“Most Western women have never been physically tested until we go through labor and birth…haven’t gone eighteen or twenty four hours without food or sleep…allowed ourselves to go a day or two…without a bath or shower, without brushing our teeth and doing our hair and makeup. Even fewer of us would allow anyone else to see, smell, or touch us, unwashed, sweat-soaked, naked, oozing mucus, blood, and feces from out nether regions. When faced with the forces of labor, we can’t hide the fear, the anxiety, the responses to pain…All the inhibitions and trappings of our social selves are peeled away as our bodies thrust and heave, vomit and grunt, cry and leak. The animal is there for all to see.”
-Susan Diamond, R.N. Hard Labor
On Thursday, March 7 I woke up with mild cramps. Uncomfortable? Yes. Gas? Maybe. I decided not to get too excited and carry on with my morning as usual. I did my morning yoga routine and some breathing exercises and then went for a walk with my friend at the park. I mentioned to her I was having some cramps but they seemed pretty far apart and I didn’t want to get too worked up over nothing. After a couple of miles, she headed back to work and I decided to take one more mile loop. By the end of the loop, I was having to stop to breathe through the contractions that seemed to be coming more frequently.
I walked home and called my mom who was on the way to see my Grandma up north as she was preparing for surgery. I explained what was going on and she encouraged me to start timing them. This was at 10:30 A.M. I contemplated going to the gym to get my planned swim in (Yes, I was in labor and considering going to the pool) but within the next half hour, my contractions were 3-5 minutes apart and forcing me to my hands and knees. I let Josh know what was happening but told him he should stay at work until I got a hold of the midwife… which proved to be more challenging than expected and was irritating the heck out me! Josh came home from work and I finally got a hold of her. She asked me to come to the clinic to be checked before going to the hospital.
Josh drove me in, me moaning and wiggling in the passenger seat and protesting each pothole. As we sat in the waiting room, I curled in a ball, not wanting the other pregnant women to see what pain I was in (I’m not sure why I cared, maybe I was trying to protect them from what was to come?). They called us back and the midwife checked my cervix. Sure enough, I was 100% effaced and dilating more with each contraction. My body was working hard. She told me to expect a March 7 baby. They monitered the baby for a few minutes and then sent us home to labor for a while and gather our hospital bags.
At home, the contractions grew more and more painful. A friend came over to visit for a while but I’m afraid I wasn’t much fun. I tried hugging my exercise ball, bathing, and laying in bed. The moans became louder and I finally told Josh it was time to head to the hospital. He remained calm and collected. By this point, I had stopped laughing at his jokes and was taken aback by the pain. The 2 minute drive to the hospital seemed to take eternity…and then we drove around the ER parking lot 5 times waiting for some people to leave. They didn’t leave and I got out of the car to ask what their plan was. haha. I was so very obviously in labor and trying to be as polite as possible. Turns out, they were just taking a smoke break and were not planning on leaving. What. The. Heck. We ended up parking in a reserved spot and were assured we wouldn’t get fined.
The short walk into the ER was a chore. I stopped and leaned forward with my hands on the wall with each contraction. They felt so close together and so powerful. We finally made it in and were taken to registration where we had to sign a few papers–we had already pre-registered, thank God, but just listening to the woman and signing the documents felt hellish. We were then told to wait while someone from labor and delivery came to fetch us. Another pregnant couple showed up with their bags. The woman was smiling and didn’t seem to be in any pain. As we were brought up to labor and delivery, me in a wheel chair and grimacing in pain, the other woman smiling and laughing and walking just fine, I turned to her and said, “You look way too comfortable to be in labor.” Turns out she was being induced. Phew, I was beginning to feel like maybe I might be a huge wimp.
When we got to L&D, a nurse checked me while we waited for my midwife to arrive. I was “a keeper” they said and noted that I had dilated another half cm just while she was checking. I was progressing quickly. My midwife and her apprentice (who I love), doula, and parents were all suddenly there. The midwife said it looked like it was going to be a quick, but intense labor. “I can do quick,” I thought.
I soaked in a tub for a while before they realized I had requested a room with a birthing tub. We decided to move to a different room–I had to pee and they told me to just go in the water since I was getting out anyway. I remember my mom thinking this was funny. I went for it. They helped me out, wrapped me up and took me to the the birthing tub. My midwife decided it would be best to just get in the birthing tub since I was progressing so quickly. It was really beautiful. Gorgeous tile, a huge window overlooking the city…its really a shame I couldn’t enjoy it more. By 9 PM we started pushing. My parents went out to wait, fully expecting to meet their grandson any time soon. With each contraction, I pulled myself from reclining to sqauting and tried to bear down. I reached down and could feel my water sack, which was still in tact, bulging out of me. We eventually decided it might help if we broke it and they pulled out their crochet needle (haha, that’s totally what it looks like) and struggled for a while to break my super strong sack. I pushed in the tub for two hours with no progress. I could feel my pelvic muscles trying to open but they were so tight. The midwife laughed at said it was the only time when my strong runners body was going to cause me problems. I continued to push, it felt as though my my pelvis was trying to rip open but would just not give. I kept asking, “how much longer???”
At 11 PM my midwife said she thought our only shot at a vaginal delivery was to get an epidural to relax my pelvic muscles. She also commented on the shape of my pelvis. The right side seemed to jut out and was making it difficult for Leif to navigate my pelvic area. She saw the look of disappoinment on my face. She was so compassionate and encouraging. She told me she was amazed at my strength and felt like I had earned a natural birth–I had done the work for over 12 hours and then my progress had just stopped. They left me alone with Josh and Lyn, my doula, for a few minutes to talk it over. I said I trusted my midwives judgement and we decided to go for it. They sent for the anesthesiologist…
As it turns out, the anesthesiologist was busy with a c-section. They kept telling me it would be half an hour or so. I sort of lost (what was left) of my cool during this waiting period. It was the most agonizing pain I’d ever been in and unlike the previous 12 hours of pain, I felt like it was doing nothing to bring Leif closer to birth. I dropped several F bombs (mostly in relation to the anesthesiologist) while Josh, my mom, Lyn, and the midwives tried to soothe me. Robin, the apprentice did some guided meditation and helped me breathe through the contractions with long, low ooooommmmmssss.
At about 1 AM (two hours after we decided to go for the epidural), the anesthesiologist arrived. They set me up on the bed and I leaned forward on my mom, my legs trembling wildly. I squeezed her tight (probably too tight as she got really light headed) while the doctor went over the legal yatayata and had me sign…I kept saying, “yeah, yeah, yeah, just do it!!!!” I didn’t feel much of what he was doing other than when he hit a couple nerves, sending electric shots down my left leg.
Within 5 minutes, I was regaining sanity as the drugs took effect. We decided to push some more. We pushed for about 2 hours more with no success. They called in someone from the hospital to get another opinion. She watched me push and checked to see where the baby was. She said my uterous wasn’t working hard enough anymore–partly from the epidural and partly because it was just exhausted from so much pushing. She noted the baby wasn’t even far enough down to help with a vaccuum (which scared the crap out of me anyway), suggested that we try some pitocin to strengthen my contractions, let me rest a while, and then try pushing again but changed my position a little. If that didn’t work, we’d have to cut Leif out of there. I later found out she was a D.O, which may have been why she allowed me to continue to try to push–giving my body the benefit of the doubt a little longer. Whatever the reason she allowed me to keep pushing, I am so grateful that my medical team trusted me enough to continue to work.
At this point I was feeling slightly defeated. My support team was incredible. Now that I was comfortable and resting while we waited for my contractions to get stronger, my parents went home so my dad could shower and rest before his angiogram (yes, my dad had a cardiac procedure on Friday morning–crazy week for my family), Lyn and Josh napped, and the midwives tended to other moms. My nurse stayed with me the whole time to monitor me and to keep an eye on Leif’s heart rate. I wore an oxygen mask to help him out but had to remove it every few minutes because I was burping up acid (awesome–heart burn). I lay there with my eyes closed, thinking about the life inside of me and how all of the sudden all my planning and training didn’t matter. All that mattered was that Leif came to us safely.
I responded to texts messages from my aunts and cousins and was surprised to get responses from them in the weee hours of morning. They told me they were there with me and thought I was amazing. My aunt told me my grandma was trying to convince them to let her transfer hospitals (she was in recovery from her surgery) so she could come help deliver my baby. Knowing family was up, sending love and strength through the night gave me more courage and will to keep trying.
I could here other women laboring in other rooms–screaming and groaning as I had. I thought about all the women all over the world who were giving birth. I felt thankful for the wisdom of my midwives and that I have access to medicine that would help my baby be born. I joked with the nurse that someone should go give the screaming women some drugs. Since getting the epidural, I was joking and laughing much more easily.
Around 4, my contractions seemed strong enough to try pushing again. I knew this was my last shot at getting him out vaginally and I rallied the team. They drained my bladder using a catheter. I was shocked by the amount of urine that came out of my bladder! We were making more space for Leif to come out. The medical staff was amazed that I had such great movement still. I could use my legs, lift my pelvis, and move around much better than I had been able to before the epidural. I could also sense the contractions coming before the machine picked them up. At first, I don’t think they believed me. But sure enough, each time, right after I announced a contraction was coming, the monitor would confirm it. I felt present and ready to work with every ounce of strength in my body and spirit to get Leif out into this world.
Josh held one leg while Lyn held the other. I grasped under my thighs and with each contraction made it my goal to get in 4 strong hard pushes. Robin felt for his head as I pushed. The nurse held the monitor in place to keep an eye on his heart rate, which dropped during pushes but quickly recovered during rests. We also put a squat bar over the bed, looped a towel around it and I would press with my feet while pulling with all my strength on the towel. I could every muscles in my core with each push (something my doula later commented on–sort of a “dang girl, you’re ripped). As his head began to appear. I asked for a mirror. My first glimpse of his head send chills through my body. I smiled and said “I can do this” after each contraction. I talked to Leif and asked him to come out. Progress was slow but being able to see his head motivated me to get in one more push during each contraction before falling back on the bed with a gasp. I could reach down and feel his head. I made it my goal to “hold him” right where he was between contractions. My team continued to encourage me, telling me I was doing it, reminding me how strong I was and to keep at it.
Finally, at 6:23 AM, after over 6 hours of pushing, Leif’s head crowned and out he came. The most intense joy I’ve ever experienced shot through my body. I was laughing, crying, whooping, looking at Josh and our baby as they cut the cord from around his neck and I easily pushed his shoulders out. They put him on my chest and I kissed his head over and over and told him I loved him as he cried that sweet newly born “I’m here!” cry (and “holy smokes, mom, that was rough ride”).
They patted him clean with blankets as he lay on my chest. I didn’t even bother to notice the placenta being delivered or my midwife stitching me up. I was in a love trance. Within just a few minutes, he was happy to look for some food and I was helped out of my sports bra for our first nursing session. He was such a champion.
Josh made some phone calls to family. My parents were already on their way back to the hospital. They were expecting to arrive and find that I was in the OR and were so excited to instead discover that Leif had found his way out without a c-section. We were allowed to snuggle for a good hour before they weighed and measured him– 7 pounds and 19 inches of perfect.
Labor was nothing like I expected. I could not have prepared for that. It was a roller coaster of emotions and pain like I’ve never experienced before. I had been so afraid of intervention. I felt that it would take away from my birthing experience. I was afraid I would feel less present and not as involved if I had an epidural. I can safely say that I experienced both–I went through the first phase of labor, transition, and then part of the second phase of labor with out meds and then had to put my pride and preconceived ideas about medical intervention aside and finish laboring with the aide of western medicine. I let go of control and found that I was not only able to be present during the rest of the labor but also joyful and focused on the task at hand. It was still extremely hard work even after I couldn’t feel the pain of the contractions. My midwife, in her 23 years of experience, had never seen a woman whose second phase of labor lasted longer than her first and who pushed for that long without giving up. My tight pelvis might have caused some problems but my endurance and general strength, coupled with my habit of continually pushing the boundaries of what my body and spirit are capable of enduring are what allowed me to continue to push.
Here we are, 12 days postpartum. We have the most beautiful, healthy little boy anyone could ask for. While I’m exhausted from late night nursing, I am embracing each moment, knowing that its going to go fast and not wanting to blink, for fear of missing something wonderful. We dance to Bob Marly, go for walks, and read by day and snuggle by night… The pain of labor lingers in my sore “bottom” but my ,”MOM, YOUR NOT GETTING ANYMORE GRANDBABIES FROM ME!” has quickly turned in to–“Yeah, I could totally do that again!”