May has arrived again, it’s officially Spring, and I have lots of birth stories to share with all of you! Most of these are contributions from women who were part of my Due Date Club last year when I was pregnant. I wrote a little bit about this extraordinary group of women in the preface to Sebastian’s Birth Story; we were all due in May and had exchanged beads with each other in order to make birth necklaces which we could wear in labor to remind us that we weren’t alone, even in the deepest and darkest parts of the birth. I have since gotten to know these women much better in the intervening year and have been truly blessed by their wisdom, support, energy, understanding and mama-know-how, and now that the one year anniversary of our births is nearly upon us (or has already already arrived for some), many of these women have generously offered to share their birth stories with us here on Belly Tales. So pop some popcorn, get some tea, curl up in a comfy chair and enjoy the diverse and miraculous stories which are about to unfold.
First up is Sarah, retelling the fast, whirlwind birth of her son Levi. (Also serving as a very potent reminder to us midwives to LISTEN to women, and never assume that just because she’s a primip, she’s going to have a long, slow labor):
Saturday morning, April 30th – 38 weeks pregnant.
I insist that we have to go out and buy a toilet paper holder, towel ring, and towel rack for the bathroom we’ve been slowly renovating. I drag Nathan around to 3 different stores before we select bathroom accessories I’m happy with, and he installs everything as soon as we get home. Everything else in the house has been ready since 37 weeks; there is even an Early-Labour To-Do List pinned to the bassinet.
Monday May 2, 2011 @ 3pm – 38 +2 weeks pregnant
I meet with my midwife Stacey for my 38 week appointment. My blood pressure is elevated – not quite so high that we have to consult with an OB, but it’s been getting steadily higher over the last few weeks. Stacey knew I really wasn’t interested in dealing with the hospital unless absolutely necessary, and suggests that the easiest way to avoid an OB/hospital consult is for this baby to be born sooner than later. She suggests doing a stretch & sweep today (S&S), then repeating it in a few days to hopefully get labour going prior to 40 weeks. Because it’s my first pregnancy & I’m only 38 weeks it is unlikely that she’ll even be able to do a S&S, because my cervix is likely firm and closed. If she can do one, she lets me know that it will probably be pretty uncomfortable and won’t likely cause anything to happen right away. We review the risks/benefits and I decide to go ahead. I’d been thinking about whether or not I was okay with having an internal exam at my 38 week appointment, and had decided that while I wouldn’t ask for one, if my midwife had a good reason to do one, I would be okay with it – - knowing that it only tells me what is happening in that moment, and is in no way indicative of what’s to come.
Stacey starts the exam, and we are both shocked to discover that I am already 3cm dilated & roughly 50% effaced. She suggests that I could possibly be in early labour, and that would explain my high BP. All that being said, neither of us anticipated that labour was imminent. Baby was still a bit high, so she did a good ‘stretch’ but not a lot of ‘sweep’. There was more bloody show than she anticipated as well. We decide that in addition to the stretch & sweep, I’ll start 3000mg of vaginal evening primrose oil that night, and take a dose of Caullophylum 200C. I wasn’t interested in doing anything more intense like castor oil. I believe baby’s come when they are ready, and I didn’t want to force anything. The S&S, homeopathics, & EPO would only help tip me over the edge if my body & baby were ready. I know that I could walk around at 3cm for another 3 weeks… and that’s really what I expected to happen.
Over the evening I have some spotting and mild cramps that come every 20 minutes for a couple hours, but they are completely ignorable, eventually disappear, and Nathan & I head to bed. As I drift off to sleep, I say to myself “Open for the baby. Be open for the baby. Surrender.”
Tuesday May 3, 2011 - 5am
I wake up to a cramp that is slightly more than the Braxton Hicks have been, and wonder if I could still be cramping from the s&s the day before. It’s so mild that I decide if it wasn’t for yesterday’s appointment I would ignore it, so I’ll just ignore it now. It goes away… but comes back a few minutes later… and a few minutes after that. I don’t want to disturb Nathan’s sleep though, as his alarm will go off for work at 6:15am, so I commit to lying still and quiet in bed until then. I realize that these cramps are coming every 5 minutes (I had 6 of them between when the clock chimed 5am & when it chimed 5:30am), lasting about a minute (each one lasted for 9 deep breaths, which I knew from practicing comfort measures with my clients, equalled about 1 minute for me) and they are starting to require my concentration and movement. Still, I say nothing. I had a couple things I really wanted to finish up at work, and was thinking that I could go to work early then come home once labour picked up, if this was really it. Then I feel a small gush similar to when your period starts, and after a couple gushes decide that I don’t want to make a mess of the bed so I’ll go to the bathroom to see what is happening. There was lots of bloody show, so I went back to bed and woke up Nathan “Hey honey. I don’t think you’re going to work today”. It wasn’t just a little bit of spotting, but the kind of show you see when the cervix is making substantial change – thinking about it now, I estimate that I was maybe 5cm or so at that point.
I explained to Nathan what I was feeling, and he immediately suggested we call our doula Kim, who lives an hour away. I said that I didn’t think we needed to call her yet – this could go on for hours. But because it was an hour away he wanted her to have enough time, so we called her from bed to give her the heads up. I had spoken to Kim the night before to let her know about the stretch & sweep. She told me after everything was all said & done that she knew I’d be having the baby that day, so her car was loaded & ready to go, and she had been awake since 5am that morning waiting for my call. I tried telling Kim that there was no rush and to take her time, but by the end of the phone call I couldn’t talk through the contractions anymore so passed the phone to Nathan, who said to go ahead and come now!
I couldn’t stay in bed anymore; I needed to move, so we got up and started on the “Early Labour To Do List”. We’d hardly get one thing started though, when another contraction would come and Nathan would have to drop everything and run to support me through it.
My contractions were now about 3-5 minutes apart, but were sometimes coming back to back, so I decided not to call Stacey yet, as I figured the double contractions indicated that baby wasn’t in an ideal position and I needed to stay upright and keep moving so that the baby could get well lined up. When contractions were more “regular” I planned to page Stacey. I started to feel nauseous and realized I hadn’t eaten so tried a bite of cracker & some ginger ale but they didn’t help. By 7am contractions were intense. I couldn’t walk or talk through them, they were coming every 2-3 minutes, lasting about 90 seconds, and I was moaning my way through each one saying “oh oh oh.”
I had laboured for a while in the living room, leaning over the back of the sofa, sitting on the birth ball, kneeling on the floor… but spent a lot of time in the bathroom, because I didn’t want to make a mess of the carpet in the living room and figured the bathroom would be easier to clean up.
Nathan paged Stacey to tell her it was time to come. She asked to speak to me, and wasn’t really sure that I was in active labour. She thought perhaps this was just cramping & spotting from the night before but I insisted that this was NOT from the S&S – this was REAL active labour. I had a couple contractions while on the phone with her and Nathan had to take over the conversation for me. Stacey said she’d grab a bite of breakfast on her way to assess where I was at. Kim, our doula, arrived at 7:10am – perfect timing for Nathan, who needed to finish getting the bed ready. That last contraction before Kim arrived, I think I cried through the contraction and said imploringly “Nathan…. It hurts” (or something to that effect) Kim walked through the door and Nathan immediately said to her “Take over! I have to get stuff done”. I hardly even noticed the change from one person to the next, I was so absorbed in the intensity of my contractions.
About this time I felt my first contraction with some pressure at the peak, and I found myself catching my breath. I thought to myself “Pressure doesn’t always mean pushing. Pressure just means the baby’s head is getting lower. Stacey is on her way anyway so no need to call her.” I didn’t say anything, just kept labouring. I was in the bathroom, standing over the toilet and leaning against the towel rack for most of this time (Good thing we went shopping on Saturday! Lol.)
About 7:25am I felt a trickle down my legs and realized my water had broken. I immediately asked Kim what colour it was. She said it was fine. I said “No, what colour is it?” I wanted to make sure it was clear – no meconium – because the midwives policy (as per the hospital they have privileges at) is that you are supposed to transfer to hospital for any trace of meconium and I didn’t want to do that. I had told Stacey that I would assess for myself whether I felt meconium (if present) warranted a transfer, since she wasn’t permitted to make that assessment anymore. I cracked my eyes open enough to check the fluid, just as Kim told me that it was clear. Phew!
Then the contractions started to change from the hot low pain in my pelvis, to crazy intense amounts of pressure and for a few contractions, were a combination of both feelings. I cried at the peak of a contraction as I tried to cope “Kim… it hurts…” But I remembered that I needed to stay calm; to stay “low, soft, and open” and so went back to vocalizing “oh oh oh” alongside Kim. I moved around a little in the bathroom, trying to find a position that was comfortable – no luck with that. I asked for a hot pack which Nathan got for me but I immediately tossed it on the floor as it didn’t help at all. Nathan tried rubbing my back but I needed his hand to just be still. And I asked for some counterpressure on my sacrum, which Nathan gave, but I didn’t like that either. Kim was holding me and supporting me through all this. Nothing was working. I wanted out of our tiny bathroom. The cool kitchen floor looked appealing, and I considered just laying down on the floor, but then the next contraction came and I leaned against the kitchen counter instead – the floor was too far down. The counter was covered in dishes and I commented on that to Kim. I felt so bad that the house wasn’t “ready” (ie cleaned to my standards and ready for guests). Kim said she’d wash the dishes for me when everything was over, but I didn’t hear her then.
I knew now the baby was on the way, and told Nathan “Blow up the pool!” He raced off to do that, but by the next contraction I knew we didn’t have time to fill the pool so said “Don’t bother filling the pool Nathan!” The pressure was so intense now, that I knew the baby was moving lower. Kim & Nathan offered to fill the bathtub instead – I declined, not wanting to create a hassle. (Apparently they exchanged a look and began filling the tub anyway.) And within a couple contractions I was asking if the tub was ready yet – I needed a change. I was so desperate for water that I crawled into the tub in the middle of a contraction. My vocalizations of “oh oh oh” had changed to a more desperate “ow ow ow” mixed with crying – it was really hard to stay in control at this point. There were only a couple inches of water, but the relief was instantaneous.
I realized that the baby was coming very quickly, and that saying “ow ow ow” through my contractions wasn’t helpful, so I switched to saying “Whoah Whoah Whoah”, to allow myself to stretch and open. I put my hands down against my perineum through every contraction. It helped me feel more in control of baby’s descent, as this baby was coming like a freight train. I wanted to be sure of what I was feeling, so between contractions reached inside to see what I could feel – - only one knuckle depth in I could feel the baby’s head!! Nathan could see hair at this point, and was preparing himself to catch if the midwives didn’t make it. I told Kim & Nathan to page Stacey back and tell her that I could feel the head so we needed Melissa too. Melissa is the second midwife who comes for pushing and to care for the baby at birth. Nathan skipped the paging step and called Stacey back on her cell phone. She was just down the road from our house, so she paged Melissa as soon as she pulled in the driveway.
Then I had a contraction that I KNEW meant the baby was almost here. Without thought or intention, my eyes flew open and I looked wildly at Kim and at Nathan. I recognized that ‘the look’ had just happened, as I had seen so many of my clients with that same ‘look’ in their eyes. I asked where Stacey was, and they said she was here. Stacey didn’t really believe I was that far along yet, and was working at getting all her equipment inside. I was asking where Stacey was, but what I meant was “Is she ready to catch this baby?” Stacey told us after that she didn’t believe I was that far along, so she wasn’t in a great hurry to get set up. When she came into the bathroom (8am) she had the fetoscope to check the fetal heart rate, as I had declined the Doppler throughout pregnancy. When she couldn’t find the heartrate though I told her it was okay to use the Doppler. With the next contraction she could see how low the babies head was and said “Where do you plan on giving birth? Because there isn’t enough water in this bathtub.” I told her I was getting out and going to the bed to give birth.
At 8:10am I made my way from the bathroom to the bedroom, and asked for towels from the birth pool box to get laid down, as I didn’t want the sheets to get all wet and messy, even though the bed had been made up for the birth. I got into bed as another contraction was building, and laid down on my side with Kim at my head and Nathan at my feet. At 8:06 (tub) & 8:11(bed), Stacey checked the heart rate – 120 both times. My body was pushing, and I was still saying “whoa whoa whoa”, but I wasn’t adding any extra effort to it as I really wanted to give myself time to open. When Stacey took the next heartrate at 8:14 it was only 70, and she asked me to push hard with the next contraction. I thought to myself that for this stage of labour a FHR of 70 wasn’t so bad in a single contraction, and I didn’t really want to push aggressively because it might make me tear. But I recognized that Stacey was on her own, and was probably worried about caring for both baby & I if something went wrong, so I decided I would go ahead and push with the next contraction as she had asked. Stacey also asked me to do some scalp stimulation, which I did. My hands were down there anyway, supporting the top of my perineum as the burning was very intense at the top. I kept saying that it hurt so much up top; that it really burned. In that moment I was wishing for a warm compress, but I knew there wasn’t time to get one so I didn’t bother to say anything. At 8:18 Stacey wasn’t able to find the FHR, but I wasn’t concerned as I knew that was relatively common for this point in the birth. When the next contraction came, I took a deep breath and bore down. Because of having played a wind instrument & having vocal training, I knew how to bear down without holding my breath so that’s what I did. (Lol. The vain part of me didn’t want to be an ugly purple pusher with bloodshot eyes & cracked lips later.) I knew I was pushing effectively because I could feel the baby move, and the pain at the top was increasing. I was pretty sure I was tearing, and kept my hands on my perineum for support as I pushed through it. Stacey didn’t think I was pushing though because I was still exhaling, and at 8:19 am as she looked up to tell me to push, the baby’s head, then whole body slithered out onto the bed. Stacey unwrapped the double nuchal cord, then scooped baby up onto my belly and I held on to the new little one while I breathed a big sigh of relief: It was over! Our baby had arrived.
I was confused at first, because I could feel two arms and two legs, but couldn’t figure out what the fifth thing was that I was feeling – then I remembered it was the umbilical cord. Lol. After a minute or two I asked Nathan “Who do we have?” Nathan looked “We have Levi!” Nathan cried with joy…. I closed my eyes and just rested. After about 10 minutes Stacey was a little concerned that the placenta hadn’t delivered yet and wanted to clamp & cut the cord, and have me push. I wasn’t having any contractions, and I really wanted to leave the cord attached until it stopped pulsing, or for 20 minutes, whichever was longer. Stacey was nervous that blood could be pooling behind the placenta though, and wanted to deliver the placenta. I understood that she was probably anxious about the potential of dealing with a hemorrhage on her own so I agreed to let the cord be clamped & cut, and to push out the placenta while she assisted with gentle traction. Because I didn’t have any contractions I had to make more of an effort to push. Kim put her arms behind my head to help me curl up a little and push, while Stacey worked the placenta out. I felt it release and said aloud that it had released. The placenta was very small but healthy, and it was birthed at 8:37pm – 18 minutes after the birth. Stacey & Kim bagged it up for me and stored it in the fridge so I could encapsulate it later. Melissa arrived at 8:40am, and after getting acquainted with everyone did the newborn exam while Stacey put in some labial stitches. My perineum was intact, but my labia had a small first degree tear at the top (where I had felt all the burning). Once that was all done we got settled into breastfeeding, snuggling, and meeting baby Levi; Kim went out to clean up the bathroom, do the dishes I’d been worried about, and get our prepared food out of the freezer; the midwives did their paperwork. Melissa left at 10:20am, and Stacey left about 11am. Nathan asked Kim to stay a little longer – she was with us until about 1pm. Nathan, Levi & I cuddled in bed as a new little family for the next hour, before we started making phone calls to family & friends. It was a whirlwind! But all was well.