What an absolutely life changing few days we’ve had!
I am going to tell you all about the labor and delivery of baby Norah, but first I would like to say that my experience was very unusual. To give you something to compare it to, here is how the average labor and delivery would go for a first time mother (according to what we learned in our class).
Labor begins with mild contractions that are several minutes apart (let’s say 10 to 20). They slowly intensify and get closer together, and gradually the cervix (baby’s entrance to the birth canal) dilates. The baby can come out when it is fully dilated (10 centimeters). This usually takes several hours (12 to 24 is common), especially if the cervix is not already partially dilated prior to the beginning of labor. Labor is considered “active” once the cervix is four centimeters dilated.
Before this point, the mother should be able to go about her business, breathing through each contraction as it comes.
Active labor has probably begun when the contractions are strong enough that the mother has to concentrate to get through them, she does not want to eat anything, she is more serious, and contractions are about five minutes apart and lasting for at least one minute. This is the point where one would head to the hospital or other place of birth. The mother should still be able to cope with contractions by breathing deeply and focusing on relaxation. She should never be in excruciating pain. Most women describe contractions as very strong cramps, or like your belly is being squeezed very tightly all the way around.
Once the mother is at or near full dilation, she may experience a stage of labor called transition. She may be nauseous, shivering, and almost unable to cope with the pain. She will probably say that she wants an epidural and will feel as though there is no way she can get through the rest of the labor and delivery process. The water will have broken by this point.
Transition may last for about 10 minutes, and then the pushing phase begins. If no pain medication has been administered, the mother will feel an uncontrollable urge to push during each contraction, and doing so will ease the pain. Now she feels a new sense of determination. Pushing may last for a few minutes or a few hours before the baby is born. 45 minutes is about average. And voila: Baby!
Here is my story.
I was having mildly painful contractions here and there for at least a couple of days. Frustrated that my body seemed to be in a state of limbo, Travis and I tried all of the recommended tricks to get labor started in earnest. Finally, one of them worked (I am being purposefully vague here). :-P
Around 7:30 on Wednesday evening, I suddenly began having much stronger contractions. They were very close together from the get go, but not consistently so. I might have one that lasted for 40 seconds with a two minute break, another that lasted a minute with a 90 second break, and so on. Just a few contractions in, I was already having to concentrate on breathing deeply to cope.
Probably a little after 8:00 I decided I wanted to call Amy (our midwife). Travis called while I changed clothes, etc. She told him that she was at the hospital with another mother in labor, and that she would have Linda (the other midwife, who we also felt comfortable with) meet us at the birth center. We left as soon as we could get all of our things together, and arrived there at about 9:00.
Linda checked me for dilation as soon as we got there. I was disappointed to hear that I was only one centimeter. She gave us the option to stay or go home, advising us that we might rest better at home, and it would probably take several hours before I was in active labor.
With that, we left, and I cried on the way home because I didn’t see how I would be able to handle these intense contractions for several more hours. They were getting stronger and stronger, and it was already impossible to relax through them. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I was already telling Travis that I wanted an epidural, even though I knew that I would be disappointed in myself if I went through with that idea.
After we arrived at home and unpacked everything from the car, I soon realized that there really was no way I could get any rest, and I felt I needed to be at the birth center. I needed help finding a way to cope with the pain. I cried some more at the thought of another car ride.
Travis called Linda, who was very nice about the whole thing and said she would have to change clothes (I presume she was ready for bed) and would meet us back at the birth center as soon as she could.
Travis packed everything up again, and right when we were about to leave he said he wanted to make a pot of coffee (he later told me that he was using this as a way to test the seriousness of the situation). When I replied with, “Right now?!” he realized that I was desperate and we left for the second time.
This car ride was very difficult. Travis went slow and turned on the hazard lights because I really could not bear any jostling. I was shivering and beginning to feel nauseous. By this time I was vocalizing (not exactly moaning, and not screaming – more like singing one long note loudly on “ah”). I don’t know why that seemed to ease the pain just a bit, but it did.
I think we got there a little after 10:00. Right away Linda tried to help me find a position that would feel a little more comfortable, but nothing did. Absolutely nothing besides vocalizing seemed to help the pain at all, and moving around made it worse.
After assessing the situation, Linda determined that even though my contractions were coming very close together, they were so short that they were probably not effectively dilating my cervix. I was beyond disappointed by the thought that all this pain might be getting me nowhere. I was distraught, and I desperately wanted to get out of my own body.
She suggested that I try a rotation: two contractions on my left side, two on all fours, two on my right side, etc., to try to regulate the contractions. She also started running the bath for me, thinking that may help as well, even though under normal circumstances you shouldn’t get in the water until you are at least four centimeters dilated because it can slow labor down or even stop it.
I tried hard to be cooperative and do the rotation, but it was way too painful to keep changing positions. Most women have a break between contractions where they are completely free of pain, but this was not my experience. During contractions the pain was almost unbearable, and between them it was intense, but I could stand it if I could stay still (and if Norah stayed still as well). I was also throwing up by this point (sorry to be gross…I just want to write a thorough account), and still shivering.
While I was on my left side on the bed, dreading having to turn onto all fours, my water broke. I didn’t feel it break, I just felt totally soaked all of a sudden. Linda seemed surprised and decided to check me for dilation a second time. It was now about 11:00 pm.
We were all shocked and excited to learn that I had dilated all the way to six centimeters in just two hours!
Now that my water had broken and I was definitely in active labor, I could labor in the tub knowing that we would have our baby soon.
Having heard multiple accounts of how relaxing the water can be for a laboring woman and hearing it referred to as “the midwife’s epidural,” I was looking forward to a bit of relief.
It never came. The contractions were just as bad in the water, and still getting harder and harder to handle.
Around this time, a nurse midwife arrived in case I was to need stitches. She was very nice, and I felt bad that I was unable to exchange pleasantries with her.
During each contraction I was breathing fast and hard, sometimes vocalizing as I had been, sometimes crying, sometimes screaming. After several contractions of just screaming my lungs out, I tried to do “horsey blows,” like we had learned in class and I had read about in Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. I was able to do this a little bit during two or three contractions, and then I couldn’t do it anymore. I had to push.
Throughout all of this, Travis was amazing. He was so supportive the whole time, and I know it was incredibly hard for him to see me like that. He tried to rub my back or my belly a few times to give me something else to focus on, but I couldn’t stand to be touched. I had to tell him to stop.
After several contractions of pushing whenever I felt the urge, Linda said she wanted to check to see if I still had a “lip” of cervix. The way I was pushing made her suspect it. This means that instead of being evenly dilated all the way around, the cervix looks sort of like this:
I was reluctant to even let her check because it was so uncomfortable, but she insisted, and she was right. I tried doing the same rotation technique again at her suggestion, but in the end she advised that we would probably have the baby sooner if I would let her hold the lip out of the way while I pushed Norah’s head past it. Finally I agreed to this.
Linda could feel Norah moving down each time I pushed, and she was very pleased with my progress.
As soon as we were finished with this process, which lasted through three or four contractions, Amy arrived. I was glad that she made it to the birth. From then on, it was mostly her who coached me through contractions.
By this point, the pain of the contractions was beginning to ease up when I pushed. The beginning of each contraction was the worst because it took a few seconds before I felt the urge. I dreaded each one and kept saying, “No, no, no, no, no…” and almost crying when I felt one coming. This was how Travis knew it was time to come back and be with me (he paced around between contractions to calm himself down so he could be supportive and strong when I needed him next to me).
*Click photos to enlarge*
I could not cooperate with anything the midwives were asking me to do at this point. I had to totally follow my body’s cues. They suggested I hold my breath while I was pushing, instead of screaming and pushing at the same time, so that I could push harder. I couldn’t. If I pushed that hard I thought I would tear in half. They also suggested that I hold my legs back with my hands. I couldn’t do that either. It just plain hurt. It felt better to be in a sort of semi-squat position, with my feet almost under me.
I kept asking Amy how much of the head she could see, and she would show me with her hands. She could see a little more with each contraction.
After Norah’s head was almost crowning, she slid back up between contractions. The midwives weren’t concerned and said that it would just take a second for me to push her back down to where she had been, and they commented that “They would have a fit if that happened in the hospital.” They were right, though. She came right back down on the next contraction. (I also think the hospital staff would probably have been pretty annoyed by all the noise I was making. I honestly could not help it, though. I felt bad that Travis and the midwives had to put up with it.)
Her head was out after another couple of contractions. I was amazed, and I just stared at the back of her beautiful head until the next contraction, when I pushed as hard as I could and screamed even harder to get her body out. During those few seconds, the pain was the worst yet – and the next second it was gone. The most beautiful creature I have ever seen was placed on my chest, and time stopped.
She looked at me with her beautiful big eyes, and I loved her instantly. Oh, do I love her. She breathed on her own right away, and she hardly cried.
We spent the rest of the night there, with Norah between us in the bed, absolutely in awe of the whole experience. Our baby girl was finally here.
Some final thoughts:
I am now absolutely convinced that women’s labor and delivery experiences are extremely diverse and unique. I have spoken to several women who say they would not describe their labor as painful, just intense. I had PAIN. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would rate my pain at a 13, no joke. I never imagined pain like that existed. I thought a person would either pass out or die before it got that bad.
On a related note, I feel like I can handle anything after going through that.
I feel that I was absolutely in the best hands with Amy and Linda. I would (and did) trust them with my life (and my baby’s).
And the one I’m sure you’re wondering: yes, I would do it again. I am so happy to have given my daughter a gentle entrance into the world. She was born into warm water, dim lights, and gentle hands. Now that it’s all over, I can’t imagine doing it any other way. I also got to have control over my own experience. I got to make all the decisions, and I was given the freedom to let my body do what it wanted to do, which in my case seems to have been to get this baby out as quick as possible! It feels so good to own my birth experience, for lack of better wording. The experience was mine and Norah’s, and it was exactly how it was meant to be.