It’s hard to say if I had a long or short labor. If I think about it, the five minute apart contractions that I noticed on Friday morning were actually revving up on Thursday night. I realize this now as we had company for dinner and in the middle of conversation I’d end up needing to stand up out of my chair to suppress some discomfort. As is common with many labors, the contractions, though consistent for a time, proceeded to be mostly irregular all the way until Saturday evening. Random thoughts and realizations that I had during my experience with contractions:
Huh. I really thought I’d be able to get comfortable on my side. Nope. Nothing but standing works.
Definitely do NOT want to wake up in the middle of a contraction. It hurts three times worse if I don’t brace myself by getting into an upright position.
So I’m going to be one of those people who has back labor, huh? Does this mean that Bennett isn’t facing my spine? What’s that going to mean for delivery?
Back labor. I think the Lord is actually being gracious to me. I’m told that back labor is harder, but – to be honest – I am a woman who has experienced enough back pain to have practiced coping with this many times. Menstrual-cramp-kinda labor though? When the pain is in the front? Yeah, that’s when I just think I’m going to die.
I thought this would be harder.
Now, that last thought… Don’t get me wrong. Contractions ARE painful. Indeed. But considering my goal of achieving a natural childbirth, I had psyched myself into coming up against a pain that was unlike no other, a pain that would break down all my mental strength, energy and resolve, a pain that would make me quit my delivery mission, a pain that felt like I was heading to the grave. And while I might have looked like I was dying, I can’t deny that I did have the thought, This is doable.
After Brian and I took Esther on her second walk on Saturday, the contractions regulated themselves back to just five minutes apart. Before then, Brian and I could comfortably predict that if he set a timer for six minutes, I could lay on the couch for six minutes at a time and sleep before he’d wake me and let me brace myself for the next contraction. Being it had been nearly impossible to rest on Friday night, I was trying to gather as much energy as possible to save strength for Bennett’s delivery.
By late evening, the contractions began to be right on top of one another with very little break in between. In addition to shaking my hips like Shakira in slow motion (a move Brian hopes to see again post-pregnancy), I found that when the contractions became more intense, getting into a semi-push up/kinda-plank-like position helped as well. Being that I wanted to labor at home as long as possible (for comfort measures), when I called the midwife at around 9:30PM Saturday night, she suggested that I come to The Birthing Inn (the hospital’s separate building for maternity care) when I felt like I couldn’t cope anymore.
The problem with that plan was that I intended to “cope” until the end. About an hour later we headed to the hospital for two different reasons: 1) Hurricane Sandy wasn’t here yet and the weather was good for driving and 2) I began to fear the car ride being the “ride from hell” as the contractions were building in intensity. Again, I couldn’t be in a seated position during a contraction without the pain being incredible, so I wasn’t sure that waiting to leave until the contractions were harder was such a good plan. It’s about a fifteen minute drive to The Birthing Inn. Contractions were one and a half to two minutes apart. You do the math.
When we arrived at The Birthing Inn, it was tricky for the nurse to get an assessment of how far along I was. She needed me to be lying down on a bed in order to do an internal exam to check my cervix. So there I was, rocking back and forth beside the bed having contractions. The SECOND that one was over, I’d hop up and be like, “Go!” She’d check as fast as she could, then I’d scramble off the bed before the next contraction caught me on my back.
When we arrived, my cervix was three out of ten centimeters dilated and completely effaced. In guiding me to my laboring room, we had to stop several times for me to sway back and forth through my contractions. Bennett first had to be monitored for 20 minutes before they’d let me begin laboring in the tub. (The tub, strangely enough, was the only place where I didn’t need to be standing to get as “comfortable” as possible.) Brian got the water ready for me.
Speaking of Brian, allow me to brag on him for a second here. I could NOT have had such a good delivery experience if he hadn’t been such an amazing coach. Because we had taken the Bradley Method classes, Brian was completely practiced at supporting me through the labor. Every little thing from his tone of voice (gentle and whispering) to his word choice (perhaps “cheesy” at times to his natural instincts, but VERY encouraging to me) to his willingness to not take it personally when I could only speak one word sentences of demand (“Water.” “Pressure.” “Lower.”). He was completely and utterly a servant to my every need, very attentive and praising me even to the staff that was there. He’d hold the straw up to my mouth so that I wouldn’t have to reach for my cup of water. He’d let me hang myself off of his shoulders, bearing all my weight, so that I could feel slightly more comfortable in a suspended posture. He didn’t even question my sanity when I was tub-laboring and began blowing bubbles in the water (which was surprisingly cathartic during contractions). When my eyes were shut in concentration and I reached out a hand, I knew that he’d be there to grab it.
Big round of applause to Brian.
Because Bennett’s heart rate was monitored as inconsistently dropping at times, they decided that they didn’t want me off of the belly monitors at all during the entire labor. Their telemetry units (which would allow me to labor while moving and “tubbing”) were on the fritz. Once the staff found a unit that would work, we had to switch rooms and began the process all over. Re-strap the unit, Brian fills the tub, etc. This was a helpful distraction. In two hours time, I had progressed from three centimeters to seven centimeters.
The midwife explained to me that my labor was progressing very quickly for two main reasons. First, there was the fact that, unless I was in the tub, I never stopped moving. And secondly, I was incredibly well hydrated. I never stopped drinking water (and consequently I never stopped peeing). Many women suffer with diarrhea or nausea during labor and wind up purging all of their fluids. Fortunately that was not the case for me. (Laboring while hooked up to an IV drip for fluids sounded like a miserable alternative to simply drinking plenty of water!)
The end of the labor and the time that I spent pushing is very much a blur to me. I knew that I had passed through transition (the hardest part of labor) when I began feeling an urge to push. At this point, I was in the tub. Everyone helped me to climb out because 1) The Birthing Inn doesn’t accommodate water births and 2) I needed to be checked to see if I was dilated to 10 centimeters. Just because you have the urge to push doesn’t mean your body is 100% ready!
Mine was not.
Getting what I deserved for the prank that I pulled at the salon, my water was absolutely refusing to break on its own; and that was delaying my body from completely dilating. Because I knew that I needed to be pushing ASAP, I allowed the midwife to break my water for me. It couldn’t have been more than two more contractions after that that pushing began.
Let’s talk about what labor is like at this point. It’s not identical to the early and active labor. Several variables changed. First of all, I was FINALLY able to lay on my side. What a relief! Being able to not stand helped me to save some strength for pushing. Next, my body began forcing new noises out of my mouth. Up until that point, I had been moaning deeply through each contraction. (I had read that low, relaxed tones help your body to open up while high pitched, anxious tones cause it to shrink back and tighten.) So there I was for hours sounding like, “Ooooohhhhhhmmmmmmm, ooooooohhhhhhhmmmm…” Then all of a sudden, I sounded like, “OooohhhmmmmGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHGGHGHH!!!!” That last part is a pushing kind of a grunt. I swear that I had NO control over it. And finally, my contractions began to space apart just a little more. I counted that to be a sweet luxury as I was able to rest and regroup a little.
At first, I attempted to get comfy on the bed in a squatting position. But nope. Nope, nothing was as comfortable as being on my side, so I shimmied back up the bed.
Pushing is interesting. Strangely, what’s happening inside your body doesn’t seem quite as painful anymore, especially when you’re pushing during a contraction. What IS painful is the baby exiting the body. Yowza. I was instructed that pushing out a baby should feel like you’re taking the biggest crap of your life. Prior to this knowledge, I thought it had something to do with tightening your abs and pushing from your core. Not so. The problem with pushing like you’re going #2 is that your instincts aren’t to keep your legs wide open. In fact, everything you need your body to do in addition to that push seems very unnatural. So I kept my eyes closed in intense concentration from the time that I started pushing until that moment that I saw Bennett’s sweet, tiny body.
Instead of looking around, I focused on the midwives’ guidance regarding my position:
“Don’t close your leg.” (Yes, “leg” and not “legs.” I was on my side, so I only had to focus on the one leg.)
“Curl into a ‘C’ shape. Curl around your baby.”
“Tuck your chin; chin to chest.”
“Make it count. Big breath. Keep going, keep going, keep going.”
There comes a point when you feel trapped. You want to run from the pain or avoid it or delay it for a while. But there’s only one way out. And shrinking back from the pain by contorting your body into a more comfortable position doesn’t actually mean that you’ll be in much less pain. It just means you’ll be in marginally less pain, but for a LOT longer and with potentially dangerous outcomes. The midwives made it clear that Bennett was NOT loving the birth canal and that his heart rate was dipping. They ended up putting an oxygen mask on me so that he’d be getting oxygen, too. Knowing that he’d be better off if I hurried up (and knowing that I didn’t want to be there all day pushing), I pushed with all of my might on what was possibly the fifth contraction of pushing. From Brian’s point of view (I don’t know because everything was stinging and burning during every push), Bennett came out all in one shot. Picture a cannon ball tearing through a paper bullseye. Yeah, it was kinda like that. But, oh! The relief of labor being over was WONDERFUL! I pushed for 28 minutes and he was born at 2:38AM on Sunday.
Then I opened my eyes and saw my son. After all of that concentration and build up, you’d think I’d have been ready to meet him. But he was still a surprise. I was surprised at how beautiful he was, how innocent and alert, how startled and wide-eyed. He blinked a lot and looked around, crying and taking in the shock of his new world. They had laid him on my chest and I began to talk to him, warming him with my body and apologizing for having taken so long to get him out. My mind could not conceive how this little life had been fitting inside of me all along. How was there room?!
It’s so wonderful that he got to snuggle up on my chest for so long. Bennett and I were way too preoccupied with each other for me to be concerned with birthing the placenta or being stitched up. (The placenta? Seriously? Two pushes and I was like, “Wait, are we done?” I didn’t even feel it.) Both the nurses and the midwives were singing my praises over this incredible delivery. Perhaps they were just being kind, but a couple of them commented that they had never seen such a “controlled” natural childbirth. They had never seen a woman so focused, uninterested in crying out in pain and screaming. But you see, I had surrendered to the pain and accepted that there was no way out but to finish strong. I couldn’t think about the pain; I had to think about my position and concentrate on pushing. They were also impressed with my flexibility. I’m told that my right leg was like a “python,” as it whipped about and accidentally kicked one midwife in the shoulder. Obviously I’d never mean to do that, but my eyes were shut so tight! I had no idea who was where or that a few other nurses had even come in to join in the fun!
Oh, there’s so much that I could tell! So many more details that come back to me every now and then! I might have to mention them as I recall them from time to time. Being that this post is three or four times the length of my average posts and being that it’s taken me days to piece it together (between all the breastfeeding, the napping, the burping and the diaper changing), for the next couple of days, I’ll be posting much shorter, simpler posts, mainly concentrating on some beautiful shots that my friend, Katie, was able to get post-delivery.
Shots like this: