FAIR WARNING: This post is not for everyone! It is a detailed natural birth story. Words like "cervix" and "blood" are used frequently. If that's not your cup of tea, stop reading right now!
After no less than five “false starts” to labor, I barely took notice as the contractions began yet again around 6pm on Friday, July 13. They still remained as I climbed into bed that evening, but I had been down this road before. Contractions seemed to coming be no further than 10 minutes apart, sometimes closer, but never increasing in intensity. I didn’t sleep well that night, because the contractions kept waking me. They didn’t hurt, just annoyed me and made it hard to find a comfortable sleeping position. Twice when they woke me, I threw up what felt like liquid fire. I finally slept a little better for the last few hours after that. In the morning, July 14, the contractions remained the same and I threw up again. After over 12 hours of apparent labor, most mommas would excitedly (or fearfully) be exclaiming, “this is it!” But again, I had been here before. Twelve hours was nothing; my record in the two weeks preceding had been 19 hours of contractions without a baby.
Not yet convinced that this was the time, but determined to make it be, I got to work. I spent most of the morning bouncing on my yoga ball, walking and rocking my hips, deep breathing and practicing prenatal yoga on the living room floor (not without “help” from the dog and Fireman Ben). I read a couple chapters from Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth in attempt to get “in the zone.” Wes helped me engage the Four Gates acupressure points, which are said to help move things along when labor is slow to start. In the afternoon, we went to the mall to walk laps in the air conditioning. We walked and talked, walked and talked, and Wes kept me laughing as much as possible. We’d read that laughter can help laboring mothers to relax and therefore progress, and since he’s always thought of my laughter as his responsibility, he took this as a challenge.
When I’d had enough walking, around 5pm, we headed home for dinner. The contractions still had not gained any strength or intensity, but since we were now approaching 24 hours, I thought it wise to spend some time tracking them so we’d at least know what we were dealing with. I started timing contractions on the drive home and was surprised to find that they were about four minutes apart. My doctor follows the 4-1-1 rule: When contractions are four minutes apart, lasting one minute each for one hour, it’s time to go. Though I still didn’t believe it was the real thing, I continued timing the contractions to see if they’d keep at this pace for an hour. They did. I knew that if I was following the rule, it was time, but it still didn’t feel like it. I was functioning fine, breathing and talking fine, and just going about my business with my family. This certainly didn’t feel like a “Hurry up, the baby’s coming!” scenario. Wes and I pow-wowed and agreed we’d at least wait until after dinner, because we were both starving. He grilled steaks and my mom made my favorite squash and zucchini side dish. It was delicious and we both savored it, not knowing when we’d get to eat again.
I continued timing contractions through dinner and they remained on the same track: about 3.5-4 minutes apart, each lasting approximately one minute. Reluctantly (because it still didn’t feel like real labor), we packed up our things, kissed Benjamin good-night, and headed to the hospital. I texted my doula on the way, saying we were going in, but I’d let her know when they told me “You’re not in labor, crazy. Go home!” She excitedly replied, “They won’t! This is it!!!” Silly doula, I thought.
When we arrived around 9pm, the nurse checked my cervix and determined that I was 3cm dilated and about 70% effaced. She called to inform my doctor, who said that if I walked for one hour and showed progress, she’d be willing to come break my water if I wanted to get things moving quicker. Wes and I walked the halls of L&D for the next hour, laughing about my ridiculous “cape” (a second hospital gown worn backwards over the first, to cover my exposed rump), and trying to guess what was behind each mysterious closet door we passed. I squatted with contractions on every other lap, and he sweetly rubbed my back as I did. When we returned to the room an hour later, my cervix was a more “stretchy” 3, nearing 4cm dilated and 80% effaced. Progress! We were staying!
Around 10:45pm, my doctor arrived to break my water. There was meconium in it, which worried me a little. Above all I was worried for her health, but also, I really wanted to be able to hold my baby as soon as she was born. This meant that if she didn’t come out crying, they’d have to whisk her away to clear out her nose and throat. I said a little prayer that she’d come out healthy and wailing, and knew that was all I could do.
My doctor left around 11pm in hopes of getting some sleep before my delivery, and instructed the nurses to call her when I was 8cm dilated. Ashley, our doula, arrived shortly thereafter, and Wes and I were both so glad to see her. Still not feeling contractions too intensely, I was in a great mood. The three of us just kind of hung out for a while, listening to my carefully selected labor playlist, talking and laughing. I stood and swayed back and forth, rocking my hips with the contractions. It wasn’t long before I had to stop mid-sentence as a contraction literally took my breath away. It shouldn’t have, given the circumstances, but this feeling surprised me. It was the first time in now over 29 hours of labor that my brain finally got the message my body had been sending: the baby is coming! I gave Ashley a look that must have said “umm… WTH?!” because she gave me a bless-your-darlin-heart kind of smile and said, “It’s ok, you don’t have to talk. Your baby is about to be born!”
From this point on, I lost all sense of time. Somehow, everything seemed to happen in fast forward and slow motion. I believe it was around midnight that I was checked again and found to be 5-6cm. The nurse decided to go ahead and call my doctor with a heads-up, since it was happening so fast. When she arrived (12:45ish, maybe?) I was already 7-8cm, deep into transition and making all kinds of noises that I had no idea I was capable of producing. No longer able to stand, I found laboring on my hands and knees in bed to be most comfortable. Mind you, “comfortable” is a relative term here. In the many natural childbirth books I read in preparation for this experience, most of the women tried to avoid the word “pain”, and referred to contractions instead as “rushes” or “waves”. I would love to say that my labor was not painful, but by God, it was. If it were any other situation, I would have crumbled. If you were standing outside my door (or anywhere on the third floor for that matter) you may have said I did. But somewhere in my head – or maybe more in my soul – I was in control. I knew that this pain had a purpose, and I knew that it would end.
I remained on my hands and knees for the duration of labor, with the exception of cervical checks, which I had to flip to my back for. I held on to the elevated head of the bed and breathed (or attempted to breathe, at least) with my doula. She and Wes each held one of my hands during contractions, and massaged and encouraged me in between. I never once said to them, “I can’t do this”, but I’m pretty sure my eyes did. They knew without my asking that I need to hear “you can do this; you are doing this!” Their unwavering faith in me helped me to believe when I wasn’t so sure.
The last hour went very quickly. Contractions were coming right on top of each other it seemed, and I could tell that we were getting close. At some point I was checked again and found to be 9cm dilated. I began to worry about how much blood I was seeing as I flipped back and forth from hands and knees to my back, but they assured me it was normal. I guess I just never noticed this with my first labor as I spent the majority of it on my back with an epidural, unaware of anything I couldn’t see. Very soon after I was checked at 9cm, I felt my baby’s head move down and knew immediately that it was time to push. “She’s coming! She’s coming!” I shouted! I knew I’d have to flip to my back again, and boy did it feel urgent, so I somehow managed to do it mid-contraction. My IV line caught on the bedrail and was ripped from my hand in the process… more blood all over the place. (And man did it leave a nasty bruise!) My doctor checked me and said to the nurse, “Oh yeah, she’s right! She’s coming!”
They rushed to get everyone and everything in position while I tried with all my might not to push. When they were ready (they really did move fast, thank God) I began to push. I had read so many natural birth stories, and the mommas always said that the pushing was the best/easiest part. I just didn’t quite understand that; logic told me it should be the most painful! They were right though – pushing was such a relief! Without an epidural, I could actually feel my baby moving down through the birth canal. I could tell very quickly what wasn’t working and was able to correct it because I was in control of my body. I could feel her crowning (p.s. the “ring of fire”? definitely real. but it only lasted a second!) and I felt each part of her being born. Compared to two hours of pushing with Benjamin, Emily Hope was born within minutes, at 1:52 am.
She came out crying and was placed on my chest while Wes cut the cord. I held her in awe for a few glorious moments, but then she stopped crying and the nurses wanted to make sure her airways were clear of meconium. They took her to the warming table to suction her, and Wes went over to be with her as I very easily delivered the placenta and the doctor stitched my tear. Our doula encouraged Wes to talk to Emily as she was being tended to, so that she could hear one of our voices, but he couldn’t muster a sound through his tears of joy. After she was weighed and measured – 8lb 15oz, 20.5in long – they brought our baby girl back to me. She was so beautiful, and I just couldn’t believe how easy it seemed now that it was all over. I just had a baby! The pain was over and done with, gone and already forgotten. Instead of feeling like I almost died, I felt more alive than ever! What a truly holy moment.
Emily Hope, literally meaning “admiring hope”, was named for what she represents in our lives. It was a long hard road to get to her, but we knew that we would make it. We knew that the perfect baby would come to us at the perfect time. We had HOPE. And just look what it got us.
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5:1-5