I get a lot of crazy looks when I tell people I gave birth naturally, to a 10.5 pound baby (10 pounds 9 ounces to be exact). If I hadn’t been there, and done it, I would think I was crazy too. Giving birth was the hardest thing I have ever done. It was also the most beautiful, rewarding, bad ass, exhausting, and most amazing thing I’ve ever done.
Let’s get to it, my natural drug free water birth of my giant baby. Alright folks, this is going to a long one.
This is a lot of text, but it is a big story.
I knew that I was in labor for sure sometime around 2am Saturday morning (March 14, 2015). After hours of restless sleep, interrupted by frequent and regular contractions, I was stepping into the shower to try to ease the pain. The last few weeks of pregnancy my contractions were often frequent and regular, often for hours at a time. I hated everyone who told me that I would just “know” when I was in labor. I hate them more now that I know they’re right. My contractions felt the same as what I had been experiencing for days, and when timed were about 5 minutes apart like they had been many times before. But, I knew. I was in labor.
The time span between 2am and 7am included two showers, four popsicles, and about six different shows on Netflix trying to keep myself occupied. At one point I attempted to fold baby clothes in the nursery, but being active increased my pain level. Each contraction stopped me in my tracks, forcing me to be still and breathe.
I’ve heard contractions described a lot of different ways. There are so many descriptions because labor contractions are their own kind of pain. A broken arm feels similar to a broken leg. A labor contraction feels similar to…a labor contraction. That’s it. It’s an intense tightening; kind of like a full abdominal charlie horse. Or what I imagine it would feel like if you did about a million crunches in a row.
My husband got up to pee around 7am and asked how I was doing. I told him that we were having a baby that day, but to go back to sleep, that I would wake him when I needed him. I happened to need him about 9am. That’s also when I decided to call my midwife and tell her it was baby day and we were heading to the hospital. At that point I had been in labor for about twelve hours.
I had discussed with my midwife when to go to the hospital during labor. She recommended that I labor at home for as long as possible because I wanted to have an all natural birth. Her measurement for going to the hospital was no longer being able to talk through contractions. Along with the ominous “you’ll just know”.
After grabbing the hospital bag and installing the car seat we were off to the hospital sometime between 9 and 10am. When we arrived all of the amazing birthing rooms at the birth center (I picked the hospital before I even picked my midwife because of the amazing birthing rooms) were full. I was checked in and sent to an exam room to await the dreaded cervical check. The nurse attached the fetal monitors, showing a wonderfully strong heartbeat and regular contractions. The results of the cervical check didn’t fare so well. I was only 3cm dilated. I was pissed. At my midwife appointment on Thursday I was at 2cm. I did not understand how twelve hours of contractions only led to 1cm of dilation. And I had to make it to 10cm! After a brief discussion with my midwife the nurse recommended that I leave and go labor at home until things progressed. I grudgingly obliged – I knew that my baby was on his way.
When we got home I took a bath, water had been a large part of my pain management technique throughout labor and was an even bigger tool during labor. I attempted a nap, but failed miserably. My contractions were too intense to sleep through, and coming about every 4 minutes. I tried getting comfortable on the couch, but failed at that too. Casey held my hand through contractions as I cried. After finding out I was only 3cm dilated I felt defeated. I was already in so much pain, and so tired. I told him that I didn’t think I could do it. He repeatedly reminded me that I could, and insisted that drugs were not an option. From this point on he held my hand for every contraction. (Not really, I’m sure he took a pee break somewhere in the span of my 24 hour labor, but I remember him being there)
About 2:30 my midwife called to check on how I was doing. I had to have Casey answer the phone because I wasn’t able to talk long enough to hold a conversation. She recommended that we head back to the hospital if I was ready – I was. Before leaving I insisted that she check to see if one of the birthing rooms at the birthing center was available. The birthing rooms had jacuzzi tubs, and getting in that tub instead of our pathetically tiny home bathtub was all I could think about. My midwife confirmed a room was available and had it held and prepared for us.
The car ride back to the hospital was horrible. Each bump and turn made my contractions more intense. My nausea was also made more intense. We were lucky that I had a hospital puke bag left in the car from my early morning sickness days. Not many people tell you that nausea and vomiting can be part of labor. The ride to the hospital was the first, but not the last, time I puked during labor.
After we checked in and were escorted to our actual birthing room the nurse already had the jacuzzi tub in the bathroom filling with water, along with our large plastic birthing tub full in the main room. Another cervical check showed that I was still at 3cm. I cried. Instead of recommending a trip home the nurse suggested that I try the jacuzzi tub I was so desperate for. The relief the tub provided was wonderful. I was still having contractions, and they were still strong and painful. But, I was able to relax more between them and able to relax more into them. Relaxing into a contraction is a difficult thing to describe. Before it was like I was fighting against the contraction, in the tub it was like I was fighting through the contraction.
I sloppily signed a pile of paperwork while in the tub, declined the suggested blood draw, and waited for my midwife to arrive. The nurse came in a couple of times with a waterproof doppler to monitor the baby’s heart rate during a contraction. By the time the midwife was there I was ready to get out of the tub for a while. I moved to the bed and my midwife performed another cervical check between contractions. Turns out I was right for wanting to be in the tub so badly, I had progressed from 3cm to 7cm within less than two hours.
They call the portion of labor between 7cm and 10cm transition. It sucks. My midwife referred to it as the “I can’t” stage of labor. I found this to be very accurate as those words were probably the most common thing I said during transition. It was overwhelming. I was shaking almost non-stop. I had heard about breaks between contractions. That glorious relief between the full body consumption of a contraction. I didn’t get breaks. My contractions came one on top of another. I remember begging Casey to make it stop – just for a minute. Pleading; if I could just breathe for one minute I could go on. Turns out I could go on any way.
I didn’t last long on the bed before moving back to the jacuzzi tub. And didn’t last long in the jacuzzi tub before wanting to move into the bigger birth tub. When I first arrived the jacuzzi tub was perfect, suddenly it wasn’t. I felt cramped and claustrophobic. The birth tub was a wonderful change of pace. I felt weightless, which is a big deal at any point in pregnancy. Being able to float I was better able to try to relax into contractions and remind myself to breathe. As every contraction would begin I closed my eyes, and reached out my hand. Casey magically appeared every time to let me squeeze his hand through the contraction. Well, not every time. He took one bathroom break. My midwife stepped in to hold my hand and all I could focus on was how completely wrong her hand felt in mine. Wrong size. Wrong temperature. It was awful.
A lot of TV and movie labors involve screaming. And a majority involve some sort of screaming at the father. “I hate you” “this is all your fault” etc. During my labor and delivery Casey was my rock. The only person I wanted to touch me or talk to me. I needed him and loved him more during labor than I ever had before. He was amazing every step of the way.
At some point in the birth tub the contractions changed. There was more pressure. It wasn’t the desperate “I need to push” feeling I had heard some people describe, but it was different. I switched from laying on my back floating to squatting and holding the side of the tub. When my midwife told me I could bear down during contractions I realized that I already was. Not pushing, more like accepting the pressure. It wasn’t long until I asked my nurse to go get the midwife (who was periodically stepping out of the room) because it was time to push. A cervical check showed I was almost fully dilated, with just a lip of cervix left. The room filled up fast. Up until that point it was mostly just Casey and I, with my midwife and labor nurse floating in and out. When my midwife realized it was time a second nurse (for the baby) and a respiratory specialist came in as well.
I pushed while sitting up against the side of the tub, Casey was behind me and hooked his arms under my armpits to support me during contractions. The new nurse and respiratory therapist each held a leg, my nurse floated around, and my midwife hung out ready to catch the baby. In all the birth stories I read women either loved pushing or hated it. I’m firmly in the love group. Well, as much as you can love something that causes pain. I was finally getting my much-needed break between contractions. I could breathe! I also found relief in the sense of purpose, I was almost done. I knew that every push was bringing me closer to the end. Between my pushing contractions I was actually able to talk. It was like the haze that had been surrounding me for the past 24 hours had lifted, everything seemed much more clear. Between contractions Casey fed me ice and made sure I had a cold wash cloth on my forehead, which was glorious. I was so hot.
When the baby started to crown my midwife had me reach down and feel his head, and my nurse asked if I wanted a mirror so I could see him. If you would have asked me before labor if I had wanted to watch I would have told you no, but in the moment I wanted to see. I made everyone laugh when I asked her to adjust the mirror in the middle of a contraction so I could see better (apparently I said please too). I expected more pain with crowning. The term “ring of fire” is commonly used, but that’s not how I would describe it. There was stretching, and it was painful. But, it was a relief from the contractions I had been having.
Two pushed later, my contraction ended with his head half out and I stopped pushing for a moment. You could see his dark hair, and a single ear. My midwife told me later that it was amazing I stopped pushing at that point, that most women are in the “get it out” phase. Two minutes later and his head was out. My midwife exclaimed something about his size, grabbed his head, and pulled. Her pulling (I want to say yanking, because that’s what it felt like) was far more painful than the pushing. Casey told me later that he was afraid for a moment that she was going to pop his head off from pulling too hard. I think that her “assisting” was the only reason why I tore. I had three or four very minor tears each requiring only stitch. I know that the stretching feeling while he was crowning was much different from the sharp pain when the midwife pulled on the baby. I know it’s possible his large shoulders would have caused the tearing either way, but I feel with the water and my slow pushing it might have ended differently.
In an instant he went from being in me to on my chest. Warm, slimy, and wonderful. All the ladies in the room were immediately oohing and ahing, and commenting “he’s so big!” (And, he was. It was about two hours until we weighed him, at 10 pounds and 9 ounces of perfect baby boy.) I don’t remember what my first words were after birth. I know I said hello to the baby and I’m sure the words “oh my god, I did it” came out of my mouth at some point. Our baby, Z, had finally arrived.
I held him on my chest while Casey cut the cord (after it stopped pulsing) and delivered the placenta. After just a few minutes I was freezing, shaking, and ready to be out of the water. The nurse handed Z to Casey so I could move over to the bed. While a lot of my labor and delivery are fuzzy, the look on Casey’s face when he first held our son is something I will never forget. It was the first of a million times my heart exploded while watching them together.
I consider that moment, so big and full of love, to be the end of my birth. The hospital stay, breast-feeding, first few days home, and recovery and all a different story.
I understand why women talk about birth as being painful. I would be a liar if I said it wasn’t. But, I hate that pain is the focus. Remembering my birth, re-reading my birth story, and looking through pictures the pain isn’t my focus. I remember the pride. I remember seeing my son for the first time. Most of all, I remember the love.