above middle-C and stay there long and hard through the contraction. It amazes me now that this is not mentioned in more birthing books. It was amazingly analgesic - it really dulled the pain a LOT as long as the tone was held hard from the diaphragm and kept at a low pitch. All the "singer's muscles" then were supporting the contractions in a beautiful way. I started to feel that I couldn't be as far along as I thought I was - first labors were supposed to last a long time. But I was almost sure the baby's head was right there. Couldn't I feel it? The door opened and Brutus left the room to greet Kim. I was a little worried about how he would react to someone he'd never met coming in the front door without us to introduce them, but he was friendly as could be and handled it just fine. Kim hustled in and immediately assessed my situation without ever touching me - she asked where our supplies were and once directed to our box of supplies, towels, receiving blankets, and the laundry facilities & bathroom, she immediately set to work getting things ready for the birth. I was SUPER relieved that she was there. While she was bustling around I became convinced that the baby's head was there - I had to be as far along as I thought I was. Wasn't I? During the next contraction I took my hand and gently brushed my labia - and felt the baby's head crowning. I WAS as far along as I thought I was!! I was going to have this baby!
At about this time, Nancy arrived. SUCH a relief to hear her voice! She asked how I was and I said something like "the baby's crowning!" This is where my memory starts to break down. I know that she checked me and said that the baby was about an inch inside - and I thought "yeah, right - when I'm between contractions it is. But when I'm contracting that head bulges ouside!" Nancy and Kim laid out the disposable waterproof pads to protect our carpet and couch and warmed receiving blankets in the dryer and grabbed the bowl for the placenta. I chose to use the antique washbasin from the Edwardian hospital washstand that my mom bought for me as a housewarming gift when my first husband and I bought our house. I was going to get some throwaway plastic bowl, but someone this seemed really appropriate. Anyway, they bustled about getting ready whatever they needed to get ready. I was focusing on relaxing and getting my rest between contractions, and during contractions I was clinging to my husband and damaging his eardrums with my keening.
As the head started to emerge, the contractions changed. They varied in intensity - I would have one very intense one, followed by 2 more that were moderately intense and then one that seemed mild in comparison and didn't require much vocalization to get through. I started to realize that I was having a pretty fast birth, here, and that I was in the ideal squatting position for a speedy birth and that I might actually want to slow things down a little if I didn't want to tear my perineum. I thought I needed to change position, but I was so happy where I was that I didn't think I could bring myself to initiate a move. I also wasn't good at forming complex sentences, so I trusted that Nancy would know what I needed and simply said several times "I don't want to tear... I don't want to tear." Nancy immediately said that if I didn't want to tear, I needed to move onto my side, because the baby was coming fast. She said later that she and Kim were relieved that I said something because they didn't want to disturb what was obviously a great position for me, but they were worried about my perineum.
So, we gingerly slid me off of Mike and he moved to the end of the couch. I was moved onto my side and pillowed my head on Mike's thighs and gripped his hands. I was shivering cold (was still wet haired and our family room is not the warmest room in the house,) so Nancy and Kim turned on the space heater, but it never did hit me in the right position to keep me warm. The contractions changed again in character - they became longer and had several peaks, and I had a nice, looong break in between them. Well, it felt long to me - was probably only about 3-4 minutes or even less, but the break was still long enough to make a huge difference to me and to help enormously. After we got me onto my side, we ran into the problem of what to do with my upper leg. Mike and Nancy were holding onto it, but I was still holding it up myself. As the first contraction hit in this position, my upper hip cramped. I get these hip cramps occasionally and they hurt quite a bit! As I felt this one I started to panic - I could not handle a contraction and a hip cramp - I wouldn't be able to lower my leg, which was the only way to alleviate the cramp! Just like you read in pro-homebirth books... I panicked, got hit by some adrenaline, and my labor stopped DEAD. The contraction that had started faded away immediately as I cried aloud "hip cramp... hip cramp..." and lowered my leg. About 7-8 minutes were spent essentially teaching me to relax my upper leg and trust Nancy and Mike to support it for me. I had to practice doing that, because my impulse was to hold it up myself, which caused the cramp. Nancy had the brilliant idea to grab my birthing ball (which had not been used so far,) and shove it between my knees between contractions so that the leg-holders could rest and I could keep the leg relaxed. As soon as we figured out the system and I relaxed and was confident that I wouldn't cramp up again, along came another contraction and the birthing moved on. The baby's head was now partially emerging and then sinking all the way back between contractions. At one point I was sure that the baby's head was coming and during the resting phase, it slo-o-o-o-wly slid... back... in. I almost laughed! I said "no no - you're going the wrong way!!" Nancy said that the baby was being kind to my perineum and was trying to stretch it rather than bursting through. I did feel the "ring of fire" as everything stretched tight. It was painful, but I knew that the next thing after that was the baby being born and the excitement of knowing that overwhelmed the pain. The next contraction and the head got securely wedged and did not slip back. It did continue out, though - just sat there half in and half out of my body during the next "rest period." During the resting phase, Nancy and Kim asked me to push... tiny small pushes... to ease the head out rather than it coming out during the next contraction. They were trying to save me from tearing. I had not, up to this point, consciously pushed AT ALL. The contractions had been "supported" by the sustained, loud low moans and other than that I was not pushing. I didn't really want to. But, I understood the reasoning and so I tried an experimental push. YOW! Without the contraction wave and the accompanying moans to support, the push HURT. I couldn't do it. How do women do that for hours? I couldn't do it at all. I fell back into my relaxation and said "no... no... can't push. Don't want to push." And they, God bless 'em, immediately backed off and said OK. The next contraction finally came and the head finished delivering. Then the shoulders and the baby was completely out. 7:06 PM. Roughly 2 hours after my water broke. Nancy & Kim had earlier tried to remove my sweatshirt but I was SO cold I didn't want it off and couldn't lift up my upper body enough to remove it anyway. So, they had gotten one arm out and the rest was bunched up so that they could lay the baby on my chest.
Confession: I had seen so many episodes of "Birth Day" and other birth videos and had seen so many gook-covered babies laid on mom. I'm a little squeamish sometimes and I was worried that I would think "eeeew" when they tried to lay a bloody, gooky baby on me. But, I was determined to handle it. This baby was as clean and dry as if she'd just had a bath. I'd never seen that before! I knew they hadn't wiped her or bathed her, but she was just... clean as a whistle and had a wonderful thatch of dark hair (a Schembre trait - my brother and I were both born with lots of hair.) Her head was not distorted either and her skin was smooth and unwrinkled. Beautiful, tiny round head and a peaceful expression. They tickled her back to make her cry a little. Her lungs were clear. Actually, Mike and I didn't know for sure that the baby was a girl when she was first born. We had thought from the ultrasound that it was a girl, but hadn't felt sure about it. Nancy kept referring to the baby as "the little guy" and we got confused. Finally I asked if it was a boy or a girl and was thrilled to hear that we did indeed have a gorgeous baby girl!
They waited for the cord to stop pulsing and then Mike cut the cord. The placenta delivered pretty easily - that was kind of painful but mostly just annoying because I didn't want to have to do any more... I just wanted to hold my baby. Brutus had been on the floor right by my head the whole birth and had been rock-still. I only vaguely remember his presence, he was good as gold. When the midwives took the baby to measure and weigh and do the Apgar thing, he got up and went over to them and got a little agitated. I think he was afraid they were taking the new puppy away and wanted to make sure that his pack got their puppy back.
I did end up with a small tear - it never bothered me. Felt like a big paper cut and just stung a little sometimes. No big deal. Nancy looked at it and said it was extremely shallow and not worth trying to repair. I didn't feel it when it happened.
My dad arrived about 2 hours after the birth. Alice arrived a little after that - there'd been some drama with her arrival because she'd called and said "I'm at the airport, I'll be there at 10" and Mike heard that as "I'll be there IN ten" and we got concerned that it took her almost 2 hours to get here from the airport, which is truly only about 10 minutes away. Well, she'd meant the Seattle airport!
I've told this story to several people and have heard over and over that I was "lucky" to have an easy birth. I firmly believe that, although genetics and "luck" may have played their part, the biggest factors in my having such a wonderful experience were that I was relaxed and comfortable with no "performance pressure" and that I was at home and felt safe, in control of my environment and supported by my attendants. I cannot even imagine having to get into a car and drive somewhere in the middle of my labor - horrors! I didn't have to time contractions, I didn't have to get checked vaginally and told how many more centimeters I had "to go" before I could push. I didn't even have to push! The fact that my contractions stopped that one moment I did panic when my hip cramped makes me wonder what would have happened if I'd gone to hospital and felt stressed. Would my labor have slowed or stopped? What would have happened then? Would my labor have been so easy? Would it have been intervention-free? Would it have been the incredibly wonderful experience it was? Personally, I don't think so. I don't think I'm "lucky I had an easy labor and could give birth at home." I think I'm "lucky I gave birth at home and thus had a peaceful, beautiful labor and birth."